Friends with benefits: don’t let sexual tension get in the way of true platonic love

  • In the real world, sex, love, and friendship do not always share the same bed
  • The success of non-sexual friendships is based on how well both parties handle their changing emotions
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 11:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 11:16am

If friendship and chemistry are the core components of a long-lasting romantic relationship, could it be assumed that two people in a strong platonic relationship would be a match made in heaven?

Possibly. But it all depends on the individual pairing and how people in platonic friendships choose to handle their feelings.

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It is often said that having a strong connection, such as a solid friendship with your partner, is key to building a long-lasting romantic bond. Many people would yearn for their romantic partners to become their close friends and trusted confidants. But this cherished connection can only be fostered over time.

You may have become close friends with your romantic partner, but it is a different story if you try to turn your close friend into your lover. You could find yourself sliding down a slippery slope if you both find that your compatibility as friends does not transition into a romantic relationship.

Two people can have a purely platonic relationship, as long as both can manage their feelings.

In order for it to work, you must define your friendship, set clear boundaries and be sure to put in effort to build it into a sexless but close association. Once you define the relationship as “non-physical”, it has to stay that way, or you risk damaging the very foundation of that sacred bond.

I have a long-term platonic friend whom I love dearly and the feeling is mutual. We have known each other for nearly three decades, and whenever he finds a serious girlfriend, he brings her to me to get my “approval” or blessing.

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One time he had a girlfriend that treated him with disdain and embarrassed him in public, so I told him to leave her because they were incompatible. I did not hide my feelings because I love my friend and never want to see him get hurt.

I love this male friend so much that I decided from day one that to be friends with him for life, the best way forward was to keep sex out of it.

When we look for friends of either gender, we tend to gravitate towards those with similar values, interests, and life goals; hence, we look for commonality and chemistry. Once these factors are present, we will hit it off and naturally develop a friendship. These are more or less the same qualities we look for in a significant other, so people often get confused between platonic and romantic friendships.

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For those who are sceptical that a friendship can be truly non-sexual, let me refer you to an infamous line in the 1989 Hollywood romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, in which Billy Crystal’s character Harry says, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

It is true that once a person is sexually attracted to another, the bond between them will never remain platonic. They can, of course, deny their underlying feelings and pretend they are not there. But it will never work.

To build up a strong and thriving platonic friendship takes commitment, honesty, communication, and a clear head to distinguish between sexual attraction and a genuine friendly connection that is devoid of lust.

Just imagine: you have found someone who clicks with you; someone who is loving and caring; someone who makes you feel alive and you want to spend more and more time with them. Our human instinct naturally tells us that, “This is the one.”

A deep connection without the element of lust is a bona fide bond and it does exist, so long as we do not let the sex part get in the way.

Unfortunately, whenever we find someone who “gets” us, we immediately assume the best way to preserve that ecstatic feeling is to jump into bed with them so that we can keep them.

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Some relationship experts believe that people who feel no physical or sexual attraction towards their friends have significantly longer friendships compared to those who have. This observation suggests bonds other than romantic connections can, and do, occur in friendships.

It is, however, true that at some point in a platonic friendship, one partner could develop a crush on the other. When this happens, we need to avoid being sexually opportunistic. And remember in the real world, sex, love, and friendship do not always share the same bed.

Because we love our friends, we tend to spend more time with them. And as a result, we fall into the trap of assuming that we could maybe fall in love with them, but this could be because of the “repeated exposure” effect. Psychologists believe repeated exposure can actually lead a person to develop a preference for something (or someone) because they are familiar with them. That means being near someone frequently can lead a person to develop feelings for them.

The success of platonic friendships depends on how well both parties handle their changing emotions such as lust and growing desire, and how much they really love each other as individuals.

There is nothing wrong in finding your best friend sexually attractive because we are, after all, human. But it is important to recognise, respect and not violate the clear boundaries because they keep your true friendship safe and sound.

People of all sexes can form great friendships because deep love and meaningful relationships come in different forms. So your best friend really can just be a best friend and not a bedfellow. Not letting sex get in the way of love could be a beautiful thing after all.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post