Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are Platonic Friends Possible?

Inspired by an interesting debate she witnessed, Tania over at Thinking Jew Girl asks readers if it is possible to have a close male-female relationship that has no potential for marriage, while both the guy and girl are actively dating other people.

I think the answer is no. That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions. But they are, in fact exceptions rather than the rule.

Case in point, "colloquiallyspeaking" replied that she had had such a guy friend who was beneficial in coaching her while she dated her husband, and now continues her friendship with him alongside her husband. While she concedes that adding physicality to the relationship can make things complicated, she adds that "a good emotional friendship is definitely possible and happens everywhere outside of the religious world."

I beg to differ, based on personal experience in secular academic institutions, as well as this completely objective and pseudo-scientific video that has been making the rounds on Youtube:

I think this video is very telling. As much women seemingly think platonic relationships with the opposite gender is possible, popular opinion from men seems to indicate the exact opposite.

From my own single experience from high school until marriage, I don't think I had female friends for whom I did not possess at least a small measure of attraction - even when the matter was openly discussed and the girl would adamantly say that she had no interest in anything other than a platonic relationship. I would certainly abide by her decision and keep things strictly platonic in terms of our interactions, but I couldn't deny that some residual feelings (or more) continued to dwell within me.

And that's the trap.

Can you honestly say that you could continue to be friends with a guy or girl, knowing they want no further development to that friendship, and successfully grapple with any ongoing feelings or spikes in attraction for him/her? That's very tough, to say the least.

I know I went through several cycles of waxing and waning of these troublesome feelings throughout my time in NCSY, while in Israel, and even at the start of my time at Yeshiva University. When I started dating, I was very aware of this distraction, and was reminded of this conflict by a married female friend (who was one of aforementioned single female friends) that I'd need to knock it off when it came to maintaining and cultivating female friendships while I was dating. And she was right. It made my life that much simpler, gave me greater focus, and allowed me to have success in my dating.

I'm reminded of an interesting observation that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein made during a Q & A session related to us by Rabbi Hayyim Angel. Someone asked Rav Lichtenstein if it was possible to have a platonic relationship, and Rav Lichtenstein, per his usual scholarly nature, went into a discourse explaining the true definition of a platonic friendship, which is actually between two men. I can't recall what Rabbi Angel said about Rav Lichtenstein's answer to the actual question, but I imagine he wasn't so encouraging.

Can anyone give an argument that demonstrates platonic male-female relationships are actually possible on a large scale instead of an exceptional minority?


  1. Everyone I know who goes to mixed schools, works in a mixed workplace, etc, has platonic friendships. Perhaps it's only people who are socialized for extreme separation of the sexes who are unable to keep their relationships platonic.

  2. I was not raised that way at all and attended a secular high school and most of my fellow NCSYers did not either, nor were many of them observant in high school.

    Did you even watch the youtube video? There are no visibly Jewish people featured.

    So there goes your theory...

  3. cannot watch Youtube at work and I doubt one video would change my mind, but whatever

  4. Touched. Thank you, Shades of Grey.

  5. Short term yes, long term you start to develop feelings for anyone you spend long periods of time with. Which is why its so important who you spend your time with

  6. Tania - you're welcome.

    aminspiration - define "short term." A few days - like over a Shabbaton? A few weeks? A few months? A year?

    I think people can develop strong attractions within a rather short period of time.

    Based on my personal experiences which I alluded to in the post, I could generate feelings of attraction over the course of a single Shabbaton, depending on the case. I don't know if that's typical, unusual, or quick, but that was the source of the emotional waxing and waning.

    Something else that hasn't been addressed (seemingly) is the marked tendency for guys to become friends with girls they are attracted to from the get go - at least physically. True, there could be exceptions that depend on the circumstances. For example, a classmate in college/grad school, where the guy gets to know the girl better and may like them for other qualities - which is similar to dating, I might add. But generally, a guy doesn't even begin to initiate the friendship unless the girl is attractive.

    I discovered that I myself was doing this in high school, as I was growing in my personal observance and pondered the concept of having female friends. I just happened to notice this trend among the individuals I considered my female friends.

