More Than Friends
August 8, 2019 3:37 PM   Subscribe

The singer and I never “made love,” but we did make love, coax it from the air around us, render it in our folded hearts. . . . These days we have dozens of names for people we have sex with without any corresponding affection. We call them hook-ups or one-night-stands. We call them fuck-buddies or friends-with-benefits. But unrecognized in our vocabularies is the inverse: What do we call the people with whom we have authentic, passionate intimacy, but no actual sex?” by Aubrey Hirsch for Roxane Gay’s Gay Mag.
posted by sallybrown (25 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sigh. I both do and don't miss the awkward will-he wont-he relationships of youth.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:40 PM on August 8


Why didn’t she make a pass, a suggestion, ask directly? As they say on the green—“Kiss them, you fool! “
posted by Ideefixe at 3:48 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Achingly beautiful. Thank you for posting!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:11 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Did a quick control+F for "asexual" and...nothing. We have our ways! They're your "love", your heart friend, your partner, your "dramatic sighh".

It's weird that this is in something called "Gay Mag" and doesn't seem conscious of the inordinately long history of not-platonic-but-not-fucking relationships which have been part of the queer as fuck (ha) landscape for...ever.

I'm not saying this isn't one of the sweetest personal essays I've read for a while, by the way. The aching, aching, closeness she writes about is so present. Maybe I'm just so deep in Queer Land that I forgot what it's like not having language for this type of loving experience.
posted by zinful at 4:44 PM on August 8 [19 favorites]


Oh lord. I am starting to wonder if I am edging towards this with someone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:52 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


When a potential partner asks, “What’s your ‘number’?”

Wtf? Do grown-ups really ask this of potential partners these days?

If so, I recommend borrowing from this exchange between Monica and Richard (from Friends). Monica wasn't able to provide a number of the top of her head, so Richard asked for a ballpark figure.

Her response, "Less than a ballpark."
posted by she's not there at 4:56 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


zinful, I experienced some similar mild disappointment—I have been processing that I am pretty deep on the ace spectrum and what that means for the kinds of relationships I want to have with people. It seems exhausting to not have a space for close intimate friendships to the point where they generate tension because they’re in a weird liminal space between romantic relationship/not. The friendships I have of this nature I consider my most important emotional anchor points in life; I can’t imagine what I would do without them. I think sharing deep connection with people who aren’t romantic partners should be normalized further. Everyone can benefit from a more robust web of intimacy in their life.

snuggle your buds y’all it’s great
posted by Gymnopedist at 5:06 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


Wtf? Do grown-ups really ask this of potential partners these days?

Do they not? I get asked it. I don't like it, and I don't like the way you seem like you're hiding a stadium full of dudes if you express that you don't like it.

The article was very sweet, but I can't help wondering about the perspective of these guys. Were they thinking, "look, if I make it any clearer I'll be gross"? Or is that my blinkered perspective, my societal expectation that a heterosexual man wants either everything or nothing from a woman?

Sometimes I think of an old college friend who was wonderful to cuddle. Her hair was so soft and sweet-smelling. There is no way to express this without seeming to be pining, which I guess I am, platonically. I miss her.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:09 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


I don't think I've had any relationships in my life that I would categorize as more than very close friendship but not either romantically intimate or hopefully-romantically-intimate-in-the-future in the eyes of one or the other party. A crush, I mean, requited or un-.

Genuinely not sure whether that's because I've been bereft of nonsexual passionate intimacy, or (my hunch) because I have a expansive idea of "very close friendship." Either way I've never felt like I was missing vocabulary.

