In Brief—An exploration of whether a sexual relationship can survive and be transformed into a lasting non-sexual relationship.
Sex or Friendship?—
“Oh, God, I’m coming!” sounds like something a religious fundamentalist might shout as death approaches. Actually, it is something gasped in passion as sexual orgasm approaches. By the way, sexual orgasm is sometimes referred to as “the little death.”
Now that I have your attention, I’m going to lay—so to speak—on you the issue of whether a sexual experience prevents a transition to a purely non-sexual love or friendship that allows the relationship to continue. Additionally, can an unconsummated sexual attraction alone evolve into a long-term platonic relationship?
The average love affair is said to last four and a half months. Some last for several years, some are just “one-nighters.” In sharp contrast, a non-sexual friendship can last a lifetime. The big question is whether the end of a love affair can survive and be transformed into a lasting friendship.
The question is more complex when it moves beyond a heterosexual relationship to one involving same-sex partners, marriage, age, distance or disease. This discussion will limit itself to heterosexual relationships, but reader interest and suggestions can lead to other areas. I’m not Dear Abby or Doctor Phil, so it’s entirely possible I’m missing something here. Here are simply the experiences of two heterosexual beings.
This piece arose out of a conversation that raised the question of whether a past sexual love could survive to become a lasting non-sexual friendship. My view is that it’s possible if the circumstances are right, but otherwise not likely…but that’s just my personal experience.
A platonic love or friendship has loosely been defined as the absence of physical sexual desire. The Greek philosopher Plato recognized physical desire, but believed that the unconsummated love of two people for one another would bring them closer to the deity. In short, it was a spiritual thing for Plato.
Before I relate our experiences, it is said that heterosexual males can’t have platonic relationships with a female with whom they’ve had a sexual relationship. Further, it’s widely believed that the only male/male relationship men can have involves discussing sports, politics and mechanical devices. Given the fact that all humans fall somewhere on the sexual scale of exclusively one way or the other, I am doubtful that it is completely true, but it is too often true. The bell curve, you know.
Females, by contrast, have the ability to have close non-sexual relatioships with other females and can reportedly discuss intimate personal issues without hesitation. Maybe it’s hormones or environment, but that’s my view regardless of the above sexual scale. Further, females often have the ability to have male platonic relationships even though there may be a sexual spark in the mix.
Exceptions to the Bay Rule—
Now, here are two instances where a platonic relationship has developed after the sex has ended.
My first marriage ended in divorce. Years went by with little or no contact, not least because my ex-spouse’s authoritarian husband took steps to prevent me from seeing my daughter. At the man’s death, I sent my condolences to my ex-spouse and apologized for my behavior during our marriage. She responded in kind, apologizing for her own behavior. We began a friendly exchange of messages that lasted for several years. During that time, we had one friendly meeting arranged by our daughter. Following my former spouse’s death in 2010, her son by her cop husband wrote to thank me for making her so happy during her final years. That was an instance of sexual love becoming a platonic friendship. No other genuine close platonic friendships come to mind. Close, but no cigar.
A dear friend of many years, a married woman with a family, related the story of a former love who shared a mutual sexual attraction with her that never came to fruition. Nevertheless, a spark still existed. Despite this, there were sporadic exchanges that grew fewer with his marriage. The man’s wife died recently, but my friend was torn as to whether to contact him. Could they become platonic friends in light of their history? Would that past spark get in the way? She asked me what I thought.
Two thoughts occur to me: 1) That’s an intimate question to ask of a man, and 2) The woman is a dear platonic friend of many years. No man would lay himself bare the way she has done except to a man who values his relationship with her.
What are your thoughts? Is a platonic relationship possible between a heterosexual man and a woman?
Additionally, are there other instances not dealt with here that involve a platonic friendship? I have touched on other possibilities above, and there could be instances that might be fodder for future pieces. As I wrote recently, is ”just a friend” a thoughtless response or is it more? Is a platonic relationship merely a fantasy? Let me know your thoughts?