    I think there is a "lo plug" here - duration of time makes no difference from the male perspective. Female thought processes may be quite different, but I can't speak for you guys.

  7. short term i think means a few days.

    i just watched the video now and i think that the reason all the guys said no, is because men are by nature more sexual beings, sperm is constantly being remade all day everyday. Because of this, they are more likely (i think) to develop a physical attraction more quickly than a woman who is more likely looking for relationship, looking to communicate and discuss common interests.

    that being said, thats why i think, for me at least it takes a longer period of time to go from being "just friends" to being attracted to a guy.

    as the video showed though, if all guys think that a platonic relationship is not possible, than all those girls who think they have a best friend who is a dude..are fooling themselves, and then one night when their both drunk and its late, and the lighting's all right...badabing badaboom...we've all seen that movie.

    (sorry this comment is so long)
    u mentioned that if its a classmate it may be bcz of common interests or what have you. But that is also why its soooo important to be careful especially when one has guys in their class, or girls for that matter to keep your distance. If you spend enough time with someone a relationship will develop whether you intended it to or not.

    i think ill end there...

  8. aminspiration - can you give some context to this friendship of a few days duration? I can't really think of particular situations where such a short term friendship would be worthwhile or achievable. In the instances that I referred to in my own life, there was always the possibility of continued contact via phone, email, IM, and now we'll through in Facebook - plus future shabbatonim.

    Would one need a short-term opposite gender friend to help him/her work through a personal problem or a relationship issue? Do you really want to divulge such personal information to someone you barely know and may never see again? Or are you suggesting a kosher form of short term friends with benefits, wherein you only have contact/spend time with them for a day or two to discuss things in life, and then cease contact until the next time it's necessary/wanted?

    I don't know the scientific basis for men's more sexual nature is per se, but they do notice physical features (above the neck and otherwise) before women do.

    I agree that people have to be careful when it comes to classmates and whatnot. The context of that reference was the possibility of a guy becoming friends with a girl he isn't instantly physically attracted to.

  9. im not saying that its neccesarily worthwhile to develop a friendship for such a short period of time, just that i would only be willing to converse and engage with someone of the opposite gender if it was only for a short period, a few days at a shabbaton,honestly i dont know a scenario that would fit,

    but i personally have issue with this being a naturally friendly person and i see guys as people not guys..and then i have to remember that halacha stipulates otherwise and that just bcz i may see this as harmless and benign I dont know what he's thinking.

  10. I don't see harm in interacting and conversing with a member of the opposite gender over a shabbaton. I'm generally not concerned about conversations that may come up in some social situation, and everyone, guys and girls should always be respectful and nice.

    The issue at hand is friendship - which is an ongoing relationship of some sort. I doubt that someone I met at a shabbaton would consider me a real friend (not a Facebook friend) with whom he/she would engage in closer friendly behavior such as going out, discussing personal problems, etc. If anything, that'd be an acquaintance, like the guy you occasionally or even regularly share Shabbos meals with at a mutual married friend's home.

    I ended up knowing a handful of girls from frequent Shabbos meals at a married friend's house during my single time at YU. We had numerous discussions, etc but I don't think any of them ever considered me a real friend of any sort. When a few of them were suggested to me for dating, they were the ones who turned me down.

    I even wrote a post about it here:

  11. How come there's no mention of sexual attraction? Obviously if there is chemistry between two people of the opposite sex there are going to be sexual urges. It's human natural. Plain and simple. That doesn't mean everyone acts on those urges. But they are present and both sides are aware of them, whether you choose to recognise them for not. Everything else is decided based on an individuals beliefs or values. If you have to make a clear conscious decision (no matter how brief the thought may be) not to pursue those urges, then I think the point stands. Platonic relationships between man and woman are something humans created. It's a philosophy after all. "Platonic Love" examined in Plato's dialogue the Symposium.

    1. The "attraction" that I talk about in my post is exactly that, physical/sexual attraction, I just didn't use those words.

      I'm not entirely sure what you mean by your last few sentences. Are you agreeing or disagreeing?

      As I mentioned as well, the original Platonic relationship was between 2 men at any rate.


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