Last night Polaris and I met up. We are debating that age old question: when can ex-partners become good friends? (please sing to Neighbours theme tune)
If you can still hear me over the deafening roar of everyone saying it’s a terrible idea, I’ll begin. [I talk about male/female relationships throughout but obviously the same issues could apply to friendships between gay couples – I just can’t keep typing “member of the gender(s) to which you are attracted”.]
Harry and Sally posed the question: can men and women be friends? That movie ends in the two getting married, but it would have been as happy an ending if they had decided to repair their friendship instead. The film captures the essential issue – such relationships can be confusing and if you want to be friends (or something else) you have to confront and resolve those issues, or you’ll end up alone on New Year’s Eve.
I know men and women can be friends and I have some great male friends where there is some history of ‘more than friends’ before or during friendship. There were difficult moments, the odd awkward pass and blurred lines, but I would not give up those friendships for all that. They have an extra depth and dimension that makes the effort worthwhile.
Of course, friendship between any two people can be straight-forward and platonic but it gets complicated in combination with other feelings:
- Friendship & physical attraction: Can happily co-exist. You can find a friend attractive and have no desire to act on it. Can cause confusion: why don’t I want to be with this gorgeous person who I get on with so well? If it’s the only other feeling, there is no need and no point acting on it.
- Friendship & sexual desire: Call me crazy, but I think it’s possible to have sex with a friend and maintain a platonic vibe, but only if there are no other feelings involved and both parties feel the same. On its own sexual desire is an opportunity but a danger zone land-mined with resentment and disappointment and lost confidants.
- Friendship & romantic feeling: Tricky, tricky, tricky. Certainly has to be resolved for good friendship to emerge. Where this is unrequited, unhappiness seems likely.
- Friendship & love: I love my friends – love is part of great friendship. Add in romantic feeling or sexual desire, and you have to make a choice between good friendship or something more.
- Friendship & all of the above: The foundation for perfect love, or a totally fucked up situation.
Back to last night: we decided to perform a play for the elucidation and entertainment of all interested parties. I present to you: The Pursuit of Friendship (A comic tragedy in 4 parts)
STAGE ONE: THEY ESTABLISH WHETHER THE POSSIBILITY FOR FRIENDSHIP EXISTS
Polaris’s apartment. It’s a wonderful night – bathed in the soft orange glow of this familiar locale. Enjoy a montage as the players talk for hours, watch a movie, and make each other laugh. Observe how comfortable they are. Marvel at their rapport. They stay up until 3am and our hapless heroine stays over, fuzzy with wine.
You heard in the prologue that the pair have recently had a difficult break up but this is hard to believe as you regard the warmth between them.
STAGE TWO: THEY ARE IN DENIAL
Our heroine awakes, concerned they are engaging for unhealthy reasons, despite all the bonhomie. She turns from one side to the other, like a damsel in a silent movie. Maybe they are not letting go when we should. Maybe they are acting out of habit. Maybe Polaris is just humouring her and is twirling his moustache with dastardly plans in mind to throw her under the train.
Her to him: how are you feeling about everything?
There follows a pleasant discussion, where our players assure each other that they don’t want to be in a relationship anymore but they want to stay friends. They conclude that everything is fine and there are no conflicts about which they should be concerned.
This is all bullshit.
STAGE THREE: I SAID THEY ARE IN FUCKING DENIAL
In a devastating twist, after stating his desire to be on his own and free of the complications of relationships, it is revealed to our audience that Polaris has started fooling around with a friend of his. Our heroine has known this for a while but the story required a climax before the interval.
The openness between the two about such matters is a precious and rare thing, and a total headfuck. Although he is free to make his own choices, she is angry about the additional layer of emotional shite that is now pebble-dashed across the existing mess they were trying to resolve. She is hurt by his actions and feels he is being glib about the situation.
Behold as the mood changes in dramatic fashion: only moments after you watched the players agree that all is good with the world and you suspected that they might be the coolest and most actualised people in existence, you will be stunned to see her temper flash across the kitchen vinyl. Polaris responds as he always does – missile launch!
For the next hour, piece after piece of relationship detritus is thrown at our heroine and you start to think this play could have done with some heavy editing. He argues that black is white and up is down. He takes every good thing between them and demands re-writes. These fairy stories may only be fairy stories but the monsters are no less mean.
Her to him: I have spent the last year talking you off ledges. Friendship can’t be the same – I shouldn’t have to remind a friend that they like me. You can’t make it this hard to care about you.
BLACKOUT (we all need a break)
STAGE FOUR: THEY STOP PRETENDING
Spotlight on our players (who have changed for some reason into those floaty leotard outfits that lyrical dancers wear). They face each other, moving in slow motion, wrestling at arms-length, clasping hands. It’s unclear whether they are trying to push the other away, or pull each other close. A melody of overwhelming sadness and emotional release washes over the moment. Something is changing.
Her to him: Say you want me to go and I’ll go. If you can’t admit that you want me to stay, that we always want to stay, you never have to see me again.
Him to her: …
Everything is said in what could not be said. Finally our players are players no more. The curtain starts to fall as they move into deep discussion, no longer at odds. We want to hear what they are saying. We want to know how this ends but this is one of those annoying plays where the audience are given no resolution. You are left to make your own decision about how it will end.
I can’t go into detail because, as Polaris would say, by the end we both felt ridden hard and put away wet. We finally had the conversation that we should have had that morning, or when we split up, or months ago even. Instead of alternative facts and cruelty as kindness, we accepted wholly the existence of “all of the above” between us, and that despite that, a relationship just can’t work. We know why that is. I hope as friends we can help each other with the why. But if not, I’m glad we both stopped hiding from the truth. We acknowledged the real difficulties that we’ll face being friends and how much we want it to work.
We made a pact to avoid all deep and meaningful relationship discussion for a while. I don’t know if two people who feel the way we do can be just friends. I only that we want to be.
We have been stripped down to the bare wood, but the grain is beautiful.