The Wednesday Weigh-In: When you want to bone your friends

It’s been far too long since we’ve discussed sex in the Wednesday Weigh-In. Over the Good Men Project, Hugo Schwyzer challenges the conventional wisdom that you can’t be friends with someone to whom you’re sexually attracted.

In part, he blames the assumption that desire makes platonic friendship impossible on the myth of uncontrollable male desire: “One of our great myths about men is that lust invariably cancels out empathy.” He also notes that many of us–men and women–are taught to “mythologize sexual desire” and “sexualize emotional intimacy.”

Those last two points really ring true for me. As someone who has been attracted to many friends and has often acted on that–to different degrees, with varying levels of damaging fallout, and conflicted feelings in retrospect–those are definitely things that I’ve done. Desire can sure feel irresistible and different shades of attraction/affection/love are easy to confuse with lust.

What about you? Have you maintained purely platonic friendships with people who were attracted to? How did you manage it? Or did you act on your desire, and if so how’d that go for you?

Leave your stories–and wisdom–in the comments section.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Rachel

    I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I have two friends I’ve slept with more than once without it ever becoming a problem. Both are friends who I love dearly and find very attractive, but it’s so obvious to both of us we wouldn’t work in a relationship that we’ve never even had to have a conversation about it.

    On the not-acting-on-it side, I have a few friends who I’m attracted to but are in relationships, and it’s not a problem. One of them is married to someone who is also a dear friend of mine, and the funny thing about it is, even though he is EXACTLY 1000% my type, I never feel even the slightest hint of attraction to him unless we’re in a crowded bar or something and I catch him out of the corner of my eye. Then it’s just a ‘oh who’s the hottie? Oh nevermind, just Joe’ kind of moment. It kind of makes me happy that no part of my brain wants to mess with their awesome relationship, no matter how attractive I find him.

  • wonderwall

    especially now, as a married lady, I would say its definitely possible to be attracted to someone and still be friends. There are multiple people who, if I were single, I would definitely pursue. But being in a monogamous relationship, I don’t and we maintain the same friendship. Simple, yes?
    But I will say that I have run into issues. I have a friend who told me that if he knew I was dating when we first met that he would not have continued to talk to me. Bummer, right!? I’ve also met quite a few quys who, when I dropped the ‘boyfriend’ word, were suddenly not interested in talking to me anymore. So I don’t think its a truth that men and women can’t be friends with lust between them…but I will say I don’t think it works that easily or smoothly. It does create a barrier.

    • SFLCircle

      I agree. I’ve definitely been friends with boyfriends after we’ve broken up but it’s not always easy. It’s something that both people have to be willing to work for. Like it has happened where the ex-boyfriend has been willing to give friendship a chance but I haven’t because I still had too strong feelings there for him, and vice versa. So both parties have to be in the same place emotionally I think.

      Also, my boyfriend now and I started off as really good friends, but he was really sexually attracted to me. However it never got in the way of our friendship. We were both dating other people and it was just one of those things. No big deal really. Then once I started to realize I was attracted to him too (and we were both available) we decided to try and move things to the next level and it’s been great ever since.

      • fyoumudflaps

        OMG, panda :)

  • tylik

    I generally haven’t found it hard to put sexual attraction to friends to the side – the friends part is the most important. If the attraction is returned, and the situation allows, hey, cool, let’s jump into bed, otherwise, eh. In fact, a lot of my most stable relationships that involved sex were more intimate friends I slept with than romantic relationships as such – I think most people’s ideas of romantic relationships often don’t work particularly well for me.

    (Since that’s a lot to leave hanging, what I tend to find is that most people want to spend a lot of time watching television and holding hands, or similar activities that don’t much interest me, as opposed to learning new and interesting things, doing projects and having adventures together. Throw in that I’m highly allergic to people acting posssessive – this isn’t about sexual fidelity – or expecting me to take care of them in ways not negotiated… meh.)

  • Jason

    Speaking as a het male I have to say being friends with the opposite sex – especially when there is sexual attraction is extremely difficult. Why not “mess around” and see what happens?

    What I’m *really* curious to hear about is same-sex friendships between homosexual folks. Removing the male/female component from it I’m curious to know if underlying gender has anything to do with it.

  • jayn

    As the luster, I would say to pick a course of action and stick to it. My freshman year of college I had a couple male friends I was interested in, and who were interested back. Problem was, both of them were already dating other girls. While I did fool around a little with each, I believe too strongly in monogamy to feel right getting in too deep, so I backed off and told them to do the same (I nearly freaked out at one of them for grabbing my ass–he didn’t try anything after that). We stayed friends through college, and I still talk to one of them.

