Long before I ever came to an understanding of my own sexuality, I always found connection and fulfillment in my close friendships. In high school and college, dating never made a lot of sense to me. Looking back, this was probably because while I was physically attracted to men, my romantic interest in them was small to nonexistent. My female friends, however, meant the world to me.
When I was 21, I finally put two and two together and started dating women. Being raised in a conservative Mormon family meant that figuring out my bisexuality was a bit complicated. By the time I came out, however, I was ready to embrace that identity. I found solace in that label. I strongly believe that labels can be empowering in some situations and for some people and limiting in others. Over the years, I started to build a strong, diverse friend group, mostly made up of other queer women.
I found a lot of contentment and connection among these women. Whenever I needed to talk about a problem, they were there. Talking regularly with these friends got me through my struggles with mental illness.
Depending on the friend, the physical connection would often play a role as well. From hand holding to cuddling, in many ways these queer friendships fulfilled a need for physical touch in my life. While dating has always been hard for me, these relationships, while not always perfect and sometimes difficult, always brought deep love and happiness to my life.
Many straight women often have close relationships with other women, too. But, the component of queer identity makes a big difference here. The undercurrent of attraction and the possibility of relationships makes connections between queer women more nuanced at times. From my anecdotal experience, many queer women have found themselves in similar situations. Sometimes these undefined relationships can be maddening and lead to jealousy or frustration. Questions like, “What are we?” and, “What does this mean?” can nag. But, on the other hand, these relationships can also take pressure off and allow for intimacy in open-ended, freeing ways.
In general, we live in a culture that values the romantic/sexual relationship above all others. This is easy to see. Most popular songs and movies center the romantic relationship as the most important one in a person’s life. The monogamous romantic bond is shown as a shining example of connection and what we all should strive for in life. All other relationships, be they platonic, familial, or something more nebulous, are made to seem secondary to traditional romance. A heterosexual pairing is held up as the golden ideal, but these same ideas about pairing off and romance superseding all else can sometimes translate to the queer community, too.
As I struggled to come to terms with why I wasn’t dating and what to label these close friendships I had, I came across an article about romantic friendships. In the article, writer Maria Popova addresses romance and friendship and the history of the ‘neverland between the two and the inevitable discombobulation of our neatly organized relationship structures that happens when romantic love and friendship converge”. Relationships are never as simple or cut and dried as a definition. These convergences can cause confusion but also lead to joy and beauty.
Another term I came across is queerplatonic. This phrase was coined by asexual and aromantic people, and it’s often used in the asexual and aromantic communities. It’s defined by AVENwiki as, “a relationship that is not romantic but involves a close emotional connection (platonic) beyond what most people consider friendship. The commitment level in a queerplatonic relationship is often considered to be similar to that of a romantic relationship.” This definition is one I relate to on many levels, even if it’s still not a label I have used often. These new terms can help us gain insight into ourselves and our relationships, and these concepts allow people to broaden their perceptions of relationships and love.
Understanding the importance of these types of relationships throughout history has helped me realize something about friendship. Friendships of all kinds – platonic, romantic, sexual and otherwise – can be life-saving, even when their parameters aren’t so clear-cut. I’ve learned to embrace the ambiguity and enjoy the queer friendships that provide me with a constant source of intimacy in my life.