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Challenging Societal Norms with Platonic Life Partnerships

In a recent discussion with my close friend and author, , we delved into the concept of platonic life partners. Within her publication, The Other Significant Others: Reimagining Life With at the Center, she narrates anecdotes of individuals opting for a friend as a life partner over a romantic companion. If you missed the initial segment of our dialogue, you can access it . This subsequent part of our exchange focuses on the requisite internal and societal transformations essential to render these relationships more attainable in our contemporary society.

I trust you will derive as much pleasure from our discourse as I did.

Dr. Marisa G. Franco (MF): I’m pondering whether there exists a vulnerability in these expansive relationships due to their deviation from the norm. Amid challenging phases, the prevailing sentiment isn’t necessarily “this is tough” but rather a scrutiny of the validity of our constructs. How do you perceive this aspect?

Rhaina Cohen (RC): Miscommunication and misunderstanding emerged frequently in my discussions. Navigating turbulent times in intimate relationships entails misinterpretations, concessions, and difficult dialogues. Such relationships naturally encounter these hurdles, yet the aspiration is for them not to be pervasive. There exists a common notion that friendships should unfold effortlessly, but akin to any relationship, they demand effort. Regrettably, resources addressing friendship discord, like , are notably scarce in comparison to those available for family or couples’ therapy. Additional instructional materials and resources could aid individuals in navigating challenges and mitigating associated stigmas.

MF: Some may question the rationale behind selecting a platonic life partner when, at its zenith, it mirrors a romantic relationship sans the physical intimacy. How would you counter such inquiries?

RC: Consider it akin to the intimacy shared with a or a cherished family member. Numerous relationships that profoundly influence us are not defined by physical intimacy. It is imperative to reassess why society accords such significance to physical intimacy in delineating partnerships. When individuals exchange wedding vows, they are not invariably pledging perpetual passion but, rather, a commitment to stand by each other through thick and thin. Discovering profound dedication in diverse forms beyond the conventional romantic archetype holds its own allure.

MF: Do you believe societal constructs mold our internal perceptions, thereby complicating the acknowledgment of deep friendships as life partnerships?

RC: Undoubtedly. Absence of societal classifications can influence our contentment and relationship dynamics. For instance, a woman named Paula reached out to me, elucidating how reading my piece in The Atlantic led her to realize the depth of her friendship. She was , , and sensing a void until she discerned the enriching friendship existing right before her. Our internal experiences typically align with societal standards until we interrogate them.

MF: Could you impart some guidance on dismantling these societal norms and embracing unconventional relationship frameworks?

RC: Draw inspiration from individuals exhibiting imaginative thinking and broaden your horizons beyond societal conventions. One of my aspirations with this book is to widen the array of choices available to people, ensuring there is not a singular trajectory.

Reflect on past choices and future aspirations. Pose queries such as, “ Did I decline meeting my friend on Wednesday evening due to fatigue or because I subconsciously believed I should always prioritize spending time with my romantic partner?” Alternatively, “ Did I opt for a solo apartment over shared living arrangements because I relish solitude, or was it a perceived hallmark of maturity?”

The Fundamentals

Engage openly and candidly in discussions regarding your expectations from friendships. I have encountered scenarios where it is palpable that friends desire deeper involvement in each other’s lives, yet hesitation impedes anyone from taking the initial step, resulting in a suboptimal scenario where none achieve the desired depth of connection, all due to a reluctance to articulate their needs. In such instances, initiating conversations employing shared literary or cinematic references can serve as a safe inception point.

MF: For individuals esteeming profound friendships in a culture that frequently prioritizes romantic entanglements, do you offer any counsel on identifying like-minded individuals amenable to committing deeply to a platonic bond?

RC: Acknowledge the challenge of swimming against the current and recognize that it is not a reflection on you but rather on societal norms. Individuals often harbor skewed perceptions of trade-offs contingent on the conformity or unconventionality of a situation. Those adhering to conventional norms, marrying and residing in isolated nuclear family units, often overlook the drawbacks of potential detachment from the community. Conversely, individuals making unorthodox choices, such as cohabitating with friends or prioritizing friendships, continually find themselves compelled to defend their decisions.

Relationships Essential Reads

I believe the prevalent trend is that when individuals contemplate trade-offs, they tend to accentuate the positives of conventional decisions and the negatives of unconventional ones. Acknowledging this phenomenon aids in comprehension and acceptance.

Subsequently, assess the waters by broaching shared texts or themes concerning friendship to gauge others’ reactions and sentiments. With an increasing array of content like Broad City or Insecure spotlighting friendships, utilize these as a springboard. Observe those around you—do they view and resonate with these relationships as outlandish, or do they harbor a yearning for such connections in their lives?

MF: How can policy alterations bolster platonic life partnerships to parallel romantic unions?

RC: Policy modifications can furnish alternatives beyond matrimony for conferring rights and privileges, such as designated partnership registries. Legislation should embrace a broader definition of family and ensure its execution aligns with individuals’ chosen support systems, precluding exclusion rooted in antiquated norms.