Aces like Words, Part 2: The Ambiguity of Friendship

(this is the first part of my rather last minute response to the February Carnival of Aces.

Part 1 can be found here.)

One of the big areas in which we in the ace and aro communities find ourselves lacking words is in the domain of relationship terminology. When it comes to sexual and romantic relationships*, we have a wealth of terminology: we have sex friends and boyfriends and husbands and fuckbuddies and hookups and swingers and dates and partners; one can have crushes or infatuation or lust or desire or arousal.

We also have extensive kinship terminology for our familial relationship: one can have cousins and aunts and parents and brothers and step-fathers and step-siblings and biological and adoptive mothers and second cousins and sisters-in-law.

And yet when it comes to non-familial platonic relationships, our language fails us.

But when it comes to platonic relationships,  we have…

“Friendship”

And that’s really pretty much it. Sure, you can modify it: “best friends”, “childhood friends”, etc, but we still expect that one word to cover a huge spectrum of relationship. A “friend” can refer to anything from someone you like to chat with a bit at lunch to someone you would like to spend the rest of your life with, would trust with your life. It’s a single term that can mean a million different things.

And yes, we do have words for relationships of situation: coworkers, classmates, neighbors, etc – but those say more about the origin of the relationship than the strength of it. They say nothing of the level of intimacy or commitment.

And the few other terms I can think of – “buddy”, “pal”, “cohorts”, etc – are more synonyms than subtypes. These probably sound a bit casual to you – and they are, because friendships are something that is often portrayed as casual – seriousness is reserved for romantic-sexual relationships.

I think it’s also interesting to look at the types of phrases that are used to describe especially close friends: “like brothers/sisters”, “practically married”; close and intimate friendships are often described in history as “romantic friendships”. Here, the strength of friendships are emphasized by comparing them to other types of relationships which are generally considered “stronger”, such as kinship and sexual/romantic bonds.

Contrast the phrase “just friends”  – implicitly dismissing friendship as lesser than any other type of relationship.

It is clear that in the mainstream paradigm, platonic relationships like “friendship” are always considered lesser, and thus there is no need to have that many words to describe them.  We actually have a term that can describe a sort of “lower” grade of friend – we call them an “acquaintance”. But other than perhaps the phrase “best friend”, we have no words to differentiate more primary platonic relationships.

And yet, one of the concepts that is strong in the ace community is the recognition of strong, intimate, valued friendships. Calling such relationships simply “friendships” is misleading – one may have many friends, and the relationship one has with them is very different from the kind of relationship we are considering.

And so, we have a clearly delineated concept, but no good word to articulate it. A gap that needs to be filled. And so it has been!

Outside of the ace community, there are some phrases that can sort of describe such a situation – “life partners” and perhaps “boston marriage” are possibilities, though the first is a bit awkward sounding and the second is not quite the same.

Within the ace community, the first word was “zucchini”, as a word for something like a platonic/aromantic soulmate; like a best friend but closer, with more of a sense of commitment. It was quite a fun word to play with, and seemed to quite catch on in the aromantic blogging community. It was was around the same time, if I recall correctly, that “squish” came into use as a term for the platonic “friend crush”.

However, the word that took off the most is also one of my favorite words – “Queerplatonic”. Although I initially saw it in only a few corners, I have seen it popping up more and more, even being adopted by non-asexuals and non-aromantics as well.

Used to refer to a sort of intimate non-romantic (and often non-sexual) relationship, “Queerplatonic” is actually one of my favorite words, both in the way that it lexicalized a very important concept for me, but also just in how it came about and the way that I think it so well personifies the community and our love for language.

———

*(I am temporarily setting aside the issue of the conflation of the romantic and the sexual in general culture, and the implications of asexuality creating a paradigm that regards the two as independent, which is a whole different issue that needs to be adressed. )

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About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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2 Responses to Aces like Words, Part 2: The Ambiguity of Friendship

  1. Jo says:

    I really like these two posts! I was going to submit something for the carnival myself, but had a bit of a mind blank. You’ve pretty much covered the sort of thing I would have likely said. It is so frustrating sometimes, isn’t it, to have this word ‘friendship’ and have to think ‘well yes, but also more than that, because friendship isn’t generally seen as such a brilliant deal, so I have to think of something else to communicate what this is.’

  2. luvtheheaven says:

    I just stumbled across this old post of yours, and read part 1 too. (FYI you have a typo where you called this one – which is Part 2 – “the first part” in the opening.)

    One thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately is… well it’s this post of Coyote’s: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/strategies-of-defining-qpps/

    And it’s what you said about:

    We also have extensive kinship terminology for our familial relationship: one can have cousins and aunts and parents and brothers and step-fathers and step-siblings and biological and adoptive mothers and second cousins and sisters-in-law.

    and then how you say:

    And yes, we do have words for relationships of situation: coworkers, classmates, neighbors, etc – but those say more about the origin of the relationship than the strength of it. They say nothing of the level of intimacy or commitment..

    The truth is, all the words we have for kinship are pretty much the same in terms of ambiguity and sometimes people aren’t satisfied with them because they denote (usually less) closeness/intimacy/commitment than sometimes they actually can have. And then unlike with friendship, where if you don’t like the person you can essentially maybe choose to stop considering them a friend, even if a family member is abusive or abandons you or you don’t even know them/never met them, they still have that title/relationship to you. Which adds to the complexity. People might understand if you say an uncle is like a father to you, but that implies one specific narrative of what fathers are like? And most people actually do know, from a pretty early age, that fathers can be “out of the picture”, can be horrible, can be pretty normal, or can be really beloved? Or some other possibilities too?

    Also as for:

    *(I am temporarily setting aside the issue of the conflation of the romantic and the sexual in general culture, and the implications of asexuality creating a paradigm that regards the two as independent, which is a whole different issue that needs to be adressed. )

    That really is an important thing to be addressed, that just because the asexual community has separated them doesn’t mean culture at large has, and… well it’s just a big thing to think about.

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