So the other day, somebody got to my blog through searching “platonically in love with brother.” This inspires me to write about my views on intense nonsexual love between siblings and first cousins, which is an idea I’ve been enamored with since I was in high school.
My views on romantic/passionate friendship between siblings or first cousins, and on the possibility of two siblings or two first cousins having a nonromantic/nonsexual primary life partnership, are predicated on the ideas that any “romantic” feelings present in a romantic friendship or a passionate friendship (which are, in my dictionary, nonsexual) aren’t quite the same as “romantic” feelings present in a traditional romantic-sexual (or romantic asexual) couple relationship. I don’t know how to describe the difference, especially considering I don’t personally draw any distinction between “romantic” and “nonromantic” love in my own experience anymore, but based on the history of romantic friendship and some of the experiences and positions of other asexuals who have specific romantic orientations, I do firmly believe that for many people, there is this difference between “romantic” feelings in the two types of relationships. Not a huge difference but a difference.
When I talk about romantic friendship or passionate friendship between siblings or first cousins, I am not talking about sex or conventional romantic-sexual relationships. I’m not talking about a prelude to a romantic-sexual relationship. I’m not talking about siblings or first cousins who have either one-sided or mutual sexual attraction to each other. When I talk about a nonromantic/nonsexual primary life partnership between siblings or first cousins, again—this does not include sex or sexual attraction.
I don’t believe that a primary life partnership is naturally based on romantic sexuality. In other words, wanting to be someone’s primary life partner does not have to be based on romantic and/or sexual attraction to that person. A person can want to be life partners with someone, without wanting a sexual and/or romantic relationship with them.
Likewise, wanting a romantic friendship with somebody isn’t based on sexual attraction or on the kind of romantic attraction that lends itself to a traditional romantic-sexual couple relationship. There’s a reason why romantic friendship or passionate friendship is its own category; these are different relationships from romantic-sexual couplehood or fuck buddy relationships or abstinent romantic relationships.
What is Romantic or Passionate Friendship?
Essentially, it’s a nonsexual relationship that contains “romantic” elements. The love and connection felt in a romantic or passionate friendship is on par, emotionally speaking, with the love and connection felt in a traditional romantic-sexual couple relationship. It can be just as intense, just as vulnerable, just as deep emotionally. And usually, the friendship also includes openly emotional expressions of love, a good measure of sensual/affectionate touch, quality time spent one-on-one, and a lot of emotional intimacy.
I personally distinguish between romantic friendship and passionate friendship, which I explained in a previous post. Now would be a good time for me to mention that I also see romantic friendship and passionate friendship as different from queerplatonic relationships.
Romantic friendships were historically same-sex, for the most part. They don’t have to be. Neither does passionate friendship. Neither of these relationships have to happen with a person of the gender you’re romantically and/or sexually attracted to: meaning, a straight woman could have a romantic friendship with another woman, a straight man with another man, etc. Sexual attraction/desire doesn’t figure into these friendships and neither does couple-type romantic attraction (although, I’ve heard other aces say that their attraction to a potential romantic friend is definitely on the romance spectrum for them).
Romantic friendships and passionate friendships can be non-exclusive and in practice, it’s probably more common for them to be non-exclusive than exclusive. That means, romantic or passionate friends don’t necessarily restrict each other from having other romantic/passionate friends or having traditional romantic-sexual partners. It is theoretically possible for someone to have both a romantic (sexual or asexual) partner and a romantic friend.
Special Love: Siblings and First Cousins
I believe that once in a blue moon, a pair of siblings or a pair of first cousins can have a connection with each other that naturally lends itself to a romantic friendship, a passionate friendship, or a primary nonromantic/nonsexual life partnership. I believe that love between siblings or between first cousins can be extremely deep and intense, affectionate and even passionate—all without being sexual or romantic.
I think it’s quite rare. But it’s possible. I’ve come across a few examples in my study of romantic friendship in history, and these examples were actually fairly “recent”–19th century. (They also, interestingly, were cross-sex. Not same-sex.)
