Friends form the bedrock of our social lives. They are fun to hang out with, they make us laugh, and they lend us a shoulder to lean on when life gets hard. The honest, unwavering bond we share with them only gets stronger as the years pass by. And gradually, they turn into family. A friendship of this kind transcends social divides and survives the smallest of tiffs to life-altering catastrophes.
So, when we connect with someone so deeply, does gender really matter? Can a close relationship between two individuals be free of romantic overtones? On the occasion of Friendship Day, Soulveda explores the nature of platonic friendships and what they bring to our lives.
In his work titled Symposium, 15th century Greek philosopher Plato classified love into two kinds–Vulgar Eros and Divine Eros. While the former means love that involves attraction towards a beautiful body for physical pleasure and reproduction, the latter refers to love that transcends to the appreciation of the divine. Divine Eros is today known as platonic love, named after the philosopher himself. Such love is earnest, unconditional, and yet, unromantic.
Popular culture has plenty of examples of such relationships. Take Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, for instance. They meet at school, get into countless adventures together and even defeat the darkest wizard of all times. Through fun times and nearly fatal shenanigans, they have each other’s back. And yet, there is nothing remotely romantic or sexual about the affection they share. Yet another such pair is Phoebe and Joey in the TV series Friends. The camaraderie they share is truly heartwarming. In a memorable scene, Phoebe gets mad at Joey for cancelling plans with her and says, “Girlfriends and boyfriends are gonna come and go. But this is for life!”
Indeed, in today’s world, platonic friendships are more common than ever. Such mingling exposes people to varied perspectives and sensibilities.
Indeed, in today’s world, platonic friendships are more common than ever. Such mingling exposes people to varied perspectives and sensibilities. It may help them broaden their minds and, in many cases, give them more room to express themselves. Take Nivedita Niranjankumar, a journalist, for instance. As a teenager, she was never one to sport flowery skirts or dangly earrings, and hence, she was labelled a tomboy and left out of most girl gangs. This was when she became friends with Romil Sharma, her classmate in 11th grade. “He invited me to sit with the boys and made me feel accepted and loved,” she says. Eleven years since, Romil and Nivedita are still close friends.
Similarly, men who feel the need to drink beer, listen to heavy metal and ride their macho bikes when around each other may let their guard down around their female friends. They may even find a safe space for emotional expressions. Explains Varun Rajagopalan, a marketing consultant, “When I am with my boy buddies, I feel a subliminal pressure to be all ‘manly’. But around the women I know and treasure, it’s okay for me to feel sorry for a puppy on the street or hum a soft love song.”
American psychologist Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love explains how such friendship differs from romantic love. According to this theory, consummate love occurs when there is intimacy, passion and commitment between two individuals. In a platonic friendship, the passion factor is absent. And yet, the closeness and loyalty it creates makes it just as important as the relationship they share with their significant others. In Varun’s case, his best friend Bhargavi Ray was the one who gave him confidence to ask his now-wife-then-colleague out on a date. “At our wedding, she was the one to raise the toast. Bhargavi is loved by both my wife and me,” he says.
In a platonic friendship, the passion factor is absent. And yet, the closeness and loyalty it creates makes it just as important as the relationship one shares with one’s significant other.
That said, a little tension may be inevitable in most platonic friendships, say experts. Social psychologist Vani Subramanian observes, “When in a close relationship with a member of the sex they are attracted to, people tend to lower their guard. They may develop a fondness for the other person that could be mistaken for romantic attraction. Unless it is reciprocated, such a feeling can be a threat to the relationship.” Shridhar Kulkarni, an engineer and a theatre artiste, knows this all too well. When he revealed his feelings to a close friend in college, he was turned down. Shridhar found it impossible to continue being friends with her. And just like that, they fell apart.
However, in most cases, people are able to deal with their feelings and not let it affect the friendship. While it’s hardly ever easy to cope with rejection, platonic relationships can be saved by respecting one another’s feelings and giving them the space and time to cool off. After all, solid friendships bring great meaning to our lives. If preserving that means having to suffer through a short phase of bitter feelings and awkwardness, then, is it not worth the pain? So, when we find someone we can call a ‘friend for life’, we better count ourselves lucky.
*Some names have been changed.