Friendship doesn’t (and does) mean anything.

A post spurred by this conversation on nonromantic attractions & relationships.

First of all, “platonic” is, etymologically and descriptively, kind of a terrible word, and I still wish it would go away.  A decent replacement would be nice.  But it would also be cool if we could agree on whether that replacement means nonromantic, nonsexual, or nonromantic-nonsexual.  Or we could just… use the words I just listed there.  *shrug*  It would solve a few problems, that’s all I’m saying.

But to get into the meat of the matter: when folks are talking about nonromance, I’ve been seeing a lot of claims, enthymemes, and entire concept models that are wonky, confusing, and clash with my own experience.  I’m going to talk a bit about the latter.  So here we go:

In my experience, friendship doesn’t mean anything.

And by that I mean — “friendship” can describe almost anything.

Or rather, it describes an interpersonal relationship and an implied peer-level emotional bond, but beyond that… it doesn’t narrow itself to anything in particular.

People have talked before about how definitions of & ingredients for “romance” can vary from person to person, and that’s definitely just as true for friendship, if not moreso — especially since people tend to have more friends than they have romantic partners at any given time.

Using my own limited social experience as an example: my relationship with the people I befriended in high school out of casual commiseration looks a lot different than my relationship with the people I latched onto during each week of annual summer camp looks a lot different than my relationship with my online friend I’ve known for over four years (and who has my phone number but doesn’t know my first name) looks a lot different than my relationship with a college buddy who has her own tag on here (#flying right seat) and who once suggested the two of us marry for financial reasons looks a lot different from my relationship with the regular commenters on my blog looks a lot different than my amicable work relationships looks a lot different than my relationship with an ex-coworker-turned-friend who has a crush on me.

I could refer to any of those as “friendships.”

Regardless of how much emotional closeness they involve, how much/often we’re in contact with each other, or what we do together.

To me, “friendship” is a huge, broad category.  My definition isn’t necessarily universal.  But I also don’t think I’m all that unique when it comes to this.

So, from the get-go, deliberately describing/defining something in relation to “friendship” (as if it’s some fixed, static, limited, known entity) — without making mention of some additional ingredient — is already confusing and wrong to me, because to me a “friend” is pretty much defined by getting along with each other & liking each other.

If you want to talk about something being “neither platonic nor romantic” or “neither friendship nor romance” then I don’t know what you’re saying to begin with, because I thought pretty much any positive nonromantic relationship was friendship.

If you want to begin a contrast with the premise “platonic, you feel with all your friends, or its what you feel when you wanna be friends with someone” then I’m confused to begin with, because there’s not One Specific Feeling or relationship-tone I feel with “all” my friends and desired-friends.

If you want to describe something as “deeper feeling” than some fabricated notion of true-distilled-only-friendship, you’re already wrong.

If you want to describe anything as “a step above best friends,” I will be nauseous.

If you want to imply that sensual interaction and emotional intimacy disqualify anything from being friendship or “platonic,” that’s you placing your own narrow, arbitrary (wrong) restrictions on what friendship can be, and also lighting the fuse to a hatebomb in my heart.

I think — and I can only guess, because nobody has spelled this out beyond vague devaluations — that the aros participating in these discussions have swallowed and accepted the idea that “friendship = casual and physically/emotionally limited” and think that it’s fine for that idea to be perpetuated and enforced.

But, look.  C’mon.

Intimacy within friendship, y’all.  It exists.  And you can talk about it & your desires for it & mark off a distinct category for it without spitting on me and my wonderful dear friends.



32 responses to “Friendship doesn’t (and does) mean anything.

  • Siggy

    My prior understanding of “platonic” was basically non-sexual (but often romantic). This is not how it is used in ace communities, and that’s fine. But I am perpetually astonished how no one ever acknowledges that a redefinition has occurred. If you wanna do education work, you really have to be aware of that kind of thing…

    Advocates of the “alterous” label, rather than solving these problems, hitched themselves to the concept of “platonic”. That was suboptimal.

  • Siggy

    I don’t think there is any particular set of relationships that are called friendships. Rather, there’s a fuzzy boundary where, practically speaking, people pick their own labels based on their temperament and experiences. For example, if you’re a joiner, you might prefer to go with one of the established categories and declare that those categories are flexible enough for you. If you’re a non-conformist, you might prefer new labels and models. If you like to reserve “friends” for the Facebook kind, you might not refer to your closer relationships as friendships. So on and so forth.

  • Vesper (nighstar) (@nighstar)

    you make a lot of good points about friendship and how useless it, especially is as part of a definition about attraction or relationships. and yeah, the word “platonic” isn’t a great word either, especially if viewed from a classical or philosophical point of view. that said, i’d personally prefer to avoid describing my feelings or relationships with words like non- just because it feels like acknowledging that the thing on the other side of the non- is the default…. which it socially is, but eh.

    also, thanks for the support. :)

  • paminam

    Hi, Coyote & All

    I’m new here and enjoying these pieces :-)
    I have posted twice on ‘Aromantic Talk’, as ‘Bill Smith’, because fb would not let me create a new ID :-(

    It would make sense to me to use ‘platonic’ in the generally accepted meaning. Intellectual relationships can, but need not, be intellectually intimate: I admire my former ‘brainbox’ partner, and, in many ways, we think alike, have mutual interests, etc, but is our relationship intellectually intimate? No. He has NO idea of my deeper beliefs, intellectual constructs, etc.

