3 characteristics of platonic love (and 5 ways to make it work)

A couple bonding. Signs he respects you.

Plato, from whom the word “platonic” comes from, once said, “Neither family, nor privilege, nor wealth, nor anything but Love can light that beacon which a man must steer by when he sets out to live the better life.”

It is a beautiful quote, and it means only one thing: Love must be the ultimate driving force and motivation behind any fulfilled and enriched life.

But what is “love”, and how can our understanding of this word change the way we appreciate the relationships that we have?

Is “love” limited to our husband or wife? Our children? Our family? Our friends?

There are many kinds of love that represent many kinds of relationships. Some of them include parental love, romantic love and platonic love.

So what does it mean to have a platonic relationship, and how is a platonic relationship represented in modern life?

Understanding a Platonic Relationship

happy couple
Image credit: Shutterstock – By Peter Berni

Plato most thoroughly discussed the idea of love in The Symposium, a text in which individuals at a banquet gave individual speeches to honor the Greek god of love, of Eros.

In these speeches the speakers shared their unique understandings of love, and the idea of platonic love was born in this dialogue.

To Plato, the original meaning of platonic love had nothing to do with vulgar or carnal lusts.

Plato defined platonic love as the kind of love that motivates us to become better versions of ourselves, inspiring us to pursue greater goals, and bringing us closer to enlightenment or the divine.

However, these days the term “platonic relationship” is usually used to describe a “friends only” relationship.

The kind of relationship in which you would do anything for the person, regardless of gender, but have no interest in being with them sexually or romantically.

But it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a relationship is a platonic one, especially if one partner is slightly attracted to the other.

The lines often get blurred, and clearing up the status of a relationship—a platonic one, or one that might become more—is crucial towards defining a healthy relationship.

3 Traits of a Platonic Connection

The easiest way to tell if a platonic connection is simply platonic is to ask yourself: is this person just a friend, or more?

However, answering this question isn’t always easy. So here are three characteristics of a platonic relationship:

1) You Respect Each Other’s Boundaries

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Dmytro Zinkevych

When you begin a relationship with a new person, you have zero knowledge of each other’s boundaries.

The things you’re comfortable doing and not doing without changing the status of your relationship; these are your boundaries, and respecting these boundaries without pushing is crucial towards establishing a good platonic relationship.

Friendships that are new and still evolving might not yet have established boundaries.

This might be because the two parties have yet to share enough experiences to develop these boundaries; it could also be because one party is interested in having more than the other party is interested in.

If two friends can get over the difference in attraction and interest, then the beginning of a platonic relationship can start up.

For example, one boundary that many platonic relationships must have is whether or not they will sleep in the same room when travelling together.

Will there be a conflict of interest if you get involved sexually or romantically, and will there be pain if you have these experiences with another person?

These are the boundaries you need to define and, hopefully, respect.

2) You Don’t Hold Expectations Over Each Other

Expectations are common in romantic and sexual relationships, and it’s not hard to see why.

When you give your heart and trust to someone, you expect them to treat you with a certain level of attention, kindness, and loyalty.

It’s about a mutual respect in which you avoid doing certain things because you are loyal to your partner, and you expect the same commitment from them.

But platonic relationships aren’t bogged down with these details.

You have no shared commitments—no family, no mortgage, no pets, no shared finances—so you don’t owe each other anything except friendship.

When you and your platonic partner become comfortable with the idea that you hold each other to no expectations, then you can say that it is truly a functional platonic relationship.

If not, then there might still be some long discussions to be had.

3) You Aren’t Afraid to Be Truly Honest

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Roman Kosolapov

As much as we might hate to admit, no romantic relationship could exist if we didn’t sometimes pepper it with small white lies.

We say things to make our partner happy, to ensure that we live in a house of peace, to keep things working perfectly.

But in a platonic relationship, there isn’t much need for this kind of small deceit. Firstly, you have no fear that your partner might leave, because they aren’t a partner at all.

They’ve got their own life and you’ve got yours; the only expectation in your relationship is that you spend enough time together every now and then to keep it alive.

You also don’t have to worry about keeping peace. You and your platonic relationship partner can part ways for a certain amount of time, and you can come back to it when the wounds have healed.

And if they don’t, then they don’t—it wasn’t meant to be, even in a platonic kind of way.

Guys and Gals Can Be Friends: How You Can Make Platonic Relationships Work Despite What Society Says About Them

If you’ve ever had a friend of the opposite sex who is “just a friend,” you know how hard it is to maintain that relationship under the pressures of society, your friends, family, and their romantic partners.

Some people will never understand that a man and woman can be friends without needing to sleep together.

What’s more, people who have slept together and have been in a relationship for a long time can come out of it and just be friends.

It’s not always possible for people to remain friends through the sexual tensions that might exist or continue to linger after a romantic relationship has ended, but with a little planning and some ground rules, it will not only be possible, you will be successful.

1) Recognize the tension ahead of time

As we said, you are going to have to get frank about the tension that might exist between the two of you.

Your relationship might cease to exist the moment you bring this up, but it is important that you find out ahead of time what tension can do to a platonic relationship.

You don’t want to try to put any effort into a relationship that runs the risk of becoming romantic if that is not what you really want, or if you are trying to trick yourself into thinking that is not what you really want.

Talk about how hard this might actually be and keep reading.

2) Get clear on what this is and what it is not

If you are friends with benefits, great, if you are just friends, great: whatever you decide, decide ahead of time what your relationship is going to be and stick to it no matter what.

If the situation changes, or if someone in the platonic relationships changes their mind or discovers that they do, in fact, have feelings for the other person, make a pact to bring it up no matter what.

It’s easier with two heads trying to sort through the confusion, and you’ll feel relief about being honest.

3) Be adults about it

There’s no need to be shy. If you have gotten this far, it’s likely that you and your friend can be adult about what is going on here and can remain friends for a long time.

The trouble starts when one party is playing games or isn’t sure what they want. Being adult means being honest about your feelings, your doubts, your worries, and your thoughts.

Don’t hold back when it comes to being the best friend you can be, even if that means you have to call it quits.

4) Discuss the benefits of not being in a romantic relationship

You’ll quickly find that your platonic relationship will either fly or flop. If there are unspoken words or issues, this is not going to work.

Part of having a platonic relationship is that you need to be open and honest about what you want out of the friendship.

It’s not common for men and women to be friends just for the hell of being friends – people want an explanation, so do yourselves a favor and figure out ahead of time why being friends is better than being romantic partners.

5) Remember that you are not responsible for how others perceive your relationship

When you enter into a platonic relationship you should be ready for a lot of blowback from the community at large: people are not comfortable with this kind of relationship.

They’d sooner see you cheating on your spouses than having friends that cannot be explained easily. But remember that you are not responsible for what other people think.

It may be helpful if everyone involved in the relationships and people at arm’s length to you both (parents, friends, family, romantic partners) gets a concise explanation of what is going on, but otherwise, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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