Platonic relationship: Keeping it friendly
What is a platonic relationship?
According to Science Daily, platonic love – in its modern guise – is an “affectionate relationship into which the sexual element does not enter, especially in cases where one might easily assume otherwise”.
It’s worth pointing out that the etymology of ‘platonic’ stems from the Greek philosopher Plato. Traditionally its meaning is twofold; it refers to the ancient thinker’s machinations on divinity, as well as his writings in Symposium on homosexual love between two men.
However, sometime during the Renaissance platonic love adopted the meaning we attach to it today, that of a close, heterosexual bond devoid of sensuality. At least in the English-speaking world, William Davenant’s 1635 comedy The Platonic Lovers – a play that reinterprets Plato’s concept and posits it as a connection based on virtuosity and truthfulness – is cited as the origin of our current definition.
Nowadays we talk about platonic relationships in a somewhat cynical sense; is an entirely amicable tie really achievable between and man and a woman, or will sex always enter into the equation? Seeing as we’ve discussed whether dating your best friend is wise and looked at what it means to be in the ‘friend zone’, we thought it only proper to ask whether the suspicion surrounding platonic love is fair.
Why can’t we be friends?
The most prominent reservation people hold about platonic relationships stems from our understanding of human evolution. According to canonical science, men and women are hardwired to procreate. Everything from our nervous system to the hormones that spark it into action is part of a complex biological nexus that’s been honed over millions of years.
For better or for worse, this basic scientific fact informs gender relations between men and women on a daily basis. It’s an idea so deeply entrenched in our culture compass that it’s effectively drawn the line between what we deem normal and abnormal when it comes to sexuality, falling in love, family life, and even legality.
Then there’s the question of masculinity. A growing corpus of sociological literature argues that men are socialised in a way that makes male/female friendships problematic. The root of this contentious standpoint is the concern that normative masculinity somehow subordinates femininity and puts an unrealistic emphasis on sex. It follows then that men struggle to with platonic love owing to the pressure they feel to conform to the norm.