The Other Significant Others

Reimagining Life with Friendship at the Center

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Pub Date 13 Feb 2024 | Archive Date 27 Feb 2024



"An arresting work of compassion and insight." ―Lori Gottlieb
"I loved [The Other Significant Others] and recommend it to everybody." —Ezra Klein
"I feel like I've been waiting for this book for my entire adult life." ―Anne Helen Petersen

Why do we assume romantic relationships are more important than friendships? What do we lose when we expect a spouse to meet all our needs? And what can we learn about commitment, love, and family from people who put deep friendship at the center of their lives?

In The Other Significant Others, NPR's Rhaina Cohen invites us into the lives of people who have defied convention by choosing a friend as a life partner—these are friends who are home co-owners, co-parents or each other’s caregivers. Their riveting stories unsettle widespread assumptions about relationships, including the idea that sex is a defining feature of partnership and that people who raise kids together should be in a romantic relationship. Platonic partners from different walks of life—spanning age and religion, gender and sexuality and more—reveal how freeing and challenging it can be to embrace a relationship model that society doesn't recognize. And they show that orienting your world around friends isn't limited to daydreams and episodes of The Golden Girls, but actually possible in real life.

Based on years of original reporting and striking social science research, Cohen argues that we undermine romantic relationships by expecting too much of them, while we diminish friendships by expecting too little of them. She traces how, throughout history, our society hasn’t always fixated on marriage as the greatest source of meaning, or even love. At a time when many Americans are spending large stretches of their lives single, widowed or divorced, or feeling the effects of the "loneliness epidemic," Cohen insists that we recognize the many forms of profound connection that can anchor our lives. A rousing and incisive book, The Other Significant Others challenges us to ask what we want from our relationships—not just what we’re supposed to want—and transforms how we define a fulfilling life.


"An arresting work of compassion and insight." ―Lori Gottlieb
"I loved [The Other Significant Others] and recommend it to everybody." —Ezra Klein
"I feel like I've been waiting for...

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ISBN 9781250280916
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Featured Reviews


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Yes, yes, YES! This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be! A book about all kinds of relationships that can make a person whole! I am a happily married woman, with a bunch of kids, a home, (what feels like a million, but is really 5) pets, car payments, and a bunch of bills....but I am surrounded by so many others, some in similar relationships, some in situationships, some in committed relationships with a partner, some who are single...and all of us are such wonderful friends. The bottom line is that there are so many ways to be fulfilled and so many ways to have significant others, being a half of a married whole isn't the only way to feel this way through life.
This book weaves it all together with research, stories, and a way that leaves you seeing that your way isn't the only way to be happy, their way isn't the only way to be happy, and there are so many different ways to have support in friendships.

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I really enjoyed this book.

I loved to learn about how romantic love is a modern notion....where its all encompassing and one person becomes your everything.

I loved all of the stories from real people who have focused on friends as 'their person". This person can be a friend, a partner, a roommate...and this person is like another extension of yourself. Without the sex.

yet when an emergency happens, rights are denied or people make assumptions thinking that friends are in a romantic relationship.

How the media, the laws, and government does not recognize platonic relationships outside of marriage.

I cried many times throughout the stories. The deep love and admiration each friendship pair has for each other is beautiful.

I hope that the laws are changed to include more partnerships that are not marriage material.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC!

This is such an important read and a useful book on this topic.

We are conditioned to rely on our partners for everything and to find a partner at all costs and it’s not healthy for us or our eventual partners. This advice will be useful in my relationships.

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This is well researched and written in a beautiful way. It explores relationships we have with others besides the one you might think of at first. I loved it! Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. Five stars!

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This book is meant to explore how friendships can be just as meaningful and important as romantic relationships. It’s interesting to learn how they may still be considered less than or disenfranchised due to various concerns. Considering we live in a “loneliness epidemic” this book feels especially poignant now.

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I Voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced copy of this book. All Thoughts and opinions are my own.
This book was everything I hoped for and more. It really touched on exploration of relationship in so many ways.

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I have a couple girlfriends that I consider to be sisters. Their kids are my nieces and nephews. They are an extension of me. That’s what made this book so interesting. I felt like I was reading about different parts of my life, finally able to “define” my feelings and views about these people. It was very refreshing to read the author’s views on the subject. This book was well written, and I loved the book enough that I plan to give a copy to my girlfriends.

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ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. The world has changed - long gone are the times where everyone must marry, have kids, and follow the same old path. There are infinite ways to live a cool, fun, unique life without any of the out-dated standard checklists of the 1950's. And it's not weird anymore. It's common and normal among the new generations. I'm so, so, so happy the world has changed in these ways, and love that this book celebrates that!!

