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The Word 'Platonic' Is Sacred. Literally.

Turns out, we've been using 'platonic' all the way wrong.

What About Your Friends?

If there is one word that I have learned to value more and more, it's platonic. But before I get into some of the reasons why, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone when I say that, while growing up, I wasn't really taught to give the word much thought, respect or honor. When it came to my relationships with men, platonic is basically what I said when I didn't want anyone to have the impression that I was interested in someone in a romantic or even sexual kind of way. I would flippantly throw out, "Oh, we're just platonic" and keep it movin'.

But as I became more of a writer and I started to be more intentional about looking up the actual meaning of words (rather than going by how culture uses them. The word "monogamous" comes to mind; it doesn't mean exclusive, it means married to one person, preferably for a lifetime but people use it in dating scenarios all of the time), the more I came to accept that platonic is something that is very special. It's also a word that doesn't apply to a ton of people or situations either.

I'll give you an example of where I'm coming from. A few days ago, I checked out the trailer for the fifth season ofGrowing Up Hip Hop. We all know that reality television isn't the realest thing on the planet, but the ongoing roller coaster ride that is Angela Simmons and Romeo Miller does help to articulate a point that I am trying to make here. They've got history. There is a mutual attraction. But because they can never seem to get on the same page, at least for now, they are just friends. Or at least kinda-sorta friends. Still, I'm hoping that whenever someone asks them about their relationship, what they aren't saying is they are "just platonic". Why? Let's get into it (the word; not them).

Platonic Friendship Meaning

What a Platonic Relationship Is—and Isn’t

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If someone were to ask you what platonic means, what would you say? I'm willing to bet a couple of bills that there is a particular word in the actual definition that you never thought would be there. Are you ready to see?

Platonic: purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of the opposite sex

OK, so when you're in a platonic relationship with someone, not only does it mean that there is no sensual desire at all, it also means that your relationship is purely spiritual. Did you catch that? If you are in a platonic relationship with someone, it has a spiritual component to it—a pure one, at that. Nice.

But before we explore that some more, let's hit on the lack of sensual desire a little bit.

While reading an article on platonic relationships, from what I've studied about the word, I must admit that I agree with the author when they said that a platonic relationship is 1) not a friends-with-benefits type of situation and 2) not unrequited love either. As far as unrequited love goes, what that means is, if you or your friend has feelings for each other, you are not in a "platonic relationship", simply because those feelings aren't being reciprocated. A platonic relationship consists of two people who are not romantically or sexually linked in any way. It also consists of two individuals who have no more-than-friends interest in each other whatsoever.

So now take a moment to think about who you are in a true platonic relationship with. Remember, this means that there are no "extras" going on. It also means that you aren't interested in them and they aren't interested in you. Chile, when I took out a moment to let all of that settle into my spirit, I was like, "I don't have nearly as many platonic relationships as I thought I did." Even my closest and, at this point longest male friend, had feelings for me at one point and is still on the, "I won't bring it up, but you can still get it" tip. Hmph. Perhaps this is the reason why a lot of people don't believe that men and women can be "just friends". Now that platonic has been unpacked, maybe what they are actually saying is men and women aren't able to be strictly platonic. And maybe, to a certain extent, they are correct. Because, think about it, how many men in your life are you friends with who don't have some sort of attraction to you (and/or vice versa)? How many are choosing to not take things to the next level, simply out of respect for the fact that you don't want to do so (also and/or vice versa)? Whoever those fellas are, they aren't really your platonic friends. Platonic friends don't think about these types of things because these types of feelings do not exist.

But remember, platonic isn't just about the physical (or lack thereof); it's also rooted in a very powerful word—spiritual. This word reminds us that it's not enough to be in a platonic relationship where there is no sexual activity or more-than-just-friends feelings. Platonic relationships are spiritual too. Purely spiritual, at that. And just what does that mean?

What Is a “Purely Spiritual” Relationship?

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Something that's dope about being in a relationship that is purely spiritual is, not only does it speak to being connected to someone who touches your soul in a real and profound kind of way, it also speaks to someone who is "closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook, etc." When these two things are working hand in hand, it results in things like two individuals who—communicate easily with one another; affirm one another; enjoy each other's presence and company; contribute each other's influence to their growth and development, and are deeply committed to one another. In a solely spiritual relationship, there isn't a lot of pressure or tons of unrealistic expectations. Also, the bond is tight no matter what the distance is between both individuals. Spiritually-connected people are content simply talking or even sending love and light into the direction of the person they care about.

On the spiritual tip, the bond is so strong that physicality never really becomes a factor. Seeing each other is cool, but it's not super necessary; their spirits are in sync, so that's all that really matters at the end of the day. Plus, spiritual relationships benefit one another's spirit. It's the kind of soul connection that is truly incomparable.

OK, so keeping all of this in mind, who actually are your platonic friends? What guys are you close to and there's no sexual interest or energy (both ways) yet there is a profound spiritual connection (both ways)? Now do you see why I gave this article that title that I did? If you are in a relationship with someone, it's not romantic or sexual (nor do you desire for it to be) but it is very spiritual, it's not "just" or "only" platonic. It's one of the most sacred bonds that you have. It's something that you need to protect at all costs.

I'm gonna be real with myself, at this juncture in my life, I might have three platonic relationships. But now that I know this, I'm gonna hop off of here and show them some love. There's something very sweet and wonderful about platonic connections. I now know that more than ever. I hope you do too. Whoever yours are, give thanks, sis. Because truly, there is no such thing as "just platonic".

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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