What Is A Platonic Friendship & Why They're Good To Have
Updated February 18, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock
Platonic friendships can be complicated. At their very worst, you might end up caught in a jealous, frustrating relationship. But at their very best, platonic relationships can enrich your life in countless ways.
The boundaries often get blurred in platonic friendships, and that can lead to hurt feelings or even a broken heart. That’s why it’s so important to know what a platonic friendship is, and how to treat your platonic friends with respect. Once you understand your platonic friendship, you can get the most out of the relationship and learn how to truly enjoy each other’s company, even without a romantic element.
Platonic friendships are important in life. And it’s even more important to understand them. In this article, we have the answers you’re looking for.
What Is A Platonic Friendship?
A platonic friendship is a close friendship between two people who are not dating or having sex. If the friendship moves beyond “just friends” then it is no longer platonic. There could be sexual tension between platonic friends, and one or both of them might have more sexual feelings of love and attraction, but they have not yet acted on it. A platonic friendship can be very close and very meaningful, but it is not a relationship, and not friends with benefits. You might love this person in the same way you love a brother or sister. Sometimes platonic friendships evolve into relationships, but sometimes you only remain strictly friends. Platonic friendships could be between members of the same sex, or members of the different sex, but people often feel the need to clarify that they are “strictly platonic” when there would be some potential of a more sexual relationship, such as a friendship between two gay men, two gay women, or a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman.
What A Platonic Friendship Isn't
If you kiss, or do anything more, then you are no longer strictly platonic friends, and you may be moving into friends with benefits or relationship territory.
You might have secret feelings for a platonic friend, but if they have expressed that they think you work better as friends, and you truly respect them as a platonic friend and not just a potential sexual partner, then you will honor his or her wishes and not try to pressure them into being something more.
Relationships change and evolve over time. You can be platonic friends with someone, then become a couple, then become platonic friends again! These are all parts of the cycles of life, and people will serve different purposes in your life at different times. So long as you maintain respect and communication, you don’t need to worry or pressure yourself.
A platonic friendship, and all friendships, should be based on love and respect for another person, and that means respecting what they want and what they don’t want.
The Benefits Of A Platonic Friendship
There are many good things about a platonic friendship, and here is a list of some reasons why you should consider a platonic friendship.
Because They're A Friend
What is life without our closest friends? A friend is someone to understand you, keep you company, and make you laugh. Sometimes your friendships become so close that your friends are more like family.
Sometimes, societally, we overhype romantic relationships, as if having a boyfriend or girlfriend as a life partner is the most important thing in the world. If you have a close platonic friend, don’t let that societal pressure distract you. A platonic friendship can enhance the quality of your life, challenge your perspective, and make you feel loved and supported, all without sex getting involved.
Maybe someday you and your platonic friend will move on to become more than friends. Some of the best romantic relationships start as friendships. But if that never happens, don’t be disappointed! A strong friendship is never a reason to feel disheartened. If you really admire and care for this person, then you will find that a friendship with them will be worth maintaining, even in the long run.
Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, friendship is a reason to celebrate. So what does a healthy friendship look like?
A healthy, positive friendship means…
- You respect each other’s opinions, even when you disagree,
- You build each other up and compliment the best qualities in each other, rather than tearing each other down,
- You are present both in the good times and the bad, and a friend is there for you, even if it is just to listen quietly,
- You make each other laugh, and share a similar sense of humor and outlook on life,
- You can talk openly without feeling judged or embarrassed,
- You make an effort to stay in touch with each other, even in spite of distance or busy lifestyles,
- You value each other’s opinions, and seek each other out for advice,
- You’re open to being vulnerable and honest with each other,
- You love each other, and you would feel a gap if this person were not your loyal companion.
Some people say that when you find a great friend, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That means that together, you are each better people than you are when you are separate. A great friend adds value to your life, is loyal to you, and supports you in times of need.
As you can see, there are many benefits to a platonic friendship, regardless or whether or not you become romantic partners! You can have all these benefits with someone, even if they are of the opposite sex, or of the gender that you are primarily attracted to.
Improved Communication Skills
The dating process can put a lot of pressure on people. You may always be nervous about what will happen and when, if there will be another date, if you are coming on too strong, or if you are moving too slow. Because you usually start dating someone who you don’t know too well yet, then there could be a lot of conflicting interests and miscommunication.
But friendship can be a great way to get to know someone without all the added pressure of dating. Because you know you are strictly friends, you might be willing to open up about things that you would not tell a potential sexual partner. You may be able to talk more openly and get to know one another’s vulnerabilities.
