This morning, I got another askbox message about close friends, of the sort discussed in my earlier post, Marriage & Friendship. Although the person who sent me the message just needed to vent, I hope she doesn’t mind me responding to some of her thoughts here (
honestly, I need to add some more text fields to that page, once I have time).
In our society, phrases like “break up” are thought of as exclusive to romantic-sexual relationships; ninjawords even defines a breakup as “The termination of a sexual relationship”, and Merrium Webster’s website says to break up is “to end a romance”. It’s understood and expected that breakups are painful and hard to get through in those circumstances, but there’s rarely acknowledgement that the same can be true for (nonsexual) friendships. And, frankly, that’s bullbutter.
Even if a given individual feels that the pain from romantic-sexual breakups is more intense, losing or feeling more distance with friends who are important to you isn’t a cakewalk, either. What’s more, friendships usually aren’t formalized the way other relationships are, meaning they tend not to have as clear-cut beginnings, and the same goes for their ends. It’s all very fuzzy; and strangely enough, it seems like friends are less likely than romantic-sexual couples to have the “what’s the state of our relationship” talk that would clarify these matters. The fuzziness and flexibility of friendships can be seen as a positive, especially since sometimes you can pick up right where you left off with old friends you haven’t talked to in a long time, but I think it’s important to note it has its pros and cons, and maybe it makes as much sense to have frank, evaluative talks about any relationship, not just the romantic-sexual ones.
Presumably, the idea that romantic-sexual relationships are the only ones that need these things, or that have that serious of an effect, is based on the idea that friendships can never be as close as any other relationships — and that’s also bullbutter, which is why I wanted to respond to this other part of the message:
I’m tired of society explicitly telling me the only place I can find deep love, emotionally intimacy, and physical closeness (i.e., cuddling; holding hands; kisses on cheeks, foreheads, hands; putting my head on their shoulder) is in a romantic-sexual relationship.
Hopefully, I’m not the only allosexual that feels this way.
I would certainly bet otherwise. One of my friends, the one I’ve alluded to several times on this blog, was very emotionally close to me while we were going to school together; we shared a lot, we’ve both cried on each other, and there was that one time we cuddled on a couch in public and people were eying us like they thought we were a couple. And she’s bisexual, not ace in the least, so there’s one for you. It’s a valid desire and frustration for anyone of any orientation to feel.
But what came to mind when I read this, right off the bat, was something said by my sister, about a year or so ago. My sister, who has previously expressed disbelief and disdain for asexuality, and who identifies as heterosexual, has also previously expressed some annoyance at the sort of sci-fi/action-adventure stories she reads for always being about rescuing either a brother/sister or a romantic love interest. “Why can’t there be a story about someone going to rescue their friend?” she asked, earnestly bothered by the absence of such stories.
When she said that, I was silent for a moment, surprised (and pleasantly awed) that the target of her hourly gripes this time was a frustration that has also been raised often in the ace and aro communities. Valuing romantic partners is all well and good, but culturally, there is an underwhelming value placed on strong friendships. You do see them portrayed, of course, and not always just in children’s movies (I’ve been meaning to write a post complaining about how the word “mature” is sometimes meant to convey “includes sexual content”, but there are so many posts I’ve been meaning to write I can’t even keep up with myself). You’ve got Sherlock and Watson, Frodo and Sam, those two guys from Scrubs… and it’s usually pairs of men, it seems.
That’s probably just because our culture is sexist and androcentric in general, but I also find it a little weird, since it seems like public displays of nonsexual physical affection are more condoned between pairs of women, as compared with pairs of men (which is probably part of why the concept of “bromance” can be interpreted as homophobic). And of course, between women and men, any affection is automatically coded as sexual and/or romantic, because of heteronormativity — and when Lucy Liu was cast as Watson for Elementary, some viewers expressed the expectation that she and Holmes would (or even should) make their relationship romantic and/or sexual, now that the character’s a woman, because that’s what’s supposed to automatically happen any time a man and a woman are close.
Sorry, I always end up taking things back to media representation. It’s the comm studies student in me. But, as with anything, I think that’s where a lot of this abstract pressure is coming from, and consequentially, that’s one of the prime battlegrounds where it can be fought.
I don’t know where I was going with this, but, here’s the affirmation I can offer: it does make sense to care a lot about friendships, it does make sense to feel hurt when you lose a friend that meant a lot to you, and you’re never bothering me by sending me these kinds of messages. It’s one of my aims, with this blog, to engage with people who need to hear these things, and so anyone reading this should feel welcome to vent to me about this stuff whenever they want.