Deena Lilygren, a mother in her 40s, has been living with her best friend Maggie Brown for years in Kentucky, US. During the time they’ve been co-habiting, Brown met her future husband. He moved in with the pair of best friends, proposed to Brown, they got married and eventually, all three of them bought a house together.
When he moved in with them – and again when he proposed – Brown told him she and Deena “were a package deal”, says Lilygren. “She wanted to be sure he didn’t have the expectation that so many people seem to have – that marriage is the time when you let go of your friends.”
Brown and Lilygren have a relationship that goes beyond most friendships. Lilygren considers them “platonic life partners”, meaning they are each other’s primary partners – the way people often relate to spouses or romantic partners, only romance and sex don’t factor into their relationship.
Barely uttered in the past, the phrase ‘platonic life partners’ has been popularised lately by two women in their 20s from Singapore, April Lee and Renee Wong. The pair discuss their platonic life partnership (PLP) on TikTok, where Lee has more than 51,000 followers. They cemented their friendship as a PLP when Wong moved from Singapore to Los Angeles to live with Lee in September 2021. As Lee put it in a piece about their partnership for Refinery29, they were not just best friends but “supportive financial partners”, helped each other reach their life goals more effectively and wanted to be together not just temporarily as roommates, but for the long haul.
The popularity of their story elicited a string of coverage on this type of committed friendship, including among men. But relationships like these aren’t wholesale new – in some cases, they have roots back to the 18th Century. While some of those were certainly queer relationships in disguise, it’s quite possible many were just like Lee and Wong – the term ‘PLP’ just wasn’t around to describe them.
For some who are currently in PLPs, like Lilygren, the phrase is an important way to not just define their living situations, but also stress the value of non-romantic partnerships. “As a culture, we really devalue friendship when compared to relationships like marriage – we’re expected to have transient, secondary friendships that become marginalised when one friend gets married,” says Lilygren, “and there really isn’t a word for a friend who is a partner in life.” ‘PLP’ fills that void.