Last September, my partner Renee moved from Singapore to Los Angeles so we could start a life together — a grand and undeniably romantic gesture usually reserved for lovers. Which Renee and I are decidedly not.
Renee and I are platonic life partners, a relationship that combines qualities from friendship, marriage, and polyamory. We are each other’s primary partners, but we don’t have sex (even hugs are sporadic and occasional), and we date other people. We share a studio apartment in downtown LA and are financial partners. We are also considering options to be legally recognised as each other’s first of kin.
Renee and I met in the equivalent of middle school in Singapore. From early on, we felt like our connection was special. We had common interests and overlapping social circles, but our bond went deeper — we called each other “soulmates” and “twin flames.” We merged our families at holidays and family vacations. As we grew older, we also built a shared history. We’d had front row seats to each other’s pivotal coming-of-age moments: first boyfriends, early career moves, and all the growing pains of becoming young adults.
After seven years of teenage best friendship, I moved to LA. We lived separate lives in different countries, but we still remained close. The distance didn’t even bother us much — until the spring of 2020, when it suddenly became this single mammoth obstacle we needed to overcome.
The pandemic shrank both of our lives. Friendships that were forged out of convenience became inconvenient. People we were once obligated to tolerate became just a box on a Zoom screen. We suddenly had the ability to be more selective about who we spent our time with and we found ourselves constantly choosing each other. The 16-hour time difference and our spotty internet connections did little to interfere with our plans of spending every single day together.
One of the most common questions we get is “How did you two decide to become platonic life partners?” What made us want to add this level of commitment to our already solid and fulfilling friendship? The answer is that, in many ways, the move toward each other was very much the result of us moving toward ourselves.
Renee had just graduated from a university in Singapore with a degree in Life Sciences — one she didn’t intend on using. She craved a more creative career, and to be surrounded by other open-minded people that were also committed to bettering themselves.
It was also getting harder for her to ignore her bisexuality — a facet of herself that had been heavily repressed growing up in a society where same-sex relations are still taboo. She had seen her hypothetical future in Singapore play out before, and while she imagined she could be comfortable there, she knew she didn’t want to live her whole life on autopilot.
Across the world in LA, I was right where I needed to be. I was in film school with a handful of awards under my belt and influential contacts in my inventory. I’d had years of freedom exploring who I was as a woman, as a lover, as a creative. I had big dreams, and LA offered me the ideal backdrop to make them an actuality.
But with an expiration date on my visa and no family in the country, I craved a sense of home. I was crowding my schedule with creative projects and social obligations to distract from the fact that I was incredibly lonely. For a while, I tried to fill this void with romantic partners, but I couldn’t envision a future with any of them. I’d become so jaded by dating that during the pandemic, I’d decided to focus on myself.
As Renee and I spent our lockdown days together on FaceTime, we realised we enjoyed spending the mundane moments together. On our calls, Renee and I were never just “catching up.” Instead, we actively helped each other heal, learn, and grow. We saw how our own individual growths fed into each other’s, despite choosing such drastically different paths. And we saw how the separate roads we’d taken were now ready to intertwine and grow tenfold. We could suddenly see a future together. More than that, we wanted it, now.
So, Renee found a job at a digital marketing agency with an office in LA. She worked for a year in Singapore before making the big move. We took that year to delve into practical discussions about finances, boundaries, and potential conflicts that could arise from knowing each other so intimately, but also never having lived together. I call this our negotiation stage.
Our connection had been in the driver’s seat for the majority of our relationship. We knew our partnership worked in theory, but it was only when Renee moved to LA in September 2021 that we began to witness the more logistical aspects of our partnership come together organically. We were considerate and cooperative roommates, we were supportive financial partners, and we fuelled each other to achieve our respective goals faster and with more fun along the way.
While Renee and I knew we wanted to be together for both the immediate and distant future, in a way that felt more formal and intentional than the “best friend” label seems to denote, we didn’t have a label for what we were quite yet.
