Some thoughts about relationship labels, paradigms, etc (or, n-dimensional space, amatonormativity, romantic comedies, and sexist/gendered adventure stories)

Relationship labels in n-dimensional space

In thinking/noticing some things about relationships I have and labels recently, I went thinking about about the general situation.

One of the things I’ve repeatedly run into is that as a culture we have like five or something relationship terms among a very n-dimentional space (the axes/dimensions here being ‘things that can vary between relationships and could be used to categorize them’) for most of which our culture doesn’t give us much tools for really recognizing/thinking about/etc those dimensions to begin with.

Obviously, this leads to a lot of lexical gaps, a lot of words doing coverage over very large and disparate territory, problems that arise when different distinctions in the n-dimentions are important to different people (or there are any of a variety of other things that lead to people trying to draw their word-concept lines pretty differently and then running into disagreements).

Relationship paradigms and amatonormativity

I was also thinking about not having very much material to work with. As noted, we tend to lack the material that would deal explicitly with the axes/dimensions of relationship things – that might help me figure what various ones of them are and thus which ones might matter most to me, which ones feel right as category divisions, etc. (We have material for axes like ‘are you having sex’, but those are often not the ones I’m interested in).

Lacking that, a next best thing might be seeing what relationship categories someone else has and how they work. Or, since I don’t really have someones to survey, and also since people’s personal ideas are likely to have connections to social ideas, what relationship categories some other social relationship paradigms have.

As such it occurred to me that I don’t actually immediately know any.

A relationship paradigm I run into a lot, including often in the context of it being the norm, is amatonormativity. Specifically the ‘you have one sexual, romantic, life partner etc relationship that is your only relationship with those traits and also the most important relationship in your life (this is your partner, and everyone else is friends)’.

This made me realize two issues thinking more about this runs into in my head. One, in my head amatonormativity ends up at odds with the ‘heterosexual couples divide their time between passionate romance and yelling’ view of relationships, which I also run into in the context of social norm narratives etc (I can’t think of the proper term for this, though see Awful Wedded Life and Slap Slap Kiss for some relevant TV Tropes things). (Er, to be clear, this is not a disagreement with amatonormativity things or anything like that, this is just my particular thread of trying to think through some particular things and stuff that ends up in my mind.)

Two, amatonormativity is clearly not a consistently universal norm across time, and what might have been around at other times and how things moved is also relevant.

This ended me up with actually thinking of two particular relationship paradigms, which I then wanted to write about.

Two relationship paradigms

(Note: this is in no way me saying I know things about society or etc. I am not making any kind of claim about something being the case, having been the case, etc. This me working pretty much entirely off media, with the selection heuristic of ‘I’ve run into it and it came to mind when I was thinking about this’. All these things have way more forms and variety than I am going into here. The point of this is helping me think about things and it is not intended to be particularly more meaningful than that.)

Paradigm romantic comedy

(General sources: romanic comedies I have seen, which is mostly a few ones aimed at teenagers and stuff since I don’t actually watch romantic comedies. Romantic comedies I have heard about, read summaries of, watched trailers of, etc. Other media things).

You have a romantic interest/significant other/spouse/etc. (Using the categorization of the-like-five-words-we-have, they are your partner relationship).

You Have Feelings for them. You want to or are having sex with them. You are either on or, in a happy ending, going to be getting on the relationship escalator, involving moving in together, getting married, combining households, and having children if that’s a thing you’re going to do.

You might do fairly intense and intentional thing for your relationship. If you’re separated, you might go across the country to see them, end up moving with them, etc.

Your relationship with them is often very roller-coaster. Some commonly appearing relationship elements are general nice times together (more likely in relationship building stories), general miserable times together (more common in relationship-has-existed-longer-stories), passionate emotional moments, and high-conflict fights.

The core issue of fights is generally whether/how much one of you cares about the other (or both directions of this). Fights generally end via later demonstration that they are over and things have returned back, generally though something that shows you like each other. Sometimes there are apologies of gestures of apology, such as buying nice things for the other person. This tends to be gendered. You are unlikely to discuss the issues behind a fight.

You are often unlikely to go to your partner for support with problems, struggles, etc. (As a particular exception that might also happen, if you have a Central Issue in your life, you might confide it in your partner and they might encourage you.)

You also have friends.

You are likely to be in fairly common casual contact with them. You see (or are otherwise in contact with) them pretty often, but not with high intensity or intention. Most of your time together is spent either doing something else (if you’re coworkers etc) or doing casual nice things (like being in a coffeeshop).

You are likely to go to your friends for support with problems, struggles, etc, including ones re your partner relationship.

If you have a conflict with your friends, it is probably about :lack of loyalty:. You left them for the popular kids or other kinds of similar dynamics. The issue ends with you realizing you were in the wrong and coming back. You will probably apologize, but like the conflict, the apology tends to be fairly standard as opposed more specifically personal to you and them.

Paradigm sexist/gendered adventure story

(General sources: LOTR movies, Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes, somewhat older medieval-type fantasy and non-fantasy, etc).

You are a man.

Of very high importance in your life are your comrades (using the categorization of the-like-five-words-we-have, they are your friends). Together you do important things such as fight for your cause, go on important missions, etc. You give assistance to your comrades in times of danger, would go to great lengths for them, etc.

You are less likely to confide your emotional struggles to anyone. However, if you do, you are likely to go for support to your comrades and to older and more experienced mentor figures who are also among your comrades.

You might have conflict with your comrades about decisions relevant to pursuing your cause. If this happens, you might separate and pursue separately for some amount of time.  This generally ends through you coming together again.

The greatest conflict comes if a comrade betrays your cause. You will consider them an enemy because that is how it is, but will retain comrade-originated feelings. You will have a physical fight with great emotion and bury them with grief.

At home, you have a wife/fiancee/beloved (using the categorization of the-like-five-words-we-have, this is your partner relationship). You love them. You do or will have sex with them, though this is less likely to be brought up. You plan to or do live together and have children together if you will do that.

When you are away from them you feel longing/yearning for them. They likely represent peace, a reason you fight, hope for afterwards, etc.

Much of your relationship is likely to be in less verbal terms. You think of them as images. You express emotions by crying, laughing and running to each other, gestures of care, etc.

If you have conflict it is about moments of them not wanting you to leave. It resolves, likely in emotions, as you both know you must.

Your partner is also likely to have friends, who are people in a similar situation to them. They and their friends are in contact through the general activities of living, and might also visit separately. They are likely to commiserate together. If your partner needs advice, they are likely to go to their own older mentor figures. This is likely to be about your relationship.

A few immediate thoughts

  • One thing this immediately helps me thing about is what ‘friends with benefits’ (which could be seen as one of our ‘secondary’ (in the like-primary-and-secondary-colors sense, not the importance sense) existing relationship labels) means. Within a relationship paradigm, this is someone where your relationship has the tone and other features of a ‘friends’ relationship, but you also have sex with them.
  • The older mentor figure relationships appear in the second paradigm in a way that I don’t thing I see them appearing so much in ‘more contemporary’ relationship paradigm things.