At ASU, we are constantly engaging with people who express captivating thoughts about innovative ideas. We are endlessly establishing relationships. These relationships are complex and difficult to define. In recognition, Facebook even has a relationship label “it’s complicated."
Important relationships in our lives can be hard to describe to others because they may not fit into the narrow labels we feel obligated to put on them.
We understand “mother,” “father,” ”partner,” “best friend” and “acquaintance,” but often the relationships we have don’t fit into these boxes. It can be frustrating to try to express someone’s importance in our lives when the relationship isn’t recognized as valid.
We should stop sticking to strict labels and recognize the validity of relationships that are outside our established definitions and norms. By releasing our expectations of how relationships are supposed to look, we will be able to build a larger and more supportive community.
“Interpersonal relationships have a lot of flexibility. From society’s perspective, there are certain expectations that the individual may not agree with," Dr. Kristin Mickelson, Ph.D in social psychology at ASU said. “If you stick to the more strict definitions you don’t have the flexibility for the most important part (of relationships), which is the notion of social support and bonding.”
While many of us do engage in relationships that are culturally recognized, sometimes the people in these relationships don't live up to the role we’d like them to.
As a result, people often find different individuals to step up to the plate. For example, if a person has an absent parent, he or she might develop a solid relationship with a family friend or neighbor.
These types of relationships are as equally fulfilling and important as any “normal” relationship. They have an equal capacity to provide love and support.
In that sense, "normal" is whatever is healthy and fulfilling for you.
This idea also plays a part in romantic relationships. Being defined as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is an age-old norm. However, many times our romantic relationships don’t quite fit that category.
We may spend a significant amount of time with someone, have romantic feelings for them and may even sleep with them. Still, we may not necessarily want to define them as our partner. This isn’t bad or weird, it's completely normal.
As long as both parties are content with the relationship and are happy to avoid “labels,” as cheesy as it sounds, these types of relationships are perfectly healthy.
It’s disappointing and hurtful if a relationship doesn’t live up to our expectations. Abandoning expectations of who should fit these roles in our life is incredibly liberating, especially in a familial sense.
Recognizing the fluidity of relationships will ultimately lead to the growth of more satisfying relationship experiences. When we begin entering into relationships with fewer expectations, we are able to define those relationships for ourselves. We are no longer restrained by cultural ideals or strict norms. We can fully experience what every relationship has to offer.
Open up to the idea that relationships aren’t one-size-fits-all, and create relationships that fit us perfectly.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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