Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Just friends

There's an article on Huffington Post reporting on some research about platonic friendships.  The up-shot is that "...this apparently platonic coexistence is merely a façade, an elaborate dance covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface."

Wow.  That such a statement can be uttered without further comment is very telling.

I am single, never-married.  Currently, the most important relationships in my life are platonic friendships with women, most of whom have primary (opposite sex) partners of their own.  I can't tell you who my most important friends are, or rank them in any way, but I do spend more time and do things more often with my single platonic friends.  They have the most time available for me.

I find my all of my platonic friends romantically attractive (to varying degrees, from day to day).  I just generally find women attractive.  I don't really know if my friends find me attractive, but more to the point, I genuinely don't care.  It is okay with me if they do, it's okay with me if they don't.  We aren't going to have sex, so it really doesn't matter to me what anyone thinks or doesn't think about our hypothetical prospects.

Participating in these platonic friendships with my eyes open has helped me teach myself the difference between loving someone and possessing someone.   "How much" I love someone is my business only.  The degree to which I feel that I have the authority to direct someone else's behavior, either towards me or someone else is another thing, and this is what I mean by possessing someone.  People often use the former to justify the latter, and I think herein lies the problem with platonic friendships between genders.   The people you love aren't beholden to you because you love them.

Much was made in the article I linked above about reciprocation, and I learned a new term, Limerence, to describe a state of mind in which the reciprocation of romantic attraction is of paramount importance.  I suppose I am practically bereft of limerence in these relationships.

I know limerence, I think I used to experience it regularly while I was maturing emotionally.  For me, I think this happened when I had inserted myself into a dramatic romantic prediction with the object of my desire.  I would decide that some wonderful future was possible involving this other person and I would become strongly emotionally invested in this vision.

We all know how that turns out, even when the other person is similarly invested.  It never happens how it is imagined.  When the other person is invested, things happen, but it almost always turns out differently than what either party imagined going in.  Attraction is never "equal," because attraction can't be quantified in a measurable way.  At best, there's an agreement that feelings are mutual, but there's never any certain knowledge of such, and often the relationship ends when feelings are no longer regarded as mutual.

Meanwhile, I had other friendships with attractive women in my life chugging along that were not burdened with limerence, fantasies of certain paths to happiness, or interest in reciprocation.  I went to a number of weddings involving these friends, and acted as their confidant during divorces and break-ups later.  Some of them evolved into very significant platonic friends, others I lost touch with.

In those platonic friendships where I experienced limerence, some of these relationships ended early, suddenly, with some ugliness, while others evolved into very significant platonic friends, and still others I lost touch with and interest in as time passed.  

At some point, I lost respect for my limerence, and I began to discount it as something to act upon.  I now just notice it and drop it.  It's just thinking.  I have thoughts constantly I don't act upon, this one isn't any different.

Sexual desire is life seeking life.  This is what evolutionary pressure is all about.  It is nothing to be ashamed of or pushed aside.  I think a lot of people make the mistake of confusing a compelling feeling with a compulsion to act.   My study of zen buddhism has taught me the difference between thinking about actions and acting on thoughts.


I can look at one of my platonic friends and admire her sexiness just like I admire the sexiness of someone I am dating.  I might even imagine seeing my platonic friend naked, or dressed seductively.  It's just thinking.  I am amused by it.  I breathe it all in and then exhale.

I'm the man.  It's my role to spread my seed.  It does not surprise or distress me that I would be attracted to a platonic female friend who is not attracted to me.  This isn't a contest, we aren't making muffins.  Optimal relationships are not crafted from equal measures of lust, love, tolerance, compassion, and admiration.  Platonic friendships are what they are.  There isn't a recipe.

I may well be more attracted to my platonic friends than they are to me.  I am just as certain that there is some feeling they have for me that I dont return in equal measure.  They might feel more secure with me than I do with them, for example.   They may feel more understood by me than I by them, or more valued, or more threatened by the loss of the relationship.  There are a lot of different things that go into platonic friendships.

Sexual desire is just one of the seasonings in the soup.  The only kind of relationship I can imagine in which sexual desire is the most important/determinant factor would be with a sex worker (i.e., I'm pretty sure I would end a relationship with a sex worker that didn't turn me on).  I have never ended a friendship with someone because they didn't find me sexually attractive or I didn't find them sexually attractive.  I have decided to date or not date someone based on sexual attraction, I may give someone more or less time or attention based on sexual attraction.   I give friends more or less time and attention based on many different factors, many of which vary from day to day.

Sexual attraction isn't permanent or static.  It changes from day to day, from outfit to outfit, season to season.  There are times that I look at some of my closest platonic female friends and think "Damn, I'd like to have me some of that" and then I laugh at myself, wondering what it was that set me off on that today.  Other days, I can look at the same friend and think "it is a good thing I'm not responsible for her sexual needs today" and laugh at that.


I enjoy being physically affectionate.  I like to touch people to emphasize a point in conversation.  I like being close to people I care about.  I like the warmth of a body belonging to someone I love close by.  I like feeling skin, muscles and bones.  I'm all into it.

I touch my platonic female friends about 10% as much and as often as I want.  I mostly refrain from physical contact.  I generally greet and part from them with some physical gesture--air kiss, casual hug, hand on a shoulder.  I may touch a back, or slap a knee to make a point, but I generally err on the side of physical distance.

I make exceptions to this practice in emotionally powerful moments.  I will hug a platonic female friend with 100% of my depth of feeling as part of an important moment between us.  I will tenderly hold a female platonic friend in pain.  I will be physically close when appropriate for other reasons (e.g., cozy quarters during transportation, dancing, etc), but as a practice I maintain a chaste physical distance.

I maintain this boundary to protect the friendship.  Physical contact has consequences.  It's meaning can be easily misunderstood both by those involved in it and by those observing it.  The benefits of being more affectionate with my platonic friends is not worth the risk of the misunderstandings.  My physical affection comes from my physical relationships.  My platonic friendships do not have a role in getting my needs for physical affection met.

I admit this is a challenge when I am needing some affection and a platonic female friend is nearby, but it is a challenge I meet by just reminding myself what is important.  The long-term integrity and well-being of my platonic friendships trumps a passing need for a caress every time.  This is what emotional maturity is really about.

So, when someone asserts that these relationships can be a facade masquerading countless sexual impulses bubbling beneath the surface I want to ask "What facade?  Beneath what surface?"  Platonic relationships aren't the problem, people pretending something else is going on is the problem.

Men and women are men and women.  We are different so that we can reproduce.  We are motivated to go to the trouble to reproduce by sexual desire.  It's not personal.  I don't have sexual desire because I am around women, but I am often around women when I feel desire.  Sometimes those women are my platonic female friends.  

It worries me that an inability to act ethically in the midst of lust is being conflated with a notion that men and women can't be platonic friends.   My platonic female friends are my friends.  I treat my friends with respect, kindness, tolerance and compassion.  The fact that they may look good in jeans from time to time is irrelevant.

Women are not responsible for men's sexual desire.   The assertion that men and women can't be friends because of desire is the tail wagging the dog.  Some people just aren't in possession of the emotional maturity for all kinds of relationships.