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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Can Men And Women Be Friends, Or Is Sex Always An Issue? Lessons From D.H.Lawrence

The post-modern canon says that men and women can be friends.  Sex while important is at best a distraction from real intimacy, and that more aware men will understand and appreciate women for their character, values, and beliefs more than their sexual allure. Traditionalists disagree and suggest that unless a relationship is incestuous, sexual dynamics must always be in play.

Paul Morel, the main character in D.H.Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, prefers to think of Miriam as his friend and never his lover; but his demurral has more to do with his sexual immaturity than any higher order of intimacy. He thinks that such a Platonic friendship is not only possible but desirable; that the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual communion they have is the apotheosis of love.  

This asexual conviction, however, has more to do with his Oedipal conflicts than any realistic, rational reasoning.  Paul cannot leave his mother.  He is duty- and love-bound to her.  She is his protector, his sexual shield, and his devotee.  His demurral, his sexual diffidence, and his cruelty to Miriam are guards of his maternal sexual privacy.  He wants Miriam as a woman, desires her, and wants a ‘normal’ relationship with her, but he cannot because of his stunted sexual growth and his overweening guilt, compassion, and responsibility for his mother.  He is an emotional and sexual cripple.

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Nevertheless he eventually has sex with her – an uneasy and selfish affair.  He feels that he must have sex to validate his independence from his mother; and Miriam is willing because she is tired of his intellectual prevarications and her own sexual reticence.

“We are but friends”, he insists; and in his immature delusions is convinced that such friendship can indeed exist. It cannot, of course; and Lawrence goes on to say in this and later novels (The Rainbow, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley’s Lover)  that not only is Platonic love an impossibility but an intellectual chimera.  Final sexual bonding, the simultaneous coming together of lovers, is the apotheosis of being – the be-all and end-all of one's life – and any suggestions that it can be otherwise are vain, self-serving, and ignorant.
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Platonic love – in this case between Paul and Miriam – is fraudulent.  It is only a convenient cover for his sexual insecurity.  He cannot wholly commit to Miriam while he still has more permanent affections for his mother.

Miriam sees through his diffidence.  She knows that his reserve has less to do with her than with his mother.  She wants him –intellectually, physically, and spiritually –and has no barriers to their communion; but realizes that his adolescent attachment to his mother will always prevent a more mature relationship with her.

Paul leaves Miriam for all the wrong reasons. They are well-suited to each other, each with his own pretensions, convictions, and faith which temporarily impede normal intimate relations – but neither one can stop the inertia. Friendship was never enough. 

Paul takes up with Clara, a married woman with no sexual inhibitions, moral compunctions, or social ambitions.  A sexual relation with her could be satisfying and emotionally conclusive.  She is the woman he has been looking for.

Yet this too is an unsatisfactory union.  Sexual desire distorts his view of women, just as idealistic celibacy has finished his relationship with Miriam.  He is back where he started – a boy with no hope or recourse except in his mother's arms.

Sons and Lovers, among other things, give final lie to the notion of friendship between man and woman.  If sexual desire is so limitless, so insistent, and so potent, then how can a tepid, disinterested, respectful friendship ever take its place?  How, given the nature of sexual desire and the complex factors that determine it, can friendship ever compare? In Lawrence’s view there is no way that a simple friendship between man and woman can possibly suffice.  No matter how old the correspondents may be nor how sexually indifferent they might have been in the past, there can be no denying sexual attraction.
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In Lawrence's view a man will never look upon an attractive woman as anything other than a woman.   For all her much appreciated intelligence, insight, and competence, he can never overlook her laughter, her sexual ease, and her feminine grace.  Friends of friends, distant cousins, relations by marriage can never be looked at asexually

Lawrence believed that the essential, fundamental, inescapably existential moment of life is that of simultaneous sexual climax, a Tantric perfection.  It is the union of sexual, spiritual, emotional, and historical purpose.  Given that conviction and that perspective, it is no wonder that he dismissed any notions of Platonic love.

Lawrence is hopelessly outdated and irrelevant in an age of female eminence, say feminist critics.  Sexual union is meaningless per se and is but an adjunct to necessary political/economic unions.  Romanticized sexual love has no place in the post-modernist world.  Marriage, mating, and sexual partnership is only governed by dominance, submission, and complaisance in a world which values secular values.  Without procreation, and without the momentary pleasure of orgasm, the heterosexual union has run its course.  Friendship, camaraderie, and sisterhood are far more important and relevant than any sexual union.

However, if one removes political lenses, leaves sexual deconstructionism aside, and steps back to take a dispassionate look at ordinary sexual relationships, one is still left with a final truth – sex, sexuality, and sexual desire will always trump social reformist politics.

No matter how politically invested a man or woman might be in social justice; no matter how technically unique they may be, sexual interest can never be ignored or dismissed. While professional competence and ability will always come first, sexual appraisal, approbation, and initiative will always rule.

Sons and Lovers has much to teach – the emasculating nature of overweening, selfish maternal love; the deformation of arrested sexual development; the saint-whore fabrication that distorts the reality of women; and the perils of the natural infantilism of men – but above all it is about sex, its universal imperative, its centrality, and its saving and redemption power.  There can be no such thing as friendship between a man and a woman.

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