Love, Platonic love, or "just good friends" - where do you stand?
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
February brought a number of requests for comments on relationships, and I wanted to post some musings on the topic of "Platonic" love (capital P).
Defined more commonly now as "platonic" (small p), by which we tend to mean "just good friends" or "never going to happen sexually", I feel the true meaning of Platonic is both lost and trivialised. If you are lucky enough to have to experienced a Platonic connection, this can be as powerful and rare as finding your romantic long-term soul-mate, lover or partner.
The concept of Platonic love derives from Plato's "Symposium". A story of a banquet where the philosophers discussed their views on love. In simplified terms - and apologies to philosophers - Socrates told of a prophet called Diotima who taught him. For Diotima, "love" was an appreciation of beauty - notably sought in earthly form ie. through the pursuit of a mate often followed by the bearing of children to propagate that beauty. This love, was important to humankind with people "roaming the earth in pain until they found it." However, there was a further kind of love, the love of spiritual beauty - knowledge, wisdom, or a pure meeting of minds. This was not an earthly love, ie. it did not thrive through sexual connection, romantic partnership or childbirth, but was a bond of a different kind.
Through the Renaissance and later modernisation, the term focused more on the "non-sexual" nature, and as such "platonic love" has now been used interchangably with "just good friends". While some insist that the inclusion of the word "love" sets it apart from friendship as it allows for the intensity of feeling; I can't help thinking we might be missing out.
There are a few blog posts who have tried to return to the original notion of Platonic love, notably Diana Raab's piece in Psychology Today Sandra Alvarez's A Conscious Rethink, and this Elite Daily article, but the majority seem to be more about "Can a relationship ever be truly platonic?" or "Unrequited versus platonic love".
This is not a piece to look at whether men and women can be "just good friends", but rather a celebration of what Platonic love can be and a wish to reinstate its role.
To connect with someone in a manner that goes beyond the physical is rare, and indeed beautiful. It is a privilege of life. It is not necessarily something we "need" - in comparisson to romantic companionship which tends to be more generally desired; nor is it something all of us will experience...whereas most of us will at some point experience romantic relationships to some degree of success.
It is fully possible to have a wonderfully happy and successful romantic relationship as well as a Platonic relationship, not because the latter fulfils something your partner cannot, but because there is no contest to the role both play in your life. It is also possible to have a Platonic and romantic relationship with the same person - with the exception that you will often also maintain a sexual relationship in this case. Platonic love does not require the element of sexual intimacy, romantic often does. Platonic, like romantic, love also does not require either party to be a specific gender.
The main requirement of Platonic love is a more spiritual connection. For Plato it is the foundation of a relationship that can mend human nature. It is the spark that inspires each person in that relationship to be a better person for themselves alone.
While it is possible to find that in strong romantic relationships, Platonic love has a different reach because it does not bring expectation or dilution that being "better" is also for the partnership. In some ways, Platonic love is ironically selfish - or perhaps wholly unselfish in its manifestation - the benefit is for you alone (although your Platonic love brings the same for the other). Platonic love requires boundaries similar to a relationship with a lover; but there is a level of honesty which can go beyond that in the former - it can be brutal. The reason for this is in a romantic relationship there is often a desire to protect the other from deep hurt. Romantic love is more human.
Elite Daily says "If you loved someone romantically, and they killed somebody, you would help them bury the body. However, if you love someone Platonically, and they also killed somebody, you were probably there to help them do the dirty work in the first place."
For me I'd say I'd go to the ends of the earth in my Platonic relationship because I know how much I would gain from it; but I'd give my husband a kidney in a heartbeat because I would gladly make my life worse just to make his a little better.
Platonic love is special, and requires the same nurture, respect and care of the best of romantic relationships; it deserves so much more than relegation to the "friend zone".
...at least that's where I stand.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt