Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
In times of romantic disappointment, there are comfort shows I turn to — Friends, Girlfriends, How I Met Your Mother. They all have one thing in common: They frame friend groups as family units. Friends cluster inside apartments and brunch establishments. Romantic partners are ancillary, funneling in and out, often without consequence, while the friendships endure. I’m always sad when I reach the final seasons, in which everyone is neatly folded away into couples.
But in platonic life partnerships, or PLPs — newish vocabulary for the long-standing practice of choosing platonic friends as your primary relationships — friendship is the endgame. Sometimes platonic partnerships involve connections between aromantic or asexual individuals, though people of all sexualities participate in them. Some PLPs turn to marriage to legally cement their connection. At the core of many platonic partnerships is a skepticism toward monogamy and romance: Sure, you may love your romantic partner. But are they necessarily a good spouse or co-parent?
While there isn’t much data about these partnerships, stories about life with besties regularly go viral. In 2019, a video went viral about seven girlfriends building a luxury house together in Guangzhou, China; news outlets compared the bucolic setup to The Golden Girls. In 2020, two single and straight Canadian women moved in together to co-parent a baby left on their doorstep, in a platonic pact that felt “revolutionary and like a no-brainer.” And on TikTok, #platoniclifepartner has been viewed more than 11 million times, and accounts chronicling PLP lifestyles enjoy fast-growing followings. One such account is run by April Lee, a 24-year-old film student and creative producer who lives in Los Angeles with her platonic life partner, Renee. The two grew up together in Singapore and plan to be together for life. Their series of educational “PLP Academy” videos — including lessons on the importance of interdependency and normalizing not cuddling — often rack up thousands of views.
For commenters romanticizing a seemingly idyllic partnership with a best friend, there are fewer videos out there about the challenges of such arrangements and the emotional impact when a platonic life partnership ends. According to Dr. Jess Carbino, former in-house sociologist for Tinder and Bumble, “removing sex from the equation” doesn’t necessarily mitigate the everyday conflicts of intimate relationships. In the same way that it’s difficult to expect a romantic partner to fulfill all your needs — sexual, emotional, intellectual, spiritual — it’s likewise troublesome to do that with a with a platonic partner.
I spoke with members of three TikTok-public platonic life couples (including April and Renee) about how they went from friends to life partners, the misconceptions they face within those partnerships, and what happens when a PLP ends.
Jay Guercia, 24, and Krystle Purificato, 29, are originally from Long Island and now live in Tampa, Florida, with their adopted son. They met ten years ago at an LGBTQ center and are both on the asexual spectrum. The two got married in November 2020 and got custody of their son that same month.
How did you meet, and how did your friendship develop into a PLP?
Jay: The progression from acquaintances into best friends and then more was very natural. We had a lot of conversations that best friends have, like, if by the time we’re 30 and we aren’t married, we should just live together and have a life together. Every time I dated someone, I realized I was comparing them to Krystle. She held a place in my life that no one ever has. We had conversations about being roommates or possibly raising kids together. Then there was a situation where a child in my life really needed a home. I said to Krystle, remember when you said you might want to raise kids with me one day? Well, why don’t we do that now?
Krystle: Before the idea of marriage was ever on the table, Jay once turned to me and said, “I wish there was a term for something better than a best friendship.” Jay broke up with someone in 2020 and was on the dating scene, and we had this conversation like, “I don’t know if I can trust anyone the way I trust you, and I don’t know if I want to put the time and effort into trying to find a partner to trust the way I trust you.”
How did your relationship change when you became platonic partners and parents?
Jay: At first, it was weird: We weren’t sure where the lines were or what was okay in terms of affection. We shared a bedroom and slept in the same bed. That didn’t feel right for us. When we moved to Tampa, in August 2021, we wanted separate beds and our own spaces. We don’t kiss — I hug her all the time, we hang out, I’ll lay on her shoulder for a few minutes, but we’re never cuddling or anything like that.
How did you decide to get married?
Jay: We needed a way to make sense of this for other people, so we had a whole wedding and let people believe we were romantic. We kissed, which was pretty uncomfortable for us both. But the decision to get married came about because there was no other language or legal way to have the same rights as you do when you’re a married couple. I wanted Krystle to be my next of kin and to make sure that custody of our kid was intact — all those things very easily came with marriage. We needed a quick route for legal things. That was the only way.
Krystle: It’s important to have terminology. Being able to define something makes it easier to digest.
How do friends and family perceive your relationship?
Jay: Everyone was like, “What the heck are they both doing?” When I went viral on TikTok, they were like, “Oh, you’re platonic! That makes sense. Cool!” But if we had told them beforehand we were going to become PLPs, they would have called it crazy.
Krystle: A lot of our friends are in the queer community or are friends with people in the queer community. A lot of this shit makes sense to them.
What are the biggest challenges and benefits of PLP?
Jay: This relationship type is not normalized, and there’s not a lot of language around it. So we have to do a lot of explaining. As for benefits, we never have reason to get divorced. Cheating, lack of romance, lack of a sex life — when things like that don’t exist in your primary relationship, you never have to be fearful of that person abandoning you because of those things.
