A Guide to Friendships with and for Aromantics
Friendships are very meaningful bonds for a lot of people, often valued and desired in equal measure. Some people of course do just fine on their own, because everyone is different, but for those who want them, friends can provide support, give a sense of companionship, and allow you to both care and be cared for by others. Friendships can be really neat, and we’re here with part one in a two part series on building and maintaining friendships. This article will focus on the beginnings of healthy friendships, how to reach out and make those new connections.
When the world seems to scream from every corner: “prioritize romance!”, and the majority listen, it may be difficult to form and maintain strong platonic bonds. On top of this, friendship is inherently different for every person. Some people want to chat every day and others are more than happy with a catch-up session once a year. It's doubtful the idea of friendship is the same for those two people and those two extremes probably wouldn’t get along well. Trying to find compatible friends can therefore be a challenge.
Google, in all its infinite resources, defines friendship as:
“a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations”,
but also as:
“(used as a polite form of address or in ironic reference) an acquaintance or stranger one comes across”,
“a person who supports a cause, organization, or country by giving financial or other help”,
and then not so specifically:
“a person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally”.
It should be noted that these aren’t all the ways a quick, simple Google search defines friendship either. We started this article talking about ‘strong platonic bonds’, but maybe that isn’t what you want in a friend. Maybe it is. No matter what it is you desire out of a friendship, you probably want to know where to look first.
THE FRIEND NEXT DOOR
At school, when you’re forced to interact with many hundreds of people your age for however many long years, the odds of making friends are pretty damn great. After we finish mandatory schooling (or if our schooling is done at home), Edwards reckons we lose two useful boosts: proximity and matching priorities. This simply means that we meet fewer people in our everyday nearby spaces and that we can no longer put fun above everything else. So we know the ‘why’, let’s talk about just how we can remedy this.
If you want to build friendships with people in person, consider these three sources:
The friends you already have,
The people you see often,
And the complete strangers.
Rather than jumping into the deep end and making brand spanking new friends (which we will get into later), have a look at the people you already consider a friend. If you’re looking for something more, something less, something different, something that isn’t considered the norm for friendship, maybe they can give it to you. Have a good ol’ chat about what you’d like in a friendship and see if they’re receptive to any of your ideas.
Like school, there are countless places where we’re all forced to be. This gives us proximity with classmates, coworkers, or neighbors, and sometimes various other people during extracurriculars. Extend an invitation to someone you already know, likely someone you already have some comfort with, and organize a fun group outing, like a picnic or an axe-throwing class. See where it goes. This is less intimidating than starting from scratch and is built on already knowing you have something in common. It’s a “let’s get to know each other better” situation. There’s always going to be a stressful assignment at work or at school, why not suggest celebrating it being over? Do you and your neighbour both have dogs? Do you need to borrow sugar for the cake you’re baking? (We hear that’s a thing that apparently happens. Tip: You can then share the cake as “thanks”.) With neighbours, it is normal to say you want to know who you live next door to. Take advantage of proximity, it's not going anywhere.
And for those of you starting from scratch, wanting to get to know complete strangers: do something for yourself first. Join a club you’re interested in or start up a hobby. Volunteer for those in need or with a political organization. Visit your local library or call up the council and see what events are coming up. Once you’re there chat with people about what’s happening around you, exchange contact information, and try to initiate meetups with the group or individual people you like.
GOING LONG DISTANCE
If an in-person relationship can’t be or simply isn’t for you, then there’s always the internet. Being online gives you a greater chance of finding friends, especially aro and/or queer friends if that’s what you are looking for. Plus, there is a greater pool of people to choose from; finding someone you get along with and who shares your very specific interests and points of view is more likely.
The online experience begins more effortlessly than meeting people in real life. If you’re interested in apps or websites just Google ‘friendship apps’, ‘make friends online not dating’, ‘app to meet friends in your area’, etc. Or put “looking for friends” in your description on Tinder, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Then comes step two: what to talk about? Well, all those activities we mentioned before, the hobbies, the activism, the education? There are countless online communities for all of your needs and interests. If your local town can’t provide for you, someone somewhere can, and with that you have yourself a conversation starter. Talk about your interests enough and you’ll find like minded people. If you’re not sure what your interests are - maybe you’re still exploring what you like - the internet is a safe place you can try things out without necessarily committing to them. Ask others what they are interested in and see how you feel about those things. Do a bit of research to get to know what others like, and you’ll not only get to know yourself a bit better, but you will also likely make the person you’re interacting with feel heard and appreciated.
FINDING LGBTQIA+ PEOPLE
As an aromantic website we want to encourage others to respect aromantic identities. We hope you will find other aros out in the world, LGBTQIA+ people that will warmly welcome you with open arms, or allies who will understand you, or at least respect you if they don’t. In some cases you’re going to join a class and spot three queer people. In other cases it may just be you. To find friends and keep those relationships alive, shared values or interests will go a long way.
To move away from the rather general “how to make friends” advice, we want to bring aromanticism to the forefront. Being public about your identity is a nuanced thing and that will greatly affect how you interact with making new friends. On the straightforward end of the scale there are LGBTQIA+ groups. If you’re out: introduce yourself and your orientation! If you’re not: then join as an ally. In this type of space you know that things that aren’t so normative will be accepted. Here, different levels and kinds of intimacy will be embraced. Friendships thrive without rigidity. If in doubt, look for groups that explicitly mention aromantics. If a group nearby or that you want to go to doesn’t explicitly mention aromantics, shoot them a message and see what they have to say. It's your community no matter the reception and despite the nerves. New relationships can certainly be nerve-wrecking and we’ve all been there, hoping and wondering about being accepted. If you know a supportive friend, ask them to come with you the first time or have a plan to bail out if you become uncomfortable.
TESTING THE WATERS
In the unknown areas that aren’t explicitly labeled QUEER, things become murky. Maybe you’re too nervous to go to an LGBTQIA+ group. Maybe there isn’t one where you live. Finding friends becomes a question of “is this person going to accept me?”. Good indicators of people who may make good friends are if conversation with them makes small talk feel natural for once or if the two of you share a special interest. Sometimes those things are all that matter, and we don’t need to out ourselves to everyone we meet. Sometimes our identities are important parts of us we want our new friends to know. Announcing the fact that you aren’t straight very blatantly can be a direct and honest way to test how new friends feel about your identity. Wearing rainbows and flags make just as loud a statement these days. But if neither of those things are for you then try talking about LGBTQIA+ people more abstractly. Mention something that recently happened on the news with a little bit of your opinion attached and see how they respond. Or gradually introduce aromantic issues you’ve read about, with or without the word “aromantic” attached. Sometimes you’ll find that people who are not aro share many of the same concerns that aros do. This method can be used to gauge what people believe and feel on many things without exposing yourself.
As for online aro-friendly communities, you can often use the same tactics to determine which groups and people will be respectful of you.
Finally, some online communities built for and by aros exclusively include:
To quote Sohini Chatterjee: “Queer friendships complete us in a world that threatens to take away parts of ourselves we hold dear.”
Sometimes we get caught up in the “forever alone” stereotypes and legitimate fears of being abandoned by friends in favor of romantic relationships. However, there are like-minded people out there with whom you can have rewarding, healthy friendships. We hope that this short piece can help jump start your quest for such friendships. There are so many people on this planet; your future friends are out there!
You can expect part two of this article on the 20th of September!