Is It Normal to Rank Relationships? Did You Rank Yours Right?

Trick question – there is no “right” way to rank your relationships.

Although it is normal (in that most people find themselves doing it subconsciously or being encouraged to do it) to rank relationships, thus prioritizing energy expenditure and setting up a sort of automatic logic tree for who we pay the most attention to and what we’re willing to do for whom.

The funny thing is that there can be any number of factors involved in how you, subconsciously or deliberating, hierarchize your relationships…

But they all have something in common.

At the end, once your relationships are ranked by importance, quality, acts of service you’re willing to commit, or anything else, we all tend to believe that’s the way it is and should be.

The possible rankings are infinite. In an age when we’re able to gain unique insight into the lives of our peers, the urge to judge ourselves and others based on their relationship rankings is tempting.

Often, because of the ubiquity of the “one true love” and nuclear family ideals, the default ranking becomes something called “amatonormativity.”

That’s an Awfully Big Word

Amatonormativity supports the basic idea that we should all be striving towards finding a monogamous partner, building a life with and around them, and relegating other relationships further down the ladder. 

And – let’s be clear – there isn’t anything wrong with that. There isn’t anything wrong about how you choose to live, as long as you’re not hurting anyone.

But sometimes, the world at large can make those who don’t choose to participate in amatonormativity feel divergent, wayward, or incomplete.

It hinges on two major unpromiseables that it treats as promiseables:

  • Your relationship with your central romantic partner will not change over time.
  • And your relationships with others will naturally matter less in the functionality of your life.

Maybe that was true sixty years ago – maybe it was never true, and we were only made to believe it was because people are easier to control when they’re lonely and isolated.

Pair-bonding was your best chance at companionship for a solid portion of American history, and experiencing satisfaction and joy outside of your central relationship was often met with mixed reviews.

Here are some of the ways that prioritizing your romantic, monogamous relationship over all others can actually limit, and sometimes, harm you…

It Can Make Other Relationships Seem “Childish”

As adults, having “girl’s night” or “guy’s night” is often your opportunity to maintain bonds with relationships outside of your central partnership.

You feed those relationships in dribs and drabs, watering those plants in three hour bursts at the bar, over dinner, at movie night…

And you don’t seem to have the undivided attention and space to explore each other and reflect on your own evolution the way that you used to.

Of course, it’s natural that you simply don’t have the same kind of time that you did in your early 20s or teens to devote to friendships…

But why do we classify sleepovers as childish? Don’t we now, as children in adult skins, more than ever need the wisdom and affection of our intimate friendships?

Why do we find ourselves trying to glue friendships to the ends of our lives instead of baking them into our modus operandi?

We’re Already Unsure How to Navigate Monogamy

Despite it being our only real education on romance, marriage is tough.

And it’s tough for a few reasons – any relationship where two people spend so much time together will be fraught with mishaps. But we also spend a significant portion of our adulthoods engaged in trial by fire…

We’re unlearning toxic lessons from our parents and the media, we’re adding knowledge about our partner to our vaults every day, and we’re messing up constantly. (Don’t worry – we all seem to have that in common.)

Neglecting or mentally downgrading the value or availability of joy in our non-romantic partnerships leaves a lot of love on the table. 

We can’t expect to be the exact partner our partner needs all the time – nor can we expect them to be for us. 

When we center our romantic relationships above all of our other ones, we forget to make use of our emotionships.

It Narrows your Scope of Perspective

The beauty of humankind, among other things, is that we’re community-oriented. 

The depth and breadth of the human experience wouldn’t be worth much if we only asked ourselves and one other person, who lives inside the same bubble as we do, about the great mysteries of life, love, and communication.

Part of forming other relationships – feeding them, raising them, and nurturing them – is about survival. We have the best chance of living a fulfilled, well-rounded, actualized life when we tap into all of our resources.

Centering a romantic relationship while undervaluing other kinds of relationships can keep parts of you asleep that long to be alive.

Again, there is nothing  wrong with elevating your partner. 

But the belief that relationships beyond that one are inherently less valuable, immature, or less necessary to the nourishing of your spirit is a harmful one, and not at all a universal truth.

Think about a relationship that may have languished in recent years – sometimes part of the  natural ebb and flow of life – and juice it with some special attention!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.