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Very interesting book! I really enjoyed the themes it explored and how it showcased the many types of connections people can have.

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In The Other Significant Others, NPR's Rhaina Cohen invites us into the lives of people who have defied convention by choosing a friend as a life partner―these are friends who are home co-owners, co-parents or each other’s caregivers. Their riveting stories unsettle widespread assumptions about relationships, including the idea that sex is a defining feature of partnership and that people who raise kids together should be in a romantic relationship. Platonic partners from different walks of life―spanning age and religion, gender and sexuality and more―reveal how freeing and challenging it can be to embrace a relationship model that society doesn't recognize. And they show that orienting your world around friends isn't limited to daydreams and episodes of The Golden Girls, but actually possible in real life.

This book!! what a great read. 10 out of 10 Hit me to the core. So much information it took me a minute to digest and be able to reread it and recommend to everyone! Well done!

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For years, I’ve seen the consequences of romantic relationships taking priority in both real life and the fictional world, and have been deconstructing it on my own mostly. Then comes The Other Signifiant Others and it deconstructs the idea a lot further than I have so far, with Rhania Cohen’s years of research and interviews to back it up. And it was exactly the kind of book I needed in more ways than one.

The book talks about the history of platonic love and how it’s been legally seen in the past and present, how romantic love took more priority, as well as how to define partnership, manhood and family, and the long term consequences of said platonic bonds, both in the relationships and in a legal sense. Each chapter features one or two stories of significant friendships that are deeper than what is seen as a typical friendship, but there’s no romantic or sexual attraction involved. It dives into the origin of the friendship, how it developed, the challenges they faced from inside and outside the friendship, as well as some takeaway lessons for the rest of us. Near the end of the book, Cohen goes into how these bonds are seen as throwaway ones in the eyes of the law, favoring blood relations and romance, which makes us think about the relationship hierarchy as it’s currently constructed, as in what makes a relationship a priority. While Cohen does interject her own experiences throughout to give it a personal touch, she mostly stays a third party, reporting on other people’s experiences, data, and other research. In the kindle version, the last 29% of the book is purely notes, which shows how well researched this was.

This isn’t a book that you read in one sitting. It’s something you absorb and reflect on. I would usually read a chapter or two and think about each of the topics, using whatever I highlighted dozens of quotes (it might be over 100) throughout my kindle to go back to. This would be a great book to read with others and chat about, I’m really hoping for study guides and sheets for this one, either by the publisher, author, or from third parties.

As a Young Adult author, I’m expected to put my teenage protagonists in a romantic relationship as proof they can love others, have emotions, are maturing into adults, with a default assumption that friendship is “lesser than” a romance. I’m so glad books like this exist to back up my claim that friendships can be just as significant as a romance in terms of filling that idea of ability to love, and I love it.

If you’re looking for a book that expands on what a platonic relationship can be and don’t mind a lot of notes, you’ll enjoy this one, especially if you can find someone to read it with you.
*I received an ARC of the audiobook from Netgalley and MacMillian. All opinions are my own.*

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The Other Significant Others was recommended for me on NetGalley and I’m not quite sure why, because I’ve never read an ARC remotely close to something like this before. But gosh am I glad I clicked that Read Now button.

The Other Significant Others is an exploration of long-term platonic relationships in their various forms. The book weaves historical information and social scientific data about friendship, its place in society and importance to human well-being, through the stories of eight different contemporary friendships. With no roadmap to follow (and no contemporary language to describe them) these friendship stories absolutely fascinated me, not just because the people involved were bucking societal norms but because they were living life with such intentionality. The friendships that are discussed are not your run of the mill besties. These people have a level of commitment to each other that puts them in the life partner category.

I really appreciated the diversity of relationships shown in this book. We see queer-straight pairings, straight-straight pairings, same gender and opposite gender pairings, age gaps, people brought together by a desire to platonically co-parent, and people brought together by the challenges of being older and single. Sometimes these individuals also had romantic partners, sometimes they did not. The author resists the urge (or skates it, depending on your view) to label these relationships as queer, instead letting the people involved define themselves. Same goes for the parts of the book that discuss platonic partnerships throughout history; the author does not use modern language and concept to define historical relationships.

There were many themes in The Other Significant Others that struck a chord for me. Too many to talk about in depth in a review. Of note was the concept that strong friendships can make for healthier romantic partnerships, by scrapping the idea that your romantic partner should be your everything. I also really enjoyed seeing the variety of ways physical affection was incorporated into these relationships and the ways in which attitudes about physical affection in platonic relationships and the importance of the nuclear family are distinctly a modern, Western cultural ideal that is rooted in patriarchy and anti-immigrant sentiments. The book also talks about “emotional gold digging” and the emotional labor that women often bear because men are socialized to only expect deep emotional connection in romantic partnerships and not friendships.

