‘All games, even the most literal, between a man and a woman are implicitly sexual.’
I’m an optimistic person when it comes to the possibility of innocent, platonic relationships between men and women. But when I happened upon the above quote in John Fowles’ The Magus, rather than scoffing as I usually do at such a cynical idea, I stopped to fear that it could be true. Of course I soon confirmed by scouring past experiences that every light-hearted opposition between men and women does not have to be somehow sexual. But I think people sometimes question their friendships with the opposite sex. These relationships seem to have a layer of complication that we don’t experience with the same gender.
There are plenty of traps one can fall into in pursuit of a platonic relationship with the opposite sex. For example, if you’re actually soul mates, you will definitely not be able to remain just friends. Before I fell in love with my partner he was my very favourite example of how a man and a woman can be extremely close without stumbling across any pesky romantic impulses. I almost didn’t want to date him just so that I could stick it to the cynics – but by then I was far too busy wanting to have his beautiful blue-eyed babies. Soul mates: it’s a trap.
Admittedly when one is single and occasionally feeling lonely, one does tend to question one’s existing relationships with the opposite sex in the hopes of finding romantic potential. And even if we don’t find any real potential, the idea of creating romance for romance’s sake has its appeal. The simple logic is, ‘We have a lot of fun together, you look alright – maybe we should have sex.’ Beneath interactions with the opposite sex, there’s a certain underlying sense of possibility. This may be what Fowles is considering in his statement: if a man and a woman play a game together, they have a comfortable vantage point for observing each other’s ‘potential’. They can test the boundaries of this potential, express their skill or dominance, flirt, and tease each other. This is fine if they’re actively seeking romantic discourse.
The trouble is that, when you become close friends with someone, you inevitably love them. And even if it’s not romantic love, I’ll bet it must look like it sometimes when your eyes light up when you see them; when you’re supportive and excited for them; and when you share all your secrets with them. And if you’re trying to figure out what romantic love looks like, it’s easy to mistake normal affection for the capital ‘L’ type Love.
If you do think you might have feelings for a friend, it’s definitely better to tell them regardless of whether you think they’ll reciprocate or not. A few years back, a male friend of mine asked me if I might be interested in more, and I knew that he simply wasn’t the one for me. We talked it out, promised each other we wouldn’t let it get awkward because we so much wanted to remain friends, and we did. This obviously doesn’t always work. I tried the same thing when I was in a similar situation again with a male friend – tried to talk it out in a calm fashion and move on together knowing exactly where we stood. But he never acted quite the same after that, which made it hard for me to act the same as well, and we drifted apart. That may be a sad result, but we didn’t stop seeing each other for any bitter reasons and we could easily hang out again today. We can only move forward if we know where we stand.
Ultimately, if one of you doesn’t want to be just friends, it won’t happen. If you both feel the same way, you can start a relationship and have happy rainbow glitter times. But if only one of you can’t help but flirt all the time and test the other’s ‘potential’, they will only be creeped out or confused, and this can never have a satisfying result. Either way it’s not a friendship anymore. So if you want to be friends with the opposite sex, just make sure you know what you want, and then make sure they know it too. There are a few necessary conditions, but a friendship can be just as rewarding, exciting, beautiful and possible as romance can be between opposite sexes. This is exactly why millions of men and women are out there being ‘just’ friends right now.
*Previously published in Empire Times