    As the object of affection, I would say to express your affection if you wish, but be ready to back off if the other person isn’t interested the same way (and don’t keep your hopes up). I have a number of male friends who were attracted to me earlier in our friendships–one I was actually avoiding at one point, because he kept hitting on me–who I like well enough as friends, but simply have never been attracted to. While it can be offputting to keep after someone who’s already said no, just expressing your interest once will not kill a relationship.

    On a final note, my husband and I were platonic for a while before we finally hooked up. The interest was mutual, but I was “dating” (meaning we hadn’t called it off, but weren’t doing anything) someone else at the time, so I told him to back off and he did. A while after my boyfriend officially broke up with me, he asked me out properly, I said yes, and you can kind of fill in the rest.

  • Cheyfaun Bryant

    The first time I had a ‘thing’ with a woman, it was with my best friend. To make a long, stupid, painful story short, the entire thing crashed and burned like a bomb going off in an action movie. That was the first time I ever made a real move on a good friend and I will probably never do it again because now me and my ‘best friend’ are no longer speaking. Most of this has to do with a lot of insecurities and issues that she has, but it also has a great deal to do with the huge mistake I made of initiating the situation in the first place. I try very hard to maintain platonic friendships with the queer women I know, especially because overlapping can take place so easily. I learned the hard way that it’s a bad idea to get romantically involved with a friend, and it’ll never happen again.

  • Iris

    I can’t claim to know the male mind (or even that of most women), but my empirical experience tells me that it’s absolutely possible to be friends with someone you’re attracted to.

    Last I checked, I have a fair amount of friends that I’m attracted to, perhaps one-sidedly, and others that are most certainly mutual, to varying degrees of intensity. I also have male friends I’ve been in sexual relationships with that I remain great friends with.

    I think a great deal of factors go into making these situations problematic. One of my issues is that I react intensely to mutual attraction – my childhood “unmet needs” go into high gear and I end up feeling more than I think I would if I were a fully emotionally healthy person. So that’s misdirected desire and it can be dangerous when you’re already in a monogamous relationship.

    I think it can also be problematic if you haven’t decided that it’s alright to be attracted to more than one person at once, or to someone you’d like to be or are friends with. Acceptance of that helps a great deal.

    The way I feel about my male (and female) friends that I’m attracted to is that the attraction itself is a form of satisfaction. I only occasionally find it distracting – usually when I’m drunk – but by and large I find it enjoyable to be able to admire someone’s features, to be able to be affectionate with them verbally or physically, and to be comfortable enough to bring it up (“shut up, you’re hot!”) without it becoming an issue.

    Honestly I value these relationships intensely – I think it’s a beautiful thing to share both friendly love and sexual desire – the world is a beautiful place full of delicious things. If we are emotionally healthy and remain honest with one another, I think we can all make it through these situations and see them as a blessing.


  • Conor

    It’s certainly a challenge to completely preclude any chance for a sexual encounter with someone you’re attracted to. I’ve refrained from doing so at times because I don’t want the other person to feel attached or disrespected if a relationship doesn’t spawn from the hookup.

    Suffice it to say, sometimes the best thing is to verbally/mentally put the person in the friend zone (perhaps not directly). Once they’re in that frame of mind it’s often difficult to view them differently for me.

  • Marlene

    I’m not sure there is such a clear line between platonic and romantic relationships. I have relationships that have never involved sex that otherwise look like romances. I have sexual relationships that are casual buddy situations. I am inevitably attracted to my friends. I don’t see any of this as a problem and I think as long as everyone involved is a grownup with the ability to communicate clearly, this all works just fine.

  • Isabel

    Reading the Schwyzer article, this is the part that jumped out at me the most.

    There have been a few times in my life when I have developed feelings (lust, crush, whatever you want to call it) for friends. In most cases it has happened when we started developing a closer personal relationship–becoming friends instead of acquaintances/classmates/coworkers. This may be just the way I’m wired, but I think it is this increased emotional intimacy that gets my engine racing.

    I’m thinking of one case in particular. My sophomore year of college I started hanging out with this guy who kind of ran in the same circles as me, but we had never been good friends. As our friendship grew I began to develop a major crush, but he had a long-distance girlfriend so I never acted on it. Eventually my feelings faded even as we grew closer, and now he is among my closest friends. Emotional intimacy is powerful.

