Passionate Friendship

I want to define passionate friendship as I conceive of it in a separate post, for easy reference. It’s something I do talk about enough that a thorough definition will be useful.

Passionate friendship” is a term I have chosen to describe a relationship akin, if not identical, to the “romantic friendships” which existed throughout history all over the world, up until the 19th century. My reasons for renaming the relationship type “passionate friendship” are twofold: I find the term “romantic friendship” potentially problematic because of its implications that certain behaviors are definitively “romantic” and because it could alienate aromantic people from naming and claiming this type of friendship on the basis that “romantic friendship” could easily imply the presence of romantic attraction; there are differences between my relationship ideal and historical romantic friendship to a degree that I think it makes sense to construct “passionate friendship” as a new concept, however rooted in romantic friendship it might be.

Passionate friendship is:

  • a nonsexual relationship, meaning sexual activity does not occur and sexual attraction is not present
  • a relationship that usually does not include romantic attraction but does include intense emotional attraction equal to or greater than standard romantic attraction; it can also be a relationship where it is unclear whether the feelings are “romantic” or “nonromantic” for either person to label them
  • a relationship based on love; passionate friends love each other to the core, beyond mere liking or caring
  • the emotional intensity of passionate friendship love is equivalent or greater to that of the standard romantic-sexual couple relationship, during phases or moments of (emotional) passion
  • in the every day lives of two passionate friends, especially those who have been together a long time, the feeling of passion comes and goes (the way it does in any long-term, stable, successful romantic-sexual relationship) but the feeling of strong warmth and profound affection is constant
  • a relationship in which emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy are at their peaks
  • a physically intimate relationship which may include any or all of the following, theoretically at any frequency but usually, the frequency is quite high (distinguishing the passionate friendship from a common friendship): full hugs, holding hands, chaste kisses on the face/body/lips, cuddling, sharing a bed, caressing, massages, dancing, linking arms, leaning against each other, looking into each other’s eyes deliberately, heartbeat listening, touching each other’s bare skin, etc.
  • verbal or written expression of love and emotions to each other, for no reason, on a regular basis [EX: “I love you,” “You’re the most important person in my life,” “I’m so happy when I’m with you,” etc.]. This covers text messages, phone conversations, handwritten letters and notes, and face to face talk.
  • If the two passionate friends individually create a hierarchy of relationships in their lives, the passionate friendship is either their most important relationship or one of their most important relationships, entirely equal to the other most important. Whether the passionate friendship happens within a relationship hierarchy or not, both friends prioritize each other and each other’s needs.
  • The passionate friendship often doubles as the primary partnership of the two friends, and consequently, they either choose to live together permanently or live separately and alone. Being primary partners, the passionate friends carve out protected time to be together on a regular basis, take care of each other’s core needs, may choose to become financially interdependent, may choose to rear children together or combine their families that include other adults, are each other’s caregiver (or one of them) in case of illness or injury, travel together, etc.
  • The feeling quality of a passionate friendship is a blend of love, caring, warmth, joy, attraction (emotional/intellectual/sensual), fondness, affection, trust, loyalty, appreciation, and intimacy.
  • Ideally–and usually, on account of such a connection being rare in the first place–the passionate friendship is one that lasts until one or both of the friends die. It is a relationship that compels loyalty and commitment because the friends are so strongly attracted to each other, their love intense and their harmony natural, that they simply never find a good enough reason to terminate the friendship. Likewise, because the passionate friendship is the most important relationship in the friends’ lives, no matter what, they do whatever they can to preserve it.
  • This is a connection that often begins with an instantaneous and unexplainable affinity: two passionate friends meet for the first time and immediately like each other without reason, wanting to be close to each other and important to each other.  The more they become acquainted, the faster and harder they fall for each other. Their love comes naturally and effortlessly, like the friendship itself. This resonance they have speaks to the spiritual nature of their connection and their love. There’s something about the relationship that can’t be seen with the eye or expressed adequately with words. The passionate friends themselves may not understand why they feel so strongly for each other, why they’re so drawn to each other, no matter how long they’ve been together.
  • Passionate friendship is characterized by deep vulnerability and intimacy. Moments of emotional openness are frequent, whether one friend tells the other how they feel about them and the relationship, or one friend comforts the other because of emotional distress that the upset friend shares honestly. Passionate friends can be physically vulnerable, emotionally vulnerable, and intellectually vulnerable with each other. They respond to each other’s vulnerability with great respect, caring, compassion, and love.
  • Passionate friendship is a one-on-one relationship. While passionate friends may spend time with other people in a group, most of the time they spend together is spent without anyone else around.
  • Passionate friendship is an organic type of relationship. It is not made. It cannot be forced or orchestrated with just anyone. The most definitive quality of passionate friendship is a powerful emotional attraction and love that surpasses that of ordinary or common friendship. There’s a reason that most thinkers who wrote about romantic friendship throughout history characterized it as extremely rare, the rarest of all of human connections. A person doesn’t choose to have a passionate friendship with someone, so much as passionate friendship happens to two people without warning. For this reason, passionate friendship usually only visits a person once in life, although it’s entirely possible to have more than one passionate friend at a time.

What are the differences between passionate friendship and romantic friendship?

Romantic friendship was primarily a youth relationship that ended upon one or both friends getting married. (This is particularly true of romantic friendships during the 18th and 19th centuries, in America and Europe.) Romantic friendship was also a predominantly same-sex relationship, because throughout history, cross-sex friendship was considered impossible or inappropriate (unless the male and female were related). Romantic friendship, if it survived the weddings of the friends, would still become subordinate to the romantic-sexual relationships the friends had with others. Romantic friendship was usually a relationship that formed between members of the same generation, which ties into it being a youth-oriented relationship preceding marriage.

Passionate friendship can happen between any gender combination, can be inter-generational, is never subordinated to a romantic-sexual relationship or any other relationship, can happen at any stage of life, and lasts forever or as close to it as possible.

I have to assume that most romantic friendships in history happened between allosexual people, simply because allosexuals make up most of the human race. That said, I believe passionate friendship in the 21st century is far more likely to happen between two asexuals or at the very least involve an asexual. Passionate friendship is rare in the first place, no matter what someone’s gender or sexual orientation, and I don’t think it can happen to someone who doesn’t believe in it, who isn’t aware of it, or whose heart isn’t open to it. Most allosexuals, at least in Western civilization, fall into one or more of those categories. The present, post-Freudian, post-sexual revolution American cultural atmosphere is not conducive to passionate friendship and may never be again, on a grand scale. Passionate friendship depends on principles that directly contradict that of mainstream sexual society: the premise that powerful, passionate love and friendship can exist without sex, sexual attraction, romance, or romantic attraction and can be superior to romantic-sexual relationships in quality and importance; the premise that great sensual, physical intimacy can happen without sex or sexual attraction; the premise that the person you love most and with the greatest intensity of love is someone you do not want to fuck or need to fuck, someone you do not need to “date” or marry.

I personally view passionate friendship as distinct from asexual romantic relationships, although if two asexuals had a passionate friendship and one or both described feeling romantic attraction to the other, I certainly wouldn’t debate their naming of the relationship. I like to think that the love of passionate friendship, characterized by great intensity and intimacy, combined with the lack of sex, make the presence of “romantic” attraction irrelevant. But that could just be the relationship anarchist in me.


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