Dear Tyler and Jay: What’s the difference between romantic and platonic attraction?

| January 25, 2023
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It’s the first installment of Dear Tyler and Jay! We are so excited, so let’s get started.

Q: How can I be confident and sure that my girlfriend likes me? Sometimes I second-guess our relationship and wonder if she is only with me because I’m nice and treat her well? I feel that I’ve frequently made the first moves in our relationship, and sometimes wonder if she is just my girlfriend because I made all the moves and brought us to this stage. 

A: I really loved this submission, as I think that we’ve all questioned a relationship at one point or another. 

To get things started, it’s wonderful that you treat your partner with kindness! That choice probably is a big reason why she is with you. Being nice to your partner(s) is something that everyone should be doing.

But I strongly suspect that your kindness towards her isn’t the only reason she’s with you! Being treated well by a partner comes standard in most relationships; you obviously bring something more to the table if she chooses to be with you.

To me, it sounds like you’re concerned about how she shows her affection for you, and the level of effort she puts into your relationship. Take the time to reflect on what you both bring to the relationship, and consider what efforts you’d like to see from her.

Being confident in how she feels about you is rooted in trust. If you trust her when she tells you how she feels about you, then reflect on why you are feeling insecure and have a conversation with her about it. (If you don’t trust her to be honest about her feelings, it’s time to have a conversation about that issue and probably the future of the relationship.) Is there something in your world view or personal experience that creates or adds to these feelings of uncertainty? If so, that might be something to address via self-reflection or counseling; there are lots of counseling options available to Hopkins students and trainees if that sounds interesting to you.

Or is the issue that you feel that she just doesn’t put enough effort? If so, tell her what you need from her to make you feel more confident about being together. Establish times to check in and see how you both are feeling about the relationship, how it’s progressing, or behaviors that you as a couple or as individuals could work on, and go from there.

If she’s dating you, she probably wants to be doing so, and I bet that you are happy together! Respect her decision to date you, and trust her when she says that she cares about you. Chances are, she genuinely likes you. 

Everyone wants to be loved for who they are and feel that their affection is reciprocated. Remember that the best thing that you can do is talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, and take steps to ensure that you both feel happy and secure in the relationship! 


Q: How do you differentiate between platonic and romantic attraction? 

A: We thought this was such an insightful question that we both wanted to answer it!

Jay’s up first: “This is difficult to answer, in the same the way that it’s hard to describe and compare red and blue. 

I consulted our good friend Google and did not like that most sources’ distinguishing factor between platonic and romantic attraction was physical intimacy. That’s true for most people, but there are people who are asexual and still have romantic relationships. There are also people who have experienced trauma and subsequently don’t experience sexual attraction, and still have romantic relationships. So physical intimacy is not necessarily the full answer here. 

Attraction is influenced by personal desires, unique experiences, situational cues, and social expectations. Platitudes like ‘men and women can’t be friends’ and jokes about the friend zone socialize men and women to always think about each other primarily in terms of romantic or sexual attraction (or lack thereof). 

On the flip side, LGB+ people can struggle to realize their identity due to compulsory heteronormativity (ie, the belief that attraction and love are only experienced between cis-hetero men and women), which makes it even harder to identify and categorize attraction when they experience it.

I also think people can confuse the foundations of a healthy relationship with attraction. A person being kind to you does not necessarily mean they like you romantically, and you should aspire to more than just baseline kindness in your friends and partners. (Kindness should be standard in any type of relationship.) Qualities like communication, consistency, and accountability can of course be attractive, but does the person at least make you laugh? Do they share the same interests as you? 

This is all to say: it all depends on the person. If you’re not touchy-feely, but there is something about that one person that makes you seek out their physical touch, that could be a sign of how you distinguish romantic attraction. If there are things you don’t discuss with your best friend but do discuss with a partner (or potential partner), that emotional intimacy can be a distinguishing factor. Ask yourself what makes you romantically or platonically attracted to someone, and what influences these opinions. You answer lies somewhere in there.

Additionally, remember that romantic love and attraction isn’t any better or deeper than platonic love and attraction. Both are equally important in a person’s life.”

Now let’s hear from Tyler: “I think that the difference between platonic and romantic attraction is purely up to you. 

