The Other Significant Others

I was introduced to this book via Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with the author Rhaina Cohen, an especially engaging episode because Ezra was passionately interested in the topic!

Here’s the gist of it: life is hard. It’s especially hard in the modern world, where it’s so much work just to keep running in place, much less to move forward. And it’s even harder for couples with children, single moms, the elderly, the alone, and people who don’t fit well into categories.

Putting deep friendships at the center of life

Based on years of original reporting, interviews, and social science research, each chapter in Cohen’s book describes unusual, special relationships in which people have found love and support through (platonic) friendships rather than, or in addition to, marriage. Sometimes, there’s a friend who can play an important, intimate role in another’s life or others’ lives that just makes everything so much better.

Ezra, an Opinion columnist and podcaster for the New York Times, and his wife Annie Lowrey, an economic policy reporter at The Atlantic, have two little boys—and busy lives. He was clearly especially drawn to Rhaina Cohen’s chapter on her and her husband’s significant relationship with another married couple with a child. The two couples chose to rent a house together in Washington, DC, to co-live their lives with mutual support.

To date, so far so good! And Klein was clearly (in the nicest way) envious of the benefits brought to the couples’ lives with the carefully orchestrated design of their co-habiting plan.

A myriad of examples

The wide array of stories of friendship/partnerships—no one in the book ever comes up with the perfect words to describe their relationship—is really interesting! We learn not just the how and why of each relationship but how cultural and legal norms flummox both societal understanding and equal rights under the law. Some states are starting to adopt new codes allowing partnership rights on a par with marriage, but few are defined to cover the myriad of friendships depicted in the book.

Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Recommended!