And mainstream psychology be damned, I do not for one minute believe that these sibling or cousin connections are in the same category as outright incestuous relationships. No, not even the so-called “emotionally incestuous” kind. (Fuck you, Freud. And everybody who espouses that all intense, deep, or highly emotional love is based in sex.)
A romantic friendship or a passionate friendship between siblings or first cousins isn’t about sex, doesn’t include sex, isn’t about unhealthy co-dependency, skewed power dynamics, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc—which is what the vast majority of incestuous relationships include. (Note: I do believe that there is such as a thing as consensual incest between adult siblings that’s not at all abusive. And first cousins have been having romantic-sexual relationships with each other, consensually, for thousands of years. These are both still different from romantic/passionate friendship between siblings or cousins.)
A romantic friendship or passionate friendship between siblings or between first cousins isn’t really any different than such friendship between two non-related individuals. I think the only significant difference is that your blood connection can add a sense of specialness or emotional intensity to your relationship—which is awesome. You more likely than not have a long, shared history with your sibling or first cousin, which means you know each other extremely well, and even if you don’t, that doesn’t take away from that primal sense of connection or familiarity with each other. That’s not something you can feel, in exactly the same way, with anyone unrelated to you—no matter how much you love each other. It’s simply a unique quality to love between siblings or first cousins.
If two siblings or two first cousins have a romantic friendship or even a passionate friendship, that doesn’t prohibit either person from having romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people or take away the desire for romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people. Hell, even if the siblings or cousins are primary life partners, which means they’ve made a commitment to operate identically to any standard married couple in terms of cohabitation, financial interdependence, emotional interdependence, etc, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people. Unless they’re both aromantic and asexual, I have a hard time believing that the siblings or cousins would choose not to have romantic and/or sexual relationships outside of their romantic friendship.
And you don’t have to be polyamorous to have both a romantic friendship and a traditional romantic-sexual couple relationship. Sure, it might seem more intuitive for a poly person to have a romantic friendship or a passionate friendship in addition to a romantic/sexual couple relationship, but it all depends on how you view your romantic feelings, emotional intimacy, friendship, etc. I’ve seen monogamous aces express a strong desire for romantic friendship outside their primary romantic partnership and still feel like their monogamy in the partnership would be intact. I’ve heard of aces (myself included) who would love to have more than one romantic or passionate friendship at a time, regardless of whether they’ve got a life partner or not. A monogamist can separate romantic friendship from romantic couplehood in whatever way they like, and as long as everybody in the situation is cool with it, there’s no reason why that monogamist should think of their self or be thought of as polyamorous. Some people don’t even consider their feelings for a romantic/passionate friend, however intense or emotional or passionate, as “romantic.”
A romantic friendship or passionate friendship does not have to also be a primary life partnership. Likewise, a primary life partnership between siblings or first cousins doesn’t have to be a romantic or passionate friendship. How involved they are with each other, how much their lives intertwine, how much “romantic” energy they have in their relationship is totally up to them and can vary on a case by case basis.
The siblings or cousins might have a primary life partnership in which they live together by choice and put each other first forever but keep their relationship pretty standard for a close, nonromantic/nonsexual relationship (big love but not really any “romantic” overtones to their behavior or interaction). They might have a romantic friendship that is not primary, that doesn’t include cohabitation or financial interdependence, that happens alongside one or both of them having a life partnership with somebody else—and those outside life partnerships may even be prioritized above the romantic friendship. They might have both a passionate friendship and a primary life partnership with each other. They might be in a polyamorous type situation where one sibling or cousin is life partners with both their sibling/cousin and with a romantic/sexual partner.
Whatever the configuration of relationships in the lives of a sibling or cousin pair in a romantic friendship, a passionate friendship, or a life partnership, as long as everybody’s needs and desires are being met in a respectful, supportive, loving context—it’s all good.