A big part of love is accepting the messy parts of another person, not just their best version. And yet, sometimes we’re afraid to show our true selves in a new relationship. But with our friends, it’s easy to be more silly, vulnerable, goofy, and even weak sometimes. In that way, friends get to fall in love with the real you.
It Can Teach You About The Opposite Sex
People are different, but many groups may share similar ways of thinking, and having a friend in that group can give you some insight as to how they behave and what you can expect.
Of course, this primarily applies to heterosexual couples, because to be in a homosexual relationship, the opposite sex doesn’t need to be involved.
Often in heterosexual relationships, there may be differences in gender that we don’t learn about growing up in health class. Having a platonic friend of the opposite gender might help you gain respect for the opposite gender, and humanize them.
Often in the media, the opposite sex is represented as very different from us. But having a platonic friend of the opposite sex will show you that those differences are not so great at all.
A friend of the opposite sex might also be able to offer insight that you wouldn’t otherwise get. For example, let’s say you have a mutual friend who you think is attractive, and you would like to get to know her better. If you approach her and ask about her feelings, it might be intimidating. But if you ask your platonic friend to talk to her and find out how she feels, she might be more open about her feelings.
If someone has a healthy platonic friendship, it is difficult to justify feelings of sexism, even more than if that person were your romantic partner. When you really get to know someone in a platonic way, you see the opposite sex as a more than just a sex object, or potential romantic partners. You get to know them as people, with complex and varied feelings, emotions, and desires.
You will always have to form and maintain relationships with the opposite sex, whether it’s in the office, at school, in a more personal or professional capacity. For that reason, it is best to learn early on how to foster a positive relationship with the opposite sex, even when sex is not involved. This will help you in your professional life and in life in general.
You Can Mutually Support One Another
The greatest benefit of a strong friendship is consistent support from another person. It is more common to see romantic partners represented in the media and in our lives as our life’s greatest source of support, but it does not need to be that way. You could live with a community of platonic friends and share the same benefits that a romantic relationship would give you. You can care for each other in times of illness or familial strife. You can help each other financially if one of you loses a job or has a problem with debts. Storms always come along in life, that’s for sure, so it is very healthy to have people you can depend on.
But even when there is no storm, a friend is there to celebrate with you as well. On the days you have an important game, performance, exam, or something of that nature, your friend will be in the first row to cheer you on, even if they have a crazy schedule.
Having a healthy platonic friendship could be very beneficial for your mental health, because you have someone you feel comfortable talking to about many aspects of your life.
If your emotional and supportive needs aren’t being met in a friendship, you should consider if it is a toxic friendship - is your friend only there when things are good, or when they need you? Or are they there for you when you need them?
Help You Identify Bad Relationship Habits
When we are caught in a bad relationship, sometimes we are the last to know. It is easy to be manipulated in an unhealthy union, but your friends always notice from the outside.
Especially if it is one of your first relationships, maybe you have convinced yourself or someone has convinced you that every member of the opposite sex is a certain way. For example, if you have always had a jealous girlfriend, maybe you have concluded that women are jealous. But if you have a close, female platonic friend, she can explain to you that not all women follow those habits and maybe even go so far as to say that the amount of jealousy in your relationship is unhealthy.
A friend is also sometimes more open with you than a lover, especially if you are in a new relationship. A friend will be quicker to call you out on behavior that is annoying or strange. If you notice that your relationships keep failing, you can ask an honest, close friend for their opinion on why they think it happens. And don’t be offended by their response! A true friend is there to help you improve, and offer insight that you might otherwise miss.
Let’s say you are a woman at a bar with your closest male friend. From a distance you see a man who you find attractive. You don’t know if he’s funny, strange, or single. Really, you don’t know anything about him. But if you go up to him alone, you face the chance of being rejected, or worse, he could turn out to be a total creep. Not to mention, if you approach him, the pressure is immediately on, and both of you will probably put on false personalities to try to impress each other.
You ask your best friend to talk to him first. He goes up to the guy and starts a casual conversation with him. He learns about this person in the context of friendship, without the pressure that immediately mounts as soon as you approach someone of the opposite sex in a bar. Your best friend comes back to you and reports that the guy is happily married, he is just out for a relaxing night with friends. Your guy friend just saved you an embarrassing experience of getting rejected by a stranger at the bar, and opened up your time to meet people who might actually be interested.
What’s more is that, even if you aren’t interested in being with your platonic friend romantically, they can introduce you to their friends. They can vouch for your character and tells their friends how wonderful you are. Your platonic friend can get the phone numbers and contact information of men or women who you are interested in then pass that information along to you. Your platonic friend could invite all his or her friends to hang out with all your friends, and organize a low-pressure event where strangers can get to know each other.
