Platonic friendships: your experiences

Katharine Whitehorn / 21 January 2016

Agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn hears from a reader who questions whether men and woman can really be platonic friends.



Dilemma: just good friends?

This is not a personal problem, just something that puzzles me. 

I have just read about a man who had a no-sex relationship with his secretary for most of his married life; and I’ve heard of an unmarried man in the Fifties who appeared to be greatly attracted to a woman a few years younger than he was. 

She had also never been married yet they were never more than, literally, good friends for years, until they died within a few years of each other.

Is it really likely that single men and women would be “just good friends” in this way?

Katharine Whitehorn's advice

What is “likely”? Nowadays we assume that everyone is at it like rabbits, or would like to be; time was, the polite assumption was the opposite: that no one respectable engaged in sexual activity unless they were firmly married. 

Neither is – or was – necessarily true. There are people who are afraid of sex, or bad at it, who perhaps prefer a less demanding dream relationship or even an intellectual one: think of all the working partnerships among scholars, in which they share books and specimens and are only interested in the sex life of beetles or obscure tribes. 

Or people who play a fatherly or a brotherly role in a woman’s life; or the not uncommon situation of the secretary who feels like the “office wife”, though never a touch passes between her and the boss.

I feel sure that to assume every relationship must be based somehow on bed ignores a vast amount of profound and rewarding human interaction. 

Anyway, you can surely give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that men and women can indeed be friends.

Find out when a friendship crosses the line and becomes an emotional affair.

Our readers say...

We also asked our Facebook followers for their advice...

"Yep, women can have male friends so why can't men have female friends, it takes two to tango and is wrong to assume it's always the man on the prowl nowadays and it's also a bit Victorian to expect men to mix only with men and women to mix only with women, to me folk who feel that men and women shouldn't be friends are shallow or judging by their own morals and standards."

"Absolutely! I really don't trust people who state they can't - it says more about them in all honesty. I am 64 and almost all my old schoolfriends are boys because I was the only girl boarding in my year group, alongside 25 boys, at my comprehensive day and boarding school. I am great friends with about 12 of them to this day... only two were briefly romantic relationships back then and I would say there is still a mutual attraction - but more of fondness and familiarity and a chemistry (which one can also have with female friends). We can be fond and tease and hug without threatening our long-term relationships one tiny bit. I am friends with their partners too."

"It's easy to be good friends, but only when there's no physical attraction. I couldn't be 'just good friends' with someone that I was attracted to. That doesn't mean that I'd jump on someone else's partner simply because I fancied them, but I wouldn't attempt a friendship with a man who I fancied. It wouldn't work for me."

"I do think most men are to some degree physically attracted to their female friends (more so than the woman in the equation on the whole) because they are men! But that still doesn't mean they can't be platonic friends."

"Yes,they can... it's all down to self-respect and trust."

"Of course they can be good friends. And let's face it we can all do with friends."

"No... unless they are gay. Keep it real!"

"Of course but I do think it depends on maturity whatever age someone is."

"Yes I believe so but maturity is the key."

"Yes, I had a male friend for a number of years until one day we drifted apart. I haven't seen him for some time."

"Some can. Some can't."

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