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In home decor, I’m all for minimalism. But when it comes to representations of love, it’s laughable to think less is more. The narratives that underpin popular culture often fixate on very specific strands of love: the romantic, heterosexual kind.
This Valentine’s Day, we’re highlighting versions of love that rarely reach the spotlight.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“For a woman like me: mid-20s, bisexual, and plus-sized, I’ve never really seen all of me and the way I love reflected in media. I haven’t had a romantic love — which I know in my head is okay because romantic love is not the be all, end all of human connection. However, it’s still hard to see all these depictions of love that don’t show me. The different parts of my identity are slowly being shown in media, like with ‘Dumplin,’ or ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ but it’s still rare to feel like my story is being told in the world. People like me are often either a joke or a harmful stereotype. Love, which to me is that feeling of reaching across the wild chasm of human existence and touching another living soul, is inclusive of all the different parts of us. Media, and in a broader sense storytelling, allow us to gain a better idea of what the chasm of human existence looks like from another point of view. My desire to see someone like me in media is not born of vanity, or lack of empathy for other stories, but a desire to realize that stories like mine are worth being told.”
“My husband and I have been married for almost two years, together over six. Due to my health issues, we don’t have sex. Neither of us have a huge sex drive. We tried for a while to ‘spice up’ our sex life, even going to couples counseling. We finally decided that neither of us really wanted sex that much, so we decided that instead of being pressured into doing what we thought we should — having sex all the time and loving it like a couple in their early 30s ‘should’ — we just wouldn’t have sex. Honestly, it’s relieved a lot of pressure for both of us. We check in from time to time to make sure we’re both still okay with the current setup.
While we didn’t know the extent of my injuries at the time, my husband (then boyfriend) offered to stay with me and take care of me. His selflessness is unlike anything I’ve ever known. He cooks, cleans, runs errands, gets me anything I need and expects little to nothing in return. He genuinely wants me to be happy and comfortable even if that makes him uncomfortable. We’ve effectively divided our household chores into physical tasks and mental tasks. He takes out the garbage; I pay the bills. He washes dishes; I make vet appointments for the cats. He cooks dinner; I keep our calendar up to date. I tend to feel like he does more around the house than I do, but he’s always reminding me how important my mental work is.
Our relationship probably looks really boring from the outside, but we’ve learned that the only thing that matters is that we’re happy. Other people aren’t in our relationship, so they don’t get a say.”
“I think love is a spectrum, just like autism, which I have. I would really wish to see more romance with women on the autism spectrum in all sorts of media, because I only grew up with what neurotypical women would want in romance.”
“I am so annoyed by how straight everything looks. Like, damn, y’all are not the only people alive. Give it a rest. If I see the same dumb rom-com subplot one more time. There are so many queer creatives who could blow the idea of romance, love and intimacy wide open. A part of me thinks people (maybe unconsciously) don’t listen because they’re afraid of anything outside of their truth.”
“At the moment, love looks like family loyalty and passing infatuations with strangers. I get along with my family more often than not, but a kind of love that is an unmistakable loyalty is hard for media to depict correctly. Familial love has been exaggerated or ignored in rom-coms. Although I would do anything for my family, we still argue often and disagree during every dinner and car ride. As a nonbinary person, I often wonder if anyone would find my particular gender expression attractive. I find plenty of people at my gym, at work, or at school whose style I find attractive. If media ever portrayed more gender-neutral styles, maybe I would be more confident in my looks.”
“I have been with my husband since senior year in college. We dated, off and on, and he moved away to California. I visited him as he was traveling there and basically we fell in love. I moved out to live with him, leaving behind my close but widespread Catholic family. I was the first to move in with someone. Eventually we married and moved back East, after my father died. Now it was children, house, jobs, working, driving, and all that flurry of activity. All through this, we really stayed a team. There were some bumps in the relationship, but we always resolved them by keeping communication open. (I credit him with this ... he insisted.) Sex was regular and fine. Then he decided it needed to be better than that. We set goals to achieve pleasure for both of us and he really helped push me past my hesitant response. He did it gently and lovingly but really expressed it was very important to him. Sex now is regular and fun. We are now in a new phase; kids gone, along with the estrogen and testosterone. We face these challenges with the same weapon: love and communication. So, my story is boring, but beautiful. I never see it anywhere else.”
“As a woman who has not found her romantic match for life, love in my life is the daily care and connection with my single and married girlfriends, who prioritize regular conversations about what’s happening in our lives. It looks like someone not bound by a ring who picks you up at a hospital after a procedure, who drives hours from their hometown to march, who carves out time between school runs for a five-minute dish.”
“I feel that typical representations of love do not provide sufficient representation of my queer relationship with my transgender boyfriend.
A few months after I turned 16, I fell for a boy I met in a summer program. He was everything that I admired: funny, smart, ambitious, animated, rebellious. Within a week I was hanging on his every word, in the throes of a kind of obsessive devotion that only a 16-year-old can really achieve. I was a girl, he was a boy, I perceived our story in every song on the radio, in every novel I read or movie I watched.
When a mutual friend told me that he was transgender, that he had been born female, it was as though she had pulled a rug out from beneath my feet, sending me toppling to the floor. Head spinning, I turned to the only resource I had — the Internet — for answers to the swirling vortex of questions that had suddenly ballooned in front of me.
I had no basis of knowledge, no experience, no theory and no narratives with which to understand my feelings or my situation.
There were the logistical questions to which I found answers quickly. The basic facts, the best practices, the realities of existence as a ‘transgender individual.’ But even after I understood what it meant, I still found myself spending hours every day online, reading, searching, parsing through medical advice and polemic, looking, hungrily, for something more. I didn’t know then, but I know now what I was looking for: a love story.”