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HONORING QUEERPLATONIC RELATIONSHIPS TO BETTER HONOR OURSELVES

There is a whole world of possibility to be found in queerplatonic relationships. We do not have to, nor should we, stifle ourselves or our capacity for variant, multifaceted expressions of love. 

By Sherronda J. Brown

Throughout my life, many things and people have worked to convince me that my lack of interest in or desire for romantic love is proof of my defectiveness as a human. After years of being told by damn near everything and everyone around me that I would “end up alone” if I didn’t embrace romance, that being “chosen” should be among my highest life priorities, that romance is the most important relationship structure and that this gave my romantically-inclined friends the right to devalue me, I had all but accepted a depressing fate. I would either resign to never having any chosen relationships outside of friendship—which society does not value nearly as much as romance—or I would be forced to pretend and perform in romantic relationships that I knew would never really feel natural, equitable, or satisfying for me. 

Learning that there was actual terminology, thought, and praxis for non-platonic attractions and relationship structures outside of romance saved me from all of my detachment, demoralization, and inner turmoil regarding my connections with and feelings for other people. Terms like alterous attraction and tertiary attraction were not only incredibly helpful, relevant, and useful for me in understanding my sexuality and orientation, but also validating and affirming. They answered questions about love that I had always carried with me but never had the language to fully articulate, and had never been encouraged to ask. In fact, people like me have always been discouraged from exploring anything outside of the norm, even if that exploration could help us feel happier, more fulfilled, and less alone. 

Amatonormativity tells us that romantic love is the most significant and most powerful kind of love that we experience, and the only kind of love that is possible outside of platonic and familial. It also wrongly presumes that we are universally able to experience it, and in the same ways. The truth is that there are attractions and relationship structures that are not romantic, and they are significant and deeply felt. Our society simply does not recognize or value them in the ways that they deserve to be. The myth that we are less valuable, less productive, less deserving, and less mature without romantic love in our lives is so widely accepted and un(der)examined that those of who don’t experience romance are often left feeling faulty or incomplete. 

To acknowledge these other forms of love and attraction is to recognize the power of all emotional connections, and to value the multitude of ways that we can find connection with one another outside of romance. These ways are just as important and worthy of our investment as romantic relationships are made out to be. This is what I, and many others, have always needed to hear, rather than being told—in one way or another—that we are cold, unfeeling, selfish, and unlovable because we do not pedestal romance above all other forms of love and attraction. We need these terms to describe the things we feel, or don’t feel, and these terms need to be accessible to everyone and regarded as normal, rather than fringe. It’s really limiting, frustrating, and exhausting—to say the least—to have lived so long before finally being introduced to language I can confidently use to describe how I experience love. 

Among the new terms and concepts that I became acquainted with is queerplatonic. It describes attractions and relationships that bend the established social rules around love, blurring the (arbitrarily drawn) lines between romantic and platonic. Alternatively known as quasiplatonic or quirkyplatonic, this non-romantic relationship structure includes any number of intimacies, commitments, and partnerships practiced and valued in ways that are socially considered to only be appropriate for and deserved by people in romantic relationships. It may even include a touch of the erotic if sexual desire arises, but is not defined by or dependent upon it. In this way, queerplatonic love opens us up to so many possibilities for largely unexplored connection, bliss, thrill, and fulfillment. 

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Shades of what could be easily read as queerplatonic love and partnerships exist in our popular media, they simply haven’t been named as such. What always comes to mind for me is the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, in several iterations—namely Sherlock, House, and Elementary. Holmes and Watson/House and Wilson are deeply committed to each other, deeply invested in one another, deeply involved in each other’s lives, make monumental sacrifices for each other, and choose to live together or in very close proximity to each other. They are in love, just not romantic love, and their level of intimacy goes beyond what typical friendships entail. 

I also think of Mac and Dennis or Frank and Charlie from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia—ridiculous and dysfunctional as they may be—with the former pair being codependent, unable to function without being in constant contact, and the latter pair choosing to share an extremely small living space and even a bed. I think of Danny, Jesse, and Joey from Full House, who choose to share a home and raise children together, prioritizing their commitment to each other over romantic relationships. Grace and Frankie gives us an unlikely couple who decide to spend their lives together and support each other after their respective divorces. Morgan and Garcia’s friendship on Criminal Minds is so affectionate and rife with flirtation that they often make their coworkers uncomfortable. 

Taystee and Poussey of Orange Is the New Black demonstrate an intimate partnership that reaches far deeper than their other friendships. Daryl and Carol from The Walking Dead have confused audiences for many seasons with their closeness, with fans continuously arguing both about the prospect of Daryl’s a-spec identity and whether or not there is sexual or romantic tension between the two. Hell, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes would wreck entire worlds to find their way back to each other. All of these are non-romantic relationships that many might describe as being “too close” or misinterpret as being inherently romantic and/or sexual in nature. 

When we don’t recognize the true value, efficacy, and gravity of non-romantic relationships like these in our real lives, it leaves too many people forcing themselves into romantic entanglements that were never meant to be—a trap that I fell into before understanding and accepting my a-spec identity. Affirming that I have always had the capacity to experience love in abundance and in valid ways that come naturally and feel right to me—to be able to challenge the narrative that I would be eternally empty, unwanted, and without purpose living a life unencumbered by romance—was necessary for me to find a better way of loving myself. 

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Loving someone queerplatonically means that they are special to you, and you (want to) make them a priority in your life. There is a shared, sometimes unspoken, language between you. Your bond is marked by a distinct closeness, intention, and electricity, it’s exhilarating and intense. They feel like home. You know it when you feel it and you know that it’s not romantic, even if you don’t always have the words for it. We’ve been taught that we are only “allowed” to experience these feelings and receive the affection and emotional support that come along with them from romantic partners, but there is a whole world of possibility to be found in queerplatonic relationships. We do not have to, nor should we, stifle ourselves or our capacity for variant, multifaceted expressions of love. 

What we may or may not call these relationships ultimately doesn’t matter to me, though. It’s the substance they carry that matters, not whether or not they can be easily categorized and digested. It’s the acknowledgment of their significance, and the power of self-actualization and self-identification that comes with naming them as something that is special and distinct from romance, regardless of whether others are able to understand. What matters is that we understand that our significant others, life partners, and soulmates need not be romantic. 

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Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies.

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