Platonic Friendships: Can You Ever Be Just Friends?


By Hayley Doyle

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal fooled us into believing that a man and woman could be just friends, in the rom-com hit of the 80s, When Harry Met Sally. Then, in the mid 90s, we thought Monica and Chandler were best mates. Until they woke up together naked in The One With Ross’s Wedding. If you’re old enough to remember watching that when it came out, I’m sure - like me - you screamed. But what about Harry Potter and Hermione Grainger? Moana and Maui? Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation? All besties without a hint of sexual tension, yet together, they love and learn and grow.


So Hollywood aside, can platonic relationships exist between a man and a woman in the real world? Or are you turning a blind eye to an underlying spark? Will one person always fall into the pit of unrequited love, somehow? Is the friendship more like great mates, but with arm’s distance? And will it always inevitably fizzle out when one person’s love life blossoms?


Honestly, I think; Enough of the Drama. Of course you can be friends with a member of the opposite sex, or with anybody who is attracted to your sex, without wanting to have sex with them. Actually falling in love with somebody, desiring them, is rare. Think about it this way; do you fall in love with - and desire - every friend you’ve ever made? Male or female? We live in a society where we can literally pick and choose exactly what we fancy on an app, swiping profiles into a vast disappearing act because of one tiny trait we suddenly decide, meh, we’re not that into. Harsh. But true. We’re fussy, spoilt rotten 21st century humans, and without platonic friends, we’d become a very lonely species.


I’m a heterosexual female with male friends who have been a huge part of my life for more than 20 years. I consider them family. Back when we graduated from uni with hopeful hearts and big ambitions of the landing in the Big Smoke, we all became housemates to split the astronomical costs of living in London. When I say, all, I mean myself and six guys. And yes, I received many a raised eyebrow about this living situation, practically Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, right? Wrong. These boys were my best friends. The brothers I never had. The lads I laughed with. (And bless Snow White, but I never, ever cleaned up after them. Ever). We played Risk. We watched The Simpsons and Friends. We became a strong pub quiz team and collaborated pretty well on cooking a roast. We threw a fair few legendary parties. There was no sexual chemistry between us. Instead, we vented and we supported. Finding our feet was tough and at times, the enormity of city life seemed to gobble us up. And above all, we were open about our close, tight-knit friendships with all partners and lovers on the scene. As time progressed, I went to each of their weddings and now, I watch my kids play with their kids. The next generation! These days, one half of each couple might go out for dinner together; sometimes it’s a “girls night” and sometimes it’s just the boys, but we often mix it up because we love our friends, no matter what sex they are.


Recently, I caught up with one of my male best friends and as usual, we had a riot together. One glass turned into a bottle, the chit-chat endless, along with the laughs. My husband was totally relaxed about us meeting (and predicted it would be a “late one”, knowing the nature of our friendship) and as much as he’s now good friends with my old best pal, he was relieved he didn’t have to sit through our vintage in-jokes and nostalgic stories about drama school.


Platonic relationships serve such a strong purpose in your life because they take the pressure off your partner having to provide you with absolutely everything. There is so much expectation on our partners to be our best friend, our soul mate, our lover, our mate, our financial advisor, our therapist, our cook… and it’s impossible for one person to be all of these things at once. We can fall into habits of overwhelming those we live with, and yet, with friends, we de-stress and re-energise. I wouldn’t want to eat with my platonic male friends every day or share a bed with them, and quite frankly, the thought of carrying their dirty laundry to the washing machine makes me want to puke. But I love a theatre trip with them and chewing the fat about the play afterwards over a drink, or going for tapas together and hearing how their family is doing, whilst reminiscing about the crazy old days. Then, I love returning to my husband, to the life I’ve chosen to be my 24/7.


Linda Sapadin, a psychologist from Valley Stream, New York, did research on friendships between men and women, and came to the conclusion that we can just be “just friends.” She believes that the idea of us solely hanging out together with romantic intentions dates back to when women stayed home while the men went out to work. The only reason for women to meet men back then was for romance and to create a family. But although men and women now work and play side by side, the boundaries can get blurred in platonic friendships if you’re not honest.


If you’re still skeptical, then let’s look at the Do’s and Don’t’s of all things platonic!


DO…

  1. Reach out to one another regularly, establishing that you want them in your life.

  2. Encourage your partner to meet your friend, and allow your friendship to be transparent.

  3. Show up for them; have each other’s back and reciprocate emotional support.

  4. Be honest. Do you want to be friends? Or do you lust after them?

  5. Treat your friend with respect, at all costs.


And DON’T…

  1. Flirt.

  2. Kiss, or touch one another playfully, even if you’re just messing around.

  3. Lead your friend on if they do have feelings for you. Talk. Listen. Re-establish boundaries.

  4. Treat your hang-outs like a date. This is not a friends-with-benefits sorta thing.

  5. Get jealous. Never give them an ultimatum, “well, it’s her or me”.


Remember, friendship is based on trust. So, you have to trust yourself first and dig deep, asking; is this person my fabulous friend, or do I want more? Only you can know the answer to this. Chemistry will play a big part because physical attraction comes naturally. Feel the vibe. Watch out for the signals. It won’t be hard to figure out, and once you have it sorted, go forth and enjoy all the love, warmth and humour that can come from well-established platonic pals.