Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Only Platonic Friendships are with Plato

October 26th, 2012 by G.

Scientists, busily putting the ‘duh’ into Ph.D., have established that men and women can’t just be friends.

This important research was prefigured by a ground-breaking investigation from Utah State. Science! Progress! Behold the burgeoning wave of knowledge unfurling like the bursting ascent of new dawn!

Comments (9)
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October 26th, 2012 08:18:52

October 26, 2012

That is good stuff. The video especially brought the point home. My son in college had a “platonic” friendship with a girl last year, and this year decided it couldn’t go on like that. I’ll have to share this with him.

“Behold the burgeoning wave of knowledge unfurling like the bursting ascent of new dawn!”


April 27, 2014

As far as I can tell, the common point between the study and the video seems to be that women are up for friendship, but men just have this uncontrollable lust, you see… and so their ‘friendship’ is just a facade they put up because they don’t feel confident or ready to start pushing for more.

It may often the case in a world that is fallen and a society that teaches both men and women to follow the path of least resistance with respect to their own lusts, but concluding from this that men and women “can’t” “just” be friends strikes me as a monstrous and terrible slander against friendship. I can conclude from the evidence presented here that there are plenty of men and women who don’t know how to be friends, that there are even more men and women who don’t want to be friends (and delude themselves shamelessly about this), but not that friendship between men and women, or whatever kinds of people, is impossible, or not worth the hassle.

By my observation, friendship is probably the least defended relation there is — I’ve encountered only one person arguing for it in the Christian perspective. It is an excellent article:


But no one knows quite what friendship is, let alone how to justify its existence. Whenever an association between two people is identified, and has some positive purpose in the world beneath Heaven, it is split off into its own category (marriage, apprenticeship, …), and we attempt to carry it through to perfection by embodying it in societal institutions. And after the relation becomes sufficiently formalized, there is no longer any friendship in it, and people find other ways.

Friendship, then, appears to us as the thing that is left over when people associate who have no *business* associating. To use a less charged example, consider a teacher and student have finished their teaching and studying, say. They have no reason to continue meeting beyond that, as friends. It isn’t efficient. It isn’t morally meritorous. It doesn’t contribute to anyone’s salvation. They had best spend their time on less frivolous things, hadn’t they?

This makes a coherent defense of friendship against this kind of questioning nigh-impossible to establish — perhaps a self-contradictory project — and no reasonable explanations can be put forward. If a relation between two people can be reasonably explained, it already has been, and it has been put off into some other category besides friendship. We are therefore left with snide non-explanations and psychologizing. It’s a facade for hidden lusts, they say, or the people are emotionally needy, or just using one another as temporary tools to pursue common interests.

All of which might be true or false, for a given pair of people. But even then, it’s not the presence of lust, or anger, or whatever other vicious passion that turns a friendship into a not-friendship; it’s whether the people put that passion above the friendship, and let it control them, or whether they overcome these feelings as something that has no place in friendship. This is no different from any other relationship where all manner of unholy lusts can sneak in unexpectedly: lust of the flesh (as discussed here), lust of domination, lust of admiration….

True enough, people give in to their lusts more often than not as people no longer have an interest in even the barest minimum of chastity; but there’s a reason that, when a man and a woman who, beforehand, were “just friends”, go and impulsively fornicate with each other, we deplore that and call that such a strong word as a _fall_; irreversible (even the most morally autistic of libertines are aware that fornication destroys a friendship; it “can’t really go back to the way it was”, afterwards).

That is all right and good; calling the sin a ‘fall’ implies that before then, they were fulfilling (however badly) some kind of ideal that it is meaningful to say they have fallen *from*. If there was no such ideal, we would more properly term it a “fall” when a man and a woman who have no business associating, decided to talk to one another without any intent of courtship, therefore exposing themselves to an unnecessary risk of lust and sin. We would then forbid all casual communication between men and women except in the context of a well-defined business purpose, of which courtship would be a sub-variety.

My apologies for digging up a two-year-old post to comment on; I hope it might be worthwhile to share a perspective on “Platonic” friendship that is completely perpendicular to the one expressed in your post above.

Adam G.
April 27, 2014

I’m glad to see that a nut of a post has grown into this great oak of a comment.

Bruce Charlton
April 27, 2014

@Ara – This is an interesting and very important topic.

The importance of ‘your friends’ seems to be a relentless trope in young children’s shows (the cliche phrase BFF – Best Friends Forever) – and particularly among young girls there is almost a cult of friendship and over the top demonstrations of affection.

In fact this extends into young adulthood, as epitomized by the TV comedy Friends, and the numerous other shows about a group of attractive young people and their (usually sexual) adventures.

In fact, I would say that the Mass Media- Leftist complex promotes friendship as a lever to break apart family and organized civil society such as churches.


