Platonic Friendship: What It Is and Signs You Are in One

The simplest definition of a platonic friendship is one without any sexual or romantic feelings or involvement, but these friendships can be more complicated in real life. For example, some platonic friends may have hooked up or dated before deciding to “just be friends.”

Other platonic friends may have feelings for one another but haven’t admitted or acted on them yet. For these reasons, it’s more accurate to say that a platonic friendship is one where two people aren’t currently sexually or romantically involved.[1][2]

This article will give specific examples of platonic and non-platonic friendship, how to tell the difference between them, and some of the pros and cons of being “just friends.”

Sections

  1. What does “platonic” actually mean?
  2. Romantic versus platonic love
  3. Signs of platonic friendships
  4. Examples of platonic friendships
  5. Why platonic friendships can be complicated
  6. What a platonic friendship is not
  7. Rules and boundaries you need to make platonic friendships work
  8. Pros and cons of platonic friendships
  9. Common questions

What does “platonic” actually mean?

It’s easy to become confused about what the word “platonic” really means because there isn’t one single definition everyone uses. Usually, platonic relationships are defined as ones without any sexual or romantic interest or involvement.[1][2]

Still, not everyone subscribes to this definition, with some even suggesting it’s possible for platonic friends to have feelings for one another or even to have some sexual contact.[1][3]

Others believe that once romance or sex are added to a friendship, it redefines the friendship in ways that are no longer platonic.[4] What is clear is that adding romance, sex, or intimacy to a platonic friendship can complicate the relationship, sometimes in ways that can damage or end it. In fact, the number one reason that friends choose to remain platonic is to avoid these kinds of complications and protect their friendships.[5]

Romantic versus platonic love

While romantic or sexual relationships are often driven by passion, desire, and romantic love, platonic relationships are not. Instead, platonic friends share different kinds of intimacy like warmth, support, acceptance, and understanding.[4]

Platonic friendships can be just as close, meaningful, and rewarding as romantic relationships, but they operate on a different set of rules and boundaries.[1][2][5][6] The “love’” between platonic friends is more like the love people feel for their family members rather than the love they’ve felt with past partners.

Signs of platonic friendships

Most of the time, you will know when a friendship is truly platonic because you can honestly say you don’t have sexual or romantic feelings for them, and you’re pretty sure they don’t either.

Some platonic friendships are easier to identify than others. Some of the signs of a purely platonic friendship include:[1][2][6]

  • You love your friend like a sister or brother and always have.
  • You wouldn’t consider dating them even if you were both single.
  • You would feel uncomfortable if you found out they had a crush on you.
  • You’ve never fantasized about them or thought about hooking up.
  • You don’t hide anything you do or talk about with them from your partner.
  • You wouldn’t feel jealous if they got into a serious relationship.
  • You’re not touchy-feely with them and don’t hold hands, kiss, cuddle, etc.
  • You mainly hang out with them around others or in public places during the day.

Examples of platonic friendships

Not all platonic friendships are the same. There are different kinds of platonic love that you might feel for a friend. Platonic and non-platonic relationships can occur between opposite-sex friends and same-sex friends, although some research cites more challenges with platonic friends between men and women.[7] Some examples of different types of platonic friendships include:[1]

  • A platonic soulmate who share a deep connection and friendship
  • A friend who’s more like “family” because of your closeness or shared history
  • A bromance or womance where you joke about romantic love, but it’s never serious
  • A “work spouse” who you’re joined at the hip with or work closely with day-to-day
  • A best friend who you’ve never considered dating or felt attracted to
  • An older mentor who has acted as a teacher, role model, or support person to you

Why platonic friendships can be complicated

While platonic friendships sound pretty straightforward, the truth is they are often more complicated than they seem. When you feel the need to classify certain friendships as “platonic,” it’s usually because there’s a legitimate reason to suspect otherwise.

This might be because one friend is attracted or romantically interested in the other or because they suspect their friend has these feelings. Another complicating factor can arise when one or both friends are in a committed relationship, making it more likely that the friendship could spark conflict or feelings of jealousy.

