Unfortunately, popular wisdom still seems to have it that women and men can’t be platonic friends. Society might oh-so-tolerantly let you off the hook as a so-called “exception” if you’re both gay (if you’re lucky) but if one or both of you is at all sexually orientated towards people of the other one’s gender, you can bet that some know-it-all observer will be ready to help guide you towards your apparent reproductive destiny by informing you the whole friendship is futile because at least one of you is bound to be “carrying a torch” for the other. Women and men genuinely enjoying each other’s company and identifying with one another in a non-sexual way? How unromantic!
I briefly talked about this kind of social pressure in a feature on BBC Three counties radio with Jonathan Vernon-Smith on Friday, centred on the question of whether members of the “opposite” sex can ever have a truly platonic relationship. (The bulk of the discussion kicks off from 2.01.26 and the section I took part in begins at about 2.48.00.)
There was a lot of ground that didn’t get covered (for example, there was little acknowledgement of asexuality, aside from Susie King from the Platonic Partners website briefly alluding to it as one of the many possible reasons why two close friends might prefer to have a non-sexual relationship) but I still think it’s worth a listen and that there’s plenty to think about from a feminist perspective. Just consider the following choice quotes from the show:
A lot of guys are of the opinion, perhaps, that we have our friends and we do blokey stuff with our mates so there’s almost no real need sometimes to have girls there unless it’s a sexual thing or a relationship thing or… they’re going to constantly be taking you down the shops, sort of thing… Sometimes we ask what’s the point of having them and also I think it’s very rare for one of the parties, as you were saying about your friend, not to have feelings. I just think it’s very, very unlikely that one party is not going to develop something along the line (Charlie Parish from Zoo magazine).
I really don’t think you can have a platonic relationship with a woman, no… Speaking as a man I’d say no, not at all, absolutely not. Not a chance. If I find a lady attractive, I become friends with her and my primeval instinct is procreation, mating… (Brian, Milton Keynes)