I’ve never been in a romantic relationship.

I went through middle school, watching my crushes ask other people out and go on dates. In high school, I was surrounded by PDA and hand–holding in the hallway on my way to classes. I even went through college watching as some of my closest friends found “the one.” My sister brought her own boyfriend to all our family events, even adding him to our group chat. People I knew got married and my Instagram was flooded with beautiful, white wedding photos.

But my romantic inexperience wasn’t for lack of effort. I had my moments where I shamelessly hinted how much I liked someone and eventually swiped obsessively through Tinder and Hinge. But no matter how hard I tried, I struggled to find “the one.” In real life, everyone who I really liked usually didn’t like me back—or if they did, it never went anywhere. Online, I’d talk to people I matched with back and forth for a week or so before moving on and forgetting about them. In the worst cases, I’d be dealing with a creep.

Part of me wondered if I was just setting my standards too high or whether I was just too scared to take the  first step. I spent my formative teenage years reading young adult science fiction and dystopian novels where I became obsessed with an idealistic view of relationships that they put forward. I wanted something like what Tris and Four have in Divergent. I wanted someone to swoop in and save me like Rhysand does for Feyre in A Court of Thorns and Roses. And I dreamt of love stories where the male love interest would do absolutely anything for the protagonist because he was just so desperately in love like in The Darkest Minds trilogy.

I would lie in my bed just waiting for some blonde–haired hero to burst through my door and take me away to some fantasy land where we could save the world together. And then we’d get married and live happily ever after. As long as we had each other, we would be happy.

Back then, I considered myself a hopeless romantic. I wanted the flowers, the surprises on our anniversaries, the promise of forever and “till death do us part.”

Now, I realize that desperate–for–love teenage girl was a product of an amatonormative society.

According to Rice University Philosophy professor Elizabeth Brake, amatonormativity is, “the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long–term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.” It’s giving more value to relationships that involve marriage or exclusive, romantic love over other kinds of relationships, stating that a marital relationship is a universal goal.

Growing up, I never saw anything other than romantic, monogamous, and often heterosexual relationships. They were practically shoved down my throat, despite my uncertainty about what I wanted. As a kid, this ideal influenced me to suppress my bisexuality as I always thought it must be “wrong” to like someone of the same gender—solely because I never saw it in the media.

Now, as someone currently in a non–amatonormative relationship, I’ve found myself re–assessing what kind of relationships I truly want and how they should work.

Outwardly, we look like a heterosexual couple. Almost anyone who knows us, assumes that we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Sometimes, if someone we’re not very close with asks about us, we’ll just use amatonormative terms to simplify things. We’ll say that we’re “dating” or we’re “together” just to make things easier to comprehend. It’s occasionally more difficult to go through the gist of explaining that our dynamic is not really romantic.

So, what are we? I’ve asked myself this many times and even struggled to define it early on when I didn’t know that non–amatonormative relationships could exist. I like to instead think of it in the agreements we have with one another and the things that we do together. We are exclusive, we hang out a lot, we’re best friends, and we’re each other’s go–to “person” when shit hits the fan. We do a lot of things that people who date do. But we both are in the same boat when it comes to romance: We don’t want it with each other and are happy just living as we are, with no expectations of marriage, kids, or anything like that.

We created our own rules for our relationship and we stick by them. I’m happy and satisfied and that’s what matters.

I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around because society will tell people like us that we’re just “suppressing our true feelings,” and that we should consider eventually getting engaged or doing other things that exclusive, monogamous, romantic couples do. People will assume that one of us must like the other in a romantic sense and that one is just hiding their true feelings. 

It’s so much easier to try to fit things into a box than to understand that relationships are complex. But as long as all parties in a relationship understand its bounds and understand each other’s feelings, non–amatonormative relationships are just as fulfilling as amatonormative ones.