Queerplatonic Relationships: Polybromantic, much?
I was texting with a good friend of mine last week, and he started describing some of his relationships, and how they weren't precisely friendships, but they weren't all-out romantic partnerships. "Is it a polybromance?" he asked me. "We're going to make 'polybromantic' happen, I think, because I like how it sounds, and it makes sense, because if I were mono and had this relationship with my friend that's what my partner would be using as a term to tease me."
And, ever the buzzkill, I "well, actually..."ed him, and pointed out that there is a name for this - a queerplatonic relationship. His immediate kneejerk reaction was that he isn't queer so he probably shouldn't use this term as a cishet man, and my explanation that it described the relationship didn't move him, so we took it to one of our local community's discord servers to talk further about various terms to discuss relationships that are more-than-friends but not traditional romantic-and-sexual partnerships.
These are relationships that I, as someone who really likes Relationship Anarchy, tend to avoid labeling unless someone really wants a label - but lots of labels exist for them. So, in case these labels help you and yours, a run-down of some of the labels and their nuances that we found while discussing queerplatonic relationships, and their polybromantic equivalents.
What is a Queerplatonic Relationship? Where did this term come from?
Queerplatonic relationships (QPRs) are committed intimate relationships which are not necessarily sexual (and are often non-sexual) that are treated as equivalent to romantic or sexual partnerships in someone's relationship network. It is in this treatment and elevation to equivalence to partners that QPRs differ from "just friends." The term originated in LGBT communities and is popularized in aromantic and asexual community spaces, and is especially useful in nonmonogamous networks that contain a variety of partnerships that wish to have labels. Monogamous people in QPRs might simply choose to label that person their partner, fiancé, spouse, etc as appropriate; polyam people, by virtue of having more partners or more desire or necessity to explain their differing dynamics, are more likely to label these connections more precisely.
As with all relationships, the people in the relationship define it. So if to you, it looks romantic, or it looks sexual, or it looks <insert adjective> - but the folks in it say it isn't - it's not. Remember that the goal of labels is to assist people in defining their own experience and not for us to impose ours. QPRs can be engaged in by people of any gender or sexuality in any combination, although their most common examples are same-gender and they come out of the history of queer spaces, because these are the places where most often traditional partnerships were less available, so folks were redefining something else that was "close enough."
Some definitions of queerplatonic attraction lean more heavily on the idea that it is queering platonic connection - you are doing what otherwise to the outside world is "a friendship" in an unusual way by, say, cohabiting or raising kids together (or, simply being more physically affectionate than average in your culture without being sexual!). It challenges an amatonormative or erotonormative sense of what a partnership is or must be. There can be intense intimacy and emotional closeness in a QPR without needing to fulfill societal expectations of a relationship. Other definitions have leaned more heavily on a historical trend of romantic friendship and viewed QPRs as a sort of social coming-full-circle of that movement. We'll address some of the terms and history of them in the next section of this piece; but the idea that historically we were better at being open and intimate with our friends than we are in the Western World today is an interesting one and one worth considering, whether we label any of those friendships QPRs or consider ourselves relationship anarchists or not.
What are some related terms?
Alterous attraction and alterous relationship
Alterous attraction is a seperate attraction that kind of lives in the liminal space between platonic and romantic attraction, with a strong implication of intensity of attraction in all the definitions I could find. An alterous relationship is one based in people's alterous attraction for one another.
Platonic life partnership
This is an alternate term for QPRs with high logistical entanglement - the folks who are not just partners, but often nesting partners or co-parents, who share finances and responsibilities, but just not romance. In a way, this is the origin of marriage - love matches were not the norm for a very long time. If folks are nesting or married they may simply choose not to label this way publicly because it looks externally like any other marriage and it's none of our business what does or doesn't happen in their bedrooms and hearts. Some polyam people do choose to openly identify that they relate this way for clarity with their partners, and there are a few who went viral on tiktok talking about it - @thelovelyjaybird on there comes to mind.
I found this term used in two contexts in online spaces - first, by aro people whose QPRs included sexual elements and wanted to make sure they weren't implying they had an aro/ace queerplatonic relationship, and second by people who were the heterosexual allosexual or alloromantic partners of ace or aro folks in QPRs who were uncomfortable claiming queer-containing language. I would love feedback from aromantic and asexual folks among my readership on your thoughts on this.
Polybromance / Polybromantic
As I mentioned above, in being hesitant to claim language containing "queer" as someone who doesn't identify as queer, my friend coined this alternate term to describe these relationships when they're between allosexual alloromantic people in a nonmonogamous network - I think it's got a good ring to it, so I'm throwing it in the list.
A situation where wealthy New England women in the 19th century would live together, financially independent of any men. Sex therapist Stefani Goerlich linked the practice to QPRs in 2021, as well as elaborating on the social idea I talked about above that this is an old practice coming full circle.
The much more general historical term for the kind of deep friendship that would lead people to want to engage in a QPR or a Boston Marriage - it is used in a historical studies context for any deep relationship between two people of the same gender in a cultural setting that didn't have a good framework for homosexuality, as well as for any relationship that was close and involved physical but non-sexual intimacy. In many ways this matches our modern definition of a QPR, but because of ever-shifting norms around what is permissible to whom it is hard to say definitively what was actually a "romantic friendship" in this sense and what is historians choosing to ignore homosexuality. (insert a meme about them being roommates and good buddies here.)
What if I'm uncomfortable with queerplatonic as a term because I don't ID as queer?
I want to repeat that anyone, of any gender or sexuality, can engage in a queerplatonic relationship - it is the relationship that is queer/queered/queering the norm, not the individuals. You can identify however you wish to while engaging in QPRs. If you feel like you need permission, I will sign your permission slip; you are allowed to use it.
That said, I understand that you may have some discomfort around the use of the word queer because of not wanting to appropriate queerness. The terms quasiplatonic relationship or alterous relationship might be for you if you're in a non-nesting or not highly entangled QPR, or platonic life partnership if you're in an entangled one. If you're someone who is into tongue-in-cheek terms, polybromantic relationship might be for you.
Also, just consider that if you're uncomfortable with a label, you don't have to use one. You can say "Partner," you can say "friend" or "best friend," or you can be a relationship anarchist and throw labels out altogether. (I know, many relationship anarchists, myself included, use labels anyway, but sometimes we go "this relationship defies labeling and that's ok - in a slightly more fluid way than other structures.) Labels are as useful as we make them and only that far. If you want to get that from queerplatonic relationship, great. If you don't, and polybromance scratches that itch, cool. If you hate them all, just describe your partnership - or don't because it isn't my business.
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