Also known as friendships.
The trouble with calling them that, though, regardless of the fact that it’s accurate for most, is that there’s such ambiguity to the word and such a wide range of what it can cover, from mere acquaintances to soul twins — which I think is part of the reason why friendship is treated as this kind of base level of human interaction, to the point where some people think it makes sense to use the phrase “more than friends” to describe even a nonromantic relationship.
This post was inspired by some observations by Queenie and some observations by Ace Admiral that point out the ace community’s lack of discourse about relationships that actually exist in our lives (in contrast with those we fantasize about in theory). In the paragraphs below, I consider why that is, why it’s important, and how to get around the difficulties of writing about relationships that we’re already in.
As Queenie commented in a footnote:
But seriously, try to think of examples of aces writing about their relationships. I collected some posts on nonsexual relationships here, but it’s actually very hard to find people writing about relationships they’re actually in. Most people either write fairly non-personal descriptions of their relationship structure (romantic, queerplatonic, poly, kinky, etc.) or write something sufficiently vague that it won’t come back to bite them if their relationship falls apart. Others mention relationships they have (partner, boyfriend, zucchini, etc.), but never delve into specifics. It’s also much easier to find posts on how people got into relationships than it is to find posts on people being in relationships. I could find exponentially many more posts on what relationships people want to have than what relationships people actually have.
I think “sufficiently vague that it won’t come back to bite them if their relationship falls apart” is a key phrase here. One of the issues that prevents more detailed exploration of existing relationships is the “I don’t want to jinx it” instinct. Contrary to how they’re sometimes treated, relationships are not Things to be acquired and then admired on a wall; they’re ongoing processes, the sustained continuance of relation and interaction with another person. It’s not so much a thing you “have” so much as a thing you do. As a result, a fundamental characteristic of relationships is that they’re always in flux, growing and changing, as the people relating to each other are always growing and changing, which means that relationships are never truly static. And so it’s naturally difficult for anyone to talk about them as if they are.
To describe existing relationships, people have the option of using adjectives to label them, or the option of using present-tense sentences to say “We do this” or “We do that,” which can be difficult in that it’s a commitment to a specific pattern in your interactions that may not last as long as the relationship itself. It’s not just a matter of avoiding proclamations like “We’ll be together forever!” that might come back to bite them if the relationship falls apart (although that, too, can be an uncomfortable concern). It’s also facing the fact that there may have been things y’all used to do that y’all don’t do anymore, and there are things y’all do now that y’all may not do in the future, and that’s okay, because it’s in the nature of relationships to shift and shed and develop over time.*
*For a second, I sat here thinking “How should I make it clear that this form of ‘you’ is intended in the plural?” and then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I’m from Texas.”
That said, there are still some communicable facts about how current relationships are and have been, and it’s important that people share with each other about how it’s done.
In their response post, Ace Admiral wrote:
I dated an ace, and it went horribly wrong partially because of a lack in the scripts and narratives for friendships.
[…] This community and all its constituent parts and associates seem to me to spend a lot of time talking about traditional romances, non-traditional romances, queerplatonic relationships, non-normative relationships, &c., and while there is nothing wrong with that, I think we really need to put serious effort and thought into friendship.
Because if we want to talk about “messy, human reality” (and I think we should), let’s start with how ace/aro spectrum peeps are, on balance, going to need to lean on their friends as they try to struggle through getting and keeping and navigating capital-R Relationships, and how a lot of those Relationships are going to have a strong foundation in the principals, tools, and expectations of friendship.
We need to take a more serious look at friendship because it’s a relationship type common to people of all orientations and because sprinkling in sex or romance or heavier commitment isn’t a magic recipe for making a relationship easier to navigate. We’ve just been taking for granted that we know what friendship looks like, without really talking about it. And while the expectation that friends shouldn’t be as elusive as other types of relationship partners may lead us to take our friendships for granted, I think Ace Admiral’s post makes a case for how we could benefit from giving them more explicit attention.
They hardly even get explicit attention in our media, for that matter, except for war buddy/buddy cop movies and children’s media, and I think that right there is a clue for how we can address this problem: stories. We need more stories — stories of teens and adults whose friendships are not forged through participation in violence — not just as representation from fictional characters but also in the telling of our own stories, to get a better picture of what real friendship looks like and the many forms it can take. We need more specifics about what makes a friendship work but also, ideally, to learn how to identify abuse within friendships as well.
So the solution may not be to describe what a relationship is “like”, per se, but to start posting and circulating stories that illustrate the happenings of past and current relationships — maybe with a moral of the story at the end, or maybe none at all.