If you’ve ever shared a bed with someone you’re attracted to and kept your clothes on, then congratulations – you’ve just had a platonic sleepover. There was no sex, but it wasn’t just nothing either. So can it be considered as a hook up?
It was a non-hook up that she didn’t see coming. Emily* was on vacation and decided to meet a male friend who happened to be staying in the city. They met up for dinner, followed by a few drinks at the bar. Then it started pouring and, in a bid to stay dry, her friend suggested continuing the night over at his apartment, which was only a 10-minute drive away. Even though the both of them were in committed relationships, she agreed.
After the seventh drink, they sat a little closer to each other on the couch. After exchanging some personal stories and some intense eye contact, they suddenly found themselves in his bedroom. And that’s when it hit her.
“We can’t do this.”
“Yeah, we really shouldn’t.”
“I’m so tired. And drunk.”
“Let’s just go to sleep.”
Emily woke up in the morning, a little confused but also assured by the fact that all they did was “just sleep”, albeit on the same bed but hey, these are liberal times we’re living in and the line wasn’t crossed (read: no sex). But… was it really as innocent as it seemed?
The great platonic debate
Don’t be fooled by the word “platonic” – it just means nothing physical happened, including kissing and sex. At the end of the day, if you got into bed with someone you’re attracted to, chances are it still means something, even if you did nothing but sleep side by side.
“Sharing a bed is psychologically intimate, as it’s a very personal space. It’s personal partly because of the ease of physical contact, and the possibility of sexual relations,” says Dr Norman Li, Lee Kong Chian Fellow and Associate Professor of Psychology at Singapore Management University.
And while we’re on the subject of platonic friendships, there are two schools of thought on this. One is that there can be true friendship between two heterosexual members of the opposite sex; and the other, that some sort of sexual attraction will always be at play throughout that friendship. An oft-quoted part from cult rom-com When Harry Met Sally is when Harry says: “No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.” But just how true is this, really?
Well, to a certain extent, according to science. In a 2012 paper titled “Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross-sex friendship” published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire studied 88 pairs of opposite-sex friends. They found out that the men in these opposite-sex friendships tend to feel more attracted to their female friends, compared to the level of attraction their female friends felt towards them.
“Sexual attraction plays a significant role in the formation of heterosexual, opposite-sex friendships. Typically, one person is attracted to another but the other is not as attracted [to them],” explains Dr Norman.
“Friendships can be truly platonic on occasion, but there’s generally some attraction dynamic involved, often lurking behind the friendship,” he adds. In other words, you can delude yourself into thinking the sleepover you’ve just had was purely platonic, but there’s no denying that some feelings were involved from one, if not both, parties.
So you’ve done the deed and you’re wondering if you should even talk about it. If you’re single, you need to look at how it occurred. Has there been tension between the both of you? Have you two been flirting for some time now and that was the next step to test the waters? Or was this incident unintentional? Consider these, then ask yourself if it’s worth sitting the guy down for a talk. However, you’ll need to manage your expectations if you have feelings for him. “There is no guarantee that this guy might want to go further with you,” says Cindy Leong, chief dating and relationship coach at Divine Connect.
And if you’re attached, it’s perfectly normal to feel extremely conflicted about the whole situation. One of the first questions you’ll find yourself asking is, does this count as cheating?
“It really depends on what you define as cheating,” says Cindy. “To some, emotional involvement is cheating, while to others, it’s physical involvement.” The next step is the difficult part: coming clean to your current boyfriend. It might not be the most pleasant experience, but take heart in knowing that a) it’s the right thing to do and b) things happen for a reason, and this incident might force the two of you to talk about problems in the relationship you’ve been avoiding.
“In any case, learning to respect the feelings of your partner is important,” Cindy adds.
As for Emily, she decided that anything she felt compelled to hide from her partner constitutes as cheating, and she treated the incident as such. But this is purely anecdotal and different people will deal with the same situation in different ways.
As for whether the platonic sleepover will be the newfangled form of hooking up, we’ll just have to wait
This story first appeared on CLEO, 27th March 2017.