Poly + Long Distance + Romantic Friendship = ?

This is a guest post by reader Eponine, who was inspired by recent discussions about relationships on this blog.

Let me start off by introducing myself and the basics of my relationship: I’m a heteroromantic asexual (or maybe somewhat grey-A) female in a polyamorous relationship. My primary partner, G, is a sexual guy. We’ve been together for two years: the first year in a monogamous long distance relationship (LDR), and the second year living together and being polyamorous. But neither of us had any romantic encounters outside, until 1.5 months ago when I started a long-distance romantic friendship with A, a demisexual guy I met on AVEN. He lives in another country and we’ve yet to meet in person.

As you can see, there are quite a few elements here: mixed relationship, polyamory, romantic friendship, and LDR (including the LD romantic friendship). But in this post, I’m going to skip the mixed relationship bit  and focus on the other elements, mainly through my relationship with A.

Romantic Friendship
Actually I was unaware of this concept until I came to AVEN, although I had always had a tendency to blur the line between friendship and romance. When I read the discussions about romantic friendship on AVEN, I thought, “This sounds nice to me!” But only with A did I get to experience it for the first time.

I started to message with A on AVEN several months ago, because his posts about polyamory and romantic friendship caught my attention. We hit it off intellectually right away, because we have amazingly similar views on sex, love, friendship, polyamory and so on. Soon we became good friends and started to exchange emails twice a day most of the time. Gradually, my feelings for him turned from a pure squish to a mixture of squish and crush (and swayed between the two on different days).

After I confessed my romantic feelings to A and had my feelings reciprocated, I was in a high romantic mode for a while. But it wasn’t long before I seemed to switch back to the grey area between friendship and romance. It’s a wonderful feeling, but kind of hard to explain. Of course there has always been a romantic touch in our relationship since we revealed our mutual feelings, but sometimes the friendship component is more salient, and sometimes the romantic one is more salient, at least for me. I think it’s mainly because our romantic attraction to each other is based on a very deep and solid friendship first, so the friendship component, the pure mental connection, is always a significant part in our relationship.

Romantic friendship is usually characterized by non-sexual intimacy like hugging and cuddling. Me and A are both the touchy-feely type, and we both think it’s the desire for physical touch that makes what we have a romantic friendship rather than “just friendship”. Before I knew what asexuality and sexual attraction was, I thought “romantic attraction = close friendship + sexual attraction”. Now I’ve realized, for me, it should be “romantic attraction = close friendship + sensual attraction”. And the sensual attraction can only develop on the basis of a strong mental/intellectual connection.

LDR: Mono vs. Poly

A and I live on different hemispheres of the earth, so it’s hard for us to meet up anytime soon. There are days when we’re depressed that we can only cuddle with each other in our dreams, and lament the distance between us. But having experienced both monogamous and polyamorous LDRs, I have to say the latter is much easier than the former. Admittedly, it’s easier for me than for A, since I’m living with G, while A doesn’t have a local partner to fulfill his cuddle urge. But we both think the nature of poly makes an LDR less stressful.

In a mono LDR, the central issue is – “when are we going to move closer?” I believe everyone has heard of such stories: A couple in an LDR breaks up, not because they don’t love each other anymore, but because they can’t see themselves ending the distance in X years, i.e., “no future together”. They’d rather give up this relationship and find someone local to build a life together. A and I would likely be the “no future” type if we were monogamous, but being poly takes the huge pressure off. Sure, the distance still hurts, and we hope to move closer someday, but it’s not a “make or break” factor in our relationship – why would it be, if he doesn’t have to break up with me to find a local partner?

A has been in a mono LDR too, and he said he’d feel guilty for not being there for his partner in her need, and for not being able to move closer to her. But in poly, one doesn’t have to center their life around only one person, because love can be shared. Now A says he’s happy that I have G by my side, and he doesn’t feel the guilt he used to feel in the mono LDR. Of course, I’ll be happy for him too if he finds a local partner someday. This is the opposite of people in mono LDRs worrying, “what if they find someone else locally?” and it leads to compersion, an important concept in the poly philosophy.

All in all, the poly LDR combined with the romantic friendship thing probably makes our relationship super fuzzy and unconventional to the mainstream world. We don’t have a clear “goal” in our relationship, like sexuals wanting sex or monogamists wanting a life-long pair bond. We hope to move closer, but the distance isn’t a big threat to us. Maybe we’ll only be able to meet up infrequently, but essentially, our relationship isn’t too different from a deep friendship, which we can sort of “pick up where we left off”. As A said in an email, “As long as there is enough compatibility to remain friends and stay in touch, we can have some form of relationship happening forever.”

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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7 Responses to Poly + Long Distance + Romantic Friendship = ?

