“Jane was so amusing, and I thought it would be great fun to be with her all the time.”
– Paul Bowles
While this is not the first time, we have discussed more than one person in an article, as we consider this couple we must realize the difference between them and the other couples we've discussed. Jane and Paul Bowles were married in 1938 and stayed together until the day Jane died, and both of them were queer. In this queer couple, we find a deep platonic love that sustained both of these artists throughout their tumultuous lives.
Jane and Paul met in New York City only a year before they were married. After their first encounter in 1937, Jane decided to join Paul on a trip he and his friends were taking to Mexico. Though she left halfway through the trip, saying that she wasn’t enjoying herself, her relationship with Paul flourished.
After that trip, the two were known to go to parties together, only to hide in corners and talk only to each other the whole night. Their friends always spoke highly of them. While they were not well known in the public sphere, they were described as “famous to famous people.” Friends with Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, William S. Burroughs, and many other famous artists of the time, Jane and Paul were well-loved.
Before their marriage, their relationship was a strictly non-sexual one. Jane said that she wanted to keep her virginity intact until she was married, and when Paul asked her to move in with him, she turned him down. Moving in with a man without marrying him, she said, wasn’t something she wanted to do. In response, Paul proposed.
While the first year of their marriage did have a sexual aspect to it, Paul and Jane maintained an open relationship. The sexual nature of their relationship ended after only a year of marriage. Their friendship, however, was completely unaffected by their sexual disinterest in each other.
Paul and Jane stayed married for 35 years and continued travelling together, both encouraging the other to pursue sexual and romantic connections outside of the marriage. Though later in life, Paul would work hard to pull Jane out of a romantic relationship with a woman named Cherifa, it seemed his disapproval stemmed from concern that the woman was using Jane for her money rather than from any form of jealousy.
From the evidence we have outside of her marriage, Jane never pursued any other romantic or sexual connections with any men and was very likely a lesbian. It could be suggested that she was bisexual, however, from all accounts, it seemed that she was at the very least more attracted to women then she was to men.
It is important now to clarify that the term lesbian is used for Jane because we believe that sexual relationships with men earlier in life do not discount anyone from any identity. But bisexuality is an equally likely label because using that same logic, Jane’s preference towards women later in life does not determine her identity either.
We chose the term lesbian only because through reading her writing; her characters were shown as having relationships with men before discovering that they preferred women, and it has been noted in many cases how much Jane Bowles was similar to the characters she wrote.
As for Paul, it seems he had relationships with both men and women throughout his life, so bisexuality seems like it is a likely label for him. However, the possibility that he was gay is not to be discounted.
Outside of either of their identities, it seems that neither were romantically or sexually attracted to each other, yet they stayed married. They traveled together, they lived together, they wrote together, they edited each other’s work, and they were best friends, though they were not always in sync. We see this most clearly in the later parts of their lives when Paul went to Tangier and soon after Jane followed, and how they were each affected by the country in different ways.
In Tangier, Paul’s work flourished. He moved away from his career as a composer to work on his writing, which he felt was more personal than any of his work with music. Jane joined him in writing with less success.
Her writer’s block was legendary, and even when her work was finished and subsequently published, its success was limited. While other writers could not give it enough praise, reviewers and most audiences found it confusing at best and nonsensical at worst. By all accounts, she seemed to be a writer’s writer.
Regardless of their differing success, both Jane and Paul seemed to fall in love with Tangier. They traveled less after their move there, settling down for seemingly the first time in their relationship. But despite their fondness for the country, they both displayed racist tendencies towards the people. While their racism was not always outward and some may blame the time in which they lived, it is inexcusable. They seemed to grow throughout the years, but again that does not forgive what they never felt the need to apologize for.
Before her arrival, Jane displayed an aversion to the people of the country. When she did settle into the country and found a lover who was from Tangier, her attitude seemed to shift to a more positive view, while Paul’s sunk into a more negative light. In his distaste for her lover, Paul used racist language to describe the woman.
Like Jane, his opinion of the citizens improved when he began a relationship with one, and one must wonder if their shift in attitude was because of personal growth or if it stemmed from a fetishization of the country’s inhabitants. Their strange and complicated relationship with Tangier was put to a halt when they were forced to leave to seek medical care for Jane at a clinic in Spain.
Their departure was brought on by a stroke that Jane suffered that affected her greatly, and Paul spent the rest of her life trying to take care of her. She couldn’t make decisions on her own after the stroke, and she had trouble seeing and picturing things, so Paul became her primary caretaker until the day she died. Despite being “just friends,” these two were the most loyal companions in each other’s lives.
The two were married from 1938 and stayed married until the day Jane died 1973. Dismissing their relationship as "just" friendship is insulting to their deep and powerful connection, and saying their connection was romantic is just as dismissive to the depths of which they cared for each other in a purely platonic sense.
Many things have happened because of the marginalization the queer community has faced throughout history, but one of the best things is the friendship that can be built between members of the queer community. Because of the hatred that exists towards queer people, they are forced to group and the relationships formed are stronger. They protect one another, care for one another, and no matter if their relationships are platonic or otherwise, they reach a deeper level than most people outside of the queer community can understand.
Throughout the years, queer people who were not romantically attached have married one another just to keep from having people find out about their true identities. Though romantic connections don’t usually exist, they care deeply about one another and are incredibly devoted. This is a part of the reason that there is a different classification for platonic relationships between queer people.
While the term queerplatonic is mainly used for people on the asexual/aromantic spectrum and belongs mainly to that community, the term can be applied to any deep platonic connection. The definition is:
“Queerplatonic is described a relationship which is more intense and intimate than is considered common or normal for a "friendship" but doesn't fit the traditional sexual-romantic couple model. It is characterized by a strong bond, love, and emotional commitment yet is not perceived by those involved as "romantic." The relationship may or may not have some elements or degree of sexuality/eroticism at various times, or none - it doesn't matter because sexuality/sexual exclusivity is not what the relationship is organized around. It's defined by the intensity and significance of the emotional connection.”
This describes many relationships in the queer community, including the relationship between Jane and Paul Bowles. Paul and Jane were not romantically connected, but they loved each other deeply. They supported each other, cared for each other, and championed each other’s work. They loved each other, even if they were not in love with each other. And isn't devotion and unequivocal support the purest definition of love there is?
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Meyers, J. (2011). The Oddest Couple: Paul and Jane Bowels. Retrieved June 25 2016 from
Tillman, L. (2014, February 2.) Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane
Bowles. Retrieved June 25 2016 from http://www.joylandmagazine.com/regions/new-york/nothing-lost-or-found-desperately-seeking-paul-and-jane-bowles
PaulBowles.Org. Recommended Jane and Paul Bowles Archives, Resources and Links.
Retrieved June 25 2016 from http://www.paulbowles.org/links.html
Mixon, V. The Forces Within: the Millicent Dillon interview on Jane & Paul Bowles, Part 1.
Retrieved June 25 2016 from http://victoriamixon.com/2010/06/27/the-forces-withinthe-millicent-dillon-interview-on-jane-paul-bowles-part-1/