What is a Platonic Friendship And Do They Really Exist?

Updated September 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

One of the most controversial questions about a relationship between a man and a woman is: can they ever really just have a platonic friendship? 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 feelings for each other?

Is My Friendship Really Platonic?

Heck, the movie When Harry Met Sally… delves into this question at great length. And (spoilers) at the end of the When Harry Met Sally, the two main characters do end up in romantic love with each other. 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 platonic love truly impossible, or just something manufactured by Hollywood to make a timeless rom-com? Maybe the relationship started out as a simple friendship, but has progressed beyond just one person having a "friend crush" on the other. Where do you go now that purely platonic love in a friendship has crossed the line?

Romantic relationships and platonic relationships differ due to one or both peoples' sexual interest in the other. Platonic means that there is no possibility of romantic love between these two friends, whereas wanting your good friend to be your romantic partner means you have deeper, more intense love and feelings for this person. Maybe it starts as a "friend crush", then progresses into friends with benefits, then finally it moves into an exclusive, romantic relationship that your other friends are aware of. 

Women And Platonic Friendship

When it comes to women being "attracted" to men, there is some debate on how much looks matter in sexual relationships 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, but making 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 and potentially lead to the woman 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 friendship or relationship platonic, because she is looking for advice and good conversation, nothing more. It doesn't matter if her platonic 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 or sexual feelings.

Men And Platonic Friendship

Men, on the other hand, may find themselves struggling with feelings in a healthy platonic friendship. 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 platonic friends with a woman may be all the more difficult for a man. Attraction is everything. The moment one close friend becomes attracted to the other friend, no matter which friend gets feelings or develops a friend crush first, that's when things stop being platonic. If the friends have to set boundaries for their friendship, or if one continues to lie to himself or herself about being okay with keeping the friendship the same way 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 medically reviewed research on healthy platonic friendship 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 romantic relationships and not platonic love.

Now, that men and women can work side by side in the office together, says Dr. Sapadin, they can make close 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 feelings within the non sexual relationship to make sure both parties are on the same page.

Michael Monsour is an assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado and the author of the medically reviewed 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 these feelings stem from when they are children.

Boys tend to stick with their male friends, and girls tend to stick with their female friends, resulting in a lot of same sex friendships, says Monsour, so when they hit puberty and start to mingle with the opposite sex, it is because they are interested in each other as partners. They've never really hung out in opposite sex friendships, so it is difficult for them to relate to each other on a platonic friend 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 rather than platonic love, 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. When watching TV, for some reason, platonic friendships between those of the opposite sex do not exist. 

Think of your favorite television shows from pop culture. At some point in the show, didn't the lead male and female characters go from being friends to being sexually attracted to each other? Of course, they did - it makes for great television. Dawson's CreekCheersFriendsBones…any show that has a male and a female lead has the two of them begin a sexual relationship at some point throughout the show's run.

It gets to the point where you start asking yourself, as in the case of FriendsDawson's Creek, or any other show with a lead ensemble: are there any of the main characters that didn't end up in romantic love with each other? And if so, we are positively perplexed as to why they avoided romantic feelings or sexual tension with each other. 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 best 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 "strong 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 friendships 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 gender is like having a spy partner.

Say a girl is having trouble with her boyfriend or romantic partner. 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 boyfriend or wise her up to dump her partner 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 best friend the wrong idea and potentially lead him or her on, but you also don't want to lose the strong friendship because your friend thought you wanted a romantic partner when you didn't. In order to avoid having one person catch feelings, make sure to have clear and open communication about a potential romantic relationship or any romantic feelings between you two. 

Is My Friendship Really Platonic?

Here's a quick checklist of some do's and don'ts that can help you enjoy a healthy platonic friendship with someone of the opposite sex:

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. This is how sexual intimacy occurs.

DO: Work on deciphering whether you love your friend as a friend or if you feel sexual attraction towards them.

