By: Taylor Neal
For the past six months, I have been living in my 1997 Ford Econoline van with my best friend, exploring the West Coast of Canada and then making our way down into the United States. The van, which my roommate and I bought, fixed up and renovated ourselves, has become a safe container, our home on wheels, and within it some of the most beautiful intimacy I have ever experienced has been able to bloom. Intimacy, however, of the platonic kind. Intimacy in the context of friendship. Intimacy that often, in our outcome-focused, results-driven society, gets forgotten or placed as second to the type of romantic relationships we most commonly associate with this term.
When my best friend/roommate and I first decided to buy a van together with the intention of exploring the beautiful province of BC through vanlife, we had no idea what this journey would bring. I’ll admit we were a little naïve. Neither of us had ever committed to something so great with another person before, and as we moved further into the process of mechanical reparations and renovations, we both admitted to one another that we felt this was the type of thing most people only take on in romantic partnership. From the commitment of such a large, joint purchase as the vehicle itself, to the commitment and dedication it requires to take a carpenter van and completely renovate it into a sustainable, livable-for-two, home on wheels, the financial, emotional, mental and physical commitments that were necessary for us to make toward one another has had us referring to one another as “partners,” because that’s what we are.
Partners, who actively, each day chose one another to go on this journey with. Partners, who showed up for one another when the amount of work we were faced with to realize our dreams seemed insurmountable, and one of us or the other would begin to struggle with feelings of defeat. We held one another in support and encouragement, no matter how either of us was feeling or where we were at, and when one of us would experience overwhelm or doubt, the other would be there with encouragement, understanding and support, until the roles flipped, and we were required to take on the opposite role. Coming home exhausted from work to find my partner working away outside on our Vannigan, knowing that she would understand if I simply didn’t have the capacity to join her that evening but somehow finding the energy inside myself to get out there as well because I wanted to show up for her. The love, trust and dedication between us energized me each moment of that journey because we both knew and believed in the commitment of one to the other, and that is how we succeeded. As partners, honouring our partnership.
Moving into the van then, having already been on a 5-month journey with the preparations for this venture, was entirely its own chapter in our story of platonic intimacy, and though we had lived together for a year prior to moving into the van, we were forced to navigate sharing space in a much more contained, intentional manner once we were living in Vannigan.
Waking up side-by-side each morning has caused us to develop a simple, yet sacred, morning routine that allows a tender transition from slumber into the promise held by each new day. We sit in silence, sipping fresh, hot coffee and journal or read alongside one another, the presence of the other always warm enough to heat our little home on the chilly west coast mornings. Tucking cold toes under one another’s warm bodies in our shared bed.
From here, once we’ve had those moments to come into ourselves, we check in with one another in an honest, intentional manner. It is always crucial to know what is going on with the other, as it is from this foundation that our day unfolds in a way that can not only satisfy, but nourish, the both of us.
For nurturing, true intimacy to exist, honesty is imperative. Intimacy cannot live without truth.
Our journey continues to unfold then, as a flowing, collaborative map of where we’re at individually as well as together. As we wind through the twists and turns of the Californian Highway One, we navigate with equal attention and care the fluctuating and winding inner landscapes of one another and our relationship, and do our best to maintain an adaptable, compassionate understanding of how to best take each bend together.
Navigating this road together is to consistently recognize the needs and desires of one another and to actively do our best to satisfy these needs while discovering our own relationships to boundaries and authentic, unapologetic truth from the confines of an intentionally chosen physical togetherness, and then to trust that the other is doing the same. In order for this arrangement to work, we must recognize the woven-togetherness of our inner and outer realities and learn to navigate this shared space from a place of unconditional love. When looked at through this experience then, intimacy becomes a safe container in which one may fully unravel and be held in their human-ness without anything being expected in return.
