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Meta: The Case of John Watson's sexuality

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I'm posting this in the S3 section as the post to which I'll link further down the page has big honking spoilers for both episodes 1&2 of S3.

 

Basically, this is a meta discussing John Watson's sexuality, his perception of it with regards to himself and society and how that differs from his perception and acceptance of others. It is well worth a read and quite thought provoking and addresses John's constant protestations of "I'm not gay!" in a way you might not have considered. It also touches on Mary and John's relationship both to each other, and with Sherlock.

 

So, go read... The Case of John Watson's Sexuality on livejournal.

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Thanks Aely...

 

Well. It quite fits Watson's characterization as a military man that he would be pretty sensitive of being "suspected" gay and does not relish the thought, even though he does have a lesbian sister and knows it's supposed to be "all fine". Many men are like that. They see it as a threat to their masculinity or whatever.

 

As for the rest, I think it's a kind of comment on the original stories. The way Watson (or rather Doyle as Watson the narrator) writes about Holmes, one does often get the impression of there being a huge crush at work while at the same time, the good doctor is also something of a womanizer (well... he's susceptible to female beauty, lets put it that way. The women's attention usually goes to the much more fascinating Mr Holmes). They could have just ignored that angle when writing "Sherlock", but I think they like to play with it a bit, like when Mary reads the blog out loud giggling. That was like me reading Doyle.

 

I don't think it's more than play, though. The show will never seriously concern itself with the matter of whether John is gay or not or why he has such an obvious problem with being thought gay or whether he ever did have some sort of "more-than-friendly" interest in his flat mate. I wouldn't want it to, in any case. Some things are best left alone...

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I agree.  As I understand it, there has been a good deal of speculation about the Holmes-and-Watson relationship ever since there have been a Holmes and a Watson.  I believe that John's frequent protestations that he's not gay are Moftiss's allusions to that speculation, and I seriously doubt that they will ever choose to resolve the issue as regards Sherlock.  For one thing, it's notoriously difficult to prove a negative, so there's really no way for any man (real or fictional) to prove that he's not gay.  The only way John could categorically settle the question would be to come out of the closet -- if he happens to be in it in the first place.

 

Also, I don't see how the frequency of John's protestations amount to any kind of evidence, one way or the other.  He protests frequently because he's frequently assumed to be gay.

 

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I agree, pretty much, with the analysis of John's situation as set out in the livejournal article. Sherlock is relatively indifferent to the opinions of others, with a few exceptions, whereas John is far more conventional and much more concerned about the way in which the world views their relationship. However, his anxiety seems to go deeper than concern about his reputation. It is possible that he is also fighting internal battles over his sexual orientation.

 

At this point, I will out myself as a Johnlock shipper and admit that almost every nuance can seem to contribute to the idea of a romance when you have got your slash goggles on. However, I think there is something more happening than wishful thinking by the Johnlock fans. For a start, I don't think the writers are taunting us but I do think they are teasing us a bit. Just as TEH acknowledged the fandom's resurrection theories (right down to the almost-kiss between Sherlock and Jim), TSoT nods in the direction of the possibility of romance. Obviously, there are the spoken declarations of love but these are presumably taken as expressions of a deep and binding friendship. However, there are other points of interest. Sherlock is shocked when John declares him to be his best friend, and one of the two people he loves most, and yet surely he is aware of this. Perhaps he is stunned because he never expected to hear John say it aloud, or to demonstrate it in public by making him his best man. (I also think that, beneath the apparent vanity and egotism, Sherlock has low self-esteem - but that is another issue.)

 

Then there is the stag night, with the drunken touching, John's "Am I a pretty lady?", and both of them curled up on the stairs like a couple in bed..... Small details but I think Moftiss and co are quite knowing and are playing with us. Anyway, why doesn't John invite anyone else to his stag do? He must have friends - Greg and Mike, for a start, and presumably ex-army pals, people from work.... Does he only invite Sherlock because he knows the latter is uncomfortable at social gatherings? We know that he previously avoided John's birthday party for the same reason.). Presumably his presence to John is so much more important than any other friendship.

