When it comes to the long-term living arrangements of straight women, there are typically only two options: live alone or live with a husband/male partner.
When straight women do live together, it’s very often viewed as phase of life, a holding pattern until the woman either shacks up with a bloke or saves up enough money to fly solo.
But there is a third option. Enter the “Boston Marriage”: women living together for companionship and support.
Boston Marriages emerged in the early 1900s when some educated women wanted an alternative to a restrictive heterosexual marriage that they feared would rob them of independence, end their careers, and limit their creativity.
Author Tracey Emerson, who rejected traditional heterosexual marriage, and is approaching her 20 year anniversary with best friend Susie, describes her Boston Marriage as: “More than friends, less than lovers.”
“We are friends, companions, emotional but not sexual intimates, and we’ve built a partnership that shares attributes with traditional marriage, open marriage and polyamory,” writes Emerson in The Telegraph.
Boston Marriages are different from flat mate arrangements, in that the women involved make a long-term commitment to each other to share resources, and to care for and support each other physically and emotionally.
“We lived together like a couple – bringing each other tea in the morning and discussing our plans for the day. But, like all healthy partnerships, we also operated as individuals, pursuing friends and interests of our own, and although we kept separate bank accounts, we discussed money regularly,” says Emerson.
Given the rising costs of housing and education and the financial pressures that disproportionally affect women due to the pay gap, unpaid caring responsibilities and dire superannuation balances, Boston Marriages seem like they could be an attractive option – especially when you consider the premium value women place on female friendship.
Boston Marriages could also be a solution to the growing rates of loneliness and the physical and emotional cost of being socially isolated, particularly when women age or when women are at home with young children.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne from the School of Social and Political Sciences at Melbourne University suspects that Boston Marriages may suit women at particular stages of their lives.
“I imagine it having significant appeal for young, newly-moved-out-of-home women, as well as elderly women,” says Dr Rosewarne.
However, she doesn’t see it as providing a realistic solution to the challenges faced by most women.
“I imagine that for many women, entering this kind of arrangement would be perceived as a kind of settling,” says Dr Rosewarne.
“Most women are heterosexual and many of those heterosexual women will want to end up coupled and residing with a man. Similarly, for homosexual women, a platonic relationship with a woman is not going to meet their needs either.”
In Emerson’s case at least, she and her Boston wife Susie have not rejected men. They both have had numerous romantic relationships with men over the years and they value having men in their lives.
“While our lives benefit hugely from the input of our male friends, colleagues, and occasionally lovers, we’ve always found aspects of being in a traditional male-female couple restrictive,” writes Emerson.
Emerson admits that her Boston Marriage is not an “all-female utopia” and that they have experienced conflict and dark times just like other relationships, but her life is enriched by having a partner who cares for her and has her best interests at heart and is committed for life.
If nothing else, Boston Marriages give a name to a not-so-new, but newly rediscovered experiment in living and relating to others – and a template for a different type of relationship for straight women other than heterosexual marriage.
Writer, author of ’30-Something and Over It’. View more articles from Kasey Edwards.