A Relationship Anarchist Perspective on QPRs and Friendship

Where I talk about QPRs, relationship anarchy, how I personally find QPRs less useful of a concept than I used to.

This post was written for the October 2021 Carnival of Aros, where the theme is “Friendship.”

Early on in my journey to understand my aspec identity, I came across the concept of queerplatonic relationships. As a baby aro, I found the concept of a relationship that is committed and intimate while also being wholly platonic incredibly liberating. Because of social programming, the thought that I could have intimacy and affection in a relationship without romance and sex had never occurred to me. I immediately knew that a QPR is something I wanted, and this started the long process of unlearning many of the social scripts I grew up with. As this process of deprogramming progressed and I opened my mind to what an interpersonal relationship is and what it can be, I eventually settled on relationship anarchy as the primary conceptualization scheme through which I understand the relationships in my life. However, as I began navigating relationships through the lens of relationship anarchy, the concept of a queerplatonic relationship started to become less and less intuitive to me, and I began to realize that the concept doesn’t necessarily map well to my conceptual model of relationships.

Many relationship anarchists choose to eschew labels in their relationships, as they consider labels to be a form of classification and classification a form of hierarchy. My approach to relationship anarchy has always been that I’m fine with labels as long as they’re descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, meaning that the label should describe the relationship rather than determine the boundaries and expectation of the relationship. Traditionally, people choose how they want to classify their relationship first and allow society to prescribe what relationships of that type should entail. I prefer to pick and choose what I want my relationships to entail independent of existing social scripts—using tools like the relationship smorgasbord—and then choose how we want to label it.

One would think that the concept of a queerplatonic relationship would be well-suited to this style of relationship anarchy; QPRs don’t really have any social scripts associated with them, both because the concept isn’t particularly mainstream and because the definition is vague and fuzzy by design. This means that “queerplatonic” can be adopted as a label for a relationship under relationship anarchy without prescribing anything about the nature of the relationship, and it can potentially be applicable to a wide variety of non-normative relationship styles. Despite this, lately I’ve been finding that “queerplatonic”—even as a descriptive label—isn’t as helpful of a conceptualization for me as it once was.

Since I don’t limit the amount of intimacy or kinds of commitments which are included in a relationship by how I classify it, the only concrete differentiator for me is the label we use to describe it. Still, for me, determining whether to label a relationship as a friendship or a QPR can become a sticking point because it’s hard to escape the notion that there’s some form of hierarchy there. While people in aspec communities do generally make an effort to clarify that a QPR isn’t necessarily “more than” a friendship and “less than” a romantic relationship, it’s difficult to completely escape this narrative when queerplatonic relationships are typically defined in terms of what they include that a friendship doesn’t and what they do not include which a romantic relationship does. There’s also generally an understanding that QPRs progress from close friendships, implying that it’s a sort of evolution or progression from a “standard” friendship. I always see QPRs defined as “transcending” friendship or going “beyond” friendship and usually as having more of something—like intimacy or commitment—than a friendship. It’s incredibly difficult for me to determine exactly when a friendship should be “upgraded” to a QPR, because I don’t measure the relationships in my life on a linear scale of “closeness,” and to me, there are many different kinds of intimacy and commitment.

One appeal of the “queerplatonic” label for me—along with terms like “partner”—is that it provides some social legitimacy for the relationship. Something I’ve found I enjoy in relationships is presenting as someone’s partner in a social sense—having our relationship recognized and fulfilling the social role of a partner. I want the depth of my relationships to be recognized by others, and calling someone my “friend” generally causes people to assume there’s an upper limit to how deep and intimate the relationship can be. Even though the term “queerplatonic” isn’t commonly understood outside queer communities, having a formal label for the relationship and distinct language for how I refer to that person goes a long way toward giving my relationship social legitimacy. My thinking is that if I can’t make other people understand the nuanced and unique relationships I have with each of the people in my life, I can at least pander to the rigid classification system they do understand to gain some social recognition.

Still, I feel like this approach of pandering to relationship hierarchies isn’t how I want to go about relationships. If we go back to the post where the term “queerplatonic” was first proposed, Kaz talks about eir feelings toward relationship hierarchies:

ALSO, I worry that by calling my relationship and desired relationship “in between friendship and romance” (which again feels a bit like I’m boxing it in) I’m trying to get relationship points from the hierarchy - that because I don’t want what I have with my not!GF to be dismissed as “just” friendship I’m calling it sort of romantic ish in a way in order to get some of the importance that gets accorded to romantic relationships in our society - when really I should be trying to break down the hierarchy altogether, point out that friendship doesn’t have to be “just”, and that there are more options than friendship or romance.

This stance really resonates with me; using “queerplatonic” to legitimize my relationships feels like what Kaz describes as “trying to get relationship points from the hierarchy.” I want people to recognize that my relationships are valuable to me, but I don’t want to have to impose a hierarchy them to do it. Unlike Kaz, however, I don’t think “queerplatonic” solves this problem for me. To me, labeling a relationship as “queerplatonic” kinda does feel like saying it’s “in between” friendship and romance. As much as aspec people insist that this isn’t the case, the common messaging around “queerplatonic” still gives me the impression that a QPR is in some way “more than” a friendship. Even if I could conceptualize QPRs as a distinct relationship category with no implied hierarchy, I’m still not sure “queerplatonic” would be a useful concept for me; my relationships are too varied and nuanced to fit into a binary, so trying to fit them into a ternary isn’t really much easier.

I’ve always hated the notion that friendship is inherently less valuable than other kinds of relationships, which is why I dislike phrases like “just friends” and “only friends.” Instead of using “queerplatonic” to legitimize my friendships, maybe I should focus more on defending the validity of intimate and committed friendships. Because to me, friendship is something special. There’s something delightfully subversive about labeling my intimate and committed relationships as friendships, like I’m challenging the commonly held notions of what a friendship is and what it can be. It almost feels like I’m reappropriating “friendship” from an amatonormative society to mean what I want it to mean.

None of this is intended to be a criticism of relationship hierarchies or the concept of queerplatonic relationships. Rather, this is more of a personal reflection on my struggle to reconcile “queerplatonic”—a concept I once found incredibly useful—with my tendencies toward relationship anarchy. I don’t think “queerplatonic” is necessarily incompatible with relationship anarchy or that relationship anarchy is necessarily a better approach to relationships than any other, and I do think that the existence of the term is a net positive. I just feel like as my personal attitudes toward relationships have evolved, I’m moving past the need for “queerplatonic.”

At one point, the concept of queerplatonic relationships was incredibly useful for expanding my conceptual model of relationships; “queerplatonic” gave me permission to seek out the kinds of relationships I’ve always wanted but never thought I could have. However, in retrospect, I was just trading one hierarchical classification system for a slightly less restrictive one. I now realize that I don’t need to classify my friendships as queerplatonic for them to be intimate and committed, and all the term did for me was force me to impose a binary on my platonic relationships where there didn’t need to be one. I do see appeal in the term for socially legitimizing my relationships, but lately my attitude has been that I would prefer to challenge the concept of relationship hierarchies rather than pander to them. I’m glad the term exists and that people find value in it, but I think I might let go of this conceptualization scheme moving forwards.