Friendships: Are they “relationships,” too?

When you hear the phrase “in a relationship,” do you automatically assume it refers to two people who are riding the Relationship Escalator together? Or who at least share a sexual and/or romantic connection? Do you consider “friends” and “lovers” to be mutually exclusive categories?

If so, don’t sweat it. That view is incredibly common, and it’s not necessarily wrong. You get to define what “a relationship” means to you. In doing so, you might want to consider this:

There’s a broad spectrum of relationships in which people share some level of emotional or physical intimacy. Friendships can be an important, yet generally underestimated, type of relationship which can involve their own style of intimacy. People often love their friends, feel a strong sense of commitment to their friendships, or feel safe being emotionally vulnerable with their friends.

Some people even share sex or romance with friends. (Yes, for many people, the “friends” part of friends with benefits is quite genuine.)

My forthcoming book, Off the Relationship Escalator, features lots of quotes from nearly 1500 responses to my survey about unconventional intimate relationships. Here’s one quote that gets to the heart of this matter:

There’s a perceived dichotomy between “friendship” and “relationship” — and if you go outside of friendship, you’re supposed to go all the way to “relationship.” The stuff “between” should be valued too. Same for the stuff between nonsexual and sexual touch.
— Rilian, asexual

Do you consider your friendships to be significant relationships? Why, or why not? What kinds of intimacy do you share with your friends? Do you prioritize relationships that involve sex or romance over those which do not?

I’d love to hear your perspective on this. Please comment below.

6 comments on “Friendships: Are they “relationships,” too?

  1. I actually really appreciate a post that validates my way of doing friendships. Often time if I “break up” with someone who I had invested a lot of time into being friends with, people don’t understand why I’m so upset. I mean, it’s not like I was dating the person, right? But, for me, the main difference between “friend” and “romantic partner” is that the latter is a friend + romance + sex. I love my friends, I emotionally invest in my friends, and I care about them in the same way that I care about my family. My relationships with them are relationships. I know that many people, for whatever reason, don’t think that way but tbh I don’t really understand how you can classify “a relationship” as being 100% separate from “a friendship”.

    • I totally agree. There were two occasions in my life where I had to drastically scale back my involvement with very close friends, people I considered family. That was excruciating, very much a significant kind of breakup. And it bugged me to no end that people thought there was something wrong with me for being pretty hurt about this. Or surprise that I felt this kind of clarity was necessary — the social norm is that if you no longer wish to have a friendship, you just fade out and don’t discuss it. Which to me felt cowardly and disrespectful, at least in these cases.

  2. This is exciting to see. As an arospec person (meaning on the aromantic spectrum) I am excited that there could be a book talking about people’s non normative friendships. I myself have what you might call a fwb, but I don’t use the term because it has those icky assumptions tied to it that you’re not actually friends, if you care for each other it must become a romantic relationship, ect. My partner had their own reasons to object to the term as well, so we call it a sexual friendship.

  3. There are acquaintances, and yes I guess you could also say that those are a form of relationship as well, but I generally don’t invest much time or energy into them. There are friends who are much more important to me, so I put more time and energy into them, because I love them. Then there are very close friends who I share everything with, and are extremely important to me, so they get a lot of my time and energy. These I consider to be partners or family, to one extent or another, and I love them a lot. Then there are sexual partners who, for me, need to also be in at least the friend category, and hopefully working towards rising to the very good friends level. Unfortunately, at the moment, I have no one who fits into the last category, but do have one person who may fit in it at some point. Please note that nowhere above did I mention ‘romance’ or ‘romantic”. Instead I mentioned love. Romance is something you do for someone you love, or you can be romantic towards someone you love. There are way too many people who incorrectly use the words interchangeably.

  4. Do you want to know what the differences are? End up in the hospital with a major illness. A lot of the people you are idealizing in your head as important (family or friends) either will or will not show up. That’s when you will find out who your loved ones really are.

    • That hasn’t been my experience. My friends have shown up for me when I’ve been in dire need. And I’ve shown up for them,. Including caring for them through major illness, and being there through their dying process.

      I’m personally fortunate to also have a caring, mutually supportive family of origin. But not all members of that family show up for me uniformly. And many people have families of origin or spouses who are unable to show up and help, or who are uncaring or actively harmful.

      Friendship/family of choice isn’t a silver bullet for a safety net. Neither are family of origin, or marriage, or offspring. However, friendship is the kind of important relationship that, generally, individuals have the ability to cultivate and strengthen under any life circumstances. Not true for the others.

      That’s just practical. nothing idealistic about that.

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