What is a Platonic Friendship And Do They Really Exist?
By: Danni Peck
Updated January 28, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Martha Furman, LPC, CAC
One of the most controversial questions about a relationship between a man and a woman is: can they ever really just be friends? If a man and a woman are friendly enough and like enough things about each other, then why can't they just date? What prevents them from getting romantic with each other?
Heck, the movie When Harry Met Sally… delves into this question at great length. And (spoilers) at the end of the film, they end up together. So, the answer to that question, at least according to that film is, no, men and women can never be "just friends." But is this true, or just something manufactured by Hollywood to make a timeless rom-com?
Women And Platonic Friendships
When it comes to women being "attracted" to men, there is some debate on how much looks matter versus personality or other factors. The traditional line of thought is that women, when looking for a long-term partner, are less concerned with physical attractiveness as they might be with personality. Looks may be part of it, butmaking her laugh and seeming sensitive and kind is vital too.
Women tend to turn to their male friends for advice when they're already in a relationship. Though, this is when things can turn dangerous, as the woman starts asking herself: "why can't my boyfriend be more like you?"
However, it is also easier, in many cases, for the woman to keep the relationship platonic, or friendly, because she is looking for advice and good conversation, nothing more. It doesn't matter if her friend can't support her financially or wouldn't make a good father to her children (or even be interested in having children) because she turns to him for comradery, not romance.
Men And Platonic Friendships
Men, on the other hand, may find themselves struggling with keeping things platonic. This is because men are typically attracted to women by their looks first. Their sexual desire for a woman is what encourages him to learn as much as he can about her, which leads him to fall in love with her eventually.
Men are inherently drawn to women that will make good mates, so to be friends with a woman may be all the more difficult for a man. Attraction is everything. The moment one friend becomes attracted to the other friend, no matter which friend feels the attraction first, that's when things stop being platonic. If the friends have to set boundaries for their relationship, or if one continues to lie to himself or herself about being okay with the way things are when they want more, that's when things go from being platonic to a burgeoning romance.
Research And The Platonic Relationship
Linda Sapadin, a psychologist from Valley Stream, New York, who has done research on friendships between men and women, believe that they can just be “just friends.” Dr. Sapadin believes that the idea of them solely hanging out together with romantic intentions dates back to when women stayed home while the men went out to work. The only reason for women to meet men back then was for romance.
Now, that men and women can work side by side in the office together, says Dr. Sapadin, they can make friends with one another while in the office, then go out together for social events in their off-hours. While Dr. Sapadin says that boundaries may evolve and shift, however, so it’s important to define the relationship.
Michael Monsour is an assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado and the author of the book Women and Men as Friends. Monsour says that while more opportunities are opening up for women and men to socialize together, they are still drawn to each other for romantic reasons and that this stems from when they are children.
Boys tend to stick with their male friends, and girls tend to stick with their female friends, says Monsour, so when they hit puberty and start to mingle with one another, it is because they are interested in each other as partners. They've never really hung out as friends, so it is difficult for them to relate to each other on a friendly level. Not to mention the fact that they too are probably being influenced by the shows they watch on TV.
Monsour also says that with television and films relying on the friends-to-lovers formula, it's no wonder that we always believe that if a man and a woman are hanging out together, then they must be romantically interested in each other.
Think of your favorite television shows. At some point in the show, didn't the lead male and female characters go from being friends to being more? Of course, they did - it makes for great television. Dawson's Creek, Cheers, Friends, Bones…any show that has a male and a female lead has the two of them hook up at some point throughout the show's run.
It gets to the point where you start asking yourself, as in the case of Friends, Dawson's Creek, or any other show with a lead ensemble: are there any of the main characters that didn't end up together? And if so, we are positively perplexed as to why. How many articles have been spent dissecting Friends and wondering why Phoebe and Joey, who were obviously so perfect for each other, were only ever happy to remain friends? The idea boggles our minds.
