Love, desire and pleasure. Relationships and emotions. For as long as I can remember I’ve tried to understand these, learning in the only way that I knew how taking cues from the things I saw and the things people told me.
Growing up, my ideas about friendship were formed as a result of watching endless reruns of the sitcom Friends, and my ideas of love and romance came from Shahrukh’s various onscreen avatars. Naturally, all my complex questions regarding desire and relationships were forced to be reduced and contained within the monogamous hetero-patriarchal framework that the world around me insisted was the natural order. Everything I saw told me that I should be looking for a boy who would love me for the rest of my life, that this was the ultimate relationship goal and that it was the answer to all my desires. Friendship, if I was lucky, I’d find somewhere along the way, but all my energy should be focused on finding this one lasting romantic relationship which would take care of all my needs and then I’d be set for life.
When I was 13, I met my first real friend and suddenly I had feelings that I couldn’t quite fit into the framework I’d been given as a child. It made me rethink everything I thought I knew about love and relationships and I found myself struggling to come up with explanations. I’d been told that a romantic relationship would be what lasted forever, but this friendship I found more fulfilling than anything else I’d encountered then, or have encountered since. I was told, friendships can be fulfilling but they must be strictly platonic, except this friendship has been one of the lasting romantic relationships of my life. I was told, friendships can maybe sometimes be romantic but they can never be intimate in the way relationships can. Except this friendship has been as intimate as any relationship I’ve ever had.
I was told that if you’re in an intimate romantic relationship with someone then it isn’t a friendship, it’s a relationship. Except this is a friendship, and a very good one. I was told that if you have friendships like this, you’d never be able to have a good relationship. Except I’ve had relationships, and so has my friend, and they have all been complete and rewarding in themselves.
When I was 15, I had my first real relationship, but it didn’t last me forever. I was led to believe that it should, so it took me a long time to understand that that was okay. But once I did, I found myself having relationships that were much more satisfying because they were so much more attuned to my needs.
I was told relationships must last you your entire life, or you must at least be looking for a lasting commitment when you’re with someone, except I’ve had relationships that I knew had an expiry date and they’ve been very fulfilling relationships. I was told I couldn’t love more than one person at a time. I was told that if I do love more than one person at a time, I wouldn’t love them very much or very well. Except I have loved multiple people, all of them fiercely and all of them in very distinct ways, but many of them at the same time, and none of them have been expendable. Looking back now, I realise everything I was told was wrong. Looking back now, I realise how little information I had access to. Looking back now, I realize how inadequate the language and representations I had access to were. Everything I saw, everything I read and everything I was told was so limited that I had no idea anything else could exist. And so I spent so long, first trying to fit my desires into these narrow frameworks, and then in redefining these frameworks and yet so many years later I still haven’t come up with one that adequately helps me navigate this complex web of intimate relationships.
What is romantic? Can a friendship be romantic and intimate and still not be a relationship in the way that we understand relationships? Is the way we understand romantic relationships inadequate? Does intimacy have to involve sex? Does a relationship have to involve attraction? We need better representations, we need better language and we need a much more diverse understanding of desire and pleasure and love and attraction and companionship. The language and space exists to develop new frameworks, we just have to make it more accessible.