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The difference between chemistry, closeness, and platonic intimacy

Updated: Feb 28

Many women come to me because they are dissatisfied with their friendships, and when they evaluate their friendship history, they struggle to pinpoint exactly what's wrong.

We unpack a few different areas in an effort to gather some kind of understanding, and during that process, I realize that the issues lies in our inability to differentiate between three really important concepts:

chemistry, closeness, and platonic intimacy.

Some of us use these phrases interchangeably, but knowing the difference and acknowledging the nuance might actually equip us with the understanding we need to engage our friendships in a more meaningful way.

So what's the difference?

CHEMISTRY: A natural, organic rhythm or spark

When you have chemistry with someone, you have a certain ease the seems to flow without the pressure to perform. This is something that you can experience with a woman you've met for the first time at a party; it can be instant. This kind of rhythm might lead to genuine friendship in the future, but having an easy flow with one another does not translate into a relationship.

Chemistry may be fleeting. It is often indicative of "fast friends", but is not enough to build or sustain a genuine, healthy friendship.

[For more on how to know you form "fast friendship" (but not necessarily healthy ones), we strongly encourage you to read Fighting for our Friendships: The Science and Art of Conflict and Connection in Women's Relationships.]

CLOSENESS: a sense of connection achieved through self-disclosure and familiarity

When you are close to someone, it's because you have a knowledge of them, and you sense an understanding of who they are because of that knowledge.

But a sense of closeness can waver, especially during times of conflict.

During conflict, a lot of new information is reveled. We learn about a person's conflict style, boundaries, values, level of love for us... Getting that new "information" forces us to recalibrate what we know of a person, and during this time, we may not feel close because we don't seem to understand them according to the mental model we once held.

It's possible to have chemistry without closeness (a spark without real knowledge), closeness without chemistry (knowledge and connection without the spark).

But when it comes to platonic intimacy?

This is something that I think a lot of us want to experience in our friendships, but we stumble along the way to get there.

But when it comes to platonic intimacy...

PLATONIC INTIMACY: we can be who we are, while allowing the other person to do the same

Harriet learner puts it this way:

"This requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we can clarify the limits of what’s acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship."

"Allowing the other person to do the same means that we can stay emotionally connected to that other party - who thinks, believes, and feels differently without needing to change, convince or fix them."

"Intense feelings, no matter how positive, are hardly a measure of true and enduring closeness. It is only in long-term relationships, that we’re called upon to navigate that delicate balance between separateness and connectedness and that we confront the challenge of sustaining both."

When you push past the awkwardness of (healthy!) conflict, you may come to finally experience platonic intimacy, because your knowledge of your friend deepens in new ways.

And when she allows you to be yourself (and after seeing new sides of yourself), she'll experience intimacy with you as well.

When there is (healthy) conflict and you no longer feel close, do you withdraw from the friendship?

  • Are you on a hunt for friendship or chemistry?

  • How do you know when a friendship's begun? When it's over?

  • What things make you feel close to someone? Is it easy for others to feel close to you?

The first step towards experiencing greater sustaining satisfaction in our friendships is understanding the difference between these three concepts.

If you're looking for both tangible and conceptual guidance to create and deepen your female friendship, then consider booking a one-on-one session with resident friendship expert and friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson. You can also consider joining our exclusive group coaching program, Friendship Elevated.

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