The following thoughts have been percolating in my brain over the last few weeks and reached a fullness last night when I was talking it out to my sister over the phone. I want to share this with you, fellow aces and aromantics, because I think it’s something that many of you probably haven’t considered. It took me quite a long time to consider it, and I’ve been thinking about nonsexual primary love for a decade or more.
Clarification: the relationship I’m talking about in this post is a primary platonic/queerplatonic relationship, not a nonsexual romantic relationship. I personally don’t differentiate, in my own life and heart, between nonsexual “romantic” love and nonsexual “platonic/not-romantic” love, but for the purpose of comprehension, I will treat them as two separate types of love/relationship because most people see them that way.
***When I say “primary platonic partnership,” I mean a relationship that occupies that space in the lives of both partners, where they are each other’s most important person, they live together in a committed way, they intend to stay together regardless of whatever other relationships happen in their lives, they share in each other’s Big Life Things, they’re each other’s main go-to person for whatever, etc. I mean a relationship that both people have openly, verbally established as being their primary partnership. It’s called “partnership” for a reason. This is a hell of a lot more involved and serious than common friendship, even the average best friendship.
Main Thought: Most romantic-sexual people don’t have the courage to commit to a primary platonic life partnership.
Why would they need courage? Because choosing to have a primary platonic life partner instead of a romantic-sexual life partner is the most subversive act a romantic-sexual person could make in the contemporary social world. It is a radical departure from everything that is considered “normal” and standard. A primary platonic life partnership is something that most people don’t understand, don’t accept as valid, have never even heard of before, etc. Not to mention that if a romantic-sexual person in a primary platonic life partnership has just signed up to deal with a long list of complications in their social life that may or may not subside with time. Primary platonic life partnerships don’t have a script, don’t have a pre-established framework in our culture, don’t have legal recognition as being equal to a romantic-sexual monogamous relationship, don’t even have effective language to describe and communicate about them!
If you’re a romantic-sexual person with a primary platonic life partner of the same sex, people around you will question or suspect that you’re gay, and if your PLP is of the opposite sex, they’ll either assume it’s a heterosexual relationship or strongly question why it isn’t a heterosexual relationship.
How do you introduce your PLP to your family? To your other friends?
Where do you find a community of people who understands what your relationship is and how important it is?
What examples do you look toward, to know how you should conduct the relationship or negotiate it into the rest of your life?
How do you explain to your lovers that you already have a partner that comes first, even though you aren’t fucking and never have and never will?
Are you ready for the judgment and the confusion and the stares when you bring (if you bring) your PLP to Christmas dinner or a wedding or whatever and you introduce them for what they are and no one else has any idea what you’re talking about and thinks that you’re a freak or lying about the sexual nature of the relationship?
You ready to not fit in with your other romantic-sexual friends who are all living totally normative, ordinary lifestyles? To field their questions and criticisms?
You ready for the question: “Well, what are you going to do if you find the right person to have a romantic-sexual relationship with and you miss out on that opportunity because you tied yourself down to someone who’s just a friend?”
How do you deal with the fact that society won’t view you and your PLP as a “couple” the way they would if you were fucking and romancing each other, even if you live together, even if you rely on each other the most, even if you own property together, have kids together, travel together, do business together, etc?
How do you resist the urge to internalize all of this doubt and disapproval and judgment?
If you and your partner are the only ones in the whole world that you know of who takes your commitment seriously and you aren’t receiving that communal/societal validation on a regular basis, are you strong enough to hold to your relationship anyway, when everything and everyone around you is telling you to be “normal”? To put sex first? To have an ordinary marriage with a lover?
Are you ready to defend yourself and your partner and your relationship on a regular basis?
What do you do if you co-workers or your parents ask about your marital status? Are you “single” because you don’t have a lover or are you “taken” because you DO have a primary partner that you’re emotionally committed to? Aren’t you both?
How do you resist the demands of a lover who wants you to leave your PLP for them and has all of society backing them up?
How do you deal with the potential identity crisis having a PLP might induce? You’re a freak now. You fall outside of the normative social system. Even if you’re heterosexual, you aren’t fully part of the hetero-normative world. You aren’t living like all your other sexual friends. Maybe your PLP is someone of the same sex, in which case what the world sees is not just your opposite-sex lovers but the same-sex person living in your house and escorting you to social functions and identifying as your partner. Maybe your PLP is of the opposite-sex and then no one believes you aren’t fucking and when they find out one or both of you are fucking other people, they’re outraged by that. They say you’re bad to each other or bad to your lovers. If you’re queer and you have a PLP, what do other queer people say about you? What if you’re gay and your PLP is of the opposite-sex? Does your queerness come into question? Can you bring your partner around your queer friends? If your PLP is of the same-sex, how do you deal with the potential condemnation other queer people will shoot your way for not sexualizing that relationship? For seeking sexual relations with other people while prioritizing your PLP?
What if you feel like you need resources as someone pursuing a primary platonic partnership? There aren’t any.
What if you have moments where you question yourself and your relationship and you need someone to validate and affirm your choice and remind you why you’re in the relationship? Who do you talk to? Who gets it? Probably no one you know personally. No, not even a therapist.
What if you have a lover and that lover leaves you, and your friends and family blame your platonic partnership? And you?
What if you’re a heterosexual with a same-sex platonic life partner and your family wouldn’t accept you for being gay and then you tell them you have this PLP and they think that’s bullshit and you’re covering up the fact that you’re gay, even though you aren’t, and then they condemn you on the basis of their erroneous assumptions?
What if you’re out as gay and your family and friends are perfectly accepting of that and then you bring around an opposite-sex PLP and suddenly they think you’re straight after all? But you aren’t straight and you still want your sexual identity taken seriously? What if your PLP is of the same-sex but they’re straight and it comes out that not only are you having sex with other people, they are too and they’re doing it with people of the opposite sex? What if your family and friends think they need to defend you against your partner?
Or if your PLP is asexual, do you tell everyone you know? Then you have to explain asexuality. And half the time sexual people fail to get it or accept it even when it’s explained to them. What if people then think that the only reason you and your PLP aren’t in a romantic-sexual relationship is because your PLP is asexual and holding you hostage in a nonsexual primary relationship when you would be fucking them if you could?
Are you ready to confront your own social conditioning and deconstruct everything you’ve been taught to think since the day you were born, about love and relationships and friendship and family and romance and sexuality? Are you ready to be so conscientious about your relationships, your feelings, your reasoning behind the lifestyle you choose?
The point is this: it’s easy to do the “normal” thing. It’s easy to choose and pursue a normative life. It means you fit in. It means you’re part of the dominant system. It means you minimize the complexities in your life. It means you don’t have to expend all this extra energy and time to explain, defend, negotiate, think about, communicate, etc for the sake of maintaining a relationship that isn’t “normal” by the rest of the world’s standards.
Show up to a family gathering or an outing with your friends and bring your lover and introduce that person as your lover who is the most important person in your life, and everyone gets it. Immediately. No explanation required. Good job, you’re doing it right.
There are many places and cases where even being gay and having a primary sexual relationship with someone of the same-sex would be more readily accepted (and certainly more understood) than being a sexual person in a primary platonic partnership. The one benefit of being queer, if you’re in or looking to be in a primary platonic partnership, is you know what it’s like to not be completely normative, even if you’re fortunate enough to come from an accepting family and have accepting friends and go to an accepting school or work environment. Having a platonic life partner still departs from “normal” more than having same-sex sexual relationships that you make primary in your life, but at least you have some experience with falling outside heteronormative culture.
If you’re heterosexual, on the other hand, having a platonic life partnership can be scary as shit. You’ve been at the top of the “normal” pyramid your whole life and suddenly you’re doing something that’s really radical and giving up some of your “normal” privileges. You have to do the work of being “abnormal.” You can no longer function on autopilot in your social life. You can no longer stop at saying “I’m straight.” That doesn’t sum up your relationship story. You probably aren’t going to get married and have a wedding the way you’re expected to. When you get with your friends and they talk about their lovers, their spouses, their sex lives, dating, etc, you may be able to talk about your sex life, but if the subject is “my partner,” your partner is not the same kind as your friends’.
Basically, if you’re going to live a lifestyle that’s not “normal,” it takes guts.
An asexual or an aromantic doesn’t necessarily have a choice. We are what we are. Especially for those of us who are sex-averse and never having sex or for an aromantic who is NOT at all comfortable doing relationships that look or feel anything like romance, we’re outside the norm by default. And if we’re active in the online community, we’re used to these concepts of alternative relationships based around nonsexuality. We have the language, the ideas, more readily at hand. We’re already in a position where we have to explain what we are to other people so adding a relationship to that spiel isn’t out of our depth. We’ve probably put a lot of thought into the subject of a primary platonic relationship before we actually get into one, if we get into one.
I honestly don’t think most romantic-sexual people have the courage to take on the challenges (willingly) of a lifestyle so alternative as one including a primary nonsexual/nonromantic relationship. And it’s logical of them. Pursuing a normative relationship style is easiest, and human beings tend to go with the path of least resistance whenever they can. Why not, right?
To go down a more difficult road, by choice, knowing what you’re in for and that you could be going down the easy road instead, requires a powerfully compelling reason. The payoff has to look like it outweighs the cost. A romantic-sexual person who chooses a primary platonic life partner would have to feel so much love, so much connection with that other person, that not being partners with them feels unbearable. A hell of a lot more unbearable than being a freak in society and putting up with all the bullshit that entails.
And frankly? I just don’t believe that the vast majority of romantic-sexual people will or can love someone nonsexually and nonromantically to that degree. Not that it’s necessarily a choice…. The formation of a friendship such that it is primary partnership material for romantic-sexual people is rare and always has been, if my study of nonsexual love in history is any indication.
So as someone who wants a nonsexual/nonromantic partnership with a woman (in addition to a nonsexual partnership with a man), I need that woman to be someone who knows how to handle this situation with grace and patience and courage. I need a woman who wants it as enthusiastically as I do. I need a woman who doesn’t have a problem with going around to her friends and family and saying, “This is my life partner and we aren’t sexually involved and we aren’t really romantic either and she’s the one I want to be with for good and this is what that means and if you still don’t get it after I explain it to you, I don’t care. This also has no bearing on my sexual orientation or my romantic orientation. I expect you to respect this relationship and the commitment I’ve made to it and treat me and my partner the way you would treat any other couple you know.”
Why I ever believed that my heterosexual childhood friend could be that kind of person, I have no idea, but it’s very clear to me now how ridiculous it is to expect all that from someone like her.
I need a woman who’s aromantic (and perhaps also asexual)—because that’s the sort of person who can not only be trusted with a primary platonic life partnership but the sort of person who is most prepared to actually carry it out in the real world.