- How platonic relationships differ from romantic relationships — and why you need both
- What is a platonic relationship?
- Platonic relationship vs. romantic relationship
- Platonic relationships and intimacy
- Insider's takeaway
- 4 Characteristics Of Platonic Love
- What Is Platonic Love?
- 3 Characteristics Of Platonic Love
- 1. Platonic Loves Encourages Unfiltered Honesty
- 2. Platonic Love Respects Boundaries
- 3. Platonic Love Has No Expectations
- 4. Platonic Love Is Selfless
- Summary: It’s Not Complicated…
- What is a Platonic Relationship, Are they Healthy and Can they Be Sustained?
- Are platonic relationships possible?
- Are platonic relationships healthy
- 2. Know your boundaries and respect theirs
- 3. There should never be any pressure or expectations
- 4. Platonic love has to be selfless in order to work
- Do platonic relationships work? Yes, as long as you both understand the meaning!
- Learn more about the many different relationship types
How platonic relationships differ from romantic relationships — and why you need both
The word «love» often evokes an image of a happy couple. But, in reality, romantic love is only one type of loving relationship you'll experience throughout your life.
Yes, there's your bond with a significant other, but there are also connections with friends, siblings, and neighbors, to name a few. These relationships center on platonic love and offer additional support outside of a romantic partner.
Here's what you need to know about navigating and growing platonic relationships in your life.
What is a platonic relationship?
Platonic quite literally means the absence of romance. You may have a platonic relationship with your best friend, a coworker, a cousin, a workout buddy, or any person you value in your life.
According to Emily Guarnotta, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of The Mindful Mommy, characteristics of platonic relationships include:
- Bonding over shared interests and beliefs
«Platonic love is what we feel when there is trust, safety, and validation in a close relationship. It's the sense of feeling good and cared for in a relationship,» says Nikki Coleman, a licensed psychologist with her own practice Dr. Nikki Knows.
Platonic relationship vs. romantic relationship
There are many benefits of platonic relationships that romantic ones don't always offer.
For example, a platonic relationship may entail fewer expectations and pressures, less stress about your physical experience, and possibly a more stable connection as there isn't a fear of breakup, says Guarnotta.
Most notably, platonic relationships are not passionate, which often means they don't include overt sexuality.
Platonic relationships also provide an opportunity to explore different parts of yourself and build unique experiences and memories with friends, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Cultivating platonic relationships can also help your health. In a large 2010 review, researchers found people with strong social relationships had a 50% higher lihood of living longer than those without them.
Important: If you're in a monogamous romantic relationship, a platonic relationship is generally not considered cheating. Exceptions to this are platonic relationships with dynamics that cross a monogamous partner's boundaries whether that's sexual, emotional, or financial intimacy.
Platonic relationships and intimacy
A platonic relationship can involve intimacy, such as sex and cuddling, if romantic feelings (aka passion) are not involved.
«All romantic relationships are not sexual, and all sexual relationships are not romantic. You could very well have an important someone in your life who creates all of those feelings of intimacy and closeness associated with platonic love but not romantic love,» says Coleman.
Note: Before committing to a sexually intimate platonic relationship, aka «friends with benefits,» it's crucial each person feels safe and consents to physical intimacy, says Coleman.
Before bringing sexual intimacy into the equation, it's important to ask yourself what the end goal for the relationship is: In a 2020 study of friends with benefits relationships, people who wanted to transition to a friendship were successful 59% of the time. In contrast, those who sought a romantic relationship only achieved it 15% of the time.
Intimacy in a platonic relationship only works when both people are on the same page. If one person starts developing romantic feelings and the other doesn't reciprocate, then it could lead to negative feelings rejection or resentment, says Coleman.
Communicating boundaries is critical for ensuring no one receives or sends mixed signals in a platonic, but sexually intimate, relationship. «Taking the time to have an uncomfortable conversation upfront will save all parties so much time, confusion, and frustration,» says Romanoff.
