Askbox Answers: Marriage & Friendship

Last night, I got a message from Linn, a heterosexual, asking about maintaining a romantic-sexual marriage and an equally important friendship simultaneously.  I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting parts of her message here, since there’s a lot to respond to.

First of all, I want to thank her for taking the time to learn about asexuality in the first place, instead of just writing us off as freaks.  It’s kind of just common decency, but aces don’t get a lot of that from allos, and I can’t help but be pleased.

So, with no further ado, I’m going to provide some thoughts and answers to her message.

“I don’t want to impose on you. I…just need somebody’s advice and take on this.”

Don’t sweat it.

“To be honest, I’m not even sure if there are other allosexuals like me, who are looking for this kind of a relationship configuration, or have even experienced what I’ve experienced lately with my love spectrum. (I didn’t want to call it a “set-up” or “a thing”. The deep, platonic bond I’m looking for, if it’s to happen, will be too important for me to call it such things.)”

I want to answer this part first because I was just reading this article the other day, and while I can’t assume anything about the author’s orientation, there are a lot of comments that agree with her — so I think it’s a safe bet that there are allos who do want the same thing or would be open to something similar.  In our culture, there’s not as much explicit discussion of friendships as there is about dating, so that’s going make it more difficult, but get someone talking about it and I suspect you’ll find that the desire for close friendships is more universal than just about anything — even more universal than the desire for traditional romantic-sexual partnerships, which is where our culture has it backwards.

The search for a powerful friendship need not be constrained by orientation, but let me just say that, among aros, aces, and aro aces especially, there’s a common refrain about feeling left behind or no longer valued once a friend starts dating.  The culture teaches us that romance and sex are the Most Important, and so friends are expected to fall to the wayside — and when your orientation makes romantic and/or sexual relationships unlikely or undesired, losing closeness with your friends is a much bigger deal.  So for people who have those kinds of worries, it’d be very exciting to form a relationship with someone who has explicitly decided that her spouse will not eclipse the importance of her friend.  For a lot of us, it’s encouraging to just know you exist.  It’s refreshing to hear from an allosexual who thinks this way.

One term that might be useful for further research here is the idea of the queerplatonic relationship, a term coined to describe a nonromantic relationship that goes beyond the expectations of what our cultural typically thinks of as friendship.  I bring this up not because you should use this phrase yourself — most people you talk to probably won’t have heard of it, and it’s not appropriate for cisgender heterosexual people to use the word “queer” for their relationships — but because it might be a useful search term for looking up information on this kind of relationship model.  To start with, you might be interested in this article on the differences between romantic friendship, passionate friendship, and queerplatonic partnership.

There’s lots of historical and theoretical precedent close friendships, and there are lots of people who want more friends.  Explaining what you want to other people, though, might be the hardest part.

“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find a spouse who will be open-minded as me about having a deep, platonic, non-sexual, non-romantic relationship on the same level as our marriage, if it even is possible. And mind you, I’m Christian. Now normally, one would think that my religion, it being open to that kind of a love, would lend itself to being more open-minded to that kind of a set-up. But since our American culture has it firmly and stubbornly rooted in out heads that you can only be emotionally intimate and physically affectionate (i.e., platonic kisses on lips, cheek, forehead, cuddling, holding hands) with only your spouse, I’m not so sure my friends or even the Church would be understanding. I’m just so boggled as to why I can’t have both, or why both of those relationships can’t be pretty close to one another in equality, if possible.”

I know what you mean, and you can have both, though you’re going to be up against some cultural hurdles if you want to do so.    Besides just wishing you luck, I’d like to offer a few points of consideration that might be helpful to you.

First off, we know that having friends does not constitute cheating on one’s spouse.  That’s something generally agreed-upon by American culture as well as the Church, so if you get into an argument over this, it may help to start from there.

Your spouse should ideally be a “friend” of sorts, but I’d warn you to be suspicious of anyone who argues that they should be your only friend, or that no one else should be as emotionally close to you as they are.  If the person you intend to marry feels threatened by you having close friendships with other people, that’s a serious warning sign.  Don’t allow anyone you date to cut off your social ties with others.  Isolation is one of the first steps in the process of ensnaring someone in an abusive relationship, so if you encounter trouble with that, I recommend looking further into abusive tactics and similar warning signs.

