Sexualized Saturdays: Men and Women Can Never Be Friends—And Neither Can Anyone Else

What I’m saying is—and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form—is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

—Harry (When Harry Met Sally)

These iconic words from the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally seem to be something that both the media and the fandom have taken to heart—and not just with heterosexual relationships.

It is a sad fact that in the media men and women are rarely just friends. There is usually some sort of attraction, sexual tension, or sexual relationship. This happens all the time: when two characters in a TV show meet for the first time, and one’s male and one’s female, it doesn’t take much to figure out that they will most likely end up in a relationship at some point in the show.

The same thing happens with homosexual couples. First, let me clarify that this usually only happens with shows that aren’t considered a “gay and lesbian TV show” (aka a show that would be on LOGO and comprised entirely of gay characters).

On a show like Glee that has some gay characters, but where most are still heterosexual, you can pretty much guarantee that any other gay character that shows up is going to end up dating the only other gay character (such as Glee‘s Kurt and Blaine). Even if another gay character is introduced (i.e. Sebastian) they are usually only there to cause romantic strife between the main gay couple.

Very rarely is there a show where there is a close male/female friendship, or two gay or lesbian characters that are just friends, but not interested in dating each other.

I see this as being no different than the racist practice of only pairing up characters of the same ethnicity. In a recent episode of South Park, “Cartman Finds Love,” Cartman tries to hook up Token, the only black boy on the show, with the new girl, who is the only black girl on the show, simply because he thinks they were meant to be together because they are both black. This same scenario could play out with gay characters. The only gay character on the show meets the only other gay character so “they must be in love,” simply because, well, they’re both gay. The same thing happens with heterosexual characters. A straight boy meets a straight girl; there is very little chance that they will just be friends, because, well, they are both heterosexual so obviously they are going to hook up.

Today’s media isn’t the only guilty party when it comes to the relationship vs. friendship problem. The fandom is just as guilty with how they ship certain pairings.

Fiyero3305 explained to me one day that he didn’t enjoy most Wicked fanfiction because the fandom often paired Elphaba and Glinda as a romantic couple. APerigren has expressed to me his dislike of the Sam/Dean or Dean/Castiel pairings in Supernatural. And I personally, can’t stand seeing the Tenth Doctor and Donna paired up in the Doctor Who fandom.

Why did these pairings bother us? Because by pairing these characters up it reduces their original friendship or familial relationship to something simply sexual.

Now I’m not saying that romantic relationships are only sexual and I certainly believe that it is best to be friends with someone before you are involved romantically. So it’s not impossible that some of these pairings could happen in canon, but there is something different in how a person treats a friend and how a person treats a romantic partner.

This is going to get a little personal here, all of the authors on this site are my friends, and I know most if not all of them would go through hell and back for me, and I for them. In the world of fandom this would mean we are all hopelessly in love with each other.

The minute a character turns to their best friend and says, “You’re my best friend. I would do anything for you. I would die for you.” The fandom takes it as a declaration of love.

A statement like this IS a declaration of love, but not romantic love. But it seems that any love expressed in a show, movie, book, etc. whether it is familial love or love of friends is automatically translated as a sexual romantic relationship.

It’s really sad to me that we are a culture so obsessed with sex that it seems nearly impossible for there to ever be any close relationships that aren’t sexual in either the media or fandom.

I often hear Supernatural fans say, “If Castiel had taken a female vessel the writers would have written them as a couple by now.” I agree. That is very likely, but I also think it is kind of sad. If Castiel is a woman, well then, obviously Dean and Cas can’t just be friends. Furthermore, I think it’s sad that in the fandom Dean and Cas being very close friends automatically means that they must be romantically involved.

Now I’m not saying I’m against romantic relationships in the media or that I hate non-canon pairings in fandom. I love Kurt and Blaine and I have shipped Dean and Castiel together since season five and would love to see that relationship in canon.

Nor am I saying the media or the fandom always get it wrong. I love that there is no romantic tension between Donna and the Tenth Doctor, and I have read many awesome fanfics were Sam and Dean’s brotherly love is only familial and still completely awesome.

I’m not saying for the media to stop pairing off characters or for the fandom to stop pairing off characters; I’m just asking that they don’t always make sex the focus. Sex and sexuality are very important, but it’s not the only thing that is important, nor does it mean that people can’t have deep and meaningful relationships that aren’t sexual.

Just something to think about. So let me know what you think in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Men and Women Can Never Be Friends—And Neither Can Anyone Else

  1. Yes. All of the yes. I cannot say how many movies/shows I’ve watched where a romance was forced on characters who I saw as really only being close friends. It drives me insane, not because I hate love and happiness or anything, but because a lot of times, a relationship like that is used as a crutch for storytelling (imo, at least). It might be a little off topic to say so, but it’s like a slap in the face when a character does something/acts in a certain way purely because of their love for another character and then that action becomes a turning point in the plot of the show/movie. It makes me want to huff and puff and eyeroll myself into a coma.

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  5. I agree with everything you’re saying here. I really hate that there aren’t more female-male friendships in fiction, which is why I feel exactly the sam way as you about Ten/Donna, and about Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff and a lot of other ships.
    I think one of the reasons why people are so obsessed with pointing out subtext these days might be because there just aren’t that many cannon gay couples or that the cannon romance isn’t as well executed as the friendship is. Maybe even because the female love interests often have a smaller role than the male friend.
    Personally, I value friendship over romantic relationships – friends are the ones that stay with you, while romance’s just messy. And I think that our society really devalues friendship, at least next to romance.

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  7. I know a lot of bromances that are just bromances to me, like Donna/Ten, Shawn/Gus, Elena/Bonnie, Elena/Caroline, Bo/Kenzi, Dean/Benny, Dean/Garth, Sherlock/Joan, many, many bromances in Heroes, Kiera/Carlos (I honestly thought they were gonna end up together in the show but to my surprise they are still friends), Kiera/Alec and many, many more. Of course a lot of these have shippers who ship them in romantic way, but that’s kinda unavoidable in the fandom which likes to ship everyone with everyone.

  8. Gay genre fans are fairly starved for LGBT characters and relationships on their shows, so I think it’s understandable to be frustrated when we’re not getting fair representation. Especially with gay men, as genre shows are a lot better with representation of lesbians. I’m hard pressed to think of any genre show right now with gay male characters except for minor supporting characters Ethan and Danny in Teen Wolf.
    Supernatural has some of the best male relationships I’ve ever seen, so it’s pretty natural that some people want to see that thru a romantic filter. Stories of male friendship are pretty common, while stories of romantic love between two men, or anything not cis/het, is incredibly rare in sci fi/fantasy.
    I’m not expecting Supernatural to suddenly write the romance between Castiel and Dean that many fans want to see, but I don’t think it’s any great surprise that many fans passionately want to see that romance.

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  11. I really love that Criminal Minds managed to get through an entire 9 seasons complete with many male/female friendships without any members of the team wanting to kiss each other. Except I guess Rossi/Strauss but at least Strauss wasn’t a main character at all. I love that it’s all one big platonic love fest, regardless of what people in the fandom tend to ship… Lol. The friendships and love on that show are all SO real. Even if none of it is romantic. I do wish Criminal Minds had some actual LGBTQ+ representation in the main characters, though. 😛

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