I think we need to rethink the way we talk about relationships.1
Consider this: A person can have a best friend, someone they share every little detail of their life with. And they can also have a lover.
And there will be times that the emotional strength and depth of the relationship with the friend will be as strong as – if not stronger – than that with the lover.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Not at all.
But there’s a default in our society that adding any romantic component automatically makes that relationship as important as all friendships – if not assumed to trump all friendships.
So I’d like to suggest the following as a two-part thought experiment to the world at large.
1. The significance of a relationship can be shorthanded to the “capitalization” of the word. So you’ve got the range from relationship to relationship to Relationship to Relationship.
So maybe you have a relationship with the barista you see every day and chat with, your Relationship with your best friend of twenty years, and your relationship that’s getting to be a Relationship with the person you’re dating.
You get the idea.
2. The capitalization of the relationship is independent of what you do in the relationship.
I kind of give this away in my examples above, but it’s worth mentioning again separately. The emotional strength and connection in the relationship does not require physical intimacy or a romantic component.
I personally find this model extremely … freeing.
By using the same word – relationship – to note the connection between two people, it gives proper respect and importance to deep, close friends. By utilizing the idea of capitalization, it can signify intensity without dealing with the bazillion other arbitrary labels of “best friend” or “FWB” or “girlfriend” or “fiancee” or “significant other”, all of which have connotations that you may not want.
And more importantly, by recognizing that physical intimacy (yes, I mean sex) is not necessarily tied to the strength of emotional intimacy, it can let people be a lot more honest about their actual relationship.
Its flexibility also means that you are completely free to choose to tie the level of emotional connection to what you do in the relationship. So if you want to say that sexually intimate relationships inherently have a deeper emotional connection for you, you absolutely can do that.
You just have to put some thought into what your relationships are – and how important they are – for yourself.
What do you think?
1 This is not just my idea; I’m synthesizing a lot of stuff from a lot of people…enough so that I can’t begin to credit them all.