What Is A Platonic Friendship, And Do They Exist?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated December 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many individuals experience friendships throughout their lives. Although the definition of friendship can vary between each person, it is often defined as a platonic connection. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that friendship is a connection of one person to another through common affection or esteem.

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What Does "Platonic" Mean? 

Although some friendships may involve a sexual or romantic component, many do not. In these cases, they may be called "platonic" friendships. Platonic is a word that stems from Platonism, a theory developed by the scholar Plato. It means the absence of sex or romance. Platonic relationships can be between friends, family, or strangers. 

A platonic friendship may be a friendship that lacks a sexual or romantic component. For example, platonic friends may think of each other outside of a committed partnership and enjoy a connection where they do activities together, talk about their lives, or partake in affectionate, friendly actions like hugging. 

Platonic friends may feel love for each other from a non-romantic place. For example, ancient Greek scholars defined several types of love. The love between friends or family was often called philia or storge. Philia was similar to platonic love, whereas storge was an unconditional familial type of love. Some friends may consider their friends part of their chosen family and could feel both types of love for each other. 

Are Platonic Friendships Possible? 

Many friendships are purely platonic, meaning they do not include sexual or romantic feelings or expressions. However, although these friendships are possible and exist, some individuals experience love or sexual attraction for their friends. Others may notice that their friend is interested in them. 

What Should I Do If My Friend Is In Love With Me? 

It may feel conflicting if your friend is in love with you and you do not love them back. You might believe you could lose your friendship if you let them know how you feel or feel uncomfortable knowing you do not feel the same way. At times, these occurrences can end friendships. 

Try to communicate with your friend about how you feel. Tell them if you're uncomfortable and do not feel the same way. You may want to give them time to process your feelings and decision. If they continue to make romantic or sexual advances when you have asked them not to, it could be an unhealthy friendship. 

Although it might feel that you won't find another friend, there are many ways to make friends. Over time, you may find that your friend loses romantic or sexual feelings and can commit to a platonic dynamic. 

If you are interested in your friend as well, let them know. If you're not interested in a committed relationship, you may be able to go on casual dates. Some friends decide to have a purely sexual connection with or without romance. Relationships can be what you're most comfortable with, so talk to your friend and discover how you can improve your connection in a way that feels healthy to both of you. 

What Should I Do If I'm In Love With My Friend? 

If you are in love with your friend and are unsure if they feel the same, you might choose to communicate your feelings toward them. If you struggle to communicate openly, consider writing a letter or message to spell out your feelings. Let them know what you'd be interested in going forward. For example, you could ask them on a date or ask them to be your partner. 

If your friend expresses that they are not interested in you romantically or sexually, accept their boundary. Let them know if you need any time to process the information. You might also decide that it feels too challenging to be in a friendship with someone you love. In these cases, talking to a professional therapist might be beneficial. 

If your friend feels the same, you can plan a date or discuss the possibilities for your relationship going forward. Although your friendship might change, you could get to know your friend in new ways. 

Will I Lose My Friend If We Date? 

Some individuals feel nervous that they will lose their long-term friendship with someone if they decide to date or have a sexual relationship. Although this can happen, open communication with your friend can be beneficial. Ask them what they would be comfortable with if your romantic or sexual relationship were to end in the future. They might also want to return to being friends in that situation. 

If you commit to a romantic or sexual relationship with your friend, you could learn new aspects of their personality that you didn't see before. These could be positive or negative qualities, as people often act differently in committed relationships than in friendships. Like with any relationship, this could be an adjustment, and you may consider couples therapy or discuss these adjustments with your partner.  

Is The "Friend Zone" Real? 

You might have heard of "the friend zone" in the past. This term often refers to a friend setting a boundary with someone interested in them. If someone wants to be strictly platonic friends and you feel your love is unrequited, respect their boundaries. Romantic and sexual relationships require enthusiastic consent. Using the term "friend zone" may cause your friend to feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or hurt, as they might feel that you believe they owe you their body, time, or discomfort. 

