The Other Significant Others by Rhaina Cohen

The Other Significant Others is an exploration of long-term platonic relationships in their various forms.

This notepad was tagged with: Books

This notepad was written on March 25, 2024.

There are 1001 words in this notepad, and it will probably take you less than 6 minutes to read it.


she doesn’t make a lot of normative claims, instead is more focused on presenting possibility

  • she says that we could benefit from de-centering romance in our lives and that accepting that isn’t for everyone and that by dignifying those relationships socially and legally it will help people be happier and more accepted
  • however she doesn’t make any claims about romance or platonic relationships (yet at least)
  • in some ways what does it matter that these platonic relationships are non-romantic when they are functionally the same?
  • she wants to show that “todays discrete categories and hierarchies are neither innate nor universal” but she doesn’t want to say how we should organize it and maybe leave it to ourselves? which i don’t necessarily agree with, i think we can make normative claims

one core theme is the importance of social recognition both legal and social

  • she mentions families and friends facing legal issues in having parental rights, being in the hospital together/making medical decisions, etc
    • institutions like schools, hospitals, etc potentially have power to create better policies that focus on chosen family rather than blood relations
  • she does well to discuss policy and actual somewhat realistic goals and solutions
  • lacking mutually shared/understood language/terminology to describe the relationships and their importance led to people feeling frustrated and isolated or underestimated

does she adequately tackle “reimagining life with friendship at the center”?

  • this is the subtitle of the book but i felt like this was addressed in only roundabout ways
  • a lot of the friendships explored are platonic relationships that are equal or greater to their romantic relationships
    • it seems like some of the platonic life partner talk is drop in replacement for romantic relationships
    • she talks about platonic relations and it seems like she moralizing them and saying that platonic relationships can be as committed as romantic with same amounts of love and fulfillment but that shouldn’t matter we don’t need to compare to make them equal
    • seems kind of like the soulmate trope and along the saying of your soulmate doesn’t have to be your spouse
      • we need to resist this narrative and stay away from language of soulmates like having multiple soulmates doesn’t really stick to the mythology anymore and talks too much of predestiny
      • The author does bring up situations where they have multiple very deep friendships so that’s good and but I think discerning reader can come away with the idea
  • dyads and triads seemed like the most common relationship structures (romantic partner + deep friend)
    • this makes sense because network possibilities are less complex
    • it seems like the most apt description or metaphor for it is family not polycule or anything else—what is the difference between community and family?
  • what about having multiple types of relationships all with varying depths to sustain you?
    • i think we should always be making new friends and that varying depths or mono-role friends are completely fine

in hearing how people interviewed talk about it, it seems like polyamory has a PR problem

  • sometimes it just doesn’t feel right because people are still ingrained to want one romantic partner but sometimes the person might have a platonic life partner or not feel like they have to specifically have multiple partners (but maybe they’re okay with your partner having other partners)
  • there needs to be more public outreach about polyamory not necessarily being romantic, it is just about open and honest love in whatever form that may be

she demonstrates a great case in the historical record for separating sex and romance/love

  • relationships being phrased in terms of their relation to sex (having it or not) is a contemporary phenomenon and says something about our culture
  • “wedded brothers” and passionate, intimate same-sex friendships that have more value than marriage
  • we should be careful about idealizing some of the social structures of the past and only taking the good parts because much of it was rooted in homophobia and misogyny

she talks about the problems with relying on your romantic partner for everything and the benefits of diversifying your support network

  • you should try to get comfortable asking more of your close friends and partners
  • in many cases people felt like they could give more into their romantic partnerships in having time/space to blow off steam or solution problems with others other than their romantic partner
    • some might not like the idea of their partner going to others before them but there’s a difference in doing it because they don’t want to upset their partner vs engaging with people who will understand better and be able to give better advice
    • people need to set boundaries with their partners and friends in order to discuss the priority/topics in which they may or may not be consulted on so that people don’t feel some type of way about it

“love is infinite time is not” and “more people means more moving parts”

  • there can be trouble in balancing multiple deep relationships but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile
  • to me this explains a lot of people not engaging/entertaining polyamory because we don’t have unlimited social energy
    • however i think that people prematurely shut off thinking about polyamory because its easier to just get your needs met with one person without having to try something beyond the default that may be higher energy input but could potentially have a higher payoff as well

“love and sex don’t always follow the same track. But these drives can reinforce each other”

  • interplay of independent systems exerting influence on each other
  • “love and lust are associated with different chemical pathways in the brain”
  • sex is only lightly discussed in this book as she points out that it just non-sexual relationships took up an entire book and that the scope would have been too large

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