Then, I happened across an article on Boston Marriages, a term that describes how women in the late 1800s lived with and “married” other women. Some of these relationships were, most likely, covertly sexual (“history books will say they were roommates”). But they had another advantage: In those times, if a woman were to marry a man, it would almost be a given that she would have to trade in her future career for domesticity and motherhood. Boston Marriages allowed women who wished to continue their individual academic pursuits to also have stable companionship. While reading this, I remember thinking, These women have BBE — Big Brain Energy.
This concept resonated with Renee and me immediately. We both had aspirations and selfish desires we’d yet to fulfill, and to factor in a romantic partner in our life decisions would mean compromising on those dreams. This alternate approach to partnership shattered our preconceived notions that 1) we were supposed to live the rest of our lives with a spouse or 2) just be alone instead. It raised the ceiling on the future we were envisioning together, revealing to us a more attractive third option: building a life with your best friend.
We had both a deep platonic love and commitment to each other, and also engaged in level-headed discourse about major life decisions to make sure they aligned. While I’m not familiar with how romantic couples decide to get married, I imagine it’s similar to our decision to be in a platonic life partnership. When someone consistently helps you become the best version of yourself, and your future feels brighter and bolder with them, why would you not want them by your side forever?
When we were discussing making this commitment to each other, we found ourselves coming back to the idea of conditional versus unconditional love. Because the foundation of our partnership is our ability to help one another work on ourselves, we consider our love conditional. The rule is: “I’ll keep loving you as long as you keep loving yourself.” And we’ve given each other permission to leave if either of us has given up on ourselves or is no longer serving a purpose in the other’s life, apart from providing comfortable company.
Renee moved in a few months ago, so I guess you could say that we are currently in our honeymoon phase. That said, I’ve been waiting for 12 years for that to end. So far, I just keep finding more things to love about her — and to love about myself when I’m with her.
This experience has made me believe that the majority of people, myself included, have been navigating interpersonal relationships using the same outdated roadmap. We’ve romanticised the notion that one person could be our everything: our roommate, our financial and emotional support, our co-parenting partner, our best friend — and on top of all of this, they have to also be our lifelong lover. It just doesn’t seem realistic.
I’ll never glamorise a platonic life partnership — they take just as much commitment and communication as any other partnership. We work hard to keep each other accountable and believe that boundaries are a huge part of keeping any relationship healthy. We over-communicate, negotiate, and compromise. We acknowledge that we want what is best for the other person, even if that isn’t each other.
But it’s a relief to not have to worry about keeping a romantic connection alive while discussing the logistics of our shared life. In fact, I strongly believe a major reason Renee and I have been able to stay together this long is because we don’t also have the added burden of making each other orgasm.
The way that society pressures young couples to get married but can’t fathom two best friends making that same commitment never fails to baffle me. It’s based on one very common and flawed assumption: that romantic love is the best kind of love that exists. While I’m a romantic myself, I can’t honestly say that this has been my experience.
I do have a romantic partner right now. He lives in New York and according to Renee, we’re disgustingly adorable. He gets along with Renee and accepts that she will always come first. He sees how my partnership with her has allowed me to love him better. He doesn’t have to be my everything, he just has to show up. And because of my platonic life partnership with Renee, I’m able to enjoy him for who he is now, and not for what he could be to me in the future.
Renee and I began sharing our partnership on TikTok because we wanted to create what we didn’t have — one example of an alternative roadmap for relationships. While we didn’t expect our videos to blow up, it’s been both exhilarating and comforting knowing there’s a whole community out there who feels and thinks similar to us.
Of course, not all the reactions we get are wholly positive. People often tell us that we’re too young or we haven’t anticipated what will happen when we want different things. But the question we get asked that we feel is the most important to answer is: “How do I find a PLP?”
The truth is, you don’t. It finds you. Or perhaps it already has, but you’d sooner commit yourself to a romantic partner.
Our purpose in sharing our story isn’t to give people another variation of “The One” to covet, but to encourage them to just be open, regardless of societal norms. Listen to yourself and pursue the connections that make you feel most empowered. The love of your life could come at any time in any form, and it might very well be a friend.