There's no single way to experience, feel, or define love. Love doesn't need to be candlelit dinners, first dates, or red roses. In fact, I owe many of my most beautiful and dramatic love stories to the feelings that are just platonic. During a time of year that is often only dedicated to romance, we can take a step back to celebrate the relationships that don’t just come and go. A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon meeting some of Philadelphia’s platonic pairs, hearing stories of the unique love they found in one another.
Words by Kate Ratner
Photos by Andrew Yang
Terrence and Matt
During my stroll through Rittenhouse Square Park, I approach Terrence and Matt, sitting on opposite sides of a park bench. They’re both wearing green pants and black jackets, engaged in casual conversation with one another. I ask Terrence if he feels platonic love for Matt, his former colleague–turned–friend, and he responds enthusiastically, “Yes, I’d say so.” Matt lives in West Philly and Terrence lives in Center City, so they usually find a place to meet in the middle that Matt can access by bike. Matt tells me that he’s lucky to have a friend like Terrence who reaches out from time to time, and Terrence is lucky to have found a mentor figure in Matt. The two worked together at a software engineering firm for six years and now rely on each other for friendship, professional advice, and a shared love for their field. When Terrence stopped working for the firm, Matt had to adjust to “not [having] him around and not [seeing] him.” When I share anecdotes of my experiences with frustrating former co–workers, Terrence responds, “There are going to be co–workers that maybe you won't connect with. But the ones that you do turn into, sort of, real friends, not just work friends.” I admire Terrence and Matt’s friendship. Their backgrounds in software engineering brought them together, but the comfort they found in each other's guidance established more than a strictly professional relationship. They can now laugh together on a cold day over a cup of coffee.
Kathryn and Hallie
I continue on my walk and find Kathryn and Hallie, a mother–daughter duo on a weekend “staycation” in the city. When I approach them, Kathryn is chasing Hallie around the empty fountain at the center of the park. Hallie is impossible to miss, clad in brown and white polka dots and pink snow boots. Kathryn does most of the talking as Hallie clings to her leg, safely bundled in her mother’s love. When I ask Kathryn and Hallie their agenda for the day, Kathryn tells me that they plan to get a hot chocolate, walk around the city, and spend the night in a hotel. Hallie becomes less shy, exclaiming that she’s “getting her nails painted tomorrow.” When I ask Hallie what she loves most about Kathryn, she raves about how her mom is always willing to play with her. We agree on our love for our moms and all that they provide for us. Kathryn loves that “Hallie is adventurous and always wants to try new things.” This weekend trip means more to Kathryn and Hallie than the quick drive from their suburban neighborhood to Center City—it's a celebration of Kathryn loving her daughter and Hallie loving her mom. I wish them a fantastic weekend as they set off to explore the city.
Cassahndra, Sierra, Sol, and Troy
I find Cassahndra, Sol, Sierra, and Troy in a perfect patch of sunlight on 13th Street in the Gayborhood. Cassahndra, who's wearing a matching baby pink dress, a hair bow, and eccentric red eye makeup, is the first to catch my eye. The group just finished a gig and is taking pictures on the front steps of the venue. When I ask Cassahndra about the role they play in their friends’ lives, they quickly respond, “I’m a top,” to which we all laugh. “This is my girl,” Cassahndra says, gesturing to Sol. “We met at Tabu [on] our first night performing. We both performed that night.” Sierra and Troy are the self–proclaimed entourage of Cassahndra and Sol, but the latter two beg to disagree. Cassahndra believes Sierra and Troy stand “right up front” next to them. Sierra admires how confident her friends are. “They always make me feel confident [about myself], and I love that,” she says. Sol agrees, telling me about the first time she met Cassahndra. “When I met Cassahndra that first night,” she says, “what attracted me to them was their confidence and how they really don’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks of them.” Sol loves Troy for his friendship, and Troy loves Sol for her passion. “Sol is always out there pursuing her interests with one–hundred percent,” Troy says. The group is quick to pose for the camera, Sol extending her leg and leaning against Cassahndra. I walk away from my new friends feeling inspired by the beautiful love they have built. The sun continues to shine on them and the relationships they’ve built in the queer spaces that brought them together.
Eason and Justin
I stop Eason and Justin during their walk in Chinatown. When I ask if they're willing to tell me about their non–romantic love, they respond with a mutual, “Sure, why not!” Eason and Justin, sophomores at Swarthmore College, met last year when they were both living on campus. The two met through a friend of a friend, and they’ve stuck together ever since. “I can talk with Eason about literally anything,” says Justin. “I’m from Los Angeles, and I never [knew] how to approach other Asian people because I never knew, for sure, if they [had the same interests] that I did. And then, Eason was the first person [where I realized], oh shit, we have the same hobbies.” Eason and Justin were able to find both a video–game adversary and a true friend in one another. “We can really bond over anything,” Eason says, “and Justin works so hard at everything he does. I really like seeing that side of him.” I'm glad Eason and Justin found each other. The two friends will never not have someone close–by to play video games or study with when they’re feeling lonely.
Carolyn and Colette
Carolyn and Colette met during their first year at Temple University. Colette didn’t have any roommates and met Carolyn’s roommate in a group chat online. “I messaged Carolyn’s roommate,” says Colette, “we got Panda Express, and then I met Carolyn and all of [the girls who are] my friends today.” Carolyn and her two friends lived with another roommate who they didn’t get along with, joking that Colette was their ideal fourth roommate. “Now we’re those three [original] girls, and she’s the fourth roommate,” Carolyn exclaims. “She joined us!” Colette and Carolyn are taken by surprise when I ask what they love most about each other, as they’ve never quite expressed those feelings. Colette looks forward to watching movies with Carolyn and designating time to spend together in their living room, the gathering place of their apartment. Carolyn admires Colette’s wisdom. “Some people are just so stupid,” Carolyn remarks, “but [Colette] is very knowledgeable of what people should do. She knows what she’s talking about.” I think about my own non–romantic roommate love, comparing my experience with theirs. The pair embrace each other to snap a picture and continue on their walk. Colette and Carolyn cultivated a platonic love in the apartment they share, and it was beautiful to watch them vocalize that love for the first time.
Kiara and Saniyah
I meet Kiara and Saniyah as we pass each other on the street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Kiara and her daughter are heading home but stop and chat with me to escape the wind. Saniyah is holding a black plastic bag which I later learn is filled with hair products. Giggling with excitement, she brags that Kiara will spend the rest of her day doing her hair. Not only is Kiara an amazing mother, but she is Saniyah’s live–in personal hairstylist. Changing Saniyah’s look takes many hours, but the pair sees this monthly process as a time to relax and enjoy each other’s presence. “We get to watch TV shows and eat snacks together,” Saniyah says. Before I met this duo, they were deciding what show to watch while Kiara does Saniyah’s hair. “My mom is nice,” Saniyah tells me, “and when somebody bothers me, she sticks up for me and helps me out.” Kiara is grateful that Saniyah is respectful and doesn’t talk back. She is proud to be the “cool mom” who Saniyah’s friends admire almost as much as she does. The two pose for a picture, radiating their confidence and mutual protection for one another. Kiara leans against the brick wall, and Saniyah stands in front of her, showing off her neon pink puffer jacket. I feel the pure love between Kiara and Saniyah as they part, returning to the pressing conversation about what show they should watch together that afternoon.
As I returned to campus, I reflected on the day’s journey. I have always been comforted by the presence of platonic love when romance feels unreliable or unattainable. In hearing the stories of the people I met, I remind myself that non–romantic love can exist and be found anywhere: a family home, a college apartment, an office, or a gay bar. Love does not need to be romantic to be real.