… is there sexual tension underlying our buddy-ness?

People say men and women can’t be friends.

That’s always baffled me. I’d say my friends are about a 50/50 male-to-female ratio … but it’s always the women who are my really good friends; the ones I’ll come to with my problems or just text out of the blue to ask how their life is going.

It’s never really seemed odd to have these totally platonic female friends. They just sort of fell into a different category than the girls I was currently dating or sleeping with. That’s not to say I haven’t tried the friends-with-benefits thing to varying degrees of success and then failed miserably, but more or less, we always go back to being friends.

But still … is there sexual tension underlying our buddy-ness? Does it still lurk latently, however deep in the friend zone we are?

I asked sexologist, professor and talk show host Dr. Robin Milhausen about this.

“I think that attraction is something we access immediately. We take everything in and it impacts the relationship moving forward,” she says. Translation? You are attracted to some of your platonic friends … you’re just not acting on it.

Dr. Robin errs on the side of attraction being an immediate gut decision (it’s either there or it isn’t), and the friend zone occurs when those immediate levels of attraction don’t quite sync up. “It helps when there’s a spark in the beginning rather than trying to have that friction later on,” she says.

So, you either strike when the iron is hot, or the spark fizzles out. The red velvet curtained sex window closes, and boom, you’re left with a sexless friendship. Theoretically. But if you’re like me, you may occasionally find conversation getting more than little sexual between you and your friends.

“Girls can enjoy flirting and a good connection with a friend because it’s safe. But that can go badly when the guy is more into her than she is into him,” warns Dr. Robin.

She actually sees this as a healthy and common occurrence between long-standing friends of the opposite gender. We get a little safe “practice flirting” before the real thing.

If Dr. Robin is right, then it’s true you can be “just friends” with someone you find attractive. But, if she’s wrong, then that sexual tension might still be there, and that could be like a ticking bomb — countdown to bone city.

But Dr. Robin also admits that there aren’t really a ton of great studies when it comes to the “friend zone.”

I wanted to put her theory to the test; that attraction is an immediate thing — it’s either there or it isn’t, and if you lose it, it can be a difficult thing to rekindle down the road.

So, for your education and my humiliation, I asked my female friends if they wanted to have sex when we met.

Lynn, friends for 14 years, we’ve never even made out.

“I think I just wanted to be friends. You and I were always just friends. I don’t think we friend-zoned each other, it was just the fact that we were always dating somebody else, even if one person was single. So it was also bad timing we were never single at the same time. It’s also a matter of ruining the friendship. I don’t know if we would be a good couple.”

Danielle, friends for 7 years, people always assumed we were banging. We never, ever were.

“You were immediately just locked in as a friend. When I was little, girls were always mean to me, so I always hung out with with the boys. I’m just used to having guy friends. They always talked about girls around me, so I’m super used to that. I can honestly say I’ve never crossed the line with any guy friends.”

Elizabeth, friends now, but we dated seriously for a few years in college.

“I wouldn't say friendship was my immediate motivation with you. Right away I was attracted to you. No intention of just being friends, ever. That’s just how I felt at the time. Isn’t that how it always works? You immediately want to fuck somebody. You intend for it to go in one direction and if it doesn’t and you haven’t had a relationship prior to that, there doesn’t seem much point in continuing things.”

Ally, friends for two years, friends with benefits at first, now just friends.

“Haha, oh boy. Um, well yeah I was immediately sexually attracted to you, then we became friends after fucking. Can’t put my finger on why the attraction first. But I guess it stopped because our personalities really don’t mesh all that well, at least — not more than enough to just be friends.”

Gillian, friends for five years, we’ve hooked up throughout the years.

“Yeah, I was sexually attracted to you. And I’ve got a pretty good track record for banging people I want to, so I was pretty sure we would at some point. I think it was mostly your tallness, although I also thought you were the best looking guy in the class. Now, though, I just want to be buds. Which is a shame, because you no longer dress like a fucking idiot.”

Can we agree, points for Dr. Robin? There are exceptions to every rule, but I’d say it’s a pretty safe guess that if you have that initial spark and it disappears, you’ll be finding yourself deep in the friend zone. Totally platonic from there on out. And that’s good news because it means that men and women can totally just be just friends. You just usually have to get over the gut reaction of wanting to fuck.

[originally published December 15, 2017 // cover photo rawpixel via Unsplash]