Sometimes approaching someone within the context of dating can be stressful. No one wants to be rejected, and no one wants to have to reject someone. Having a close friend of the opposite sex opens up a lot of possibilities, and can make dating a lot easier for everyone involved.
Trust Between Different Genders
The truth is, when sex gets involved in a relationship, things can get very complicated. Maybe all your role models of the opposite sex have become estranged, or the relationship has otherwise become complex.
If you keep a relationship strictly platonic, then you can get to know someone of the opposite sex who is consistent. Without more stressful feelings involved, you can build a solid friendship with someone who you can depend on, and you do not need to worry about a breakup suddenly getting in the way, like you might need to worry about with a relationship.
In general, there is just less pressure, which allows the friendship to be more consistent over time. You don’t need to worry about fights with in-laws, or long-distance, or raising children in the same way that you would in a long-term relationship. Without these added complications, your friendship can show you what it really is to depend on someone of the opposite gender. You can rely on your platonic friend to be there for you through the good times and the bad.
Friendship is all about respect. That means that if your friend wants to keep things platonic, you respect their wishes even if you do not feel the same way. When that person draws a line, or asks you to take a step back, you will do so, even when it hurts. You do not want to pressure someone, or ruin a great friendship. Your respect for the other person must always come first.
Having a platonic friend comes with all sorts of implicit boundaries. Being platonic with someone means you do not cuddle in bed together, or kiss on the lips, or otherwise act like boyfriend and girlfriend. Especially if you have been drinking together, or if you both feel curious and alone, there will be times when it’s tempting to cross those boundaries. But you can only move forward if you have consent and a deep, genuine respect for one another.
The key to any major move in your platonic friendship is communication. If you think things are moving towards friends with benefits, or toward a relationship, it is imperative that you ask the right questions and listen with patience and openness. Before making any drastic moves, ask your friend about his or her boundaries. Make sure they are comfortable. Find out what this will mean for your friendship. It may seem awkward or stunted in the moment, but you will be happy you paused and asked those questions later, when you are still able to maintain your healthy friendship.
There are many great things about platonic friendships, but there can be disadvantages too. Let's go through them for the sake of fairness.
You Can Catch Feelings
You are human, and so is your friend. It is normal to sometimes experience a sexual attraction to your friend, even if it is only due to the quantity of time you spend together. If you begin to notice feelings growing for the other person, start asking yourself about where those feelings are coming from and what to do next.
Sometimes romantic feelings grow slowly over time as both people get to know each other better. This is perfectly healthy. This might happen because the more you got to know this person, the more you liked them. Or it might happen simply because you spend all your time together. Or maybe the romantic feelings are not that strong at all, but you work so well together that you decide to try something more. Romantic feelings can be scary, and it is important that you always respect the desires of the other person, and you respect your own wants as well. For example, you should never feel pressured into a romantic relationship with someone who you genuinely only view as a friend. You should always give people respect, but you do not owe sexual attraction to anyone.
Romantic feelings could also grow because one or both people in the friendship never really wanted it to be platonic. Platonic relationships can lead to romantic ones, but it doesn’t happen all the time. Pop culture might lead us to believe that it happens more often than it does in reality - love songs and romcoms are not always based on real life! You should be sure that you don’t set out to find a platonic friendship if you actually want a relationship with that person. If one person is expecting a friendship, and the other is hoping for something more, then it is a recipe for some feelings getting hurt.
With respect and consent, you can always take the next step in your relationship and move from platonic friends to lovers. But keep in mind that things will be different once you cross that bridge. Maybe one person is looking for friends with benefits, and the other person is looking for a committed relationship. Maybe you both really like each other, but a relationship just would not work for either of you right now due to where you are in life. Consider that hooking up with your platonic friend is like opening Pandora’s box: you can never close it again.
After all, the definition of platonic is a friendship with no sexual desire or attraction. Once sexual feelings arise, whether or not it leads to a sexual relationship, it changes the relationship, and you can no longer call the friendship platonic.
If your friend wants to keep things platonic, but you have fallen in love with them, then it might be time to get some space. Meet new people and mend your broken heart. It will be easiest to go back to being simply platonic friends once you have healed from heart break and you are interested in dating other people. Treat this almost like a breakup. Try a new workout routine, change up your interior decorating, learn to cook some new meals, and switch up your wardrobe. All these things will help you move on, find someone new, and come back to your platonic friend when you are ready to really just be friends.
