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Why can't we be friends?

Sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction. Photo: Slobodan Vasic

Oh boy. Here we go again.

“Men and women can’t be friends because sex always gets in the way”.

Nothing new there, except now, apparently, there’s definitive science to back it up. Hear that? Definitive. Science. So definitive in fact, the story has made it from the Daily Mail, to the Telegraph, the Hindustan Times, and now – ta-da – Orstrayra’s own Fairfax digital network (you’re welcome).

So clearly, it must be true.

And hey, I’m not denying it. But I am completely disagreeing with the conclusion subsequently raised: Men and women can’t be friends, because sex always gets in the way, so don’t bother.

I say do bother.

Because who says friends can’t be sexually attracted to each other? Who says there’s anything wrong with that? And who says that sexual attraction is the only kind of attraction we should ‘worry’ about anyway?

Here’s what I do know:

All friends are attracted to each other; they would not be friends otherwise.

Also, attraction is a beautiful thing. As with all things of great beauty, attraction is complex, not one-dimensional. Consider, for example, your friends. Then consider your lovers. And consider, if you have found them, the person you’ve chosen as The One.

Note how each relationship is compelling for different reasons?

And notice how sexual chemistry is just one aspect of the grander alchemy?

Now consider this: sexual attraction is just one of three key prisms through which we might observe how we are attracted to others.

Sexual attraction, or physical attraction, is complemented by emotional attraction and intellectual attraction.

We social creatures need to recognise at least one, preferably two, ideally three of these elements in another fellow before we may consider them special to us. The more tallies under each sub-head, the more attractive that character is, and the more likely we are to want to have them in our lives.

‘The One’ is demonstrative of this. They are our ultimate, our forever, our only, and they are meant to hold our affection in myriad ways: Sexually, obviously and usually at first; intellectually, which can sometimes be more stimulating; and emotionally, wonderfully and enduringly and often long after bodies and mind begin to fade.

So, why is it a problem that friends may be sexually attracted to each other?

Crudely, because we think sexual attraction should be contained. Contained to The One.

For many of us, raised with a pair of Western-heteronormative goggles nose-plonked, have been taught to see relationships beyond family (read: beyond our incest taboo) as potential life partners – as someone we can mate with, engage with and adore, monogamously, ad infinitum.

Outside the fact this narrow view renders homosexual attraction somehow less valid, it’s important to recognise ‘friendship’ exists as some sort of paltry fallback relationship. In this context, friends play second fiddle to the primary social instrument.

And, to ensure friendship doesn’t steal The One’s limelight, they must be of the same-sex variety.  Because we all know, one man wanting to shag another is an outstandingly ridiculous notion... And shagging, which can lead to babies, so-called miracles of life, is a connection oh-so much more profound than one built on ideas or feelings... Which is why ‘cheating’ is a sexual thing. Right?


There is validity to the above perspective. Indeed, it is the norm. But that doesn’t make it right.

What would be more right is to acknowledge more regularly what I wrote at the start. Attraction is a beautiful thing, and beautiful things are complex.

To say that friends may only be people with whom we share either an emotional connection or an intellectual one – definitely not a sexual one – is to say that these elements are not as important. And as anyone in a long-term relationship knows, so much is utter malarkey.

For, as anyone who’s ever known their partner to share a deep emotional intimacy or profound intellectual affinity with someone outside their couple, love truly is a many splendored thing.

Therefore, if two people are sexually attracted to each other, but perhaps lack the intellectual or emotional bond that could see the relationship transition from a nice one to The One, the only thing ‘getting in the way’ of their friendship is society’s great expectations about what it means to be friend.

Don’t you agree?


