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At Local Universities, An Effort To Better Understand Love In All Its Forms

Hearts of different sizes and colors used for invitation to Palentine's Day event.
CSU Long Beach held a Palentine's Day event on Feb. 14, 2023.
(Screenshot via CSU Long Beach)
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For Megan Carroll, the effort to help people see Valentine’s Day as much more than what society has turned it into is as much a professional endeavor as a personal one.

“It is a nice day to celebrate love,” said Carroll, a CSU San Bernardino sociology professor, “but it's important to remember that love can come in all kinds of forms just like families and relationships can come in all kinds of forms.”

Those forms include, she said, people who are asexual, people who are aromantic, people who are polyamorous, and others who don’t live up to what she says are society’s ideals of romance and sex.

Understanding asexual and aromantic feelings

Her writing and teaching on asexual and aromantic relationships, she said, has its roots in a painful time in her life.

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‘I lived all through my teens and 20s, knowing I was different but feeling broken, like, ‘Oh, something must be wrong with me, let me see doctors, let me see therapists,’” she said.

Then she met a person for whom, like her, love was not tied to feelings of sexual desire.

“I'm noticing that people at younger ages are now coming across the terminology of asexuality. And so they're sort of spared the kind of heartbreaking experiences I had in my 20s which is great to see,” she said.

What’s amatonormativity got to do, got to do with it?

Carroll says the work of Elizabeth Brake has influenced her thinking on the topic. Brake is a professor of philosophy at Rice University, who says she coined the term amatonormativity to encompass the idea “that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.”

Brake says it’s important to look at this dynamic because it leads people to dismiss caring relationships that don’t look like what society has communicated as normal. Though Valentine's Day actually has some unsavory origins, popular media and the sale of consumer goods often emphasizes the idea underlining Brake's scholarship.

I'm noticing that people at younger ages are now coming across the terminology of asexuality. And so they're sort of spared the kind of heartbreaking experiences I had in my 20s which is great to see.
— Megan Carroll, sociology professor, CSU San Bernardino

A recent article Carroll co-wrote about asexuality describes the increased visibility of the term and how some people who identified as bisexual and pansexual early in life now identify as asexual.

How colleges are making Valentine’s Day more inclusive

As people put more words and terms to the nuances of love, they seek to be seen.

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Palentine’s Day is one way that’s happening. It’s the platonic version of Valentine’s Day (pal+Valentine) and has been celebrated in recent years on the day before Valentine’s Day, a complement to the better-known Galentine's Day.

This year campuses like Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State Long Beach organized Palentine’s Day on February 14.

Multi colored hearts of different sizes advertise Galentine and Valentine's Day event.
CSU San Bernardino held a Galentine and Palentine's Day event on February 14, 2023.
(Screenshot from CSUSB Queer and Trans Resource Center)

The focus at the San Bernardino campus is on inclusive relationship models, self-love, and avoiding toxic relationships. It’s organized by the university’s Queer and Transgender Resource Center and Women's Resource Center.

Carroll teaches classes about the sociology of families and LGBTQ+ families. Three years ago Carroll gave a presentation about amatonormativity at a Palentine’s Day event. She taught on Valentine’s Day this year, she said, so she couldn’t attend, but she has helped advertise Palentine’s Day to the students in her classes.

Whether or not new terminology takes hold, the concept of self love being essential to loving others brings to mind this long-regarded wisdom from pop culture icon Ru Paul:

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