Thinking in terms of life partnerships vs. friendships (Part 1)

For my submission to the June 2022 Carnival of Aces (on the theme “Throwback” hosted by Aspec of Stardust) I will be responding to a Carnival of Aces topic from almost 11 years ago – the August 2011 carnival on the theme “Relationships” hosted at genderqueer.me (which may have been called Neutrois Nonsense at the time). Here are the links to the call for submissions and the roundup for that theme.

While writing this, I realized that this theme also appeared on the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, and tangentially appeared in a few other Carnival of Aces themes, which made me add more to the post and then I decided to split the post up into Part 1 (this post) and Part 2 (link here).


Thinking in terms of life partnerships vs. friendships

As opposed to romantic relationships (or QPRs) vs. friendships

In much of aromantic discourse, a dichotomy has been presented between “romantic relationships” and “friendships”. Nowadays, it has evolved into a trichotomy that also includes “queerplatonic relationships”. In this post, I want to think about a different distinction – that between “life partnerships” and “friendships”. (Important caveat: “life partnerships” and “friendships” need not be mutually exclusive. More on this later.)

Friendship

Friendship can encompass a LOT. I will quote Mia, who put it very well in this comment:

You can have a best friend(s), close friends, the not-so-close-but-still friends, the people like co-workers who you consider friends within a certain context but probably wouldn’t maintain contact with if you left that context, the acquaintances with “friend potential” that’s dependent on being in the same places long enough to make a certain level of connection… not to mention uses like Facebook friends, and just the general fact that people have different standards for who they consider their friends.

A variety of relationships in your life can qualify as friendship. But here, I will attempt to generalize and say you have a friendship with somebody if you hang out sometimes, spend time together for fun in any context, have conversations on topics you enjoy, help each other out with life stuff, and/or reach out to each other for advice on life stuff. This definition doesn’t separate “friend” from any other relationship. For example, you can be “friends” with your parents if you hang out with them and do fun stuff with them, if you share details about your life with them, and they help you out with life (hopefully without being overbearing). Or you might not be friends with your parents if you only ever see them in family contexts and tend to keep your life mostly separate. (This is just how I’m defining the term for this post; I am not actually advocating adoption of this usage.)

Partnership

Partnership can also encompass a lot. For example, there are life partnerships, and business partnerships, travel buddy partnerships, being jointly responsible for something, being co-owners of something, or co-renters, and so on.

For the purposes of this post, I will for the most part talk about “life partnerships” and make a few references to other kinds. Note that by “life partnership” I don’t mean a partnership for life; I mean a partnership regarding life-related stuff (as in stuff related to daily-life).

Similarities and Differences

Below, I will discuss a few elements that MAY set life partnerships apart from friendships.

Commitment and prioritization: While friendships can involve some level of commitment (e.g. committing to game night every Saturday), life partnerships will typically involve some kind of verbal (or written and signed, in the case of marriage) commitment. This could be regarding the duration of the partnership, regarding sharing resources (e.g. living space, finances, etc.), regarding communication within the partnership, regarding the exclusivity of the partnership, regarding the level of prioritization of each other, and so on. The commitment could be explicit or implicit. For example, many partnerships start with one person asking the other person to commit to them, but they might not discuss the details of the commitment and could potentially have different sets of expectations as a result. This is why it is important to “DTR” (define the relationship partnership). A life partnership would typically be the relationship one prioritizes above other relationships (with the potential exception of one’s children I suppose), although I can think of instances in which people might prioritize their family of origin over their life partner; but I think it would be very rare for one’s life partner to be at a lower level of priority than one’s friend(s). The prioritization could be in the form of spending a lot of time with each other, whether in-person, or online, or over the phone. It could be in form of going to help in times of crisis; i.e, being each other’s “go-to” person or emergency contact. It involves things like taking off from work when your partner has an emergency, etc.

Availability to each other: The members in a life partnership are likely to be more available to each other than to anyone else. This could be because they already live together, or at the very least spend a lot of time together. When one partner needs something, the other will typically make time for them. There may be fewer boundaries regarding when it’s okay to contact the other person for help or just to discuss the logistics of the partnership. The nature of the partnership is likely to require frequent communication (e.g. for those who live together, discussing paying the rent, or logistics or fixing maintenance issues, and so on).

Level of familiarity in interactions: Very close friends who remain close throughout life are likely to maintain a high level of familiarity with each other. But I think there are two kinds of familiarity: comfort level with each other and being in the know with each other. With really good friends with whom you’re completely comfortable, you might still have to do “catching up” when you’re interacting after a long time. But a life partner is likely to be “caught up” on your life already.