Obstacles To Platonic Relationships
As we get older, it becomes harder to form platonic relationships, especially if we're already seriously involved with someone else. Imagine your husband coming home from work and telling you that he had a truly enjoyable conversation with a woman at work and that he thinks he has made a new friend.
You may be okay with this at first, but then you meet her…and she's single and gorgeous. Your husband may have the purest of intentions, but you are, more than likely, going to worry constantly that their "friendship" may evolve into something more someday.
What's sad is that the older we get, the less likely we will make friends with the opposite sex at all. Think of the older adults you know and the company they keep. Grandma likes to go out with the girls for bingo once a week, while Grandpa likes to get together with his buddies from long ago and compare war stories.
Benefits Of Platonic Relationships
As it turns out, platonic relationships can be incredibly beneficial - so long as there is zero attraction and neither partner is lying to themselves about potentially wanting more. For one thing, having a friend of the opposite sex is like having your spy.
Say a girl is having trouble with her boyfriend. She can turn to her best guy friend and ask: "Why do you guys ALWAYS do things like this?" A thoughtful answer can then open the girl's mind and perhaps make her more tolerant of her boyfriendor wise her up to dump him and move on.
The Do’s And Don'ts Of A Platonic Relationship
To enjoy the benefits of a platonic relationship, you have to know that you aren't accidentally crossing a line that was never meant to be crossed. Not only do you not want to give your friend the wrong idea and potentially lead him or her on, but you also don't want to lose the friendship because your friend thought you wanted more when you didn't.
Here's a quick checklist of some do's and don'ts that can help you enjoy a healthy platonic relationship:
DO: Flirt with each other in good fun (just don't overdo it).
DON'T: Touch each other in your intimate areas, even if it's just as a joke.
DO: Work on deciphering whether you love your friend as a friend or if you lust after him or her and want more.
DON'T: Lead your friend on if you discover it's the latter. Talk it out with them.
DO: Treat a female friend with respect.
DON'T: Treat her like a date.
DO: Encourage your friend and your significant other to meet, so they can see for themselves that you two are just friends, and there is no need for jealousy.
DON'T: Fall for the "it's her or me" ultimatum. If your significant other is too immature to handle the fact that you can be in a platonic relationship with someone else, then perhaps he or she is not the right person for you anyway. Don't ditch a 10-year friendship simply because your new partner can't handle it.
If you’re working on trying to make any relationship healthier, therapy might be a great option for you. BetterHelp is one potential resource, with counseling for both individuals and couples.
If you’re interested in learning more, you should know that that researchers have done quite a few studies looking at how effective online therapy is versus traditional therapy. One recent study asked couples how they felt about online therapy once they were done. They described their experience as beneficial and positive. While some of them were initially concerned about the distance between them and the therapist, they said that a video call allowed them to be fully immersed in the therapeutic process, feel more in control, and still connect well with the therapist.
Online therapy has some great benefits as well. If you’re someone who naturally has a lot of friendships and a busy schedule, scheduling is flexible. You can contact your counselor from anywhere you feel comfortable as long as you have a secure internet connection. Online therapy also tends to be less expensive than traditional therapy.
Here are some recent reviews by BetterHelp users with similar issues of their counselors:
“Cameron has helped me navigate some incredibly challenging things within my relationship. With his help I’ve developed confidence to be a more assertive person. Therapy had helped me understand myself and my partner much better, in addition to implementing practices and taking action to improve a situation whereas I otherwise may feel stuck or hopeless. I really loved that he took the time to get to know me and my history before trying to “tell me what to do.” I feel like he really understands how my mind operates and therefore can give great, valuable advice, in addition to being a comforting sounding board.” Read more on Cameron Williams.
“Having Krysten as an active sounding board has improved my relationships with my partner and friends. The messaging is also a very helpful way for communicating. It is like having a journal that answers back with new ways to look at things. The messaging also allows the sessions to be more impactful, because we have already moved the dial before going into them.” Read more on Krysten Rohlik.
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