July 23, 2019 | 67° F

Strong relationships are found beyond romantic partners

Opinions Column: Mangoes and Revolution


In times of struggle to increase media representation of different backgrounds, identities and experiences, we still have a very long way to go. We like to think we've come so far and then reality waits around every unexpected corner to swiftly slap us in the face. It can come in the form of YouTube comments, Facebook statuses, Republican candidate polls or all-white Oscars.

One of the ways media and pop culture likes to trick us into thinking that we’re somehow progressed is by innovating romance and romantic comedy movies. Somehow, "50 Shades of Grey" is “sexy” and Amy Schumer’s "Trainwreck" “breaks with tradition.” One quick Google search shows that lists of most popular rom-coms feature white, heterosexual, romantic-linked-with-sexual couples and monogamous and conventional love stories.

Of course this rigid conception of what love is and what relationships should be show in our society’s obsession with certain realities, commercials, close scrutiny of presidents’ families, cartoons and animated films for kids, and more.

The nuclear family and un-evolved rigid forms of dating culture (ever since consumerism in connection with dating really picked up in the 1940s) have monopolized our conception of relationships and of love. Going on a date with a complete stranger — often with the exclusive purpose of seeing if there is enough chemistry to sleep with them later that night — can be extremely awkward and uncomfortable. This aside, there can be deeper consequences for people who live in a society with such narrow expectations.

I’m sure we’ve all either been that person or had a friend who met a “special someone” and their life stopped cold. Classes become a struggle and socializing without that person becomes unheard of. Sometimes people in this situation get isolated to the extent that if anything goes wrong or takes an unexpected turn, picking up the pieces is that much more difficult and disorienting.

Furthermore, we live in a society that tells children born female and socialized as girls from a very young age how to look and act, what to dream of and aspire to. We teach women that their self-worth is in their appearance and, eventually, in the man they can get, the family they can start. People obsess about establishing romantic relationships without ever pausing and taking a moment to step back and wonder what this means and what kind of culture we uphold and reproduce.

We learn to find validation and comfort in these relationships. We focus on finding pleasure and intimacy with others before we find it with ourselves. We seek the comfort of cuddle sessions with a significant other and neglect the warmth that friends and family can bring us. We can lose ourselves this way and, as the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty glass.

This expectation in the society that we’ve built goes to the extent of asking young children if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend — always the opposite gender within the rigid binary. From a very young age, girls start to plan their ideal relationship and marriage, and family and friends will ask about it and praise these plans!

I have two very clear memories linked with this. I must have been around 8 or 9 years old. I was telling my parents that I did not want to birth children (still don’t), but I would consider adoption. My dad, in a classic parent joking-yet-serious manner, decided to tell me that he absolutely was going to have Ratero-blood grandchildren. I’m an only child.

On the other hand, there was my mom, going out of her way to show me movies and get me books that provided a much broader view of the world than the narrow scope that is offered to so many people. It never came up very often, but when it did, she would say things like, “sure, at some point when you bring a boyfriend home … or girlfriend, who knows.” This may seem very minor but had a big impact on me growing up because it made me question the mainstream narrative. It allowed to consider other options and be myself.

Relationships have the potential to be beautiful. Trust, intimacy, physical contact, shared experiences, intense human emotion — sharing a part of your life with a partner (or partners) can be wonderful. However, our current understanding of what this means and how it impacts our lives is very limited and often insufficient.

Furthermore, we absolutely need to learn how to forge stronger ties with our friends and our communities. Here’s a quote, some brain food from Hanya Yanagihara, a United States novelist of Hawaiian ancestry: “Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives. It remains the relationship not bound by law, blood or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.”

Becky Ratero is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in women's and gender studies and history. Her column, "Mangoes and Revolution," runs monthly on Thursdays.


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Becky Ratero

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