On the matter of persuading Churchfolk and other Christians, it might be useful to have some examples from the Bible at the ready.  Familiarize yourself with the stories of Ruth and Naomi as well as that of Jonathon and David.  It’s possible to interpret their relationships as queer, but if you’re dealing with conservative types, they won’t think to suggest that as a rebuttal.  And lest anyone think that Ruth’s love for Naomi was “casual” or ranked as less strong than the love between spouses, it’s interesting to note that in the original text, it’s certainly not described that way, even if their relationship was not necessarily sexual or romantic either.  Their relationship wasn’t just some temporary thing until Ruth got married, either — we have textual evidence to show that Naomi remained important in Ruth’s life even after she had a child with Boaz.

However, the abstract idea of emotional closeness may be easier for some people to accept than the idea of friends engaging in the sort of physical affection normally associated with romantic and/or sexual relationships (like kisses, hand-holding, et cetera).  At this point, you have to hope that the people you’re dealing with aren’t too ethnocentric.

Anthropological evidence on the subject suggests that our romantic-sexual associations around kissing are a cultural thing, not an inherent or universal thing.  There are cultures where other forms physical affection are used in place of where we would expect kissing to happen, and there are cultures where kisses are used as a normal form of greeting across all relationship types.  This is not to say that our romantic associations around kissing are wrong or that people shouldn’t use them for a romantic or sexual expression.  It’s just that our reluctance to use kisses in other ways, with other people, is really nothing more than a cultural bias, and it should not be held up as the One True Way.  If you need more information on how to persuade someone of this idea, I recommend you start with doing some research around the word “ethnocentricism” and proceed from there.

That said, you’ll have to have  a discussion with your spouse about what the two of you will agree constitutes cheating on your relationship, and by no means do I want to imply that not wanting your wife to kiss other people would be unreasonable.  I think you’re going to get the most pushback on that one, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being receptive to the idea at first.  I don’t have experience in persuading someone of this, but I suspect it might be easier to talk about de-romanticizing other things (cuddles and hand-holding) first, discussing how expression of affection and closeness doesn’t have to be inherently romantic or sexual, and then bring up kisses depending upon how that goes.  Also, it’ll probably help if your spouse likes your friend and enjoys their company as well, so that the friend’s closeness to you doesn’t seem like something done “instead of” additional closeness with your spouse, but rather something you can all benefit from, especially when the three of you spend time together.

While it shouldn’t be that big of a deal when you think about it, persuading someone to accept these ideas will depend somewhat on how open-minded and worldly they are in the first place, and so it may be easier to pursue relationships with people who already demonstrate a tendency to think critically and question tradition (not for the sake of being rebellious, but for the sake of recognizing what assumptions and patterns are simply arbitrary).  If you develop your familiarity with the ideas discussed here and find somebody willing to hear you out, I think you’ve got a decent shot at making it work.

Best of luck, and God bless.

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4 responses to “Askbox Answers: Marriage & Friendship

  • salmelo

    In case the original Asker is watching the comments, I just want to reiterate how much hearing this from an allosexual romantic means, to aros and aces in general, but also to me specifically. There are a lot more romantics in the world than aromantics, and so it’s often difficult to imagine finding fellow ones to forge these sorts of relationships with, and of course it’s hard to imagine a romantic person “settling” for a platonic relationship in lieu of a romantic one. Seeing that there is at least one romantic person on the planet who would not only be willing to try having both, but actively desires it, is very, very hope inspiring. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there and asking this question.

  • GreyWanders

    To the original asker: I know exactly what you mean! My current relationship structure is (I think) just what you’re describing here. I have a close non-sexual relationship with my Hat Guy, and he is engaged to be married. There are other people who want what you want. If you’re looking for more like-minded people, the asexual community is a great place to be. I might also suggest doing some research on polyamory. While nonsexual friendship bonds don’t get talked about a whole lot, there are still a lot of useful ideas to be found there about balancing multiple deep, loving relationships.

    To Ace Theist: “There are cultures where other forms physical affection are used in place of where we would expect kissing to happen” This is intensely interesting. Is there a resource you can point me at to learn more about this?

    • acetheist

      The first place I heard that mentioned was in an anthropology textbook that I don’t have anymore, and I can’t recall the name of the specific culture or region, but it said that prior to colonialism, couples would sniff each other as foreplay/intimacy to lead up to sex, or something like that. I did go looking for a good source to link at the time of writing this, and while there were enough to confirm that Western kissing isn’t universal, on the fly I didn’t find any particular page good enough to link here. At the moment there’s still not much I can find that’s any better than Wikipedia’s statement that “In Sub-Saharan African, Asiatic, Polynesian and possibly in some Native American cultures, kissing was relatively unimportant until European colonization.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss#Non-sexual_kisses

      However, I’ll see about contacting the professor about it in case she might know.

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