“I love Mike*. He’s my soulmate in many ways and I am his,” says 36-year-old physiotherapist, Danielle,* from Surrey, who recently realised she's in what's classed as a 'queerplatonic' relationship.
“We co-parent our 10-year-old daughter, and yet, we don’t live together – our houses are 20 minutes’ walk away. We see one another about three times a week but our relationship isn’t sexual or monogamous.”
“I’ve struggled for years to describe ‘what’ we are,” adds Danielle, who met Mike 14 years ago at a party. “But then I read about so-called ‘queerplatonic’ relationships and thought, ‘Yes, this describes us perfectly!’
“I’ve always known what I feel – it’s only other people who struggle to accept it because it doesn’t conform to the categories of relationships they understand.”
We asked a leading expert what this ‘new’ relationship category ‘queerplatonic’ is all about.
What is a ‘queerplatonic’ relationship?
“Queerplatonic relationships are those with a higher level of emotional intimacy and commitment than you’d expect in a friendship,” explains Rose Bern, a doctoral researcher in non-monogamous and queer relationships at the University of California.
But they aren’t sexual or romantic in the traditional sense. Although just to confuse you further, ‘romantic’ is a subjective notion, and you can feel romantic i.e. emotionally intimate about your queerplatonic partner, even if you don’t feel sexual.
So, to recap, it’s somewhere between best friends and lovers?
Yes, but “queerplatonic relationships may be mistaken for traditional romantic relationships, because they might involve things like lifelong commitment, deep intimacy, co-cohabitation and co-parenting.”
This can lead others to think your queerplatonic relationship needs to be ‘fixed’ somehow in order to fit the mould of a traditional relationship – something Danielle has come across too.
“Sometimes when I try to explain how I feel about Mike and vice versa, people respond by saying things like, ‘Maybe you need to go to sex therapy’ or ‘You’ll get married eventually’ rather than accepting that what we have is great just as it is.”
And does Danielle identify as ‘queer’?
“No, not if that means gay or bisexual,” she says. “Because I’m straight. But I can see that our relationship bends the social norms.”
Which brings us nicely onto...
What does the ‘queer’ bit mean in 'queerplatonic'?
“‘Queer’ is a term to describe the model (type) of relationship, not the identity of the people in the relationship,” explains Bern.
So, you don’t have to identify as queer to be in a queerplatonic relationship (but, you may do and that is also of course fine!)
Bear in mind that ‘queer’ does not describe sexualilty in this case – so it’s not about whether you’re gay, straight or bi. The term simply means it’s not the usual definition of ‘platonic’. Still baffled? Replace the word ‘queer’ with ‘unconventional’ in the word ‘queerplatonic’... then it makes perfect sense!
As Bern says, “A queerplatonic relationship challenges society’s guidelines of what a conventional platonic friendship is. A queerplatonic bond might involve things like not being as emotionally intimate as you would be with your romantic partners and only engaging in physical contact with your romantic partners, not each other.“
People in queerplatonic love accept that relationships don’t have to be either platonic or romantic to be healthy, meaningful and committed – instead, they can be a mix of both.
This certainly chimes with Danielle. “My relationship with Mike sometimes feels romantic. He’s the person I have shared the big moments of my life with, from the birth of our daughter, to getting my dream job to the low points like losing people I love, and just the day-to-day stuff too.
“Some married friends say our relationship is more romantic, i.e. emotionally intimate than theirs – in that we talk more, we go on walks and holidays, cook for one another and are more openly affectionate.
“There is a deep appreciation of one another, that I sometimes see my married friends have lost… and I wonder whether that’s because the pressure of sex is not there, so we are safe to fully explore the far reaches of our emotional connection, without danger of one of us feeling sexually rejected.”
Are queerplatonic people often also asexual?
“No, it’s commonplace in asexual and aromantic communities but those are not only the folks who engage in queerplatonic (QPR) relationships,” says Bern.
“You may have a QPR relationship with one person but have a sexual relationship with a different person and a romantic relationship with a different person, etc.”
Can same-sex friends be in a queerplatonic relationship?
“Absolutely – anyone can be in a queerplatonic relationship with anyone else! Queerplatonic relationships don’t only belong to a specific identity or community, but we do know that certain communities have QPRs more often than others.”
Are you expected to be faithful in a queerplatonic relationship?
They may or may not be monogamous. Queerplatonic relationships are common in non-monogamous communities though, according to Bern, because they challenge the assumption that we must get our emotional intimacy and achieve life’s milestones (cohabitation, co-parenting) with people who are our romantic (assumed sexual too) partners.
“They (QPRs) acknowledge that it can be healthy and gratifying to fulfill your needs across a diverse range of relationships,” she says.
In Danielle’s case, no one is expected to be ‘faithful’ within their special friendship.
“Mike and I go on dates and have sexual relationships with other people. Sexual jealousy does not come into it, because our relationship is platonic.
“Of course, the only problem comes in when people are threatened by our emotional intimacy. This means we often seek out, or are drawn to other people who have a non-conventional approach to their relationships.”
Is kissing, holding hands and having sex part of a queerplatonic relationship?
“Queerplatonic relationships don’t generally involve sexual intimacy,” says Bern. “But they can involve physical intimacy such as cuddling or holding hands.
“Our culture often reserves physical intimacy for romantic partners – but physical intimacy can and should be disentangled from sexual intimacy,” she says.
So while QPRs are generally centred around fulfilling emotional intimacy needs, they might provide physical affection too – something we don’t tend to see in traditional friendships (especially with men).
“Mike and I are affectionate with one another, with hugs or holding hands, sometimes in public,” says Danielle. “Of course, this sometimes means people assume we’re a couple in the traditional sense.“
How does it feel to be in a queerplatonic relationship?
“It’s a personal question and only one that people in the relationship can answer for themselves,” says Bern.
“Some people may prefer the label to help them better understand what they’re navigating, while others may choose to shed all labels and honour all relationships as they are, not for what they are labelled.”
For Danielle it’s the certainty of her feelings that matters.
“Our relationship brings me deep joy in so many ways. Mike is the first person I want to call in tough times or the best times.
“He’s the father of my child, my best friend – we may not be sexually attracted, but we are very ‘attracted’, i.e. magnetised to one another and have been since the day we met.”
*Some names have been changed
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