When I mentioned I was writing an article exploring platonic intimacy, approximately 200 people reached out to me to share their stories about what this looked like in their lives. On Twitter, more than 150 people responded with intrigue, questions, and their own examples.
I was shocked, in the best way, to read about so much care in friendships.
All my extremely intimate friendships are specific to who we are as people. Years after high school, my best friend Bet-Zua and I still call one another each other’s “people” and make time to FaceTime, catch up on life, and hold each other accountable.
For me and my friend John, intimacy means we can sit around talking for hours and then cuddle and watch a movie or cook an extravagant, complicated recipe together. It means we always have a Google calendar invite for our hangouts, no matter how small, and I know he’ll never cancel on me because he forgot.
It means I start almost every day by texting with my friends, Han or Reina. We may catch up on life or get into big discussions about social justice, love, or something personal and vulnerable. Beginning my day with care is how I swaddle myself in love.
Learning to be intimate in a healthy way takes time, and it’s taken me until now, at 25 years old, to actually be able to consistently replicate healthy, intimate friendships — and to learn how boundaries can be a part of that.
When I wanted to know what platonic intimacy looks and feels like to others, I got a truly overwhelming number of diverse responses. While I wasn’t able to include all the stories, common themes such as rituals and traditions, intentionality in planning, and unwavering dedication continued to come up.
Perhaps you already practice platonic intimacy in your life and don’t know it, or you want to do it more intentionally but lack a template for how. Or maybe you would like validation that you’re moving in the right direction.
Here are a few stories and examples that warmed my heart:
“I love sharing love languages with my friends. This helps us understand how we want to be cared for [and] makes it easier to know how to help in times of crises and how to show up in meaningful ways.
“I often like to send over $5 Venmos so my faraway friends can treat themselves to a coffee on me, even when I’m not there! Some of my friends send me cards, which I LOVE! Others tell me what my writing means to them, which really shows me they care.”
—Reina, a 24-year-old woman
“I see platonic intimacy as intentionality. It looks like valuing and prioritizing your platonic relationships to the level typically ascribed to romantic relationships. It requires vulnerability, commitment, and direct communication.
“As my love language, physical touch is a huge part of all of my intimate friendships. My best friend and I cuddle at night, scratch each other’s backs, hold hands in public, and are just generally physically connected whenever we are together.
“It doesn’t bother us that we are constantly mistaken for a couple in public or when our mutual friends comment on how ‘touchy-feely’ we are. It’s something we both value and are able to provide for each other.”
—Heather, a 25-year-old bisexual woman
“I’ll Venmo them money for a cocktail and coffee on hard days or after big wins. I text them I’m thinking of them before job interviews or scary doctor’s appointments. I mail them cards when things get hard, like breakups or deaths in the family. I always send birthday and holiday gifts.
“My friends are also excellent gift-givers, reach out to me for advice (showing they trust me), and give me pep talks.”
—Tess, a 29-year-old queer woman
One person I spoke with, Gretchen, intentionally creates systems to foster intimacy in xer friendships. Xe sets reminders for someone’s birthday or for sending an important message and schedules intentional time for calls with friends, regular hangouts, or planning something special.
Many people have specific ways they show up for their friends, and it’s always a conversation worth having to figure out how to be there for each other in ways that make each person feel supported.
“I make an extra effort to commit to memory things like their birthdays, their family members’ names, pets’ names, their likes/dislikes. On occasion, when they’re having an extraordinarily sh*tty time, I’ve done small things like send them flowers or bought them their favorite candy to cheer them up and let them know I’m thinking of them.
“I also try and make sure that we’re on the same page when it comes to things like how much emotional support we can provide each other at any given time.”
—Lia, a 25-year-old queer person
“One of my favorite aspects of my relationship with my best friend is how we are very communicative about how much we love each other. We do a really good job of complimenting each other with specificity; our conversations often include the phrase ‘I love how you do this…’
“We pay attention to the details when we’re speaking; it’s how I was able to get her a name plate necklace for her birthday that she wears every day, or how she randomly bought me a Pisces candle she knew I would love.
“I used to hate the idea of read receipts or any other type of expectations in communication, but now we have them specifically turned on for each other and I embrace the accountability!”
—Heather, a 25-year-old bisexual woman
“I try to keep in touch with my friends as often as I can, making mental and physical notes of people I haven’t checked in with. I try to remember birthdays, special events, organizing events, etc.
“I also work to make sure that I remember the individual things about my friends, how they tend to show care, how they appreciate being shown care, how they like to communicate, how to know when they’re isolating or need space, etc.
“It occupies a lot of my time and thought, which is why I’m so particular about adding new friends into my life. I can like someone and enjoy their company, but I’m always wondering if I’ll have enough time to build a relationship with them in the way I prefer.”