Some of the common complications platonic friends experience include:[1][3][4][5][6][7]

  • You or your friend spend a lot of time together, are really close, or do things that make other people suspect you’re a couple.
  • You or your friend is in a committed relationship with someone who might become jealous or insecure about your friendship.
  • You or your friend has admitted to having sexual or romantic feelings for the other in the past, and it made things awkward because the other didn’t feel the same way.
  • You and your friend have blurred the lines in the past by hooking up, kissing, or doing other romantically or sexually intimate things together but made a decision to stop.
  • You and your friend used to date but wanted to remain friends after breaking up and need to make it clear you’re no longer together.
  • You and a friend flirt and are interested in one another but have never broached the subject or crossed those lines.
  • You and a friend who would probably be dating or hooking up, except one or both of you is in a happy committed relationship with someone else or are choosing to remain single or celibate.
  • You and a friend have a lot of sexual chemistry or sexual tension but have not ever acted on these feelings and desires.
  • You and a friend who have talked about the possibility of being more than friends but decided it might complicate things, get too messy, or destroy the friendship.
  • You don’t know how to tell a friend that you like them or are attracted to them. You might be scared of rejection or making things awkward if they don’t feel the same way.

What a platonic friendship is not

If you and a friend are currently romantically or sexually involved, it’s probably not a platonic friendship. It’s also not platonic if you and your friend have an on/off intimate relationship or if these lines are often blurred, crossed, or erased.

Even having a strong sexual attraction or romantic interest towards a friend makes it less likely that you can classify the friendship as purely platonic.

Below are some examples of different types of friendships that probably aren’t platonic (by most definitions):[2][5]

  • Friends with benefits who you occasionally hook up or sleep with, even if you don’t have romantic feelings for one another.
  • Recent exes who aren’t over each other yet and still have unresolved feelings for each other.
  • Secret crushes who you are friends with but deep down are hoping will become more than just a friend.
  • On-off lovers who go through periods of being “platonic” and periods of being romantically or sexually involed with each other.
  • Friends who make out, kiss, cuddle, or are physically affectionate with one another on a regular basis.

Rules and boundaries you need to make platonic friendships work

Platonic friendships need a set of clearly defined rules and boundaries that both people understand and respect. Without these, it’s easy for lines to become blurred in ways that make the relationship non-platonic. Some people really want to keep things platonic with certain friends because they don’t want to complicate the friendship or because they need to remain faithful to someone else.

Here are some recommendations on how to set boundaries with friends you want to keep things strictly platonic with:

1. Communicate openly about boundaries when needed

A platonic friendship sometimes requires direct and open conversations about the “rules” of the relationship.[2][6] This is especially true if your friend is doing or saying things that you’re uncomfortable with or if one of your partners is uncomfortable with your interactions.

In these cases, it may be necessary to talk openly about some ground rules and set boundaries that will keep everyone feeling comfortable. Keep in mind that male-female friendship boundaries may be different than the boundaries you set with same-sex friends (although this depends on your sexual orientation).

2. Limit physical affection and contact

One of the most important boundaries in a platonic friendship is to limit the amount of physical contact and affection between you and a friend.

For example, you might be fine with hugging a platonic friend but not holding hands, kissing, or cuddling with them. This kind of physical intimacy is usually associated with romantic relationships and can send mixed signals in a non-sexual friendship.[2]

3. Avoid being overly flirtatious

Being overly flirtatious is something to avoid when you want to keep things platonic with a friend.[6] Some people are naturally flirtatious, but when it goes too far, it can send mixed messages about whether you’re more than just friends.[2]

Even if your friend doesn’t take it seriously, flirting can cause mutual friends to suspect you’re dating or could also cause jealousy (if one of you is in a committed relationship).

4. Spend more time in groups than you do alone

If you and a friend want to keep things platonic, it might be a good idea to spend more time in groups or around other people than you do alone.[2] This is especially important if one of you does have feelings for the other or if you have dated or hooked up in the past. Spending time in groups makes it less likely that you’ll cross the line with a platonic friend and can also reassure others that you’re really just friends.

5. Have rules about when/where/how often you hang out or talk

Having rules about when, where, and how often you talk or see your friend might be another important boundary to consider. For example, it might not be appropriate for you to constantly text or call your friend, especially late at night. If one of you is in a serious relationship, it also might be a good idea to hang out in public places or groups, rather than 1:1 at each other’s houses.[6]

6. Be transparent with partners

If you or your friend has a romantic partner, it’s important to take the feelings of these partners into consideration. Some partners might feel threatened if you’re spending a lot of time alone with someone else and might need some reassurance. If so, being transparent with them about the time you spend with your friend and what you do and talk about together can help them feel more secure.[2]

7. Don’t badmouth each other’s partners

It’s usually a bad idea to badmouth a friend’s girlfriend or boyfriend, no matter what the circumstances are. Doing so can make them defensive, create drama, and also cause bad blood between you and their partner.

