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BFFs, but make it official: the rise of platonic life partnerships

Do you really need to have a sexual relationship with your life partner – or can you keep it platonic?

My best friend and I have witnessed each other fall in love and endure break-ups too many times to count. When someone I was dating cheated on me in sixth form, she fed me chocolates and let me cry on her lap for hours. When she saw her ex on Feeld last week, she called me right away. “I fucking hate him,” I said to her, as if he had wronged me personally.

Despite romantic and monogamous love being prized above all else, my friendship with her is one of the most consistent, healthy and important relationships in my life. We’ve both said to each other that life would be so much simpler if we entered into an asexual relationship, moved in together, and co-parented a cat. Doubtless, many other best friends have done the same. But few have actually followed through with the fantasy, like April and Renee.

April and Renee had both grown up together in Singapore and witnessed important milestones in each other’s lives: their first boyfriends, first break-ups, first jobs. On the surface, they were like most best friends. But deep down, they both knew they had a special connection. Initially, they described each other as ‘soulmates’ or ‘twin flames’, until they came across a more apt term: ‘platonic life partners’.

We realised that the only thing preventing us from choosing each other for the rest of our lives was this outdated notion that we should spend the rest of our lives with a spouse or a romantic partner,” April, 25, tells me. “So once we got over that and deconstructed that societal ideal, we realised there was really nothing stopping us. So that’s what we did.” Renee moved from Singapore to LA to be with April, and the two now live together as platonic partners.

Platonic life partnerships are gradually becoming more mainstream, but they’ve actually been around for centuries. In the late 18th century, the two ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ became famous for refusing to marry men and moving to Wales together. In the 19th century, the term ‘Boston marriage’ was used to describe a partnership between two, cohabiting women. Some of these relationships were, obviously, gay – we’ve all seen the ‘historians will say they were friends’ memes – but a proportion of these relationships were genuinely platonic.

Fast forward to today, and platonic life partnerships are rapidly gaining traction. According to data scientist Vincent Harinam, a number of conditions have created “pronounced imbalances” in the dating pool: “Put plainly, an increasing cohort of successful women are chasing a shrinking number of high-value, commitment-averse men,” he writes. The fact that increasing numbers of young people are lonely, having less sex, and embracing the individualistic ‘single positivity movement’ affirms that dating, especially for women who date men, is… not good right now. With all this in mind, it’s unsurprising that interest in platonic life partnerships is rising: over on TikTok, the ‘platonic life partner’ hashtag has amassed over 13.5 million views.

Dr Marisa G. Franco, a professor and forthcoming author of Platonic, explains further. “We know that women tend to do more chores and more of the emotional labour when they’re married, so with the way things are set up right now, marriage is not actually fair towards women in heterosexual partnerships,” she says. “I think now women are challenging that narrative based on their life experience.”

Professor Elizabeth Brake, a feminist philosopher, welcomes the increased interest in platonic life partnerships. “Not everyone thrives in sexual, romantic relationships. Some people are asexual or aromantic, some people have had bad experiences or political reasons for opting out, some people are polyamorous or want to date around,” she says. “But being in a committed relationship – having someone to have your back – is good for our mental health and self-esteem. A platonic life partnership is a way to have that companionship and commitment without a romantic sexual relationship, or without building your life around one if you're poly.”

Some might say – isn’t that just… friendship? Do we really need a special term for it? “Renee and I like to say that a platonic life partnership is essentially a best friendship with the added commitment,” April explains. “I don't trust anyone as much as I do with Renee. She’s essentially my plus one for life, my first of kin. Also, if we ever felt like we wanted to become mothers and raise kids, we would do that with each other, and not necessarily our romantic partners.”

“I call Renee the love of my life,” she adds.

“We need to rethink what love is and have a greater understanding of the spectrum of human love. We need to broaden our ideas about what constitutes a family and let go of the nuclear obsession” – Dr Anna Machin

Despite the rising interest in platonic life partnerships, however, there’s still a considerable stigma surrounding any relationship which deviates from the romantic, monogamous norm. Dr Anna Machin, author of Why We Love: The New Science Behind Our Closest Relationships, explains that society harbours an “absurd” fixation on the primacy of romantic love. “This is a result of our culture and media. But all you need in life is love and that can come from any source, romantic or not,” she says. “We need to rethink what love is and have a greater understanding of the spectrum of human love. We need to broaden our ideas about what constitutes a family and let go of the nuclear obsession.”

Brake agrees. “Many people are still uncomfortable with sexual behaviour they can’t easily pigeonhole. There’s a lot of pressure to conform to certain expected life paths, and polyamory, asexuality, aromanticism and other more ambiguous or unusual behaviour like bisexuality are often judged harshly, for no good reason,” she says. “For some people, this might be a way of allaying doubts about their own life choices.”

“Some people really do believe that monogamous marriage is best for everyone, and they paternalistically want to pressure people into it. But it’s just not true that romantic, sexual monogamy is best for everyone,” she continues. “I call this view ‘amatonormativity’ – and argue against it in my book, Minimising Marriage. It should only take a moment’s reflection to realise that being in a couple, or being married, doesn’t make people automatically more responsible, more adult, or even happier – sometimes, the opposite is true.”