Without anything being expected in return. I want to unpack this, because in our relationships of course it is quite important to have what are commonly referred to as expectations, these being things that we need in order to feel satisfied and content in relationships with others, platonic or otherwise. I would however, like to suggest that we start looking at what we would usually refer to as our “expectations of one another” not as these fixed, pre-set standards we hold for others to meet, but rather as the needs we as individuals have, in order for our relationships to feel nurturing and fulfilling. The moment we set expectations of anything outside of the self and our own actions, we immediately set ourselves up for disappointment. It is no one else’s responsibility to meet our expectations, as expectations are desires of things to happen in the future and therefore are simply not based in the reality we are presently living. It is, however, our own responsibilities to communicate our needs from a truthful, self-honouring perspective in our relationships if we have any hopes of our needs being met. The difference between dictating our expectations to our partners and communicating our needs is simple and yet so commonly disregarded. The difference lies in vulnerability.
It is a vulnerable thing to express our needs to one another. To dictate expectations comes from a place of power, a place of challenging the other to rise to suit your level, a place which denounces vulnerability. In this however, lives inherent pressure for one partner to match the other and unavoidable failure. To communicate our needs however, comes from a place of love.
To communicate our needs takes self-knowing and acknowledgment of our truth, so then to share this part of ourselves requires vulnerability and feelings of safety, hoping that we will be met with compassion in our relationship. To honour this vulnerability as the partner then, what we would often refer to as meeting expectations, is to accept our partner for exactly where they are at. To honour the sharing of their truth with us, and, from our own toolbox and our own truth, find if and where within us we hold the capacity to give what is needed. There will be times when we take this chance to search ourselves for what is being asked of us and from a place of honesty in ourselves, find we are simply not able to give our partner what they need. That is okay, we will not be able to meet all of one another’s needs all of the time, but it is the vulnerability and honesty required in order to share our truth that creates the intimacy here. Going forward from this communication then, it is the faith held in one another to trust that once we share our needs, our partner will proceed in a manner that actively strives to honour these needs, which allows us to release expectations.
Expectations are based in fear, the fear of not ever being able to have our needs supported and therefore having to set guidelines for how to be in relationships with us. Communication is based in abundance; having faith that our partner and our relationship already has all of the things we require in order to nurture and fulfill both parties so long as we share the entirety of our hearts, and this is absolutely crucial to the creation of a sustainable, unshakable partnership.
Notice, how nothing there mentioned any involvement of sexuality. Vulnerability, intimacy, truth and communication, all the building blocks for relationships of all shapes and forms.
There is so much love and intimacy in our friendships, often more-so than our romantic relationships, but the outcome-focused society we live in tells us that these relationships are not as worthy of celebration if they are not headed somewhere. If there is no concrete, foreseeable goal rather than to sustain the relationship because it nourishes us and supports our most expansive growth. If we cannot clearly outline to the outside world what the purpose of the relationship will be in the form of tangible results, then we do not see immediate need to spend time and energy on communicating and building and developing within this space. But I am here to tell you, going on month six of platonic partnership in my Vannigan, that giving time, energy and commitment to developing intimacy within our platonic relationships only makes you a better romantic partner, if that is something you seek or find yourself working on.
The ability to build meaningful, lasting, honest, intimate relationships outside of the excitement and sexiness of romance is the most intentional, soul-affirming way of developing deep understanding of who you really are and what your needs really are both in relationships and on your own. From here then, should we seek romantic connection, we can show up with a strong, unshakeable foundation which will allow us to form sustainable, expansive relationships based in truth and self-honouring authenticity.
Like anything, partnership is a practice, something we must actively choose and work on every day with intention in order for it to live a long, healthy life. To value and spend equal time and energy on our platonic relationships as we do our romantic relationships is to recognize this practice as part of what makes us who we are and how we want to show up in all areas of our lives. To find value in intimacy as separate from, and accessible without, the promise of sexual gratification is to release expectations and walk into our relationships with abundance and unconditional love.
There is so much love in friendship, let us honour platonic intimacy.