Krystle: It’s not that there’s no jealousy — you make time for people in your life and your platonic partner has to take priority. The biggest benefit is that I literally married my best friend. It’s so true that relationships based off of friendships are better. There’s no one I trust more than Jay. I don’t knock monogamy — but I definitely feel if society talked more about polyamory, or if it valued friendship as much as romance, things would be better.
What is it like to date while being in a PLP?
Jay: I identify as polyamorous. The two romantic partners I have, both of them know about each other and about Krystle. There are no secrets. I would never date anyone who didn’t know Krystle was the primary person in my life. Both my partners have met Krystle, and they all get along really well.
Krystle: We both identify on the asexual spectrum, but Jay is demisexual. I identify as gray sexual, which is a little different: I only experience physical attraction in little bursts. I’m quite comfortable being in relationships where sex isn’t on the table at all. So the idea of being in a queer platonic relationship just makes sense to me. I’m open to polyamory but haven’t explored it too much. I’m very much an introvert. When I start dating, I’ll have to navigate that.
What has parenthood been like?
Jay: When we took in our son, he was 14, and he was about to be put into the foster-care system where he’d remain until he aged out. He didn’t care what Krystle and I did or didn’t do in the bedroom. He just cared about the fact that he had two people who love him. Another reason Krystle and I got married is that it helps for us to have language when we do speak to his school or other parents — “this is my wife” and all that.
Krystle: Our son is 16 now. I particularly like that we’re closer in age than we would be if he was our biological child. It’s easier to relate to him, like, I was in your shoes not long ago, and I can guide you to a better path in life. Just being able to parent with my best friend is amazing.
What are the biggest misconceptions about PLPs?
Jay: People often ask, “What if one of you falls in love with the other? Are you sure you’re not in love? Really, you’ve never had sex?” That doesn’t make sense to people. Krystle and aren’t attracted to each other, and people cannot fathom that. It really makes me laugh. Platonic partnership has existed for so long. There are parents who live in separate bedrooms, romantic marriages that turn platonic, friends who moved in together to co-parent because of divorce or death. It’s 2022, come on — we can talk about best friends being family.
Krystle: Everyone thinks we’re secretly in love, because they don’t value platonic relationships as they value romantic ones. I’ll tell people that I’m going out with my wife and they don’t bat an eye. But you say “best friend,” and all of a sudden they don’t take it as serious.
April Lexi Lee and Renee Wong met when they were 14 years old. They’ve been friends ever since and entered into a PLP during the pandemic. After five years of long distance, Renee moved in with April in Los Angeles six months ago.
How did you meet, and how did your friendship evolve into a PLP?
April: We met in the equivalent of middle school in Singapore.
Renee: I don’t remember our first encounter, but it’s a funny story. At the time I had another best friend, and she was making friends with April. When my ex-friend was talking about April, I was just thinking, April is going to steal her away from me! The irony is that I got stolen away.
April: After a few years, we identified our connection as something special — we’d call each other soul mates. Over time, we realized we wanted more commitment with each other. We wanted a shared future. When the pandemic hit, Renee had just graduated from university in Singapore and didn’t envision a future for herself there. We talked about her visiting me in L.A. A two-week trip became a three-month trip became, “Why don’t you move in with me?” I don’t know how married couples decide to get married, but I see our conversations similarly. We’d have practical discussions about our future — life, family, career goals, all of that — and it all happened to align.
Did you ever feel pressured into romantic partnership?
April: Subconsciously, we thought we had to. We’ve had heteronormative relationships before, but neither of us could envision a future with those romantic partners. I was dating somebody when we left Singapore on and off for five years. I was in love with him, but I couldn’t imagine a romantic partnership with him. Renee and I realized that romance and life partnership are different. You’re expecting a lover, who may be a great lover, to also potentially be a co-parent, your husband, all these other ways a lover may not be right for you.
Renee: In my first relationship, I believed I wanted to be married, settle down, have kids. Now that I’m further removed, I realize that isn’t what I want. I don’t necessarily want kids.
How has romance changed for you?
Renee: I’m a demisexual, meaning I have to have an emotional connection to be sexually attracted to someone. PLP opened me up to other kinds of relationships, like polyamory and exploring my bisexuality. When I’m dating, I’m up-front about my PLP. A lot of queer and polyamorous people really understand the dynamic.
April: This is the journey we’re on right now. If we’re no longer looking for companionship — we have that with each other — what is dating? What do we want from it? Now we’re able to appreciate our romantic partners for who they are, and not what they could be down the road.
April, you have a romantic partner. How is that going?
It’s going great. Our relationship changed a lot since Renee moved here, in a good way. Before Renee, I needed more of him than he was able to give. Now he and I have been able to focus on our connection without thinking about where it has to go. Instead of thinking about whether our life goals match up or if we make good roommates, or if one person’s career needs to take the back seat to support the other, we can just focus on the person themselves. I don’t rely on him to be my first confidant or my financial/domestic support. And he’s met Renee. They get along really well. When we go on dates, she sometimes tags along.
How do friends and family perceive your relationship?
