Q: I’ve been divorced for over a year, and I find myself attracted to my best friend. He has been with me through thick and thin. All my girlfriends say “don’t do it!” Should I?
A: If Ophelia voiced the famous soliloquy her buddy Hamlet spoke, it would have been “To Bonk my friend or to not Bonk my friend, that is the question”. This query, like her ambivalent Danes, would launch a thousand dissertations seeking to solve the unsolvable. So, let’s solve it. What might be going on with you and your guy buddy? Should you cross the line?
We’ve all heard the myth, in fact, one of my male patients voiced it this week; in heterosexual male-female friendships, the man always hopes it will lead to sex (for gay men or women, myth says they lust for their same-sex friends). Nonsense, I used to cry, hoping my close male friends weren’t harbouring secret sexual longings. Then I grew up, and over cocktails at my PhD party three of them said they’d always wanted to kiss me. I then studied the research on what creates success in relationships. Turns out there is some truth to the myth.
The key factors in successful long-term marriage have more to do with solid friendship than panty-ripping passion. Shared goals, deep curiosity about each other, great communication, kindness, the pleasure of each others’ company, similar values, and the ability to support each other even in pursuits we do not share lead to life-long love. Now for many of us, those qualities are exactly what we have with out best friends. Sadly, we may not have them with our spouse, either because we mated based on sexual attraction alone instead of the whole package, or because we didn’t tend to that marital friendship, and it died.
Yet women tend to put romantic/sexual relationships in a defined box. You are either “Lover” material or “Just Friends” material. We then get trapped in the box. But it is an illusory box. Societal pressures dictate we can have sexual feelings for only one person at a time; so we either ignore all other men, or artificially neuter our romantic feelings in order to hang out with them. We say “yuk, kissing him would be like kissing our brother.” Until we kiss him. And it feels great. The misunderstood idea of Platonic Love takes the genitals out of a beautiful, intimate, loving connection. A simple kiss can remind us that passion is simply friendship set on fire.
But you should never date a friend, right? It ruins the friendship, right? I think we all used that strategy in our 20’s and even 30’s to help navigate the confusing relationship waters of attraction, sex, love, and commitment. After a divorce, and upon getting older, wiser, and more confident, one of my patients stated “I cried on his shoulder for years over all those other guys, and then one day I realized I’d fallen in love with the shoulder I’d been crying on”. Dating a friend may be the best step on the road to marrying a friend, and remaining friends with real benefits, for life.