  • nazza

    I have had a variety of experiences. For a while I regularly slept with two friends, both men, who were in an open relationship. Jealousy on the part of one of them became constant, which is when I stopped being intimate with both. Some months later they broke up. I regularly slept with a woman I befriended while a fellow patient in a hospital. This is usually a cardinal no-no but I took a risk. She had been tragically abused in childhood the way I had so she never could be anyone’s girlfriend. I have other stories along these lines. Men could, in my experience, more comfortably have sex outside of a relationship or the expectation of an eventual relationship.

  • Mary

    This has definitely been an issue for me. Especially when I meet someone new and we make a genuine connection, the excitement of that “new friend feeling” can sometimes be hard to separate from attraction. There have been numerous occasions on which I only realised I didn’t like them “that way” far too late. Once the sex is had, it cannot be unhad, and often taking a step backwards brings the friendship to a screeching halt, or at least turns the sex into the elephant in the room.

    My worst instance of this: I was in a long-distance relationship where I hardly ever got to see my guy, and I developed a crush on a co-worker. We were living the life of contract workers in a hotel far from home (or what some people might consider “real life”), and I really enjoyed his company. He was smart and funny and great to talk to, and we enjoyed doing a lot of the same things.

    I was happy to have a silent crush for as long as it lasted, because I knew if I said anything to him, it would become the kind of thing I did not want to deal with. But then I made the mistake of confiding my crush to another friends and fellow coworker, and of course it got back to him, and things escalated. I have a history of poor impulse control; what can I say? Within a couple of months, the job ended and we were heading home in the same direction, so we decided to roadtrip home together.

    Before I knew it, we were planning our next job together, and by the time we started on it and were sharing a hotel room to save on expenses, that initial excitement and infatuation had completely evaporated for me, and there I was, stuck in a hotel room with this guy for as long as the job lasted, and not a friend in the world for miles. Bleh.

    The hell of it is that, if I had just ignored the feeling, we probably would have ended up being great, life-long friends. Now, we barely speak, and I sort of cringe internally whenever I do hear from him. The lesson, I suppose, is that it’s better to take things slowly, because if the feeling is real, it will still be there later, and it’s a lot less awkward to change “no” to “yes” than “yes” to “no”.

    This was not the first nor the last time something like this happened in my life, unfortunately, but hopefully now that I am smart enough to recognise the pattern, I can prevent it from happening again. Hopefully that will result in my accumulating a lot more awesome friends and fewer awkward exes.

  • Key

    Right now I’m sexually attracted to a guy friend of mine, and to a female friend. With the guy; I’m not going to act on it because I just left a long-term relationship, and I know I can’t handle anything physical right now. We’re still good friends, even though we are both attracted to each other. Basically we both talked about this and agreed to just remain friends and not do anything. It’s worked out great, because I don’t feel any pressure to be physical, and I’m happier knowing I have the option and no pressure attached to it.
    The girl I am attracted to has told me she only sees me as a friend but is very flattered I want her. Everything worked out better than expected for me.

  • Cat

    I don’t think sexual attraction between friends is really that big of an issue. I think the big issue is when someone uses the friendship as a form of pressure, or fakes being a friend to get closer to someone for sex.

  • beckeck

    I have a very good friend right now that I have long had a crush on. It’s been about three years that I’ve known him, and for the most part, the way I feel about him hasn’t changed. The intensity of the crush ebbs and flows, and after three years of being great friends, I know that we wouldn’t work as a couple (he’s way too politically apathetic for me!) but he is still just about the cutest, most endearing, sexy-hot guys I know, and is a lovely person. AND I’ve declared my love-crush on him several times. The first couple of times it was pretty much bad timing since I was pretty involved with one of his best friends (it was messy, and my fault), and then the second time he was involved with someone else, etc etc, so it was mutual as far as I can tell, but bad timing. The most recent time, timing was great! but he said he was just thinking of us as friends. Which, as much as I would love to be romantic with him, I am *so* grateful for our friendship, and since I know it would never really work out, it’s probably best that we keep it simple.

    Other than that, I pretty much only tend to feel romantic attraction to men after being friends, so crushes on friends is inevitably how romance develops for me. And sure, it can be messy. I’ve hurt people and I’ve been hurt. But I so much appreciate all of those experiences. And while I’ve had plenty of rough patches with many of my exes, for the most part, with lots of time and lots of care from both sides, we worked it out, and came back to being some form of good friends.

