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Friendships are an important type of relationship. Despite this, it is common to position ‘friendships’ and ‘relationships’ as mutually exclusive categories. This can be seen in the set question/response of ‘Are you two in a relationship? / ‘No; we’re just friends’. Anyone familiar with this script will recognise that the question implicitly asks whether two people relate in ways that include romantic and sexual intimacies; the response clarifying that this relationship is merely a pragmatic and platonic connection ‘as between friends’. Another example can be seen when the phrase ‘friends with benefits’ is used to emphasise that, while relationship includes a sexual element, they have no intention of sharing the ‘escalator’ journey expected of people who are ‘in a relationship’ (a journey where the degree of commitment is measured in the accrual of milestones, such emotional and financial interdependency, as cohabitation, co-parenting, etc.,).
These contrasting uses of romantic-relationships vs. friendships extend beyond clarifying these as concepts for different types of intimacies that two people may share. The dominant uses of these concepts also position romantic-relationships as intentional and leave friendships to fend for themselves. On the one hand, there is considerable pressure on us to put concerted effort into finding and claiming a person with whom we can entwine our lives and experience a romance so intense that it is valued at the expense of all other connections.
In contrast, incidental circumstances are expected to provide us with multiple friendships; and, while some of these may develop intense connections of many kinds (if we’re fortunate) articulating these connections is typically resisted for fear of overstepping boundaries and ‘ruining the friendship’.
While these contrasting associations have been widely criticised, there may still be value in articulating differences between various types of relationships. Taken together, the criticisms and defense of attempts to distinguish between friendships and romantic-relationships offer avenues for further reflection. One such avenue are attempts to avoid hierarchical assumptions by recognising how different relationships may benefit from different sets of mutual-expectations and learning how to make these implicit expectations explicit.
Articulating the expectations implicit in our relationships is a well-acknowledged tool for improving communication within sexual and/or romantic relationships. In contrast, there is relatively little attention devoted to articulating the expectations implicit between friends. Exceptions to this include various intentional relationship approaches that reject the mutually-exclusive categorisation of pragmatic/platonic and romantic/sexual relationships.
Questioning these categories doesn’t necessarily mean that these categories are useless. Indeed, many ‘relationship anarchists’ seek to ‘treat friends more like lovers, and lovers more like friends’; an approach that highlights the value of building better mutual-care relationships with friends, and better recognising and respecting the autonomy of those with whom we’re expected to become entangled.
Within this context, there are many resources about how to develop more intentional approaches to our romantic and/or sexual relationship(s). In contrast, resources for engaging in intentional friendships remain few and far between.
This Salon seeks to provide a space for exploring how communication tools associated with romantic relationships can be adapted for those relationships we consider to be ‘just’ friendships – in whatever configuration these friendships may take.