It is part of my series on Growing Up Platoniromantic.
platoniromantic – unable to distinguish “romantic” from “platonic” feelings and/or experiencing “friendship” and “romance” as the same thing
Being platoniromantic means differing from the norm in subtle but profound ways. Whereas many people both within and outside of the ace community distinguish romantic bonds from platonic ones, platoniromantic people see no difference between the two. That means no line between romantic and platonic love; no line between a romantic and platonic relationship – and no line between romantic and platonic touch.
When I was young, this inability to tell romantic from platonic touch presented no difficulty, as children are granted a great deal of tactile freedom. Cuddling with family members, holding hands with friends, or sharing a bed with a sibling were all considered perfectly normal. Somewhere in my mind, I assumed that they always would be.
Little changed as I entered adolescence. My high school circle of friends was an extremely affectionate community. Hugs, back-rubs, and more casual forms of touch were totally acceptable. Meanwhile, I was exposed to fiction like “Goblin Market”, The Lord of the Rings, and The X-Files, works in which adult couples – male, female, or mixed – held hands, hugged, kissed, and even slept together without their relationships being remotely sexual. This just added to my impression that such behaviour was normal, and my expectation that I would participate in it as an adult.
Does that mean my adult relationships wouldn’t involve sex? Not at all. As a demisexual, I imagined and even hoped that one of my relationships would eventually turn sexual. But I saw sex as something extra-special that would be added to a relationship only after a long period of non-sexual bonding. This bonding could easily include activities like hugging, cuddling, and even sleeping together. But I would do these activities with a friend before deciding to have sex with them, and being in one sexual relationship wouldn’t stop me from sharing physical affection with my other friends.
It was only as I entered adulthood that I came up against the grim reality: my society considered cuddling, hand-holding, bed-sharing, etc. to be inherently sexual activities. It was all very well to do them in sexual relationships, but doing them in platonic ones was immature at best, at worst, perverted. The high-school friendships that I assumed would last a lifetime drifted away. I tried to cuddle my best friend and was told with stern paternalism that such behaviour was not appropriate in our kind of relationship. Eventually, I came to understand sex, not as an extra level of physical affection to be shared with an extra-special friend, but as the price one had to pay in order to have any physical affection at all!
It’s true that some people resist physical intimacy because they’re afraid it will lead to unwanted sexual desire. This is the dangerous side of physical affection, and, as a demisexual, it’s certainly one I’m familiar with. However, the idea of putting prophylactic limits on physical expression seems silly. For one thing, many people who want sex have difficulty forming relationships to have it in. Wouldn’t loosening the restrictions around non-sexual bonding make forming sexual attachments easier? Secondly, physical affection doesn’t always lead to sexual desire. Should we cut ourselves off from non-sexual affection for fear of sexual feelings that might or might not result? Thirdly, touch is, for many people, a need. Can we really call ourselves a liberal society if we place so many limits on people’s ability to give and receive it? And finally, say physical affection does lead to sexual desire, desire that can never be acted upon, that causes the partners distress and creates tension in their relationship. Well, unfulfilled desire is a part of life, something everyone has to deal with at one time or another. Limiting all physical affection to avoid the rare moment of sexual frustration is a cure worse than the disease.
As an adult, I’ve often resented the lack of physical affection in my life and the ideological assumption that this lack can only be filled by a sexual partner. However, things have gotten better. For one thing, while “physical touch” is one of my main “Love Languages”, I’ve realised that “quality time” is an even more important one. Having a friend I can hang out with every week fulfills a lot of my emotional needs, even if there isn’t a lot of touching. Plus, I now have a small child in my life who, like most children, enjoys hugs, kisses, and piggy-backs. Little as I like children, I’ve found there’s something very therapeutic about being able to spend a few hours in her company. Because it’s still acceptable to cuddle, hold hands, and even share a bed with small children. I just wish the rest of us were as liberated.
Edit: I originally wrote “I offered to cuddle my best friend” but have changed “offered” to “tried”. See my May 28, 2017 reply to Luvtheheaven for an explanation.