The earlier parts of the book really focus on exploring the multitude of ways that platonic partnerships add richness and happiness to life. The latter part has this as well, but really focuses on the legal and societal hurdles that platonic partnerships face and in that regard gets a little heavy. There is a chapter on grief that that shows a platonic relationship where one person is diagnosed with (and ultimately dies from) cancer, so please tread lightly if that is a trigger for you.

The book is very America/Canada centric. It is also long. As much as I enjoyed reading it, I do feel it could have been edited down without losing the salient points and stories. The last 30% of the book is acknowledgments, end notes, and a bibliography, so keep that in mind if you balk at the amount of time your e-reader tells you it will take to read this book.

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I really enjoyed the deep dive into unconventional friendships. The concept of the chosen family (particularly in the LGBTQ community) is well-known; that was explored in this title, but the friendship I found most compelling was the one between the straight man and the gay man who chose to live celibate due to his religious beliefs. Recommended to increase empathy for others.

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My partner kept asking if I was sick or crying because this book just kept me so emotionally raw the whole way through. As a person with a number of deep friendships, a queer person who came out into a world that didn’t have images that I could connect to of possible queer adulthoods, and someone who is both aromantic and polyamorous, I think a lot about what different relationship structures can offer and what their is actual cultural space for. Reading this book didn’t offer me everything I dreamed of but is a really nice pairing with Mia birdsong’s how we show up, and is what I think many people wanted Ann friedman/Aminatou Sow’s Big Friendship to be.

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Rhaina Cohen's "The Other Significant Others" shares well-researched stories about how close friends forged and sustained their relationships -- and it absolutely opened my heart and mind. As I read this book, I realized just how deeply messages about the hierarchy of relationships (partner/spouse/nuclear family first, then friendships) have seeped into my own life. For me, this is the best kind of writing: generous and transformative.

Cohen's discussion of how friendships between men and between women have changed from antiquity and the early modern period to the Victorian era and the present day is one of the most interesting sections of the book; I have often wondered why closeness between friends could encompass writing sentimental poetry and walking together with arms entwined in the late 19th century but not 100 years later. It is liberating to learn that there is a long history of devotion, care, and love between friends and that there have always been different ways of creating relationships in the world.

I cannot wait to share and discuss this book with my closest friends when it is published and I am thankful to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the opportunity to read and review it.

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This insightful exploration delves into the evolving dynamics of friendship across history, providing a genuine perspective on its enduring value.

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A beautiful look at friendships people totally devoted to each other someone they travel through life with.These friendships are purely platonic but as connected as real as any marriage without the sexual aspect.I was moved by each relationship really enjoyed learning about the couples in this book.their unique involvement.#netgalley #st.martins

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This was an interesting read.

It took turns I wasn’t expecting but I think it was a beautifully written way of telling a story of how physical, emotional and relationships/friendships can be so so important to everyone.

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Rhaina Cohen’s book THE OTHER SIGNIFICANT OTHERS is an interesting review of significant non-romantic relationships. It explores all kinds of relationships and comments on how “best friendships” are not as socially accepted as they are personally valued and why that is.

I loved the stories, pop culture references and social science of the book.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC.

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Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a research paper for a communications class on how to maintain a long-distance friendship and, like Cohen, found the majority of the research available was about romantic relationships instead of friendships. So I loved this book that showcased so many incredible friendship situations and how those relationships were important and prioritized in life. I took notes on the parts and quotes that resonated most with me that I'll go back to as I reflect on my friendships and how I will continue to prioritize those relationships in life.

Thank you for providing me an advance ebook copy!

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This was a great, really informative read. I have always been someone who really valued friendship above family, and often above romantic partnerships as well, so it was really interesting to read about multiple groups of people, some who lived with their close friends, some who prioritized their friendship and eschewed romantic relationships, some who became caregivers for each other… it was really inspiring and lovely, and a great reminder of the ways that deep connection can occur, whether people are dating or married or what. The book ends with an analysis of the types of needs these pairs or triads have and the legal and societal reforms that they would benefit from, and it was genuinely really thought-provoking as well as very heartfelt and well-researched.

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THE OTHER SIGNIFICANT OTHERS by Rhaina Cohen is a life-changing read. Releasing some of the tremendous burden on romantic relationships and commitments to carry our entire emotional and social needs, this book offers a powerful and convincing case for cherishing our friendships new and old, with stories about ones who have done just that, inspiring me to reach out to my own friends new and old, giving it the same respect and intelligence that Cohen advocates for convincingly and memorably. A wonderful book! I received a copy of this book and these thoughts are my own, unbiased opinions.

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