Platonic love can seem like a difficult topic to talk about at times. When you watch a movie, you see two star-crossed lovers find each other and fall in love. We are constantly surrounded by images of romantic love, so platonic love always seems to take second place if it is even talked about at all.
For most people, platonic love just means a type of love that is lacking in a sexual or romantic intimacy. While this basic definition works fairly well, platonic love is about more than just a lack of sexual intimacy. If we delve into the history of platonic love, we will find a much more interesting, nuanced meaning to it.
What Does Platonic Love Mean Today?
For modern humans, platonic love is the way we understand friendships that are not romantic. Often, we think of the type of love that two friends have who are the same gender. For many people, platonic love is not what you think about when you consider the opposite sex because feelings like attraction or sexual chemistry get in the way.
Anytime you grow close to someone that you are not attracted to sexually, you are developing a type of platonic love. In some cases, the boundary between these two types of love are extremely thin. You may stay friends for a while, but one of you may start developing feelings before long. Over time, your platonic love could even become involved in a romance.
The question for many people is if it is even possible to experience platonic love. If you are just friends, then do you actually love each other? If you love each other, then can you remain only friends? Love is never an easy topic to talk about, and it is even harder for you to put into words. Before we delve more into the topic, let’s first say that, yes, you can have platonic love with someone and only be friends with each other.
Where Did the Idea of Platonic Love Come From?
As you may have guessed from the name, platonic love had its origins with Plato. While people surely experienced platonic love before then, Plato was the one who lent his name to the feeling. Plato and other philosophers frequently discussed what it meant to have platonic love. According to Plato, love was a feeling that you wanted to be happy in life and wanted something good. When you are completely happy about someone or something, you are experiencing love.
While Plato may have talked about platonic love, he did not delve into too much detail. In modern times, we think of platonic love as a type of bond between two members of the opposite sex who are not romantically in love with each other. While this is how people commonly define platonic love, it is not the only definition.
Can Two People of Opposite Genders Have Platonic Love?
Every movie you have ever watched has ruined love for you. At a basic level, it has made you believe in love at first sight, Prince Charming and the kind of relationship that doesn’t need work. In movies, people fall in love and live happily ever after. In real life, the best relationships are built, not born. You have to work at having a good relationship if you want your bond to remain strong.
Movies and the media also ruined the idea of platonic love. Every hug or friendly handshake suddenly seems like it is too loving or romantic for just friends to have. This is a ridiculous concept. If you love your friend, why can’t you give him or her a hug? What stops you from being close to him? The only things getting in the way of your friendship are the cultural norms that have been instilled within you since you were born.
Platonic love may feel hard to experience because of the way society expects us to feel. These restrictions get in the way of being close to our friends. They can also confuse us. You feel love for your friend, and the world seems to say that this means you must be in love with them. Before long, you may even start to listen to this attitude and start dating a friend that you only wanted to be friends with. This type of situation can lead to jealousy, break ups, affairs and insecurity unless you stop it.
Part of the reason this problem developed is because society has changed. We have grown more accepting of different cultures, marital traditions and relationships. Across the world, gay marriage is becoming gradually more accepted. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it can also make your relationships more confusing. When you are close to a friend and love them as a friend, people now wonder if you are gay or bi. This type of attitude is ridiculous. You should be able to be friends with whoever you want and date who you want. Having close friendships does not mean that you have a romantic attraction to someone.
A few centuries ago, close friendships were normal with the same sex. You can read letters written between friends that sound like our love letters today. They weren’t (at least, not in many cases) romantic love letters between two people of the same gender. These letters were just an outpouring of the platonic love that two people shared. By having to give everyone a label today and only expected romantic love, we have greatly harmed ourselves. We have limited our ability to express our love to friends and family members.
What Did Plato Say About Love?
To Plato, love was something that could only be experienced as a homosexual phenomenon. He said that love was a desire for the “perpetual possession of good.” To him, love was just a desire for the person or things that would satisfy us.
