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“What Relationships Would You Want if You Believed They Were Possible?”

I listened to the latest episode of the Ezra Klein Show while driving last night then spent the second half of the drive thinking about it. So I guess I’d better tell you to go and listen to it. Klein interviews Rhaina Cohen, who is the author of the forthcoming book The Other Significant Others: Reimagining Life with Friendship at the Center (out Feb 13). They talked about loneliness, the changing definition of friendship (and family) throughout history, polyamory, co-parenting, and lots more.

How do we imagine many other possibilities for parenting, for aging, for intimacy, for friendship, for romance than what we have right now? Because the idea that what we have right now is a working norm and everything else should be understood as some deviation is wrong. It is factually untrue.

It is not a norm. It is a wild experiment in the history of human existence. We have never done this before for any period of time. It’s not how we raised children. It is not how we have met each other. It is not how we have lived together.

And it’s not working for a lot of people. So this is an experiment, and we should be trying more. And what Cohen’s book is about is these experiments, is looking at things people are already doing, and, in a sense, making clear that there are more relationships happening right now in the world around you, more forms of relationship, than you could possibly imagine.

Discussion  2 comments

Mat Leonard

Last year I had a rough bout of depression, largely due to moving to a new city and losing my close friendships. It took a lot of work on my part to get to a place where I had meaningful relationships again.

I have found that it is much harder to maintain friendships where I live now (Long Beach, CA). I lived 15 years in the Bay Area without a car. I got used to taking public transportation, biking, walking, etc., and also lived with or near my friends. In a dense city with public transportation like San Francisco, it's super easy to meet up with friends on a whim. I've found it similar in European cities I've visited. There are tons of cafes and plazas and parks, good public transportation and bike infrastructure, and urban design that fosters relationships.

Long Beach though is sprawling and the majority of my friends are 15-20 minutes away by car. Many of the places we could spend time together are far away for at least one of us. I don't have any friends in walking distance. I find driving distressing and try to avoid it as much as possible. I have a friend who could be my platonic life partner, but they live in LA, at least 45 minutes from where I live. Now most of my relationships are based around occasional planned events instead of just being with each other.

But I'm still working on it. Trying to be a whole and healthy person over here.

Phillip Platz
🏆 👍 👍  comment

This reminded me of a concept that Kurt Vonnegut returned to several times over various commencement speeches he made through the years. I was recently reading, "If This Isn't Nice, What Is?" — which I am almost certain I added to my to-read list because of this post.

One of the themes he keeps circling back to is that the prime driver of unhappy marriages is when one or both partners are relying on the other to be "too many people":

You should know that when a husband and wife fight, it may seem to be about money or sex or power.

But what they’re really yelling at each other about is loneliness. What they’re really saying is, “You’re not enough people.”


If you determine that that really is what they’ve been yelling at each other about, tell them to become more people for each other by joining a synthetic extended family — like the Hell’s Angels, perhaps, or the American Humanist Association, with headquarters in Amherst, New York — or the nearest church.

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