Platonic Love

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated June 22, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

When we hear the word “relationship,” many of us likely picture a romantic bond. However, there are many types of relationships, and all of them can be a valuable part of our lives. In this article, we’re going to talk specifically about platonic love and relationships.

Wondering If Your Relationship Is Platonic Or Something More?
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Platonic Love

First, what is platonic love? The term and concept actually date all the way back to the 1500s. However, the idea of what a relationship is platonically has evolved over the years. The first known person who identified the concept was the philosopher Plato, whose name the word “platonic” stems from.

His definition of what platonic love is differs from that of the modern interpretation. His definition of this type of love was one that wasn't about lust, but instead a love that would bring you closer to the divine and brought out the best traits in all involved. It applied to all forms of relationships, including romantic ones.

Nowadays, when we use the term “platonic love,” it typically refers to love that isn't romantic or sexual in nature. A loving platonic relationship might be with a person of the opposite sex or the same sex. Platonic love can be between people of any gender or sexual orientation.

Platonic Love vs. Unrequited Love

Platonic love should not be confused for unrequited love. In the latter type of relationship, one party has romantic feelings for the other, while the other person does not have the same feelings and typically sees them as a friend or acquaintance. While the two may remain friends, the relationship is never truly platonic due to the romantic feelings on one side. If you say your connection to someone is platonic, it most often means that no romantic or sexual feelings are there. For example, if you’re with your best friend and someone asks, “Are you two together?”, you might respond with, “No, we’re platonic,” or, “No, we’re just friends.”

Characteristics of Platonic Love

Platonic love or not, it’s vital that our love and our connections are healthy. In many ways, platonic relationships may work well for the same reasons that other relationships may work well.  Here are some characteristics of healthy love to carry into your platonic love:

Honesty

Honesty is a healthy trait in platonic relationships. This applies to any friendship or relationship. Over time, friends naturally begin to share details of their lives, and enough trust is created to enable the people in the relationship to be continually honest with each other about things. Platonic friends can build trust and stronger bonds by treating each other with respectful honesty.

Boundaries

Every healthy relationship has boundaries. It’s important in all of our interpersonal relationships that we be respectful or and receptive to boundaries. Healthy boundaries and mutual respect are important for the well-being of individuals and for the well-being of the relationship. Examples of boundaries might be, “I want to see you, but I can only stay out until 10 PM,” or, “I’m not comfortable sharing information about personal finances.” Respecting personal boundaries can be an important aspect of a healthy platonic relationship.

Appreciation

Appreciation matters in any relationship. Research shows that gratitude and appreciation in friendship support the connection. A platonic friend who appreciates you—and who you appreciate in return—can help you feel a sense a gratitude for both your friendship and for the other positives in your life.

Autonomy, understanding, emotional support, and kindness are other healthy relationship traits. If a friendship, partnership, or any other kind of relationship isn’t healthy, it’s important to set boundaries and express how you feel. If the other person isn’t receptive, it may be time to change or end the connection, especially if you feel that the relationship has turned into something that’s unhealthy for you as a person.

Can A Platonic Love Relationship Become Romantic?

You may have an honest relationship, in which there were no sexual or romantic feelings for one another at the start. However, there is a chance that a platonic relationship can turn into a romantic one. Mindsets change, and some people develop a deep friendship before they have any romantic relationship. In fact, this is relatively common. Statistics indicate that 68% of romantic partnerships start out as friendships in the general population, and the percentage is even higher among some demographic groups. In other cases, platonic relationships may become sexually intimate, but perhaps without romantic love. (Some people might call this “friends with benefits” or having “mutual benefits.”)

How do you know if a relationship platonically is morphing into a romantic connection? Do you feel like you might be getting mixed signals or having mixed feelings? Here are some signs that you could turn into more than friends:

  • There is flirting going on. 
  • There’s a higher level of attachment. 
  • You're always talking about them to other people. 
  • You may feel a more romantic attraction or sexual attraction when you’re physically close or have physical contact.
  • Deep down, you already know. 

If you find yourself having romantic feelings of love towards your friend, what do you do? First, check in with yourself. Make sure that these thoughts of love are authentic and aren’t born out of something like loneliness or misattribution of feelings, which can happen. A simple way to determine whether your newfound feelings of romantic love are a possible result of loneliness, you can think critically about it and ask yourself, “If I wasn’t lonely, would I still feel this way?” To determine if you might be misattributing your feelings, consider whether or not you’ve just recently gotten out of a romantic love relationship. If so, did your deepened feelings toward your friend begin around that time? If you’ve just gotten out of a romantic love relationship, give yourself ample time to heal and move on before trying to think too deeply about any possible romantic feelings that you have toward someone else. If you discover that neither loneliness nor misattribution are at the root of your feelings, it might be time, if you choose to do so, to express your feelings of love to your friend.

Before having an open and honest conversation with a platonic friend about your feelings and the possibility of becoming romantic partners, you might want to consider your feelings about physical intimacy with that person. If your friend became your romantic partner, how would your relationship change? How would sexual intimacy change a non-sexual relationship? Would your romantic interest in one another strengthen a deep bond that you already have?

By expressing your feelings, you may discover that your friend also has feelings for you. However, if they don't, it can feel awkward. A friendship may not return to the status quo when it's discovered there is unrequited love. It’s important to keep this in mind when trying to decide whether or not to attempt to move your relationship out of it's current realm.

With that said, what happens when you develop feelings for a friend, but they don't have those same feelings for you? You may want to be friends still, but you likely don't want the tension of having unrequited love. Sometimes, the best solution would be to give yourself some space from the friend. Friendships can often have breaks in which the two of you are doing your own thing. Take some time to find other people. Go on dates if that’s something that you feel ready for. Who knows? You may find someone who is a better fit for you, and you can return to your friendship with the romantic feelings gone and much of the tension dissipated as a result of both time and you finding someone else.

This isn't the case all the time. Sometimes, even with space, the romantic feelings remain. It can hurt to bottle up your emotions, and it’s not healthy to do so - both physically and emotionally. It’s tough when this is the outcome, and in some cases, you or the other person may decide to end the friendship in order to heal.  

Therapy

Many people go to therapy for support in interpersonal relationships of all kinds, including familial relationships, friendships, and romantic partnerships. Social health is an important component of mental health, after all, and having positive bonds in your life is a significant factor in our overall health. Whether you want to address interpersonal relationships or another area of life, a counselor or therapist can help. You can find someone to work with through a web search, a referral from a primary care provider, or by signing up for an online platform like ReGain. ReGain verifies the licensure of every provider on the platform, and the plans are often a more affordable option when compared to the cost of offline services without insurance. Regardless of how you seek help, you deserve quality care and healthy interpersonal bonds.

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