Radical Platonic Love

Have you ever seen the movie Moonlight?  Do you remember the final scene?  A Miami apartment living room after dark, the muted colors of the furniture reflect the hour. Chiron, now called Black, and his friend, Kevin, are having a conversation.  It’s clear these soft words crawl from a place hidden years ago.  Beneath brawn and toxic masculinity, Chiron’s vulnerability has not starved to death.  Something about the intimate encounter Kevin and Chiron had years earlier nourished his softness to believe there is at least one safe person in his world.   The film preps the audience for a romantic ending.  I feel the overtures of a kiss, the chemistry in their soft conversation.  Chiron confesses that since their teenage tryst, he’s never yielded to anyone else.  The two men embrace, and the film closes.  Where Hollywood preaches that romantic partners are the only ones able to save us, Moonlight’s ending challenges the norm.  Echoing the film’s denouement, platonic love is radical and underrated.

I’m more of a romantic than I’d ever admit to.  I harbor the fear of humiliation in people realizing how much I relish crushes or how many times I’ve re-read Jane Austen.   My heart is this boundless, fragile thing I’m constantly trying to cram into a tiny steel crate.  It doesn’t fit.  My tell is palpable.  My heartbeat is a percussion section without a mute button.  All stereo sound and no silence.  Throughout my life, I gorged myself on romantic narratives promising that a partner would save me.  This speaks to toxic monogamy culture, or the societal myth that one romantic partner can fulfill all needs for another romantic partner, that there is a “one”, and neither of these folks will desire anyone else.  Companionship is a choice typically focused around compatibility.  There will always be a bigger better deal looming in the distance, but ultimately, partnerships work when both people choose to commit with the understanding that they will both make mistakes.  Nevertheless, I clung to romance like a life preserver, and it took me until I was twenty-four to realize that I didn’t need a romantic other.  I currently sift through my quarter-life crises, and the last thing I need is another person I’d have to negotiate within those plans.  My life was a Tetris game around everyone else until this year.  I am no longer a peripheral object in my own existence. I owe myself my energy, my attention, my affection.

Predating this epiphany, platonic love fed me.  While I awaited someone special, plenty of special people found me.  They are my friends, my mentors, an array of discounted loves who’ve showered me in extravagant adoration.  The most intimate moments of my life have nothing to do with sex.    Rather, they are instances like crepe paper– so easy to destroy with a single hand.  And where the other person could wreck me, where I’ve utterly disarmed myself, they accepted me. These are the moments where I offer trust despite how many reasons life has given me to be stingy with it.  These are the moments where I relearn socialization as connection instead of defense.   I once sat beside a friend at a trashy campus bar.  Between drinks, all my secrets found sound.  I waited for him to bail.  He heard my damage, and I’d convinced myself that no one could survive such a confession. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” he responded.  I exhaled, a mixture of relief and panic. There was nothing more I could scare him with, no more secrets threatening our connection.  I have more stories like that than I have time to tell, and that makes me a very lucky woman.

My life is a love story.  Each chapter is a different mentor who rallied me every time I didn’t believe in myself.  Each chapter is a friend who sends me fire memes or indulges in brunches or has physically held me together when I’ve fallen.  Because whether you’re swiping left or right on your tinder options, friends remain dead center.

This essay does not dishonor the bonds of romantic partnership. I’m also not saying that you have to be single to embrace platonic love, as it exists independent of your relationship status. I rejoice in every iteration of love. I’m asserting that platonic love challenges toxic monogamy culture by providing alternative sources for connection, affection, and emotional needs.  The world is not populated by seven billion for a single human being to symbolize your life.  On a personal note, I feel blessed to learn love outside of a romantic context.  An earlier me would’ve felt that she owed her body, her time, her affection.  The mass of serving as an all-encompassing partner would have crushed her.  My traumas would’ve used this hypothetical relationship like a movie screen to project.  I am my first love.  My relationship with myself is something I actively work on daily.  But I learned that I am lovable through platonic love.

We demonize the friend zone.  It is an elephant graveyard for curved crushes, but I believe friendship is a holy offering.  Friendship whispers, “all I want is your company.  I want to celebrate the weirdest, cattiest, best and worst parts of you without asking for anything in return”.  There’s nothing more pure in this world than to want another person for no reason other than for who they are and to revel in that bond.   This is my ode to the the kisses that ended up being platonic embraces, the crushes turned friendships, and drumrolls that crescendoed to nowhere.  Perhaps they led us somewhere better after all.

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