    On the friendship side, there are best friends and best friends. Anne of Green Gables refers to her best friend, Diana, as her busom friend, as people did in those days, meaning a relationship where intimate emotional secrets are shared. Kinda cute term, but perhaps difficult to apply across the genders :-) Other best friends are those you can always rely on to come through and fight your corner and vice versa. Emotional intimacy not necessarily required.

    A dimension of relationship I personally miss in the aro etc spectrum is that of spirituality. Those of us to whom past lives are real have an additional array of relationships to identify. We encounter people we have known previously. In what capacity then? In what capacity now? There are many more relationships than the well-known ‘soul mate’.

    Finally, here’s a classic on relationships: ‘The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour’ by Michael Argyle (1967). Yes, it’s old, but useful. Used copies from £0.01/$0.03 on Amazon.


  • luvtheheaven

    Oh gosh I am checking out your link at the top of this, haven’t even read this post yet but I’m getting confused and overwhelmed lmao. I had never even heard of the term “alterous” until right now. I guess I’ve been missing some kind of huge tumblr ace discourse…

    • Coyote

      It’s more of an aro thing, I think. And yeah, it’s new to me too.

      • luvtheheaven

        You’re right, it’s just aromantic discourse, not related to asexuality at all. I don’t even know how to start properly following aro discourse even if I wanted to. Tumblr doesn’t work well for me as a first-stop place to find that kind of stuff. Anyway I think I read a lot thanks to your link here and looking through some other things linked there… and I’ve got a gist of what is going on now.

  • luvtheheaven

    I think your points about all the different things that friendships can be is really important, and not one I’ve seen made enough lately. I completely agree with the sentiment: “If you want to talk about something being “neither platonic nor romantic” or “neither friendship nor romance” then I don’t know what you’re saying to begin with, because I thought pretty much any positive nonromantic relationship was friendship.” It’s part of what confuses me too.

    To me, there have always been words like acquaintance, which means less close than whatever your personal cut off for friend is, but then there has never been a clear line of where that is, never been a definition made for when someone who you know is officially now a friend, you have to make that decision for yourself.

    Friendship is like the broadest thing ever, and even many people in romantic relationships and who are “in love” also feel a sense of “they’re my best friend” or “our relationship is built on friendship” or “we need to have friendship too for it to work” or something. Like even romance and friendship overlap, friendship is THAT freaking broad that even the people who have never heard of aromanticsm or the idea of separating out feelings in this way might consider friendship to have an important degree of overlap with other categories.

    People explain parent/child or sibling or other family relationships that happen to be exceptionally close as having strong degrees of friendship to them too, or like that family member is that person’s “best friend”.

  • epochryphal

    yesssss coy hitting it out of the park. *enthusiastic pointing*

    i was thinking of saying something and pulling in a polyamory model? mainly: eyyy, some people find relationship hierarchies useful/necessary/inescapable, and some find them the opposite. we even talk about it as an “orientation”/innate thing — the way you’re programmed, and trying to go against your natural relationship model can mess you up

    (anecdote: i really really like relationship anarchy…but trying to avoid using primary/secondary/other language has caused me sooo much unnecessary grief and mucked up relationships/communication. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

    and speaking of — Relationship Anarchy. acknowledging models!!

    i also wonder how much alterous is related to /commitment/? afaik the poly community still doesn’t have super refined words (more like broad concepts) around this, but there’s short/long-term, heavy/light time commitment, who’s a Priority (if anyone)

    didn’t…was it queenie? or you or both? make that rad post/s about different pieces of relationships — commitment over time, amount of time, “level of intimacy” (tricky tricky semilinear phrasing) aka what topics do you talk about, and something else or two? bc Relevant

    • queenieofaces

      *emerges from her pile of readings on the Meiji Restoration* I keep meaning to write a post on why poly/mono doesn’t work as a categorization system for me, in part because of stuff like this post. Namely, I have a lot of relationships that are unlike other relationships I have, but that tends to be because my feelings are person-specific and thus my relationships are person-specific rather than because I have any innate desire to have One of Each. (But also I have no desire to have more than one romantic relationship at a time because…given the INCREDIBLY RAPID RATE at which I am attracted to people, the chances of me being attracted to more than one person at a given time and also more than one of the people I’m attracted to wanting to date me are virtually nil.) BUT on the other hand I’ve had super bad experiences with relationship anarchy and people not wanting to define relationships (and that being either super unsafe or feeling super unsafe because PTSD brain is very good at freaking out about everything). Thus my making models that don’t rely on defining what type of attraction you’re experiencing (or assume that a particular type of attraction will necessarily and inevitably lead to a matching relationship) and that don’t assume a mono/poly framework but that do require you to talk about expectations and mechanics of relationships.

