I will use the term “romantic friendship” to describe a close affectionate relationship between two men who were social equals. The term has been used extensively in scholarship focusing on the effusive writings of young male couples during the mid-nineteenth century, usually with the implied understanding that the relationship was not sexual (despite the steamy rhetoric of the surviving correspondence). I will use the term with the explicit contention that a romantic friendship might indeed have included a sexual component, since I have come to believe that eighteenth-century Americans did not draw borders around sexual behavior with quite the clarity and severity of their Victorian successors. A fluidity to male intimacy admitted a wide repertoire of physical expression, and those expressions ebbed and flowed with time and circumstance.
Romantic friendships usually arose between men of similar age and social class. The relationships were passionate but in most cases fleeting, not because the men were unable or unwilling to make a lasting commitment, but because they could not envision a future in which they could ever consider themselves to be a recognized couple. America included only one city that could begin to rival the size and social complexity of Berlin, Paris, or London. Only Philadelphia was large enough to provide men-loving men with the anonymity of numbers. In rural areas among the lower classes it might be possible for two men to live their lives together working the same farm or pursuing the same craft, but in more urban areas, especially among the socially prominent (whose stories are the ones most likely to be preserved in surviving documents), heterosexual marriage was the only acceptable goal. Men entered into romantic friendships with the understanding that one - and probably both - of the partners would eventually marry and establish a traditional family. Though many tried to maintain an emotional connection with their partner, the demands of their new roles as husband and father rarely allowed for continued intimacy. This arc from passionate devotion to wistful nostalgia is documented again and again whenever long runs of male-male letters have been preserved.
William Benemann, Male-Male Intimacy in Early America (via publius-esquire)
Yes to this. And similar things could be said from what I recall of female romantic friendships. I too am open to their being a sexual component for the reasons mentioned above. Not knowing or not having a smoking gun does not mean it didn’t happen.
Women in such relationships had different challenges, especially tied to their economic positions in society. For example, it often made most economic sense for a woman to marry a man and set up her own household, even if she dreaded the burdens and dangers associated with being a wife and mother in this period. Mobility was a challenge too, especially for middle- and upper-class women who worried about their reputations.
This is fascinating— and intuitively rational to me. My assumption is that people are people, and the only thing the social circumstances shift is the breadth of options and lifestyles available for them to pursue; the feelings aren’t actually ‘invented’ with the changing labels. So logically speaking, if people are at least sometimes bisexual while having a romantic friendship, then they’re at least sometimes going to feel sexual desire, regardless of whether it’s acted upon. Further, one can assume that any desire is going to be sometimes acted upon, and sometimes not.
In the end, it was always obvious: romantic friendship is romance, and romantic attraction is actually an orientation regardless of sexuality. So regardless of sexuality, these friendships were queer; sexuality is really a question of personal preference, and I’d assume that most of the time people would not express the desire for sexual touch if such a thing wasn’t wished for. It seems to me that drawing lines merely around that which is acted upon as being ‘real’ is unfortunate. Regardless of the presence of commitment or ‘physical expression’, the desire for these things is already enough. Further, one doesn’t need commitment or consummation to be present in heterosexual relationships for them to be accepted as ‘real’, so I don’t see why either is necessary for queer couples.
And because I can’t help myself— this is precisely the sense in which canon Johnlock already exists, I think. Desire and longing alone is enough to constitute romance, essentially. In many ways, ‘romantic friendship’ is helpful to underline the unique style of these relationships, but in another sense, it’s merely a transparent euphemism and that’s all.