Rhaina was happily married when she met her 'soulmate' at a party.

When Rhaina Cohen started a relationship with her now-husband at the age of 22, she thought she’d made a trade. In exchange for a successful, long-term romantic partnership, she would never again experience the sensation of falling in love.

Then, two and a half years later, she met 'M'. 

Speaking to Mamamia's No Filter podcast, the American journalist and author describes the night she and M were introduced at a party in Washington D.C. There was instant chemistry, a giddiness, and almost-flirtatious banter. Within days, they saw each other again and exchanged lengthy voice messages. Within weeks, they were inseparable.

It was love, Cohen said. But not in the standard, romantic sense.

"At the time, when this was unfolding, it felt like the way that I fell in love with my husband, [except there wasn’t] a sexual desire component to it. It was sort of like infatuation and thrill and butterflies," she said. "And so I was trying to wrap my mind around, 'Why is it that I was told that this feeling can only happen within romance? Because I'm experiencing it in friendship right now.'"

What evolved between her and M was a relationship of enormous significance. One for which there isn’t a widely accepted term. It wasn't a romantic relationship, but "best friend" didn’t seem to cut it either. Not given the frequency of contact, the level of intimacy, the reliance on each other, the support, nurturing, and love.

And so Cohen set out to explore what it means to have a serious platonic partnership — or, as she and M called theirs, a 'romantic friendship'. The result is The Other Significant Others, a book that tells the stories of people who have reimagined life with friendship at the centre.


There's Andrew and Toly, best friends since high school, who studied together, lived and worked together. The men, now in their 30s, have struggled to find partners willing to accept the closeness of their friendship. And so, they've chosen to present themselves as non-monogamous.

"Not because they want to have multiple romantic partners," Rhaina explained. "But because they think that the only way to find a romantic partner who is okay with somebody else being equal to or maybe even above them in certain decisions, would be [to find] people who are OK with the framework of non-monogamy."

Watch: When you've been friends so long. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

There's Tilly and Kami, friends who met in military school when Kami was a single mother, studying and working. Ever since, Tilly has served as one of the primary caregivers for Kami's children, one of whom has complex disabilities. Such is the strength of their relationship, that Kami warned prospective romantic partners that they would never be her number one: "[Tilly] was there before you and she's going to be there after you," Kami told them.


"Tilly likes to use this word: 'framily', which is a portmanteau of friends and family," Cohen said. "Tilly's caregiving of the kids is a big part of how she has shown up as a friend for Kami."

There's Natasha and Linda, coworkers who became co-parents. When Natasha, aged in her mid-30s, conceived a child via an anonymous sperm donor, Linda stepped up to be a birth coach and support her friend through the challenges of single motherhood. They all became so close, that Natasha moved into Linda's condo building, and each became integral to the other's daily routine. 

"Natasha worked to get Linda legal recognition [as a parent], which they were able to do," Cohen said. "They created a precedent in Canada, where they live. But it was not a straightforward process, because they're not romantic partners and the law there, and in other countries too, really assumes there is going to be a romantic relationship between the parents."

In a society that elevates romantic relationships as the key to a fulfilled and meaningful life, Cohen writes, strong platonic love can be a "provocation".

"I think it is so hard for people to wrap their minds around a commitment that is not tethered to sex in some way," she said.

It hasn't always been like this. There's substantial historical precedent for platonic partnerships. But Cohen argues two main factors have intervened.


One: A wide cultural understanding of homosexuality as an identity emerged around the turn of the 20th Century, and with it came the stigmatisation of same-sex relationships. Prior to this, Cohen said, "There was a lot more latitude to have physical and emotional intimacy and have it not be read as sexual."

Two: The transformation of marriage as a practical or economic arrangement into one that’s based on love and personal fulfilment. "That requires a level of time, investment, and emotional connection that wasn't there before. And it also probably leaves less space for other kinds of close connections in your life," Cohen said.

Listen: What If Your Best Friend Was Your Soulmate? Post continues after podcast.

"So with both of those together, you can see this decline in what friendship has meant and what we expect of it," she said.

Couples like those in her book are inverting that hierarchy. 

They're devoting themselves to each other, caring for each other in old age, even living together and raising children together. They've created celebrations around their anniversaries, ceremonies to acknowledge their commitment, and rituals to commemorate their grief. They are nurturing the profound connection and love they share, just as romantic couples do. Yet while their partnerships have many of the same emotional, practical and psychological benefits as those of romantic couples, they rarely enjoy the same recognition or social legitimacy.


Cohen believes that is changing. She points to the institutional recognition of the lack of connection in our communities — the UK has a Ministry for Loneliness and, in 2023, the US Surgeon General declared an "epidemic of loneliness and isolation", noting that "lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily".

"I do think we are part of a moment, or maybe something that will surpass a moment be a wave of change," Cohen said. 

She hopes her book can serve as inspiration for strengthening the other significant relationships in our lives, and open minds to alternative definitions of partnership.

"I've gotten a lot of feedback from readers that felt like they were seen [by the book], or that they could start conversations with friends that they wouldn't have otherwise, even if it's as something as simple as articulating how much the friend means to them, how much they love the friend," she said.

"And I'm hearing ways that people are tangibly changing their lives to centre more around friendship, and that they [can now] explain what friendship means to them when they might not have felt understood previously."

"I'm hopeful."

Feature Image: Rhaina Cohen (@rhainacohen)

You can listen to the full episode of No Filter here. 

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