Friendship arguably offers itself as the freest of all human associations. A weakness of cultural prescription opens a terrain in which intimacy can be lived in a trust relationship that personifies equality, justice and respect. Friendship's ‘relational freedom’ enables the mutual development of selves; it is generative. Therein lies ‘the beauty of friendship’, as Agnes Heller has reminded us. But the freedom of intimacy is limited. Embedded in a society that attributes different repertoires of intimacy to women and men and privileges male homosociality, friendship's freedom is curtailed. Especially cross-sex friendships continue to show evidence of persisting tensions. ‘Erotic friendships’ that seek to realize sexual intimacy but eschew the commitments of coupledom continue to face normative-practical challenges. In this paper, I view central aspects of heterosexual intimacy through the small world of intimate friendship, a prism that refracts gendered tensions in the world at large.
- Cross-sex friendship
- ordinary coupledom