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  • There was this girl that I used to work with who was very emotionally and intellectually wonderful but, as she had a disability that severely affected her physically (skin, hair, posture etc). I at first really felt uncomfortable and on edge around her. Don’t know why, probably because it kind of repulsed me, but not in a physical beauty type way, it was just really graphic to look at. Maybe I was too afraid of offending her by staring, so I very consciously, while talking with her, looked at her and looked away on an almost timed basis, which I think made it worse. After a while, I realised that I was doing that, and was like “am I really that fickle?” So set out on to overcome this fear or whatever by really noticing whether or not she was beautiful – noticing exactly how she presented herself – and why and it became easy to see how she presented herself and how little things mattered to her and that she was not only perfectly happy in her own skin, but almost wouldn’t want it any other way, which became such a liberation to have a friend that was the opposite of socially constructed views of beauty, but was still quite beautiful.

    Michael Durrand
    Scarborough, Qld.
    Date and time
    July 27, 2012, 7:07AM
    • Yes but did you shag her?

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 8:29AM
    • MD - Great Post... I've only had a few experiences like that. Very humbling.

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 10:44AM
    • “am I really that fickle?”

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      Inigo Montoya
      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 11:17AM
  • Kate, G'day

    Your proposition is that friendships between straights of opposing sexes will always include an element of sexual attraction.

    My experience is otherwise.

    Being at the official retirement age, I've been fortunate in my journey to have embraced many friendships. As I look back, I've been friends with more women than men. I don't find any comfort in the belligerence typically associated with male competitiveness. And, typically, women don't find alternate or opposing ideas confrontational to their ego.

    There are some female friends where sexual attraction occurred. However, there are many other female friends where it was not evident - at least on my part.

    On one occasion, I remember canvassing the 'sexual attraction' point with a female. The reason was that I was sexually attracted to another female friend. The topic was discussed as a male-female issue in the third party - not me and my experiences as the subject. I recall that we each concluded that sexual attraction arose from a 'chemistry'. And, friendship could occur even when there was none of the 'chemistry' necessary for attraction.

    When considering your proposition, I'm not counting those earlier times when I was so hormone driven that every woman was viewed as a potential bed partner.

    While you only refer to newspaper articles, not the originating science, from my own experience I consider the proposition is flawed. That said, the news articles you cite suggest males mostly incur an element of sexual attraction while females are more likely to view the friendship as platonic. After all these years, I must now just be an old woman!!!


    Date and time
    July 27, 2012, 7:25AM
    • Dalliance,
      Well said.
      I would like to add I have had instances where a female friend was a 'bombshell'.
      Classic beauty or in your face hornbag and I have had no sexual feelings.
      I have always wondered what was wrong with me at the time.
      Freaks me out.
      Can happen anywhere.

      Dino not to be confused with
      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 8:14AM
    • @Dalliance: I didn't see CityKat propose that; I'm seeing quite the opposite: "I am completely disagreeing with the conclusion subsequently raised: Men and women can’t be friends, because sex always gets in the way."

      She said that "All friends are attracted to each other" and went on to propose 3 types of attraction, only one of which is sexual. Feeling intellectual and emotional attraction without sexual attraction still qualifies as "being attracted". She also said that sexual/physical attraction is "complemented" by emotional and intellectual attraction, but I don't take that to mean that it will always be there. Only one is needed to recognise attraction, and additional ones will just add to and change the nature of the whole.

      As with the vast majority of these articles, the word that keeps coming up in my mind is "likelihood". I think that if two people feel emotional and intellectual attraction (friendship), then the "likelihood" of sexual attraction developing is higher than if they didn't. If they spend much time together, that likelihood increases. The big problem is that people love to see things only in black and white.

      To address the point of the article, when friendly relationships become sexual, the "likelihood" of problems arising will be increased .And they do often arise; just not all the time. Since people love so much to see things in black and white, we then get all of those resounding proclamations that sex between friends is a bad thing. I think it just warrants a fair whack of caution.

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 9:47AM
    • Hi Dalliance - good to hear from you.

      Yes - The stories do really play up to the idea that all men are sexual all the time (but only with women mind!). A damaging construct IMHO.

      Interesting that you're friendly with ladies now that you're, ahem, deemed to be 'past it' (vernacular!)...

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 10:47AM
    • Are you gay?

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 11:16AM
    • "And, typically, women don't find alternate or opposing ideas confrontational to their ego."

      Wow. What planet did you live on ?

      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 2:36PM

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