As far back as my memory will take me, I have always been a romantic and sentimental creature. I love stargazing on the hills of Erindale Park; I love catching strangers off guard by complimenting their eyes; I write poems for people who will never read them; and I barely go a day without noticing the spectacularly ordinary details of the natural world around me. So, on a mundane Friday evening, sitting on my friend’s bed while their postered walls cave in on us, I feel a sense of oceanic boundlessness erupt in my chest. It’s a difficult feeling to describe. Your ordinary conceptions of past and future vanish, and you are suspended in the heaviness and drama of the moment, even if nothing particularly dramatic is happening. It feels like eternity and a split second all at once, even though I am simply lying in bed with my friend.
After a while, I glance over at them and notice details otherwise forgotten by the hurried pace of life: the roughness of their hands, how the air around them smells like a mix of citrus and smoke, and the unpredictability of their next words. In this moment, I want to reach out and unapologetically hold their hand, or to lean on them and kiss their shoulder. But I do not. This friend, who I have not known for long, has challenged me, inspired me, and somehow made me more confident in my weirdness.
I think back to that Friday evening and realize that the reason I felt such hesitancy in pursuing a small act of physical intimacy is because of the potential for it to be misinterpreted as romantic interest. Undoubtedly, we are made aware from the very beginning that physical and even certain types of emotional intimacy are only reserved for romantic partners. Because of this normalization, we are sometimes misguided into assuming that our romantic partners are the ones that deserve our utmost vulnerabilities or highest selves. And even though our friends remain important, they are never the center of our hearts the way romantic partners are, and therefore, we must not express our love to them through our touch. But this misconception needs to be challenged.
In romantic contexts, I often think that when someone has experienced your body and shared a physical intimacy, it automatically translates into trust or mutual understanding. But this is a common fallacy. Sometimes, our closest friends understand us in a way that romantic partners never will, and all without having ever shared physical closeness with us. And that is perfectly valid. But, as long as enthusiastic consent is given, nothing should be stopping us from celebrating and appreciating our friendships with physical intimacy, such as cuddling, stroking each other’s hair, or holding hands.
The pursuance of platonic intimacy makes two other very worthy acknowledgements about the human experience. First is the idea that engaging in platonic forms of love reminds us that intimacy is not always driven by sex or romance, which is also an important concept needed to validate the experiences of asexual or aromantic people. The other acknowledgement is that intimacy is a spectrum, entirely flexible, and that where and how intimacy is being expressed has no bearing on its worthiness as long as its genuine. I think that sometimes the “realities” portrayed on social media can instill us with very narrow ideas of what intimacy is or what qualifies as a relationship. Sometimes, social media erases the subtleties or nuances of what defines real intimacy, in the sense that it’s only exclusive to romance, which can diminish our confidence from truly showing love to our most cherished friends. Not being afraid to show physical intimacy in our lived experience with friends can put pressure on what social media deems worthy or normal.
I try my best to hold on to good friends, but ultimately, I succumb to the eventual impermanence of certain friendships and that my sense of self is always changing—and so are my friends. This makes me afraid of giving into moments of intimacy because I am not always sure what the person will do with my vulnerabilities or whether I will always have them to share with in the first place. But I truly believe that the worthiness of intimacy and shared connection is independent of whether that person will be there forever or whether they are friends or lovers. I tend to measure the quality of my life based on who I am around my friends, so if I can love my friends and not be afraid to show it, that is the ultimate triumph for me.