Acquaintance, friend, close friend, and best friend – we all have one of each. However, only a few lucky ones get to dabble in yet another form of friendship. This friendship is out of the charts because it is out of our societal norms. It’s been around for centuries and centuries, yet we still don’t recognize it as official. And despite all, it is the one form of friendship that accepts us for who we are:
Named after the Greek philosopher Plato, this special kind of human bond is the only one society doesn’t expect you to have. There’s no pressure surrounding platonic intimacy, but there is confusion and stigma. What is it really? Is it unrequited love? Is it friendship with benefits?
Platonic intimacy is everything except what these labels would want it to be.
Though it defies definitions, platonic intimacy is best described as a relationship between soulmates. For men, that’s often bromance. When it happens between women, it’s sometimes called gentle friendship. Grey’s Anatomy defined it as having your person – someone you love and trust unconditionally. But let’s go back to the Greeks and revisit the myth and concept of soulmates.
“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. Fearing this power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves”. Greeks were the original poets, you see.
Misreading the original intent, romantic comedies made it all about romantic love.
However, platonic intimacy is much, much more than that.
It’s not caring about a bad hair day or wearing your bra. It’s co-owning property or building a business together. It’s sleeping in the same bed. It’s caring about one another’s kids. It’s sharing life and being partners without agreeing to traditional terms of romantic engagement.
To people who’ve experienced it, platonic intimacy is the most natural connection between two human beings. So much so that it makes you wonder why other types of relationships take precedence over our platonic partners. Platonic doesn’t strip you of your independence, but you’re faithful to it anyway. There are no written rules or notions of what it should be or how it should make you feel.
One crucial thing that separates platonic and romantic relationships is that there is no sex in the former.
Now, there’s no denying that sex boasts incredible benefits for people in monogamous relationships. Physiologically, it helps you relieve stress. It triggers happy hormones and makes you feel confident. Sex is fun. So, so, so fun. It allows you to show affection by giving pleasure to the person you love. It makes you feel closer to your partner, and ultimately, it provides you with adorable magical babies.
However, apart from this last part, is sex really necessary?
What about asexual people?
Sexuality, as they say, is a spectrum. The same is true for asexuality.
Whether they declare themselves as asexuals or not, many people prefer non-romantic relationships. That means that you can be aromantic in addition to being asexual, but that’s a topic for another time.
The point is – you can have a rich, successful, and fulfilling life without sex. People do it all the time! Most importantly, you can build and maintain strong relationships – romantic or not – and never feel a hint of sexual desire towards that person or in general. Sex is fantastic but replaceable.
Platonic relationships are not based on sex, but are they based on romance?
Wait. What place does romance have in this overly complicated nomenclature? Romance is “a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love,” according to one dictionary. According to another, it is “a feeling of love for or a strong attraction towards another person.” Any kind of attraction.
And any kind of love.
So, platonic relationships always have a dash of romance in them.
Since platonic relationships have a romantic aspect – a feeling of strong love and nonsexual attraction for another person – we could say that a platonic relationship is a friendship with special benefits. Emotional. Spiritual. Intellectual. You name it. Platonic feelings are a foundation for any friendship, though they evolve only between people that are completely aligned as individuals.
Let’s take bromance as an example.
Platonic relationships between straight men are probably the best illustration of the deep friendship and romance in these unique partnerships. Why? Because a straight man is the furthest away on the spectrum from what’s supposed to be gentle but sexless and involves another man.
Yet, bromance is celebrated as normal and healthy, as every bromance is and should be.
Not only this, but there was a study that showed that an “increasingly intimate, emotive, and trusting nature” of bromance encourages men to open up emotionally. Participants also cited that nurturing bromance “helped them find emotional stability, improved their ability to share emotions, and provided social fulfillment and better conflict resolutions than their relationships with girlfriends!”
Once you’re done with high school, you don’t meet many people who are ready to be that involved in your personal life. As an adult, you have work wives and drinking buddies. After you turn 30, the number of acquaintances grows disproportionately to the number of close and very close friends.
And let’s be clear about one thing – you only have one true platonic friendship in life.
When “experts” talk about why sex is important in a relationship, they usually say – intimacy is healthy. It helps you connect with your partner on a deeper level and develop trust, security, and closeness. That’s all true, except for one thing – the equating of sex and intimacy as if they are the same thing.
Sex is only one manifestation of intimacy.
Intimacy isn’t only sex. It doesn’t require physical closeness at all.
Intimacy is what allows asexual and aromantic people to foster stable partnerships. Intimacy can be experiential or spiritual, intellectual and emotional. In many cases, it is all of these things simultaneously. Intimacy develops and nurtures all of these things – experience, spirituality, intellect, and emotion – by providing a safe environment for us to fail, learn from mistakes, and grow.
If you have a friend you can confide in no matter how hard, a friend who will not judge you at your lowest but will not enable your lousy behavior either, you’ve got yourself a true friend. And if you feel confident enough to share affection in a physical but nonsexual way, that’s platonic love.
Platonic intimacy can take many shapes and forms. It’s not unusual for platonic girlfriends to cuddle and sleep together. A beautiful depiction of female platonic intimacy is the central theme of Greta Gerwig’s movie Frances Ha. Frances and her friend Sophie try to navigate their romantic relationships while staying blind to the fact that both of them have already found their one true love in each other.
Platonic intimacy enriches your life.
Talking about religion, Russian writer Dostoyevski famously said that love towards God is yet another spectrum of emotions, which means that a religious person is an emotionally richer person. That’s such a beautiful notion, and the same goes for any kind of love. You love your neighbor, your mom, your dog, and your girlfriend differently. The more of these loves you have, the richer your life is.
How does platonic intimacy feel, exactly?
Being intimate with someone means more than holding hands and cuddling in front of the TV. More than anything else, intimacy implies vulnerability. You’re naked and flawed when you’re intimate with another person, sexually or emotionally. There’s no makeup to cover your blemishes. Not only are you allowed to be your true self, but being yourself also feels comfortable, easy, and natural.
You have a dirty fantasy about your friend’s boyfriend that you will never act on, but it’s still there? Tell your platonic love everything about it. Weird dreams? Family feuds? Addiction problems? A platonic relationship provides emotional support, care, and empathy in all these intimate situations.
People who are intimate in a nonsexual way understand each other without words. Even though no extrinsic rules bind them, they are still loyal to each other. Trust and acceptance come naturally, too, as the two people in a platonic relationship share a love that’s deep and genuine.
Blessed by that closeness and support, they nurture each other’s growth.
You can’t have a platonic relationship with just anybody. You probably have many friends that you feel close to but not close enough to tell them your weirdest dreams. In the end, platonic intimacy comes down to the Ancient Greek idea of mythical soulmates. That’s why it was named after Plato in the first place.
Lucky for some and less so for others, you either develop this kind of intimacy or not, but if you do, you can’t just let it be. You must prune and grow it all the time, so it doesn’t rot. Hard work feels easy when you love someone deeply, but even platonic relationships go through difficult times.
Here are a couple of things that make platonic relationships blossom:
1. Keeping your guard down
Like all relationships, platonic intimacy is based on reciprocity. Your friend will feel comfortable sharing their emotions only if you confide in them. Accept criticism without being deflective.
2. Staying honest and true
Communicate openly, even if your friend might not like what you have to say. Don’t shut down your feelings, but find the best way to express them without being hurtful toward your friend.
3. Talk, talk, talk all the time
Keep the conversation going. When you’re in a meaningful relationship, you need to be an active listener, ask many questions, and ease another person’s worries even when you don’t feel like it.
4. Showing interest and love
When two people love each other, nothing is a given. Little acts of appreciation are essential because they show your interest and care. So buy your friend a cookie or send them a song.
5. Being devoted and involved
You can’t expect your platonic relationship to survive if you’re invested only when you’re single. Keep your devotion and stay involved even when your romantic relationship becomes serious.
The majority of people maintain platonic relationships in parallel with their primary partners. Most of us will have a good old nuclear family – a husband or wife and a couple of beautiful babies that will grow up to be beautiful people. However, we’ll continue to share that deep connection with our best friends for the rest of our lives. We’ll trust them with secrets we don’t even share with our marital partners.
But for some people, platonic partnerships are primary relationships.
Many pure, unbothered souls decide to give precedence to their friends over their romantic partners. That doesn’t only happen among asexual people! As more women choose independence, many girlfriends stay together as primary partners and still have other sexual relationships.
The ultimate question is: Is it possible to find all that in one person?
Though platonic relationships know no limits in terms of emotional intimacy, there’s also no place here for sexual intimacy. Whether you’re asexual or not, you can decide to build a life with your platonic love with whom you will share everything except for sex. At least, that’s what the book says.
However, if platonic intimacy can teach us anything, it’s that relationship labels are outdated and limiting. And even though platonic, polyamory, monogamy, and similar “modern” relationships are still labels and definitions, they offer some new, less confining options. They tell us that labeling what two people are two each other is not very important. Love and connection are all that matters.