Willa Cather was the world renowned author of “O Pioneers”. Edith Lewis was editor of several of New York’s better known publications. Over time, Lewis also edited all of Cather’s work. Eventually, the two of them moved in together. The world assumed they were two writers functioning as each other’s muses. In reality, though they hid this from many people, they were also lifelong lovers. But two became three. Later in life, they added socialite Isabelle McClung to their triad. The three of them traveled the world and reveled in their unique love for each other.
Virginia Wolfe was another famous author in love with another female writer, Vita Sackville-West. But this time, both women were married to men. Both couples had open marriages and both husbands approved of their relationship. In time, though Vita and Virgina did not have sex with each other’s husbands, a deep bond formed between the four of them. Eventually, they split up, which actually caused more pain for the husbands than the women.
Janeane Garofolo and Bradford Cord are much different people, one an actor and the other a singer. They are both asexual and very proud to be so. Though they have had many loves, each of them describes how they enjoy living as a person for whom sexual attraction has never been part of their lives. Because of this, both of them have met confusion and opposition from other people. In interviews, they both regret how their asexual status has closed doors for them in their professions and in life.
What do all of these famous people have in common? In essence, they have all bucked a belief system that almost all of us were given as a legacy. It’s called Amatonormativity. It’s a word you may not have heard before. Most people have not.
Amatonormativity is a word author Elizabeth Brake coined in her book “Minimizing Marriage; Marriage, Morality and the Law” to describe the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.
There are so many implications of this for our modern world. Amatonormativity marginalizes so many groups of people: singles who want to stay single, asexuals, polyamorous, open relationships, triads and quad relationships, long-term nonsexual friendships, aromantic married people, divorced people, etc. In our American cultural setting, our laws are geared toward those who are in Amatornormative relationships.
Triads cannot have the same parental rights as couples.
Asexuals and single allosexuals are not afforded the same rights as renters compared to amatonormative couples.
Abiding friendships often must relinquish inheritance rights if adult children contest wills in court.
But beyond the legal stipulations against all these individuals, the culture itself looks down upon all people who do not buy into the idea that the ultimate goal in life is to find one person, fall in love, have children, and stay married until you die. Though most adults in our culture do NOT fit into this scenario, most movies, television shows, books, and songs have this concept as a bedrock belief.
In the 90s sitcom “Seinfeld”, the main characters were always quizzing each other on whether they had found “The one”. At times, they played around with other options, like never having kids, open relationships, remaining single. But they ultimately rejected all of those options. In one case regarding open relationships, Jerry remarks caustically,
“Don’t you know what it means to become an orgy guy? It changes everything. I’d have to dress different. I’d have to act different. I’d have to grow a mustache and get all kinds of robes and lotions and I’d need a new bedspread and new curtains I’d have to get thick carpeting and weirdo lighting. I’d have to get new friends. I’d have to get orgy friends.”— Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld, Season 6: The Switch
After his girlfriend accepts the idea of a menage a trois with her roommate and Jerry, he has second thoughts.
Now that you know what the word and the concept encompass, spend a few days/weeks looking at the popular media and see how often these ideas still persist.
And challenge yourself: In our day when we are ridding ourselves of heteronormativity, gendernormativity, mononormativity etc., isn’t it time to at least question the philosophy of amatonormativity?