What Is a Platonic Relationship?
A platonic relationship is one in which people share a close bond but do not have a sexual relationship. The concept originates in the ideas of the ancient philosopher Plato, from whose name the term is derived. Where Plato believed this type of love could bring people closer to a divine ideal, the modern use of the term is focused on the idea of people being close friends.
The opposite of a platonic relationship is a sexual or romantic relationship. While the term is sometimes thought to apply only to opposite-sex friends, it can also apply to same-sex friendships as well.
Signs Your Relationship Is Platonic
There are a number of characteristics that distinguish a platonic relationship from some other types of relationships. In addition to the lack of a sexual aspect, this type of relationships also tends to be marked by:
- Closeness: Both people in the relationship feel a closeness to each other and feel that they share things in common.
- Honesty: Both individuals feel that they can share what they really think and feel with the other person.
- Acceptance: These relationships tend to feel easy and comfortable. Both people feel that they are safe and free to be themselves.
- Understanding: People who share a platonic relationship have a connection, but they also recognize and respect each other’s personal space. They don’t try to force the other person to do things they don’t want to do or be something that they are not.
These types of relationships are often friendships. And while the lack of a sexual relationship is what characterizes this type of connection, it does not necessarily mean that the individuals in the relationship are not attracted to each other or could not start to feel attracted to one another.
Types of Platonic Relationships
A few different terms have emerged to describe some different types of platonic relationships. These include:
- Bromance: This is a term used to describe a close, affectionate, non-sexual relationship between two men.
- Womance: This term is used to describe an emotional, non-sexual, non-romantic bond between two women.
- Work spouse: This phrase is sometimes used to describe a close but non-sexual connection between colleagues or co-workers that involves bonds and sometimes even roles similar to that of a marriage.
How to Form Platonic Relationships
Platonic relationships can be important for psychological well-being. Research has found that having social support plays a vital role in mental health, so building a network of people that include family, platonic friends, and other loved ones can be important for your overall wellness.1
Some things that you can do to help foster platonic relationships include:
- Join social networking groups where you can meet people
- Sign up for workshops or classes on topics that interest you
- Participate in online communities
- Volunteer for causes you care about in your community
In addition to developing new platonic relationships, it is also important to understand how to keep the ones you have now healthy and strong. Some ways to do this include being supportive, maintaining boundaries, and practicing honesty.
Impact of Platonic Relationships
There are a number of reasons why having platonic relationships is important for your health and well-being. Some of the positive effects that these relationships may bring to your life include:
Love and Support
Research suggests that having love and support from people in your life can have important health benefits. This type of support can lower your risk for disease, improve your immunity, and decrease your risk for depression and anxiety.2
Your platonic support system can help provide emotional support by listening to what you have to say, providing validation, and helping you when you are in need.
Stress can take a serious toll on both your physical and mental health. Chronic or prolonged stress can contribute to health problems such as cardiac disease, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and decreased immunity. It can also play a role in mood problems such as anxiety or depression.
Having strong platonic relationships outside of immediate family and romantic partnerships, however, has been found to help people cope better with sources of stress. Not only that, having supportive platonic friendships lowers the stress that people face.3
Platonic relationships can also play a role in helping you become more resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Whether it involves troubles in your romantic relationships, problems in your family, work struggles, or health challenges, your platonic relationships can support you as you weather these storms.
One study found that one of the biggest predictors of a person’s ability to recover after a traumatic or stressful event was the presence of strong friendships.4
Tips for Health Platonic Relationships
Platonic relationships are not always easy to find. When you do establish a strong platonic bond, it is important to continue to nurture and strengthen that connection. Some things that you can do to help keep these relationships healthy include:
- Don’t make them do all the work: Don’t rely on the other person to make all of the plans or initiate all of the contact. Reach out to them regularly to invite them to participate in activities.
- Stay in touch: Call, text, or even email the other person from time to time just to keep that line of communication open. Let them know you are thinking of them, reach out to share a funny joke you know they’ll enjoy, or just ask them how they are.
- Show up for them: Other people can be an important source of emotional support, but it’s just as important for you to reciprocate that support. Be there when they need you, even if it is just to lend an open and supportive ear.
It is also important to know when to let go of a platonic relationship. Unhealthy relationships can create stress, so don’t be afraid to end your association if the other person is unkind, manipulative, hurtful, or doesn’t support you the way you support them.
It is important to note that platonic relationships are not the same as unrequited love. Where an unrequited relationship is essentially a crush that involves one person being romantically or sexually interested in someone who does not return their feelings, true platonic relationships do not involve an unequal balance of emotions.
This does not mean that a platonic relationship can’t or won’t develop into something romantic or sexual. This can be a problem if preserving a platonic friendship is important. While such a relationship can potentially turn into strong romantic relationships, you also run the risk of losing the friendship if you end up breaking up.
If maintaining a platonic relationship is important to you, focus on establishing and maintaining clear boundaries. For example, set limits on things such as time spent together, amount of contact, and physical intimacy.
Some boundaries you should maintain in a platonic relationship include:
- Don’t gossip or complain about your partners to each other
- Don’t engage in physical contact beyond casual intimacy (i.e., avoid things like hand-holding, kissing, or “friends-with-benefits” situations)
- Don’t ditch your partner to spend time with your platonic friend
- Don’t hide your platonic relationship from your partner
- Give each other plenty of space
- Make time for your other relationships
What If You Want Something More
If you are the one who wants to extend a platonic relationship into something more, it is important to be open and honest with the other person. Express your interest without pressuring them.
Discuss what it might mean to the relationship and how it might ultimately affect your friendship. Platonic relationships can serve as a great foundation for a romantic relationship, but it is important to be honest and communicate openly.
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.
American Psychological Association. Manage stress: strengthen your support network. Updated October 2019.
Miller A. Friends wanted. Monitor on Psychology. 2014;45(1):54.
Amati V, Meggiolaro S, Rivellini G, Zaccarin S. Social relations and life satisfaction: the role of friends. Genus. 2018;74(1):7. doi:10.1186/s41118-018-0032-z
Harmelen A-L van, Kievit RA, Ioannidis K, et al. Adolescent friendships predict later resilient functioning across psychosocial domains in a healthy community cohort. Psychological Medicine. 2017;47(13):2312-2322.