I’m back for round two of parsing out the differences between romantic friendship, passionate friendship, and queerplatonic relationships. For round one, go here.
Disclaimer: There are exceptions to every rule.
In history, romantic friendship was usually a same-sex relationship, between young unmarried people, that often ended upon one friend’s marriage to a third party or at least became diminished by said marriage. Romantic friendship was often totally nonsexual, but some portion of them must’ve included sex either because humankind used to be a lot less rigid about sexual activity as it related (or didn’t relate) to sexual orientation or because gay people used romantic friendship to have romantic-sexual relationships with each other safely, in environments that condemned homosexuality but supported romantic friendship.
Romantic friendship, in present time, can exist between any two people regardless of sexual orientation, romantic orientation, their corresponding genders, their romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people, their ages, etc. Romantic friendship is typically not a primary relationship, and if it is, that status is probably temporary. What that means is, assuming everyone in the picture is cool with it, you can have a romantic partner–whether you are sexual or asexual–and still have a romantic friendship with someone else, whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous with your romantic partner. Romantic friendship is nonsexual, meaning no sexual activity or sexual attraction. (If you’re having sex with someone you’re romantically involved with, you’re just a plain, ol’ romantic-sexual couple, whether you want to identify yourselves as such to the world or not.)
Romantic friendship was named to express the gray-area that it occupied in its historical manifestations: usually nonsexual friendships that did not fill the Romantic-Sexual Primary Partner/Spouse role but that did include romantically coded behaviors, emotional intimacy, and feelings that went beyond the other friendships that both people had with others. I acknowledge that the term “romantic friendship” can be problematic for a few reasons: the term is inaccessible to aromantic people, it suggests that certain behaviors and a certain amount of emotional intensity and investment are innately and universally “romantic”–which isn’t true, and it can be misinterpreted to mean a “fuck buddy” relationship or a transitional period in a relationship that’s moving from standard friendship to normative romantic-sexual couplehood. That said, romantic friendship can still be a useful term for some people, like romantic asexuals who are polyamorous and/or relationship anarchists or varioriented sexual people who feel romantically attracted to people they are not sexually attracted to.
Romantic friendships can include a type of romantic attraction without including a desire to be a normative romantic couple in a primary romantic relationship. This can be romantic attraction that happens outside of a person’s romantic/sexual orientations, like two heterosexual men who feel romantically attracted to each other enough to want romantic friendship but not romantically attracted to each other in a way that motivates them to become a full-blown romantic-sexual couple. Romantic friendships can also be relationships that do not include romantic attraction but do include a strong degree of emotional attraction that surpasses normative friendship, in which case there’s overlap with queerplatonic relationships and the terms become interchangeable.
It’s occurred to me that sensual friendship may also be a useful term to describe a nonromantic, nonsexual friendship that involves a lot of sensual touch: cuddling, holding hands, kissing, co-sleeping, massages, caressing the body, etc. A friendship can be physically affectionate without being extremely emotional, so that’s why I think “sensual friendship” does not negate the usefulness of the term “romantic friendship”–which is not to say that intense emotion is automatically romantic, because it’s not. But if you have a friendship that is both physically intimate/sensual and very emotional and you don’t want to use the term queerplatonic for whatever reason, romantic friendship may be your best option.
I’ve already written at length about passionate friendship, so I’ll just reiterate its distinctive features that separates it from romantic friendship and queerplatonic relationships.
Passionate friendship is a primary relationship. It does not come second to other relationships, including romantic-sexual relationships. A passionate friend is the most important person is one’s life. A passionate friend is usually treated like a primary partner, whatever that means to someone.
A passionate friendship is nonsexual. It does not include sexual attraction or sexual activity.
A passionate friendship is usually not inclusive of romantic attraction. In my mind, it is essentially a nonromantic relationship and the ultimate expression of nonromantic love, passion, sensuality, etc. It’s a nonromantic relationship that matches romantic relationships as much as any nonromantic bond can. That said, being a fan of ambiguous feelings that refuse to be categorized, I think passionate friendships can be the result of feelings and love that feel neither 100% romantic nor 100% nonromantic. If your feelings are too grey for you to confidently call them “romantic” or “nonromantic” but all those standard features of passionate friendship are present, the term can be a great fit.
A passionate friendship is rare enough that you’re probably not going to have more than one in life and certainly not a long list of them. You can have several romantic friends in life, several queerplatonic friends, several sensual friends, but a passionate friendship is pretty, for lack of a better word, special. Serial anything does not apply to passionate friendship. You don’t “date” to find a passionate friend the way you do with a romantic partner, nor can you pick just any friendship you already have and make it into a passionate friendship. Passionate friendship is a very specific combination of deep, intense feelings, commitment, involvement, emotional attraction, usually a lot of physical intimacy, no sex and (usually) no romance. It either happens to you or it doesn’t. It’s not synonymous with sensual friendship because there’s more to it than physical intimacy; it’s not synonymous with romantic friendship or queerplatonic friendship because it’s both nonromantic and consistently primary with high involvement, high commitment, symmetrical feelings and investment, etc.
Passionate friendships can overlap with queerplatonic relationships, in which case whether you call your relationship a “passionate friendship” or a “queerplatonic relationship” (that’s your primary partnership and involves commitment, intense love, intimacy, complete reciprocity, etc) is up to you and just about personal preference. We might say that passionate friendships are a type of queerplatonic relationship, but not all queerplatonic relationships are passionate friendships. (In other words, chocolate ice cream is ice cream, but not all ice cream is chocolate.)
Queerplatonic relationships are the most flexible, varied type of gray-area friendship. Queerplatonic relationships can be super casual or super intense. They can be very involved or barely involved. They can function identically to a normative best friendship or they can become the primary nonromantic partnership in a person’s life, especially if you’re aromantic. They can be sexual, but they are never romantic. They can be subordinated to a person’s romantic-sexual relationships, or they can be superior to a person’s romantic-sexual relationships. (That is, if the two people in a QP relationship are both romantic and sexual, rather than aromantic and/or asexual). You can have as many QP relationships at a time as you want, and they can all look very different from each other, with varying levels of involvement, commitment, emotion, physical intimacy, etc.
Queerplatonic seems to refer to feelings primarily and the actual conduct of the relationship secondarily: meaning, some people who use “queerplatonic” to describe their relationship use it because their feelings are different than the other nonromantic feelings/attachment they have to normative friends, even though the actual queerplatonic relationship looks no different than your average best friendship. This separates queerplatonic relationships from romantic friendship and passionate friendship: romantic friendships and passionate friendships don’t look anything like normative best friendship in practice, nor can they exist if only one person in the friendship wants a lot of involvement/commitment/emotion/touch, while the other doesn’t. Queerplatonic relationships accommodate asymmetrical investment, feelings, commitment, etc; romantic friendships and passionate friendships don’t.
It may be accurate to say that passionate friendship and some romantic friendships are actually subtypes of queerplatonic relationships. Queerplatonic is an umbrella term for nonromantic relationships and feelings that exceed or differ from the nonromantic feelings of normative friendship. There’s room for a wide variety of nonromantic relationships that exist between “standard friendship” and “romantic relationships,” which is why you can encounter ten different queerplatonic relationships and they may all work differently.