Sunday Express feature - Can men and women ever be just good friends?

Jimmy says...
“I’ve never told anyone this before, but many of the decisions that have defined my life have been made because I had a crush. Why did I take A-level politics? Because I fancied Rebecca Vasiliou and she was taking it.
Why didn’t I let the lad who supported the same football team as me move into my flat? Because I fancied the girl who viewed it after him, even though she didn’t like football.
Why did I take home a depressed, arthritic, bulimic cat from the rescue centre? Yep – because I fancied the cat-loving receptionist at work and thought it would impress her. It probably serves me right that she ended up weeing on my bed. The cat, not the receptionist. She never got anywhere near my bed.
None of these women knew it, but the reason I became their friend wasn’t because they were nice or funny, but because deep down I wanted to share a packet of Love Hearts with them. I honestly can’t remember ever going out of my way to develop and sustain a friendship with a girl – outside of friendship groups – unless there has been some kind of attraction. And neither have any of the male friends I asked.
There’s always an agenda. It sounds shallow – but that’s how we men think. To prove it, I conducted a scientifically watertight poll of my male Twitter followers, asking them if they were more likely to develop friendships with women they found attractive. Eleven replied. All said yes. That’s 100 per cent, so I’m speaking for my gender – or at least 11 of them.
Plus newsreader Jon Snow, who recently admitted to thinking about sex every time he meets a woman. I know, I didn’t want those mental images in my head, either. Which is probably how most of my female friends feel reading this. The fact I may have had an agenda when I met them doesn’t mean all I’m thinking about when we’re together is sex – and in time, attraction fades a little.
Still, if they suggested a bit of lights-out Pilates, I wouldn’t say no. And the impact on our friendship would be the last thing I’d be worrying about. I think for men, sex and attraction will always trump friendship. After reading all this, you might be wondering whether the only reason I wrote a book with Laura is because I wanted to, you know... No.
Laura and I were on the same course at uni. I got to know her as part of a friendship group. For once, there was no agenda. Who knows what my motives might have been if I’d met her under different circumstances – if it had been just the two of us?
The fact men always have an agenda means friendships often don’t last once the possibility of sleeping with someone is no longer there. Like when I told Rebecca Vasiliou I loved her. In a text message. We haven’t spoken since her polite reply saying she had never thought of me that way. Of course, there are cases where women have ulterior motives.
Like in When Harry Met Sally. In these cases, there are only two ways it can go: they can drift apart, it all being too painful, or they can be like Harry and Sally and live happily ever after. That’s why there are so many TV shows and films about this subject: because the simple truth is that, unless they’re part of a bigger group, men and women can’t be ‘just friends’.
“A wise man once posed the question: ‘How can you simply be friends with someone when every time you look at them, you’re thinking about how much more you really want?’ Oh no, hang on. It wasn’t a wise man. It was Dawson Leery, in an episode of Dawson’s Creek. Angsty, over-analytical whiner that he was.
Of course, men and women can be just good friends without sex getting in the way – whether it’s doing it or just thinking about doing it.I understand why strangers ask if there’s anything between me and Jimmy. While our relationship is pretty unambiguous to anyone who knows us, people who have only heard of us because we’ve written a love story about two best friends naturally wonder if it’s autobiographical. It’s not.
Jimmy and I met at university and remain part of the same friendship group that formed there. We got on, so we became friends. There was no agenda or conscious decision behind it. As with romantic relationships, I don’t have an actual checklist when it comes to making friends, yet they all have certain traits in common: they’re funny, loyal, kind and fun.
It’s not like I have a ‘type’, though – they have plenty of differences. There are non-drinkers and there are those who habitually lie to the doctor about their weekly intake of alcohol. Some listen to house music, some prefer Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. Most of them don’t have a penis, but many of them do. Why is that the thing that makes the friendship doomed to fail?
I love them all, but I don’t plan on sleeping with any of them. It’s easy to see why there’s scepticism. There are plenty of cultural reference points to back up the argument that it’s either all or nothing. Harry and Sally ended up together. In Friends, Ross and Rachel were ‘lobsters’ for life. In This Life, Anna and Miles hated each other because they loved each other.
But this is the real world, and I refuse to believe we’re so primal that we can’t get close to the opposite sex without accidentally sleeping with each other. Or at least without one of us trying to. Don’t get me wrong: it’s lovely when there’s a crossover – my best romantic relationships have been with friends. No matter how much I fancy a guy, it’s not going anywhere unless we also have a laugh, so my subconscious checklist for a relationship must be similar to that for a friend.
Ultimately, I want to marry a man who becomes my best friend – but that doesn’t mean I want to marry my man friends. That said, sometimes a male/female friendship is destined for failure. Often, one will have feelings for the other, and in those instances it is hard to be just mates. Unrequited love is no fun for anyone. In fact, it can be positively masochistic when it’s you they confide in.
You find yourself sitting in a coffee shop, offering relationship advice to the person you’re in love with so they can successfully impress someone that isn’t you. If that’s your friendship, get out of there. Friends – whether they’re the same or opposite sex – should be a positive force in your life. But if it’s a friendship that brings you happiness, fun, support, or any of the other values you look for in a buddy then don’t overanalyse yourself out of it.
They might not be someone you want to sleep with, but when friendship happens organically, and without agenda, then it’s probably because it’s someone who belongs in your life.”

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