I also wonder whether this is a result of the fact that for most of my life I don't think I was very sexually desirable. Which made it easy to stay in the lane of deep friendship where maybe other people would explore the idea of "do I want to introduce the idea of sex to this relationship."
posted by penduluum at 5:35 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Yeah, +1 that this just sounded like my definition of "very close friendship". TBH I thought maybe this is an essay where it only resonates with people who are allosexual & only attracted to one gender, and it's specifically about friendships with people of that gender? I think part of the challenge of being bi/pansexual is that it's rare to have a friendship that's close enough to be intimate where I haven't experienced like, at least a TINY frisson of non-platonic attraction every once in a while? Like, if I like you enough to tell you my deepest & darkest or spend a ton of time with you it kinda seems like a given I'd probably be at least a little bit down to kiss you if I weren't otherwise romantically occupied.

As it happens, I'm happily married, and not in a space where I'd act on those feelings, so they're easy to enjoy in the moment and then release. And I mostly try to make friends these days with other people who are long-term partnered just so there's no whiff of possibility there, to keep things uncomplicated (and frankly, I'm so busy with my job and kids that it's been a long time since I made what I'd call a very close friend). But drawing appropriate boundaries around my close friendships has been a Thing in my life since, oh, appx puberty, and it isn't always easy.
posted by potrzebie at 6:10 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


It's weird that this is in something called "Gay Mag" and doesn't seem conscious of the inordinately long history of not-platonic-but-not-fucking relationships which have been part of the queer as fuck (ha) landscape for...ever.

It’s named Gay Mag because it was founded by Roxane Gay. I read this piece as being about relationships where there is sexual desire present but not acted on due to extenuating circumstances, which doesn’t fit what I thought asexuality was...
posted by sallybrown at 6:16 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


There is absolutely, positively a space for "romantic but not sexual" in my relationship vocabulary.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:16 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


There are, I suspect, many of us who (sometimes for very important reasons) have not slept with everyone we loved deeply and wanted badly to sleep with. I have learned that my friends with higher “numbers” sometimes have limited empathy for the heartbreak of losing such a person, or more aptly, of never having had them.

Or of wondering if the longing will ever snuff out like it ought to. “You two didn’t even kiss!” I remember one (then-)friend sneering, foiling the deep romantic adult agony of her real-life down-low escapades against the naïve silliness my “old crush.” Other friends insist “emotional cheating is WAY worse than physical.” They always find a high ground, whether it’s defined by morality or worldliness. I don’t tell them how alienating it can feel, for the same reason I once pretended not to hear a man say he loved me. Because sometimes acknowledging how one feels, aloud, would just make a damn mess of everything.

I am one of those low “number” people, because I can count on one hand how many people I’ve felt this way about, and I’ve not acted on those feelings with most of them, even when it was painfully obviously mutual. Sometimes it just couldn’t be. Bad timing, like the OP says.

I do not personally identify as demisexual because there is nothing demi, nothing partial or halfway or even slow-burning about how it felt. Many people can cast their affections broad and bright as floodlights, but others of us are laser beams, and when something actually trips our attraction/affection sensors it can feel like a certain kind of instant precision strike, and it can leave a mark forever.

I related to this piece. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by armeowda at 7:05 PM on August 8 [20 favorites]


family?
posted by mwhybark at 7:53 PM on August 8


“Coax it from the air around us” brought Love Hurts to my mind. Parsons and Harris weren't romantic as far I as know but wow (sorry, if that's corny)
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:12 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


This is really lovely. I have a couple of those relationships (way) in my past, too, and it's always a weird, fraught thing: they're not my exes, but how else do I explain what it felt like in the moment? I resort to all kinds of mental and linguistic gymnastics to try to talk about it, but maybe now I just carry this link around and give it to people instead of trying to explain myself. (and re: a couple of the previous comments, for me at least these relationships were a thing totally apart from extremely intimate friendships. I've experienced both of those things with people of various genders, and they're just different, not least in the ways they end, and the difficulty of explaining what they meant.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:22 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


