Nora Ephron, who wrote those lines, was going for a laugh. Yet, as William James observed, "a sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." So, is it merely "common sense" that a woman and man who are attracted to each other cannot be friends because "the sex thing" always gets in the way?
I was thinking about this recently in regard to a specific woman who is my friend. Like me, she is married, like me, she takes her marriage vows seriously, and, like me, she feels an undercurrent of emotional attraction for her friend. We share common perspectives on art, politics, literature, music, and faith, and we share a fascination with both the transcendent and the permanent. She and I discuss serious subjects and seem to "get" each other in profound ways. We independently came to the conclusion that we may share the same DNA.
If the common sense perspective of Nora Ephron's character Harry is correct, she and I should not continue to be friends, either because "the sex thing" will eventually lead us to betray our marriage vows or because one or both of our spouses will become jealous of our friendship and assume that it has morphed into an emotional and/or physical affair. According to much "common sense" advice I have read over the years, we should be running away from one another as fast as our legs will carry us. Until quite recently, I might have agreed with that view; however, I now think that it's a one-size-fits-all fallacy.
I do believe that where there is such a bond between friends of the opposite sex, both friends must have a strong moral foundation, whether based on religious or secular beliefs, that would make, for both of them, adultery something to be avoided at all costs. If you don't have this shared belief in common, then I agree that you probably should not (and, likely, would not) be friends in the first place.
I think another essential attribute of both parties is that both possess "virtue," in the sense of making their desires subject to the exercise of their will, rather than being the master of their will. I touched on this briefly a couple of years ago in a post on Aristotle's assertions concerning "excellence." If you act "rightly" because you are "habituated" to acting rightly, then, I believe, you will not betray your beliefs. Of course, there's no guarantee, as evidenced by all those "Date Line" and "48 Hours" shows on network television about members of the clergy committing adultery with members of their "flock."
Most important, I think that both friends must truly love one another, in the sense I tried to discuss (inarticulately, at best) in a previous post on "The Memeing of Love." This type of love focuses not on what the other person does for me, but on what is best for the other person. If Christ tells his apostles that it would be better for them to tie a millstone around their necks and jump into the ocean than to lead another person astray, you begin to get a clue as to what real love of a friend is all about. It is concerned primarily with the good of the friend, not with your own good, although if you share a common conception of "the good," then that should be a common goal. If you truly love another, in the purest sense of the word "love," you would never lead the other to betray their fundamental beliefs (at the risk of their immortal soul, if you possess such a belief) no matter how much you might rationalize your own betrayal of your own beliefs.
You can avoid any of this risk by running away and burning your bridges behind (or in front of) you. You can deprive yourself and your friend of what, in another post, C.S. Lewis described so well: the sharing of the heart's desire, even if "faintly and uncertainly".
Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?
We live once, I believe. We get one life, and only one life, to get it right. No matter how many times we fail to get it right, we simply have to keep trying. We gain nothing by running away from friendship, even when there exists the danger that "the sex thing" will "get in the way." In doing so, we deny not just ourself the benefits of this chance to explore the heart's desires, but another unique human being the same opportunity. An agreed-upon respect for a boundary that may not be crossed, the command of desire by the will (the possession of virtue, whether by "habituation" or by prayer), and, overwhelmingly most important, possession of "love" for the friend in truest sense, will give lie to Harry's common sense.
Anyone who still reads the nonsense splattered on these pages should feel free to disagree with me. Show me the error of my ways in the comments box below.
Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.