The Definition Of A Platonic Relationship And What The Opposite Is

Updated November 17, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

There are many types of relationships, and in this post, we'll talk more about the platonic relationship, also known as platonic love.

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What Is a Platonic Relationship?

The idea of what a platonic relationship is has evolved over the years. The person who came up with the concept was the philosopher Plato, whose name makes the term.

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

The modern definition of platonic love still has some of Plato's ideas, such as the idea of a bond that brings the best out of the two of you, but platonic love now centers around the idea of two people "being just friends."

This usually applies to two heterosexual people of the opposite sexes, but it can apply to same sex relationships as well. In other words, the two of you are good friends, but there is no sexual activity involved. Friends with benefits is not a platonic relationship.

The opposite of a platonic relationship is a romantic or sexual relationship.

Platonic Love vs. Unrequited Love

Platonic love should not be confused for unrequited love. In this relationship, one party has romantic feelings for the other, and the other person does not have the same feelings and just sees them as a friend. While the two may remain, friends, the elephant in the room is always hovering over them, and the relationship is never truly platonic.

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A relationship of unrequited love can bring forth envy when the other person is in a relationship, and its ulterior motive makes it a complicated candidate for a platonic relationship. It's rare that a heterosexual pair of friends of the opposite sex doesn't experience at least some attraction.

Besides there not being any unrequited love, there are other characteristics of a platonic relationship.

Characteristics of A Platonic Relationship

To have a great platonic relationship, you need to have these characteristics:

Honesty

This applies to any friendship or relationship. A platonic relationship is formed with honest motives. Over time friends begin to share details of their lives, and enough trust is created to enable the people in the relationship to be honest with each other about things.

Boundaries

Any relationship has boundaries, and these boundaries are usually not talked about, but instead form organically. Some friends may want to share everything with one another, and others may want to keep their privacy. With any boundaries, they can change in time, and the two of you may see how far your boundaries stretch, but ultimately, both people are respectful of boundaries as they develop or are discussed. Crossing boundaries often may be a sign that your relationship isn't so platonic.

Can A Platonic Relationship Become Romantic?

You may have an honest platonic relationship, where there were no sexual or romantic feelings for one another at the start. However, there is always a chance that a platonic relationship can turn into a romantic one. Mindsets change, and some people have to have a deep connection before they have any romantic relationship.

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A platonic relationship becoming romantic can be either the next step in your relationship, or it can be what comes crashing it down if the feelings are unrequited. Here are some signs that there may be more to your relationship.

  • There is flirting going on. Sometimes, platonic friends may jokingly make flirty remarks, but when it becomes excessive, and there is clear intent that there is more going on that just a non-sexual relationship, it can raise some eyebrows.
  • There is too much attachment. Clinginess is a clear sign that you share romantic feelings for that someone. It's okay to miss your friends every once in a while, but if you can't live without talking to your friend, there may be an attraction.
  • You're always talking about your platonic friend to other people. While you may talk about your friendships, you're usually not talking about your friend obsessively to another person. Be aware of how much you discuss your friendship with others.
  • You fantasize and discuss sex. If you ever had a fantasy or a dream about having sex with your platonic friend, it can be a sign that you have romantic feelings for them. These can, of course, spill over into your platonic relationship. As for discussing sex, while the two of you may discuss many topics, if the two of you go into intimate detail about your sex lives, this could be a sign that something more is brewing.
  • One sign is that you just don't know the difference between being friendly and being passionate. In other words, you feel more than just support and friendliness towards your friend, and instead, it becomes a passion, which can evolve into romantic feelings.
  • Boundaries are always being crossed. If you're attracted to someone, you may be crossing boundaries, sometimes without even realizing it. For example, you may pull yourself closer to your friend than what is usually comfortable.

If you find yourself having romantic feelings towards your friend, what do you do? 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.

With that said, what happens when you develop feelings for a friend, and they don't have those feelings back? You want to be friends still, but you don't want that tension of having unrequited love. At best, it's an awkward air, and at worst, it can ruin your friendship for good, and no one wants that.