This might not be the most helpful answer, but I think that we can look at anyone in our lives and find attractive qualities within them, while knowing what role we want them to play in our lives. Whether this is a friend or someone who you are interested in romantically, no two relationships are going to look the same because each individual is their own unique person that has specific wants, needs, and desires. 

You can find a friend physically attractive or be able to share your feelings with them, but in your heart, you know that wouldn’t want to be with them romantically. 

Similarly, you can be romantically attracted to someone or know someone is ‘perfect on paper’ for you, but if there isn’t the right connection, then there’s no way that a romantic relationship could work. 

What works for one person in a friendship or a relationship isn’t always what’s best for others and that’s okay! This means that we need to be mindful of our feelings to better distinguish how we feel for someone, and whether that love is rooted in friendship or romance. 

Being human, our feelings can change! This is the same for attraction: someone you have known for the longest time can seem like a totally new person if you look at them in a different light, or someone you’ve been with romantically for years can become a friend or even a stranger over time. 

When you are thinking about the relationships in your life, assess what each person means to you and why. Intimate relationships aren’t always romantic in nature, but again, the difference between platonic and romantic attraction or love is up to us to define for ourselves, and ensure that the people we hold nearest and dearest to us live up to them.”

Q: Everyone’s dunking on this ridiculous TikTok (see below) about how to break up with a friend. I think the advice in the TikTok is bad, but what’s a good (or at least less bad) way to end a friendship that’s just run its course? Is ghosting or a slow fade-out OK? 

@answeranxiety Here is how you break up with a friend 👍 #mentalhealth #relationships #breakups #friendbreakup #psychology #mentalhealthtips #selfhelptips #psychologist #friendship #healthyrelationships #emotionalhealth #selfesteem #boundaries ♬ original sound – Dr. Arianna Brandolini

A: First things first: the following ideas are thoughts for ending a friendship that has run its course, but has not risen to the level of abuse. If you are struggling with leaving an abusive relationship of any kind, the resources provided by the Gender-Based Violence Prevention team can be helpful. (While gender dynamics might not be in play in an abusive friendship, the resources from the GBVP team will still be of great value to a person in that situation.)

OK, with that said, it’s up to you to decide if a fade out or a direct conversation is the best choice, depending on the person and the relationship you have with them.  

Ghosting might seem less harmful than a hard and honest conversation, but it has its downsides. It can be stressful to wonder why a friend is suddenly not as close to you with no explanation. Additionally, some people won’t get the hint when you are slow to respond or brush them off; those folks will require a more direct approach.

The way the TikToker spoke in the video was weirdly formal and no one talks to their friends (or anyone) like that. But here are some things I thought the TikTok did right. 

  1. Have this conversation in person. Try to do it in person or over the phone if you can. Things can get lost over text. Do it at a convenient time for both of you. Don’t do it when either of you have to rush off or when you either of you have a lot on your plate. 
  2. Prepare for questions, confusion, and hurt. Your friend might be hurt, even if they agree. They might think your decision is sudden and ask you to reconsider. Respond calmly but make sure that you are firm in your desire to end the friendship. 
  3. Use ‘I’ statements. This choice is about your decision to end a friendship so keep on yourself. Even if your friend did do something to upset you, they could get defensive when it feels like you’re pointing the finger at them. 

A more common way of breaking up with a friend could sound like:

“Hey, I’ve enjoyed our friendship in the past but now I’ve noticed that we have different opinions/goals/senses of humor/interests and I don’t feel like I’m having as much fun as I did before, so I’d like to end it.” 


“After you did/said XYZ, I felt angry/hurt/disgusted. I’ve tried to get past it but I can’t. I don’t feel comfortable being friends with you anymore.” 

The only time I would say ghosting/going no contact might be the better option is when the person isn’t receptive to straightforward communication. Let’s say you’ve tried talking to your friend about ending the friendship, and they disregard everything you say and still constantly reach out. In that case, they’re violating your boundaries in a pretty serious way, and it’s OK to avoid engaging with them. 

All healthy relationships require respect and honesty, and that can be built through communication. We have a fear of sounding mean or saying no, but if we can communicate our feelings with respect and honesty, we can try to manage uncomfortable feelings and establish certainty.”


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Note: DT&J is intended to educate and spark discussion. The advice offered is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. If you need help getting started, you can email [email protected].