Expectation of disclosure: There is a greater expectation of disclosure of certain aspects of oneself before entering into a life partnership (e.g. their ace or aro or trans identity, whether they expect to move geographically in the near future, whether they have a mental health disorder, etc.). There has been debate regarding when it is appropriate to disclose (one of the August 2011 submissions discussed this), but of course, every individual will have a different comfort level with disclosure. With friends, there typically is not such a strong expectation of disclosure. Usually, whether you disclose will depend on how close you are with that particular friend and how comfortable you feel sharing with them; but disclosing may be less essential to continue the friendship.

Willingness to compromise: Any form of partnership (including other kinds of partnerships like business partnerships) will require compromise. I’m pretty sure it’s not possible to find a partner with whom you align 100% and never have to compromise unless you found a way to clone yourself. Conflict can arise in all kinds of relationships; and effort is required to work through all of those conflicts. With friendships, how much effort one is willing to put in to work through the conflict will depend on a variety of factors such as closeness of the friendship, the importance of the friendship, etc. Presumably one would have a higher degree of willingness to work through the problems in a partnership. Or, it’s very likely that one might discover that they are not all that willing to make the partnership “work” and they might choose to dissolve that partnership.

Functioning as a unit: This is also true of any form of partnership, because the point of forming any kind of partnership is to agree to become jointly responsible for something and to make certain decisions as a unit. Friendships need not involve any kind of functioning as a unit, unless there is some kind of partnership involved (e.g. starting a babysitters club together). But in the case of life partnership, the functioning as a unit extends to big life decisions such as buying a house, getting married, any kind of major financial transaction, needing to move for a new job, and so on. In a life partnership, it is far more likely that you would need to discuss these major life decisions with your partner before making them.

Taking responsibility for each other’s well being: If all partnerships involve some kind of joint responsibility, a life partnership is taking joint responsibility for each other, specifically for each other’s well being. This, according to me, is also known as being a family. Of course, friends can and do take responsibility for each other’s well-being, but it is possible to be friends without taking on this responsibility. It’s less possible to be life partners without taking this responsibility.

Having a personal stake in each other’s daily decisions: This, according to me, is also part of being a family; and this is the one factor that I think really sets apart a friendship from a life partnership. Partners won’t necessarily have a stake in every single of each other’s decisions (especially the smaller ones), but many of each other’s decisions (purchases, consumption patterns, finances, career moves, needing to move to a different city, etc.) will have an effect on the other; and partners are likely to be invested in each other’s decisions and have a say in each other’s decisions.

Being each other’s family: If a life partnership is serious and the intention is for it to become permanent, then it is very likely that the partners will consider each other their family. Of course, it’s also possible for friends to consider each other family, but this happens in the case of very close friends. My personal experience is that there is a sibling-like dynamic with friends-who-feel-like-family; with a partner, not so much (especially if a physical relationship is involved) but more on this later (in Part 2).

Emotional comfort and physical comfort: This factor can potentially set life partnerships apart from friendships, because I imagine people tend to rely on life partners for emotional and physical comfort more than they do on their friends. However, I don’t think this is a big distinguishing factor. Ultimately I think it depends on the individual how comfortable they are seeking emotional and physical comfort from other people. Some are comfortable seeking comfort from anyone they are close to (friends, family, and partners); some people are comfortable seeking comfort from a large source of people; and some people might have only a few specific to just one person they can seek comfort from.

Vision of the future: Life partnerships can and often do involve planning for a future together, unless it’s a tentative partnership or a temporary partnership. This can exist in friendships too, though, especially in the closest kinds of friendships. So this is also not a major distinguishing factor.

Raising children (or pets) together: Of course, I am not saying life partnerships will necessarily involve raising children (or pets) together. But I am saying that raising children (or pets) together will require some form of partnership. Even if two friends with nothing romantic between them decide to take joint responsibility over another human being (or any living creature), that is a partnership of some kind. Divorced parents with joint custody, for instance, need to form some kind of a partnership, even if it is not a life partnership.

Physical relationship: Of course not all life partnerships involve a physical relationship, but a vast majority of them seem to and partners seem to have expectations and mutual agreements surrounding this. I’ve seen couples to whom this is the most important aspect of their partnership and without this, the partnership wouldn’t work. It’s also possible to have partnerships around physical relationships only (e.g. “no strings attached” relationships, with no expectations and agreements about anything except for being available for sex) although I wouldn’t call those life partnerships (I guess those are ****-buddy partnerships).

