“First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” It’s an age old adage, a sing-songy rhyme which I grew up with, one which my peers and I would chant when one of us feigned interest in a boy. But heternormative relationships aren’t the only way marriage works.
While there are various types of relationships and forms of marriage out there, one type has garnered a lot of attention as of late: the platonic marriage. Why? Because it seems the next generation is seeing the benefit of loving and being. Of finding friendship, companionship, and meaning.
“Today some people are taking their friendships a giant step further,” a recent article on the New York Times explains. “They are platonically marrying each other, vowing to never leave each other’s side for better or for worse.”
“Couples in this type of arrangement often find compatibility and understand each other well, while also agreeing to the guidelines [of marriage] without being blinded by romantic feelings,” the article goes on. “Many of these relationships… begin because the couple wants their family life separate from their romantic lives, as they don’t find their romantic lives to be stable.”
But what is a platonic marriage? How does it really work? Here’s everything you need to know about this not-so-new union.
What is a platonic marriage?
Like platonic love, a platonic marriage is a relationship between two people that is friendship-based, i.e. platonic marriages can be between a man and a woman, two women, two men, or any other mutually agreed upon coupling. They are not sexual in nature. Rather, platonic marriages are aromantic, and rooted in companionship, faith, and trust.
“A platonic marriage is simply defined as a marriage that is non-sexual,” Kathy Nickerson — a marriage and couples counselor — writes.
Can any marriage be — or become — platonic?
The short answer is yes: Any marriage can be or become platonic. However, both parties must agree to this arrangement in order for it to work.
“Couples can decide from the outset that they want a platonic marriage… or the marriage can become this way over time,” Angela Amias — a licensed therapist — tells Scary Mommy. The reasons for this shift can vary. “When a sexual relationship diminishes or ends, but both partners can intentionally choose to honor their commitment to each other and retain an identity as a couple, even though they’re no longer sexually intimate. One partner may find come to identify as gay or queer but their commitment to their heteronormative relationship may remain and/or a queer man and woman can choose to marry and have sex with other partners, but still share an emotionally intimate life together.”
The circumstances do not matter. What matters is that the arrangement is agreed upon by both parties.
When did the concept of the platonic marriage begin?
While the origins of the platonic marriage are not well-documented, the concept has been around for some time. In the 15th century, Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino spoke of amor platonicus, or platonic love. “Plato believed that love should transcend the physical realm and be more spiritual in nature,” Amias explains. “The Catholic Church also embraced this idea, and the Josephite marriage is a Catholic version of the platonic marriage.”
How common are platonic marriages?
While there are not many statistics out there on platonic marriages, a dated but still relevant report from the National Health and Social Life Survey found that 2% of the married respondents reported having no sexual intimacy for one year. This means that, theoretically, 2% percent of all married couples are in (or soon may enter into) a platonic relationship. However, the exact numbers are unknown.
Why would two people who aren’t romantically involved want to get married, i.e. what are the benefits of platonic marriage?
Marriage comes with a lot of benefits. From love and companionship to family and financial security, there are numerous reasons why individuals may want to enter into a platonic marriage. “There are many benefits to a platonic marriage beyond the tax break,” Amias says.
“Platonic marriage provides a context for family that is intentional and committed,” she continues. “These marriages tend to have less jealousy and an enhanced sense of the kinds of connection that are often lost in ‘traditional’ marriages. Kinship, companionship, and commitment also make platonic marriage a more appealing option to asexual, aromantic, pansexual, and some polyamorous couples. And, for those who are considering transitioning their marriage into one that’s platonic, even though it didn’t start out that way, it provides an alternative to divorce for couples who wish to stay together without sex. Some couples find that making their marriage platonic can deepen their commitment and intimacy in new ways.”
Okay, but do platonic marriages really work?
If a couple understands the scope of the relationship and the “rules of engagement,” it isn’t only possible, it is probable. Why? Because platonic marriages are like any other marriage. It is a union between two people. Are there challenges? Absolutely. All relationships have difficulties. But, as Kimberly Perlin tells the New York Times, “[I]f both partners have clear understandings of what is expected, flexibility and communication skills to address conflicts that come up… who are any of us to say it won’t work?”