All defined relationships like ‘good friend’ or ‘lover’ or ‘spouse’ are tainted by rules, contractuality and ultimately, possession.
There is an exquisite pleasure in a deep relationship that nonetheless remains undefined and flowing freely (if imperfectly and asymmetrically).
posted by The Toad at 9:25 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Alison Sudol knows the feeling.
posted by zaixfeep at 10:30 PM on August 8


"Many people can cast their affections broad and bright as floodlights, but others of us are laser beams, and when something actually trips our attraction/affection sensors it can feel like a certain kind of instant precision strike, and it can leave a mark forever."

armeowda, this is a perfect description of how I fall for (or don't fall for, more likely) people. Thank you so much for this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:06 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I love this bit:
When a potential partner asks, “What’s your ‘number’?” they mean, how many men have you had sex with? Not how many men have held your heart, quivering in their gentle hands? How many men have you cried with over the same, sharp pain? How many men have watched you nod into sleep, their shoulders numbing under your heavy head?
I think most people know moments like this as marking points where we become more real to each other, more connected, more involved, but sexier milestones (literally and figuratively) take up so much of the display case.

And I think this rolls out into problems with other areas. As some have already observed, we have a culture where we don't seem to leave a lot of space for heartfelt joyful close friendships, eros crowding out philia and sometimes pragma, leaving a lot of lonely space between eros and agape.

Or it messes with eros itself. It pushes people that way when maybe what they need most is just some good hugs and other affectionate touch.

Or there's a weird reverse thing (maybe more common among people like me whose experience with sex has been heavily sandbagged by a combo of personal caution and religious/cultural background the denies sex any legit place outside of marriage) where sex is seen as a special bonding tool reserved for special bonds. Which it can be of course, but then you take that idea and turn it into "sex outside marriage is a terrible idea because you'll break your heart if/when it doesn't work out" and try to use abstinence as a tool to keep yourself emotionally safe, as there isn't any *other* way you can find your heart powerfully invested in someone or even be devastatingly brokenhearted without ever having taken off your pants. And then one day you find yourself more bereft over the loss of the shared memory of a summer afternoon falling asleep leaning against someone new on her parents beat up spare sofa while listening to the Kings of Convenience than you ever will be again over the distance from the more erotic experiences you eventually shared.

We need more emotional range in the display case.
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:11 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


The last relationship I had like this we called ourselves Friends Without Benefits.
posted by fullerine at 1:48 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Parsons and Harris weren't romantic as far I as know

I think they were whatever this article is about. Harris has always said she thought they’d be together someday but he died just when she was getting out of a relationship and felt ready to finally be with him.
posted by sallybrown at 4:22 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Many people can cast their affections broad and bright as floodlights, but others of us are laser beams, and when something actually trips our attraction/affection sensors it can feel like a certain kind of instant precision strike, and it can leave a mark forever.

posted by armeowda at 7:05 PM on August 8

<3 <3 <3

I loved this piece and related to it strongly. I kind of feel like I might be edging towards the same kind of thing right now with a person I know. It has its own sort of frustrating beauty.
posted by unicorn chaser at 7:34 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this. It feels...not better, but less bad...to know that this type of experience is not some sort of personal failing on my part.

My person was a stagehand whom I befriended in college. He was in my life for many years, and we had adventures. Road trips, camping, traveling abroad one year. So many painfully vivid and wonderful memories that are inextricably bound up with the longing and disappointment and self-doubt. Eventually we drifted apart, and superficially, that was that. But it took many years of working on myself to get past the dissolution of...whatever it was we had. He's married now, with two kids, living his best life, and I've built a best life of my own.

And yet.

Sometimes in the wee hours I'll find myself wishing I could tell past me: when you find yourself at Lake Mead on a sweltering June night, laying next to your friend on a tarp, watching the infinite stars after smoking a bowl together...for fuck's sake, just kiss him. (At least it has been long enough that the thought is just bittersweet, not torturous.)
posted by Vervain at 7:26 PM on August 9 [8 favorites]


This seems appropriate.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:14 PM on August 10


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