What Is Platonic Love? 16 Signs & How It Relates To Friendship
Not every profound relationship we encounter in our lives will necessarily be romantic. Love can take many forms, one of which is platonic love.
Platonic love gets much less attention when it comes to discussing the most important connections of our lives, but these platonic relationships are arguably some of the most meaningful.
What is platonic love?
Platonic love is a type of love that is distinctly nonsexual and nonromantic while still being deep, close, and meaningful. Beyond a simple friendship, platonic love describes a bond that's defined by heartfelt connection, intimacy, and care.
The term platonic references the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, whose work theorized about the nature of love and its highest forms. Plato's work conceptualized the most enlightened types of love as transcending beyond the body in favor of love for the soul and the love of wisdom. Because of this, the idea of platonic love became associated with having a strong, emotionally intimate connection that goes beyond sexuality and romance.
Today, the term platonic is often used to describe the absence of sex and romance in any relationship. The relationships between parent and child, mentor and student, professional colleagues, and friends can all be described as platonic relationships.
"Platonic love can be part of platonic relationships and is often sensed as a deeper layer of caring and connection," somatic psychologist and sex therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., LMFT, CST, tells mbg. "In essence, people feel love for each other without a foundation of sexual interest."
Platonic love vs. romantic love
Romantic love is the love between romantic partners, which involves a mix of passion, sexual attraction, attachment, and commitment. Platonic love takes the sex and romance out of the equation, while still involving similar levels of closeness, commitment, and care. Importantly, platonic love is not a "lesser" form of love than romantic love.
Psychologist and friendship expert Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., beautifully describes the relationship between the two in her New York Times bestseller Platonic:
"These days, we typically see platonic love as somehow lacking—like romantic love with the screws of sex and passion missing. But this interpretation strays from the term's original meaning. When Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino coined the term 'platonic love' in the 15th century, the word reflected Plato's vision of a love so powerful it transcended the physical. Platonic love was not romantic love undergoing subtraction. It was a purer form of love, one for someone's soul, as Ficino writes, 'For it does not desire this or that body, but desires the splendor of the divine light shining through bodies.' Platonic love was viewed as superior to romance."
Does platonic mean "just friends"?
Platonic love is not necessarily synonymous with friendship, though some close friends do have platonic love for each other.
"Platonic love denotes a deep level of closeness, love, understanding, communication, honesty and transparency, and intimacy," says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, a sex therapist and director at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. "Not all friendships have all of those qualities, nor all of those qualities to the depth of platonic love."
If you're wondering if being platonic with someone means you're "just friends," it's likely that the friendship in question does not involve true platonic love. Platonic friends truly love and value their relationship to each other exactly as it is, without seeing it as lesser or lacking just because sex or romance is not involved. It's diametrically opposed to what some people refer to as the "friend zone," wherein a person resents their status as a friend because what they actually want is sex or romantic affection.
Platonic love challenges the idea that sex and romance definitively make a relationship "more" or "better."
Signs of platonic love:
- You care a lot about this person's well-being.
- You would go out of your way to do something to take care of this person or make their day better.
- You love spending time with this person.
- You feel emotionally close to this person.
- You can open up to them and share your most intimate and innermost thoughts and feelings, and vice versa.
- You can be really silly or really serious with this person, and you value both parts of the relationship.
- You feel like you know them really well, beyond the surface level.
- You accept them fully, flaws and all.
- You feel warm and affectionate toward this person.
- You want to nurture your relationship with this person, but you have no interest in dating them or turning it romantic.
- You have no desire to be sexual with this person.
- You tell this person you love them.
- Describing your feelings as anything other than love would feel like it's minimizing how much this person means to you.
- You see this person as being a long-term part of your life.
- You're committed to working on and tending to your relationship with this person.
- You love the relationship for exactly what it is, with no desire to add sex or romance to it.
Benefits of platonic relationships
People don't tend to think about or prioritize their platonic relationships nearly as much as they do their romantic relationships.
"Many of us grew up with the idea that a romantic partner was supposed to satisfy all of our needs, that our happiness had to come from the romantic relational system," says Richmond. "More recently, we understand that a healthy romantic relationship can be an essential part of a person's well-being, but it can't be the only part."
Here are a few of the many benefits of platonic relationships:
Improved mental and physical health
Having strong, platonic relationships are vital to overall health and well-being. A large body of research links having a thriving, high-quality social life full of close relationships (beyond just family and romantic partnership) with a wide range of mental health benefits and even physical ones1, including increased longevity2, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, improved cognitive health3, higher life satisfaction, reduced risk of depression and loneliness4, and much more.
Feelings of connectedness and joy
Platonic relationships offer opportunities for pleasure, variety, camaraderie, and a general sense of belonging to our lives. As certified sex therapist Heather Shannon, LCPC, CST, previously told mindbodygreen, "Platonic friendship allows for feeling connected, discussing ideas, and feeling witnessed in general in life."
The novelty is particularly important, according to Richmond: "Friends bring fresh perspectives and novel experiences, which enhance how we feel, behave, and experience the world."
Platonic relationships also act as an important source of care, perspective, and advice outside of (and about!) our romantic partnerships. Given the prevalence of toxic relationships, having a strong support network to fall back on is imperative.
