Growing up, I remember reading a quote in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park that said, “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” Although I was old enough to understand the words, I hadn’t experienced anything remotely close to a feeling so deep and complex quite yet. For me, love was supposed to be simple. You meet someone, you fall in love and despite the ups and downs, you fight for each other till the end. But little did I know that this form of a relationship doesn’t always have to be romantic - it can be friendly or simply platonic!
If there’s anything I have learnt from my late teen years to early adulthood, it’s the fact that you can never fully understand the idea of love. It’s full of complexities. Our love never limits itself to just one kind or one person. There’s the love we feel for our family, our friends, our partner - and everything has a place in our hearts. The one that confuses people sometimes is platonic love - the kind that makes you fall in love with people but in a non-romantic, non-sexual way. So, read on to find out what a platonic relationship is, how it’s different from a romantic one and all the ways you can strengthen it.
Let’s start with an example, shall we? I’ve been in a relationship with someone for two years and I’m completely in love with him. In fact, he’s the one I wish to spend my entire life with. On the other hand, I have a best friend whom I have known for almost eight years. He has been with me through thick and thin, seen me at my worst stages and loved me when I didn’t feel I was lovable. I can’t imagine my life without him, too. While with one, I see my future; with the other, I hold on to my roots. I’m clearly in a platonic relationship with the latter as I have absolutely no sexual or romantic desires for him but I still love him to bits!
A platonic relationship is a kind where two individuals share a close bond but without any commitments, expectations or labels. It is different from a romantic relationship because there is no physically or sexually intimacy. Basically, if you’re in a platonic relationship with someone - that ‘someone’ is your best friend.
It was named after the famous Greek philosopher Plato soon after he explained the idea of love in his work, Symposium. It was a dialogue where several guests at a banquet each gave individual speeches in honour of the Greek God of love, Eros, and shared their own unique understanding of love. Through this text, different kinds of love emerged. But the most popular ones were - Vulgar/Erotic Eros or natural love and Divine Eros or perfect love.
According to him, vulgar eros was related to a “lustful fascination of someone’s body” and included all the physical and sexual joys. On the other hand, divine eros “rose above the physical attraction, manifested into a connection with the supreme (inner) beauty” and contained all the spiritual joys. This idea later took the shape of platonic love. Instead of being centred on lust or fulfilment of sexual/physical desires, it was the kind to “inspire nobler pursuits, bring out the best in both individuals and bring them closer to the Divine”.
Today, this platonic love is none other than the love that you feel for your closest friends you are not sexually attracted to. Irrespective of the gender, you would do anything for them and continue to give them an important place in your life whilst still having no interest in being sexually or romantically involved with them. But that being said, sometimes, there’s a thin line between a romantic and a platonic relationship. Let’s find out what that is.
The simplest way to answer this question is to ask yourself, do I see him as more than a friend? Am I sexually attracted to him? I know, it’s easier said than done. We may have been friends with someone for the longest time, but end up falling for them or be in a relationship with someone for a while, only to realise later that we’re better off as close friends. To avoid such confusion, it’s best to recognise the important characteristics that differentiate a platonic relationship from a romantic one. So, let’s take a closer look at the following differences.
Romantic: If you love someone romantically, it’s obvious that there are certain expectations that you may, slowly and steadily, begin to have from him, like loyalty, attention and compassion. In fact, there’s also a certain level of commitment that you expect from him so that you know that he’s on the same page as you.
Platonic: If you love someone platonically, you don’t expect anything from them apart from their unconditional friendship. You don’t owe each other anything and you don’t expect them to commit to you in a romantic sense as well.
Romantic: If you’re in a romantic relationship, you may be sexually intimate because you are physically attracted to each other.
Platonic: If you love someone platonically, you are not sexually or physically involved with them. You aren’t attracted to each other and you have already established this.
Romantic: One of the first signs of being romantically attracted toward someone is when you become vulnerable and fearful of losing them. So, you might feel a little jealous or possessive about them. (Note: Possessiveness and insecurities do crop up in a romantic relationship to some level, but they can make a relationship toxic if they reach beyond a point.)
Platonic: If you have a platonic love relationship with someone, you don’t feel ‘unloved’ if they’re not texting or meeting you constantly because, at the end of the day, you know that you’re there for each other.
Mark Matousek, an award-winning author, once tried to understand the complexity of platonic relationships via Plato’s Symposium by saying, “Erotic love is fierce and wild; the love of friends is more familial (as in healthy families), contained, unconditional, balanced and tame. But when friendship becomes both familial and wild, we have a dangerous animal on our hands”. In other words, when a relationship becomes both romantic and platonic or in most cases where a platonic relationship begins to get romantic, this situation may get difficult.
So, if you’re two friends in a platonic relationship and if you are being teased or paired up with each other, here are a few simple ways you can try to make it work without making things awkward or worse, losing each other.
You should probably get used to hearing two kinds of responses: either you would be forced into thinking what a perfect boyfriend your platonic ‘friend’ could be and how you might wake up one day and regret losing him to someone else. Or probably, be accused of cheating on your boyfriend with your platonic friend! So, to avoid this mess, it’s better if you clear things up with your family, friends or all those whom you’re both extremely close with, and laugh off any insinuations that you two would be great together.
What does your heart want? If you feel like adding a little romance to your friendship and giving it a fair chance, do that. If you both think it’s okay to be ‘friends with benefits’, do that. If you both just want to be friends, do exactly that. The bottom line is that you both need to discuss what you want from each other and decide for yourselves.
When two friends are close, it’s normal to feel like you’re falling for them or attracted to them at some point. There’s no need to pull the plug on your relationship. Instead of feeling awkward or shy, be honest about your feelings, worries, doubts or thoughts and decide what to do next, even if it requires taking a little break or maintaining distance from each other for some time.
If both of you have decided to keep your platonic relationship free of any romance, try to establish certain boundaries and don’t cross them at any point. Avoid indulging in flirtatious teasing and refrain from having sexual conversations. Be mindful of what is said and done when you both are alone and try not to get carried away. Or else, even your romantic partners might get uncomfortable with your relationship.
If any of you ever find yourselves caught in a labyrinth, the best way to get out of this relationship daze is by discussing the pros and cons of each situation. Imagine yourselves in a romantic relationship with each other. Would you both be able to make each other happy? Would you be able to feel that way about each other? Now, see yourselves in a platonic relationship. Why do you think it works best for you? Or why do you think it won’t work for you anymore? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? Figure out the answers for all these questions and you’ll be able to accept each other and your relationship as is.
As soon as I think about platonic love, the cutest on-screen pairs that come to my mind are of Harry and Hermoine from the Harry Potter movie series, Phoebe and Joey from F.R.I.E.N.D.S and Bunny and Aditi from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Other Bollywood movies which discuss the complexities of platonic relationships include Ekk Main Aur Ekk Tu and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
Be open about it from the very beginning. Introduce your friend to your partner and give them enough space and comfort to get to know each other better. Make sure that you’re completely honest with your partner about your friend and help them realise that this platonic love is just as important to you as any other form of love in your life.
If you’re in a platonic relationship with someone, you share emotional intimacy with them rather than a physical one. You build a stronger, emotional connection by letting down your guards, expressing your deepest secrets, emotions and feelings with them as you trust and love this person with all your heart.
So, have you ever been in a platonic relationship? Let us know your thoughts!
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