—K, a Black nonbinary organizer in their 20s
“I have fewer friends IRL now that I live in a new city, but I have a rotation of three to six friends I text individually every day, if not several times a week, where we swap dumb memes and/or gossip and/or update each other about the trivial details of our days.
“Often, if one of us runs into conflict/frustration at work or in our personal life, we’ll hash it out as well as one can when you’re ranting via text, or try and call if we can, even if it’s just to scream into the void for 5 minutes.
“I try and FaceTime or call friends at least once every few weeks so I can catch up with them about all the things that you can’t explain via text or Instagram DM and keep a handle on how they’re doing in general w/r/t mental health, relationships, life plans, etc., and the sorts of things you don’t normally discuss via text.”
—Lia, a 25-year-old queer person
“I was married for 16 years to someone who intentionally isolated me, abused me and my kids, lied to everyone in our life, and continued to attempt to gaslight me for more than a year after he had decided our marriage was over (long before he told me he was done with me).
“When things finally ended, I was exceptionally vulnerable. My friends, who I consider like family, however, were there, reassuring me and helping to ground me. The trust I had built with them, despite my spouse’s attempts to push them away, helped me unravel years of his lies from my identity and life.
“While not everyone has to deal with abuse or gaslighting or especially awful breakups, I think we all have times when we need people we can trust to help ground us. For me, platonic intimacy and the way I value my friendships made it possible for my friends to do that.”
—Cas, a 35-year-old genderqueer parent and writer whose friendships have saved their life
“I have a couple of good stories about my best friend Margie! We met in college and went through a lot of the ups and downs of relationships and self-discovery together. My mom was super sick throughout my teens and eventually died in December of my sophomore year.
“It wasn’t something I knew how to talk about at all, when she was dying, but Margie knew and had basically prepared herself to help me through it. The day she died was the day before finals started, and Margie packed up all my stuff, helped me talk to my professors, and got me safely on the road home with my aunt and uncle.
“And then she cried a lot, apparently. But she held it together for me when I needed it, and it’s always felt to me like the ultimate act of care.”
—Miranda, a 27-year-old queer asexual woman
“Unfortunately, right now I’m in a work/living situation where I don’t really have a lot of friends physically around to hang out with, so I’ve been very dependent on technology to keep those friendships active. Sending ridiculous memes is definitely a way my friends and I show affection for each other!
“Social media is big for sending random Snapchats of things happening for me or sending each other pictures and links over Instagram and Twitter. Or just sending random text messages to keep each other updated!
“We definitely make plans to see each other when we’re in the same physical area — going out to dinner, watching a movie at home or in the theater, meeting for coffee, really making sure to keep those bonds active and strong and reinforcing all our digital contact with physical contact.
“When we are in contact, we’re pretty affectionate with each other; none of us are super physical, but casual touching is definitely acceptable and welcomed. Also, when I was around friends physically more, I would often do little gifts — a coffee or a snack or something I saw that made me think of them — when affordable and if I knew they’d welcome it. (I have a friend who HATES receiving gifts, but making time for regular conversation is important, so I do that.)”
—Gretchen, a mid-20s agender person
“Platonic intimacy to me means helping me open packages or drinks or helping me find places to rest. It also means trusting me enough to vent about your problems or what’s going on in your life and allowing me to do the same. It also means doing things like helping me put on face masks and then take them off and helping me cross streets.
“It just means that there is an understanding of what I need in my specific situation and having friends who allow me to lean on them when I need to.
“For me to practice that same sense of intimacy, I try to be there for my friends. Make them laugh but also give them a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to. Let them know when I think that they are not in the right, just as much as I do when they are. Friendships, the best friendships, are built on honesty, care, attention, and understanding.
“It has helped me learn that I deserve to be helped, cared for, loved, and listened to. I’m not just here to continuously beat myself up for past behavior. I can move forward too. It has helped me discover that in romantic relationships I want someone to put in effort and care about me beyond what I can or can’t do for them. I deserve and need someone who shows up in the way that I described earlier.”
—Keah, a 28-year-old bisexual Black woman and author of The Pretty One
“My soulmate and I were both moving out of Chicago. They were moving to Cali, and I was moving back to New York. On my last night, they stayed over and we lay in my bed and we talked about what we thought our futures were going to look like. And how lucky we were to have each other.
“We had spent the past 2 years becoming really good best friends and friend soulmates. And in the dark of my room, as we were holding hands, I said, ‘You deserve the world.’ And they said it back. And it is one of the fondest memories that I have.”
