Romantic friendship  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The term romantic friendship refers to a very close but non-sexual relationship between friends, often involving a degree of physical closeness beyond that common in modern Western societies, for example holding hands, cuddling, sharing a bed, as well as open expressions of love for one another.

Contents

Examples of historical romantic friendship

Close relationships

The study of historical romantic friendship is difficult because the primary source material consists of writing about love relationships, which typically took the form of love letters, poems, or philosophical essays rather than objective studies. Most of these do not explicitly state the sexual or nonsexual nature of relationships; the fact that homosexuality was taboo in Western European cultures at the time means that some sexual relationships may be hidden, but at the same time the rareness of romantic friendship in modern times means that references to nonsexual relationships may be misinterpreted, as alleged by Faderman, Coontz, Anthony Rotundo, Douglas Bush, and others.

Shakespeare and Fair Youth

Sexuality of William Shakespeare

The content of Shakespeare's works has raised the question of whether he may have been bisexual. Although twenty-six of Shakespeare's sonnets are love poems addressed to a married woman (the "Dark Lady"), one hundred and twenty-six are addressed to an adolescent boy (known as the "Fair Youth"). The amorous tone of the latter group, which focus on the boy's beauty, has been interpreted as evidence for Shakespeare's bisexuality, although others interpret them as referring to intense friendship or fatherly affection, not sexual love.

Among those of the latter interpretation, in the preface to his 1961 Pelican edition, Douglas Bush writes:


Since modern readers are unused to such ardor in masculine friendship and are likely to leap at the notion of homosexuality… we may remember that such an ideal, often exalted above the love of women, could exist in real life, from Montaigne to Sir Thomas Browne, and was conspicuous in Renaissance literature.

Bush cites Montaigne, who distinguished male friendships from "that other, licentious Greek love", as evidence of a platonic interpretation.

Montaigne and Etienne de La Boétie

Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie

The French philosopher Montaigne described the concept of romantic friendship (without using this English term) in his essay "On Friendship." In addition to distinguishing this type of love from homosexuality ("this other Greek licence"), another way in which Montaigne differed from the modern view (John Ruskin's 1865 essay "On Queen's Gardens" is a good example of the later view that emotionality was a female province; Kate Millet analyzes this essay in Sexual Politics) was that he felt that friendship and platonic emotion were a primarily masculine capacity (apparently unaware of the custom of female romantic friendship which also existed):

Seeing (to speake truly) that the ordinary sufficiency of women cannot answer this conference and communication, the nurse of this sacred bond: nor seem their minds strong enough to endure the pulling of a knot so hard, so fast, and durable. (sp.)

Lesbian-feminist historian Lillian Faderman cites Montaigne, using "On Friendship" as evidence that romantic friendship was distinct from homosexuality, since the former could be extolled by famous and respected writers, who simultaneously disparaged homosexuality. (The quotation also furthers Faderman's beliefs that gender and sexuality are socially constructed, since they indicate that each sex has been thought of as "better" at intense friendship in one or another period of history.)

Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

Sexuality of Abraham Lincoln

Some revisionist historians have used the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed as another example of a relationship that modern people see as ambiguous or possibly gay, but which was most likely to have been a romantic friendship. Lincoln and Speed lived together, shared a bed in their youth and maintained a lifelong friendship. David Herbert Donald pointed out that men at that time often shared beds for financial reasons; men were accustomed to same-sex nonsexual intimacy, since most parents could not afford separate beds or rooms for male siblings. Anthony Rotundo notes that the custom of romantic friendship for men in America in the early 19th century was different from that of Renaissance France, and it was expected that men would distance themselves emotionally and physically somewhat after marriage; he claims that letters between Lincoln and Speed show this distancing after Lincoln married Mary Todd. Such distancing is still practiced today.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Romantic friendship" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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