Relationships are a two-way street. If someone is not interested in you as more than a friend, it may be rewarding to consider counseling or working through your emotions on your own time. Try not to guilt your friend or tell them they are unkind for not being interested in you, as love is a chemical process often out of our control.  

If your friend sometimes partakes in romantic or sexual activities with you, knowing that you are in love with them, but they are unwilling to commit to you, it may be worth ending the sexual or romantic connection between you. Consider setting boundaries if you feel taken advantage of. Let them know you're not interested in an "in-between" relationship or "situationship."

A woman is outside and standing by a man; she is looking behind her, has her hand on his shoulder, and is smiling.
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How To Improve A Platonic Bond

If you want to improve a platonic bond with a friend or group of friends, consider the following tips. 

Spend Time Together

Friendships can be essential relationships and require commitment, like other connections. If you and your friend don't spend as much time together as you want to, consider setting up "friendship dates," where you and your friend partake in platonic activities together on a schedule. 

For example, you could try the following activities together: 

  • Bowling night
  • Movie night 
  • Adult sleepovers with snacks and makeovers
  • A friendship jar, where you create hangout ideas and pull an idea each time you want to go out 
  • Bar and karaoke night 
  • Taking a trip together with no partners or kids 
  • Trying a new restaurant 
  • Combining your two families for a group outing
  • Going to a park or amusement park
  • Hiking 
  • Swimming 

Try to spend some time with your friends without others in your life, such as your partner. Although it can be fun to include everyone, your friendships are separate relationships, and your friends may also appreciate spending alone time with you to connect. 

Set Relationship Limits

Set relationship limits with your friend to understand where you both stand. For example, you could outline that you are strictly platonic friends. On the other hand, if you have a sometimes sexual relationship, outline how that plays out. Do you only want to partake in sex in certain circumstances? Do you hope to keep romantic feelings out of your bond? You can outline how you want the friendship to go. 

Communicate

Like any relationship, friendship can require communication. Friends may disagree or have conflicts at times. If you feel hurt by your friend, it may feel tempting to end the friendship altogether. However, if you hope to commit to your friendships long-term, consider having an open conversation about how you feel. Try to actively listen when your friend discusses their emotions by not interrupting, listening to understand instead of listening to respond and repeating key pieces of what they say to make sure you understand them. 

How To Find New Friends 

If you are struggling to find friends who are interested in a purely platonic bond, there are a few ways you might find new friends, including the following: 

  • Joining a university club
  • Joining an LGBTQ+ club or meetup group 
  • Entering online groups
  • Finding a pen pal online
  • Going to a blind friendship event 
  • Attending events such as the fair, pride, or cultural happenings in your city
  • Going to a religious center or place of worship, such as a church or mosque 
  • Volunteering 
  • Joining a travel group 
  • Going to bar events like karaoke night 
  • Going to a support group 
  • Attending a therapy group 
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Discuss Friendship With A Compassionate Professional

Connecting With A Counselor

For those who face conflicts or troubles in platonic relationships, it can be rewarding to talk to a counselor who can provide non-judgmental advice and professional coping mechanisms. Whether you're in love with your friend, losing friendships due to non-platonic feelings, or experiencing a friend who is in love with you, there are methods to support you. 

Many individuals opt for online therapy, as it is an often modern approach to treatment. With online counseling, you may choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Additionally, you can attend therapy from any location with an internet connection. Studies show that online therapy is especially effective for those experiencing isolation, loneliness, and depression

For those interested in online counseling, several platforms are available for individuals, including BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a vast database of online counselors specializing in various mental health topics. 

Takeaway

Friendship can be complicated and come with unique challenges, like other types of relationships. Although platonic relationships often involve the absence of sexual or romantic feelings, friendship may be complex and have unique dynamics, depending on the individuals. Consider reaching out to a counselor to gain further insight into friendship and personalized therapeutic outcomes.

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 the confidence to be a more assertive person. Therapy has helped me understand myself and my partner much better, in addition to implementing practices and taking action to improve a situation where 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 of 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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