There are likely many skeptics when it comes to the idea of platonic relationships being possible. In the popular TV show Friends, the group discusses flirting. The women believe they can flirt with a man and it can be harmless. All of the men disagree. They say when a girl flirts with a guy they are thinking “no big deal.” However, they say the guy would be thinking, “Finally someone who wants to sleep with me.” The women cannot believe it and even describe it as pathetic. One of them asks, “And this goes for all guys?” To which one of the guys responds, “All guys that are awake. Then we go to sleep and all the guys from the other end of the world wake up and behave the exact same way.” It is a great line, which many people believe is completely true. When there is physical attraction between two people, and they already have an emotional connection, or are building one, it can lead to romantic feelings. If that type of connection is on the table, it can be difficult for two people to maintain a platonic relationship. Even if they start off as friends, it is not uncommon for one or both people to develop feelings for each other. It is one of the biggest romance movie tropes: two people become close friends, one friend falls in love with someone else, the other friend suddenly realizes they are actually in love with them, and then through a winding, twisting turn of events they get together. It is a classic tale for a reason. However, you could make the argument that it is possible to have a platonic relationship, if you can follow and maintain certain boundaries.
Whether you are in a relationship or you are single, there are boundaries that will help protect your platonic relationship, including:
Boundary #1: No sex. Some may claim to be able to separate their emotions from sex. However, it is extremely difficult for people separate the two. Sex complicates everything. It is the most intimate way two people can connect physically. Adding sex in the equation will quickly turn a relationship away from a platonic one.
Boundary #2: Be cautious with physical affection. While two people can avoid sex, how they show affection can complicate the relationship as well. A lack of boundaries around physical touch can make it difficult to avoid feelings of attraction. For example, where two heterosexual female friends might sit extremely close or even cuddle while watching a movie, a heterosexual female who has a platonic friendship with a heterosexual male would benefit from avoiding cuddling or other physical affection typically reserved for a romantic relationship.
Boundary #3: Define the relationship. It is important that both people understand the friendship. If the relationship is not clearly defined, it can leave people confused. That confusion can lead to misunderstanding certain behaviors for potential “signals” of interest. If both people are clear about the intentions of the relationship, it can keep things platonic.
Boundary #4: Be open with your current partner about your platonic friendship and vice versa. If you begin a dating relationship with someone else, it is important to communicate this to your new partner and your friend. Again, it provides clarity and honesty that is important in keeping things platonic. Jealousy might occur for the partner and/or the friend. It is important to be open and honest throughout. Jealousy will likely subside especially as everyone gets to know each other better.
When those boundaries get blurred, it is often difficult to maintain a truly platonic relationship. However, platonic relationships are possible if the two people involved are willing to set and preserve their boundaries for the sake of the friendship.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She also has a special interest in working with athletes and has been bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is in the process of becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant to further her expertise in sports psychology. Prior to her move to Abilene, Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.