Plato also believed that each of us is a blend of our body and soul that are governed by two types of love. The human body seeks out carnal desires, sexual intimacy and lust. Meanwhile, the soul transcends this desire for a spiritual intimacy that transcends the animalistic desires of the flesh. Because of this, many Greeks at the time believed that true love could only be had with someone of the same gender. It was only possible to have genuine, spiritual love when the desires of the body were not involved.
Is It Possible for Men and Women to Be Just Friends?
If you have ever watched When Harry Met Sally, you have probably seen the famous scene where Harry says that it is impossible for a man and woman to be just friends. He is wrong. It is possible for two people of the opposite gender to be friends, but it is a bit harder. We have so many cultural stereotypes that say that two people should date if they get along well. These stereotypes can get in the way of a friendship because they can confuse one or both of you into thinking that you need more than platonic love and respect out of your relationship.
In today’s society, the world just isn’t set up to have a close friend of the opposite gender. It doesn’t have to be that way. In our digitally driven world, it is already hard enough to meet and connect with people in real life. We don’t have to make it any harder. The only way that we will overturn these damaging stereotypes is by having friendships with the people we care about and gradually changing these stereotypes.
Don’t misunderstand me though. It can be extremely hard to have a platonic friendship with someone. Everything is geared toward having romantic love or “friends with benefits” types of relationships. It is far too easy for one friend to misunderstand and think that a physical intimacy is necessary just because there is a friendship. It isn’t easy, but you can have a platonic best friend. If the world doesn’t understand that, then that is their problem, not yours. Finding a good friend is already difficult, so don’t limit yourself based on their gender.
Pitfalls to Watch Out for
While it is entirely possible to have platonic love with a friend, there are a few potential problems to watch out for. If you want to keep your friendship, make sure to avoid these problems.
If you have a sexual desire for your friend, then what you are feeling is not platonic love. What you are feeling is a sexual attraction. While it is still possible to be friends, it may not be the best idea. A part of you wants to be more than just friends, and this will make your relationship lopsided if the other person feels differently.
It could also end up ruining your friendship. If both of you feel a sexual attraction, then being around each other constantly could lead you to date. If the relationship ends badly, then you lose a friend. In addition, being around someone you are sexually attracted to is an unneeded temptation to have an affair if you are already taken. You could control yourself and rely on your willpower, but it would always be better and easier to just avoid situations that tempt you into cheating.
2. Watch Out for Emotional Affairs
Sexual attraction is not the only problem to watch out for. Even if you are not sexually attracted to your friend, that does not mean that your friendship will not ultimately harm your romantic relationships. Sometimes, people become used to only sharing information with their friends. They become emotionally intimate with a friend, but never develop that same emotional intimacy with their actual romantic partner.
An emotional affair can easily be just as damaging as a physical affair. With an emotional affair, you are giving someone else the same part of you that should be given to your partner. At the very least, an emotional affair can make it harder to connect to your partner and cause the end to your relationship.
If you are not sure if you are having an emotional affair, take a step back and think about the situation for a moment. Are you comfortable talking about your friend with your partner? If you feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about your friendship, then you may be getting too emotionally intimate. This can lead to more problems in the future, so deal with the issue now. As long as you stay within your moral limits, your platonic friendship does not have to get in the way of your love life.
While you have just a platonic friendship, your partner may not understand this. They may feel jealous or upset by the amount of time you spend with a friend. In some cases, this jealousy is a sign of a controlling relationship. In other cases, it is a sign that you are developing an emotional intimacy with your friend that your partner would like to have with you. Have an open discussion with your partner and decide the best course of action. While you do not have to stop being friends with your platonic friend, you may need to tone the friendship down for a bit.
When Will Society Understand Platonic Friendship?
There is no way to know the answer to this question. There have been different points in history where platonic love was the norm in friendships, so it seems reasonable to think that this could be possible again. At the same time, I would not expect the world to change its mind too quickly. Societal change takes time, so you can’t wait around for society to be different.
This does not mean that you have to give up on platonic love. Loving a friend makes life more enjoyable and rewarding. Unless your friendship is actually hurting someone or your romantic relationship, there is no reason to cut it out of your life. Studies show that forming close bonds can make you happier and even lead to a longer life. Don’t give up on a happier life just because society does not always understand what platonic love means.