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The Romantic Side of Platonic Love

Writing by Amanda Attanayake // illustration by Flora Bai

How would you define love? At the risk of appearing devoid of any human emotion, before I begin writing, I decide to Google it. The Oxford Dictionary states that love is:

  1. “an intense feeling of deep affection”, and
  2. “a great interest and pleasure in something”

Given a little licence to extrapolate from this, I guess that could mean I have been in love. The romantic variety, not as much, but I would still say I love hard and deeply, and I love easily, and that I have done so many times.

I am in love with my friends. I love watching the way their eyes sparkle, corners crinkled in the throes of a laughing fit. I love the way their gaze deepens and intensifies during more serious discussions. I love the way they speckle with fire while raging about the injustices of the world, or their lives. I love how the skin on the backs of their hands ripples and stretches as they gesture, make cups of tea, pick sleep out of the corners of their eyes, knit, and fidget while they recount excruciating experiences, or roll cigarettes.

The comfort of a snuggle on the couch, or a big (and then little) spoon in bed. Cooking for each other. Sending little spontaneous gifts in the middle of the working week. Laying bare the most squeamishly vulnerable parts of ourselves during whispered conversations in shared beds, or huddled together over sticky tables in dimly lit bars. Sweet nothings, drunkenly exchanged via hushed murmurs (or, at times, declarations of love made in much louder fashion).

These are my glimmers: the small jewels of peace, comfort and safety, dotted throughout chaotic days. Mini mental security blankets, of sorts.

At the beginning of this year, I was on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne. I had spent the weekend there visiting my sister and her new baby. It was late, a Sunday night. I was due back at work after the Christmas break at 8:00am the next morning, and I was dead tired after the heightened emotion of the weekend. My hands are chronically dry from the constant sanitising at my work each day, so I whipped out my hand cream and freshened up before takeoff. The woman next to me commented that it smelled delicious and I offered her some. What came next was an hour of non-stop conversation, the divulging of deep secrets, traumas, and ridiculous stories from our recent pasts that culminated in uncontrollable giggling – it was probably very annoying for everyone around us, but I couldn’t help it. There was an instant sense of comfort, familiarity and ease, and I felt giddy on the high of new friendship. How strange that I should be feeling this with someone I’d only just met! Our airborne connection has since translated into life on land and we’ve caught up in the real world. I feel like I’ve known her for years, and I can’t wait until I can say that I actually have. I feel that this sort of meeting is only possible when the door is open to socially acceptable expressions of affection.

I know that as a woman I am privileged in having the freedom to show such intimacy with my friends, and to have that regarded as normal. It deeply saddens me that patriarchy has created so much distance between the idea of ‘real’ men, and expressions of warmth, affection, and closeness. I deeply wish that men could feel free to express their love for each other, and appreciation of the value they bring to each other’s lives without being accused of being soft or sentimental (as if these are bad things). My friendships are platonic, but even still, there is a romance to them. There are infinite hugs, countless kisses on cheeks or on tops of heads. Hands are held, conversations spent in bathrooms, one of us is in the shower, the other perched on the toilet. We contort ourselves into strange positions to get the best angle to do each other’s eyeliner, getting so close we feel breath on our cheeks. It feels comfortable and easy. Humans thrive when we are allowed to express and receive the closeness, companionship and intimacy we desire – separate to, but not excluding, sex. I know that my privilege is not shared by all. A painful thought, it also makes me grateful for the human treasures in my own life.

I call my friends or sisters in the car, driving home from work, to the shops, while I’m running errands. We vent about the day’s frustrations, tell each other about a funny interaction that happened in a cafe that day, or check in on each other’s mental health. Sometimes there are periods of silence, and at other times, we can’t stay on the phone long enough to talk about everything we want to. Having been on a call for half an hour on the way home, I have been known to park the car outside my apartment building to talk for just a bit longer – no matter that my friends and I may have spoken just the day before. There is always more to discuss, mundane or deep, and it is that sense of deep comfort, and ease that makes me feel fulfilled in my relationships, despite not currently having a romantic one.

My friends have been my life support, but they are also my love support. The threads of their love overlap and weave around each other, knitted into a giant blanket. It cocoons and cradles me when I need it. It becomes a safety net when life’s obstacles send me tumbling down to earth, and a trampoline that catapults me towards the next challenge with confidence and courage.

No matter how small or insignificant they seem at the time, these snippets of affection later become little nuggets of warmth inside me. My glimmers have, and continue to, sustain me when the despair and gore of the real world as it tries to fight its way in. I continue to hold my glimmers close as I move through life, like a collector of rare and precious gems. If I have nothing else to offer, they are my greatest asset.

Amanda Attanayake

Amanda Attanayake is a physiotherapist from Melbourne. She loves crafting, non-stop yapping at dinner time, and pottering around her cosy apartment in the leafy northern suburbs. She is fuelled by her addiction to tea, buying plants, baking sweet treats, and squeezy hugs from her friends, sisters and nephews.

Flora Bai

Flora Bai is an NYC-based illustrator whose work explores the relationships between nature and the artificial, weaving a visual world with multiple narrative threads. She draws with sensitive colors and delicate lines, hoping to bridge memories across the ethereal realm.

Visit her regularly updated website.

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