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Who amongst us hasn’t been met with that age-old question: can men and women just be friends?
While I won’t come outright with a definitive response, I will offer a confession that might already have the answer written all over it.
I have a friend. A male friend. We’ll call him “Peter”. And he’s been in my life for many years.
As much as I hesitate to admit it, I would probably go so far as to call Peter one of my “best” friends. Those who know me well might (all right, fine, would) refer to my relationship with Peter as, ahem, interesting, at best, tumultuous, at “worst”. That’s basically to say that Peter and I, over the years, have been privy to our fair share of ups… and downs. We love each other. We hate each other. We’re friends for all eternity. We’re never speaking to each other again…
And, yet… and yet… something always brings us back together. We met when we were young-ish: our early 20s, to be exact. And we subsequently carried on a brief but intense love affair of sorts. He was my first love. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. And I guess he’ll always bare that “badge”… and that teeny, tiny place in my heart that no one else has claims to.
Peter and I really do get along swimmingly… when we’re getting along, that is. We laugh so hard, we cry. We challenge each other to think outside of our individual boxes. We dole out mutually-thoughtful advice about life, relationships, careers. We stay up all night long talking until our eyes are so heavy, it feels like our eyelids will close for forever.
His fondness for reading, music, and intellectual thought is something I admire, even though he dismisses all things fashion-related (for shame!), and constantly pokes fun at my propensity to talk with my hair covering one eye. I am equally inclined to call him out on his tardiness, his affinity for Teva sandals (blech!), and his general “man-child” persona. And, by some miracle, after all the mocking and shaming, rather than our friendship waning, our connection intensifies.
What we have is special. I’m sure of it. And because I’m such a ‘girls’ girl’, it’s rare for me to find this kind of intimacy with someone of the opposite sex. Peter is like my ‘go-to’ oversized sweater that I only take off (for washing) when someone asks where “that smell” is coming from. Even on those days when it feels like I’ve outgrown it – pills and all – and I contemplate trying a newer version on for size, I can’t help but appreciate its durability, its relaxed flair, and how it makes me feel when I put it on. That sweater and I have been through the gamut together and, even though we both have some wear and tear, we’re generally intact. Much like my friendship with Peter.
The rose has its thorns though. Peter’s self-proclaimed ‘fear of intimacy’ has certainly caused rifts between us. Any time he felt like we were getting “too” close, he would find ways to sabotage our relationship… making plans only to break them at the last minute, letting me know time and time again how “uncomfortable” he was, frequently taking more from me than he was capable of offering in return.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve screamed “That’s it! I’ve had enough!”, I would be a very rich little lady.
I bet you’re wondering, “why oh why would you let this friendship drag on? Hasn’t it run its course?”
So, here’s the thing. By most accounts, I would agree with you. We did, at one point, put the breaks on our friendship when my patience and understanding finally maxed out (I’m generally a very good ‘forgiver’). It took over a year of us not ending up in each other’s beds to get to this ‘holy grail’ of pure, platonic friendship.
But choosing to keep Peter in my life, in spite of our previous fall-outs, has been a decision I’m happy with. I believe we make each other better. Even if it’s/we are a bit fucked up at times. Peter always asks me when he should expect our next big blowout or Facebook delete (real mature of me, I know…), so he has some time to do ‘damage control’. Always a jokester, that one.
I appreciate our friendship. The truth is, though, that sometimes I look at him and wonder… what if? There once was a time, not so long ago, when I found him wildly attractive. That thick, wavy brown hair, those adorable dimples, that disarmingly boyish charm. Peter isn’t hard on the eyes, you know.
Sometimes, when we’re together and being our playful selves, I fall a bit back in love. And it’s a feeling I can’t always shake, try as I might. To mask my inner thoughts, I go to the other extreme by sharing details of my romantic trysts, never letting on what I’m truly thinking. The fear of ruining a good friendship (making a successful transition from lovers to friends is an accomplishment in and of itself) and, what’s more, of unrequited love, is enough to keep my lips sealed – both metaphorically and literally.
Sometimes, he’ll shoot me a smile or look at me in “that” way and I wonder… is he thinking what I’m thinking? But I won’t ask because I’m afraid that I won’t like the answer.
And I think we’re doing the “just friends” bit relatively well… for now. Though I question (internally, of course), time and again, whether there’s an expiration date on us. Or if there’s a crossroads and what will become of us at that juncture? Will we part ways? Maintain a platonic relationship? Or… become more than friends, once again?
Can men and women just be friends? I don’t doubt it.
But throw a “Peter” into the mix, and I might just ask… “Can you repeat the question, please?”