Even if you don’t like the person your friend is dating, it’s an unspoken rule that you don’t badmouth their partner.[2][5] This is especially important in platonic relationships between exes or people who have a history of romantic involvement.

8. Avoid inappropriate topics or interactions

In a platonic friendship, there are certain topics or interactions that might not be appropriate to discuss.

For instance, talking in detail about your sex life, sexual preferences, or even just sharing intimate secrets may be an example of crossing a boundary in a platonic friendship. These kinds of topics and interactions can also open the door for inappropriate interactions, which is another good reason to have some off-limits topics.[2][6]

9. Be honest about what you want and don’t want

If it’s not really clear how you and a friend feel about each other and whether you both want a platonic friendship, you might need to be upfront. While a lot of people try hard to avoid awkward conversations, this can create more tension and awkwardness in the future.

Be upfront about whether you’re interested in a platonic friendship or open to more, especially if you’re getting mixed signals from your friend. This kind of open communication is often the key to keeping a platonic friendship healthy without needing to distance yourself from a friend.[1][2]

10. Respect their boundaries

While it’s always important to know your own boundaries and how to maintain them, it’s equally important to respect your friend’s boundaries. Don’t assume that the things you’re comfortable with are OK with them, especially if you are picking up on social cues that suggest otherwise.

When your friend seems hesitant or uncomfortable about something you say or do, take a step back and consider if you’ve accidentally crossed a line. When in doubt, be direct and ask them by saying something like, “Was that weird?” or “Did that bother you?”

Pros and cons of platonic friendships

Platonic friendships have some unique characteristics that make them both rewarding and also more challenging than relationships with other types of friends. Some of the common benefits and challenges of platonic friendships are outlined below.[3][5][6]

Potential Benefits of

Platonic Friendships

Potential Challenges of

Platonic Friendships

Can be longer-lasting and more secure One or both friends may develop feelings
More stability and less drama and conflict Sexual tension or attraction can occur
Higher levels of relationship satisfaction May require more active boundary setting
More emotional support provided Can be hard to “reset” crossed lines
Less uncertainty about the relationship Can spark jealousy in romantic partners

Final thoughts

While there isn’t one universal definition of what counts as a “platonic” friendship, the simplest definition is a friendship without romantic or sexual interest or involvement. Still, many only use this label when there’s a potential, concern, or suspicion that you and a friend could become “more than just friends.”

While these factors can complicate platonic friendships, clear boundaries and open communication can help keep these friendships strong, healthy, and long-lasting.[1][2]

Common questions

Is platonic friendship possible?

Platonic friendship is usually possible unless there are strong feelings, attractions, or a history of romantic or sexual involvement. In these cases, it’s not as easy to remain “just friends” with someone or to redraw boundaries after they’ve been crossed.[5]

Why are male-female friendship boundaries so hard to set?

Some researchers have found that male-female friends struggle more with non-sexual friendships than same-sex friends do. Specifically, males are more likely to develop attractions to their female friends and to believe their female friends are attracted to them, even when this isn’t the case.[7]

Can platonic friends fall in love?

Friendships can change over time, and some platonic friendships do evolve into something more if both people have mutual feelings for one another. In fact, some of the strongest and healthiest romantic relationships are among people who started off being “just friends.”[4]

Can you kiss or cuddle in a platonic friendship?

Usually, kissing and cuddling are things that are reserved for romantic or sexual relationships. While there might be some exceptions, this kind of physical affection can blur the lines in a platonic friendship, making things more complicated.[2]

How do you tell the difference between romantic and platonic relationships?

Platonic friends can love and care about each other and share a deep connection, but in different ways than romantic partners. Romantic love involves passion, but platonic love does not. The attraction is also not sexual in platonic friends, unlike romantic partners.[4]

Can a marriage be platonic?

Marriages can become platonic if a couple falls out of love, stops being sexually intimate, or redefines their marriage as a partnership or friendship rather than a typical marriage. While this isn’t considered traditional, some married couples choose to be platonic with one another.

Is it OK to have platonic friendships when married?

There isn’t a hard rule about platonic friendships for married people. Each couple needs to work together to figure out what works best for their relationship and what boundaries need to be in place when it comes to friendships that have the potential to turn into romantic attraction.

Can you be platonic friends with someone you’ve slept with?

It’s hard to go from sleeping with someone to being platonic friends, but some people are able to make this switch. Normally, this requires open conversations and clear boundaries that both people agree to respect, especially when one or both of you is in a committed relationship.[5][6]

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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