40 Days of Dating, When Harry Met Sally, and Plato, or: Let’s Talk about Platonic Relationships

40 Days of Dating is my new blog obsession. Get hooked.
40 Days of Dating is my new blog obsession. Get hooked.

If you haven’t caught whiff of 40 Days of Dating, then you’re probably living under a rock. It’s more addictive than Pringles. This is largely thanks to well-stylized type treatments, a highly readable format, and its extreme relatability — we’ve all been there, we’ve all had that friend we sometimes wonder if we should be dating.

A quick summary for those of you living under a rock: two designer friends, Jess and Tim, decide that their romantic lives have been an utter failure. They embark on an experiment. They’ll see each other every day for 40 days, as if they’re in a relationship, and see what happens. They keep a kind of diary. That diary gets shared with us.

What become apparent quickly to readers is that despite their compatibility as friends, and their genuine affection for each other, is that they really are like oil and water when it comes to love. Being in a relationship is hard. The things you can ignore when you’re just friends become deal breakers when you’re lovers. In short, at about the mid way point Tim decides that being in a relationship is killing their relationship.

Considering the Platonic “Problem”

For anyone that’s had a friend of the opposite sex (or same sex — yay death to DOMA!) this is what we fear most — taking a great friendship and killing it in the name of happily ever after.

Where's Bacchus when you need him?
Where’s Bacchus when you need him?

The stakes are higher when you get involved with friends… but of course, when the stakes are higher, so is the potential payback.

Shortly after discovering 40 Days, I picked up my copy of Plato’s Symposium — the slim book that’s supposed to define a Platonic relationship — wondering if I could find anything in it that applied to Jess and Tim.

“‘Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” 

This is from a speech by Aristophanes, and if you read the speech in his entirety, that sense of wholeness comes from a relationship that transcends physical intimacy. The bond is greater.

The Mirror Has Two Faces

“You know what we need to do? Go back to my place and watch that scene in When Harry Met Sally. The one where he explains to her that men and women CAN’T be friends because of the sex problem. We’ll get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.”

When you're talking about Plato, some how, Greek froyo seems the best side dish
When you’re talking about Plato, some how, Greek froyo seems the best side dish

Nothing beats best girlfriends. After they ask the tough questions you need to be asked, they always find a way to keep you smiling.

Pause. Rewind.

I had been talking about 40 Days of Dating with my favorite girl over meze and wine when she flipped Jess and Tim’s situation back on me.

“I just don’t get you two,” she had said earlier that night, part way into our bottle of wine. “You go out on dates, but you’re not dating. You wonder why you’re both single, and it’s never occurred to you that it might be because you’re not dating each other. Which one of you is scared to like the other?”

As someone whose relationship history is made up mostly of Platonic relationships, which always seem to inspire confusion, I was armed for this.

“The stuff he and I do together isn’t any different than what you and I do together. The only reason you think it’s a date when I see him is because he’s attractive. We work because there’s no pressure and no expectations.”

“That makes sense. I just don’t want you waking up one morning wanting more than he does. I don’t want you getting hurt… but I think he’s missing out.”

She might be on to something — one of us might get hurt and maybe he is missing out. But if he’s missing out, then so am I. I guess that’s why I applaud Jess and Tim for having the balls to make the leap to see if their friendship will lead to that wholeness. They’re braver than the rest of us. My fingers are crossed for them.