Deep Dives Level Up Newsletters Saved Articles Challenges

Platonic marriages are marking the end of the nuclear family as we know it

We have long been taught that the main foundation of marriage is romantic love, that we must find the perfect Romeo to our Juliet and live happily ever after with our two dogs and cats, a couple of kids as well as a shared Netflix subscription. But what if we turned those traditional ideas of marriage on their head? What if we decided that we didn’t need to wait for the lover of our dreams before we tie the knot, buy the family home and settle down? What if that notion of romance was replaced by a different kind of love—a platonic kind—and instead spent the rest of our lives with our best friend? Turns out it can be done and it is being done. Introducing platonic marriages and the climax of the nuclear family.

Platonic love versus romantic love

For people like April Lexi Lee, 24, the platonic love she experiences with her best friend Renee is so special that she knew she had found her life partner. Now they live together in Los Angeles. “Renee and I wanted to do life together and be each other’s first of kin,” Lexi Lee told SCREENSHOT. The Singapore-born writer and creative producer has amassed a following of over 48,000 followers on TikTok, many of whom are intrigued by her platonic partnership.

@psychottie

Reply to @naptimeno hope everyone had a good night’s sleep 🥴🥴🥴@hotmilkwong #platoniclifepartner #qpr #queertok

♬ Sneaky Snitch - Kevin MacLeod

For Lexi Lee, the decision to spend the rest of her life with Renee was simple. Their friendship, which has spanned across eleven years, is one steeped in healing and safety, “I credit a lot of who I am today to Renee and vice versa. We’re on this journey to be the best version of ourselves, to heal our traumas and go after our dreams and we give each other the fuel to do that.”

Platonic partnerships are not simply two best friends living together but partners who build their lives together—sharing finances, making significant life decisions in consideration of one another and all other major components of marriage without the romantic or sexual aspect involved. “Your life partner doesn’t have to be your lover,” Lexi Lee explained, “I want to come home to Renee because it’s two different criteria to being a good life partner and a good romantic partner. We don’t have to force lovers into the life partnership box.” And these two aren’t the only ones.

Jay Guercio, 24, is legally married to her platonic best friend Krystle, 29, and together they are raising a teenage boy. Based in Tampa Florida, the pair are a testament to the fact that our best friends can truly be our soulmates. “During quarantine, she was the only person I let myself see because the risk of getting COVID could not be compared to the risk of not seeing her,” Guercio told me. For her, romantic love cannot be likened to the transformative growth she continues to experience while in partnership with Krystle, “I’m a hopeful romantic but it’s based on chemicals that may one day fade, based on a physical or emotional attraction that isn’t necessarily stable but my friendship developed and grew and cultivated into something very stable.”

@thelovelyjaybird

Platonic love is valid screw society’s norms #societalnorms #platonicmarriage #platonicpartnership #bestfriends #love

♬ Lofi - Domknowz

Both Lexi Lee and Guercio are polyamorous, choosing to pursue multiple relationships outside of their partnership. The permanency of the platonic partnership they share with their best friend allows them to have more stable romantic relationships too. “My platonic partnership with Renee improved me as a romantic partner because I already know I have a life partner at home and so I don’t need any more from someone I’m romantically involved with,” Lexi Lee shared. To Guercio, monogamy is simply a construct that doesn’t work for people. “No one person can fulfil another one person’s desires or needs completely,” she said.

The dying idea of the nuclear family

Platonic partnerships and polyamory are ways of loving and living that threaten the very idea that the nuclear family is the natural mode of a family unit.

Doctor Haley McEwen, a decolonial researcher and lecturer, has published work that points out the colonial origin of the nuclear family. In her work, McEwen provides context to the reality that the nuclear family is fused with notions of gender, racial hierarchy and civilisation. “The idea of the nuclear family is seen as apolitical and ahistorical which it is not,” McEwen explained, “It has been used in the interests of certain groups and power and has a deeply political history implicated on political and colonial conquest.”

The nuclear family was used as a tool to destroy many traditional African kinships during colonisation where polygamy and platonic partnerships, as well as communities, were found to be the norm. “The nuclear family served a particular function to insert people into capitalism machinery. It was used as a measuring point—measuring civilisation to construct indigenous and African people as inferior,” McEwen said.

In David Brooks’ article for The Atlantic titled The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake, the writer also discussed the brittle nature of the nuclear family and the danger it poses to community-building. Brooks mentioned how the nuclear family created a shift from big, interconnected and extended families to smaller, detached nuclear families and how this affects the most vulnerable of society—from the working-class to the poor—who need forms of kinship which are more expansive to be supported and ultimately survive.

The nuclear family, which is the greatest asset of romantic love, appears to be impractical for the changing times we are in. It evades community and interconnectedness—while historically representing how racism, homophobia and sexism have built many of the traditional markers of family, love and identity that no longer suit humankind today.

Platonic partnerships are a rebuttal to the nuclear family, they represent the communal love that friendships thrive on and prove that such a love can be a safe place for children to be brought up in, animals to be owned and houses to be shared. It is liberating in ways that romantic love is not because platonic partnerships allow romance to exist simultaneously outside of it, creating family units that are widespread and, therefore, long-lasting.

