My phone is set to sync the most recent episode, which as of last week just happened to be a re-podcast of an old episode about Introverts vs. Extroverts. This was actually quite helpful, as I'm (mostly) an extrovert (although I have my moments where I've finally been tapped out and just need to crawl into a hole to hide), and my husband is (mostly) an introvert (although he enjoys spending time one-on-one or in small crowds with our tiny band of close friends). We have, of course, over the 12+ years we've been a couple, sorted out how that all looks in our relationship and worked out something that meets both of our needs in terms of social interaction. I can still see how that might be a new challenge to sort through as we start dating new people.
But that, actually, wasn't the most interesting thing in that podcast for me. There was a movie review of Carrington, by Joreth of The Inn Between (who has a handful of reviews of poly-ish movies on her site). Her review was interesting (and I've since seen the movie thanks to Netflix), but one thing stood out in the review-- the concept of the "Non-Sexual Significant Other," or NSSO. Lucky for us, Joreth also has a glossary of poly terms on her site (and I highly recommend giving it a look-over when you can if you're unfamiliar with poly):
NON-SEXUAL SIGNIFICANT OTHER (NSSO): Someone who fulfills the role of a Significant Other or a romantic partner, but does not include a sexual relationship. Usage: This is not a very common term because many people view a relationship without a sexual content to be "just friends" even within the poly community. However, some people do seperate different forms of love and emotional connections from sexual relationships, and often believe they have a "romantic" or intimate relationship with another person that, for whatever reason, does not include sex. This may include a relationship that resembles a romantic relationship in all ways except, for medical reasons, those involved are not capable of having or choose not to have a sexual relationship.
This idea intrigues me, not because I'm not into having sex with significant others, but because I do believe that over the years, I may have had a few extremely close relationships that were clearly "more than friends," while not being sexual in nature. While I wouldn't necessarily call them "romantic," they were kind of flirtatious and playful. One, well over a decade ago, was with a gay man when we were both single. One, also a decade or so ago, was with a married mom friend of mine who (along with her son) became like family to our family. Another was with a single girl friend, and one has been with a married guy friend (whose family was not poly). None of those were particularly complicated or weird, with the possible exception of the married guy friend. In that case, the weirdness was overcome by the fact that I was fully aware that people can have loving, emotionally intimate relationships with more than one person at a time without it meaning less love for the "primary" partner (as I was already beginning to think seriously about poly at that time), and I took time to get to know his wife and connect with her in a positive way. Plus, I have this thing about not wanting to help people cheat (similar to the thing my friend had about not wanting to cheat); this made it much, much easier to keep things platonic, which we did, even as an extremely close friendship developed.
All of that is not to say that I have unintentionally had an NSSO before (because I haven't), but to say that I can see how it could happen, and how it could meet people's needs, even if in a way that isn't culturally normative. For starters, obviously even people who identify as asexual could be in loving relationships, even polyamorous ones. Secondly, I actually enjoyed Carrington and loved the interplay between the characters. I read a few descriptions of it online as a movie about "unrequited love." I think people who wrote those reviews have a far-too-narrow definition of love. One movie description goes so far as to say that Carrington's unrequited love for Lytton "ruined her life and ended in tragedy." This I don't buy for two reasons. First, any damn fool who watches the movie can tell that (at least as they are portrayed in the movie) Lytton clearly loved Carrington deeply, and enjoyed his unusual partnership with her. Did it meet their every need and fill every aspect of partnership for them? No. But it was still a meaningful relationship from which they both benefited, and in which they both received love. Secondly, that paints the picture that she hopelessly pined after him, thus causing the tragic end. SPOILER ALERT (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know the ending)... What actually happened is that Lytton dies from cancer, and on his death bed yearns for Carrington's love, and after his death, she commits suicide from the grief of losing her partner. What if they had been a traditional couple, married for years? Would anyone, upon hearing that a wife of 15 years had been through watching her husband endure a painful and horrific death had then killed herself to escape her unbearable grief, then go on to ridicule her choice? We might not agree with it, either in her case or in general, but we would understand her grief.
