If you've seen When Harry Met Sally, you'll remember the line… "No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her."
Those fateful few words have since sparked endless debate: can men and women ever really be friends?
In the movie, it turns out Harry’s right – he and Sally end up in bed together. And in a new poll by social network MeetMe, more than half of the 6,500 people surveyed said they had fantasised about sleeping with their best friend of the opposite sex (with 40% actually doing the deed).
Shocked? Me too. Just like Sally, my first reaction was complete denial – I have a number of male friends, and there’s no sex involved. We hang out, we have a laugh, we even talk about our other halves (well, the rare times I have one anyway).
For me, friendship is far more important than a quickie under the covers. But I’m not sure all men share the same point of view. Based on a recent awkward encounter with a close friend, who lurched at me drunkenly in a cab, I’d have to begrudgingly agree with Harry. Despite ten years of what I deemed a platonic relationship, he felt it was fine to jump in for the kill.
Ironically, I’d had the very same Harry-Sally debate with an ex-boyfriend about that drunken friend years before. “You’re so naïve,” my ex told me. “He basically wants to have sex with you.” So was he right – can our relationships with male friends really be based on something so reductive as sex?
Rewind a century and women only ever really spoke to men if there was a marriage proposal on the cards, but in 2017, equal rights, mixed sex schools and more relaxed attitudes have caused a seismic shift in the dynamic between cross-sex friendships. Perhaps the main issue, then, is how men and women define the very word ‘friendship’.
Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychology professor at Oxford University, investigated how the sexes differ when it comes to their friends. He argued women measure friendships in terms of meaningfulness, and men based on the activities they undertake together
“Women view their best friends as something in between sisters and soul mates, men see theirs in terms of convenience,” he told the Telegraph. It’s the age-old cliché – men don’t sit for hours discussing their emotions like women, they go to the pub. And in a society that forces both sexes into rigid gender roles from an early age, it’s no wonder men just don’t think in the same way we do.
Like many women, there are men in my life I see purely platonically, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try their luck given half the chance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every man wants to jump into bed with me – my years of being a singleton has proved that theory dead wrong – but I think the way we, as women, forge friendships can sometimes send men mixed messages. The deep, meaningful conversations we share with our girlfriends don’t translate the same way when directed at a man.
Then there’s the whole issue of animal instinct. Many studies show men have a desire to sleep with more partners, think about sex more than women and almost always have ulterior motives when it comes to their female friendships – particularly if they find a woman attractive (cue awkward taxi lunges and weeks of text blanking).
And as for women, I’m not the first to admit spending time with someone can often blur the boundaries between friendship and intimacy – even someone you weren’t attracted to before can suddenly start to shine in a very different light once you’ve really got to know them. After all, relationships themselves are built on friendship.
So right now, I’m on Harry’s side. Don’t agree? Try posing the question to your best male friend the next time you’re out together: “Fancy hooking up this evening?” I think I know what the answer will be…