The future of love

I encourage anyone reading this article to ask themselves if they could build a life partnership with their best friend, someone who’s been there for them through thick and thin, their source for laughter, tears and joy.

“I didn’t want to wait for a romantic partner to sweep me off my feet and help me to create the beautiful life I knew I could live,” Guercio shared, “Why shouldn’t I build the life I want with Krystle? We both deserve it.” And that is exactly it, there is no need to wait for romance if you want to build a life of your dreams with someone by your side. As relationship anarchy takes reign, it is time to reconsider what type of love truly liberates you in your journey.

How Willow Smith’s solo polyamory may have paved gen Z’s way into ‘relationship anarchy’

Through solo polyamory—that is, having multiple intimate relationships while maintaining an independent single freedom—women are experiencing a self-love like no other. A self-love which requires commitment to the ‘self’ but also an acknowledgement that one lover is not always what a human being desires, sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s even more.

Willow Smith, pop punk singer and black alt-girl icon, has openly talked about belonging to the polyamorous community while routinely sharing Instagram posts on what polyamory is all about. More and more women seem to be defying the status-quo of what a relationship should look like and as ‘relationship anarchy’—don’t worry, I’ll explain soon enough—becomes a more common reality for the younger generation, it seems that it’s time to seek relationships that work for you, even if they’re still frowned upon in modern-day society.

Willow Smith: a polyamory poster child

“Most people practise monogamy because they feel like they have no other choice,” Jayda Pinkett Smith said as she sat between her mother and daughter during their Red Table Talk episode on polyamory. Willow, 21, who first explained that she was introduced to polyamory in a non-sexual way added that the practice consists of having the freedom to “choose a relationship style that works for you.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Red Table Talk (@redtabletalk)

The singer appears to have never shied away from the topic and shares daily posts about solo polyamory in particular and what loving multiple partners entails. With a follower count of 9.7 million fans, it’s clear that the youngest Smith wants to educate people on a mode of loving that is often stigmatised or not as widely understood as traditional monogamy. One of those followers who Smith successfully educated was myself.

Though I was aware of polyamory during my later teen years, I had not been exposed to solo polyamory specifically, until I saw the many shared posts which filled Smith’s Instagram stories. Here was a young black woman, a singer and a Scorpio (just like me) who was daring to demand a style of relationship that suited her capacity to love and to share this openly. So, what actually is solo polyamory? How is it different from the polyamory representation we’ve come to know?

What is solo polyamory?

A popular solo polyamory blog, solopoly.net, defined individuals who are solo polyamorous as those who do not have intimate relationships which involve, or head towards, the merging of life infrastructure through the traditional social relationship escalator. Simply put, typical traditions like marriage, the joining of finances and cohabitation are all components of the relationship escalator—things which are commonly the end goals for monogamous (and at times poly) relationships. Those who are solo polyamorous, however, do not desire such things and instead see themselves as their own primary partner, choosing their own autonomy over being with a partner or a unit. Instead, the most important element for them is a deep commitment to themselves.

Polyamory educator and mental health advocate, Gabrielle Smith, uses her social media platforms to discuss what non-monogamy can look like and often talks about the discovery of ‘self’ that is a by-product of it. In one Instagram post, Gabrielle detailed that solo polyamory is about choosing yourself first while in another she explained that restoring one’s sense of self is essential in order to be ethically non-monogamous.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Gabrielle Smith (@bygabriellesmith)

Gabrielle and Willow are two black women in the spotlight who have chosen to pursue a relationship style which decentres the idea that a partner makes a woman ‘complete’. Instead, they embody the narrative that they are whole themselves and that no one outside of them is ‘the one’—an idea that has long-defined monogamy. Marriage—which is historically linked to the abandonment of surnames when it comes to women, the conjoining of finances (often to their detriment) and the eventual role of motherhood—becomes an avoided necessity in solo polyamory and instead the priority is individuals finding love within themselves first and foremost.

Therefore, it is unsurprising why this particular style of polyamory has become increasingly popular among women, specifically women of colour (WOC). Self-titled ‘Sex Positive Asian Auntie’ Jayda Shuavarnnasri, a sexuality and relationship educator, shared similar sentiments on her own platform, telling her followers that being solo poly meant that she is “experiencing myself, centring myself and choosing myself every day.” This radical love for oneself appears to be disrupting the traditional—and let’s be honest, archaic—modes of relationships of modern-day society.

Why solo polyamory is bringing about relationship anarchy (in a good way)

This disruption could represent the revival of ‘relationship anarchy’. Andie Nordgren, who coined the term and wrote The Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy, once explained the foundational beliefs of the movement. A core theory is that love is not a limited resource and shouldn’t have to be restricted to a monogamous couple. Love can exist for more than one person (at any time) and can span beyond romance into many different types of relationships such as friendships. All relationships are independent of one another and the distinctions that have been societally imposed on us take away the uniqueness of each individual and, in turn, the unique relationships that should exist because of it.

What we are seeing with the younger generation today are rapidly-evolving ideas of relationships. From platonic partnering to solo polyamory, relationship anarchy is truly in action as many continue to redefine the boundaries of friendships or the openness of love. I suggest that, like Willow and Gabrielle, we all try to fearlessly explore the very thing which impacts all our lives: our relationships. And how we make them work for us.