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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: When falling out of a deep platonic love


Mediating conflicts between platonic friends can present challenges unlike those faced by romantic partners.

A heart drawn on notebook paper that has been ripped in half is on the ground on March 2, 2023.

Who was your first platonic heartbreak? 

We often hear people’s poetic complaints about the hurt and lingering love after a romantic breakup, but not so much about platonic breakups. Why is that the case?

It can be difficult to define the parameters of a friendship breakup. Is it just a break or are we completely cutting the ties? How are we going to act in front of mutual friends? 

Questions like these are not easy to answer.

There also aren't many clear guidelines for navigating platonic breakups. More often, we choose avoidance over communication. Marisa G. Franko, a professor and author of the book "Platonic,"  writes in Well+Good, "since (friendships are) rigged with ambiguity, a lot of us are more likely to ghost and not address the issue." Though this solution is less awkward at the moment, it is not the same as getting closure, nor is it beneficial in the long run. 

There’s never been a shortage of media coverage on romantic breakups. SAGE Journals published data showing that, from the 1960s to 2000s, the percentage of top 40 songs featuring romantic and sexual relationships was over 90 percent. In comparison, songs about friendship took up merely 6.7 percent of the top 40. When it comes to breaking up with a friend, it feels like we are on our own.

For college students who are exposed to constant social interaction, not talking about platonic breakups can be especially problematic.

According to Psychology Today, platonic loss, not from death but from a friend breakup, is just as painful as a romantic one. It can lead to psychological symptoms of anxiety and “depression with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness.” And the less we talk about it, the more we internalize it. 

To properly resolve a platonic conflict, here are some questions to help you analyze the situation and process a potential breakup.

Is it a break or a breakup? 

It is difficult to see where the friendship will go when disputes arise. This ambiguity can lead to arbitrary, irreversible decisions that turn a resolvable conflict into an official breakup. 

Every relationship has highs and lows. When things don’t go our way, we are prone to take them personally. Thus, to clarify this confusion, we must first question the situation, not the connection. 

Is this friend toxic? 

A healthy friendship is balanced, meaning both friends are equal in giving and taking. Feeling drained and mistreated from a friendship can be a sign of toxicity and that a breakup is in order.

Other ways to identify toxicity in a friendship include: Are they repeatedly hurting me? Are they taking steps to improve our friendship? Do they judge or belittle me? Are they holding me back or helping me be a better person? Asking these questions can help you avoid self-doubt and move on when it’s the right time.

What can I expect after a breakup?

A platonic breakup might put an end to conflict with that particular friend, but you might still experience lingering feelings of sadness, guilt, regret or grief. How do you develop the grace to let go of the past? How do you get used to not having that person around anymore? 

At this stage, we must keep reminding ourselves that the end of that friendship also means the end of the negativity it brought into our life. But as you let go of a person, don’t forget the good parts of your relationship.

What has this relationship taught me? 

It is difficult to face the things that once hurt us in a personal way. But nothing in life happens in vain. In the end, we can approach the next level of healing.

Instead of saying, “I wish it never happened,” try practicing gratitude and focusing on how that relationship fulfilled you and helped you grow. Shifting your perspective can make it easier to move on.  

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