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Queerplatonic Relationships: A New Term for an Old Custom

These creative, intentional partnerships aren't bound to the old marriage model.

Key points

  • Queerplatonic Relationships (QPRs) involve a deeper commitment than friendship but often are not romantic in nature.
  • There is no one way for a QPR to be structured—they can include intimacy, cohabitation, co-parenting, and more.
  • People in QPRs value their independence and prefer not to compromise their needs or constrain their choices.

In 1886, Henry James wrote a novel called The Bostonians, which featured Verena, a woman torn between her dedication to her beloved feminist mentor Olive, and her attraction to the man who woos her. First published as a serial in The Century magazine, the tale of Verena and Olive gave rise to the term "Boston marriage."

Unmarried women have been sharing lives and households for centuries.
Source: Chewy/Unsplash

A Boston marriage was one in which two independent women chose to build a life and a household together, rather than marrying. For many, this was a pragmatic choice due to coverture laws enforced throughout the United States. Coverture was a legal concept by which women lost any identity upon marriage and became, legally, extensions of their husbands. In order for a woman to retain the money she earned or inherited, to buy or sell property, or to enter into legal contracts, she had to opt out of marriage entirely—a decision made by many who could afford to do so.

Thanks to the work of pioneering advocates such as Elizabeth Packard, Myra Bradwell, and Samuel Sewell, the fight against coverture laws was largely successful—although some vestiges of this concept could be seen in laws on the books as late as the 1970s.

Today, the Boston marriage has served as an inspiration for a new generation of folks who want to form creative, intentional partnerships that aren't bound to the old model of heterosexual, monogamous, marriage. Enter the Queerplatonic Relationship, or QPR.

Defining Queerplatonic Relationships

Queerplatonic Relationships are generally described as relationships that include more, or deeper, commitment than simple friendship but which don't feel romantic or sexual to those involved. For many who identify as asexual and/or aromantic, QPRs offer a framework for relationships that allow for expressions of fidelity, co-parenting/cohabitating, and long-term commitment but don't need to include physical intimacy, exclusivity, or romantic love.

Thiago Barletta/Unsplash
QPRs are defined by those who enter into them.
Source: Thiago Barletta/Unsplash

Like Boston marriages of the past, folks in QPRs value their independence and agency. They are innovators who create new models of love and commitment without feeling a need to compromise on their needs or constrain their choices. For folks who crave conversation more than kissing and connection more than commitment, QPRs are self-defined playgrounds of opportunity and trust.

This is not to say that all QPRs are nonsexual.

"For some a QPR could look like a close friendship, for others it may outwardly appear to more closely resemble a romantic relationship. Queerplatonic relationships may involve some forms of physical affection which are normally considered exclusive to romantic or sexual relationships, such as hand-holding, cuddling, kissing, or having sex. Some queerplatonic couples will live together or get (platonically) married. Queerplatonic relationships can look different for everyone, depending on what the people involved are comfortable with."1

A New Trend Based on an Old Practice

Much like polyamory, Queerplatonic Relationships represent an ancient practice made popular again. One could even argue that the Biblical Ruth and Naomi represent one of the earliest recorded QPRs. Ruth's pledge to her mother-in-law, "Where you go, I will go and where you live, I will live; your people shall be my people and your God, my God," could be given as an oath today by persons entering into a QPR. It makes no claims of romantic affection or sexual desire—it is a simple pledge to share a life filled with community, celebration, commitment, and affection.

And isn't that what being in a relationship is all about?


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