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love out loud: partner in cross-sex friendship

When Jack White and Karen Elson announced their separation a few weeks ago, they likewise announced that they would hold a party to celebrate the relationship (which I guess isn’t that dissimilar to people celebrating a life rather than mourning the end of one at a funeral, but anyway).

Having a party under these circumstances is a weird thing to do by most people’s standards, but more predictably in the wake of these particular divorce proceedings, there were calls from fans for a White/Mosshart (White’s bandmate in The Dead Weather) union. And I’m pretty sure that the logic for the two of them entering into a romantic relationship, amongst people who have never met them, goes a little like this:

Alison Mosshart is a woman. Jack White is a man. They are in a band together.

It’s pretty much the same logic that has informed speculation about Mosshart and her bandmate in The Kills, Jamie Hince, though this tapered off somewhat when a) she started singing alongside someone slightly more age appropriate, and b) Hince started dating/married a supermodel. But this “reasoning” is also pretty similar to the relentless suggestive comments we normal people are subject to when we have a close friend of the opposite/same sex, depending on our sexual orientation.

Last September, I met up with my friend, Calvin, in the US. A couple of months prior to the trip, I ran into a friend from high school and told him of my travel plans.

‘I’m meeting up with Calvin in the US in September.’
‘Oh, I always knew you two would end up together!’
‘Huh.’

It’s important to note here that Calvin and I have never been more than friends. We’ve never even done anything than people who are more than friends might do. Sure, we had intermittent crushes on one another in early high school, but this is difficult to avoid when you’re awkward, pubescent, and someone you’re not repulsed by is being nice to you. But even that hasn’t been the case for years, and yet it’s something that a lot of people (including, rather problematically, his ex-girlfriend) have apparently had trouble reconciling, probably because they’ve seen too many movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels.

Few examples exist of opposite sex friendships (I’m going to focus on heterosexuality here because of a) the ease of writing this article, b) the fact that my personal experiences are pretty much entirely centred on it, and c) it not seeming like such a contentious issue in my limited viewing of media portrayals of friendship between homosexuals) that don’t lead to a relationship, or at least a bedroom tryst. And I get it, because friendships can be a really great foundation for a relationship – it’s pretty much like getting a cheat sheet on a person – but we are so rarely presented with the view that cross-sex friendships can be really great in and of themselves.

Granted, it’s not always rosy, and Camille Chatterjee outlined research undertaken by a guy called Don, who thinks friendship between men and women faces the following challenges: defining it, dealing with sexual attraction, seeing each other as equals, facing people’s responses to the relationship and meeting in the first place. However, Chatterjee also identified that there were a bunch of benefits to cross-sex friendship, and that the idea that men and women can’t be friends is an offshoot of a time when men were at work and women were in the kitchen, so the only possible reason they’d have to meet up was to do it. Or something.

Aside from how annoying it is to tolerate/respond to/whatever comments about your platonic relationship with a person, all of this hyper-romantic nonsense also unnecessarily problematises friendships between men and women to the point where their very existence is questioned and everything gets a bit unclear.

Of course, some people do lust after their friends under the guise of, well, friendship, but to have this be the presumed motive for any interaction between a male and a female undermines just how amazing and important these relationships can be to us.

So important, in fact, that if you fail to find a photo of non-pre-school-age friends to accompany an article you wrote, you might decide to use a photo of llamas, just because your partner in cross-sex friendship thinks they’re funny. For example.

(Image credit: 1.)

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