    With women, since I’m still very much coming into my queerness, I feel like it’s much harder for me to transition from friends to romantic partners, and I have to be very intentional from jump about supporting my sexual and romantic attractions to women. I’m still figuring it all out. Oh! but also actually I did have a HUGE crush on my professor all throughout college and that never really dimmed even after we became close. I still went into a tizzy of twitterpation whenever she said anything remotely nice about me. In fact, just thinking about her now makes me feel all giddy…. God do I love her.

  • fyoumudflaps

    That trope definitely gets old. I’m a cishet college guy and all of my friends are women.

  • Allison

    As a hetero female..

    I’ve had lots and lots of dude friends, and still do. I feel like it’s much more rare that I’ve had a 100% platonic friendship where neither of us felt any attraction to the other. And I valued those friendships in a different way, they can be refreshing when your other friendships are filled with sexual tension and unfulfilled longing. But I haven’t found that having varying levels of attraction to each other (and varying levels of acting on said attraction) has ever really negatively affected me, my friendships, or the other people involved.

  • Rose

    To sum up my experiences:
    I’m bi and my female best friend was bi too. She had a thing for me since high school, 10 years later she was the maid of honor at my wedding and I found out that she had been saying shit to my then fiance to try to get him to think I was cheating on him. We don’t believe that she was interested in him but she frequently would tell me that she would “do me” if my then boyfriend and I ever broke up.

    My other close friend, who introduced me to my husband, is very curvy like me. She was dumped and heartbroken and knew that my husband thought she was attractive (we both told her we found her attractive 1-because it was true and 2- to make her feel better because she was down after her break-up). The second that I became engaged she started acting really mean towards me, on and off, and she also (before my best friend) tried to fuck with my fiance’s head when we were having a few issues during our engagement. Oh what joy! I no longer have any REALLY CLOSE friends after these two.

    I’ve also had male friends who would ditch me the second they found someone else to date either because I was the wrong gender, not their type, or was unwilling to break up with my then b/f now husband.

    I can definitely be friends with someone I think is pretty/cute/hot/attractive but NOT friends with anyone who I think is attracted to me or my husband (and obviously not vice versa) after the experiences I’ve had. As far as best friends, that’s my husband, brothers, and family – period!

  • Ellie

    Some of my closest friends are people who were once attracted to me, then became my friends. So I know it’s possible to go from attraction to friendship without any hiccups. However, my only real experience with being attracted to my friend ended terribly. I think the issue was that I was half in love with him, and when he suggested, after we’d been friends for a couple years, that we become friends with benefits, I thought it sounded better than nothing. He turned out to be a terrible, inconsiderate lover (I once suggested that he help me reach orgasm after he climaxed 30 seconds into an encounter, to which he just looked baffled), and all of the nice things that he used to do for me, like walk me to the bus at night or help me with projects, completely stopped once we started having sex. It made me wonder if we were ever really friends, if he’d ever really respected me as a person, or if the whole time that I thought we were close, he was just waiting until I’d get desperate enough to have sex with him without asking for any emotional fulfillment in return. We don’t even speak anymore.

    The lesson I took from this is that if you want a relationship with someone and they ask you to be their friend with benefits, it’s not gonna work out. Yeah, it seems obvious now.

  • Brian

    Thanks for this post, and thanks everyone for their comments! This is a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, that’s really personal to me so it’s awesome to see all these other smart peoples’ thoughts on it. Admittedly though I’m also a little disappointed that I don’t think I see anything that quite resonates with my experiences.

    For me sex is a very empathetic act, and my caring about the person I’m with is necessary. “Casual” hookups have always left me feeling a bit… hollow, or even a little sick. More importantly though for me I think sex is a part of ‘friendly’ intimacy rather than ‘romantic’ intimacy. Really I’d like to sleep with about half my friends; really everyone who I find attractive, is available (I don’t cheat), and my friend.

    It’s not something I understand how to deal with yet (I’m still rather young ^^;), and it’s caused me a fair amount of pain, having what I guess is just a different conception of sex than other people? I’ve lost friends who like Schwyzer suggests wouldn’t believe I could be attracted with them and care about them, and lost friends who WERE attracted to me, but romantically, and been dumped by people who I trusted and told but didn’t believe I would never cheat, etc. At this point really all my CLOSE friends are in long term relationships and/or gay because they’re the ones who feel safe around me, I guess?

    Anyways sorry for making that so long, I just wanted to share ^^;

    <3 feministing