Two Women Redefine What it Means to Marry Your Best Friend


In 2000, Sheri Kathleen Cole and Ellen Elizabeth Moore took one of the greatest steps toward commitment in the modern era: They bought a home together.

The act of purchasing a small rowhouse in the Southwest Center City section of Philadelphia felt like a natural progression in a friendship that began in 1992, when the two met at the University of Cincinnati while pursuing master’s degrees in women’s studies.

The glue that initially bonded them? Duran Duran. Ms. Cole, 54, who described fandom as “basically obligatory” when she was in high school, hadn’t listened to the band much since. That is, until she met Ms Moore, also 54, and a lifelong “Duranie,” as die-hard fans are called.

Ms. Cole’s interests focused on the way images of girls and women created by men affect women’s sense of self — and Duran Duran’s videos offered plenty of material. “Beth and I spent hours picking apart their videos,” and analyzing what she described as “pornographic images of women.” (Nevertheless, she remains a fan.) Their fervent discussions inspired Ms. Cole to write her master’s thesis on the subject.

And so Ms. Cole was hooked — not just on the new-wavers’ music, again, but on spending every moment with her new friend as they devoured endless episodes of ABC’s “Supermarket Sweep,” MTV’s “The Real World” and “so much Graeter’s ice cream,” referring to a beloved Ohio treat.

The two recognized in each other a kindred spirit. “We talk about all the same things,” Ms. Moore said. “We were in each other’s pockets all the time.”

But Ms. Cole was worried that theirs might be a whirlwind friendship, especially as Ms. Moore, who was one year ahead in the program, was finishing her master’s just as Ms. Cole was diving in. Ms. Moore, who grew up in Vineland, N.J., had plans to move in with an old college friend to Ocean City, N.J., after graduation to live near her mother. “I didn’t know what else to do with my life,” she said.

For Ms. Cole, however, “that second year of graduate school was really hard for me because I didn’t have my best friend around.” Though they spoke on the phone every night, she wondered whether Ms. Moore would grow tired of her.

Those anxieties were allayed when it came time for Ms. Cole to defend her thesis in the spring of 1994. There, sitting in the corner among her advisers was Ms. Moore, who had traveled back to Cincinnati to support her. “I thought, ‘Maybe she likes me as much as I like her,’” Ms. Cole said. And then Ms. Moore invited her to move in with her in New Jersey.

She was taken aback by the invitation — not because she didn’t want to live with Ms. Moore, but because Ms. Cole, who had grown up in Kettering, Ohio, had never considered leaving.” People don’t leave Ohio,” she said. “You got married and you stayed there.”

Ms. Moore joked that there was another part of Ms. Cole who fantasized about becoming the next Andrea Dworkin, the feminist writer and anti-pornography activist, and that those were the two choices she had given herself. “I showed Sheri a middle ground,” she added.

Ms. Cole described that middle ground as sharing a home with her best friend, and having fun together: She said it was Ms. Moore who inspired her to “double down on pop culture and the stuff that can bring you joy, but also that you can be critical of.”

As Ms. Cole considered that third choice, she reminded herself how often she told people: “There is one time in your life where you put everything you own in a car and go somewhere and rebuild your life.” So once graduation came that May, Ms. Cole followed her own advice, loaded up her belongings and made way for South Jersey, where the two women rented a place in Collingswood, five miles east of the Center City section of Philadelphia.

The following year, in 1995, Ms. Moore landed a job as a recruiter for the school district of Philadelphia, where she now works as a human resources systems administrator.

Ms. Cole is the executive director of the Wardrobe, an organization that provides people in need with business attire, a position she has held for nearly 25 years.

When they purchased their home in 2000, it was the first official step in being recognized as a unit. The women are already known by everyone in their lives as “Beth-and-Sheri.” “It’s like one word, ‘Beth-and-Sheri,’” said Lisa Mayne, a college friend of Ms. Moore. They do everything together, from travel to attending Broadway shows and arena concerts.

They show up as a pair at work events and friend and family gatherings. And like many Philadelphians, Ms. Moore and Ms. Cole are avid fans of the Phillies and the Eagles, often watching games fully decked out in team gear.

Ms. Moore and Ms. Cole are not lesbians, though they say everyone in their lives — gay, straight, transgender and cisgender — have long assumed they are. But their self-described “tragically codependent” relationship more closely resembled the enviable iconic cinematic friendship between Romy and Michele from “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” than, say, Bette and Tina on “The L Word.”

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While both women have had boyfriends in the past, neither is interested in dating or romantic relationships. Both women identify as asexual. They have always had separate bedrooms. And they are fully devoted to each other.

They sometimes say they’re in a “Boston marriage,” a 19th-century term used to describe a household with two women who lived together independently of men or male support. Boston marriage has often been used as a euphemism for lesbian couples, which presumed that all women who live together were romantically and sexually involved. Like Ms. Cole and Ms. Moore, that wasn’t true in all these situations, but they definitely were living on their own terms and shattering heteronormative conventions.