DON'T: Lead your friend on if you discover it's the latter. Talk it out with them so you can work through one person's sexual feelings with mutual respect. 

DO: Treat each other with mutual respect and make sure to maintain boundaries to ensure each person's boundaries and, subsequently, needs are met. 

DON'T: Treat her like a date or potential romantic interest. This is to avoid confusing platonic friendships with romantic relationships and helps maintain boundaries that are clear.  

DO: Encourage your friend and your significant other to meet, so they can see for themselves that you two are just platonic 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 strictly 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 your platonic love.

If you’re working on trying to keep any friendship platonic and healthy, therapy might be a great option for you. BetterHelp is one potential resource, with counseling for both individuals and couples.

Online Therapy For Platonic Friends

If you’re interested in learning more, you should know that that researchers have done quite a few peer reviewed studies looking at how effective online therapy is versus traditional therapy. One recent medically reviewed 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 platonic friendships and a busy schedule, scheduling is flexible. 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.

Commonly Asked Questions:

Is platonic the same as friendship?

Platonic is a word to describe friends who have no romantic feelings for each other. This means that the relationship is purely on an emotional and intellectual level, between two people who just like to spend time together with no ulterior motive. As long as both of the platonic friends are on the same page about their feelings for one another, the friendship should be healthy and progress forward. A platonic friendship might be a pen pal, BFF, long distance friendship, or online friendship.

Platonic friendships can also include Snapchat friends, Facebook friends, Twitter friends, or phone friends.

What does a platonic friendship feel like?

Feelings for a platonic friend could look and feel like any number of things:

-- Wanting the best for your platonic friend, in their romantic lives, career, and familial lives. Wanting them to be happy. This is also known as platonic love. 

-- Caring about and respecting your friend's feelings.

-- Wanting to spend time with this person because they make you laugh and you two have fun together. 

-- NOT wanting to be physically intimate with your platonic friend apart from the occasional hug. 

Platonic friendships might be centered on enjoying the same activities too, such as movie friends, study friends, work friends, club friends, party friends, clubbing friends, drinking friends, coffee friends, or tea friends.

Can you fall in love platonically?

Platonic love in good friendships is common and completely normal. It means you care deeply about your platonic friend and that you respect them and want the best for them, however, there is not sexual tension or romantic love between you two.

The lack of sexual interest in platonic love is ultimately what separates it from romantic relationships and romantic love. 

Can you kiss in a platonic relationship?

It is usually not a good idea to kiss in a platonic relationship or friendship. This can complicate the relationship by blurring the boundaries of what a "friend" is, and raises the potential for hurt feelings. Say two friends kiss and one friend believes that this is the start of a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, the other friend just assumes that this is a weird, intimate blip within the friendship and that the friendship will go back to normal the next day. In this scenario, the friend that wants a romantic relationship may end up getting their feelings hurt, which could lead to permanent damage within the friendship.  

What is allowed in platonic relationship?

Typically, this should be decided between the two individuals within the relationship or friendship. In a long term friendship, each friend may feel completely comfortable hugging, cuddling, and sleeping in the same bed with each other. In another, maybe newer friendship where boundaries have yet to be firmly established, each friend may feel more comfortable having little to no physical relationship with each other. 

Can a platonic friendship turn romantic?

There is always a chance that a friendship can evolve into something more than just a platonic friendship. As in the movies, it is common for one friend to suddenly develop romantic feelings for the other friend. Maybe that friend choose to act on these feelings and their other friend reciprocates. Then, the friendship would develop into something more than just a friendship. 

Other Questions:

What are platonic soulmates?

What are the benefits of a platonic friendship?

What is an example of a platonic relationship?

Can platonic friends cuddle?

Medically Reviewed Sources:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-lai/can-a-man-and-a-woman-rea_b_8100362.html

https://www.thrillist.com/sex-dating/nation/strictly-platonic-friendships-with-women-are-important-for-men

https://www.menshealth.com/sex-women/a19542682/benefits-of-a-platonic-relationship/

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