Friends are an important source of social and emotional support, with close friendships providing a range of health benefits for women, particularly in their later years.
Yet friendship is frequently considered as secondary to romantic relationships or marriage, or something that becomes less important once you ‘settle down’ with a romantic partner.
Author and literary consultant Tracey Emerson recently celebrated her 20th anniversary with her best friend and life partner Susie.
The pair live together, support each other, share household and financial responsibilities, yet are entirely platonic in their love for one another.
“We’ve built a partnership that shares attributes with traditional marriage, open marriage, and polyamory,” said Emerson.
“I’m yet to find a term that does our relationship justice, but ‘platonic life partners’ is pretty close. We are more than friends but less than lovers.
“At times, we are like sisters and I always describe our unit as a family. Like all relationships, we each play different roles within it at different times,” she said.
Emerson and Susie have now included a third woman in their relationship, adding another source of mutual support and connection.
Their relationship is built on a foundation of trust and support and, while they have mutual friends, they all remain free to pursue individual interests and relationships, as long as it’s done in a way that respects the needs of their family unit.
Why women turn to platonic ‘life partners’
Reasons for entering into platonic life partnerships vary, from pooling resources to access the increasingly expensive housing market, to feeling a deeper sense of connection and fulfilment from female friendships than that offered by romantic relationships or marriage.
Women also often seek solace in the safety and comfort of close female friendships in response to the challenges and risks associated with dating, explained sex and relationship expert Susie Tuckwell.
When it comes to intimate relationships, Tuckwell said “the online dating world is brutal and often sexually exploitative”.
But Tuckwell said this shifts when it comes to friendships or platonic partnerships because there is often “a comforting predictability and warmth and a sense of being really well understood”.
In Emerson’s case, she originally moved in with Susie after leaving a toxic relationship, yet states they have both enjoyed fulfilling intimacy within external romantic relationships since.
Regardless of any new romantic connections they enter, both maintain their commitment to one another as their highest priority.
“We’re both very aware, at times, of the need for male energy in our lives,” said Emerson.
“We enjoy all the input we get from male friends and colleagues, and from any romantic and sexual relationships we have with other people.
“It can be challenging at times to incorporate these ‘outside’ romantic connections into our lives, but we’ve learned how to manage this respectfully for all involved.”
"We are more than friends but less than lovers." — Tracey Emerson.
All relationships are equally valid and important
The traditional binary view of relationships as either platonic friendship or intimate romance limits the range of experiences we can enjoy and marginalises those with less traditional family and relationship structures.
“One misconception is that a relationship that doesn’t include sex is less valid than one that does,” said Emerson.
“If you keep an open mind, it is possible to enjoy a number of different connections that have different purposes.”
Emerson believes that having a range of relationships, both romantic and platonic, is a more realistic way of ensuring one’s needs are met without placing undue pressure on their partner.
“In any type of relationship, it is unrealistic to expect the other person to be everything for you and to fulfil every need. That just isn’t possible,” she said.
Having the full support of her platonic life partners has given Emerson the freedom and encouragement to pursue her own passions, including recently publishing her first psychological thriller, She Chose Me.
“We’ve given each other a stable base from which we can each evolve and grow,” Emerson said.
“At the same time, we still feel like we’re on an adventure together, so we’ve never been complacent about our situation or taken it for granted.
“Susie is without doubt the person who knows me better than anyone, and I know her support of me and loyalty to me is absolute.”