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I am looking for a word to describe a relationship that is romantic as opposed to platonic or familial, and a relationship is mutual as opposed to a crush, but that does not involve physical interaction that is sexual in nature.

Despite the title, I don't mean necessarily a complete lack of physical contact, although it could lack all physical contact (e.g. a romantic relationship of pen pals, or over the Internet).

For example, such a relationship might involve holding hands or a kiss on the cheek where this is socially normal, or touching in the context of dancing or figure skating or teaching someone how to bowl or whatever.

Is there a general term that describes all such relationships, or if not, are there words that describe particular kinds of such relationships?

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    What's wrong with romantic?
    – shoover
    Oct 25, 2018 at 3:23
  • Romantic when used in opposition to platonic often implies, or at least can include, a relationship that is physically sexual. The goal is to find a word that captures only the middle ground of not platonic but also not physically sexual.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 25, 2018 at 3:24
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    You're not going to find a good candidate for that kind of term, unless you expressly put caveats in the description. Even my answer is a bit of a forced fit, but it's the next closest answer, at least as far as I know. That or "Romantic Friendship", which I am now editing into my answer. Oct 25, 2018 at 3:35
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    The French expression 'amitié amoureuse' can be used in English. Oct 25, 2018 at 8:23
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    A celibate romance.
    – Xanne
    Aug 7, 2020 at 0:25

3 Answers 3

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If you're strictly refusing the inclusion of "romantic relationship", then the closest term to what you are looking for is as follows:

Romantic Friendship

"A romantic friendship, passionate friendship, or affectionate friendship is a very close but typically non-sexual relationship between friends, often involving a degree of physical closeness beyond that which is common in the contemporary Western societies. It may include for example holding hands, cuddling, hugging, kissing, giving massages, and sharing a bed, or co-sleeping, without sexual intercourse or other physical sexual expression." (Source)

Basically, it's those friendships that you could mistake for being lovers. You know the ones I'm talking about. It's the friendships where they act like a couple but they aren't.

Alternatively, there is also the more obscure and significantly more confusing...

Queer-Platonic Relationship

A QPR "is one which is more intense and intimate than what most people regard as a friendship, not fitting the traditional romantic couple model or the traditional bounds of friendship. It can be characterized by a strong bond, affect, and emotional commitment not regarded by those involved as something beyond a friendship. It is a so-called platonic relationship, so it does not comprehend sexuality/eroticism or romance, although some people involved in light or non-traditional romantic relationship might also categorize themselves as being queerplatonic." (Source)

Personally, I hate the way it's described in that, but that can work for what you're looking for. That said, despite what this Wikia says, QPRs CAN still include ACTUAL romance, (ie wining-and-dining), it just removes the pretense of sex from the relationship altogether.

That said, QPR's an awkward term that really fits better for people who are in "closer-than-friend" but "not-quite-romantic" relationships and usually for people who are asexual/aromantic.

Honestly though, saying you're in a plain-old "romantic relationship", "nonsexual romantic relationship", or "nonsexual relationship" should work just fine and will probably make more sense to explain to people than either of these options.

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  • I like QPR. Indeed, I'm reading a book by Sarah Dessen right now with a relationship that pretty much fits that description (between secondary characters).
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 9, 2019 at 1:49
  • @ohwilleke, if this answer was helpful for you, then please, don't forget to select it as the Accepted Answer by clicking the little green check mark! :D I hope you have a lovely winter holiday season! Dec 22, 2019 at 0:10
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What about "courtship"?

Courtship has historically been defined as "paying court to a woman with the intention of marriage"

I've also seen it used to describe amorous relationships between animals like "courting doves"

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    I always loved the term "courting", but it generally implies a more formal relationship, due to its nature as a type of "ritual", so to speak. Seems awkward to me to use it to refer to what is meant to be an outright romantic relationship in the modern sense, not to say that it can't. That's just my personal take though. Oct 25, 2018 at 4:36
  • The concept I'm looking for is less courtship, which is the process of trying to make someone love you, and more like the literary concept of courtly love. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtly_love
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 2, 2021 at 14:12
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As Jason Bassford pointed out in a comment:

I agree with another statement that romantic is fine. I disagree with your premise that it must involve sexual contact. There are many people who, through a physical handicap or otherwise, are unable to have a normal sexual relationship. But they can be involved in romantic relationships just as well as people who don't have sexual contact. Also, if you look up romantic in a dictionary, you'll find several senses that mention love rather than anything else.

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  • In an answer on ELU, the answerer is the one expected to look up a word in a dictionary and provide a linked and attributed quote. Aug 7, 2020 at 17:47

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