It is part of my series on Growing Up Platoniromantic. While writing it, I realised I was tending to talk in terms of sexual/non-sexual feelings, as opposed to romantic/non-romantic ones. That may seem strange in a Carnival of Aros, but, as a platoniromantic person, I don’t really understand the romantic/non-romantic binary, whereas sexual/non-sexual is an easy concept for me to grasp. I know the feelings I describe in this post were non-sexual. Were they also non-romantic? That depends entirely on how you define “romance”.
platoniromantic – unable to distinguish “romantic” from “platonic” feelings and/or experiencing “friendship” and “romance” as the same thing
I love music. And I love songs. I love the way music and lyrics can express emotions and experiences better than I ever could. And that includes the emotions and experiences associated with being platoniromantic.
Popular music tends to be associated with romance. As someone who doesn’t understand “romance”, you might think this music wouldn’t speak to me. But being platoniromantic doesn’t mean not experiencing romantic feelings; it just means that, for me, those feelings are inseparable from friendship. The feelings I have for friends tend to overlap a lot with the feelings most people experience in romantic relationships. I just don’t think of them as “romantic”.
As I’ve mentioned before, this has caused me a lot of relationship challenges, confusion, and heartache. I’ve often found myself having stronger feelings for my friends than I was “supposed to”. I’ve had other people misinterpret and misunderstand those feelings. I’ve had difficulty articulating exactly what kind of relationships I wanted. And, in consequence, I spent a long time feeling broken and wrong.
In this post, I want to talk about some songs that express what that was like. It’s not that any of these songs is specifically about being platoniromantic, but the great thing about songs is they tend to be less about specific identities and experiences and more about emotions. Negative emotions like longing, confusion, and loneliness, but also positive ones like love and devotion.
So here are five songs that express my emotions as a person growing up platoniromantic:
- “Creep” (Radiohead, 1992)
“You’re so fuckin’ special
I wish I was special
But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here”
“Creep” is a song about not fitting in and feeling like there must be something wrong with you. As a platoniromantic person, I didn’t fit in well with the way other people talked about their romantic relationships, the relative (lack of) importance they placed on their platonic relationships, or the distinctions they drew between the two. And, as a result, I spent a long time thinking there was something wrong with me.
The song is also about wanting to be in a relationship with someone and feeling that the situation is hopeless. The singer clearly idolises his beloved, with lines like:
“You’re just like an angel”
“You float like a feather”
This is contrasted with his own identity as a “creep”. He wishes he could capture his beloved’s attention, saying,
“I want you to notice
When I’m not around”
and offers to do
“Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want”
but does not seem to have any hope of success.
As a teenager, I yearned for closeness and intimacy. I did not care if the relationship it came in was romantic or platonic; I just wanted someone I could share my life with. But the people around me did not seem to have the same need, or they got that need satisfied by romantic partners, family, or other friends. There were many people I longed for closer relationships with. I would have gone to great lengths to make those relationships work, prove my devotion, and win their affection. But nothing I had to offer ever seemed to be wanted. So I was left with unrequited longing. And I don’t think this longing was less because I didn’t consider it romantic.
- “Insensitive” (Jann Arden, 1995)
“Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes
Your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face
Told me maybe you might have
Some advice to give on how to be insensitive”
“Insensitive” is about experiencing a moment of intimacy with another person, then realising that the moment did not mean as much to the other person as it did to you. The singer concludes that she needs to learn to be “insensitive” – and wonders how to do that.
It is easy to read this as about a romantic or sexual encounter, with lines like,
“How do you cool your lips
After a summer’s kiss?”
“How do you turn your eyes
From the romantic glare?”
However, it also contains more neutral language, like,
“How do you numb your skin
After the warmest touch?”
“How do you free your soul
After you’ve found a friend?”
This longing for friendship and finding it only to realise that the relationship doesn’t mean as much to the other person as it does to you – this was a big feature of my adolescent life. I often found myself wondering how I was supposed to experience moments of intimacy and belonging and then move on with my life as though those moments hadn’t fundamentally changed me. I also wondered how the people I shared them with could be so unaffected and unchanged by them.
The song eventually dissolves in bitterness and self-reproach with the words,
“Oh, you probably won’t remember me
It’s probably ancient history
I’m one of the chosen few
Who went ahead and fell for you
I’m out of vogue, I’m out of touch
I fell too fast, I feel too much”
Like the singer, I felt that I must be “out of touch” with the way relationships were supposed to function and believed I must “feel too much” for the people in my life. It seemed to me that, in order to be normal, I had to learn to be “insensitive”.
- “When She Loved Me” (Sarah McLachlan, 1999)
“When somebody loved me
Everything was beautiful
Every hour spent together
Lives within my heart”
I’d heard this song a few times on the radio, but it never meant much to me until I encountered it in its original context in Toy Story 2. In the movie, Jessie, the cowgirl doll, reminisces about her former owner, Emily. She remembers the time when she and Emily were inseparable, spending their days having made up adventures, playing in the park, or just sitting quietly and comfortably together. And she remembers Emily outgrowing her, moving on to other interests, and forgetting her childhood toy.
