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Dear Dr. P


Dr. Pranzarone

Dr. P., Can a guy and a girl be “just friends”?


If you want the hour-and-a-half argumentative answer for your question see the excellent film with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal called “When Harry Met Sally.”

Harry and Sally meet as college students and begin their life-long friendship which includes periodic renewals of their basic argument.  Sally insists that a man and a woman can indeed be just friends, whereas Harry insists that as long as one person is male and the other female there will exist always the underlying tension of a potential sexual relationship.  They fear that sex between them will ruin their friendship.  Friends can become lovers but lovers rarely then continue on as friends after the sexual relationship ends.  This is usually true, but not always.

They know each other for many years and although they pursue romantic and sexual relationships, including marriages ending in divorces, the one constant is the deep, non-sexual friendship that they refresh and maintain in-between their other relationships.  It’s obvious that they will end up together at the end of this romantic comedy, and they do.  The lesson is that they were able to maintain a friendship for many years before they decide (get this “decide”) to make it more than a friendship.  With biology being what it is, successful lovemaking begins to establish and maintain a love-bond between them.  We get a happy ending.

Almost a remake of “When Harry Met Sally” is the recent Ann Hathaway and Jim Sturgess film “One Day.”  Meeting as graduate students, they are as different and opposite as you can get (one’s a male and the other a female, you know):  rich and poor, shy and cocky, plain and fancy, unknown and famous, oil and water and destined not to mix.  But you know Hollywood and the viewer can predict what’s going to happen after they almost “do it,” don’t, but then vow to remain lifetime BFF. 

As in “When Harry Met Sally” Ann and Jim pursue other, unsuccessful relationships and over the years keep returning to each other as BFF.  It takes them twenty years to finally realize that they love each other (not “in love” with each other) and belong together as lovers.  There is no great “orgasm in the restaurant booth” by Meg Ryan (to which the response by a woman customer is “I’ll have what she’s having!”) but “One Day” is another very pleasant answer to your question of “Can a guy and girl just be friends.”

Robert J. Sternberg posits that there are three potential elements in a male-female (or male-male and female-female) relationship.  There is “Intimacy” which does not mean sexual expression, but an honest mental sharing of thoughts and emotion—talking, listening, understanding, accepting and supporting.  Second is “Passion” which does mean hot, sweaty, sexual expression (maybe not sweaty), and the third is “Commitment” which is a conscious, deliberate, contractual promise to remain loyally and faithfully bonded to the partner.  Sternberg says that many relationships exist between guys and gals that are called “Companionate” relationships wherein intimacy and commitment prevail with absent passion (no sex).

Staying “just friends” or BFF is easy when the members of the couple do not match or approximate each other’s lovemap specifications.  Everyone has a mental template or ideal concept of the perfect attractive sexuoerotic partner—the ultimate “turn-on” mate.  The lovemap specifies all of the physical, personality and social characteristics of the perfect, idealized sexual partner and life-time dream mate.  If you like short and small and your BFF is tall and large, it is easier to keep the sexual element out.  However, it will be difficult to remain BFF if your “friend” is a lovemap match or approximation, and is the subject of your conscious waking sexuoerotic fantasies and erotic dreams when asleep—especially if the attraction is reciprocal.

Friends can remain friends and that is a good thing.  Friends can also become lovers, and perhaps that is a better thing.

Companionately yours.

Dr. P