If we were to count the many positives that we’re blessed with, friendship would doubtlessly find a place in the top bracket. Skilfully explained by the famous American playwright, Tennessee Williams, “Life is partly what we make it and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” While good friends are a treasured gift we give ourselves, some are doubly blessed to have platonic bonds.
Altruistic, selfless, deep, lasting, forever, and with no strings attached, platonic relationships are often judged by many as some kind of a mask to hide unrequited love. Preposterous as it may sound, but many dismiss the possibility of a pure bond blossoming between two individuals of the opposite sex, without any romantic frills. This post will help you understand the true meaning of a platonic relationship and how you can retain one.
What Is A Platonic Relationship?
The word platonic is rooted in Greek philosopher Plato’s first description of the idea, therefore the name. For him, platonic relationships were based on love, which wasn’t lustful. It flowed like a special emotional and spiritual bond between two people and helped them evolve into better individuals. Platonic bonds get stronger when two people love, admire and commit to each other through a common sharing of interests, values, and worldview. It is love that inspires nobler pursuits and can be applied to every relationship form.
Devoid of any romantic involvement, it does not include physical intimacy and directs the people involved towards divine gratefulness. However, in today’s context, a platonic relationship has been given a more generalized appearance. While retaining its original baseline, it has come to hold in its embrace a deep and intense relationship between two people, mostly of the opposite sex, minus the romantic or sexual attraction for each other. It has become the code word for some of the best and longest friendships. Platonic relationships don’t take into its fold ‘friends with benefits.’
Platonic relationships are perhaps the most intensely debated of all relationships. The possibility of heterosexual men and women being ‘just very good friends,’ seems far-fetched for many. They argue that underlying the superficially pure platonic, harmless non-intimate friendship is a raging desire for romantic compatibility and sexual impulses.
Men and women can be the best of platonic friends and can maintain a good friendship minus any sexual attachments. Platonic relationships are rare, and if you are fortunate to be a part of one, cherish it!
Characteristics Of Platonic Relationships
These characteristics that differentiate normal relationships from platonic ones will help you understand their importance and keep the bond strong and thriving.
1. Honest: Deceit, duplicity, and insidiousness do not find a place in platonic relationships, for there is no fear of losing the person, unlike in a romantic relationship. The two of you have come together to form a friendship based on mutual admiration, beliefs, and love. Platonic bonds do not take feelings for a spin. Their brutal honesty offers the individuals deeper insight, third-person views, and unbiased perspectives that you are unlikely to get from your romantic interest.
2. Unpretentious: Doing away with the façade of pretension gives you the liberty to ask questions that you would otherwise avoid. Platonic friendships allow you to discuss your dating issues, romantic partner troubles or share insecurities without having to worry about how stupid it makes you look. You don’t have to put up appearances to impress someone.
3. Rock-solid: When you are in a platonic relationship, you aren’t putting the other person first. There is a different level of consideration involved. You might even go out of the way to help your platonic love or friend, but they do not cut the strings when you cannot. Platonic relationships can remain rock solid even in the most troubled waters. They have the capability to weather storms and shield lightning.
4. Boundaries: Platonic relationships do have self-imposed boundaries. They may not be restrictions that we consciously put on each other but float around as imperceptible guidelines, for they are rooted in deep trust. With time, these boundaries may change or stretch. However, at its heart, boundaries in platonic relationships remain respected by both parties involved.
5. No expectations: Standards do not weigh platonic relationships. You are likely to help your friends against the odds or worry yourself to a headache when they tread a rough patch, but what they do with their day-to-day life is not for you to keep tabs on. However, if you start getting affected by their mannerisms, give the relationship a break and reexamine it later.
6. Pure and selfless: Platonic relationships thrive on mutual growth and happiness. Platonic friends approve of things that are ideal for the other partner, irrespective of how it affects the friendship or relationship. There is more space and time given and a realization that what you want may not be the best for them. It also forces you to think about the effect you have on your platonic friend.
7. Support network: People go through rough patches. The support system that a platonic friend or a group of friends offers can help you sail through the toughest of situations. While romantic partners also fit this role, a platonic friend and friend circle is your support system outside of your partner. They help you steer the waters.
8. Opinion board: Much as we would like to go by our ideas, opinions, plans, or decisions, it helps run them through an evaluating system. They are people who you trust, individuals who will challenge your ideas and plans and help you polish them to arrive at a better solution.
Possible Health Benefits Of Platonic Relationships
1. Accelerates life expectancy: Research carried out by Brigham Young University in Utah, and the University of North Carolina, and the University of North Carolina, suggest that friendship, including platonic bonds, helps increase life expectancy (4). This is because a healthy social relationship helps individuals live longer, with a lowered risk of heart-related problems. Certain types of cancers are also believed to be prevented by deep social bonds.
2. Boosts immunity: Love and care work as immunity boosters for the human system, reducing the chance of such individuals being affected by common health ailments and other viral infections. In the event of these people catching an infection, their recovery is hastened.
3. Triggers the happiness quotient: Feelings of isolation and depression get removed when you experience fulfilling and meaningful relationships. This helps raise the happiness quotient.
