Platonic Love

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Platonic love, or the love between friends, can be nourishing, fulfilling, and a source of support as we go through life. Human beings often require strong social and personal relationships, and platonic friendships are typically a significant part of these networks. Read on to learn more about what characterizes platonic love relationships, how you can benefit from having a platonic love in your life, and how to build more of these types of connections.

Platonic relationships can be hard to maintain

The definition of platonic love

The term “platonic love” originates from the ancient philosopher Plato, although its meaning has somewhat changed over the course of history. The American Psychological Association defines platonic love as “a type of love in which there is no overt sexual behavior or desire”—either because romantic love has never existed between the individuals or because it has been suppressed (perhaps in the case of unrequited love). Platonic love usually refers to the affection and love between close friends. While some might believe that opposite-sex friendships cannot be platonic, this is not the case; a platonic friend can be of the same sex, opposite sex, or of any gender. One does not generally have any romantic love or sexual feelings for a platonic friend but rather has an emotional connection with them. They may even be related, as siblings or cousins may have close friendships characterized by platonic love. This type of platonic love could also be shared by coworkers, classmates, roommates, neighbors, or any other people who have developed a close, emotional, nonsexual bond.

Benefits of platonic relationships

The existence of relationships in your life that are characterized by platonic love isn’t just a nice-to-have; research indicates that this type of platonic intimacy and love may be crucial for mental and even physical health. Below are some of the key benefits that platonic relationships can offer.

Emotional support

One of the key benefits of platonic love is the emotional support you can get from a close friend. These types of relationships are usually characterized by mutual acceptance and care, meaning that you can lean on these people in your life when you’re facing a problem, feeling sad, or otherwise need support. Friends can also help each other heal and grow by modeling and encouraging honesty, compassion, boundaries, calm conflict resolution, and other important elements of healthy interpersonal relationships. This type of love can be crucial when you’re experiencing challenges and need to reach out for support. Many people make meaningful connections with their platonic friends that may even outlast romantic love they may have with someone they are sexually attracted to. 

Decreased risk of physical health problems

Having strong, platonic love in your life may also decrease health risks and even increase life expectancy. Part of the reason may be that friends can check in on each other and encourage one another to adopt healthy habits, but another part may be that feelings of loneliness can cause psychological processes that may be detrimental to health as a result of the mind-body connection. For example, one study that included over 300,000 participants found that those who had “stronger social relationships were 50 percent more likely to survive over the studies' given periods than those with weaker connections—a risk comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and one double that of obesity”. Close friendships have also been associated with a decreased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and anxiety. You may not have thought about friendship and platonic love as part of physical health, but this love can have astonishing benefits.

>Better mood

Being around loving friends can simply make us feel better emotionally as well. Spending time with those we share platonic love with can increase levels of dopamine in the brain, which is known as the “feel-good” chemical. Spending time with like-minded friends can also help decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. As one study puts it, “successful social interaction can provide one of the most rewarding stimuli for humans”. When we share laughter, love, and engage in activities that we love with our platonic lovers (friends), these effects can be increased even more, promoting better mental health.

Higher resilience

Having true platonic friends you can rely on can even help you be better prepared to face life’s inevitable challenges. They can provide support, advice, love, and encouragement that may help you see difficult circumstances from a new perspective. According to one study, having a close group of supportive, platonic friends is one of the top predictors of an individual’s ability to recover after stressful life experiences. Your platonic relationships may offer invaluable support and love during times of difficulty and uncertainty.

Building platonic relationships

Having strong, supportive platonic friendships can be enriching and even have health benefits. If you're looking to make or maintain platonic love connections or experience genuine platonic love, the following tips may help.

Find people you have something in common with
If you’re looking to expand your circle, it might help to start by seeking out people you have something in common with. For example, you could join a club where people get together to play a sport or board game you love. You could look for others with a similar cultural background or life experiences as you, or those who are trying to learn a new skill you’ve always been interested in. You could also volunteer for a cause or organization you’re passionate about to meet others who are as well. You may identify positive qualities in the people you meet that could lead into forming a meaningful connection. The time you spend on the hobbies you love can easily lead you to meet others with whom you can form platonic connections.
Platonic relationships can be hard to maintain
Be proactive about forming loving, platonic friendships

It’s important to remember that, just like romantic love relationships, relationships of virtually every kind are two-way streets. If only one person is reaching out, checking in, making plans, and providing emotional support, they may start to feel uncared for or taken for granted. In general, both friends should aim to contribute roughly the same amount of time and emotional energy in order for a platonic love to thrive. If your friend is great about asking how you’re doing, texting or calling you, and setting up times to hang out, it may be wise to make sure you’re doing the same for them. Similarly, even if you’re in a romantic love relationship, try not to leave your friendships behind. It can be crucial to continue to prioritize them, even if you have a partner with whom you share romantic love and physical intimacy. Love, platonic or otherwise, needs to be maintained and given attention in order to flourish. Platonic relationships are often based in part on quality time, so you might find mutually enjoyable activities, or activities that can help facilitate deep conversations.

Address unhealthy dynamics within your platonic relationship
As with any other type of relationship, you should monitor your friendships to make sure they continue to be healthy and fulfilling. If a conflict or something that makes you uncomfortable arises, it’s generally best to calmly address it with your friend so you can work through it together. Setting boundaries to safeguard your feelings and energy as needed is important, even if you are just friends, because it can make your connection even stronger, and it can also help you learn how to do this in other types of relationships in your life.
Developing feelings for a friend

A true platonic friend will not have any romantic love or sexual feelings for you, but what can you do if these feelings do develop? The first step might be to determine how deep these feelings of romantic love go. You may experience physical attraction for your friends without having any desire to pursue a different kind of relationship with them. In these cases, the feelings may not need to be addressed at all. If your feelings go deeper and you think you want a relationship with the person, you will have to decide whether you want to remain platonic. If your relationship with a platonic friend starts to develop unwanted romantic or sexual features, you might try communicating with the friend about your feelings and establishing clear boundaries.

Speak with a therapist
Personal relationships can be a significant part of well-being and happiness. Speaking with a therapist may be helpful for those who are facing challenges with the platonic relationships in their lives. If you’re looking to find more friendships, they can help you develop social skills or build self-esteem. If you’re facing a conflict with or are having confusing feelings, like feeling romantic love about a friend in your life, they can provide you with a safe, nonjudgmental space to work through these relationship issues. For those who have difficulties socializing because of depression, social anxiety disorder, or another mental health condition, a therapist can offer treatment suggestions and healthy coping strategies, in addition to helping you uncover the positive qualities that platonic friendships can bring.
Those who are interested in meeting with a therapist can generally choose between online and in-person therapy, since research suggests the two can offer similar benefits in most cases. If you’re having trouble locating an in-person provider in your area or find it difficult to travel to and from appointments, online therapy may represent a more convenient alternative. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat from the comfort of home to address the challenges you may be facing. See client reviews of BetterHelp therapists below.
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Platonic love describes close friendship connections that are generally not characterized by sexual attraction or physical intimacy. These dynamics can provide us with emotional support, increased resilience, and even health benefits over the long term. If you’re looking for support with platonic relationships or romantic partners in your life, speaking with a therapist may help you experience healthier forms of love.

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