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February 11, 2014

Just friends

Platonic friendships should not be considered emotionally inferior to sexual relationships.

I am deeply in love with my best friend. She’s the person I want to speak to whenever something goes wrong, the person I want to share my happiest moments with, and someone I know will be in my life forever. Luckily, she feels the same way. Even luckier, my boyfriend has come to terms with all of this.

Our relationship is one that is apparently hard to pin down. Though we’ve both described our friendship as “the most uncomplicated relationship” in either of our lives right now, it is easily misconstrued by others. We feature so heavily in each other’s stories that people often assume we’re roommates. The staff at the hair salon where we always book appointments together almost certainly assumed we were a couple for months. A (straight, male) housemate watched her kiss me on the cheek in greeting and said, apparently delighted, “You’re so sexual with each other!”

All of these assessments miss the mark in different ways. We’re not having sex, nor are we dating. But to brush away these assumptions with a breezy, “No, we’re just really good friends” seems somehow like selling both ourselves and our friendship short. To me, there is nothing “just” about our friendship. Though our relationship is not romantic, I feel sometimes like we make a better couple than a lot of the real couples I know. Though there’s nothing sexual between us, expressing physical affection comes easily. But more than that—we are each other’s partners, in life if not in romance.

Denying, qualifying, or minimizing this partnership, or the feelings of partnership and love I feel with many of the people in my life, does a disservice to the power and importance those relationships hold for me. More and more, I become disillusioned with the idea that our social lives are supposed to be organized around just one significant other who is supposed to be significant in a myriad of ways.

The person you date, love, and marry is supposed to fill an almost impossible number of roles in your life. We are supposed to marry our best friend, who should also be our lover, our sexual partner, our professional equal, our spiritual soul mate, the ideal co-parent of hypothetical future children, an eternally stimulating conversationalist, a compatible roommate, and someone who can be trusted to make major decisions in emergency situations, merge seamlessly into our preexisting family and social lives, and remain a pleasant companion until death do us part. Imagine the absurdity of approaching other relationships that way—if instead of having different friends who were ideal for studying with, crying with, drinking with, working out with, etc., we sought out one perfect individual and then entered with this person into a legal contract of friendship that could be implicitly violated by seeking other forms of support from other people.

The reality of human relationships falls far short of this nuclear-family ideal. Perhaps there is a definite difference between the love one feels for a significant other and the love one feels for close friends, or perhaps we’re only socialized to feel such a difference. Regardless, such a narrow definition of partnership and strict adherence to a rigid hierarchy of relationships that privileges romance and sex over platonic connection and support only serve to close us off to opportunities for fulfilling and loving relationships, which can take all forms.

None of this is meant to undermine monogamous romantic relationships, or justify breaching a significant other’s trust and “going outside the relationship.” For me, monogamy or the lack thereof doesn’t even come into play here. I don’t think polyamory is right for everyone or the only model by which to live a rich and fulfilling life. Instead—if you’ll allow me to invent some terms—I want to hear more discussion of more amorphous concepts like polyintimacy and polycommitment, of honoring and experiencing different relationships in ways that feel comfortable and right on their own terms without needless concern for how to categorize or prioritize.

After a cathartic venting/snacking/crying session, the previously mentioned best friend and I find ourselves cuddling in my room at 3 a.m. We probably intended to study together at some point, but some things are simply more important than reading for class. I sleepily tell her that if she doesn’t want to leave for her own room, she’s welcome to spend the night here. Having been on the receiving end of my sleep-deprived crankiness many a time, she knows that this, for me, is the most intimate way of inviting someone into my bed. In a few hours we will both wake up uncomfortable in my too-small twin XL, but for now the gesture stands, and it’s enough to remind me of how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me—regardless of labels.

Clair Fuller is a second-year in the College majoring in gender and sexuality studies.

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