On Weirdness, Beauty, and Familial Passion
It should come as no surprise that I personally don’t find sibling or cousin romantic friendship/passionate friendship/life partnership weird. I am a radical relationship anarchist and a celibate asexual, after all. But really, since I was a teen newly identified as asexual, I have found the idea of passionate love between siblings or first cousins so beautiful and so special, it makes my heart ache a little bit. I adore the idea of siblings or first cousins being nonromantic/nonsexual life partners. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I’m a celibate asexual, and familial love is presumably both nonsexual and potentially Super Serious and Significant…. But I’ve always had such a strong admiration and longing for blood-kin relationships, particularly sibling and first cousin ones, that are passionate and warm and tender and affectionate and made of real love. Not just the bullshit, assumed “love” that most biological families claim to have but spend no real time expressing or feeling. I mean, love that’s viscerally palpable, love that leaves you thinking of the other person when they’re not around and smiling about a memory you share, love that makes you want to be with them as much as you can, love that feels good to you on a regular basis. Love that comes out all the time and makes itself obvious between you and your sibling or cousin.
Most people, I’m sure, would find the concept of a romantic friendship between two siblings or two cousins really weird, maybe inappropriate, maybe covertly incestuous—simply because most people sexualize all intense emotion and love, all forms of emotional/sensual touch, etc. They would look at a pair of siblings or cousins who have a romantic friendship or a passionate friendship or who want to spend their lives together as partners (regardless of their romance/sex lives with others) and say to them: “You’re too close” or “you’re too emotional about each other” or “you have an unhealthy relationship” [implied: you must want to fuck each other or you’re just pathologically crippled to a point where you can’t form primary romantic-sexual relationships like you’re supposed to].
But here’s the thing: just because this type of love is very, very rare doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or unnatural. And I’ll say the following until I’m blue in the face and die of oxygen deprivation: passionate emotion, intense love, sensual touch, emotional intimacy, and even a desire to spend your life with somebody is not universally, automatically, unavoidably sexual or romantic in nature. Just because it is for you, doesn’t mean that it is for every human being alive on this planet and every human being who’s lived in the past or will live in the future.
If you are born to a sibling or a cousin with whom you share a love and connection so profound that you can have a romantic friendship with each other or that you want to be nonromantic/nonsexual life partners, that is unbelievably beautiful and special and I hope to Christ that you recognize it as something to be pursued, protected, etc.
Sibling and cousin relationships come in every possible variation, and the most common seem to be apathy and animosity. Siblings and cousins hate each other or dislike each other or feel totally uninterested in each other, they’re rivals, they carry around 20 year old grudges against each other, they spend their adult lives still brooding about their sibling being the favorite or their cousin being their grandparents’ favorite. Sometimes, your sibling or cousin is someone you have nothing in common with. Sometimes, they’re a douche bag. Maybe you grow up and you’re on friendly terms with each other, but you just don’t feel drawn to each other emotionally. You’re related, but you aren’t even casual friends.
Most people have sibling and cousin relationships that fall into one of those categories. At best, a person’s good friends with their sibling or cousin, but they’re long distance and absorbed in their own traditional marriages, nuclear family life, etc. Their love is lukewarm. In any case, of course those people aren’t going to understand how someone could be passionate, intimate, emotional, loving with a sibling or a cousin, for totally nonsexual/healthy reasons. They have no personal frame of reference to understand. They can judge and condemn someone else’s unique relationship as wrong or unhealthy or incestuous or whatever because in their world, those are the only other options besides the relationship sucking. Forget the peanut gallery.
If you’re somebody who’s got a sibling or cousin connection that’s romantic friendship material or life partnership material, you are colossally blessed. Who cares if the world doesn’t understand? If your relationship with your sibling or cousin makes you happy and nurtures you spiritually, that’s all that matters. Cherish and honor your sibling or your cousin, the relationship you have with them, and allow it to reach its fullest potential. This is tremendous love we’re talking about here. Love that you can’t go out and find with just anybody. Love that you can’t replace. It’s utterly unique and special, and it should be treated accordingly.