However, do not let fear of ruining a friendship deter you from something that could be really special romantically. Some say that once you have a relationship you can never go back to being “Just friends,” but that’s not necessarily the case. You could be platonic friends, try a relationship, realize it doesn’t work and break up, become strangers, then go back to being platonic friends! So long as there is consent, respect, and communication, the love does not need to go away. The same people might serve different purposes in your life at different points in time, and it’s no reason to fret or stress.
It’s normal for feelings to arise when you spend a lot of time with one person, even if you thought it would never happen. The important thing is to keep your feelings in check, and to talk about them with your friend - being open and honest about what you’re both feeling will prevent the friendship from becoming awkward, and ensures that you both continue to feel comfortable with each other.
Everyone Thinks You're Dating
Due to societal norms and other societal influences, people may constantly believe that you’re dating. However, this mindset also might happen if you are crossing boundaries that you might not cross in other friendships. Perhaps you flirt more with this person, even if you’re not sexually attracted to them.
Female friendships and male friendships can be very different from opposite-sex friendships, and so others might question your feelings and wonder if you’re in a romantic relationship. It’s important to set boundaries for your platonic relationship, being mindful of how you would behave in other friendships, and sticking to those boundaries.
Jealousy May Occur
If the two of you have partners, you may be faced with jealousy by your partners. For many, it's hard to believe that two heterosexual people of the opposite sex can be just friends, but it can happen. Even if you try to convince the partner that nothing is wrong, they may not believe you and still be skeptical.
This jealousy may occur from your partners or your friend’s partners, because for them it may be hard to believe that you really are just platonic friends. If your partner asks you to step away from your platonic friend, then you need to have a serious conversation with your partner about his or her jealousies and insecurities. If your partner really has nothing to worry about, then explain that to them, and don’t let your partner’s insecurities ruin a long-standing friendship. If your partner really loves and cares about you, then they will respect your friendships and trust you when you say that the relationship is platonic and nothing more.
You may also feel jealousy toward your platonic friend when he or she talks about other potential sexual partners. This might be a sign that the friendship is not as platonic as you previously thought, and you might have feelings for this person. Ask yourself why it bothers you when your friend speaks in a romantic way about other people, and honestly try to figure out if it is because you have feelings for them.
Platonic friendships offer all the benefits of a normal friendship, and even more if they imply that you have become close with a member of the opposite sex, or someone else who you might not normally get to know outside of the context of sex. A platonic friend can be your wingman, your confidant, your support system, and your greatest critic, all wrapped into one person you love.
It is important to maintain boundaries with your platonic friend, especially if you are in a monogamous relationship with someone else. And if your platonic relationship starts to move into romantic relationship territory, then that is okay, so long as you have respect, communication, and enthusiastic content from both people involved. Do not stress too much about “ruining your friendship” with this person, because even if you find out that the relationship did not work between you, then you can go back to being friends if that is what both of you want.
Just be sure to always respect the other person’s boundaries, and respect your boundaries as well, so that you never feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do.
If you are struggling to understand the relationships in your life and what to do about them, try speaking to a counselor who can offer some unbiased insight. If you are worried about costs, or if you have limited mobility right now, you can try counseling with a site like ReGain.us, who offer affordable online counseling with certified therapists and counselors.
Navigating relationships can be confusing and difficult. But help is available, and you don’t have to go it alone.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the three types of friendship?
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle named three types of friendships:
- Friendships of utility
- Friendships of pleasure
- Friendships of the good
Friendships of utility are when there’s an ulterior motive - a person is useful to you for one reason or another, and you’re useful to them. Maybe they’re the person who comes to the gym or a class with you, for example. Each person benefits from the friendship - you both get something out of it. Work-based friendships might be this kind of friendship.
Friendships of pleasure are similar, but the benefit is pleasure, or fun. Maybe this is the friend you play sports with, or go for drinks with at the weekend. It’s light-hearted and fun, rather than deep and serious.
Friendships of the good are like the ‘perfect friendship’. You’re friends because you value and respect each other, and want what’s best for the other person. You’re not in it because you want something out of it - you just appreciate each other.
Interpersonal relationships come in different forms. We’ll come across many people in our lives, and they will be acquaintances, friends, clients, employers/employees, business partners, romantic partners, etc. We may become friends with lots of people, but our friendships will be different according to what we want and how we know other people - the friendships will fit into one of these categories.
What are the levels of friendship?
As we meet people and get to know them, they will pass through levels of friendship. Our interpersonal relationships change over time. Some people will stay at low levels of friendship, and others will become very close friends.
