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?