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The Complete Guide To Platonic Relationships and Their Risks

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The first idea that comes to mind when you think about having a meaningful relationship is probably something romantic. The idea of a significant other that you share your life with and grow old together while remaining head over heels in love. However, there are actually several types of relationships that are just as important as a romantic one. The love and consideration for your parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, children, grandchildren and even friends are highly important as well. 

Platonic relationships can provide tremendously valuable emotional bonds between two people that may stem from shared interests, beliefs, world views and experiences. Even though there may be no romantic or sexual element in the relationship, they can still have an impact that’s just as meaningful and beneficial as any other relationship.  

What Does a Platonic Relationship Mean? 

A platonic relationship typically refers to friendships and are between two people who could potentially feel attracted to each other. At some point in the history of the relationship, one or both people may experience some sexual tension in passing or may briefly wonder if dating should be attempted. The relationship will have two paths forward from there: continue on as friendship or turn toward romance. 

If these feelings are experienced and the decision is made to remain friends then the relationship will remain platonic. There is a common misconception that platonic friendships can never succeed, especially if one of the people involved develops feelings for the other or misreads signals as a sign of attraction. 

Some of the false ideas surrounding platonic relationships include:

  • Everyone has the same end goal of romance
  • People of different genders do not have enough in common in order to maintain a friendship
  • Everyone will eventually desire a sexual relationship with anyone they potentially could be attracted to

What a Platonic Relationship Does Not Mean 

Friendships with other people fulfills a very important social need for humans, and these relationships can look very different for everyone. For the most part, there is no wrong way to have a relationship as long as the situation is healthy for all parties involved. However, a friendship that involves desires to pursue romance or sexual intimacy, for one or both parties, is not platonic and can be something entirely different.

  • Friends with benefits. Sometimes you may have a friend that you really enjoy spending time with and have tons of shared interests. You may go to concerts, watch the same movies and enjoy going bowling together. Sometimes you end up having sex. Neither of you particularly wants a relationship with the other and romantic feelings haven’t come up or aren’t involved. Yet sometimes, if you both are feeling a little frisky, you engage in sexual activities together. Even though neither person has a romantic interest in the other, this is not a platonic relationship.

  • Unrequited love. In the event that you have a crush on one of your friends, it’s still possible to maintain a friendship with them. However, this friendship would not be considered platonic as long as you hold on to romantic hopes or aspirations. If the flip side of this example happens, you are the one being sought after, then it could be difficult to notice. You may believe that the friendship is entirely platonic, but in reality the other person is hoping to take it to the next level. It’s not unusual or uncommon for someone to develop romantic feelings for a friend, especially if they spend a lot of time and have shared experiences together. Setting boundaries and respecting theirs are the best ways to maintain a platonic relationship going forward.

  • Post breakup friendships. When a relationship ends, especially lengthy ones, there tends to be lingering sexual or romantic feelings. Even if both parties fell out of love and decided that being friends was better, it’s fairly difficult to go from feelings of deep intimacy to strictly platonic. These feelings can sometimes confuse the people involved and make them wonder if they shouldn’t try being together again. This can lead to having an on again/off again type of romantic entanglement. Some people are able to become good friends and maintain a platonic relationship after a breakup or divorce. By setting clear boundaries and putting effort into creating the desired friendship, it’s possible to go from lovers to strictly platonic. 

The Health Benefits of Platonic Relationships 

There are so many positive benefits to experiencing love, and platonic love is just as good as any other version of it. Despite having no sexual intimacy involved, two people can still mutually experience a strong and deep connection with one another. Platonic relationships often involve members of the opposite sex, but also takes the shape for those of the same gender if the two individuals are not heterosexual. Whatever the case may be, there is no requirement of romantic and seuxal activities necessary to enjoy the rich benefits of being in a healthy relationship. Some of these incredible advantages include:

  • An increase in life expectancy. Research has shown that people engaged in healthy social relationships will typically live longer, as they can help to lower the risk of a heart attack and can also help to prevent the development of certain types of cancer.

  • Better health in general. When a person feels loved and cared for, their immune system is naturally boosted and will result in a reduced chance of catching a cold or other viral infection, along with helping them to recover more quickly in the event they do contract an illness.

  • Promotes happiness. When a person maintains healthy relationships, it helps them to cut back on feelings of isolation while increasing their sense of belonging and overall happiness.

  • A healthier heart. Multiple studies have shown that for those who are in strong and happy relationships with others, there is a lower risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to people in more stressful situations. In addition, these individuals are often shown to have the best blood pressure values.

  • Decreases anxiety. Experiencing a healthy and stable relationship will help the brain to activate it’s pleasure response, dopamine. This chemical helps to significantly reduce anxiety.

  • Reduces stress levels. Having a close friend to stand by your side, especially during difficult situations or emotions, can go a long way toward feeling supported and this security will lower the overall stress levels being experienced.

  • Better sleep. The less stress in your life, the better your sleep will be and the more refreshed you will feel in the morning. Tension is much easier to be relieved with the support of a friend and an overall sense of happiness.

How To Maintain a Platonic Relationship 

There are some psychologists that believe that any relationship where two people enjoy each other’s company, either personal or professional, will contain at least some type of sexual tension. The best way to avoid this potential issue is to establish clear and well defined boundaries. They will help to protect the emotional well being of both people and honoring boundaries made by the other person will demonstrate respect for their needs. Everyone will have different needs, so boundaries will need to be determined on a case by case basis. 

These are some examples the illustrate good boundaries:

  • Keep lines of friendship clear. The behaviors of friendship will look different than the behaviors of a relationship and this should be kept in mind. Spending the night with a friend is totally acceptable, but sharing a bed is blurring the line. Sending funny messages or photos is totally fine, but something that’s sexual or may result in a sexual response is pushing a boundary.

  • Discuss how to talk about sexual relationships. There are plenty of friends that feel comfortable enough with each other to openly discuss sex, masturbations and other aspects of their romantic realitnpships. Others may share general information but not details. Some may not speak about the topic at all. When it comes to discussing sex there is no real right or wrong answer. It depends on what works for the people involved in the platonic relationship, but it should be established so that someone doesn’t end up feeling uncomfortable.

  • Check the flirting. Casual flirting happens all the time in relationships and there is generally nothing wrong with it so long as no boundaries are crossed. However, in a platonic relationship where there may exist a potential for attraction, flirting can sometimes create confusing feelings. Even if the flirting is meant to be fun, it could be taken a different way and create some issues.

The Takeaway 

Platonic relationships can be difficult to maintain, but if you set up clear and established boundaries then it’s possible. Not every relationship that can end up in romance, should. and the benefits of a platonic relationship far outweigh the consequences of failing to turn it into a romantic relationship

Life is so much more enjoyable when it’s shared with other people. Relationships are extremely important and not every one of them has to end up in romance. Having platonic relationships with people can offer up new perspectives on life and help someone to improve their overall health and quality of living. Platonic friendships can bring just as many benefits to a person and their overall mental and physical wellbeing as a romantic relationship can. 

Sources

  1. UT Health Austin (uthealthaustin.org)
  2. Joan Moran: 7 Danger Signs That Your Platonic Relationship Is About to End (huffpost.com)
  3. Platonic Friendship are Possible (and important) (healthline.com)

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