Why is it so hard to experience platonic love today?
Platonic love may be hard to experience today, not because we think more with our loins and less with our heads, but because of the restrictions imposed on us by society.
Over two thousand years ago, when Plato first explained his thoughts about love in a debate, the idea of platonic love as we know today was only a small part of his description of love and the complex idea behind love.
According to Plato, love was the desire to want good, or want happiness in life. When you’re filled with happiness when you see something, what you experience is the feeling of love.
In the debate where the idea of platonic love was first discussed by Plato and other philosophers, Plato never really spoke of love as a heterosexual experience. So when we talk about platonic love today, as much as it’s understood to be a bond between opposite sexes, it doesn’t always have to be interpreted in that manner. [Read: The 12 important signs of true love in every relationship]
So what makes platonic love so hard to experience between the sexes?
In today’s world, any affection beyond a handshake, a friendly hug or a kiss is deemed inappropriate between friends. But when you truly love someone and your heart aches to hold them close and touch them, would you feel satiated with a simple hug when you meet this friend after a year’s wait?
This may come as a shock to you, but in many civilized cultures sexual orientation is a new trend that’s been followed only for the last few centuries. Of course, reproduction occurs only between the opposite sexes. But affection was openly shared between the same sexes too.
Today, it’s not acceptable to be overly affectionate with any friend, be it a guy or a girl. But even a hundred years ago, it was acceptable for individuals to caress or even kiss other members of the same sex just to show their affection. Romantic relationships between the same sexes and friends were extremely common and were never seen as taboo until a century ago. Of course, homosexuality was considered taboo, but displaying affection through physical intimacy, on the other hand, was commonly accepted as a show of friendship.
Plato defines love as “a desire for the perpetual possession of the good.” He says that love is a desire, a continuous thirst for things that will satisfy and fulfill our needs.
According to Plato, every human being is an unstable mix of two halves, their body and their soul, and each of these parts is governed by two kinds of love. The body craves for carnal desires and falls prey to sexual desires and lust, which forces the human to create physical attachments to worldly entities. And on the other hand, the soul cares only for a noble and spiritual kind of love that transcends beyond mere sexual desires.
Plato describes love as intense attraction and craving to be with a particular person or object, but yet, it is not guided by sexual addiction or carnal desires. And hence, we have this pure kind of love between two people, the love that goes beyond sexual attraction, the love we know today as platonic love.
Can men and women ever just be friends? They can, but it’s a lot harder than it once was. When you love someone, you want to admire them, you want to hold them and adore them because you can’t find a better way to express the overwhelming affection you feel inside.
But is that really acceptable in today’s society? Can you really kiss a friend or cuddle a friend without feeling awkward about it because someone’s judging you?
The world has convinced us to believe that physical intimacy between friends or between two members of the same sex is inappropriate and damned, and just as bad as sexual intercourse. But our minds just can’t seem to understand this!
Platonic best friends are harder to make and keep because the world cannot accept your relationship anymore. We’re being forced to avoid physical intimacy everywhere. And in theory, this shunning of physical intimacy between friends by the society may be causing more affairs and broken relationships too.
After all, even when you feel passionate about a close friend, you can’t help but feel awkward and embarrassed about it because someone else has convinced you that the true love you feel inside is wrong! [Read: Why flirting with a friend isn’t really wrong!]
The different dimensions of love
Desiring someone sexually is not love. It’s sexual attraction.
Poets and romantics have always placed romantic love on a pedestal and forced us to believe that romantic love is the most powerful form of love there can ever be.
But that’s not the truth. Everything we want and desire, everything that makes us work towards achieving something, be it a person or an object, is because of the force of love. The sacrifices you make, the small and the big ones, is because of your desire to want someone or something. And if that’s not love, then what is?
Platonic love and emotional affairs
An emotional affair is a kind of platonic love. But in today’s society, it’s not acceptable for us to feel passionately closer to anyone else other than our own partners. It’s just wrong because it threatens the romantic relationship we’re already involved in.
In today’s world, we’re just as threatened by emotional affairs as much as sexual affairs. If you mentally bond with someone of the opposite sex and feel more emotionally attached to them than your own partner, it’s only a matter of time before your partner starts to feel insecure about the marriage or relationship.
Emotional affairs are almost always a closely guarded secret because you feel uncomfortable with the idea, especially around your partner. If you can’t talk about it with your partner, then your platonic friendship may be coming in the way of a happy relationship with your own partner.
A platonic friendship is never bad as long as you stay within your moral boundary. But if your affection for a friend starts to replace the love you have for your partner, you know your love life is only going to head downhill, don’t you? [Read: Emotional cheating and 10 really bad things it can do to you]
Will platonic friendships ever be understood?
A platonic relationship doesn’t involve just two people, you and your friend. It involves your own partner and your platonic friend’s partner too. Even if you or your friend are single today and everything’s dandy, would things still feel the same when one or both of you enter into romantic relationships with other people?
If you’re comfortable snuggling with your best friend of the opposite sex under the blanket while watching a movie, do you think your new partner would be accepting of that idea?
This is the monogamous world we live in today. As humans, we’re jealous and we’re insecure, and we can’t live in the idealistic world that defines Plato’s pure love that’s devoid of sexual desires, however reasonable or intellectual his idea may be.
Setting rules for platonic love
If you have a platonic friend and you don’t want that friendship getting in the way of your love life, learn to set rules. Setting ground rules with your romantic partner may be the safest way to experience platonic love and have a happy love life. But remember, your partner may always add new rules each time they feel insecure, and that may happen very often! [Read: 25 basic relationship rules for successful love]
The insuppressible power of love
According to Plato himself, love is the desire for the perpetual possession of the good. If you find someone attractive or if you find something desirable, you can’t help but fall in love.
Perhaps, culture and society has burdened the words ‘love’ and ‘passion’ and forced us to avoid feeling these emotions towards anyone but our romantic partners. But whether we’re willing to accept it or suppress it, all of us know that every now and then, we feel a surge of love, passion and affection towards platonic friends, even if we’re never willing to acknowledge it or accept it. [Read: Love triangles and its confusing repercussions]
But once you realize you’re truly in love with a platonic friend, and you have a romantic partner too, does that make you feel awkward?
The answer to that question will help you make up your mind on whether you have the emotional capability and the relationship stability to experience platonic love with a friend and maintain romantic love with your partner at the same time.
After all, platonic love seems easy to understand while reading about it or when you’re single. But unless you have a very understanding partner, it’s easier to avoid passionate platonic friendships and its short sighted interpretations of society, than deal with its confusions.
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A mom of two who’s currently working on a novel, Elizabeth Arthur lives in Cornwall. And when she’s not chasing her boys around the house, she enjoys sittin...