For many years, I considered myself to be an awkward loner. And it’s true that I was my own first friend — and an extraordinarily good one, at that. From an early age, I deeply enjoyed my own company. I spent hours in luxurious solitude, enjoying the various images swirling about in my mind, and reading any book I came across, including ones that were probably way above my grade-level, and occasionally dipping into the rogue recipe book or two. As an adult, I loved taking myself on “solo dates” to quaint little coffee shops with hidden nooks, or to book launches, art galleries, museums, and spas. I even went to dinner parties where the only other person I knew was the host who’d invited me.
This isn’t to say I preferred being alone to the company of others; I still craved companionship and connection. I just made sure that the sense of joy and fulfillment — of romance — I got from my relationship with myself, carried over into all of my relationships, including my platonic ones.
Romance isn’t something usually talked about in relation to friendships, and because of this, they’re often viewed as “lesser” than other relationships. As such people don’t always feel empowered to seek friendships that fulfill their needs for companionship and intimacy.
But I’ve always considered friendship and romantic relationships to be inextricably intertwined. I expect my relationships to be founded on a deep and sacred friendship; I desire intimacy and love from my friendships; and I place neither on a higher pedestal than the other.
As a queer woman, my identity already exists outside of societal norms, so I’ve always felt free to do what I want, and express myself with more openness and vulnerability in my friendships. This means that I do things more typically associated with romance, like cuddling with my friends, sending them thoughtful gifts, and being honest about my feelings of affection for them. Today, I consider myself, and proudly declare to anyone who will listen, boundlessly in love with my friends.
Even though my queer friendships might not fit into most modern conceptions of platonic relationships, they do fit into the historical framework of a “romantic friendship,” a term that surfaced during the 19th century, that describes friendships whose physical closeness and emotional intimacy resembled that of contemporary romantic relationships, though they were typically non-sexual in nature. Romantic friendships allow me to get all of my needs met even when I’m single. And that’s changed the way I approach my non-platonic relationships.
Long before my last partner and I became romantically involved, for instance, we were friends. We didn’t fall in love at first sight — a phenomenon I don’t believe in — but we did “click.” We immediately understood one another, and our romantic friendship formed quickly.
Like many of my friendships, ours was marked by small, thoughtful gestures: She bought me flowers as a token of apology when I got upset that she was late for an appointment we had set. When her youngest cousin died, I got a key to her apartment and went in and cleaned her place, so she had one less thing to deal with when she returned from the funeral. If one of us had a big presentation, the other would deliver a favorite treat or a special note. We prepared candlelit dinners together, then spent hours playing board games. We organized face mask evenings, went on sunset hikes, and attended picnic concerts with mutual friends.
We eventually fell in love, finding that there was a layer there that was deeper than our friendship. Amidst the attraction and our potent chemistry, she had become the first person I thought to call when the best and worst things happened. For the first time, when I visualized building a life and a home, her being was always present in that image. With all her quirks, fiery opinions, and insatiable curiosity, I wanted to “do life” with her.
When we were dating, we retained our romantic friendship, and I kept putting the same amount of energy into my other friendships as well. The only thing that changed was that we began planning for a future together. It was in co-creating a vision for the future, however, that we uncovered some major incompatibilities, and we reached an impasse. We separated — and while that transition was far from seamless, our pre-existing romantic friendship was incredibly useful in allowing us to be intentional and kind through the breakup.
We had always shown each other love. We had always been radically honest. We had always tried our best to communicate clearly. This meant we could continue to be caring to one another without worrying we were sending mixed messages. It meant neither of us had to wonder what the other was thinking. It meant we felt empowered to ask for space to process the split, without the fear that we’d never see each other again. This sense of open clarity is why we are still friends, and why I still feel safe within the friendship.
So often, conversations about dating friends are centered around the risk of losing said friends should things not work out — a valid concern. But I think one reason we’d lose a friendship in a breakup is if our expectations of romantic partners are vastly different from the expectations we have for our friends. We relinquish some responsibility to care for and tend to friends when we draw different yardsticks for their importance. And so where romantic relationships might say “I ensure your safety and express my care because we are together,” a romantic friendship instead says “I ensure your safety and express my care because you are my friend, even if we aren’t together.” The love remains, even if we have to leave the relationship behind.
Bringing romance into my friendships has let me approach both platonic and non-platonic partnerships in a way that ultimately allows me to get all that I need, whether I am partnered or not. I’m single now, but I know I won’t have to wait until I meet my next romantic partner to send or receive a surprise bouquet of flowers, or a sweet email or old-fashioned letter listing all the reasons I’m loved or in love. If I’m lonely and can’t sleep, I can call a friend to come over and give me a cuddle. And, although social distancing is still being enforced in my home city, these are friendships that stand ready, with arms wide open, to love me, from afar or up close, whenever I need them.
Welcome to The Single Files. Each installment of Refinery29's bi-monthly column features a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now. Have your own idea you'd like to submit? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.