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The Secret of Platonic Relationships

Valentine's Day is a good time to celebrate romantic and platonic relationships.

CCO Commons
Source: CCO Commons

Valentine’s Day, or the feast of Saint Valentine, is an annual celebration of romance and love around the world. While most people regard the holiday as one reserved for lovers, there are so many different relationships that can be celebrated on this day—such as love for one’s parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren. In addition, platonic love between friends is another cause for celebration.

Platonic love is a special emotional and spiritual relationship between two people who love and admire one another because of common interests, a spiritual connection, and similar worldviews. It does not involve any type of sexual involvement.

Most friendships begin as either personal or professional. In the latter type of relationship, the connection is intellectual and revolves around a common work interest. Loving others means understanding them in a special way, and as author Judith Blackstone (2002) says, “The ability to love goes beyond having an emotional response to or understanding another person. It requires a capacity for contact, and this contact does not necessarily have to be physical. It can include how you speak to them, the emotions you display to them, and the awareness you have about them. It’s about being in tune with another person.”

Mark Matousek, in a Psychology Today article, discusses the god Eros, whom the Greeks believed to be the brother of Chaos. Matousek makes a good point when he says, “Erotic love is fierce and wild; the love of friends is more familial (as in healthy families), contained, unconditional, balanced, and tame ... But when friendship becomes both familial and wild, we have a dangerous animal on our hands,” he adds. In other words, it’s not easy having both a platonic and sexual relationship with someone. Platonic relationships can turn into erotic or romantic relationships, but most often the strength lies in the strong friendship.

Some say that in a heterosexual relationship where two people enjoy each other’s company—whether it’s personal or professional—there is going to be sexual tension, even if they are not “lovers” in the classic sense of the word. In this situation, it might be that sexual desire is suppressed.

While there might be some sexual tension between platonic friends, they might both decide to keep things simple and not become sexual. The problem is that once platonic friends become sexually intimate, the lines and boundaries become blurred. Typically, in a platonic relationship, caring, concern, and love are displayed through words and body language.

If both individuals decide to move forward sexually, then several things might occur. If intimacy is a positive experience, it can strengthen the connection, but if it is not, then intimacy can be detrimental to the platonic relationship. Many mental health care professionals discourage sexual intimacy between platonic friends, mainly because of how rare it is to find this type of connection. However, if one of the individuals feels a deep sexual urge but the other does not, here are some tips or secrets to keep the friendship intact:

  • Discuss your feelings with the other person.
  • Set boundaries together.
  • Refrain from touching outside of hugging as part of a greeting.
  • Refrain from sexual conversations.
  • Be mindful of what is said and done when you are together.

My friendship with Thomas Steinbeck, the son of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, was happily platonic. We were so close that we were almost like siblings, sharing in our joys, fears, and creative endeavors. Our love was unconditional, but we never crossed the line into intimacy.

Thomas and I adored one another’s company. We were happy together. We laughed together. At times, we were possessive over our company for one another, and when not together we knew telepathically what the other was feeling. In a sense, we were like one another’s “life-preserver,” and after his passing, I felt as if I was drowning in sorrow. He was my anchor to my creative voice. Together, we both turned pain into art, he through fiction, and me through poetry and memoir. Losing him and our platonic relationship was akin to losing a close family member.


Blackstone, J. (2002). Living Intimately. London, UK: Watkins Publishing.

Matousek, M. (2013). “The eros of friendship: What to do with platonic passion?” Psychology Today. May 12.

More from Diana Raab Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today