Sometimes, the best solution would be to give yourself some space from the friend. Friendships often have breaks where the two of you are doing your own thing. Take some time to find other people. Go on dates. 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 be able to have a good friendship.

This isn't the case all the time. If you still have feelings, then you may want to let the friend go. Dealing with your romantic feelings may not be the best option, as bottling up your emotions comes with complications of its own.

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Seek Help!

If you have any concerns about your friendship, or you want to talk to someone about your feelings for someone, one way you can deal with the problem is by talking to a counselor.

There is no shame in seeking a professional when you have problems with your friends. You can discuss your feelings and thoughts with a counselor, and they will help you create a plan for addressing what is going on.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean to have a platonic relationship?

Platonic love or platonic relationship is a special emotional and spiritual relationship between two people who love, admire, and are committed to one another because they share common interests, values, similar world view, a deep spiritual connection, or share similar values and interests. Platonic love is non-sexual and has no form of romantic attachment at all; it is just two people who are grateful for each another, are interested in each other's betterment and growth, inspires each other's mind and soul, directs each other's attention to spiritual things and sees it as a point of duty to provide advice, comfort, and encouragement to each other.

Can platonic relationships work?

Most assuredly, yes. Platonic relationships can work if done the right way. Friendship with someone of the opposite sex, which isn't mediated by sexual attachment, can be pretty great, viable, real, and common. Two people can share a special emotional and spiritual relationship bond without any form of sexual desire or interest, just pure mutual respect, deep care, and loyalty to the other person. It is important, however, to set boundaries for our platonic love relationships and friendships; this is the most important tool for maintaining a healthy platonic love relationship. You need to keep the lines of friendship clear; this will help you stay in check and respect each other's needs and set boundaries.

Can a romantic relationship turn platonic?

Yes, a romantic relationship can become platonic, due to some factors or reasons. Every relationship goes through its season of rough patches and challenges. Some of these issues are easy to solve, while sometimes, it seems your relationship keeps taking a downward turn and it can be difficult to tell if your relationship is just going through a rough time or you are falling out of love for that person. People in relationships may get to a point where they no longer feel an emotional connection or sexual desire towards their significant other, and this may make their romantic love and relationship gradually become a platonic one.

Also, in situations where a romantic relationship which did not successfully work out, the individuals may decide to move on but still keep in touch and be friends with their exes, and only exhibit platonic love to one another.

What does it mean to have a platonic friendship?

Having platonic love and friendship with someone simply means a healthy and deep friendship with no sexual desires attached. Platonic love or friendship was named after the Greek philosopher Plato, who says that love is the impulse or motivation that makes us discover, understand, and experience true beauty.

People who are in platonic relationships may share a very close bond but there is no physical or sexual attraction between them. The relationship can be deep and intense and can form some of life's longest and best relationships. Platonic love can also help to increase a sense of belonging, especially for people with bipolar disorder or any other psychological challenge. It also improves our self-confidence and it also boosts our mental health because it helps to reduce anxiety and stress. The different types of love we have in our lives and how well we maximize them can help us live life to the fullest.

Can you platonically date someone?

What makes a platonic relationship is that it doesn't cross the line into anything sexual. It is not a physical but purely spiritual relationship. A man and a woman may enjoy each other's company, hanging out all the time, even spend valentine's day together, though they aren't in a sexual dating relationship. Platonic love and platonic relationships are marked by the absence of sexual tension or physical desires. A man and woman can be very close friends with a special bond, share memories, build positive experience, discuss their goals and aspirations, talk about their personal relationships and even their sex life, travel together, share finances, in all other ways except sexually and romantically, their lives and relationship may be almost close to what other long-term couples may have.

Can a marriage be platonic?

This is very possible. Although the common thing is to see a marriage between two people who are in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together, platonic marriage also exists. The choice to get married is solely on the two people going into it and the law doesn't exactly care if you both are in love or not. Platonic marriage is always between two platonic lovers who are just friends with no romantic love or emotional attachment involved. The reason people do this may vary – for some, it is because they want a family at the time and haven't found someone they are in love with yet, so the easier option was their close friend. For some, it could be that the two of them are both aromantic, and so since they both have no desire for romantic relationships, they decide to get married to each other.

