Suzi and I loved the Lethal Weapon movies. For us, there was no duo cooler than Riggs and Murtaugh. We would adopt jokes and lines from those movies...I was the stable one in those days, so I always got the Glover lines and she was Gibson.
We were the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Jim West and Artemus Gordon (from Wild Wild West): best friends who could utterly depend upon one another without such complications as love and sex.
You can surely imagine our confusion when the local ultra-hip newspaper dubbed Martin and Roger 'the salt-and-pepper kings of homoerotic comedy.' Wait a second! Did I miss something?
Back when people still cared about who shot J.R. and 64K was a lot of RAM, I met a really wonderful young woman at my high school. We had similar interests and senses of humour, and we hit it off instantly. The romantic thing never really seemed to be there—but her family welcomed me and soon enough she was an important part of my life. She became much closer, in fact, than those people with whom I share more genes. That was a source of some unpleasantness with my family, sad to say.
There are some platonic couples in popular (and not-so-popular) entertainment. The thing is, there always seem to be fans who aren't satisfied unless said couples are doing the horizontal mambo. Mulder and Scully (from the X-Files), for example, had a very vocal group of devotees called "shippers" who wanted them to have a romantic entanglement (and also a base of fans called "no-romos" who wanted their friendship to remain on a non sexy level).
Seriously, people...remember the old show Moonlighting? Great show until the characters got jiggy—then it went downhill. Take a warning from that example! Friendships can be just that, friendships, without introducing the complicating elements of sex and romance into the equation.
Over the years of high school and college, my friendship with Suzi grew close and intimate, but without that hearts-and-flowers stuff that society seems to demand.
A few years ago, she wrote an essay about platonic partnership for a discussion site. The point was to defend her position on the Mulder and Scully situation. I quote her: "Many partners, whether they be cops, firemen, FBI agents or, more rarely, just friends, have a friendship which can be compared in intensity and closeness only to a childhood best friend.”
We went through some rough times together, and we grew up. By the late 1980s, it had gotten to the point where we shared all the same interests, friends and hangouts. Life apart would have been inconceivable.
Is our society really so sex or relationship-obsessed that people can't even be platonic friends? Apparently, the answer is yes, at least in many cases. My elderly mom, to the last days of her life, insisted on telling people that her friend and handyman was her nephew, so people wouldn't get ... you know, the wrong idea. This was despite the fact that he was 30 years her junior, and really, if the truckers at Waffle House want to gossip, I don't think claiming blood kinship is gonna stop them.
It doesn't stop with humans! Bert and Ernie, a couple of muppets, had some harsh critics who wouldn't let kids watch Sesame Street because they thought that the puppet odd couple were gay lovers*. Okay, it may be a little odd that the two share a bedroom, but I guarantee you, they aren't lovers. This is Children's Television Workshop, not Meet the Feebles, for crying out loud!
I moved into Suzi's house in the early 90s, taking the extra bedroom and using the dining room for my books. This arrangement caused some of our friends to say things like "Why don't you two just give up and get married already?" Most of them were well-meaning, but they don't seem to understand—Calvin can't marry Hobbes, that is just strange!
Our relationship has confused some romantic partners. Of course, anyone who can't understand or deal with our friendship would not likely make a very good choice anyway—and those who can understand it are golden. I am happy to report that my current paramour has become great friends with Suzi.
I quote my partner once again: "For mixed-gender partners, the awesome weight of societal expectation comes crashing in. Unless one of the partners is openly gay, the expectation is that the bond must unfailingly be a romantic one. The problem with that is "adult" complications like sex and romantic behavior may sometimes occur, but they remain subordinate to the partner bond. In fact...partners frequently date other people."
These days I usually tell people that Suzi is my sister. If pressed, I will explain our unconventional friendship—most people seem to get it. In fact, I think I sometimes hear a touch of envy in their voices. I can understand that envy—we know how lucky we are to have a friendship like this.
A few years back, Suzi gave me a card for Valentine's Day which I treasure to this day. An excellent cartoonist, she drew some great pairs that reminded her of us. Hotheaded King Arthur prepared to rout his foes as wise Merlin gently pointed out that he might want to round up some knights first. David Letterman and Paul Shaffer compared notes on the fun of trained circus hamsters. The next-to-last page** had Hobbes telling Calvin "I think kind words are the basis of existence." His companion quipped, "Nah, it's chocolate." That really sums it up as well as anything I could have said.
Back in the remote past, it was common practice for women in certain occupations to be forbidden from marrying. Nursing and teaching are two examples that are usually cited. My elderly aunts, both schoolteachers, remained unmarried, living together, until their final days. Some same-sex couples moved in together—bachelors and spinsters, growing old together. A few of these pairs were undoubtedly closeted gay couples, and some were surely platonic life partners. I have heard anecdotes to the effect that opposite-sex platonic couples were not unheard-of. Usually, these couples posed as spouses or relatives, sharing a home ("This is my cousin Evangeline, I rent a room from her."—that sort of thing).
And so we come to the present. In December of 2011 we celebrated 30 years of friendship. Best friends, we spend a lot of time together.
Riggs and Murtaugh have grown up a bit: the manic glint in Martin's eyes has faded, Roger found a job he loves, and the two can finish each others' sentences as we re-write the script to our own brand of chaotic happy ending. And once in a while, not all that often any more, but every now and then, something truly insane happens and I find myself still compelled to say
"I'm gettin' too old for this shit."
* Those wacky Star Wars droids, C3PO and R2-D2 had some of the same problems. I vividly remember an eighth grade classmate whose father did not like the movie because of "those gay robots."
** The last page had us ... of course!
reworked and revised: December, 2011--Happy Anniversary Suzi
While I have a girlfriend, can my best friend be female by Sudderth—a really good treatment of the subject
Lee, Jennifer, "Weird eyes for straight guys who just want to go out", The New York Times, 12 April, 2005.
Eberhard, Suzi, "Partners" (posted on some X-Files website around 1999).
Eberhard, Suzi, "A Valentine Card" (given to me in the early 90s).
All of Suzi's material used with permission (of course, how could I do otherwise?)