However, the problem with friendship is that it is typically so weak (in terms of degree and duration of the commitment) *compared with* family and marriage. friends very seldom put one another as a high priority – almost never as a first priority.

One friend would not pay for another to go to college, or move to another part of the country to be near a friend, or quit work to nurse a sick friend – yet people do these things for spouses and close family.

My general impression is that men are friends for mutual benefit – from a shared interest or project; women from a mutual dependency that is more empathic/ psychotherapeutic in nature.

As for Platonic friendships between men and women – I had several such during my long unmarried adult phase; they were more like the male friendships – based on mutual interest in something like the arts.

None survived my getting married – they didn’t seem necessary and it would not have felt right.

April 28, 2014

When I was in high school, if I expressed romantic interest in one of my female friends, the conversation would go like this:

Girl: I sorta like you too, but aren’t you worried that dating might ruin our friendship?

Me (sincerely): NOOOOOO!!!!! We’ll always be friends, no matter what happens.

Girl (smiling): Good, then let’s give it a try.

Then in college, before my mission, but after I had learned that you can’t really be friends after you break up, it went like this:

Girl: I sorta like you too, but aren’t you worried that dating might ruin our friendship?

Me (lying): NOOOOOO!!!!! We’ll always be friends, no matter what happens.

Girl (smiling): Good, then let’s give it a try.

AFTER my mission, when I had gained an eternal perspective and also felt more guilty about lying, it went like this:

Girl: I sorta like you too, but aren’t you worried that dating might ruin our friendship?

Me: How many women friends does your dad have? I mean individual friends, not as one half of a married couple that spends time with your parents.

Girl (confused): None.

Me: How many men is your mom friends with?

Girl: None.

Me: If we don’t end up dating and getting married, what is the likelihood that we’ll still be in regular contact and hanging out ten years from now, when we are married to other people and have kids?

Girl: [stunned silence]

Me: Pretty much nil, right?

Girl: Yeah, I guess so.

Me: The way I see it, our friendship is dead in the water as soon as we get married, unless we end up marrying each other. So, no, I am not worried about ruining our friendship, and I think we should date.

Girl (smiling): Good, then let’s give it a try.

Adam G.
April 28, 2014

You guys are dirty cynics. (Grins).

I had a comment on Arakawa’s that I turned into a post.

April 28, 2014

@Bruce Charlton

“My general impression is that men are friends for mutual benefit – from a shared interest or project; women from a mutual dependency that is more empathic/ psychotherapeutic in nature.”

Being a man I’ll comment on that aspect of things primarily — the possibility of shared benefit has always felt to me more like an excuse used to justify pursuing friendship (which, as I was trying to argue, is at once frivolous, incredibly valuable, and extremely difficult to maintain), to be with other people rather than alone. So here, the reasoning might be entirely backwards from what you’re saying — more so than picking a common interest and then acquiring friends within that interest, the process involves studying whatever person you happen to be with and trying to figure out what it is you share in common. If done well, this can lead to finding out something unexpected about yourself and your own interests.

That said… I do agree with your point about mass media, to the extent that the primary danger of friendship is among people who have no standards of chastity. (Both chastity of the flesh and the more broad definition of chastity, aka whole-mindedness, that protects against attention-seeking, lust of domination, and all the other subtle failure modes.) Such a lack of chastity granted, it is indeed then possible to push ‘friendship’ as a wedge issue with incredibly destructive real-world effects. The answer to that, to the extent that we are primarily responsible for our own friendships rather than other people’s, is not less friendship, but more chastity.

Bruce Charlton
April 28, 2014

@Ara – my general; feeling about you essay is that it is about what ‘could be’ with respect to friendship, rather than what typically ‘is’.

In that sense you are correct – there is great potential in friendship – there is no reason why friendship couldn’t be as you describe.

But in actuality, friendship tends to be rather fragile and evanescent – and perhaps that is its special charm and quality? My best friendships have tended to define particular periods or phases of my life, and lasted (only) as long as those phases – but they are happy memories.

April 30, 2014

@Bruce Charlton

That seems about right. The average friendship of the average person is nothing to write home about; most of the time it seems like a barely notable footnote in the records of what happens to a person. Surely what friendship *is* (and whether or not it’s important in the grand scheme of things) should then be judged in terms of what it *could* be?

(Similarly, the ‘average’ monk is nothing to write home about. Likewise the ‘average’ marriage. But discussions of monasticism and marriage seem far more often to follow this reasonable principle of keeping in mind what the ideal is.)

On the other hand, the evanescence of the kinds of friendships you describe, doesn’t seem to me as much of a problem as you’d think from my arguments up to now. The primary issue is obviously whether a friendship is real, than whether it’s lasting or fleeting. With respect to the latter sort of criteria, the best slogan to follow would be something like “a thing worth doing, is worth doing badly”.

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