Are friendships platonic?

Platonic love or friendship is a special and spiritual type of love that we share with our friends, which does not involve any sexual interest or emotional. It involves mutual respect, deep care, and loyalty between heterosexual individuals. A lot of friendships start off as either personal or professional before it then grows into something more serious. Platonic love can be healthy and very instrumental for healing and breaking free from character traits, eating disorder, depression, and especially for those with mental health issues like bipolar disorder.

However, it is important to note that not every friendship is platonic. When you newly meet someone, whether in a personal or professional setting, there is a process through which you determine what role such people may eventually get to play in your life, including how close you'll let them be to you. If you both eventually end having that deep connection, then that is platonic love. Some friendships can, however, be classified as non-platonic, like 'friendship with benefits' or unrequited love.

Can you love someone platonically?

As argued by Plato, there are four types of love: the familial love, which reflects the way we express love to our family – parents, children and grandchildren; the romantic love that we express to romantic partners, the sexual love for sexual partners, and filial – now commonly called platonic, the type of love we express to our friends. These types of love differ in their expressions.

In the common, modern interpretation sense, platonic love is a type of love that is a deep, non-sexual affectionate feeling or relationship between two people of the opposite sexes. This shows that a man and a woman can be platonic lovers, i.e., have a deep care for each other, watch out for each other's overall well-being and happiness, spend time with each other, without having any form of romantic or sexual feelings towards them.

What is a non-platonic friendship?

Simply put, non-platonic friendship is one that has a romantic or sexual component or has the two combined. Unlike platonic love that does not involve any sexual connection, non – platonic love is a type of love that involves pursuing romance or sexual intimacy. Apart from the normal romantic relationships between a lady and a guy, a common form of non-platonic love or friendship is the friendship with benefits. Here, there are no emotional commitments or romantic attachments; neither of you wants a relationship or has emotional attachments. They are not under any obligation to commit, and their sex life is kept private. You are only together for the benefits – spending time together (including valentine's day), go hiking or for concerts together, helping out one another, and having sex whenever you feel like it.

Unrequited love is also considered a form of non-platonic love. Here, one of the parties in the friendship has deep and strong romantic affection for their friend and desires to pursue romance or intimacy, but the other person does not reciprocate these feelings or emotions.  Whether the other person shares these feelings or not, this cannot be considered as platonic love.

Can a man and woman have a platonic relationship?

There has always been intense debate on the possibility of heterosexual males and females being 'just friends.' Platonic love and relationship, i.e., the close, non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman, isn't impossible. Men and women can be platonic friends. Both gender work, school, play, and co-exist together in day-to-day life and are capable of being 'just friends' and maintaining good friendship without any sort of sexual tension or attachments. However, the debate often rises that more often than not, there is a possibility that underneath this seemingly platonic love and harmless non-physical type of love and friendship is merely a façade to cover up underlying sexual impulses and that usually, sexual desire is suppressed and hidden somewhere beneath the surface.

Many believe that the opportunity – or a perceived opportunity – for sexual love is often always lurking around somewhere in the corner, only waiting for the perfect moment to drive the sparks into action. Some individuals feel men and women cannot just be friends because they believe the sex part just somehow finds its way through. Once attraction has set in for one or both of them, the relationship cannot and will not be platonic. While intimacy is a positive trait of any friendship, sexual intimacy can be detrimental to any platonic friendship. This, however, does not rule out the fact a man and a woman can be platonic friends and actually build a solid, absolutely non-sexual platonic love relationship, as long as the relationship is well defined.

To summarize, platonic relationships can work well, but we are all human. Sometimes, romantic feelings may develop, and it can make the relationship more difficult. A true platonic relationship, where neither of you has sexual or romantic feelings, is quite rare, and it should be cherished.


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