Having had more than our fair share of bourbon and beer, my friend confessed that one of my current relationships perplexed her—surprisingly, it was not a romantic one.
“I could never be friends with someone who had seen my vagina,” she declared after we had just left a bar where we had been drinking with a group of people, one of whom fit that description.
I just shrugged. It didn’t seem odd that a guy I met on a dating website had become a good friend, even though it is well established that we could not have less of a desire to be romantically involved.
We—and I am sure he will hate me for using this word—have a fromance.
I have other ones, too, and so does he. Yes, fromance is a real(ish) word. Urban Dictionary defines a fromance as a: “friendship/romance with a member of the opposite sex, most readily defined by a) its comfort, consistency, and ease, b) its ability to inspire “but what if…” thoughts, and c) its lack of sex.”
I tend to think of a fromance as having minimal “but what if…” sentiments, if any at all. The “lack of sex” rule may also be breached from time to time.
Not everyone feels wholly positive about the fromance.
In 2009, Tracey Lomrantz Lester wrote in Glamour about her fromance with a heavy dose of ambivalence.
She described how comfortable she and her fromantic partner felt around each other, but she also described this fromance as a crutch of sorts:
“Who needs to go out there and get all prettied up and be polite and wade through the very shallow pool of eligible guys for a hot date when you’ve got a great guy right there?”
Despite that many of us are friends with people we have dated, these relationships often elicit concerns that they will result in pain and are a weak substitute for romance.
A false notion is often perpetuated in popular culture that men and women who have at one point or another shared a romantic/sexual spark can’t be friends.
While there is certainly skepticism surrounding lovers-turned-friends regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual relationships, these set-ups are commonly accepted in the LGBT community. Perhaps because lesbian and gay relationships have only been depicted in mainstream media in relatively recent years, there are fewer pop culture-reinforced suspicions about romance morphing into healthy, permanent friendships.
“Can two friends still sleep together and still love each other in the morning?,” is the big, existential question about human relationships posed by 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. Spoiler alert: The answer is yes, but if and only if they end up as a monogamous, traditional couple.
The counterexamples are few and far between. My own fromantic friend immediately brought up Jerry and Elaine on Seinfeld, who met through dating. Though they occasionally engage in sex, they seem to have no desire to ever reconnect romantically… well, almost.
In the final episode, Elaine seems like she is about to declare her long-burning love for Jerry. Even the show about nothing caved, at least to a degree, to the trope that men and women can break up, but still like being together and simply not want to be a couple.
But maybe we can be friends with people we’ve dated or slept with, even at times still repeating those physical encounters, and remain pals without guilt or headaches.
Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak are the prime, real-life example of this dynamic, even relishing in all of its complexity.
They have both been clear that they have dated. Kaling even told Howard Stern that Novak was her “great love.” She also added, “He’s legitimately one of my best friends, but I’m not holding a candle for B.J.”
Their relationship is baffling to their fans, sparking media speculation not necessarily over whether they’re dating but how it actually works.
Fans only grew more perplexed when it was announced last month that the two would be writing a book together (for a whopping $7.5 million).
“Romantically charged camaraderie with loud arguments,” is how Kaling described their relationship in June’s InStyle. She also described it as “weird as hell.”
There is something about the word “charged” that strikes a chord with men and women who are in a fromance.
Because these platonic relationships come out of places of romance—or romantic dabblings, at least—many people I spoke to said they felt these were notably more intense.
“It’s a deeper level of friendship because you’ve been so intimate. They know you in a way not many others have,” said Sam (a pseudonym), a 33-year-old industrial psychologist in New York City. He has four friends who emerged from romantic relationships, ranging in length from six months to two years.
“It has strengths, and its has weaknesses. There’s an intensity to it. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s bad,” said Stefanie, a 24-year-old strategic consultant in Chicago. She has two male friends who fall into the fromance category, one she dated on-and-off throughout college and one she met through Tinder once she graduated.
It almost goes without saying that getting to this point of friendship can take time, space, and trial-and-error to figure out what makes the fromance work.
Stefanie said it was a struggle at different times to hear about her exes’ dating lives.
“With the Tinder guy, he matched on another app with a girl where he saw I was a mutual friend. I told him I didn’t want to know about it. A month later, I saw a picture of him on Facebook with the girl. It hit me hard. I asked him to not tell me this one thing, and it came back to bite me,” she said.
At the same time, they bounced back.
“You’re always trying to balance what you want to know and what you don’t want to know about someone you care about,” she said. “Especially with these relationships where you have been as intimate as possible, how do you scale back and find that boundary?”
After this and other conversations, I asked a fromance pal if there were love-life issues he ever resisted discussing with me, or if I had ever discussed ones that made him feel uncomfortable.
“No,” he said, before adding, “but I don’t think I’m a good representation because I give less of a fuck than most.” This is true.
I tend to put extra value in my fromance friends’ advice on dating because they have actually interacted with me in that light.
Others I spoke to reiterated this sentiment.
After Raafi, a 26-year-old research analyst based in Philadelphia, reconnected a year ago with a girlfriend from high school, he found she provided some of the best and most unique relationship advice regarding his current girlfriend.
“If I’m having some sexual issue with my girlfriend, like I want her to initiate more or I want to do something particular in bed, she [his high school girlfriend] can tell me [because] she knows what it’s like being on the other side of that,” he said. “She can engage in that conversation in a different way. She knows me in a different way.”
Irina, a 32-year-old attorney in New York City, fondly spoke about two guys she dated growing up who are now two of her closest friends.
Their shared romantic history not only makes her more likely to turn to them for advice, but also for a bit of an ego boost. “They are the people that if I’m having a bad day, they get a text saying ‘Tell me I’m pretty,’” she said.
They can provide a certain validation that other friends can’t.
“When you’re out in the world, you don’t know how people feel, but you know these people think you’re pretty and whatever else,” Irina explained. “They’ll build you up.”
Many I spoke to also said they don’t exactly mind that the “romantically charged camaraderie” can sometimes lead to, shall we say, some fulfilling of adult needs.
“I’m a big believer in the re-hit,” Irina said with a laugh.
Nearly every person I interviewed for this article said they had engaged in some physical encounter with their fromance friend at least once.
But those encounters did not dramatically shake the foundation of their platonic status, if at all.
“I think those times [when we hooked up] were really understood for what they were,” said Irina. “I don’t think one person was like ‘Oh, we’re getting back together.’ Everyone was on the same page. It didn’t lead to complications.”
Stefanie said that time and maturity have made the sexual element she has with one of her exes easier.
“Now, being able to talk about it [hooking up] more openly is easier than when we were 19 and on a break. That’s how you can have a healthy, romantically-charged, sexually-charged relationship,” she said.
Still, navigating is not without its pitfalls.
Stefanie recalled hooking up with her ex after they had broken up when she visited him at his college.
She felt good about it until she discovered he was also hooking up with a mutual friend of theirs who attended his school.
“I found out a week later that he was hooking up with the girl I brought coffee to 10 minutes before [we hooked up]. He didn’t tell me because he knew doing so would make me not want to hook up with him,” said Stefanie. “That hookup will always be unkosher in my mind. It was obviously hurtful to me.”
However, Stefanie said she bounced back and is still very good friends with that person. As she mentioned, they are still likely to hook up when they are single and in the same city. She can take the hiccups in stride, in fact, because they aren’t trying to make it into a romance.
“At the day, there are reasons I am not dating these people and why I don’t want to be dating these people,” she said.
And that may be the central logic behind why the fromance works.