Thursday 19 October 2017

No sex, please -we're just friends

With a stage version of the gender-wars film 'When Harry Met Sally' packing them in, Deirdre Reynolds wonders if men and women can ever just be good buddies

Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

It is more than 20 years since Billy Crystal first cracked open that can of worms in When Harry Met Sally, but this week a stage show baits a whole new generation: Can men and women ever just be friends?

Released in 1989, the classic comedy spinned a yarn about two wise-cracking New Yorkers, Harry Burns and Sally Albright, who wobbled the fine line between friends and lovers.

And while the battle-of-the-sexes flick may be best remembered for a certain diner scene, it's Harry's heated hypothesis on why guys and girls can never be platonic pals that accounts for the movie's enduring afterglow.

Now treading the boards at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin, a new stage adaptation of the smash hit rom- com once more probes whether cross-sex buddyhood is really possible.

Replicating one of the greatest big screen romances of all time, Hollyoaks babe Sarah Jayne Dunn steps into the orgasmic role of Sally and Coronation Street bad boy Rupert Hill plays cynical softie Harry.

But in an era of GBFs (Gay Best Friends), Men of Honour and Groomschicks, can the topic still provoke?

Fifty years ago, 'Harry' was a breadwinner and 'Sally' was a housewife -- with few opportunities to mingle except to marry and procreate.

Today, 'Harry' and 'Sally' work side by side in the office and run hip to hip on the jogging circuit -- even though they may not always see eye to eye.

"Of course men and women can be friends," says psychologist David Kavanagh of Avalonrc.com. "Tens of thousands of platonic relationships all over the world prove it."

But from Monica and Chandler to Twilight's Bella and Jacob, pop culture could have us all programmed to think guys and girls must get it on.

"When Harry Met Sally set the potential for male-female friendship back about 25 years," says Professor Michael Monsour, author of Women and Men as Friends.

"Almost every time you see a male-female friendship (since), it winds up turning into romance."

Meanwhile, the 'Friends with Benefits' movement has confused issues further..

"This whole debate is the result of the over-sexualisation of Western society, which seeks hidden agendas everywhere," says relationship expert Kavanagh.

"Society looks suspiciously upon any man and woman who meet for lunch, share a laugh or embrace to say goodbye -- to the office gossip, they are obviously cheating on their husband or wife. The boring reality is that sometimes a hug between a man and woman is just that."

Not alone can men and women be mates, but both benefit from cross-gender friendship, says sociologist Dr Don O'Meara -- men from having someone to talk to, and women from being unburdened of the emotional baggage that often weighs down female friendships.

With a female best friend of his own, O'Meara compiled a landmark study identifying the key hurdles to male/female friendship -- including defining it, dealing with sexual attraction, seeing each other as equals and facing people's responses.

One such obstacle is the green-eyed monster, admits Kavanagh.

"I've asked thousands of couples if they would be happy for their partner to go out on the town with a friend of the opposite sex and most say no. In other words, marriages are threatened by the idea of our partners having a meaningful friendship with someone of the opposite sex.

"So many of my clients sacrifice friendships they value to stop their partner from feeling jealous.

"In my experience, no one benefits except the green-eyed monster."

When Harry Met Sally runs at The Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin until tomorrow. Tickets start from €20. See grandcanaltheatre.ie

Irish Independent

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