—Jude, a 23-year-old queer femme
“I started to develop intimate platonic relationships toward the end of high school, and because I went to an all-boys school and my primary extracurricular activities were all male, the people available for me to have friendships with at that time were, well, men and boys — not exactly renowned for easy intimacy, and something I found difficult at first as someone who identified deeply with a number of stereotypically feminine traits and impulses. (I still fight the urge to mother everyone I love.)
“Yet what I found is that by allowing myself to be vulnerable, I drove away men who were uninterested in vulnerability while attracting people who understood the importance of it.
“I’m still close to a number of my high school friends — nearly all of whom are men, although not all — and we’ve cried together, cuddled each other for physical support, and readily shared some of the most painful of our experiences and memories, knowing full well that we could trust each other with the weight of their closeness.
“I’ve found that this has made me a better son, a better brother, a better partner and lover, a better colleague — all around a better human. There’s little like voluntary vulnerability to remind you that our true strength comes from connection, not from the ability to weather the vicissitudes of existing alone.”
—John, a 30-year-old man
“My best friend was the person who helped me realize that I was caught in a 3-year-long emotionally abusive friendship. Without her guidance and understanding and gentle encouragement, I don’t think I would’ve been able to leave as decisively as I did. My best friend has only taught me that I deserve the best.
“Without my best friend, I would not know what I deserved in a romantic relationship. I say that our friendship has taught me how to accept love. She says that our friendship has shown her that true love is real.
“To know what it feels like to love someone so deeply reminds me that I can’t and shouldn’t settle for a lesser version of what I know is possible. When someone loves you so well, you can’t help but notice the cracks in other foundations.”
—Emma, a 21-year-old woman
“I fully credit platonic intimacy, and the amazing humans who practice it with me, for helping me fully realize my truth: I’m really, really gay. It was a long road to get here. I struggled with myself and this intense urge for connection for as long as I can remember. This trap of only being emotionally intimate with romantic partners pushed me into unhealthy relationships purely out of a need to see and be seen.
“Having grown up and lived in mostly small, conservative areas, my dating choices were limited. Men were abundant and easy. I mistook my desire to see growth in others as attraction. I spent years wondering why, even though I cared deeply for these people, I couldn’t quite make it work.
“After my divorce from my ex-husband, I went super solo. I was certain that I didn’t need anyone and that every relationship I saw was somehow a lie. I watched a close friend of mine find love during this time. I poked constantly, certain that there was something unhealthy there. I watched them blossom together. Slowly, they showed me that it is OK to need people. It was important to have human connection. We aren’t meant to be alone.
“Life is a nightmare. Being human is awful. We have to do it together. They helped pull me out of what had to have been one of my darkest times. Everyone assumed the three of us were poly together. We snuggled in public. My friend specifically sent her husband to me on the other side of the bar one evening when he was having a hard time to rest his head on my chest. I could finally breathe again.”
—Shelby, a 27-year-old woman
“My friendships have taught me a lot about what I look for from the people I choose to share my life with — whether platonically or romantically.
“First: an internal curiosity. I want to be with and around others who are always interested to know more about who they are. Second: the ability to really be who they are. I want to be with and around others who accept themselves, even while working on themselves. Third: the ability to have very real conversations.
“I want to be with and around others who can articulate their emotional landscape — who can really go deep, be vulnerable, say things that may be difficult to say.”
—Rose, a woman in her 30s
“A part of me also always thought if I never got married I’d always be alone, because I spent so much of my childhood alone in one way or another. But now that I’ve started letting people in and investing in our friendships, I feel less and less afraid of never getting married. It’s teaching me that I don’t have to be alone.
“It’s also taught me what to demand in my romantic relationships: patience, care, and respect. If my friends treat me better than my boyfriend, for example, that’s a problem. Ever since I started deepening my friendships, I started demanding more out of the guys that I’m seeing.
“Ultimately I’d like to marry my best friend, so that person would have to start out treating me like a friend.”
—Kailia, a 24-year-old journalist
“I like going on romantic dates with my friends. We take turns buying each other dinner and use the dates as opportunities to celebrate our relationship. One friend I have a special bond with is my friend Nathan. I have a weekly sleepover at Nathan’s house. We hold hands and cuddle and gab about how much we love each other.
“Usually on a Tuesday night, we make dinner together, drink some wine, and talk about what’s going on in our lives. We giggle a bunch and act silly together, and we fantasize about buying a house together in New Mexico or California. I sleep on his couch, and he wakes me up Wednesday morning and makes us coffee. It feels like a mini vacation in the middle of the workweek, and it feels very special and nurturing to me.”
—Shell, an agender person from Philadelphia
Elly is a New York-based writer, journalist, and poet who also loves to host parties for her friends. Primarily, she’s Brooklyn’s resident pun enthusiast. Read more of her writing here or follow her on Twitter.