Ladies, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you know that wonderful male friend who offers you a shoulder to cry on or company when you can’t get a date on a Saturday night? The one you are absolutely certain has no sexual interest in you whatsoever? That man is a liar. That man is a cheat. He is a con man guilty of friendship fraud. I know this because that man is me. And he’s every other man, too.
I’ve always fancied my female friends. At the age of ten, I fell in love with a girl called Pamela. Too shy to tell her how I felt, we stayed friends right through the hormonal onslaught of adolescence. She blossomed into a great beauty; I blossomed into a chubby blob.
We’d get drunk together and she’d put her arms around me and say the words no man wants to hear: ‘You’re like a brother to me.’ When a woman says that to a man, what she is really saying is: ‘I would never go for somebody like you in a million years.’
This whole ‘I just want to be your friend’ thing doesn’t make much sense to men. We think that if you really like a man, if you really enjoy his company, his mind, his good manners, his humour and if you’re single, why wouldn’t you want to sleep with him?
The 1989 film When Harry Met Sally first raised the question of whether men and women can ever be just friends. In the movie, Harry, played by Billy Crystal, was adamant that it wasn’t possible because the issue of sex always got in the way. Sally, played by Meg Ryan, disagreed.
This week, science has declared that Harry was right all along. In a survey by the University of Wisconsin, 88 sets of young male and female friends were asked to rate their attraction to each other in a confidential questionnaire.
It found that men — whether attached or single — were more likely to be attracted to their female friends and want to go on a date with them than the other way around.
Put simply, it means that given half a chance, most men would jump at the opportunity of having sex with their female friends. And yet, despite what these and other researchers have discovered over the past two decades, many women still believe a man can carry on a friendship with a woman, free from any thought of hanky panky.
I know sophisticated and worldly women — married and single — who will say of their male friends: ‘Oh, he never thinks of me in that way.’ How naive they are! It would be wonderful if men could be friends with a woman without ever imagining what it would be like to sleep with them. But then we wouldn’t be men.
They say that men think about sex every seven seconds. While this may be an exaggeration, we certainly think about our female friends in ways that would make them blush.
As far as guys are concerned, friendship is merely an aphrodisiac. A man can meet a woman who is not, at first glance, that attractive or his type. But as time passes and he gets to know how funny and smart and fun she is, that woman becomes very sexy indeed — and men don’t mind the long game, like I did with Pamela.
For three decades I did my duty as a loyal and devoted friend — I was the shoulder to cry on, the dispenser of tea and sympathy, hugs, advice and brotherly affection. I hid my disappointment when she gushed to me about her latest love, just as I hid my delight when it all went wrong.
I did this because what I always carried with me was hope. I clung to the belief that one day Pamela might change her mind. And that day — or, rather, that drunken night — actually happened. OK, so it took 30 years for it to occur, but one morning I woke up in bed next to my best female friend.
In films, sex between ‘just friends’ is usually shown to be awkward and the whole encounter is portrayed as an embarrassing mistake. But it wasn’t — for me.
That night was worth waiting for and while we didn’t last as a couple, our friendship survived our little fling and I still see Pamela today. With other female friends I haven’t been so lucky. When I attempted to cross the friendship line with one woman, she slapped my face. Another said I was a ‘creep’. My friend Lorraine just burst out laughing when I tried it on with her — and her reaction hurt far more than the other two. But the most disastrous encounter was with a woman I will call Emma, who I met during my university days. While I was ‘like a brother’ to her, she was like Bridget Bardot to me.
We had a 35-year friendship. I never missed a birthday or a note of congratulation when she got her degree, married her husband or gave birth to her children.
I was the perfect male friend — until her marriage broke down. Distraught at the break-up of her marriage, I did what a friend is supposed to do: I took her out to drown her sorrows. Yes, I confess that at the back of my mind was the thought that I could be in with a shot.
And then many drinks later, in the words of the old Frank and Nancy Sinatra song, I went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid — like making a lunge for her. Later, she wrote me a long letter about how I had ‘betrayed her, used her, lied to her’ and compared me to some internet creep trying to ‘groom’ her.
It seems that when a man discovers that a good female friend harbours sexual feelings for him he is flattered, but when a woman makes that discovery she feels saddened. For women, friendship is about trust. When they say they want a cuddle, they really do just want a cuddle. When a man says he wants a cuddle, he means that he will tolerate one in the hope it leads to sex.But what is a chap supposed to do? If you hide your sexual feelings you feel like a fraud — but if you are honest and open your heart you can end up being condemned.
So can the expectations and desires between men and women who are friends ever be reconciled?
Only if men realise that having sexual desire for a woman who is just your friend is fine but trying to do something about it is not. (My success with Pamela was an exception to the rule.) Lose your self-control and you can easily lose a life-long friend. And for their part, women have to accept the fact that yes, he does think that way about you — but it’s no big deal, or it shouldn’t be.
The best thing is if you can both be honest with each other, laugh it off and leave it behind. After all, what are friends for?