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The chapters of the book, each built around a close-up view of one friendship, turn those assumptions into questions: Is sex essential to partnership? Must two people be (or have been) a couple to make suitable co-parents? Why do we recognize the loss of some types of relationships as devastating but not others? The first chapter of the book asks questions that emerged from my friendship with M and which laid my path to this project: What exactly 'is' this kind of friendship, and what does it mean that people today find it difficult to understand it? The book starts with stories of people in their twenties and thirties, a period when many feel pressure to find a lasting romantic relationship if they want to unlock a full life. The chapters that follow explore how committed friendships bend and expand around the terrain of later life stages, from caregiving to retirement. The intimate portraits of friendships in this book are not a call to replace existing norms with a new imperative or a new hierarchy. Nor are they a how-to guide for platonic partnerships. Rather, these stories are an invitation to expand what options are open to us.

I've found that the unscripted nature of these friendships has advantages, and I write about those in this book, but I am not suggesting that everyone pawn their wedding rings, nor am I arguing that platonic partnerships are inherently superior to romantic relationships. Platonic partnerships aren't utopian, and romantic relationships can be tremendously fulfilling. But romantic coupledom isn't the setup that leads everyone to flourish, and for an increasing number of people—single, divorced, widowed, and more—a romantic relationship is not their life's centerpiece, whether by choice or circumstance. The question is whether people can pursue the relationships that matter to them with dignity and recognition by their society and legal system.

Like many people who have organized their lives around a romantic relationship and have encouraged others to do the same, Andrew's mom had good intentions. "I want both of my children to be happy," she told me. "To me, that emotional happiness would come from having a relationship"—a romantic relationship, she meant. Lisa was trying to nudge her son toward the form of happiness she knew well. But it's easy to mistake what is familiar for what is wise. Andrew and Toly found there are other relationships that could lead them to the same destination that Lisa wanted for her son, to a vista she hadn't known was there.


Platonic love's possibilities, then and now

The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can't understand. — Elena Ferrante

In 2017, five months after moving to Washington, D.C., I walked to the narrow back room of a bar called Lost & Found to celebrate the birthday of my roommate's best friend. The room was an industrial shoebox, its low ceiling, exposed brick wall, and concrete floor trapping the sounds of the crowded space and forcing us to shout. On the other side of the room was a person who, even from far away, I found magnetic. She didn't resemble the other D.C. young people at the bar on this Wednesday night, their blazers and button-downs not fitting quite right, like costumes for a performance of adulthood. In her pastel sleeveless blouse and snug pencil skirt, she had the posture of a dancer—if that dancer were also running a boardroom meeting—and expressive gestures. Later, I managed to pull her into conversation, and I noticed the clear diction and melody in her voice.

Slightly tipsy, I blurted out what could have been a pickup line: "You're a singer, aren't you?"

She was surprised I had detected that after only a few sentences of conversation. In fact, she sang as a soprano in two choirs.

Her name was M. Glasses of wine in hand, we talked about my amateur performing arts experience as a kid; how she came from a musical family and got an early start with piano and voice lessons. Our throats sore from raising our voices over the din of the bar, we left the party after a couple of hours and walked to the metro. During the four stops it took to get to our neighborhood, we discovered that we lived only a few blocks away from each other. After exchanging numbers, I left M off at her house and felt giddy as I walked to mine.

I quickly discovered that M has no chill. Or at least, she had no self-consciousness about showing enthusiasm. Soon after we parted that night, I got a voice memo from her. I would discover that M's voice memos were the audio equivalent of her emails to friends, smart and stream-of-consciousness. She had an ability to turn observations about the tiniest things into intriguing questions. Between us was a blizzard of ideas—from books and articles we were reading and details about the important people in our lives, toggling easily between the interpersonal, emotional, and intellectual.

Three days after we met, M invited me to a casual weekly gathering she held at her house that introduced me to what I would come to think of as her "extroverted introversion." M often brings friends together but might also opt to celebrate her birthday by taking herself to a movie, alone. At this gathering, she merged the two impulses by convening friends to talk over a meal she'd cooked for us and then, after lighting a candle, have us curl up in her living room and read our own books in silence.

It took us little time to introduce each other to the people and spaces that mattered to us. M became a regular enough presence at my office that she cracked jokes with the security guard. About a month after we met, M invited me to join her family at an outdoor jazz festival in D.C. We dropped by each other's homes with the effortless frequency that before then had only seemed possible on sitcoms.

This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book A Brief History of Intelligence: Evolution, AI, and the Five Breakthroughs That Made Our Brains by Max Solomon Bennett.

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