Part Three: What They Saw
We were so caught up in secretly falling in love with each other that we didn’t realize we were doing a crap job of actually keeping it a secret. Looking back on it now, the reactions of the others, our friends, was both entertaining and rather telling.
There would be plenty of times around campus when she and I would be hanging out, spending time together, chatting, when friends and members of the club would spot us and just have to say something. I could not tell you how many times the two of us heard ‘god why don’t you guys get a room’ or ‘when are you just gonna come out and say you looove each other’. We would often just laugh it off or joke that they were just jealous, but honestly it put us in an awkward position. In a way it was forcing the reality of the situation on us way sooner than either of us was actually comfortable with, and so each time these people would jokingly call us out, we would have to play dumb and deny that there was anything going on. Even if we might have secretly felt a certain way, we weren’t exactly rushing to say or do anything, so we would have to deny anything, and I know for me, every time I heard her vehemently reject the notion I would wonder how true that was and it would just hurt my confidence. I imagine the same was going on in her head. The other issue was we were both honestly trying to just get to know each other better, lay a stronger foundation of friendship before moving forward, and so in a way we were trying to prove a reality that so many people would otherwise deny: that men and women can in fact be platonic friends. So there was a part of us that wanted to deny any romantic intent because we wanted to prove that two people could just be friends, and it bothered us that everyone seemed so convinced of the contrary. We would be sitting back to back under the tree in the Quad and we’d dread when we spotted someone we knew because they would inevitably work their way over to our spot and bring up the awkwardness we were trying to avoid. Whenever there was a project or group activity during club meetings we would always pick each other as partners, much to the smug amusement of our peers. If we did what we wanted and picked each other, we’d have to endure a few jokes and jeers first. But if we picked anyone else as partner, we both wouldn’t enjoy it as much or be as into it, or worse yet the club members would force us to switch anyways and we’d end up together again. There was no denying that Beautiful and I were attracted to each other, and for me at least I knew that ultimately, my highest desire would be to be with her forever. But I was stubborn and steadfast in my resolve that I did not want to rush into a relationship. Part of it was because I wanted to savor this moment right before, when I could be lost in my hopes, dreams, and idealizations. Like the rush before the fall, I was enjoying the anticipation and build up. The stronger the connection between us, the wider and deeper the foundation, the better I believed our chances were of something truly significant. But I will be honest, because as much of a romantic as I might be I am also a realist, there was also a part of me that believed there was significant benefit in spending this time together because, if it turned out she did not and would not ever feel the same way as me, I wanted to convince myself I would ever be happy simply being her best friend. I wanted Beautiful in the most selfish and selfless ways possible.
But could men and women ever be just friends? There must be a reason why so many people are convinced that romance, or at the very least sex, always gets in between relations between men and women. The complexity and variety of human emotions and relationships should practically guarantee that there must be some form or iteration of cross-gender relation that doesn’t necessarily equate to or result with romantic involvement. Yet if you were to ask the majority of people today, I believe you would still find a surprisingly large majority of people believe that you can have as many different kinds of connections with people of the same sex as you please, but cross the line and it is almost exclusively for romance. Part of the reason why we have so few examples of male-female platonic friendships is because we lack the understanding, the protocol, and the exposure to create and or maintain them. And of course part of the reason why we lack the understanding, protocol, and exposure is because there are so few examples. Like the snake swallowing its tail, we are stuck in an endless loop with no benefit or escape.
If you’ve watched television or film, or honestly even read a book, in the past twenty or so years as I have, you’ll know that the media would have the odds stacked heavily against you being able to maintain a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. I watched Ross and Rachel and Chandler and Monica end up together. I watched Harry after he met Sally. I’ll be honest, I was rooting for them to stay friends. Just once, I wanted someone to take the seemingly revolutionary stance that it was possible for two people to be friends even after recognizing that there was some form of attraction between them. I don’t know why Hollywood thinks that the only happy ending for two people could ever possibly be to end up together. The movie would have been just as sweet and just as memorable if Harry and Sally’s happily ever after meant lifelong friendship, camaraderie, and platonic love.
There are certain challenges that present themselves when trying to maintain a friendship with someone of the opposite sex. The first is what to do with the feelings that rise from the relationship. Platonic love, a deep and profound connection that is completely void of any romantic intent or sexual desire, can and does exist. The bond of friendship is easy to understand. I feel many of my male friends are like brothers and we have no problem defining the extent of our relationships. But it becomes much more difficult when it is cross-sex because we find it difficult to define what is appropriate to feel. The line of differentiation between friendship, sexual desire, and romantic intent becomes blurred because unlike with friends of the same sex, the other possibilities can exist. When you love someone deeply, and enjoy and desire their company, but you do not want to marry or date them, even though that possibility exists, what do you call that? The other very obvious challenge is that sexual attraction is often a component that is inevitably factored when it comes to these friendships. Whether you want to act on them or not, it is difficult to play dumb to the attraction. In fact when men and women were polled about their cross-sex friendships, most women claimed that dealing with sexual tension was their least favorite part, while men claimed that the attraction was perhaps the most important incentive for initiating the friendship in the first place.
Still for whatever challenges a cross-sex friendship may present, there are equal, or perhaps even more, benefits. It is no surprise that male friendship and female friendships are very different. Male friendship centers around the group dynamic. It is formed and bonded through mutual and social interaction. Teams, bands, fraternities, men gather to interact in groups around mutually shared interests and engage with each other. For women, this can present an opportunity for escape from the often much more emotionally involved and exhausting facets of female friendship. Women will often describe their male friendships as lighter, more fun, simpler, and less sensitive. They often also enjoy the familial and even protective feeling, much like having a surrogate brother. Female friendships are much more emotional, sentimental, and personal. Men find that they can enjoy the intimacy of deep conversation, which is often overlooked or underrepresented in male friendships. Overall though, most male-female friendships closer resemble the female dynamic. In fact most male-female friends spend their time together talking one-on-one. Any activities they may engage in, such as dining out or grabbing some drinks or going someplace together, are often simply to further facilitate that conversation. It is very clear what those who do have male-female friendships are seeking. Men enjoy the opportunity to discuss, examine, and share their feelings, opinions, and ideas. They feel nurtured and comfortable sharing, often something they cannot feel as much amongst other men. And women appreciate and enjoy the ability to see into the male insight. After all most women would say that their romantic relationships often suffered most from lack of communication. But devoid of the sexual tension and attraction and responsibilities, having a male friend to bounce ideas off of and to gather insight on is a valuable and mutually beneficial relationship.
So yes, perhaps it is possible and perhaps it is in fact beneficial for more men and women to engage in platonic friendships. And yes perhaps our minds and preconceived notions about this concept are misconstrued thanks to popular culture and social pressures and lack of exposure to the contrary. I still think it doesn’t mean we should have had to endure so many awkward glances and comments about the friendship Beautiful and I were trying to foster. But unfortunately I cannot speak too deeply or too convincingly to this matter. As much as I would have loved to be able to expound on the higher and nobler aspects of cross-sex friendship and why the only thing preventing us from enjoying the mutual benefits of such are our immature and ill-informed prejudices, the truth is I really was just trying to create the first step to a romantic relationship with her. Though I was also trying to create a friendship that would last regardless of the outcome, the more time I spent with Beautiful the more I realized that her heart was my ultimate goal and destination. I loved her, and was falling even more madly in love with her, and I had crossed the terrain of friendship long ago. My heart and mind would never be able to settle for anything less than a love that would define the rest of my life. I loved her more than I ever could a friend and I could never just be that. She was either going to give me life, or this love was going to destroy me.
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