When Harry married Sally

Almost ten years ago, I delivered a lecture for the Irish Rover on whether friendships between men and women are possible. I still hold as true the argument that I delivered that evening: with few exceptions, friendships between men and women are doomed to fail due to their inherent instability. However, I wish to expand upon this argument and make the case for when and why friendship between men and women can be good, or even necessary. 

Since my 2017 lecture, additional wisdom, provided by vicarious experience, has taught me something beyond what I proposed then. While such friendships are doomed as friendships, they are often “doomed” to succeed as the most natural and efficient road to something else: that particular type of friendship that is exempted from the risks that usually go hand in hand with mixed friendships. That “something else” is, in chronological order, dating, courting, and, if things go well, marriage. Or put in famous Hollywood terms, if Harry meets Sally and befriends her, he might end up marrying Sally. 

The logic of my thesis almost a decade ago was that mixed friendships are largely unstable and potentially risky. The sharing of anything and everything is the core of friendship—cor ad cor loquitur. So, in friendships between men and women, growing this friendship might require that they share more than would be wise for one—or sometimes both—of the two parties involved. Frequently, one or both of the parties in a mixed friendship have given their hearts to someone else (to another person or perhaps to God). But by the same token—and here comes the announced “additional wisdom”—if someone is free and is looking for a “romantic partner,” then that mixed friendship might evolve into a “romantic relationship.” Indeed, this could be a not only welcome but also legitimate end. In other words, mixed friendships can be highly conducive to finding a spouse. (I should note, I use the term “romantically” for the sake of clarity and for lack of a better one, even if “romantic” is not exactly what I mean.)

However, I should clarify that mine is not a moral thesis because at least part of my thesis is instead psychological. It is an argument about the power and the consequences of attraction—physical attraction, but also, and more importantly, the attraction usually produced in a person by the virtuous beauty of the soul of someone of the opposite sex.

Attraction is what your random friend might have to fight in a mixed friendship, when worse comes to worst. But, for an individual looking for a spouse, a mixed friendship can become, instead, a valid source for a love, and a union, that belongs in a different universe.

If this is true, only those who are open to the possibility of joining this “different universe” should engage in mixed friendships. At this stage in my argument, moral considerations do come into play. For it is often the case that a person has already undertaken commitments that are incompatible with such openness. So many slippery slope tales in real life and in fiction alert us to the reality of the road that goes from “just friends” to “Ooh, I think I’m in love!” Therefore, if you do not want to fall in love with your friend because you have already given your life to a person or a Person, perhaps you should keep all of this in mind.

On what might seem a happier note, however, I would argue that none of the above should make anyone unhappy. Because another consequence of my argument is that marriage has the potential of constituting the most powerful form friendship. Indeed, if there is one really solid exception to the theory that I put forward for the Rover that evening in Lafun so many years ago, that exception is the unique friendship between husband and wife. 

Santi Legarre is a visiting professor at Notre Dame Law School and longtime friend of the Rover.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice

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