Can Have Different Levels

It is possible for life partnerships (or any partnership) to range from very deep to very shallow depending on how much joint responsibility you are sharing and how frequently you need to communicate about it, etc. Many of the factors discussed above probably factor into the depth of the partnership. So, two sets of people with life partnerships might not have the same depth of partnership.

Not Mutually Exclusive

As mentioned already as a caveat, life partnerships and friendships need not be mutually exclusive. For example, if two friends decide to get married, they don’t stop being friends with each other. It’s also rather common to hear people say their partner is their best friend. The main difference is that they will likely consider their relationship with their partner in a different category (with regards to some of the factors discussed above) than their other friends. (Also, there was a really good post from the August 2011 carnival that discussed this in more detail.)

It’s also technically possible to be life partners without being friends, aka my parents. My parents had an arranged marriage. I would like to emphasize that it was not a forced marriage and both fully consented to the marriage and both of them were eager to get married and both of them thought they were likely a good match on paper. It was only months into the marriage that they realized they’re not really compatible. Actually one of them did, the other is still in denial about it, but that’s another story. They never separated due to a variety of factors such as cultural censure of divorce and (probably most importantly) inertia. They live together, they have efficient division of labor to run the household, but they rarely ever spend time with each other or talk to each other about anything other than logistical household stuff. So I can’t think of them as being friends with each other. But they are both friends with me to different extents.

And as mentioned above, friendships can involve a degree of partnership if the friends decide to share a joint responsibility (e.g. starting a club together). If friends decide to be roommates, then that involves a degree of partnership. Conversely, it’s also possible to not be friends with one’s roommates, in which case there is only a shallow partnership regarding issues related to the space shared.

But I do think, adding a form of partnership to a friendship can take it to a new level. Whether it’s a life partnership or a business partnership or starting a club together, taking joint responsibility over something does take the friendship to a new place. I’m not going to place hierarchies on these levels (i.e. a life partnership is not necessarily the one that will take it to the highest level). It’s likely the depth of the partnership that will determine to what level it can take a friendship.

Not Between Two Individuals Only

Of course, life partnerships don’t have to be between two individuals only, although I get the sense that the vast majority of them are. There are polyamorous relationships that may involve more than one partner (polycules). I don’t know how it works in situations in which the partnership is not a closed loop, i.e. not everybody in the partnership is partners with each other. I imagine those scenarios are more complicated than ones in which everyone is in a partnership together. In the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, Sennkestra gave examples of 7 types of relationship commitments (i.e. different types of partnerships though not necessarily life partnerships) that have nothing to do with sex or romance, many of which involve multiple people. Partnerships can also exist with the nother, a concept introduced by Blue Ice-Tea.


Continued in Part 2.

8 thoughts on “Thinking in terms of life partnerships vs. friendships (Part 1)

  1. (Sorry it took me so long to respond. I had Covid and then was traveling (NOT at the same time, to be clear), and then I felt guilty for taking a while to pick up my end of the conversation and procrastinated for forever to avoid thinking about feeling guilty.)

    Thanks for the quote!

    “Note that by “life partnership” I don’t mean a partnership for life; I mean a partnership regarding life-related stuff (as in stuff related to daily-life).” – I like the distinction there. I’ve discovered the quickest accurate way to describe my (queerplatonic) relationship is “a non-romantic life partnership,” but since most people don’t know the definition of QPR’s in general, I end up adding verbal footnotes about how they’re not necessarily lifelong commitments and such, just that we as individuals are planning to live our lives together long-term.

    “I’m pretty sure it’s not possible to find a partner with whom you align 100% and never have to compromise unless you found a way to clone yourself.” – I would argue that cloning yourself could lead to more need for compromise, honestly. I know for me and my partner, we’re so similar mentally/neurologically that it’s almost creepy how much we share thoughts sometimes, but we’re different in a few ways that complement each other (for example, I’m not a very good navigator while he’s a map nerd, while I’m sometimes more confident about approaching people behind desks and such, so we make great travel companions). If someone shares every last one of your traits, that means you also share the same weaknesses or areas where you could benefit from support :P.

    *Also continued on part 2*

    Like

    1. Hey! Hope you’re doing better now! And of course, we all have to move at our own pace with regards to blogging. It is meant to be fun! So hope there are no guilty feelings along the way!

      Thank you for bringing up the point that sometimes partners can be TOO similar and that can be a problem. Compatibility isn’t necessarily about similarity on all fronts; there is an element of complementarity and supplementarity too!

      Like

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