The levels are as follows:
- Casual friend
- Close friend
- Intimate friend
Before we meet someone, they’re a stranger. We don’t know them. They are at the lowest level. Very quickly, people become acquaintances, and many people stay acquaintances, especially in professional relationships. If we spend time with people and get to know them, it’s likely they will become casual friends, and they could become close friends or intimate friends. Most people will be able to think of someone who fits into each of the lower categories, and many people will have close friends and intimate friends too. The intimate level is often reached over a long period of time and when people have shared vulnerability with each other. They feel comfortable with the other person knowing all about them.
What is platonic friendship?
The definition of platonic is two-fold:
1: Relating to or characteristic of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (in this case, Platonic would be capitalized).
2: Relating to or characteristic of a relationship marked by the absence of sexual desire or romance.
A platonic friendship is a non-sexual relationship between two people who could be romantically or sexually attracted to each other.
Is platonic friendship possible?
Yes. Platonic friendship is possible and can be very beneficial. The definition of platonic is an intimate, close friendship without sex. Usually, the term ‘platonic friendship’ is used to talk about a friendship between members of the opposite sex, but it can also be used to talk about same-sex friendships too.
Can platonic friends fall in love?
Yes. But when platonic friends fall in love, it changes the relationship from a platonic friendship to a romantic relationship. It may be that the relationship started as a platonic relationship and feelings have arisen over time. Interpersonal relationships often change over time, and it’s completely normal for feelings to arise after spending a lot of time with someone and getting to know them. But if platonic friends fall in love, in the romantic sense, then it’s no longer a platonic friendship.
However, a friendship can be so strong that you find yourself professing platonic love for each other. Even though you’re saying “I love you”, that love is platonic. Platonically loving someone means you’re not romantically or sexually attracted to each other, but admire the other person and feel affectionate towards them.
What is a platonic love relationship?
A platonic love relationship is a platonic relationship with strong feelings of gratitude and fondness for each other. The two friends respect each other and look out for each other, but there is no sexual attraction or activity. A platonic love relationship often occurs between two members of the same sex, but it can also happen with members of the opposite sex.
Is kissing platonic?
Usually not, although that depends on what kind of kissing you mean. Kissing on the lip instead of on the cheek is usually quite intimate. The definition of platonic is a friendship with no romance or sex. When we talk about platonic friendships, we don’t expect to be talking about kissing, as kissing is usually restricted to romantic or sexual relationships. Although we can kiss on the cheeks between friends, it’s best to keep kissing, especially on the lips, out of a platonic friendship. It can confuse thoughts and feelings and lead to the relationship changing. That is, of course, unless you want the relationship to change. In which case, you might work up the courage to kiss and see where it goes from there!
What is platonic flirting?
Platonic flirting is flirting with a platonic friend, with no intention of romance, and no desire for sex. You might find yourself giving your platonic friend compliments, touching their arm, or giggling with them. It’s completely normal, and harmless, as long as both parties feel comfortable. You should be aware of your friend’s body language and pay attention to any cues that they want you to stop. You should also be aware of taking it too far and you should be open with your friend about your feelings - if you are flirting with your platonic friend too much, it can lead to sexual tension, which means you are no longer keeping the friendship platonic - the definition of platonic friendship is that there’s no sex involved, or even any desire for sex. It’s also important that if either person in the friendship has a partner, they are open and honest with their partner about their platonic friendship - if someone is hiding their flirty friendship, they should consider whether it’s really just a platonic friendship.
Can platonic friends cuddle?
This depends on what you mean by cuddle. If by cuddle you mean a quick hug, or putting your arms around someone to show you care, then it can certainly be platonic. In this case, you might only cuddle as a hello or goodbye, to comfort the other person if they’re having a hard time, or some friends will share a hug to celebrate good news. If you start cuddling a lot more than this, for example when sitting and watching TV, the lines can start to get blurred and this can lead to romantic feelings and sexual tension, and opens up the possibility of sexual intimacy, which will stop the friendship from being platonic.
If you mean cuddling in bed, or cuddling while you sit next to each other, then that is usually not platonic, especially if both of you are attracted to each other. Sometimes best friends cuddle if they know there is no attraction, but if you’ve noticed sexual tension, or if you’ve noticed that you feel some attraction, then your urge to cuddle might not be completely platonic.
You should be very communicative with your friend, then keep to the boundaries you’ve set with your friend for your friendship. And if your in a relationship with someone and worried about then cuddling with someone else, then you should have a serious conversation with your partner. Communication always comes first, and you should never be afraid to be open about what you are comfortable or not comfortable with. Be open and firm, but polite with your thoughts and feelings, even if that means saying something like, “It make me uncomfortable when you cuddle with your friends,” or “I don’t want to cuddle with you because I would like to keep our relationship platonic.”
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