Platonic relationship; keeping it friendly

Two people in a platonic relationship

Questioning whether deep friendships that cross the gender divide can remain completely platonic is nothing new. Does evolution really make it impossible for men and women to be friends? We’re not convinced. Here’s a more intricate look at platonic relationships, and how you can enjoy them.

What is a platonic relationship?

According to Science Daily, platonic love – in its modern guise – is an “affectionate relationship into which the sexual element does not enter, especially in cases where one might easily assume otherwise”.

It’s worth pointing out that the etymology of ‘platonic’ stems from the Greek philosopher Plato. Traditionally its meaning is twofold; it refers to the ancient thinker’s machinations on divinity, as well as his writings in Symposium on homosexual love between two men.

However, sometime during the Renaissance platonic love adopted the meaning we attach to it today, that of a close, heterosexual bond devoid of sensuality. At least in the English-speaking world, William Davenant’s 1635 comedy The Platonic Lovers – a play that reinterprets Plato’s concept and posits it as a connection based on virtuosity and truthfulness – is cited as the origin of our current definition.

Nowadays we talk about platonic relationships in a somewhat cynical sense; is an entirely amicable tie really achievable between and man and a woman, or will sex always enter into the equation? Seeing as we’ve discussed whether dating your best friend is wise and looked at what it means to be in the ‘friend zone’, we thought it only proper to ask whether the suspicion surrounding platonic love is fair.

Why can’t we be friends?

The most prominent reservation people hold about platonic relationships stems from our understanding of human evolution. According to canonical science, men and women are hardwired to procreate. Everything from our nervous system to the hormones that spark it into action is part of a complex biological nexus that’s been honed over millions of years.

For better or for worse, this basic scientific fact informs gender relations between men and women on a daily basis. It’s an idea so deeply entrenched in our culture compass that it’s effectively drawn the line between what we deem normal and abnormal when it comes to sexuality, falling in love, family life, and even legality.

Then there’s the question of masculinity. A growing corpus of sociological literature argues that men are socialised in a way that makes male/female friendships problematic. The root of this contentious standpoint is the concern that normative masculinity somehow subordinates femininity and puts an unrealistic emphasis on sex. It follows then that men struggle to with platonic love owing to the pressure they feel to conform to the norm.

How to make a platonic relationship work

Because it’s important to eschew pessimism, we’re confident that platonic love is in fact attainable. We also think it’s something that’s well worth pursuing. Overstepping binaries and identifying how our own gender shapes interaction is definitely part of the challenge. But having a healthy and honest platonic relationship can be conducive to a happier life. Here are five unisex tips on how to forge and maintain one.

Define your relationship

Metaphorically speaking, this point is literally the bedrock you build a platonic relationship upon. Being honest about the feelings you have for each other will reveal whether there are any passionate pangs involved. Don’t ignore this; failing to address romantic feelings early on could end up break up your friendship, lead to frustration or result in an affair.

Communication is king

An ongoing project for two people involved in a platonic relationship centres communication. It is vital that you both discuss anything that may cause tension. Establishing clear boundaries will prevent you from slipping into friends with benefits territory. Also, feeling free to voice concerns that you might be getting too close will enable you to be more open with each other. If in doubt, talk it out!

Celebrate the benefits

Having a platonic relationship in a society where they’re treated with a degree of suspicion can be burdensome for both of you. When you feel the strain, remembering some of the benefits your bond yields can be useful. For example, you’re under no duress to pretend or behave differently in front of each other. A close friendship is an indefatigable source of strength, and getting perspective from someone of the opposite sex can help you both see things in a new light.

Look after yourself

A platonic relationship will only work if it’s based on two people seeing eye to eye. If you do not feel like your friend’s equal, you need to question what’s going wrong. Unrequited love is a painful thing to experience, whether it’s you who’s experiencing it or your companion. There is a real danger that one half of a platonic relationship could be suffering from rejection yet hiding their strife with a brave face.

Trust trumps all

This is a multipart point. First of all, trust yourselves. Stick to the decision you’ve made to pursue platonic love and don’t kowtow to societal (or biological!) pressures. You’re both responsible for the choice you’ve made to be friends and you need to believe in it. Secondly, building trust with partners or spouses is crucial, be sure to make it clear that you’re platonic relationship isn’t at risk of becoming a physical or emotional affair.

If you think we’ve not covered all the bases or you’ve got a question, get in touch with one of our experts via the link below (sidebar on desktop) or drop us an email on [email protected].

About the author: Alex Rennie

See more articles written by Alex Rennie