'Blog about male/female friendships in romantic novels,' said Susanna Kearsley to me. 'I have a few good ones in my own life, and lots of writers ignore them.'
Of course Susanna's wish is always my command, so today I'm writing about platonic friendships between men and women in romantic novels. Susanna actually said that I wrote them well, but to be honest, I'm struggling to remember any platonic friendships in my books that stayed platonic 100% of the time, for both friends.
Because that's the problem, isn't it, between men and women? A lot of the times, someone falls in love. I've written two best friends to lovers stories, where the heroine's best male friend was totally in love with her and hiding it, but they did get together in the end. I've written a book where the heroine's best male friend was totally in love with her, but hiding it, and they didn't get together in the end, though they eventually mended their friendship. Right now, I'm writing a book where the heroine is totally in love with her (married) best male friend, but hiding it, and they don't get together in the end, though they eventually mend their friendship.
In a romantic novel, the focus is on the romance. And so 'best friend of opposite sex' becomes a romantic trope. It can provide internal conflict (I can't fancy him! He's my best friend! I'll lose the friendship!), or external conflict (Why is he spending so much time with her? She can't just be his best friend!). It can be the reason for forced proximity (We've been best friends forever and bought houses next door to each other and he's the maid of honour at my wedding!) or complication of plot (I'm so in love with my best friend that I'm going to artificially inseminate myself with his baby!).
Basically, it's pretty handy in all sorts of romantic situations.
And I like exploring friendships as well as relationships. A romantic relationship is often quite new, but a long-standing friendship has a language and habits and routines of its own. It's complex and changing, and often full of unspoken conflict. Between a man and a woman, you have the added dimension of possible sexual attraction, and contrasts between the way the different genders think and behave. (One of my personal favourite scenes to write was in Girl from Mars when female Fil and male Jim go clothes shopping together and Jim compares the women in H&M to zombies. 'BRAIIIINNNNNNSSSSSS....') But as well as being frustrating and adding conflict, this can also add a deeper perspective, as the man and the woman will see the same situation in different ways.
So, male and female platonic friendships in novels: quite useful really. They perform a different function than same-sex friendships, and in gay-best-friend friendships, and can add a lot to a novel. Even if the characters don't end up falling in love.
Who are your favourite male/female platonic friends in novels? I always loved Will Stanton and Jane Drew in The Dark is Rising sequence; they seemed to have a special understanding, though I'll admit I imagined them getting together one day, maybe in the future, when that pesky Dark was gone and that Will-is-immortal issue had been resolved. I'm not sure Susan Cooper meant it that way, though.