A Guide to Maintaining Friendships with and for Aromantics
Like anything meaningful in life, if you want a friendship to last, it’ll need maintenance. Whether you’ve known your friend for twenty years or twenty days, both will benefit from some TLC. With this in mind, we bring you the second part of our friendship series, an article that focuses on keeping and caring for the friendships you’ve made.
With the very real fear for LGBTQIA+ individuals that our families may not accept our orientations, building relationships can feel dauntingly paramount. For aromantics, the added fear of friends drifting away from us in favor of a romantic relationship can make this endeavor seem fruitless. Choosing friends not only means finding people who you get along with, but people who are interested in commitment. There are, of course, the casual bonds we share with people. The co-worker you hope is on every shift, but never see outside of work. The stranger who walks their dog at the same time as you. The regulars you see at every convention, party, or club meetup. These aren’t to be overlooked, 1) because they could be a foundation for a long lasting friendship, and 2) because simplicity and ease are valuable in their own right. For the most part however, we will be discussing relationships in terms of long term commitment. Something to keep in mind though, is that the advice we share is subjective.
While on the topic, you probably have a good idea of how much time you have to commit to each area of your life. A very common issue in this capitalist age is conflicting schedules. Just how are we supposed to sustain friendships when we’re living busy lives? What about the added difficulties of long distance friendships? Even just the seemingly simple task of scheduling calls can be a nightmare. A texted conversation that is spaced out over hours is often the norm no matter how far apart you and your friend(s) live. A recent study found that it takes around 50 hours for someone to become your friend and close to 300 hours to make them a best friend. That’s a lot of hours to commit.
There’s no easy solution to the issue of finding time. Consider this however: how often do you check your phone to see if anyone has messaged you? How often do you think your friends are doing the same? It can be difficult to reach out to people, particularly when you’re worried about messaging too much. Keep in mind that your friends want to hang out with you and someone has to make that happen. Don’t be afraid to be that someone. Initiate a get together, and plan it weeks in advance if need be. If you’re truly worried about being turned down, try picking something new you haven’t done together before, or something your friend(s) are always gung ho for.
We might have heard it thousands of times from our straight cisgender compatriots, whether in media or in person. They’re in a tizzy about a romantic relationship and they say, in some form or another, “I wish so-and-so would be intimate in this way with me.” The solution, which ironically comes after a heap of miscommunication, is ‘talk about it’. Of course, to talk about something, you must know what you want to say.
There are many kinds of intimacy: emotional, platonic, touch based, sexual, intellectual, and plenty more beyond, with all of them having the capacity to overlap. To ensure that a friendship is well cared for, both people involved must be having their needs met. It can be difficult to discuss friendship in such serious and tangible terms when the way we’re taught to make friends is just ‘it’ll happen’. There are no milestones in friendships; you simply find yourself being vulnerable with them or you don’t. But we don’t have to do things that way. Encouraging yourself and your friend(s) to talk about things you would like to gain and share is an emotional intimacy in itself. Setting guidelines for your exploration, making it clear what things you do and don’t like or want, is an intellectual intimacy.
When introducing an idea that is foreign to yourself, your friend, or both of you, a good way to do so is to speak about it in an indirect sense. “I’d love to have a friend that I can cuddle with.” “When friends dance together in movies, it makes me wonder where my dance friend is.” “I really like making themed playlists and it’d be fun to make one with someone one day.” Your friend has the opportunity to agree that they would like that too or talk about something else that they would like. This introduction means that if you outright ask or suggest an activity with them at a later date, it won’t come as a surprise. It gives them an opportunity to think about what you’ve said, even if they might not necessarily think about it in context of themselves.
Another way to be intimate with a friend and learn something from it is to talk about love languages. Take the test together to really make a moment of it. The five categories break down to words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. This is a great way to get to know someone and to learn how to communicate with them. It also gives you a heads up in terms of introducing something new to the relationship. If someone scores low in regards to physical touch, they might not be interested in cuddling. There are exceptions. Someone who scores high in acts of service might be willing to participate in activities that they themselves have little interest in, if it is of benefit to you. The important thing to remember is that people communicate in many wonderful and foreign ways, and you won’t know what they’re saying, or how they say it, until you ask.
You may never know what life is going to throw at you, but you can plan for it anyway. Or rather, the effects of it. There are many instances in life when we are caught unawares, or off guard, and the people around us have to figure out how to act. The most common example of this would be times of grief, or panic. What forms of care do you need when you’re going through a trying time? When you’re stressed, or angry, do you know what may exacerbate those emotions? What help or care can your friend provide to help you manage them?
Discussing behavior and solutions ahead of time can help avoid future discomfort, while also making sure everyone involved is prepared. For instance, when it comes to topics you’d really rather not talk about, you can institute a conversation safe word with your friend. Sure it might sound strange, given that probably isn’t a context you’re used to seeing the term ‘safe word’ used in, but this point blank ‘stop’ that you have previously discussed with a friend can stop an uncomfortable conversation or situation in its tracks. That is, of course, the point of the word: it has a pre-set response for you and your friend, to stop the conversation, with a guarantee from both of you that it will be respected. To continue this theme, consider aftercare. In this case, after an emotionally exhausting incident, you or your friend(s) may need a certain type of support, which can be difficult to communicate under stress. If you make yourself some contingency plans, you can overcome that difficulty, and make it easier for you to support each other. What’ve you got to lose?
How to Commit
What does commitment look like to you? This obviously varies from person to person, both with how they like to commit in general and how they like to commit to each specific person in their life. It is important to articulate what it is you’d like in a relationship to begin the process of that happening. Would you like to set up a weekly or monthly call? Do you want to see your friend(s) once a week, a month, a year? How do you feel about birthdays or certain holidays? Can you make an event of them? Maybe simply exchange cards for something simple and personal.
Time flies shockingly fast and only seems to move faster the more of it there is. How do you see your future unfolding, and how do your friends fit into that plan? It is more than possible to move in the same direction. Pick a place and meet your new roommate there. Buy that house with a group of friends. Choose a foreign city and live as neighbors in a fancy apartment building. Invite them to your hometown. Planning your future with a friend in mind is not only something to look forward to, but has the added bonus of building an immediate support system and financial security. Queer theorists often speak of ‘queer time’ and how the set goal posts of life are vastly harder to reach or unappealing to begin with. What shape do you imagine the journey of your friendship(s) taking? What milestones will you meet and which ones will you steer clear of? Decide how you want to commit your queer time.
The Dreaded Anxieties
“Just talk about it,” we keep saying. “But hey,” you might be thinking, “that’s hard!” And you’d be right. We can give you general advice, such as these questions to ask people when you’re getting to know them. We can tell you that if you need to have a serious conversation with a friend, write out bullet points or a speech so you aren’t winging it, and can remember everything important you have to say. Know what is and isn’t within your comfort zone. Accept invitations. When visiting a new event, trying a new hobby, or hanging out with a new group, try it three times before quitting. Remember that you want to build something together and that compromise is important, but also look after yourself. And bluntly: if you want something, you have to make it happen.
But this is just our general advice, and it all tends to hinge on one assumption, that things are going well. What do you do if your friend lashes out under stress, or starts ghosting you? What if you want to take a few steps back from the increase in intimacy? Here is a good, queer specific, article on these kinds of tensions that talks about how to handle yourself.
Above all, remember that you are capable of making and keeping friends. There’s no science to it, just connection. For many people, it’s a connection that they want to have. For all our queer and/or aro specific fears, the majority of the world is over-worked and lonely. Be reliable in your care when it comes to friendship and you will be appreciated.