According to Guarnotta, potential boundaries to consider in a platonic relationship are:
- Incorporating or limiting physical intimacy
- Consistent respect for each other
- Avoiding topics of disagreement or discomfort
- Not letting conflict fester without discussion
Platonic relationships differ from romantic relationships but are no less loving or important. In fact, platonic relationships can provide additional support, respect, and loyalty outside of a romantic partner.
Un romantic love, platonic relationships usually have less pressure surrounding physical appearance, expectations, and commitments.
While platonic relationships can be sexually intimate, parties involved should always establish boundaries and consent before doing so.
4 Characteristics Of Platonic Love
Neither family, nor privilege, nor wealth, nor anything but Love can light that beacon which a man must steer by when he sets out to live the better life. – Plato
Is love the guiding light to a better life? Many people believe it is, and that little is possible without love as a motivator.
Love is multi-faceted and comes in many forms: parental, filial, romantic, and platonic.
But what do we mean when we say “platonic friends” or talk about “platonic love”?
What does a modern, healthy platonic relationship look , and how do we keep it that way?
What Is Platonic Love?
Platonic love takes its name from famous Classical Greek philosopher, Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC).
Plato wrote about love in his work, the Symposium, a dialogue where the guests of a banquet each gave speeches in honor of the god Eros and debated the true meaning of love.
Initially, Plato’s dialogue was directed toward same-sex relationships, sexual, and otherwise, but by the Renaissance, platonic love had come to encompass the non-sexual, heterosexual relationships we know today.
Originally, Platonic love was love that was not vulgar, meaning it wasn’t centered on lust or fulfilling carnal needs. Instead, it was a love that inspired nobler pursuits, and brought one closer to the divine. It brought about the best in both people.
Clearly, today this is no longer completely the case. In our secular world, a platonic relationship has basically become code for “we’re just friends” (minus the benefits).
In many cases, that person can end up being someone you’d go to the moon and back for, but just have no romantic interest in, or attraction to, in a sexual way.
However, modern notions of platonic companionship are not completely devoid of its original meaning; just the original idea, platonic love, romantic love, can be deep and intense, and form some of life’s best, and longest friendships.
And its ancient origins, the expectation of a platonic relationship today is relatively the same: that you would treat that person the way you treat a close friend of the same sex.
It is a space where jealousy doesn’t rear its ugly head, and hidden agendas and unrequited love are left at the door.
It is rooted in genuine honesty, and the ability to be yourself around that person without fear of censure, or abandonment.
3 Characteristics Of Platonic Love
A simple way to sum it up would be: be a good friend, full stop.
However, this isn’t the answer people are looking for; especially at a time when relationships, and power structures, are changing and are in dire need of boundaries.
The following three characteristics of platonic love will help you recognize it, manage your expectations of it, and keep that relationship happy, and healthy, and thriving for years to come.
1. Platonic Loves Encourages Unfiltered Honesty
There is little need for deceit in a purely platonic relationship.
Un in a romantic relationship, there is no fear that the person will leave you because they were never with you in the first place.
You aren’t an item, so the stakes aren’t as high. There isn’t the same caution, or need to check in with the other person emotionally.
You can have a fight, not speak for a month, then patch things up, and things will pretty much go back to normal.
Platonic love doesn’t have to spare anyone’s feelings. There is no need to maintain a facade.
In some sense, this brutal honesty is great; in fact, it is often a relief.
You can get insights and perspectives you wouldn’t be able to get from your romantic partner.
You can ask the unaskable questions, and not have to worry too much about the status of your relationship.
You can talk openly about your dating troubles, and share your personal gaffes without worrying about how it makes you look.
Platonic love can tell it it is, and can take the lumps a romantic relationship cannot because it’s not as complicated when you’re not busy trying to keep up appearances and impress someone.
You aren’t putting them first, in the way you would if you were romantically involved.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t consider other people’s feelings outside of your own or your romantic partner’s, but there is a different level of consideration we go to when we have a romantic end game in mind.
A romantic relationship is less a rock, and more a flower. It has to be carefully cultivated, and taken care of; it is fragile and liable ( a flower) to die without the proper attention.
This is especially true once the first flush of love has faded, the butterflies are gone, and you’ve settled into a comfortable pattern together.
This is when the real work begins. Platonic love is much less delicate and can weather these ups and downs.
