By David Chastity and Geena Cain
You know what’s awesome? Friends. Friends are amazing. You talk to them about your mutual interests and your feelings. You do activities you enjoy and you high five and you go through real shit together. Friends are the people in your lives who will give you a ride to work when your car breaks down. Friends are there to play board games. If you need to complain about your work day, a friend has an ear. Actually, let’s just let Flight of the Conchords take this one away:
And yet even that anthem to friendship can’t end without a wink at romantic love. Check that final verse. Some gay “special friends” just have to show up. Thanks for the reminder of the sexual tension underlying every intimate human interaction, FoTC. But think about it. If you show up at a wedding or an office party with your friend, everyone raises an eyebrow. You must be either lonely or lying. What possesses you to bring someone to an obligated event and *not* fuck later? Why couldn’t you find a somewhat attractive acquaintance to meet all your aunts? Aren’t you afraid of dying alone?
As though wanting to sex is the reason to clock time with important people in our lives.
The Monogamy Problem
Falling In Love With The One is assumed to be the only way to achieve all kinds of social ends. It’s where you get physical affection. You need a romantic partner to rear children and sharing household duties and risks. Romance goes hand in hand with emotional intimacy. Your lover will care for you in times of illness, share your hobbies, and more. We treat The One True Love as an essential part of our identity and narrative. We act like existing within a Couple is necessary to be “complete.”
Moreover, the romantic partner and the friend are seen to be in competition. The same jealousy machine that fears cheating looks askance at any expression of intimacy. For the couple to be the model of true intimacy, it must be protected from interlopers. Sex isn’t the only threat: other kinds of closeness with outsiders erodes the couple-foundation. Every time you get a need met by a friend, you threaten the myth that your lover makes you whole.
Poly and queer people are critical of compulsory heterosexual monogamy. And yet, even here, there is an assumption that romantic relationships have primacy. Other kinds of relationships cannot have comparable intimacy or importance. Monogamy has created artificial limits for all kinds of behavior. People think that they need to put all their eggs in this one person-basket. And the rest of us have swallowed that myth. Who visits you in the hospital? Who jumps/tows your car? Who ends up flaking on you at these important life events when you make no promises of sex? Monogamy has capitalism behind it. Where do we even start to get people to set up their lives in other ways?
There are three levels of change we have to do here. The first is within ourselves. We each have to decide that friendship is just as valuable as romantic love. The second is from inside a relationship. We must revel in the special love between friends. We must take care of and be committed to one another. And the third is at the community level. Society must recognize alternate relationships. Norms must be revolutionized.
One strategy is to gain explicit, sober, intentional, informed, excited consent at every step. Relationships may be compromise, but certain things are not up for debate. Don’t compromise your bodily autonomy or hard limits. Negotiate clearly and consistently about all your needs in every relationship. Consent isn’t just for sex.
Non-Romantic Physical Affection
We live in a society that frowns on non-sexual expressions of physical affection. Monogamy is a fragile state. People in relationships are encouraged to police their partners’ interactions with others. Why have we selected this sort of arrangement over more resilient choices? This model allows jealous partners to avoid confronting their emotions. Over time, repressed emotions add up, though. This strategy is prone to backfire.
Physical affection isn’t always sexual or romantic. Humans need it for emotional and mental health. From the handshake to the hug. Even the European kiss on the cheek of greeting. Some folks even view certain acts of genital stimulation as friendly and non-romantic. Sometimes you just need affection that your partner cannot give. Why not get it from a friend? We live in a world where professional cuddlers exist. No one has to sleep alone. Why hire someone if you have a willing friend?
The problem extends to our physical space. “Household” almost always means “two people in a romantic relationship and their children.” There aren’t easy solutions to live near other kinds of people you value. Living with friends or roommates is viewed as temporary, less serious. You might do it while you’re looking for the person you’re going to settle down with. It’s not a permanent choice you can make. Cities are built for cars and business, not community. The kinds of housing that would make intimate friendship easy just doesn’t exist.
We must resist the narratives that non-romantic relationships are not built to last. We must find ways around financial system that privileges marriage. It’s time to get creative with our spaces. If family is to mean more than a fertile biological unit, it is up to us to redefine it.
Non-Romantic Emotional Support and Intimacy
Friendship is supposed to come without all the cumbersome commitments romantic love implies. As long as you’re “just friends,” what right do you have to expect someone to talk to you every day? How dare you ask someone to make you a priority in their life? Maybe if you’re both single, helping each other stave off loneliness between partners. But as soon as someone has a consistent date, friendship gets shelved. The romantic relationship is too special, can’t impinge on it with mere friendship.
We, David and Geena, are in a romantic and sexual relationship, and we say fuck that noise. Friendship is at least as good as sex, and honestly probably a lot better. Don’t marry your best friend. It is inefficient to have your spouse and bestie be the same person. You can’t talk shit about your spouse to themselves. Conflict of interest is rampant in relationships strategies. Spread your support out across as many people as you can convince to be in the same room as your farts.
Get excited about people! Invite them to the Friend Zone with you! That is no kind of rejection. Staying up all night sharing secrets is not a consolation prize. Even poly people are bad at this. We act like it’s a rejection to say “the love I have for you doesn’t include making out.” It’s not. Every relationship has different limits and boundaries. Stop pretending ones without sex are less valuable.
We spend too much time and energy trying to please people only because we want to see them naked. Let’s all agree that’s a gross model. We need to make time and spaces for the people in our lives who don’t fit monogamy’s fairy tale. Let’s summon a fraction of the enthusiasm for our friends as we do for every damn wedding.
Here’s a challenge. Send a cute message to someone you love without restraints like fucking and romance. Send that cute message and remind them that they are a desirable mate forever. Find those spaces where you are missing intimacy. Fill them with someone you’ve overlooked.
Whether you’re monogamous or poly, pause your thrilling, romantic Valentine weekend plans a second.. Touch base with the folks who support you when those breathless feelings are over. Steal a hug or a snug from your favorite platonic bestie. Invite them to catch a dinner and a movie. Do whatever it takes to celebrate that most important gift we give ourselves, friendship.
Call for submissions! We wrote this to start the conversation, not end it. Got friend-love opinions or experiences to share? Send us an email! Think of this as the introduction to an anthology. Help us write the next chapters. We’ll feature your submissions here, and assemble a zine. Your planning and editing energy is welcome too!