  • Calum P Cameron

    See, with me personally, if you say that a type of love or affection is “neither platonic nor romantic”, my immediate reaction is to ask “familial or unconditional?”

    I’d say “C.S. Lewis has ruined me”, but actually I’m pretty sure I preferred to categorise the kinds of love I experienced by “feels like family” vs “feels like friendship” (both of which I also assumed were different to how either romance or the unconditional love of God would feel if only, y’know, I were capable of either of them) long before I actually heard about Lewis’s romantic/platonic/familial/volitional system, so it’s more that some of that guy’s writing happened to resonate with the way in which I was already ruined.

    Also, in related news, eternal death say I to the very concept of applying the word “just” to the word “friends”. I mean, I realise I can’t force people NOT to define friendship as having an upper limit of closeness or intensity, but that is a way of thinking with an ugly, ugly history, and I will never not fight over it. Besides, we already HAVE a word for “like friendship but not unlimited” – “acquaintanceship”. So long as we have the concept of “just acquaintances”, we will never have good reason to use the concept of “just friends”.

    Although, okay, if someone made a sitcom about a bunch of wacky Supreme Court Justices getting into scrapes together and called it “Just Friends”, that I would support. My hatred for the phrase does not trump my love of puns.

  • Leon T.

    Personally, my former understanding of the term ‘Platonic’ as a category of relationships was something along the lines of ‘A relationship you’d consider to be positive which varies from a Romantic one’, e.g. the affection you may feel for a friend or a family member you’re relatively close to.

    Of course you don’t need to poke holes in that Taxonomy of mine as I’m very well aware of the large range of problems and limitations with it now.

    Mainly just sharing this considering other people are also discussing their former understanding of the term.

  • Linkspam: February 26th, 2016 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote thinks friendship has a very broad meaning. […]

  • Sara K.


    To me, ‘friendship’ seems to be a catch-all term for all positive personal relationships which do not already have another specific term attached to it.

    I suspect a large part of the problem is that there is a wide array of positive personal relationships which do not have any widely-recognized specific label, and part of the reason this problem exists is a cultural emphasis on romantic and familial relationships over other kinds. The question is … do we try to create more specific labels for the many kinds of relationships which are referred to ‘friendships’, or do we try to do things in a way which does not require using specific labels so much (like Queenie’s Five Factors Relationship Model)?

  • Nienna

    Yes, my experience is people define the word friendship in very different ways, so not just to mean something casual. To some a friend is someone who’s an intimate confidante and a person you;d trust with your life, love as much as family and consider a life time bond. To others – seriously – a friend is anyone you’ve chatted to lately and know by name. Or anyone you know whom you wouldn’t describe as an enemy.

  • killerbee13

    I’m a little late for this, but apparently people are still posting in this thread so it doesn’t matter. I wrote about a similar topic a few months ago, ( but I think you said what you said much better here than I said what I said there, if you understand my meaning.

    I’m not sure why, but people just don’t seem to acknowledge that people use “friend” in many ways, and normative assumptions about friendships are *much* weaker than they are with “primary relationships”, to the extent that they exist at all. I would say I have ~2.5 “levels” of friendships, but this isn’t a fixed thing and I don’t use any real specific terminology to reflect it so it doesn’t really matter. To the extent that it does, they’re “friend”, “good friend”, and “close friend”, although those labels are kind of terrible. Basically, there are people I’d call “friends”, but if you asked me to name my friends (and you were proven not to be stalking me) I likely wouldn’t name them until after I’d thought about it for a while.

    • Coyote

      You’re definitely not late. I’ve had people comment on stuff months and months later and it’s a non-issue.

      Thanks for the link! I like what you said there too. It’s interesting to see someone describe their lower-limit boundary on friendship, so to speak.

  • killerbee13

    Perhaps a good word to have would be one meaning “a person whose company I generally enjoy but with whom my relationship has no meaningful structure”, or, in more popular (less useful?) language, “a kind of relationship in between acquaintanceship and friendship”

  • What does it mean to “like” someone? – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

    […] website” or “going on a friend-date to see if we would work as friends”. Because being friends doesn’t actually mean anything: you can be friends yet never actually add each other on facebook, yet never see each other outside […]

  • FateDefied

    Thank you for this, Coyote. Your content is always a good read, and I appreciate your viewpoint. I almost participated in the original discussion when it occurred on my dash, but it was too confusing, and too confrontational, for me to try; as an asexual who is still questioning whether or not she’s aromantic, I was attempting to learn from the discussion. I think what happened was that there were different definitions of what platonic attraction was, and different definitions of friendship. I also think people were trying to place friendships and relationships on different scales just as they were with platonic attraction and other sorts of attraction (one is better than the other, et cetera).

    You hit those points in this, and it was fantastic. Again, thank you, and I hope this comment finds you well.

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