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2. Platonic Love Respects Boundaries
While purely platonic relationships may have a no-holds barred aspect to them (because we don’t hold our friends to the same standards as we do our lovers), this doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries.
Platonic relationships require (especially in the beginning) strong boundaries. These are not normally discussed or negotiated the way steps are in romantic relationships, but they hover in the background nonetheless.
As time passes, you will know how far you can push those boundaries, and when you have to pull back.
For example, when you travel together – do you share a room? If you do, will that change if one or both of you gets involved with someone romantically?
Platonic love requires a lot of trust. This is especially true when you (or your platonic bestie) are in a romantic relationship.
You have to take care to build trust to ensure that your partners understand the nature of your relationship, and that it doesn’t pose any potential threats.
If your significant other has a platonic BFF, how would that play out for you? What would be considered OK? What wouldn’t?
Ask yourself these questions, and listen to those feelings. Your gut is often the best indicator of what constitutes crossing the line, and what is acceptable.
3. Platonic Love Has No Expectations
Although friendship is a give and take partnership, when it comes to platonic love, you have to be careful not to expect or demand more of that person than you would of a regular friendship.
Part of what differentiates platonic from romantic love is expectation. We expect a lot from our romantic partners because with every person you date, you’re potentially interviewing them for the role of life partner, or spouse.
If someone wants to spend their life with you, they need to be of the highest caliber, and up to scratch.
We are less forgiving of mistakes in romantic relationships, and in a sense, that’s a good thing; we need to be picky when it comes to investing that kind of time in a lifelong companion.
Platonic love doesn’t get held to the same high standard. You’re not sharing a home, children, pets, bank accounts, etc. – you’re close, (and potentially) lifelong friends.
You get to go home at the end of the night and not worry about what that person is doing, who they’re with, whether they paid the electric bill, ate the dinner you left in the fridge, or hung the laundry to dry.
You may worry about them if they’ve been going through a difficult time, as naturally good friends do, but you’re not as invested in their day-to-day meanderings and external relationships. They simply don’t come first.
If you start to notice that they are coming first, or that you’re often disappointed by their behavior because they aren’t living up to your expectations, you may need to step back and ask yourself: are romantic feelings creeping in?
Are boundaries being crossed? Why am I demanding this from this person? You may be expecting too much.
4. Platonic Love Is Selfless
Romantic love is, in part, selfish. It wants what is best for the partnership as a whole.
Marriages or other committed relationships sometimes require us to act in ways that we might not otherwise act.
These acts might appear selfless on the surface because you may do something for the benefit of your partner.
But look closer and you’ll realize that they are selfish in the sense that you do them in order to maintain harmony and to keep the relationship going.
The continuation of a happy relationship is as much for your benefit as it is for theirs.
The relationship comes first and the needs of the individual sometimes have to be sacrificed.
In a platonic friendship, each party wants whatever is best for the other, regardless of what that might mean for the relationship.
Perhaps you give the other person space and time when they enter a new relationship.
You may want to spend time with them, but you accept that what is best for them might not be what you want.
So you let them go, in the hope that once their new relationship is established, you can reconnect with each other.
Or perhaps you realize that your presence is having a detrimental effect on the other person.
Maybe you are acting as a crutch for them to lean on so that they don’t have to address their issues.
For example, you might have helped them out with money a few times, but you know that they are still not being frugal.
So you say no the next time they ask and you stand firm even if it causes an argument.
In the end, you know it’s in their best interest to learn how to budget and take responsibility for their finances.
If it drives a wedge between you temporarily – or even permanently – you still do it because you want what is best for them.
That act is selfless in the sense that you will not gain anything from it, but you do it in the hope that your platonic friend will get some benefit.
Summary: It’s Not Complicated…
Platonic love will always be a part of the human condition – we award different values to every person we meet, and we love each one in a unique way.
Recognizing and respecting those differences will bring us closer to Plato’s initial ideal of platonic love – one that raises us up and anchors us throughout life.
While love might be fraught with complexities, two-way platonic affection is the one place where you can definitively say: it’s not complicated.
