The 'Frouple' Phenomenon: When Your BFF Is Kinda Your Boyfriend

frouple relationship
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Love, Family

"We're the same person, different hair," says Greta Gerwig’s character in Frances Ha. In the movie, which was at the top of many critics' "best of" lists this summer, there are no gratuitous sex scenes or illegal escapades (though there is some irresponsible credit card use). Instead, the film focuses on a much more low-key kind of relationship — a friendship. But not just any friendship. The two female protagonists are the kind of pals who live together, sleep next to each other, read and knit as a pair, and can't quite remember who paid for the teapot. They're heterosexual. They're a frouple. 

While we've already seen the terms 'frenemy,' 'bromance,' and 'FWB' (friends with benefits) redefine modern relationships, 'frouple' is the latest buzzword in the pop-culture lexicon. The term, a combination of 'friend' and 'couple,' was coined to describe the totally platonic yet can't-live-without-you type of friendship shared between two straight women (or occasionally, two straight men). And this setup is not reserved for fictional characters: in fact, you probably know a frouple or two — or perhaps you're involved in one yourself. With Millennials waiting longer than ever to get married — whether it's because they're building their careers, enjoying their freedom or just prolonging their youth — it seems many 20- and 30-somethings are finding companionship — for now — in the form of a frouple rather than a romantic relationship. 

"It's safe and consistent," says relationship expert Debi Berndt of this kind of platonic partnership. "It gives [us] the stability of a relationship without the threat of deep emotional or sexual intimacy. Friends do not trigger each other like couples do. They can count on each other for weekend plans and they cocoon themselves from the dating experience which most likely hasn't worked out for them."

But is it healthy to be part of a frouple, or is it a sign of a bigger issue with emotional intimacy? A 'Band-Aid,' if you will. "It's always healthy to have relationships that work," says Berndt. "However, when the friend becomes your 'partner' and blocks your heart from being open to having a real loving partner" — assuming that's what you want — "then it's unhealthy."

And, of course, there's the heartbreak aspect. If a husband — or at least a commiitted LTR — is the end goal, then a placeholder relationship is bound to lead to heartbreak. Well, at least for the party who gets 'dumped' when a real-life romance swoops into the picture. "Sex and romance are driving forces and will usually win out in the end," says matchmaker Marla Martenson.

We asked a few real-life frouples to reveal what's really going on in thier relationships. A little glimpse into the pleasures and perils of being 'in love' — in the platonic sense, that is.

The straight frouple that everyone thinks is a lesbian couple
"I'm pretty sure my friend's parents think we’re in a lesbian relationship. It's not true at all (we're both straight), but we've started to notice they look a little disappointed each time I show up to a family function. In a lot of ways I've become her boyfriend filler. I've been to her high school reunion, a wedding, and numerous weekends at her parents' place on Long Island. I even made the mistake of jumping to her defense when her mom scolded her for eating out too much. 'She cooks for me all the time!' I interjected, much to her mom's dismay. They're going to be so relieved the day she finally brings a real dude home." —Lillian, New York, NY

The frouple that's in it for the long haul
"You can definitely call my best friend and I a frouple. We've known each other since freshman year of college, and this fall we're celebrating our 10-year anniversary with a trip to Vegas. It's weird to think that my future husband and I will never have as many anniversaries as I'll have with my friend. But even if I do get married, I'll still celebrate my friendship. I don't know why we give our non-romantic companionships the shaft when we finally settle down with a man. It doesn't make sense." —Beth, Oak Park, IL

The frouple that takes it a little too far
"My apartment is kind of a shrine to froupledom. My roommate and I were total strangers three years ago—I found her on Craigslist. Now we do everything ... er, rather, nothing together. I've noticed I don't go out as much as I used to. Why would I when I can just hang at home with my roomie, watch Netflix, and share a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck? Yeah, that's probably why I'm still single, but I'm not stressing about it. I think the only unhealthy thing about us is that we do laundry together and some of our stuff gets mixed up. I'm pretty sure I've been wearing her cotton Victoria's Secret undies. Is that weird?” —Meagan, Brooklyn, NY

The frouple that broke up
"For a solid three years in my twenties, my best friend and I were inseparable. We spent every weekend together, confided in each other, vacationed together. She even had a live-in boyfriend at one point, but their relationship was clearly not going much further. In many ways, ours was more intimate; it just wasn't physical. I guess you could say neither of us were ready for true intimacy with a man yet. But she's a few years older, so she pulled it together before me. When she met the man she was going to marry, she knew it immediately, and she became enmeshed in the relationship. I felt the genuine heartbreak and rejection of being dumped, but I had to hold it inside. How could I justify those feelings out loud? She and I were just friends. It was a given that we both wanted to marry men one day. I didn't feel like I had a right to feel heartbroken, so I bottled it up. And then of course the cap flew off the bottle, and I blew up at her one day. I said a lot of things I didn’t mean, just like you might during any breakup. It took us a few years to repair the damage caused by that tumultuous episode. But now, in retrospect, I can understand why she pulled away. She wanted to get married and have a baby. And she did, and I'm happy for her! In the moment, I couldn't understand that it wasn’t about me. I had been lulled into a false sense of stability, and I was too wrapped up in my own emotions to be the friend she needed." —Christine, Brooklyn, New York 

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The multi-frouple
"I think I'm actually part of three frouples right now. There's my long-distance friend who I text daily, my go-to party girl who always gets me into some necessary trouble, and then there's my lifelong pal who I've known since grade school. They each give me a different type of nurturing, whether I need advice about family drama, or I just need to get drunk. I think what sets these relationships apart from other friendships is the level of communication. I never need to fight to get their attention — we're always in sync. I should also mention that none of my frouples are frouples with each other. Oh god no! That would be way too messy." —Stephanie, Ocala, FL

The male frouple (it's not exactly a bromance — it's one step further)
"Though I would never use that word, my buddy Paul and I probably qualified at one point. Fine, we we're a frouple! We were constantly together in our early twenties. If I got invited to a party, it was just a given that he'd go with me. I guess things started to unravel a bit when he got a girlfriend. I found myself getting irrationally mad at him. Like this one time I blew up at him because he wouldn't get breakfast with me. I was like, "Go f**ck yourself, man. I want brunch!" Like, really? Over brunch? I think I argued more with him than any other guy friend, but probably just because we were so close. Now he's married and has a kid. I don't see him as much as I used to, but I still consider him one of my best friends. Hey, at least we don't argue anymore.” —Steve, Long Island City, NY

The codependent frouple
"My best friend and I don’t live together, but we're still constantly around each other. We do a boot camp class on the weekends, we travel, and last year we even started a side business together. Recently, we both signed up for online dating. The only weird thing is that she insists I go on her dates with her. I don't mind, but I can tell the guys are a little turned off by it. I've tried to tell her it's weird, but she insists. I think the guy she ends up with is going to inherit me by default. I'm like the friendship equivalent of a step-daughter." —Leslie, New York, NY