“So the years went by
I stayed the same
But she began to drift away
I was left alone
Still I waited for the day
When she’d say, ‘I will always love you’”
At the tender age of thirty, this song reduced me to a sobbing mess. It took me right back to high school: back to the joy of friendships I had formed, the heartache of losing them, and the emptiness that had followed. It brought back all the old feelings and proved them as raw as ever.
The story in this sequence may be about a fantastical situation: the love of a toy for its owner. But the emotions expressed in it are real, and should be familiar to anyone who has had their heart broken. What makes this sequence especially interesting, though, is that the heartbreak takes place in an explicitly platonic context. Jessie’s love for Emily isn’t about sex. It is about sharing activities and interests and platonic touch. Lines like,
“And when she was sad
I was there to dry her tears”
“And when she was lonely
I was there to comfort her”
show that it is also about being able to contribute to Emily’s happiness, and knowing that Emily values her.
It’s unusual to see such a poignant representation of love in a platonic context. Indeed, part of the reason why the song did not initially capture my interest is that it seemed like just another romantic love song. This sequence is remarkable for taking the language and emotions usually associated with romantic love and showing that they are just as relevant to the platonic version.
- “Chasing Cars” (Snow Patrol, 2006)
“If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and
Just forget the world?”
In “Chasing Cars”, the singer expresses a wish to lie down with someone – a type of intimacy usually reserved for romantic or sexual relationships. As I wrote in my very first post on platoniromanticism, I’ve often craved more physical affection in my life – including bed-sharing – and I don’t understand why that affection can’t come from platonic relationships.
Of course, “lying with” someone is often used as a euphemism for having sex, and it’s possible the singer means it that way. Still, his use of the word “just” suggests that he means what he says literally: he just wants to lie together, without any other expectations. He also sings,
“Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old”
suggesting that he and his beloved reject normative expectations – which could include the expectation that there is only one acceptable way to “lie with” someone.
The song is also interesting for its interplay of stillness and dynamism. Its structure is simple and repetitive, and its theme is a wish to remain stationary and recumbent. Superficially, it seems quite chill and laid back. But as the song continues it crescendos into increasingly passionate music and vocals. Now it becomes clear how much significance the singer attaches to his seemingly simple desire. His body language may be relaxed, but inside he is seething with longing. The juxtaposition is perhaps made clearest in the line that gives the song its title:
“Let’s waste time
Around our heads”
In this line, the characters are stationary; all the action occurs on the inside.
We tend to expect love to be expressed in obvious ways – most notably, in terms of sex. This can lead to forms of love that are less demonstrative being viewed as less intense. Non-sexual love is not taken as seriously as sexual love because it does not lead to an obvious action. But emotions do not need to manifest in specific ways in order to be real. Love is no less passionate if its only aim is comfortable silence. And stillness can, in its own way, be a powerful act of lovemaking.
- “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica, 1992)
“So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters”
“Nothing Else Matters” is one of the great love songs – and part of what makes it great is that it’s not clear what kind of a love song it is. The singer could be addressing his lover, but he could also be talking to a friend, his bandmates, his fans, or someone else. Either way, what he values in the relationship are things like trust and emotional openness – elements that are not specifically romantic or sexual.
The tone of the song can even be heard as defiant. Lines like,
“Life is ours; we live it our way”
“Open mind for a different view”
suggest that the relationship is in some way unconventional – and that both parties are okay with that. And with the lines,
“Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know”
the singer rejects any judgement that others might pass on it. This is obviously applicable to platonic relationships, which are often assumed to be less important than romantic/sexual ones. People aren’t supposed to build their lives around friendships, so doing so requires a certain spirit of nonconformity.
At the same time, this is also the most Romantic of songs. Not romantic in the sense of chocolates and flowers, but Romantic in the old-fashioned literary sense I describe in “The History of Romance”. Like the heroes of some adventure story, the characters are defined by their devotion to one another. They may never use the word “love”, but they don’t need to. They trust each other. They are vulnerable with each other. They share a life full of new experiences. Their feelings
“Couldn’t be much more from the heart”
As someone who always wanted Romance, even in my platonic friendships, this represents my ideal relationship.
Honourable Mention: “Fine State of Affairs” (Burton Cummings, 1980)
This is another song that really spoke to me growing up, and I thought I’d throw it in for good measure and to close this playlist on a slightly more up-beat note. I won’t do a write-up for it, but if you’ve read the rest of this post then hopefully it should be pretty clear why I like it.
“You’re not supposed to want nobody
Not supposed to need nobody
You’re not supposed to touch nobody
Don’t you dare go love nobody”