Growing Up Platoniromantic: Kissing, Hand-Holding, Bed-Sharing, etc.

This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces, which is hosted by From Fandom to Family and is about “Kissing, Hand Holding, Bed Sharing, etc!”

It may also become the first in a series on platoniromanticism.


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.

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5 thoughts on “Growing Up Platoniromantic: Kissing, Hand-Holding, Bed-Sharing, etc.

  1. DasTenna says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I can relate to them a lot, because I strongly need physical touch. I wasn´t used to cuddling during childhood and adolescence, hence it took until my early 20´s to realize what I was missing all the time. But since almost everyone interprets most kind of touching that´s not “due to protocol” as sexual, I soon thought myself to be a promiscuous person – even though I just wanted cuddling, and neither desired sex with anyone nor had any intentions to date.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Feral Child's Guide says:

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t heard of platoniromantic before, so this was interesting to read.
    Just the other day I was thinking about how when I was young, i enjoyed touch with my friends: hair braidimg, massages, cuddling, etc. I was wondering why I avoid all touch now, and you hit on one of the reasons here: I’ve learned that touch is supposed to be reserved for sexual relationships, and I want no risk of sex in my life.
    So now I’m wondering if the desire for that kind of touch is still in me. I don’t feel it, but again, that might be because I’m denying it because I’m not going to risk unwanted sexual behavior toward me.

    Like

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    ” I offered to cuddle my best friend and was told with stern paternalism that such behaviour was not appropriate in our kind of relationship. ” – I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you! I’m also really curious – could you maybe expand/define what you mean by cuddle here/what exactly you “offered”. I hope you don’t mind me asking?

    This was such a perfect post for my Carnival topic this month! Thank you for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      First, I’ve realised that “offered” was a rather disingenuous word to use. It was more an attempt at cuddling, cuddling that I believed he wanted and needed, but cuddling he, in fact, rejected. I feel it’s important to mention this, because it touches on issues of consent. I don’t want to make him sound unreasonable here. It may well have been that he simply didn’t want to cuddle and exercised his right to say “no”. But the language he used was the language of social appropriateness rather than personal preference, which is why I felt it was a good example to include.

      Still, I’m going to edit the article and change “offered” to “tried”.

      As to what exactly was tried, it was certainly more intense than what friends usually do, but would not seem unusual between parents and their prepubescent children. It wasn’t remotely sexual – at least, not in my mind – and didn’t involve taking off any clothing. Looking back with more life experience, I can see that most people wouldn’t behave like that outside of a romantic relationship. But I didn’t understand that at the time.

      Sorry if that’s still a bit vague. It was a long time ago, and it was personal. I don’t mind the question at all, but I’d rather not get more specific than that.

      Anyway, glad you liked the post, and thanks for suggesting the topic!

      Liked by 1 person

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