All of which brings me to sex and romance. Does sex define which relationships matter and which don't? Is a non-sexual relationship only acceptable, valid, and recognized if it is seen as something that is the preparation for a later sexual relationship? What about romance? What is "romantic" and what isn't? Holding hands? Giving a hug? Stroking someone's hair? Leaning into each other on the couch? Sharing your secrets? Kissing a cheek or forehead? It seems that the line between "what friends can do" and "this constitutes a romantic relationship" is nebulous and arbitrary. On the one hand, when romantic partnership is desired by one or both partners, it makes things feel complicated-- at what point should we call it a Relationship? On the other hand, when platonic is the goal (either because of orientation or monogamy status, or some other issue), there's always the dance of "how much is okay?" You try to balance doing what feels natural in the friendship and allowing appropriate expressions of love and caring with not doing more than is "safe" (emotionally, socially, or physically) and making sure everyone's boundaries are honored.
And I think some of this is real, and important, and valid. I do not WANT to be in anything resembling a romantic relationship with someone, male or female, who is in a monogamous relationship, and will act in a way that honors their important life commitments. Just as the romantic, crushing part of my brain seems to shut off and not work on friends whose orientation does not match with mine (gay men and straight women), so it turns off for people I know are in monogamous relationships. There is no crushing. There is no fantasizing. While there might be love, expressions of it are kept safely within the boundaries that help me to maintain the friendship in a safe way. I can love people with whom I would not or could not have a sexual relationship; It is very rare that I end up with a crush on one.
Still, a lot of this platonic vs. romantic rule-making seems silly to me. Am I too idealistic in just thinking people can just be friends, the kind of friends that the friendship naturally develops into, and express love in ways that feel respectful, kind, and compassionate, without fearing that there is some kind of ulterior motive or hidden meaning inferred from their actions that wasn't actually part of the intent? I dunno, I can see how that can work (in friendships where you know your friend operates in a very loving and affectionate way and that it doesn't mean they're trying to rope you into something). I can also see how that wouldn't work (if a friend has a history of using lovey-dovey behavior to open the door and then launch a romantic sneak-attack on you when you least expect [or want] it).
Either way, the fact stands that I love my close friendships, and this, honestly, is how I prefer my friendships to be. While there are some people with whom I know on a spiritual level I am supposed to be friends, even if it isn't (yet or ever) looking like the way I'm used to my friendships looking, I tend to be uninterested in superficial connections with people. I like the long talks, the hugs, and the love. At this time, I have around 8 close friends (although 4 of them do not live local to me) with whom I have that kind of intimacy. Visits and phone calls are ended with "I love you," we call each other "honey" and "sweetie" and "love," and would be each other's 3 am friend, should one ever be needed. I have one more friend with whom I feel that same level of love, but I'm still not sure where I stand with him (as he's not very expressive about lovey feelings with friends, that I've seen). And I have a handful of other friends where some level of hugginess and affection is the norm, if not the overt "I love you" type. As far as I can tell, this is a good thing. Love is good. Letting other people know you care about them is good. Reaching into each other's lives, if even for a period of time, to love and be loved even in a non-sexual or non-romantic way is good.
Any relationship, sexual or non-sexual, has the weight and power that you give it. If it is a friendship, then it's a friendship. If it's family, then it's family, whether related by blood or not. If it's a significant other, then it's a significant other, even if it doesn't fit society's definition of SO.
And if the opportunity for a loving and committed relationship with someone who will not or could not be sexually involved with me were ever to present itself, I don't think I'd reject that opportunity just because it wouldn't fit a pre-defined expectation of what a relationship should be.
I know there are a few of you who actually read this. You've let me know without officially following the blog, liking it on facebook, or commenting. But this is something I'd love more thoughts on. Comments welcomed, even if you don't want your username shown (though you'll still have to wait for me to approve it).