When it comes to sex and friendship, I think it’s better not to mix the two. It’s not a good idea to start out as friends with someone and then decide you want to sleep with them. If you want sex, date someone or just have sex with someone else for the sake of having sex. Don’t let it get in the way of real friendships.
I’ll try to explain myself by giving you an example. Sandy — that is the name I’m giving her here — was my twin brother’s best friend. He lived in Seattle, and when he died in 1994 Sandy was with him. She comforted him as best she could. Touched by this, I felt a bond with her immediately and she also became my friend.
In my many visits to Seattle after my brother’s death, I would always get together with Sandy. She’d show me around the city, treat me to lunch or a movie, or sometimes we’d just sit in her living room and talk. She was a warm and friendly person, and for the next 10 years I enjoyed her friendship.
During an early fall visit to Seattle in 2004, another friend of my brother invited me and Sandy to his house to have dinner and to spend the night. He lived on one of the islands outside of the city. In Sandy’s car, we got on one of Seattle’s massive ferry boats and made our way to the island.
I remember the meal being excellent and the conversation witty. I probably drank too much wine, which didn’t help me much when Sandy and I went out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette. I wasn’t prepared for what Sandy was about to say.
She told me she still missed my brother and that she was always attracted to him. Since he was a gay man, there never was anything sexual between them. I’m not a gay man, and she let me know that she also found me attractive.
As we stood there smoking our cigarettes, I remember Sandy’s exact words: “I would really like to have sex with you.” She said it with a big smile on her face.
While I can remember those words and that smile exactly as it happened, I can’t remember much after that.
You need to remember I was probably a little drunk when this exchange took place. I said something to the effect that I wasn’t ready to have sex and thought of her as a good friend and didn’t want to mess that up or something like that. I felt panicked. I also remember saying that I was sorry many, many times. I felt awful.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept thinking about Sandy being in the bedroom down the hall. My thoughts became crazy and paranoid and irrational.
What would I do if she opened my door and came in and got in my bed? What would I do if she demanded sex? I actually found myself looking at the bedroom door handle for a lock. I remember sleeping with my clothes on and being afraid to use the hall bathroom.
The next morning, I could feel tenseness in the house. I remember Sandy looking through a magazine and not looking at me. I wondered if she had told my brother’s friend about me declining her sex offer. Needless to say, that ferry boat ride back to Seattle was awkward and uncomfortable. I don’t even remember us talking.
In the next few years that followed, I would call Sandy on the phone from time to time wanting to chat, but the friendship had turned into something much less — more like I was simply an acquaintance, more like I was her dead friend’s twin brother. I stopped calling when I sensed she was starting to find my phone calls annoying.
Looking back now on that sexual request, I don’t think I could have handled it any differently. While Sandy is and was a good-looking woman, I wasn’t attracted to her, and a man can’t fake it when he’s not. Saying no was better than getting in bed with her and then not being able to perform. That would have been horrible.
I want to make one thing clear here: When it comes to sex and friendship, I’m no saint. I’ve done the exact same thing that Sandy did. On more than one occasion, I’ve made friendships with women that were intended to stay strictly that and then I started to think about sex.
I’ve screwed up friendships with women by thinking of their attractiveness and wondering what it would be like to be in bed with them. In every case, I ended up not screwing the friend but totally screwing up or destroying the friendship. In all cases, it wasn’t worth it.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a trip to Seattle. I’m thinking of returning there this fall. It occurs to me to get in touch with Sandy and try to start over, but it’s been more than a few years now since we’ve talked. This makes me sad.
When it comes to me and Sandy, even mentioning the word sex destroyed an important friendship — one I more than likely will never get back.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: email@example.com