The women’s commitment to each other as life partners has deepened over the years as practical matters have arisen — like the time Ms. Moore realized that the health insurance she had through work was far better, and less expensive than Ms. Cole’s. So they took the administrative steps to register as domestic partners, allowing Ms. Moore to put Ms. Cole on her plan.

As they grew older, and cared for their aging parents, the friends began to consider whether they should take a bigger step. “Covid brought the issue of health care into focus,” Ms. Cole said.

The women considered what sickness and death might look like for them without legal protection. They worried about not having the right to advocate for each other in times of crisis. There is “no one else who will care as much about my legacy,” Ms. Cole said.

When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, they were presented with another option. But in the years immediately after the ruling, Ms. Cole and Ms. Moore hesitated, fearing that as non-gay people they would be infringing on gay people’s hard-won rights. “That was for other people who had fought and suffered for their love and that wasn’t quite us. We were ‘just friends,’” Ms. Moore said. She was starting to realize, however, that “there is no ‘just’ about friends.”

Over the past year, with the encouragement of friends, family and colleagues, the women came to appreciate they had a place on the queer spectrum — the A in L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. — and that they needed protection. And as they bought a new home in 2022, their financial adviser and mortgage broker also suggested they marry. “Legally the only thing that will solidify our status is something called ‘marriage.’ And that’s problematic,” Ms. Cole said. “But it’s what we have.”

Which raised the question: What is the purpose of marriage?

“It used to be a legal entanglement that passed you on from your father to your husband,” Ms. Cole said. This has evolved, of course, all the more so with these friends. What matters to us is friendship, kindness and support,” she said. “That is what we are to one another, and that is — or should be — the core definition of a ‘marriage’ and ‘partnership.’”

As with their domestic partnership, their pragmatic reasoning led the women to approach marriage like paperwork and take it to City Hall. Their friends and family caught wind of their plans, however, and wanted to celebrate the women’s 32 years of friendship and partnership, and bear witness to their exchange of vows — much to their delight and surprise.

On June 1, Ms. Cole and Ms. Moore were married in a whimsical 45-minute ceremony in a box at Citizens Bank Stadium just before the first pitch of the Phillies versus St. Louis Cardinals game. (The Phillies won.)

Ms. Moore wore jeans, a Phillies Hawaiian shirt and rainbow-Pride Tevas; Ms. Cole had on a black dress under a Phillies team jersey, and Toms slippers with rainbow-Pride elastic. Both brides, who will continue to refer to each other as “partners,” wore Phillies baseball caps with veils attached to the back.

Standing before 25 of their nearest and dearest (and, later, joined by the Phillies mascot, the Phillie Phanatic), the brides spoke about their devotion to each other: “You are my soul mate, and the person I want to grow old with, even if we don’t share a bed,” Ms. Moore said in her vows. “You’re my favorite person, which is why, ‘at every table, I’ll save you a seat,’” she added, quoting Taylor Swift in the song “Lover.”

Friends’ daughters tossed popcorn instead of flowers. In place of a song, Ms. Moore’s niece read an excerpt from “For Good” from the musical “Wicked”; other friends read the E.E. Cummings poem, “[I carry your heart with me (I carry it in)].” And then it came time for the self-administered exchange of vows, legal in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Cole declared to Ms. Moore, “It’s easier to be fearless when I see you taking the step with me. Thank you for telling me once that I deserved a life filled with joy because you know what?” And then she motioned her arm around to Ms. Moore and the crowd of family — kin and chosen — who had gathered to celebrate them. “THIS … this life doesn’t suck.”


When June 1, 2024

Where Philadelphia

The Day After The following day, the women hosted an open house reception on the roof deck of their duplex apartment in Philadelphia, welcoming nearly 100 guests — family and friends from high school, college and work (denoted by different name tags). They offered cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles, as well as Philly delicacies like hoagies, Philadelphia pretzels and Tastykakes, along with “Beth & Sheri” drink koozies, stickers and T-shirts.

The Moore-Cole Household: The women recently bought a new home, a bright and lively two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath duplex decorated with concert memorabilia, Funko Pop dolls, Keith Haring artwork and vintage Suffragette posters. Their half-bathroom is filled with vintage Duran Duran posters and a big Taylor Swift wall.

New Traditions The women had custom complementary rings made, one in rose gold, the other in white gold, with a band of purple amethyst, and a rainbow of gems (diamond, citrine, emerald, ruby, blue sapphire, pink sapphire) encircling a watermelon tourmaline stone.

A Gen X Playlist For the wedding, a five-hour Spotify playlist that spanned decades and genres, including songs by Duran Duran (of course), David Bowie, Ani DiFranco, the Spice Girls, Pulp, Lizzo, Broadway soundtracks and more.



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