What does it mean to have a platonic relationship with someone? And what does platonic mean, anyway?
In Plato’s Symposium, guests at a banquet take turns giving speeches in honor of the god Eros and debating the true meaning of love.
Love as Plato conceived it was completely separate from lust or carnal desires. Real love brought both participants closer to the Divine. It refined and ennobled them. Love made both parties to it better than before.
Platonic love originally referred to love between two people of the same sex — romantic or otherwise — but now commonly refers to a nonsexual but deeply important relationship between two people of the opposite sex.
But what does a platonic relationship look like?
What is a platonic relationship?
Now that you know what platonic love is, let’s consider how that love looks in a relationship between two people.
Nowadays, we're more likely to define platonic as a completely nonromantic relationship between a man and a woman. But since, in Plato’s time, it more commonly referred to a relationship between two people of the same sex, it’s reasonable to attribute the signs of platonic love to both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
It isn’t as simple or as humiliating as what we call “the friend zone” — which is a sort of limbo for those whose love interests see them only as friends. Real platonic love is stronger and more meaningful than romantic or sexual love.
So, while it can certainly coexist with erotic love, it can also help both parties to it live more fulfilling lives even in the absence of romance.
The following signs will make it easier to identify a platonic love friendship.
5 Signs of Platonic Love
1. You can be brutally honest with each other.
When you don’t have to worry that your platonic friend will “break up” with you because he didn’t like the answer you gave to his question, it’s easier to be completely honest with each other.
In a romantic relationship, you might feel pressured to soften the blow or to say what you think the other wants to hear. Not so with a no-strings platonic friendship. You can go ahead and say what you know your friend needs to hear — not what might make them feel better (in the short term).
Sure, there’ll be times when your honesty gets on the other’s nerves (or vice-versa) but when you’ve had time to think about it, you both know you’d rather be able to trust that your friend is telling you the truth.
2. You feel free to be your authentic self with each other.
You don’t have to pretend to be someone else to win or retain the affections of your platonic friend. You both enjoy the freedom to be exactly who you are — even as your friendship continues to help you grow into the person you truly want to be.
A platonic friendship worth having is one that polishes you both. There’ll no doubt be friction sometimes, but it doesn’t break you. Neither of you is perfect, so there will be times when you get annoyed or even angry with each other.
But neither of you feel an obligation to be everything the other person is looking for in a life partner, because a platonic friendship, as a rule, isn’t bound or defined by a contract or by mutual vows.
It’s neither more nor less than a mutual commitment to be the friend the other needs you to be — which requires honesty in behavior as well as in word.
3. You feel a deep and mutual connection with each other.
It probably took less time to develop trust with this person than it has with others because you two have a deep, mutual connection that defies description. You might even have a strong feeling of familiarity when you meet, even if you can’t consciously remember ever having met before.
You can’t explain why that connection is there, but you know it is. And you instinctively know this person will always be important to you — no matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) between you.
Depending on your orientation, that deep connection may be exactly what makes sexual attraction possible. But while sexual or romantic interest can fluctuate, as long as the connection is there, the platonic love remains.
4. Your friendship is stronger than whatever life throws at it.
You might have disagreements now and then, and you might not even believe the same things, but your relationship matters enough to both of you that reconciliation isn’t long in coming.
You might publicly joke around, play practical jokes on each other, and act as though you’re always at odds, but let someone else attack your friend unjustly, and you’re quick to come to his or her defense.
No matter what happens to either one of you or whatever happens between you, your love and concern for each other doesn’t waver or fade. It might be harder to feel sometimes, but it doesn’t take much to remind you of how important your friendship is to you. And there isn’t much you wouldn’t do to protect or strengthen it.
5. Your friendship can become the foundation of a more intimate relationship.
If we’re talking platonic love vs romantic love, the contrasts should be clear by now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have both. One type of intimacy (tested by fire) could lead to another, and ideally, you’d retain the best aspects of platonic friendship as romantic feelings developed.
They don’t have to, though. One of the hallmarks of a platonic love relationship is its capacity for helping both parties grow and polish each other without the need for romantic love.
And even if romance becomes a part of your relationship, at some level, you know it’s less important (and less constant) than the bond of platonic love between you.
Romantic feelings can fade or fluctuate, but if you have a foundation of platonic friendship, you can rekindle the romance and strengthen the attraction between you, even as you grow older.
Benefits of Platonic Friendship for a Life Partner?
If you get the chance to develop a platonic friendship with someone before romantic feelings come into the equation, you’ve got something many couples would envy.
You have the best of both worlds, and even when you’re not feeling romantic, you don’t doubt the strength of the love between you and your life partner.
And as mentioned earlier, as long as the platonic love connection is there, the romance — if it came as a fruit of that connection — can catch fire again pretty easily.
You may or may not feel romantic love for your platonic life partner, but if you’ve committed to each other with vows and a public ceremony, chances are you want more from the relationship than something purely platonic.
It’s possible for two platonic friends to marry and to later develop romantic feelings for each other. It’s also possible for two lovers to marry and to later, because of a mutual commitment, develop a stronger friendship than they had before — probably because there was always a real connection behind the romantic feelings.
Without that connection, once the romance fizzles, building a platonic friendship is more difficult.
But when your first relationship with your life partner is a platonic friendship, you already know you can be yourself and be honest with each other, and your best friend will love you no matter what. Not every couple has that.
Be the friend you’re looking for.
Now that you know what it means to have a platonic love relationship, does anyone come to mind who fits the description of a platonic friend?
Or are you still looking for someone with whom you could enjoy such a relationship?
What do you look for in a friend that you might not look for in a potential love interest? What do your friends get away with that your significant other would not? What expectations do you have of a life partner that you wouldn’t expect of a platonic friend?
And if you found someone who had everything you were looking for in a friend and in a love interest, what kind of relationship would you want with this person first?
What if romance weren’t an option — for one reason or another — but you knew instinctively that a platonic friendship wouldn’t be enough for you?
A platonic friendship shouldn’t be anyone’s consolation prize. If it’s not the primary choice of the moment, the pretense that it is can only lead to pain. But for some, the chance that something other than a platonic friendship could develop is worth the risk.
In any case, whether your closest platonic friend is someone you love like a brother or sister or someone you admire as a mentor or guide, you want to be a better person for them. Because, on some level, you know you met them for a reason.
And you’re grateful for it.