The following is excerpted from “The Unsung Joy of Falling in Big, Deep Platonic Love,” by Catherine Pearson, which appeared on The New York Times’ website on February 14, 2023.
“I was scared but you were guiding me.”
Raphaela Francis, 47, and Renée Kornbluth, 71, have been friends for more than three decades. They met in 1990 at an Outward Bound program in New York City — Ms. Francis was a Black high school student from the South Bronx and Ms. Kornbluth was a white 39-year-old volunteer from suburban New Jersey. Within minutes of being introduced, they were paired up and scaling the masts and rigging of the Peking, a towering merchant ship stationed at the South Street Seaport.
Ms. Francis was wary of investing too much in a relationship with any of the program volunteers, but the trust she felt was instantaneous.
“We were up in the air and I was scared, but you were guiding me and you were calm,” Ms. Francis recalled in a conversation with Ms. Kornbluth. “You were — I don’t know, there was something that you gave me that I needed.” After the weekend was over, Ms. Francis sent Ms. Kornbluth a letter saying she wanted to stay in touch.
Ms. Francis’ mother had substance abuse issues and she was living with her older sister at the time, so Ms. Kornbluth invited her to spend weekends at her home in New Jersey. “I think maybe she needed a mother figure a little bit, and I needed a kid,” Ms. Kornbluth said. “We were a great fit for one another in that regard.”
Ms. Kornbluth didn’t have a car, so she drove Ms. Francis around on her motorcycle. “I took her everywhere on the back of my bike.”
As the years have gone by, they have remained in touch even though they’ve often lived far apart. (Ms. Kornbluth still resides in New Jersey; Ms. Francis is currently in Washington State.) At the start of the pandemic, Ms. Kornbluth was out of work and feeling “very depressed.” Ms. Francis called her landline (Ms. Kornbluth did not have a cell at the time) and said: “There’s a Samsung Galaxy S10 waiting for you at Russell Cellular, I’m putting you on my plan,” Ms. Kornbluth recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll pay you for it!’ And she said, ‘No way.’”
“You know, my friend wasn’t doing well,” Ms. Francis said. “I wanted to be able to call her and know where she was.”
“I just think it’s easy to fall for somebody who doesn’t judge you, who’s genuine,” she added. “It doesn’t matter what color they are, what age they are. You can tell when somebody is genuinely trying to be good to you.”