Monday, 30 July 2012

Harry Potter and Platonic Male-Female Friendships

Over the last number of days I've been watching again the Harry Potter series. Something that really stood out for me in this re-watch was the development of the characters' friendships with each other, and in particular the strictly platonic relationship between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in the films. Both Harry and Hermione pursue romantic relationships with other characters, but never are they romantic to each other, yet their friendship is still undeniably rich and caring.

Even the added scene in the seventh film where Harry and Hermione dance is lacking in romance. It shows the two character's in state of quirky interaction at a very depressing point in the overall plot. To me it illustrated again the value of their platonic relationship.

I honestly loved watching this male-female platonic relationship develop and mature into something honest, nurturing, and yet strictly non-sexual. I enjoyed seeing it for two reasons. First, because the common misconception that such a friendship, where both individuals are sexually attracted to the opposite sex (i.e. neither of them are homosexual), is practically impossible is so prevailing. Well, I am definitely convinced that such male-female platonic relationships do exist, and this bring me to the second point why I enjoyed seeing such a relationship in these movies: it is so seldom displayed in the media, yet it reminded me so much of my own relationship with my best friend, whom happens to be of the opposite sex as well.

My best friend and I met around fifteen years ago. I have had many close friends in my life—it is just the sort of person I am; I enjoy emotionally intimate friendships. However, the friendship I share with my best friend is undeniably the deepest friendship I have ever had. We have known each other now for almost half of our lives and we have grown to trust each other practically fully and care for each other unconditionally. I do not think that there is another person that knows me as well as she does. For all practical purposes, she knows all my secrets, and all my fears. In a sense, she is the twin sister I never had. She is familiar with the most significant moments of my past, and so do I know about possibly all the significant events in hers.

I have often described our relationship in the words of C. S. Lewis: “[Erotic Love] will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” My friend and I never stand with naked bodies before each other—but we definitely stand before each other with our personalities, our minds, all baring—warts and blemishes and all. I've also described our friendship in slightly more grisly imagery: our visits are sometimes analogous to voluntarily giving up your brain for dissection, fully trusting that the surgeon has only your best interest at heart. And admittedly, it is on occasion similarly painful, but always with the hope of understanding and growth. Or as my friend put it recently: We can trust each other with our guts spilled on the table.

It is true that people have wondered about my best friend and I. Wondered if what we have are not possibly romantic or attempted to convince us that we would make a good romantic match. After all, we have shared rooms often enough, even slept on the same bed on a handful of occasions. Yet, I can honestly say that our friendship is very non-romantic and mutually completely platonic. Over the past fifteen years there had been countless occasions for romance to develop, but it never did. That is not to say that it could not have occurred, but rather that we have come to value our friendship so much, that we have both (possibly subconsciously at first, and later indeed consciously) decided that what we have as platonic friends is worth more than the risk of losing it all by complicating it with romantic feelings. In fact, our platonic friendship has often proven to be a blessing for our respective romantic relationships. We have always supported each other's individual romantic pursuits, and tried to encourage each other's love lives; when problems arose, we always try to give support and find remedies through respectful and caring conversations—always trying to help each other have great relationships with each other's respective romantic partners. (I'm using the term “romantic partner” here because neither my friend or I are married, but the term can easily be replaced with “life partner” or “spouse”.)

I was reminded again of the positive effect my friend and I have on our respective romantic relationships recently when I told my friend of possible romantic feelings I have towards someone—very much an “it's complicated” (to use Facebook terms) sort of relationship. Regardless of the complications, my friend listened carefully to my description of the person, highlighted for me the positives and acknowledged the problems, without trying to shoot holes in the possibilities. Have it not been for her support, I think I may have given up on this romantic pursuit already.

On a web page on this topic I found the following benefits to platonic male-female relationships with which I could definitely identify:

  • They endure because you trust one another and share a lot together at a spiritual, emotional and shared experiences level.
  • You aren't plagued by the intimacy of romantic love and sexual relations, with all the accompanying doubts, jealousies, complications, etc.
  • Neither of you need to perform in front of one another; you are who you are.
  • You can learn about the opposite sex from one another in a safe and uncompromising way.
  • Both of you benefit from each other's perspectives on challenges facing you in relations with other people.
  • There is always someone you can go to for genuine, fearless, and forthright advice - platonic friendships tend to have a quality that transcends the often unspoken competitive and conforming needs of same gender friendships.

The web page also gives some warnings:

There are two that I wish to highlight. First, it is important to be very open and honest with your romantic partner about the nature of your relationship with your friend. There cannot be any secrets. With this I do not mean that I need to divulge my friend's secrets to my romantic partner, but that if I speak about my romantic partner to my friend, my partner has the right to know. My partner needs also know what my friend and I do together. Not only will this put my partner's mind at ease, but it will build trust. Second, one need to continually assess your friendship and see if you are not possibly having an emotional affair; in other words, is your friendship fulfilling some emotional needs that your romantic partner ought to fulfil? If so, you have to re-establish proper boundaries (which may include distancing yourself from your friend) and make a decided effort to fix the emotional gap you and your romantic partner is experiencing.

From my personal experience and around fifteen years of being blessed by it, I can honestly say that platonic male-female friendship can work. I have frequently thanked God for the blessing I have received from this friendship and am quite convinced that this friendship has been a providential gift. I am convinced that our respective partners (past and present) have much to owe for the encouraging relationship that my best friend and I have. That doesn't mean that we are not sometimes critical of each other and our relationships. In fact, my friend and I often confront each other and challenge each other. But it is never motivated by jealousy or some other malicious intend. Rather, we look out for each other and only has each other's best interests in mind.

Having a wonderful platonic friendship with someone of the opposite sex is definitely possible and can be a great blessing.

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