What is a platonic life partnership? These couples are breaking societal relationship norms

April Lexi Lee and Renee Wong have been best friends since they were 12. After supporting each other through the highs and lows of life, school and boyfriends, they took their relationship to the next level by becoming platonic life partners.

When Lee, 24, moved from Singapore to Los Angeles for college, the best friends became long-distance but remained emotionally strong. And as the pandemic hit and they both graduated, they felt this "gravitation" toward each other.

"We work so well together. We're such great partners and support each other and love each other so much. We never see each other leaving each other," Lee explains. "So why is this not a stable foundation to start life and start a family and all those things? Why is that not as stable, even more stable, than a traditional, romantic marriage?"

Then it clicked. Wong moved to the United States to become Lee's platonic life partner.

"I wasn't even interested in marriage to begin with – neither of us were," Lee says. "But then with each other, we suddenly saw the future and we were like: 'This fits. I would do this with you.' "

She describes the partnership as "a deep platonic love and also a commitment to each other, like marriage, where we are trying to build the next step for our lives together." This includes things that "typically married couples would do" like starting a family and having a joint bank account to achieve their goals of buying a house and more.

April Lexi Lee (right) with her platonic life partner, Renee.
April Lexi Lee (right) with her platonic life partner, Renee.

Why people choose platonic life partnerships

For Jay Guercio, 24, a platonic life partnership "just made sense" after realizing how much her life goals aligned with those of her best friend, Krystle, whom she first met in 2012 and had filled her life with "companionship, love, laughter and adventure."

"We want to raise kids the same way. We have the same ideas as what finances should look like. We are already symbiotic in how we work," she said. "There's no reason to keep on waiting to hopefully find a partner who is going to align with all those things that also happens to be romantic and/or sexual in nature when it just made sense to start building the life that we wanted to live together."

Now they raise their adopted son together after getting platonically married in November 2020.

Guercio describes a platonic partnership as "a committed relationship to someone that doesn't involve romance or sex."

Cyndi Darnell, a certified clinical sexologist, therapist and couples counselor, says platonic partnerships can "absolutely" be as successful as a traditional marriage, because "partnership is based on shared values."

"If you want to create a partnership based on values that are meaningful to you as individuals ... I actually think that that's a better model than the notion of romance, which we know is fickle," she says. "To rely on something as unreliable as romance for a contract as heavy as co-parenting and marriage seems to be why these things seem to be diametrically opposed on some level."

Historically, marriage also hasn't been about love, she points out.

"When we think about the origins of marriage, it was never about love. And it was certainly never about romance. It was about asset management."

More: 'I’m in such a deep hole,' and my marriage is suffering. What should I do?

More: Why marriage is still a sexist institution – and what we can do about it

Guercio agrees partnerships like her own are centered on "mutual benefit."

"It's about purposefully deciding to live the life that you want to live together because those things align. It's not just getting into a committed relationship with someone because you have sexual feelings."

Darnell doesn't view this as a bad route.

"If anything, I actually think it's a much more honest way of looking at marriage. And that's not to say that romance is dead. It's not," she says. But she feels romance ideals are "spoon-fed" to us from a young age, like finding "the one," and they can influence our outlook.

"It's very driven into our culture that (romance) is aspirational and friendship is considered somehow less valuable, even though for a lot of us our friendships last longer than our sexual partnerships."

She mostly sees two groups of people embracing platonic partnerships.

"The boomer generation, who are coming out of perhaps second and third marriages, many of them are saying, 'I don't want to go back into a traditional marriage. I want companionship but I don't want to traditional values of a marriage,' " she says. "And then a lot of youngsters who have grown up perhaps in single-parent families, who don't necessarily believe the romance story because of what they've seen in their lives, they're also saying: 'I can make my own rules. I can make my own decisions about what kind of relationship structure I want to have.' "

And while a typical marriage may still work for some, for those who don't find it to be a fit, "this revolution is great," Darnell says. "Because it gives us more freedom to reflect on our relationship values and ask ourselves: 'What matters to me? What kind of relationship do I want to be in?' And romantic love, sexual love doesn't have to be part of them."

That's why it works for Lee and her partner.

"We feel like romantic love is not at the top of the hierarchy of love," Lee says. "We don't feel like romantic love is the most even stable or fulfilling, to build a life upon and we feel that way for each other with this deep platonic love that we have."

No, we're 'not dating each other'

One of the biggest misconceptions platonic partners face is people thinking that the two are romantically involved, or that one will eventually leave the other for a romantic partner. But Lee made it clear that while she and Wong "are not dating each other," that doesn't mean they'd leave for someone else.

"(People's) assumptions that one of us are going to find a guy and then get married to them and leave the other someday – that itself is based on the assumption that romantic love is greater than platonic love and is more important, and that's not the way that we view love."

Lee and her partner have their own dating lives.

"People that we do date know that we are a package deal and also life partners," she says. "I do make it known really early on that I'm not dating with the angle of marriage. And that's not to say that I don't want something long-term or consistent. I can still build deep, emotional and intimate relationships, romantic relationships, but not have to share my whole life with them."

Guercio has also experienced people thinking her marriage is going to end once she "falls in love with someone."

"That really bothers me," she says. "People think that this was a temporary solution or something I settled for, and this is absolutely not something I settled for."

Stigma surrounding platonic life partnerships

Darnell says that perhaps the biggest risk in platonic partnerships is "the stigma that you have to tolerate from friends and family saying your relationship choices are not as valid."

That may pressure partners to hide the specifics of their relationship, which is the route Guercio took.

"We didn't tell anyone we were platonic when we first got married ... because there was this fear that people wouldn't take us seriously," she says. "There was a fear that people would think that it was all going to crash and burn. And honestly, I think our marriage is working out better than any other marriage I've seen in its first year."

Darnell says the idea of a platonic relationship being "weird" or "strange" has to do with our discomfort at the fact that relationships are living things that can change and have different meanings for different people.

"There's a bazillion definitions of love, and there's a bazillion different ways that we can look at love," she says. Even married or long-term couples who started off in a "hot and heavy" sexual relationship may find that it dwindles to be focused more on companionship, she adds.

When Guercio's relationship went viral on TikTok, she discovered a wide range of reactions. Some have expressed confusion, while others describe her videos as their "comfort account."

"Seeing us live the life that they want to live gives them so much security and visibility and validation, so it's really wonderful," she says.

Lee's relationship has also gained attention on TikTok for breaking societal norms.

"Your life partner and your lover don't have to be the same person," Lee says. "You won't be the social norm, but that's OK. You can still like choose whatever relationship makes you the most fulfilled or secure. ... Keep an open mind outside of what society has been telling you is the default next step. It doesn't have to be."

Other gender-pairing partnerships like @ollierose_'s platonic marriage with her husband have made waves. She has more than 1.2 million followers who tune in to learn more about her family.

Darnell sees platonic marriages gaining more traction in the future.

"It is a new thing that's happening, the platonic marriage, but my prediction is that it's going to become more popular as people start recognizing relationships are what you make of them."

More: 'How can I understand I don't have to sleep with someone for them to like me? I keep forgetting.'

More: What people are getting wrong about asexuality (a lot)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Platonic relationships aren't just for friends. They can be for life.