  1. A says:

    I’m “A” from Eponine’s post. Initially we thought about writing separate perspectives together, but it would end up too long, and when Eponine showed me her draft I didn’t think I had much to add. So here are just come comments instead…

    Our online friendship grew just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I’m not quite a “standard” heterosexual – I’m heteroromantic and towards the asexual end of demisexual. This realisation (along with some other things that were going on in my life lately) completely redefined what sex and relationships mean to me. Over the past year or so – I almost completely disconnected any sense of “Significant Relationship = Lifetime Sexual Pair Bond” from my heart and mind.

    This quote from a recent article about asexuality rings very true to me: “If we stop defining our significant relationships only as those that are romantic or sexual, being single will take on new meaning.”. When Eponine and I first confessed to each other that our feelings are not quite purely platonic, I said that I’m not really “fully single” any more. We had a chuckle about this, but it’s true. What we have would definitely be considered an inappropriate “emotional affair” if we were both in stock-standard monogamous relationships. So why should it be dismissed the other way around? ie. If I’m “single” and “just” having an emotionally charged online friendship? Why would it be “real” and a problem in one case, but dismissed as something naive or incomplete in the other?

    Being quite far towards the asexual end of the spectrum means that what I get from relationships (and can give and share) is probably over 95% mental. The rest is a craving for (nonsexual) physical affection such as cuddling and general quiet quality times. Sex to me is like a potential optional extra which may or may not ever fall into place with a particular person – and as a thing-in-itself a desire for depersonalised partnered sex essentially doesn’t exist to me. Realising how this works was a huge eye-opener, and I’m very glad to have met Eponine, because she helped me realise that I’m not crazy, but simply a member of a sexual minority whose mind ticks in a very specific way – and crucially, that there are people out there I can connect with who totally grok this.

    Finally: polyamory. Being who I am, it basically fell into place as a logical default setting for my life. I’m not called to marriage or children, I’m very independent and enjoy living alone, and even the whole “domestic partnership” thing is something I have no particular craving for – even though I could probably do it with the right person, in a limited way. But my romantic drive seems most comfortable with the idea of free associations that are more like romantic friendship than what society would generally view as a full-package “relationship”. This is a win-win for associating with poly-minded people, because our idea of what a relationship is is based mostly on maintaining something like a close friendship, rather than establishing a permanent state of exclusive togetherness that just has to be a certain way forever no matter what. So in the light of this – we can be happy having each other in our lives even “just” as online friends for now, but there’s always hope for more someday. And the key thing is: there is no need to ever “end it”, simply because it can’t be fulfilled at a certain level at a certain time.

  2. Innnteresting. I’m in a similar situation. I’m an aromantic asexual and I’ve got a person. We’re kind of romantic or kind of not or whatever, we don’t care what you call it. My person’s got a girlfriend, and they’re definitely romantic. We all started out long distance, which lasted for years, but I moved and now I live near my person, while she and her girlfriend are still long distance. Our eventual goal is for the three of us to live together.

    For us, polyamory is kind of incidental. I don’t consider myself poly, and I wouldn’t be in a poly relationship if I wasn’t with my person — I wouldn’t be in any kind of relationship at all if I wasn’t with my person, because I don’t normally do relationships — and my person’s girlfriend is monogamous and not quite sure about this whole poly thing. My person just happens to love us both, and decided that choosing is unnecessary. None of us are looking for another relationship. I’m pretty sure that none of us have the energy for another relationship.

    The fact that my person has a girlfriend has made it feel okay to me, somehow, to “be with” her in whatever way that is. My feelings for her, as an aromantic, are very similar to my feelings for other people like my sisters or my friends, just… more, lots more. The fact that she already had a girlfriend and I was coming to the party from a friend angle rather than from a romantic angle made it very easy to build exactly the relationship we want, with all the elements we like and none that we don’t, ignoring all roles and structures and expectations.

    Because my person’s girlfriend is mono, I don’t think that polyamory makes our long-distance relationship any easier for us, unfortunately. We are constantly hoping for the day when she can move to the same city as us. I think that she is probably glad that my person has me, since she can’t be here at the moment, but she is also afraid that the distance will erode their relationship before she can move here.

    In the end, even though we’re a massively mixed relationship and we’ve got poly thrown in, we’re not that different from any other LDR.

    • Eponine says:

      That’s an interesting combination. 🙂 Relationships in the asexual world seem really diverse. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Jo says:

      I’ve only just re-discovered this post, but Jillian, what you describe your relationship as being is almost exactly where I am at! Especially all the stuff about not looking for relationships and not normally being in any. The whole aromantic thing makes everything kind of complicated to define, but I have a person too, like you describe. Anyway, there isn’t really all that much purpose to this comment, other than to exclaim at the fact that there is someone else out there in a similar situation. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Nonsexual relationships for sex-repulsed or celibate aces | The Asexual Agenda

  4. Pingback: Polyamory: Never a One-sided Deal, even in Mixed Relationships (Guest Post) « Critique of Popular Reason

  5. Pingback: Asexuals aren’t “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” | The Asexual Agenda

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