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How Do I Handle the Pressures To Be In a Relationship?

Andrew Castillo, LCSW, MSW

We often have a picture of what our lives with look like and include; we will go to college, find a great job, and start a family, all before 30 of course. Many (not all) of us, feel a very real pressure to be in a long-term relationship, particularly if we have been single for an extended length of time. This pressure can come from family, friends, or ourselves! This pressure can lead to elevated stress, anxiety, and depression in our life, and contribute to negative beliefs about ourselves and our futures. Where does this pressure stem from, and when does it become unhealthy? What an we do to intervene when these pressures are coming from others, or ourselves? Let’s dive in!

What is “amatonormativity,” and when is it a problem?

According to Dr. Elizabeth Brake, professor of Philosophy at Rice University, amatonormativity is “the assumption that everyone desires, and should aim to have, a romantic relationship.” Amatonormativity assumes that we are all better off in long-term romantic couplings, and that all people are seeking these kinds of partnerships. Amatonormativity can be framed as a form of stereotyping, and like other stereotypes, can lead to harmful ideas and behaviors. The pressures of amatonormativity can lead people to stay in unhealthy partnerships, neglect of other relationships in their lives, and significant external pressure from family and society to find “the one.”

Is being single a bad thing?

All of this does not mean wanting to be in a relationship a wrong, unnatural, or unhealthy desire. We are social creatures, and many of us do desire intimacy and partnership in our lives. But while we often reflect on the potential benefits of being in a relationship, we don’t consider the benefits being single can bring! As life coach Aska Kolton states, “being single is about being in a relationship with yourself.” A desire for partnership can often hide a discomfort in being with ourselves. Consider how many of us often feel uncomfortable being alone, to the point where we often plan multiple activities to avoid it. But as with many things, running away is only a short-term solution. Being single provides us an opportunity to challenge uncomfortable feelings and emotions we may have about ourselves, and the potential to develop a healthier idea of where our self-worth comes from. Becoming comfortable with ourselves can involve exploring our interests, our values, and other hopes and dreams. Releasing the pressures of finding someone can allow us to develop a heathy, loving relationship with ourselves.

How do I handle pressure from others?

Amatonormativity doesn’t just affect us, it affects our family and friends as well. While often good intentioned, our supports can make comments, ask questions, or even directly involve themselves in our romantic lives, adding to the pressures we experience. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around this; we need to set boundaries. Setting boundaries with people that we love and care for can be especially difficult, but there are a few steps that may make it easier:

1)      Avoid defensiveness and aggression. It can be tough to manage our emotions after the 10th time being asked when are you going to find someone, but defensiveness (including finger pointing, judgement, and contempt) will often lead to bigger blow ups and potentially damage relationships.

2)      Focus on the behavior, not the person. Identify the specific questions or topics that are uncomfortable for you and challenge those. Instead of going after the person personally (“you don’t think about my feelings!”), focus on how their actions can impact you (“I feel really sad and ashamed when you ask those questions”).

3)      Be a broken record! Unfortunately, questions about your romantic life may persist even after you address them with your supports. Avoid continuing to elaborate and over-explain why these questions bother you, and instead, continue to repeat, over and over, what your boundaries are. An example might be “I know you want to keep talking about marriage, but I am not willing to discuss that right now.”

Hopefully, these points have given you another perspective to consider the next time another person (or yourself), tries putting pressure on you to find “your other half”.

Citations:

Blake, E. (2021, February 12). Amatonormativity. Elizabeth Brake. https://elizabethbrake.com/amatonormativity/

Kolton, A. (2020, December 23). There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Single: Releasing the Shame & Stigma. Tiny Buddha. https://tinybuddha.com/blog/nothing-wrong-with-being-single-release-shame-stigma/

Neil Pasricha. (2019, August 29). How To Deal With Societal Pressure To Get Married And Have Kids [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyFZWWdx0t0

Veasley, T. (2020, September 21). How to Set Boundaries with Parents. Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. https://www.growingself.com/how-to-set-boundaries-with-parents/

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