Why it's worth building healthy, intimate relationships with people of the same sex

South China Morning Post Dipublikasikan 00.11, 17/11/2019
Why it's worth building healthy, intimate relationships with people of the same sex

We all want healthy interpersonal relationships, through which we thrive and develop . They give us a sense of connection, confirm our existence, even trigger a rush of self-satisfaction to motivate us.

However, being close to someone doesn't always have to mean a sexual or physical relationship.

Sometimes, a romantic relationship can be purely platonic - when two people connect only on an emotional level, intimacy can exist between both parties without involving sex.

It's up to you how the relationship develops: do you want sex without intimacy or intimacy without sex?

Being close to someone doesn't always have to be a sexual thing. Photo: Alamy

Chinese women commonly refer to each other as "sisters" to recognise the importance of women's supportive relationships and to show mutual respect.

In China, non-blood sisterhood is a form of female empowerment that dates back more than 2,000 years, when a woman in such a relationship was known as a "comb sister". The name comes from the ways these "sisters" styled their hair either into a bun or long braids.

Their emergence was the result of women fighting against oppression and unwanted marital obligations.

More men have begun to understand that it's OK to be close to other men and create deeper friendships (beyond) just playing golf or other sports togetherNathalie Sommer, relationship and intimacy coach

Back then, women who wanted to escape arranged marriages or abusive partnerships would pledge themselves to lifelong singlehood, bonding with others who became kindred sisters that would support each other until death.

Their relationships were sometimes romantic but often non-sexual. "Comb sisters" are less common these days.

Over the years, romantic identities have become more complex and fluid, as certified relationship and intimacy coach Nathalie Sommer explains.

"People have a desire to belong and to love, usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. Such relationships allow a social network for people to form strong emotional attachments, but they don't have to be sexual.

"It can be an asexual relationship, or an intimate friendship or relationship. Intimate relationships tend to involve a deep emotional connection with others.

"There can be physical closeness involved but they are not sexual. It is a familiar and very close effective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge, feelings and experience of the other."

Sommer says we all seek to form a connection, but that women tend to find it easier than men to show emotions and experience closeness with others. That does not mean men cannot create deep bonds with other men, she stresses.

"They just show it, and interact with one another, differently. It's simply because a lot of them haven't been taught to show emotions such as hugging another man or (taught that) showing vulnerability is fine too."

"Intimate male friendships have become more socially acceptable in recent years. More men have begun to understand that it's OK to be close to other men and create deeper friendships (beyond) just playing golf or other sports together."

Sommer says the concept of a bromance is nothing new. She point to how George Washington, the first president of the United States, wrote personal letters to other men. "Close male companionship became more taboo in the second half of the 20th century, due to a rise in homophobic sentiments and changing ideals of what masculinity should look like."

Intimate male friendships have become more socially acceptable in recent years, says relationship and intimacy coach Nathalie Sommer. Photo: Alamy

Sommer points out there is a movement encouraging men to attend meetings, workshops, or men-only retreats. The purpose of such gatherings is to teach men how to have better relationships with others through better communication and by showing vulnerability and emotions.

She says women tend to be more open to talking about emotions and personal things, are not afraid to explain how they feel, and are more willing to use physical gestures to comfort others. Men usually show that they care through "an act of service". They tend to be more private and don't talk about their feelings as much. They are less aware of emotions getting hurt and tend to tease and joke around.

Sommer emphasises that the innate need for people to form meaningful connections with another person can override the desire to "settle down" in a conventional sense. "Men and women are not the same, and we can't expect for one person to fulfil our needs."

She also addresses the contentious belief that when women are frustrated with heterosexual relationships, they turn to same-sex liaisons.

"I think it's a bit more complicated than that. Yes, that may well happen. But it doesn't mean just because women are frustrated with men that they decide to 'become' gay," she says.

"Sometimes we seek what we can't get from men by going to women. There are also cases where some women realise that being in a heterosexual relationship is not working for them and might find that being with another woman is what fulfils them.

"It's 2019. Luckily things are more out in the open these days, and we can explore what feels right."

Luisa Tam is a correspondent at the Post

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