I recently finished reading Shén Tōu Tiānxià (神偷天下), which roughly means ‘The Fantastic Theft of the World’. Here’s a quote (note: I’m cutting out the spoilerful parts of this conversation):
Yin Duxing stared at him, and said “She has … suffered so much for you, and risked her life. Your affections are mutual, and you two are bosom partners. Why don’t you marry her…?”
Chu Han was surprised, and said “Marry Bailiduan? How could I marry her?”
Yin Duxing replied “Why wouldn’t you be able marry her?”
Chu Han said “I never thought of marrying her. I can’t marry her for real, she is…” For the moment he didn’t know how to explain, and thought for a good long time, and then said “It’s as if she and I are one. She is like a scar on my body, no matter what, it will always be with me, and never leave. I have no need to marry her, and cannot marry her’.
And thus Chu Han discovers just how much Mandarin sucks at describing emotionally intimate relationships which are not based on romance or family kinship (not that English is any better).
The novel specifically says that Chu Han and Bailiduan’s relationship is non-sexual. Word of God says it’s also non-romantic. I would add (my interpretation, which I admit somewhat contradicts Word of God) that Chu Han and Bailiduan are also not friends. Or perhaps, most accurately, they are ‘frenemies’.
And yet … they love each other more than anybody else in the world.
So what do non-sexual/romantic/friendly intimate partners do? In this case, their top two shared activities are:
1) sleeping together (for real, not as a pseudo-euphemism for sex)
2) listening to each other breathe
They understand each other’s thinking so well that they do not feel a need to express themselves with words, hence they don’t talk much. Mainly, they just want to be together.
Chu Han is definitely not an ace, and there is no evidence that Bailiduan is an ace either. Both of them have sex with other people, and Chu Han also experiences some romance. In a way, that makes this even more interesting, since they love and care more about each other than they do about their sexual/romantic partners – Chu Han loves Bailiduan more than even his own blood kin (which is a HUGE deal in Chinese culture).
Now, this is a story in which, among other things, there is a poison so potent that even looking at it will cause the victim to age 80 years within days. I suspect most readers of the novel will consider Baliduan and Chu Han’s two people / one heart intimate relationship to be as much a work of fantasy as that poison. Yet I have experienced a relationship like this. It was very brief, and certainly never got nearly as deep as Baliduan/Chu Han, but I know this kind of non-sexual/non-romantic/non-friendly intimate relationship can really happen.
I am very happy to see this kind of intimate relationship featured in a bestselling novel. Maybe it will open some minds.