Can be easier to maintain
While platonic relationships offer many of the same benefits as their romantic counterparts, Richmond notes that platonic relationships can actually make it easier to enjoy many of these things.
"Our platonic relationships are typically less fraught or high stakes than our romantic relationships—we are not living with that person day in and day out, and therefore we don't place the same expectations on our platonic relationships that we do our romantic relationships," she points out.
It can also be nice to have a mutually loving, supportive relationship with someone that isn't based on sex or expectations for romance. You get to just enjoy each other's company with no ulterior motives, and that's kind of refreshing.
Less pressure on romantic relationships
Having platonic relationships can take pressure off our romantic relationships from needing to satisfy every single interdependent need of ours, says Richmond.
"Most people have needs that can't be satisfied by one person, including their romantic partner. That is normal and perfectly healthy!" she points out. "It takes a village to fill the bucket of what helps us feel like our truest and most complete selves can thrive."
For example, maybe your partner isn't into the same kind of music as you, so you have a platonic friend who you're able to go to shows and geek out about new albums with. Or perhaps your partner can get a bit drained from endless conversations processing your never-ending work drama, but you've got a close friend who has an endless capacity to listen to you vent.
Platonic life partnerships have been getting more attention these days, and for good reason. These are partnerships wherein two people choose to share their lives together to the same degree as typical romantic couples—think buying a house together, sharing expenses, and maybe even raising kids with each other—just without the sex or dating.
"A platonic partnership can involve deep emotional connection, fulfillment, and commitment, which can enrich our lives," says Kahn.
How to keep a relationship platonic:
Make your intentions known.
"Let your platonic friend know your intentions and boundaries from the start," says Richmond. Make sure they know you see the relationship as being platonic, not romantic or sexual.
Make appropriate plans.
Certain activities are more closely associated to romantic and sexual relationships. A candlelit dinner for two with rose petals scattered around you? Probably kinda romantic. Texting them past midnight to come over to watch Netflix and chill? Kinda sexual.
"Propose plans and outings that friends would do together rather than romantic date nights or hanging out at home alone on the couch," says Richmond. The boundaries will depend on the particular people involved (lots of platonic friends do love bingeing Netflix together), but be thoughtful and read the room.
Watch the language.
Your body language and choice of words can communicate a lot. Be wary of flirty behavior that might give mixed signals, says Richmond, unless or until you and this person have firmly established what the expectations are. Some platonic friends can be playful and flirty with each other without crossing a line, but typically that comes alongside actively making it clear that your relationship is decidedly platonic in nature.
"If [your language has] flirty or has sexual nuances, that's fine in long-term friendships because both people understand their roles in the friendship and can 'play' that way, but you may need to be less flirty or sexual when first starting a platonic relationship," Richmond adds.
Nurture the relationship.
Boundaries matter in platonic relationships. At the same time, though, what's so amazing about platonic love is that it really is love. And when you love someone, you actively care about them and your relationship with them.
"When you think about nurturing a platonic relationship, think about how you'd nurture any relationship," says Kahn. "Some examples include vulnerability, communication, spending time with each other, showing appreciation, showing affection, and co-providing emotional support." All of these behaviors are features of platonic love relationships.
What if I don't want it to be a platonic relationship?
If you don't want to be in a platonic relationship with someone, it's time to get brave and tell them how you feel. Ask if they're interested in pursuing something romantic or sexual with you.
Relationships are a two-way street, so it's important the two of you are on the same page about what you want your relationship to be. If you're falling in love with a friend who doesn't feel the same way, it's important to respect their boundaries and make peace with the relationship as it is. If you're not able to move forward platonically, it may be necessary to take a break from the friendship until your feelings cool and you're able to reestablish the relationship as true friends.
(We've got a full guide on how to stop liking someone, if you need it.)
Does platonic love mean just friends?
Platonic love involves authentically loving and caring about someone to the same degree you would a romantic partner, only without the sex and romance involved. All friendships that are nonsexual and nonromantic in nature can be considered platonic, but platonic love implies a level of deep closeness and care that not all friends necessarily have for each other.
What does platonic love feel like?
Platonic love can feel very similar to romantic love—you genuinely care about this person's well-being, you have a lot of warmth and affection for them, and you want to spend more time with this person and invest in your relationship with them.
Can there be kissing and sex in a platonic relationship?
Generally speaking, platonic relationships are distinctly nonsexual and nonromantic in nature. The people involved choose to nurture a relationship without sex and romance.
That said, there are exceptions to every rule, and Kahn says people can define their relationships however they want. "I think most people think of a platonic relationship as not including physical intimacy, but they can if you want them to!" he says, adding that platonic friends may occasionally kiss, hold hands, or even have sex. A key distinguisher might be that a platonic relationship isn't built on the foundation of sex or romance, and those things are not central to the relationship.
The friendship, regardless of the presence of sex or romance, is the centerpiece of a platonic relationship.
Platonic love describes a deep closeness experienced between people whose relationship is not based on sexuality and romance. Platonic relationships add pleasure, camaraderie, support, and novelty to our lives, and they can be just as profoundly meaningful to our lives as our romantic relationships.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter