When we are younger, our relationships may be more embedded in the physical than in the physical. spiritual and emotional. But at the basis of any lasting relationship is a certain type of love, and at the heart of this spiritual connection are the teachings of the philosopher Plato.
What is Platonic love?
You have surely heard of the notion of “platonic friendship” or “platonic ideal”. These are terms that evolved from Plato’s reflections, but they were not invented by the philosopher himself. On the contrary, the idea that two people can have a fulfilling relationship without sexual contact arose from an extrapolation from Plato’s work, The Symposium, in which Socrates describes human understanding of love as a ladder. Each level of the ladder is indicative of a higher plane of love, from infatuation with a beautiful body to the love of beauty itself.
In an abbreviated view, the scale goes something like this: love for a beautiful body, love for all physical beauty, then greater reverence for mental beauty than for physical beauty. Eventually this is overtaken by the love for the beauty of knowledge, and then, finally, the love of beauty itself.
As conceptualized then, Plato’s idea of love was very different from how we understand it today. For starters, romantic love in 5th century Greece was reserved for same-sex relationships between men, who only married women to meet reproductive needs. The notion of love as a scale was given new life in the 15th century thanks to the writings of the Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino, who, according to Slate, first coined the term “platonic love” or “amor platonicus”.
According to Ficino’s interpretation, the highest order of love was not a sexual effort, but related to something far more spiritual, writing that love “does not desire this or that body, but desires the splendor of the divine light which shines through the bodies, and is amazed and impressed by it”. Since the 16th century, however, the concept of platonic relationships has been used to describe those who are distinctly in the friend zone, as Platonic love has little to do with sex. That, however, has only been the evolutionary course of the term – and it may not be entirely correct.
Platonic love always involves a deep spiritual connection, which is different from the concept we hear a lot about today. As the Conversation Notes, Platonic love is probably best summed up by a monologue in The Symposium by Aristophanes, who essentially distilled that love is the search for the Platonic ideal of a soul mate:
Love is born in every human being; it recalls together the halves of our original nature; he tries to do one in two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us is therefore a “corresponding half” of a human whole… and each of us is always in search of the half which corresponds to him.
It is essentially the knot of Platonism, which Dictionary.com defines as “the love of the idea of beauty, seen as ending an evolution of an individual’s desire and love from physical beauty to love and contemplation of spiritual or ideal beauty” .
In this case, it can inform your approach to finding a partner or improving your relationship with your current partner.
How Platonic Love Can Help Your Relationship
While sex is important, you can keep Plato in mind by thinking of your relationship as some kind of spiritual merger. You are not so much in partnership with a person’s body, but their soul, or maybe it is the looser, more abstract idea of what their love means to you that keeps the flame burning.
The basic attraction – or the first rung of the ladder – is what forms the connection or stimulates the urge to join forces. From there you work your way up the ranks until a higher plane of mutual understanding is formed. This may not have been Plato’s true intention over 2,000 years ago, but his concept of love may prove instructive for anyone navigating a relationship today.