I’ve never had a platonic relationship with a man – sex can’t help but get in the way

‘The men in my life might be shoulders to cry on – and me for them – but invariably they’ve all been romantic at one point or another’: Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (Shutterstock)
‘The men in my life might be shoulders to cry on – and me for them – but invariably they’ve all been romantic at one point or another’: Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (Shutterstock)

I’ve never been able to pull off a platonic relationship – one of those super deep connections with somebody of the opposite sex where nothing sexual ever happens. Or where I don’t secretly want something sexual to happen. I feel like I’m alone in this, and I envy my friends who are able to make them work free of the added complication of sex. Why, though, is it such a taboo? Why don’t we just marry the people we love, cherish and spend most of our time with?

It’s something I’ve been mulling over since watching a new comedy series beginning on Apple TV+ this week. Platonic stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as best friends who reconnect after a five-year rift. In no time, their relationship is back on track, despite the fact that Sylvia (Byrne) is now a married mum of three. Their dynamic quickly becomes all-consuming. When the just-divorced Will (Rogen) invites Sylvia to the launch of his trendy brew pub, she turns up dressed like it’s a date. They begin to act like teenagers again – getting drunk, talking about their sex lives and giving each other intimate advice. They wander the streets late at night, as if they’re in When Harry Met Sally. Sound familiar? I’ve been there many times.

Sylvia and Will aren’t sexual with each other, but you can’t help but wonder when it might shift in that direction. Sylvia texts him while her husband Charlie (Luke Macfarlane) is asleep in bed next to her, while Will turns up at her front door asking if she wants to grab oysters with him, or see a film, or head to the beach. When Will gets a younger and totally inappropriate girlfriend, she finds it “weird” that he spends so much time with Sylvia, and I can’t help but see her point. Charlie also starts to feel excluded from the fun of his wife and Will’s relationship. “I know that Will and Sylvia are not f***ing,” he says. “But it almost feels like they’re getting off on the fact that they could be f***ing.”

Is it really possible to have a platonic relationship with somebody you get on with like a house on fire, while also sharing an intense chemistry and shared attraction? I don’t think so. For me, these types of relationships always end up sexual, whether it’s through a drunken one-nighter or a moment of clarity that we’re meant to be together. I do have platonic friendships with men – but they’re with ex-boyfriends with whom I remain on good terms. And even then, rekindling the affair is always an option. It seems that no matter how hard I try to create clear boundaries, something always ends up happening. Am I alone in having fantasies about marrying all my best mates?

Last week, my best friend Simon came over for supper after a year’s absence, catching me up with all of his recent dating horror stories. We watched football, ate our favourite poke bowl, and drank elderflower bubbly. Then he left. I secretly thought to myself: “Shouldn’t we really be together?” Both of us are single, but with platonic relationships, that shouldn’t be relevant… right?

It’s always been the same with Simon. We met 20 years ago when we were both in our twenties. There was an instant connection. We became inseparable; we’d meet for breakfast at a cafe but end up spending all day together. It was often like we were on an extended, loved-up date, giggling and eating popcorn at the cinema until late at night. He was also my style guru – the one I dragged around clothes shops while I tried on jeans, who I’d ask whether they made my bum look big. I phoned and texted him all day – even when I fell in love with his unavailable best friend, Alex, whom he’d warned me against.

One night in Oxford, when we stayed at my brother’s house, Simon and I slept on a blow-up mattress on the floor with a real log fire burning in the corner, and we made out. We were both a bit sheepish the next day and laughed it off. He was my friend; we didn’t want to ruin anything. Plus, sex takes things to a whole new level.

I know these thoughts tend to be dangerous, so why am I always on the edge of my seat wondering if my platonic relationships with men might turn into the biggest romances of my life?

I finally ended up with Alex – the love of my life. Fifteen years later, after Alex took his own life while we were in the middle of doing IVF, Simon swooped in to the rescue. He was the one who accompanied me to Russia for what felt less like a visit to an IVF clinic than a romantic getaway. As we wandered around museums, smelt the Baltic Sea, and split intriguing Russian dishes, I lost sight of why I was even there: I was getting impregnated using Alex’s sperm.

Sound complicated? It certainly was. Simon and I shared a bed in the hotel – we didn’t consider sleeping in separate rooms. I realised that if I moved an inch closer to Simon that night and reached out for his hand, it was highly likely that my move would be reciprocated, and I would not have had the procedure in the morning – which resulted in my now four-year-old daughter being born. To start a sexual relationship while on the cusp of getting pregnant with another man’s child is not a good idea. My mission was to have a sibling for my daughter Lola, then aged one, not make love to an old friend who is constantly breaking up with women because he doesn’t want kids.

The men in my life might be shoulders to cry on – and me for them – but invariably they’ve all been romantic at one point or another. One of my ex-boyfriends might have broken my heart when I was 22, but now he’s on my speed dial and my greatest support. Other close male friends get married and it becomes harder to hang out with them in the same way – it tends to upset their wives. I remember visiting a friend in New York and we hit it off so intensely that we fell about laughing on the sofa for hours. Later on, I could tell from the look on his wife’s face that I wouldn’t be welcome back any time soon.

My handsome single dad friend is such a massive part of my life that we may as well be married. I often wonder if it’s a match made in heaven, but I’ve never tried to make anything happen. Once, when he asked me to book us a holiday cottage for half term on his credit card, I did have a panic, thinking: “S***, should I wax my legs?” But it was only fleeting. I value his close friendship – our kids are best friends, too – far too much to ever risk destroying it.

Just friends: Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in ‘Platonic’ (Apple TV+)
Just friends: Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen in ‘Platonic’ (Apple TV+)

I know that these thoughts – whether short-lived or serious – tend to be dangerous, and I also know that it’s often so exciting being caught up in the whirlwind of not having sex that it’s a shame when it does happen. So why, then, am I always on the edge of my seat wondering if my platonic relationships with men might turn into the biggest romances of my life? I understand that we need these kinds of friendships, but they’re tricky for me – if I’m in love with my friend and want to see them 24/7, I can’t resist temptation.

So, for the time being at least, I’m on a bit of a hiatus from my apparently platonic mates. It’s difficult, anyway, to hang out all day with my male BFFs as a working single mum. Instead, they’ve been replaced by mum friends at the school gates. It’s nearly as fun – and at least there’s no chance of complications.

‘Platonic’ is streaming on Apple TV+