Platonic relationships can sometimes be confusing to navigate, but they can also be incredibly rewarding. At Bumble, we don’t think platonic relationships get the airtime that they deserve. They can be just as important, if not more so, than romantic relationships (which of course they exist in tandem with).
So let’s explore exactly what a platonic relationship is, whether you can have a platonic soulmate, and the difference between platonic relationships and romantic relationships. It’s a bit of a minefield, so we’ve included some expert advice, as well as some insight from our global community to help guide you.
First up: What is a platonic relationship?
A platonic relationship is one in which two people share a close bond but do not have a sexual relationship. They may even feel love for each other; this is referred to as platonic love. Psychotherapist Gemma Grainger notes that platonic relationships can be particularly meaningful. “They are so pure and beautiful and often aren’t even recognized for what they are,” she says. Put simply, it’s a strong, emotional connection between two people, but not a physical one.
Platonic relationships are often friendships, and as Lucinda, 34, explains, they can be instrumental in helping you learn more about yourself. “Ultimately, it's only through brilliant friendships that I have given myself the space to figure out who I am and what I like, what I'm into and what I'm not,” she says.
While the lack of a sexual relationship is what characterizes this type of connection, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the individuals in the relationship aren’t attracted to each other, or couldn’t begin to feel attracted to one another. This is where things can get a little blurry. “It’s important to establish clear boundaries in a platonic relationship, especially if you have zero intention of taking things to a romantic or sexual level,” advises Grainger.
If either of you have a romantic partner outside of your platonic relationship, it’s important to make this clear to all parties from the start. Your romantic partner needs to feel comfortable with your other platonic relationships, and vice versa.
Is there such a thing as a platonic soulmate?
We think so. “If you are single, like me, platonic relationships are all we have, aside from family and ourselves,” says Georgia, 29. “Platonic relationships are secondary in society, but no less important than romantic ones.” Terms like “bromance” or “work wife” exist because deep connections can be made without including sex or romance.
In that sense, a platonic soulmate is definitely possible. They just look different than romantic ones—you can even have more than one over the course of a lifetime. “We shouldn’t compare romantic and platonic soulmates, because they are a different experience,” says Grainger. “You can’t expect them both to provide the same things.” This is a sentiment echoed by Georgia: “The conversations had with friends are different to that with a partner. It’s a different role. No one person can fulfill all our social needs.”
Not every relationship will last forever, of course. Just like with friends or romantic partners, platonic soulmates can go their separate ways. Grainger stresses the importance of communication to avoid this happening. “You need to show appreciation for each other, acceptance, and the ability to work through hard times,” she says.
What’s the difference between a platonic and a romantic relationship?
As we’ve explained, the lack of physical intimacy is the main difference here. After a big romantic break up, Lucinda invested her energy into platonic relationships instead. “It took me three decades to get to a point where romantic love wasn't the center of my solar system,” she admits. “Society is myopically focused on romantic love, which was maybe why I thought I needed to find a man to make me whole. But now that I have let go of that notion, I have found space to find the most fulfilling, hilarious, and meaningful relationships in my entire life.”
It’s important to invest in all kinds of relationships—as we mentioned, you can’t expect to get everything you need emotionally from one person. We build a more varied, interesting life through the different connections we make. From our research*, we found that 77% of respondents believe that friends are one of the main factors in a happy and healthy life.
If you decide you want to shift a platonic friendship to a romantic or sexual one, this is possible. However, it’s important to communicate how you feel to the other person, even if you’re concerned about it affecting your friendship. “Try to change your way of thinking,” advises Grainger. “It’s always best to be honest, because otherwise it becomes a situation of unrequited love—and that’s not a platonic relationship,” explains Grainger. A platonic relationship is built on mutual trust and respect, with an equal balance of emotions. “Whilst there is a chance it could ruin your friendship, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Think of the positives that could come from telling them how you feel.” You can build a truly solid foundation for a romantic relationship from a platonic one.
How to embrace platonic friendship
If you’ve established clear boundaries, and are certain there are no feelings of romance or sexual attraction between you, it’s time to embrace platonic friendship. “Conversation, connection, protection, community, experiences, gossip—these are all so important,” says Georgia.
If you’re not currently in a romantic relationship, or aren’t interested in pursuing one, this can leave space for all different kinds of connections. “I am so happy now that my life is more focused on platonic friendships,” says Lucinda. “I put in as much effort into my platonic friendships as I ever did with romantic relationships, if not more. It fulfills me to invest in them and be there for them when I know they need me, as I know that they would always return the care and attention when I need it.”
It’s undeniable that platonic friendships can form a strong support network. Grainger believes that “love, affection, and signs of appreciation for each other” should be common practice in our platonic relationships, and not just reserved for romantic ones.
If you’re looking to form new platonic friendships, you aren’t alone. From our research*, we found that 60% of respondents want to find new friends. Putting yourself out there, either online or IRL, is the best way to start doing this. Read more about how to make new friends here.
We hope we’ve cleared the muddy waters around platonic relationships and what they entail. Remember, you don’t always have to define a relationship that you have with someone; it’s an individual experience. The key to maintaining a healthy platonic relationship, as with all relationships, is communication. If your circumstances change, and you want to shift in a sexual or romantic direction, you have to tell the other person. If they feel the same way—amazing. If they don’t, it wasn’t meant to be. But that then leaves plenty of room for finding new platonic relationships and friends—so what are you waiting for?
*About the Survey: This research was commissioned by Bumble and carried out online by Censuswide in February 2023. The survey was conducted amongst a sample of more than 1,000 US adults who have either attended college or are currently in college. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles.