Andy Simpkins is Moderately Vexed by… "Can men and women ever be 'just good friends?'"

Published: 17th May 2004

A week or so ago, the editorial team of Staggering Stories took time out to take a trip up to London to see the stage play of the popular movie "When Harry Met Sally" at the Haymarket Theatre by way of celebrating Adam's 30th birthday.

After seeing the play and thoroughly enjoying it, I have decided to put pen to paper and tiptoe through the minefield left behind in the ever-present battlefield that represents the differences between the sexes and the way us men and you women look upon friendship between their respective genders. What follows is a personal account and I can draw upon many humorous and sometimes embarrassing situations in presenting this article.

As for the question; yes or no. All I can say that the answer has a foot in each camp. The yes faction can fall into a couple of categories. The first can be put down to the fact that if you are in a relationship and your female/male friend is in one as well, that is all very well and fine. You have your partner and they have theirs and everyone is happy to pursue a platonic friendship. If, on the other hand, you are single and your female friend is in a happy relationship, in my experience, that is all very well and fine as well. I am on friendly terms with several couples, married or cohabiting and thoughts of extra-marital nookie have never entered my mind because:

1: They have a partner who they are happy with.

2: I am not a marriage wrecker and have no intention of ever being so and

3: I do not want an aggrieved partner banging on my front door armed with a rusty hacksaw blade demanding my severed gonads on a silver platter...

Another reason men and women can be friends is if there is no sexual attraction between the parties concerned whatsoever. If either yourself or your male/female friend are of the inclination of 'dancing down the other end of the ballroom', 'wearing their shoes on the wrong foot', 'kicking with both feet', uphill-gardening', 'chocolate speedway racing' or in common parlance;gay or bi-sexual, then it is a friendship which is perfectly feasible and there are no sexual hang-ups because there is no attraction there in the first place. Your friend of the opposite gender is liable to be either decked out in clothes befitting a member of 'Village People' or else sporting a crew-cut hairstyle, dungarees and singing the song: "We are Wimmin, we are strong. " and calling all men 'penis-wielding oppressors. 'This does take comparisons to extremes but I am just using this as an example and I do not wish to be offensive. A persons sexuality is their own concern and what they get up to in their private lives is no business of mine.

Continuing the subject, if you have a friend of the opposite sex who has the dress sense of Attila The Hun, a hairstyle like a haystack on heat and personal habits that only you could find endearing and yet have no sexual appeal even with the appearance-enhancing effects of copious amounts of alcohol, then that is another valid reason for a close friend of the opposite sex.

The No camp offers an interesting answer and I must let it have its say here as well. Say you are in a situation where you are friends with an unattached/unmarried man/woman of approximately the same age. You have the same interests, you both share the same outlook on life, share the same sense of humour, you enjoy each others company and generally would make a fine couple in other peoples eyes. What would you do then??This is where, in my own experience, you can find yourself balanced precariously on a tightrope over a snapping alligator pit of indecision. In my personal opinion, if you are with a member of the opposite sex and you have been friends with them for a while, a certain amount of sexual frission then enters the equation. Whenever you are on a date with the object of your unspoken and as yet unrequited passion and are having a grand old time having dinner or going to the movies together, you will have that nagging thought in the back of your mind: 'What would happen if I was to tell him/her what I really feel about them and how would they react?'Once again you are back on that tightrope clutching a washing pole for balance and the alligators of indecision below are linking arms and forming a barbershop quartet while singing in perfect harmony the well-known refrain of 'Come and join us if you so desire...' You are faced with only two options: that of chucking the pole aside and falling headfirst into the pit to join the aforementioned alligators as they tear you limb from limb as you idly wonder: 'Maybe I should have told him/her how I feel about them but it's too late now...' or keep a tight grip on the pole and make your precarious way over to the other side of the abyss to face either rejection or open-armed acceptance. Which leads me very neatly into the ensuing subject: Asking them out on a proper date!!

We have all been through it before. We have all been through the labourious process of girding our mental loins for the upcoming task. You have showered, put on your best aftershave/perfume, laid your finest garb out on the bed in preparation and looked into the bathroom mirror whilst uttering the mantra: 'I know he/she likes me. All I have to do is tell them how I feel about them...' over and over again. the appointed hour arrives and you turn up in your freshly polished and vacuumed car to whisk them off out for the evening. All throughout the evenings conversation, you slip in the occasional comment about how good they look and even manage the occasional tactile touch and stroke of their arm by way of illustrating a point of conversation. At the end of the evening, you are walking back to the car, still engaged in good natured conversation, you stand by his/her car and all of a sudden, the steely resolve that you have been mustering for a good hour or so before going out suddenly evaporates and becomes one with the snows of yesteryear.

The ensuing dialogue that follows I know only too well...

You: 'Well, it's been a lovely evening and I have really enjoyed myself.'
The object of your desire: 'Likewise, I've had a really nice time too...'
You: 'Before I go, there is one thing I would like to ask you, if you don't mind...'
The object of your desire: 'Yes, what is it?'
You: 'Well, its just that we have... what I mean to say is....urmmm...Ahhh...'
Object of your desire: 'Are you okay? What do you want to say?'
You: 'Well, you and me, we've been... chums... dinner... and all that sort of thing...'

You get the gist of the conversation that follows and what he/she is presented with is a once proud and sometimes handsome/pretty young man/woman reduced to a stammering, burbling human jelly that Hugh Grant could only aspire to being, plant a hasty peck on his/her cheek and rapidly scurry off in the direction of his/her car with a muttered promise of calling him/her next week. Once safely esconced in the cocoon of your car, you soundly berate yourself and bang your head against the steering wheel in an agony of futility and frustration, two bedfellows who rarely give each other satisfaction.

Harking back to the play that my boon companions and myself attended, I am sure that we are all familiar with THAT infamous scene in the restaurant where Sally shows how easily faked the female sexual crescendo can be, before heartily tucking into her sandwich that she left on her plate before. Why do women do it?(and sometimes even men....) In my personal opinion, it is all down to the fact that once us men, having brought events to a howling conclusion, can lie back and imagine themselves on the winners podium in the Sexual Olympics, clutching their gold medal and waving cheerfully at the audience. As for women, it is a different matter entirely. It is all a question of manipulation,if you'll forgive the term. What you ladies have sussed out a long time ago is that us poor, sweet males carry our brains around about 3 feet further south than you and that makes us easy targets for bending us to your will.

I suppose it all started in pre-history when an ancestor of mine;Ug the caveman, had just clubbed his bride over the head and dragged her off by her hair to his cave for a spot of marital conjugation. Not feeling in the mood, (after all, Mrs. Ug had a headache and this has been passed down since time immemorial!), she thinks to herself: "Here I am in the marital cave and Mr. Ug is banging away like an armed policeman!I want a good nights sleep so I will have to make a few noises to make him happy. "Upon making the prerequisite noises, Mr. Ug relaxes and rolls over and goes to sleep, content in the knowledge that he has made Mrs. Ug a very happy cavewoman. While Mr. Ug is snoring and farting in his sleep, Mrs. Ug lies there scheming and thinking: "Now that I have made him a happy caveman, I will just drop him a few hints that when he goes hunting tomorrow, if he spears a sabre-tooth tiger, let me have the skin as I am tired of this flea-ridden bear skin that I have been wearing for the last few years and when Mrs. Thag next door sees me trotting around in a new tiger-skin, she will be green with envy...." A modern day equivalent could be that Mr. Jones, lying in the marital bed after his nuptials, is sleeping contentedly while Mrs. Jones lies there thinking: "Tomorrow, I'll ask him: 'I think we should go down to the local electronics superstore, I have my eye on a new washing machine and if you could be a sweetie and plumb it in for me, it will get your Y-fronts cleaner in less time...." Us poor males are only too happy to oblige and are as putty in your hands.

As someone once wrote a while back: 'Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus'. This is all very true as men are supposed to be the embodiment of Ares: tall, strong, protective and not the sharpest pencil in the case, while women are the embodiment of Aphrodite: soft, yielding, protective of their young and cunning. Somewhere along the line, the only copy of the Martio-Venusian phrase book fell into a hyper-spatial vortex and was lost forever. However, we fumble along as best as we can. Remember, we are strangers by one chromosome and we are all slave to the hormone, body and soul, but don't let that stop all of us from forming an entente-cordiale.

As a parting note, Dear Reader, even though men and women can seem like alien species, I fervently hope that one day, Cupid, armed with his golden baseball bat with a breezeblock nailed to it, will leap out from behind a tree and give you a hefty whack around the head. After all, it's what makes the world go around......