Adapted  from 101 Words I Don't Use by Paul Niquette
Copyright 1997 Sophisticated:The Magazine. All rights reserved.

There is no such thing as a 
Platonic relationship...
...from a man's point of view.
-- Paul Niquette

Half the people in the world will reject my proclamation. They are women. One of them was a White House staffer in the Carter Administration. Karen had a PhD in communications and sensational legs.

We had just finished a candlelight dinner in a sumptuous Georgetown restaurant. Our previous conversations had always been lively, sometimes heated. Karen held ardent positions, particularly on women's issues, and argued them earnestly. She seemed to get exceptionally stimulated by these discussions. So did I. A recurring theme in our noisier exchanges had to do with differences between the behavior of men and women.

"I have had Platonic relationships," she protested.

"With men?" I asked.

"Ward and I, for example. We have worked together since last summer. Strictly professional, I assure you."

"Would Ward say that, do you suppose?"

    Oops. There's a crucial debating lesson here. Notice how my question inadvertently relinquished control of the argument to Karen. Now, to support her assertion, she had merely to relate unverifiable anecdotes, each characterized by Ward's exemplary behavior -- on business trips, in private discussions, during after-hours working sessions. Unless Ward had dysfunctional genitalia, I was going to lose this one for sure.
"Even that time when Ward came by my apartment, nothing happened," Karen said, averting my eyes.

I dropped my spoon. "He didn't want to come in, I suppose."

"He was delivering marked-up drafts. I invited him in," said Karen. "I fixed some coffee. We talked." She should have quit while she was ahead.

"But this guy, Ward, never made a pass at you?"

Karen examined the bottom of her coffee cup. Suddenly she looked up. "There was this other guy. I met him in graduate school," she said. "I know our relationship was Platonic. Dean treated me like a sister."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Dean, my friend at the University of Ohio, he and I -- "

"Don't you think you owe me something, Karen?"

"Ward didn't do anything that night."

"Let's have it," I said triumphantly. "You owe me a concession."

"Aren't you going to ask me about Dean?"

"Look, Karen, we have been through this before. When you fumble the ball and the opposing team runs it over the goal-line, you're supposed to put points on the scoreboard."

"We are discussing Platonic relationships," Karen sniffed. "I was not aware we were playing a game."

"Debating is a game, Karen. You fumbled. I'm entitled to some points."

"Just because Ward -- just that one time -- tried to get something on with me?"

"There's a distinction involved here, Karen. Normal men have physical desires -- transcendental physical desires. They are not interested in Platonic, spiritual relationships. From what you've told me, this fellow Ward is a normal man."

"I have physical desires, too," Karen snapped. "What makes you think women don't want sex just as much as men do?"

"We're not talking about you. We're talking generalities. Women, generally speaking, don't have sex drives. Men have sex drives. Women have love drives."

"I hear that kind of slur all the time."

"If it's a slur," said I with a shrug, "then it besmirches men far more than women. Won't you admit that much?"

"I don't know what kind of man you are, but there are some I'm sure who aren't consumed by lust."

"Whatever kind of man I am doesn't matter. It's a commonplace that women give sex to get love; men give love to get sex. There are differences between the human genders, that's all."

"Why do there always have to be differences?"

"It's a self-proving theorem, Karen."

"A what?"

"Self-proving theorem," I replied. "Men celebrate sexual differences; women deny them. For proof, simply quote the theorem in mixed company and observe how the ensuing argument polarizes along gender lines: men pro, women con."

"You're a cynic," Karen said with finality. "No wonder you put down Platonic relationships."

The waiter refilled our cups. It was an effort for me not to take Karen's ad hominem remark personally. Try to be a gentleman, I admonished myself. I took a deep breath. "Care to consider a 'gedanken'?" asked I, with what was intended to be a polite smile.

"Another one of your 'thought experiments,'" mused Karen.

"Two, uh, normal people," I began, choosing my words carefully. "Let's call them A and B. They have what is reputed to be a Platonic relationship. All spiritual -- no sex or anything. One day they find themselves with an unplanned opportunity, complete with privacy and plenty of time."

"A shipwreck, perhaps?" Karen asked, suspicious of a trap.

"Or a stalled elevator -- you got it. Anyway, A says to B, 'I am aroused.' And then B says to A, 'Ah, but you have forgotten: We have a Platonic relationship.'"  I fixed Karen in my most portentous gaze. "Which one is the man and which one is the woman?"

"How should I know!" exclaimed Karen with defiance.

"Come on!"

"I don't know anything about your Mr. A," she said, then catching herself, " -- or Miss A. Whatever. Anyway, if I were shipwrecked with any of several men I know -- "

"Ward, for example?"

"Maybe not Ward, but Dean, certainly. And others."

"Go on, Miss A. Would you be the one to say 'I am aroused'?"

"Quite possibly so."

"Then, from your point of view -- that is, as a woman -- you and Dean did not have a Platonic relationship."

"He treated me like a sister, I you told."

"He would never tried to get something on with you?"


"Did this fellow Dean have other girl friends?"

"How should I know!"

I sighed. "Finish your coffee."

"Relationships change," said Karen. "Nothing says that Platonic means permanently non-physical."

"Interesting idea, Karen," I said, eyebrows raised. "A Platonic relationship becomes non-Platonic when opportunity knocks, when restraints are removed, when..."

"I don't want to talk about this any more."

A couple of wives ago, I learned that this is a woman's way of saying, "you win." Nevertheless, I lack the personal discipline to let it go at that.

"Your associate Ward viewed your relationship as 'Situationally Platonic,' apparently," I chuckled, villain that I am. "Like Situational Ethics?"

"Something like that." Karen smiled with the lower part of her face and rose from her chair. I picked up the check.

Big surprise: In the cab on the way to her apartment, Karen sent me the unmistakable signals. Our argument had its ironic effect on her. I had become, as usual, a conversational brute. Yet, by not giving quarter, I demonstrated respect for her mind. For all I know, that's essential for the fulfillment of the modern woman. A sophisticated form of intellectual foreplay.

Then too, Karen may have just invented a way to refute my female love-drive theory. Crafty lady!  I hit upon a stratagem of my own. As we pulled up in front of Karen's building, I asked the cabbie to wait. Karen looked puzzled. I walked with her to the door.

"Aren't you going to come in?" she asked in a voice that could make a man want to wreck a ship or stall an elevator.

I kissed Karen on the cheek and turned away. "We have a Platonic relationship."

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Platonic, adjective
  1. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Plato or his philosophy. 
  2. Transcending physical desire and tending toward the purely spiritual or ideal. {Return}