Trendy Love: We Wanted Extra Vital Others

We tried to carry on but struggled. One afternoon our good friends Kristen and Phil visited us in our back yard; For the first time they understood the gravity of what we were dealing with.

Not long after, they invited us to an outdoor dinner in Oakland, but “their place” needs some explanation. A few years earlier they formed a co-ownership community called Radish, which has about a dozen people in their twenties and thirties living together. Most have their own one-bedroom apartment, but share the cost of food, cooking, and an outdoor area with a hot tub, fire pit, and hammock. During those days, they were working from home and following extremely strict Covid protocols.

As a researcher studying romantic relationships, I have always been intrigued by this type of arrangement. Modern couples expect all of their needs to be met by a romantic partner, but that can put the relationship under great pressure. In 2015, a team of psychologists led by Elaine Cheung found that relying on different people for discreet needs leads to happier relationships. Eli Finkel, another psychologist, coined a name for them: OSOs (Other Significant Others).

An OSO can be a friend or family member who fulfills a need your significant other can’t: a triathlete who trains with you because your partner doesn’t, or a sibling you call to get over work speak because your significant other hates corporate politics. This network of support is not new, but for many of us it has been lost.

In order for couples to survive and thrive, they need OSOs. This is especially true during nightmarish years like the one Scott and I found ourselves in, compounded by the pandemic that separated us from our normal support network.

As we sat at a picnic table in Radish that night, one of the residents brought out roasted asparagus, a salad with seeds and berries, and a platter of sweet potatoes – a stark contrast to all that cold pizza and hospital food. As I ate and laughed, I felt happy and relaxed for the first time in months.

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