I like Wednesdays.
Sometimes, we don’t know how we and other people relate to eachother. Some people might summarise this in the old “is this a date or not?” formula. Wednesdays are one way of solving this problem (albeit arguably only partially). A Wednesday is like a “maybedate”, but removed again, as it doesn’t carry the horrible constructedness of the idea of “dating” and the pressure that results in. Sidestepping the initial “what is this?” question allows for greater relaxation, and to actually enjoy spending time with people. I don’t see how that can be a negative in any relationship.
(“In any relationship” – it’s good to have positive relationships with friends, partners, family, you name it. Positive relationship=positive relationship. Obviously! In short, I do mean this sentence to play on the ambiguity of the word “relationship”, which I will talk about more later.)
Is this a situation where I’ve suggested just creating another category, creating a new set of limits? Arguably yes. However, I think that the idea of Wednesdays (so named because a friend and I both kept happening to go on ambiguous outings on that day of the week) is so self-consciously laughable that it questions its own legitimacy. I mean, really, it’s named after a day of the week. It just sounds funny in sentences. But why shouldn’t the way we relate to others be funny?
To return to what I mentioned in the brackets earlier, our use of the word “relationship” is ambiguous. My favourite way of introducing this point to people is by announcing “I’m in a relationship with my brother.” (If I’m feeling particularly irritating, I continue by telling whoever I’m speaking to that I’m in a relationship with them.) But this doesn’t tend to be what people mean when they list themselves as “in a relationship” on facebook, for instance.*
“So a word means two things. Big deal.”
But if words are heavily implicated in ideology, what does the relationship between the two meanings in this case mean? If we take that we are in relationships as assumed, but state that we are “in a relationship”, what implications do these have for eachother? It seems to me that it elevates the latter as a paradigm: you have relationships and you have the relationship. The latter supercedes the former in linguistic usage, and, I think, often in ways that people relate.
As a paradigm, the relationship becomes an aspiration in many ways. It’s something we are pressured to seek out by dating businesses, and so on. I think this is potentially damaging both for people who relate in ways which might be seen as the relationship under this rubric, and those who don’t. Within the relationship, it implies that there is some “right” way of doing things, some “right” way of being in the relationship. (This sentence probably doesn’t really cover it, as I’m arguably going to state what I think the right way of doing things is. Hopefully it makes more sense when I make my more general statement.) And for relationships which are not the relationship to be judged according to the paradigm of the relationship… well, for a start it just seems logically absurd. If the relationship is somehow different and special, then of course nothing else will live up to it.
All this seems immensely devalueing of relationships which aren’t the relationship. And I think it is. You know when people seem in a little relationship bubble and don’t seem to care about other people. That. When one person’s opinion is suddenly more important. When everyone else needs to wait for that person’s lift even if it means they miss their last trains home. Things like this are devalueing of people who don’t fit the paradigm closely enough. Because this must somehow be distressing for us. Not because the rubric is flawed, but because we are somehow incomplete as people. Poor us.**
This rigid categorisation of relationships which are the relationship and those which aren’t forecloses vast swathes of ways in which people relate to eachother. It governs (fairly arbitrarily, as people seem want to provide definitions and clear guidelines – I guess this would only expose the absurdity of the thing) what we feel we can do with people – what we can talk about with them (so, how emotionally close you can be to a friend, for instance), where we can go with them, how often we can hug them, and so on. It creates a world where some ways of relating are sanctioned, and some are not. Some ways of relating are just not claimed to exist.***
This ignores the blindingly obvious, that each person is an individual, and the way each person relates to each other person is therefore individual. The important thing in any relationship is that it works positively for the people involved. Is this falling into what I criticised, of ignoring other people? I don’t think so, because relationships impact eachother, so there’s a network going on here, so we can’t always say it’s as simple as two people each being happy with the way the other treats them.
TL;DR: Don’t be expecting me to announce myself as “in a relationship” as some form of status (online or otherwise) at any point soon, at least not without a “rant” attached (although I may decide that this blog suffices).**** You might like to think about what these things mean too, and how your relationships with other people might be enriched by thinking about them in different ways.
* So, why not just use another word?
Firstly, if one describes a person as one’s “girlfriend” or one’s “boyfriend”, this terminology isn’t mutually exclusive. People will likely still refer to your “relationship”.
There are other aspects of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” which I’m uncomfortable with – gendering, the sense of ownership of the constructions within which they are used, the way they refer to anyone of any age as a “boy” or “girl”, for instance. (I feel this set of problems doesn’t apply with “partner”. The first one I mentioned may, but, as “partner” is more ambiguous in usage, I think “relationship” can be too, in this context, so it doesn’t bother me as much as the use of the term could be considered in the wider sense.)
As for “dating”, I mentioned “horrible constructedness” and “pressure” in the first paragraph. I think many of the criticisms I make of “the relationship” might apply here, though dating is more explicit in its fixities.
*** Personally, I find it very difficult to find ways of expressing the ways I relate to some people. I feel very much outside the discourse. Other ways of relating/influences on relating to people which would be worth considering here are polyamory and asexuality. Thinking about it, I’d probably consider polyamory as within the discourse (but not within the discourse in its own terms) of the relationship as an unsanctioned way of relating. I think people find asexuality more difficult to incorporate in any terms at all. I’ve based these statements on personal experience, so am making them tentatively.
There is writing from both these perspectives which I find empowering in the sense that it points the way towards relationships which people can negotiate on their own terms. I particularly appreciate these two.
1. “How to have sex with an asexual person”: http://grasexuality.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/how-to-have-sex-with-an-asexual-person/
This link comes with a content note about references to non-consensual situations – mentioned in the post and more graphic in some of the links from it.
As stated in the article, this approach to sex is not specific to asexual people.
2. Stavvers’ “CoupleDumb: dumb advice for couples”: http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/coupledumb-dumb-advice-for-couples/
The “openness, consent and respect for individuality which make up poly principles” described here are important to bear in mind in any relationship.
**** Flippancy alert