Can a man and a woman ever be just friends? Have you ever seen a pig fly?
That's the tagline on the back of one of my favourite guilty pleasure books, Just Friends. About a woman called Freya and a man called Jack who are just friends. Have been forever. Rather like Dexter and Emma, the protagonists of the book du jour, One Day.
Except, of course, Freya and Jack aren't just friends. And neither are Dexter and Emma. Were they ever just friends? And could they ever have been?
I doubt it. I think it's borderline impossible to be just friends with a member of the opposite sex, for the simple reason that they are just that. The opposite sex.
When did the first neanderthal male look over at a neanderthal woman and not size her up as a potential mate, instead looking over and thinking 'wow, I could have a meaningful conversation with that person, regardless of whether she's a woman'. And what neanderthal woman looked at a neanderthal man just as a person, rather than as a potential mate, before rejecting him and deciding to have a friendship with him as well?
Biology forces us to look at the sex that we would naturally be attracted to first as a potential mate, then as a person we can bond with. Subsequently, every friend we've ever had of the opposite sex, or the sex to which we would normally be attracted, becomes defined by the attraction or lack of attraction between us and them. Look at Don and Peggy in Mad Men - Peggy remains the subject of every snide comment about career girls without husbands in the series, but she also remains the one woman that Don has never made a pass at (aside from Miss Blenkenship). Granted, Peggy could take offence to this and she no doubt has, but she can also take great pride in being the one woman that Don respects enough to treat as a person and not make a pass at, or crude sexual jokes about. I have a male friend who has made a habit of pursuing women in his friendship circle, and while neither of us are Mad Men-esque, I am still unsure whether to be flattered or offended.
I have male friends with whom I have as good a connection with as my female ones, but the risk you take with forming a close connection with someone that you might perhaps otherwise have been biologically attracted to is the slim chance that that attraction may develop.
Of course, it is very slim. And it flies in the face of all the advancements we've supposedly made: self-control, for one thing. And I'm sure that there are plenty of perfectly mature, sophisticated friendships out there between men and women that have never even considered the possibility of an attraction between them. (I bet they are now, and I bet the million belittlingly titled 'the differences between men and women' articles on sites like MSN don't help to bust the stereotype...)
But I certainly feel less comfortable with a friend who made an advance while drunk than I did before that happened. And she is female.