4. Maintains a healthy heart: Various studies (5) indicate that individuals who enjoy strong, happy relationships, show healthy blood pressure levels and are less likely to have cardiovascular disease, as against those who suffer through stressful and difficult relationships.
5. Reduces anxiety: The feeling of being loved and cared for is known to increase dopamine levels. Research carried out by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre/Institute of Clinical Sciences (ICS) Faculty of Medicine (6) hints at a similar response in social behavior and interactions. Dopamine levels were found to be increased when the subjects of the study were encouraged to interact socially. Researches say that this activates the brain’s pleasure response, making you happier, thereby reducing anxiety.
6. Handles stress: A wholesome and solid relationship, such as a platonic one, also triggers the release of oxytocin, also called the bonding hormone. Oxytocin helps clear out stress and its related health issues. High levels of oxytocin result in lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline – hormones released by the brain under stressful situations.
7. Psychological benefits: Platonic relationships offer unconditional love and believe in loving the individual as a person and not for what they can give you. There is an absence of fear. It allows you to be yourself and do away with the pretense to impress the other person. All these provide a comfortable space for the friends to live and strive.
Rules For A Platonic Relationship
While Platonic friends may try to keep the relationship pure to their best capabilities and not make it romantic, there is a possibility that the lines and boundaries become blurred when sex enters the picture. However, if you know where to set the limit and draw the line, nothing can come in the way of you maintaining an excellent platonic bond.
1. Acknowledge: Despite your best attempts at avoiding romantic and sexual tones from seeping into your platonic relationship, if you find yourself in a situation, acknowledge your feelings. Be honest and express your desire to keep romantic boundaries and emotions in check.
2. Check physical contact: Restrict yourself from making any uncomfortable physical contact, even during the casual greeting. Avoid discussions on romantic or sexual topics; this also includes sex jokes.
3. Verbal restriction: While platonic relationships thrive on honesty and trust, once romantic and sexual feelings start creeping in, it is important to avoid saying anything that could be misinterpreted as a mixed signal, especially if you are aware of the other person’s romantic feelings for you.
The Dos And Don’ts Of A Platonic Relationship
This checklist will help you maintain a healthy platonic relationship.
1. A little bit of harmless flirting is fine in good fun. Just avoid overdoing it.
2. If confusion sets in, try to figure out if he/she is just a friend to you or you are attracted to him/her sexually and seek more from the relationship.
3. Even if you are the best of friends, it doesn’t work to treat your female friend disrespectfully. Respect and trust have to be the basis for building your friendship.
4. If you have a platonic BFF and are romantically involved with someone else, encourage your friend and romantic partner to meet up. This will ensure they see for themselves that you two are just friends, and it is pointless to be jealous.
1. Even in your most carefree moments, do not touch each other in your intimate areas.
2. If you discover that your friend has romantic feelings for you, it would be wrong to lead him/her on.
3. Your friend is a friend, and your romantic partner is someone you go on dates with. Be clear about this. Do not make the mistake of treating your friend as a date.
4. In the unfortunate event of your significant other being unable to come to terms with your platonic BFF, reconsider the new bond you have formed. It would be wrong to forego a great friendship because of your partner’s inability to handle it. Do not fall for the “you have to choose between the two of us” trap.
When Platonic Relationships Turn Romantic
Romance, finding its way into a platonic relationship, can either take your bond to the next level or act as a spoiler, bringing down a relationship that you have cherished for years. Look out for these signs if you are in a platonic relationship.
- There is excessive flirting, with a clear indication that the person is seeking something more than a non-sexual relationship.
- Clinginess is another indication that something is not right about a platonic relationship. Missing your friends in their absence is fine, but finding it difficult to go through the day without talking to them is a sign of deeper attraction.
- You are obsessively talking about your platonic friend to others. Be careful of what you discuss.
- You fantasize and dream about intimate moments with your platonic friend. This is a clear sign that you are romantically involved with your friend.
- You witness boundaries being crossed way too often. Sometimes you may not realize it, but you may pull yourself closer to your friend than you usually do.
If you find yourself in such a situation, it is important to analyze if your friend also feels the same. Have they dropped any hints that suggest that they are looking for something more than platonic? If that is the case, how confident are you about making that change in your relationship? In the unfortunate event of your friend not sharing the same feelings for you, will you forego the friendship? The answers to these questions will help you analyze if you wish to take your relationship to the next level. A talk with your friend should be given top priority.
Platonic friends strive to bring out the best in us and give us an earful when we need to be disciplined. Such friendships are based on an emotional and spiritual attachment between two people, who share common values and assess this bond depending on how they affect each other’s mind and spirit. Honesty, respect for each other’s boundaries, and snip to expectations feed such relationships. So, if you are in a platonic relationship, cherish it.
2. Cherish Krista Michael; Perceptions of Healthy and Respectful Relationships and Friend Zone Phenomena;Arizona State University
3. Ashlea Jones; Healthy relationships and the psychology of the heart;Winston-Salem State University
4. Brett Lee;Stayin’ alive: That’s what friends are for; Brigham Young University
5. Studies Show Love is Good for Your Heart;Texas Health Resources
6. MRC Clinical Sciences Centre/Institute of Clinical Sciences (ICS) Faculty of Medicine, Imperial Coll;Surprise role for dopamine in social interplay; ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2016.