Platonic relationships provide an important piece to how we love, and are loved, through life.
They can provide fulfilling, lifelong friendships, offer us refreshing perspectives, and a much needed outlet to let off steam, and let it all hang out.
These are the people who love us minus the baggage, the “rock” friends who inspire the best in us, and tell us what we need to hear when we’ve gone astray.
Keep your relationship honest, respect each other’s boundaries, let go of expectations, and do what’s best for them.
Remembering these three key things will go a long way to a healthy, and happy relationship.
What is a Platonic Relationship, Are they Healthy and Can they Be Sustained?
The platonic relationship meaning has changed over time and has been known to raise a few question marks over relationships, especially in male/female platonic relationships. Knowing what a platonic relationship is and how to sustain it can sometimes be the difference between a long-lasting and healthy platonic relationship and losing a friend.
Are platonic relationships possible?
Yes, platonic relationships are possible and are very common, just so long as both people’s intentions and understanding of the relationship are the same.
Of course, there may be instances where one person’s feelings may develop and therefore interfere with the relationship.
And it is not uncommon for one or even both people to flirt, but these, let’s call them speed-bumps, should not derail the path of a platonic relationship. I’m not saying that it is easy, but it is certainly achievable.
Are platonic relationships healthy
There are no platonic relationship ‘rules’ per se, but for a platonic relationship to be healthy, the following themes have to be present:
For a platonic relationship to remain healthy, you have to be open and honest with the person you’re sharing this relationship with. The key difference is that un a romantic relationship, you are never threatened by the concept that this person will end or leave the relationship because they were never ‘with you’ to begin with.
2. Know your boundaries and respect theirs
While platonic relationships don’t necessarily hold as big a threat as emotional, romantic relationships, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t boundaries. Even if these boundaries are never openly discussed, they are there, they are always there and they must remain present.
The more you develop the relationship, the more you will learn what boundaries you can and cannot break, for example if you were to ever share a room, knowing whether you would share a bed is an important point to raise to ensure no boundaries are unintentionally crossed.
3. There should never be any pressure or expectations
This comes as a sort of bolt-on to my second point, it’s important not to expect or demand more from the person than you would a typical friendship.
The main difference between a platonic and romantic relationship is the idea of ‘expectation’. With a romantic relationship, you harbour hope that the initial stages of the relationship will develop into something more than ‘just friends’.
However, with a platonic relationship (or platonic love), your expectations are considerably lower.
Essentially, we are far more forgiving to our platonic partners than we are to our romantic partners. The emotional involvement and responsibility is much, much lower which makes the relationship far easier.
4. Platonic love has to be selfless in order to work
With platonic love, you want what is best for your friend, no matter what the circumstances or the path they choose to go down.
You have their best interests at heart and you encourage them to pursue what they want and how that may or may not affect the relationship comes second. There is far less emotional risk doing this in a platonic relationship as there is no romantic sentiment attached.
For example, people who are married or in a relationship, will, on some level have selfish tendencies, and this is completely normal.
When we love someone, we want to retain that harmony. This may lead us to act in ways that strengthen or maintain the relationship, even if what we’re doing isn’t in our best our best interests, it’s in both our interests. A romantic relationship comes first and your individual needs or desires will often come second.
Do platonic relationships work? Yes, as long as you both understand the meaning!
Platonic sexual relationships do not exist because by definition a platonic relationship involves no sexual intimacy. Yes, you can have a sexual partnership with someone and not be ‘together’ but that is not what a platonic relationship is.
We love each other in many different ways, some platonic, some romantic, some somewhere in between. Being able to identify these types of relationships and understand how to attribute them to people will help alleviate any blurred lines and keep the relationship moving in the right direction.
Platonic relationships teach us how to develop long-lasting and genuine friendships without the risk of losing them in a romantic sense. There is less ‘baggage’ with platonic relationships and you will find it easier to confide in your platonic partner, especially regarding any issues or concerns in your romantic relationship.
Learn more about the many different relationship types
There are several different types of relationships to understand, from toxic relationships to tackling long distance relationships, our team at Maclynn International are always offering our insights on love, dating and relationships. For more information, explore our blog.