April: We’ve been in each other’s lives for half our lives at this point. Our families have merged — we go on vacations and holidays together. We’re family already. Even if our families don’t understand the concept, they’re accepting. Now they need to accept that we might not get married the way they think we will or have kids the way they think we will.
Your account feels like the blueprint PLP account on TikTok. What has it been like going public?
April: With Renee, it all clicked. We both come from families of divorce, and feel like, why is platonic love not seen as stable or even more stable a foundation to start a family? I had to talk about it. We get a lot of ignorance from people who don’t understand what this is, and people who try to push us into different boxes, like, “Oh, you’re just roommates.” Or, “If you’re lesbian, just say you’re lesbian.”
Renee: April has been great — she asks for my consent about what she posts and always tries to include me if I want. I’m a more private person with my social media.
What are the challenges and benefits of PLP?
April: It’s the same obstacles as any other two people who are trying to combine their lives are going to encounter. The only thing that’s specific to PLP is if one person still has hope of finding “the one,” in a romantic sense. There’s the potential of making this PLP a placeholder until they find it. And you have to communicate about that early on. I know that I don’t want to combine my life with a romantic partner. If Renee and I were to break up for any reason, I would be alone and practice solo polyamory (meaning without a primary partner).
What are the most persistent misconceptions you face in this partnership?
Renee: That we’re just friends, or this is just another trend to hop onto.
April: The biggest one is pitting us against romantic love, or assuming that the moment one of us falls in love with a romantic partner, they’re going to ditch the other person. I think that’s based on a flawed assumption that romantic love is the best love that exists out there. That’s not our experience.
For those considering PLP, what advice would you give?
April: I don’t want younger people to just jump on the bandwagon because it’s trendy. They have to know that this took years to build.
Renee: No one individual can fill all your voids. You don’t have to put that pressure on one person.
Marqué is a 27-year-old from Seattle and recently got her bachelor’s in political science from the University of Washington. Marqué and her former PLP met when they were 18, and they were friends for ten years before breaking up in March 2021.
How did the transition from friends to PLP happen?
She and I met in the beginning of our first year of junior college, which was nine years ago. We met in a common area. Our friendship just developed naturally over time. Our commitment to each other and our connection deepened. We were friends for three years before we started having discussions about what our future might look like. We never had an official conversation about becoming PLPs. We never had to know. We moved in together in September 2021. It lasted seven months. She and I living together alone was an amazing experience. We would sing, dance, cook, explore, and make art.
How did entering into a PLP change your relationship?
It made our friendship better in almost every way. When you commit to someone like that, it expands your sense of self. You have the ultimate rock. I have a romantic partner who would visit us. He and I have known each other for over ten years and have been together for three, and we got engaged in March 2021, a handful of days before we moved out of our shared place with my PLP. But there was something about having Rachel as my platonic life partner that was almost sturdier than romance.
What were the benefits and challenges?
You have to navigate a mutual understanding of what your futures will look like: who you might end up with as a romantic partner, your finances, where you want to live, if you want to have kids, if one of you is going to have kids and one isn’t, what works for you, what you can tolerate.
Throughout our partnership, we both had romantic partners. We all coexisted. Everyone I ever dated knew who she was from the beginning; I couldn’t carry on a conversation without mentioning her. It was clear that this was my person, and if you were with me, you were going to know her, love her, and treat her respectfully.
Watching my fiancé with her and how deeply he cared about her was a really beautiful thing. He understood how much she meant to me and that we’d be planning our future together. Every discussion of the future involved her. It was beautiful to have all these people you love almost begin a community with you and envision that future together. Jacob and I don’t plan to have children, and my former PLP did. Planning that and knowing that I would be those children’s parent as well, even though I wouldn’t be having my own — navigating all those pieces was enriching.
Why did you two break up?
While living together, my PLP got this new partner and moved him in with us. He monopolized her time and didn’t respect me as her PLP. I was living with my romantic partner there too; we were all living together. It was painful to watch and turned into a toxic living environment. I chose to move out and step away from our relationship because she was choosing a partner who didn’t value us.
That’s one thing people may not understand about PLPs: Even though they can feel sturdier than romance, they can still disintegrate. I don’t think I realized that. I had never had a relationship as strong or as beautiful as the one I shared with her. As in love as I am now with my fiancé, that relationship with her was one of a kind. I didn’t believe it could fail. I’ve never experienced a heartbreak like that one. I’ll never fully recover from it, but we move forward.
My breakup and the ensuing trauma definitely strained my relationship with my fiancé. But it didn’t affect my plans with him, because they were entirely distinct relationships. In fact, he and I became stronger communicators, because we had to navigate through the pain I was feeling then and still feel now.
Are you still in touch?
She tried to maintain contact, but it felt frivolous to me, because there was no acknowledgement of the damage done. I also have to take accountability: I held her on a pedestal, and it wasn’t fair. I expected she wouldn’t make mistakes, would understand this was hurting us, would snap out of love. That was unrealistic. It’s difficult to love someone who’s not your romantic partner. It’s been a saving grace having my fiancé through this breakup, but she was my first soul mate. I love her deeply — each cell in my body loves her still.