 

My guess is that, insofar as Sherlock has any interest in sex, he is mainly gay. (It is hard to tell whether he really is interested just in Irene's mind.). At Angelo's he snaps, "I know it is!" when Johnassays it is fine if he has a boyfriend, and says he is flattered by what he perceives as an advance. At this point, even Sherlock Holmes might be expected to say "I'm not gay.". Unlike John, he never denies it - maybe because he does not care, maybe because it is true. Then there is Janine's comment about being friends although she knows "the kind of man you are.". She could be referring to his character but she has seen a very unattractive side of that character. Isn't it more likely that she is referring to his sexuality, particularly as he has been faking a relationship with her?

 

John probably isn't not gay - certainly he seems attracted to women - but he may not be entirely straight - he seems attracted to Sherlock too. Personally, I think love and desire is too complicated for narrow labels. Maybe John does not feel drawn to other men, only to one particular, unique man - Sherlock.

 

I don't think John and Sherlock will ever be lovers in the tv series. Neither the writers or actors want to go that way, and I doubt that the general public does either. Actually, I do not want it to happen ( though some part of me does want John to give poor lonely Sherlock a kiss...) I prefer them to keep the tension and occasionally play with the idea, but keep John in denial and Sherlock with no apparent need for a sex life. It is more interesting that way.

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Sorry about the typos. I was writing this whilst cooking dinner and not paying enough attention to auto-correct!

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Sherlock is just not interested in sex or romantic relationships. That doesn't mean he must be gay. In fact, I'm beginning to be tired of all these gay jokes in the show. 

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I don't think John and Sherlock will ever be lovers in the tv series. Neither the writers or actors want to go that way, and I doubt that the general public does either. Actually, I do not want it to happen ( though some part of me does want John to give poor lonely Sherlock a kiss...) I prefer them to keep the tension and occasionally play with the idea, but keep John in denial and Sherlock with no apparent need for a sex life. It is more interesting that way.

 

Amen to that. As for the rest of your post, let's argue, okay? I love arguing.

 

First of all Sherlock. I seriously doubt he's meant to be gay. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind if he was and I would not think it untrue to the original character at all. But what I see on screen is a man who finds anything sexual pretty unsettling and is uncomfortable with it, no matter what he says to Mycroft to the contrary in A Scandal in Belgravia. So if he were sexually attracted to men  - or just one specific man, i.e. John, he would feel uncomfortable in his presence. He would never have chosen to share a flat with him and he would certainly not grab his head in an attempt to jolt his memory or communicate with him wearing nothing but a sheet. Sherlock was also very obviously attracted to Irene as a woman, not just a mind. As she herself put it, he "knew where to look", very well. And he has her running around naked in his mind palace. I very much doubt that all they do there when he isn't busy is chat. Of course, it was also Irene who pointed out, quite correctly, that sexual orientation isn't that cut and dried.

 

Secondly, John. There are plenty of plausible alternative explanations for why he acts the way he does, but I admit the way they portray him invites speculation, and after series 3, they really can't tell me any more that it was not intentional. Yes, they do seem to be playing with a certain, probably involuntary undertone of the old stories. It has always provoked a sly grin from me that when writing about a case that they handled years ago, the good doctor was able to tell exactly when, where and why any kind of physical contact took place and what it felt like. I mean, either his memory was very tenacious when it came to these matters or he actually wrote them down in his notebook. Poor Doyle. He was only trying to make his story come alive. He also had his characters quote verbatim long conversations that took place months ago, so I really don't think he was trying to tell his readers anything particular about poor Dr Watson.

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Personally, I've always thought of John as uncomfortably bi and not wanting to think about it.

 

There is a fair amount of stigma attached to being bi, you get misunderstandings from both ends of the spectrum (gay and straight) and it seems to be almost acceptable to bi-bash now that gay-bashing is seen as non-PC. As I'm speaking from personal experience, I know it happens and I have bi friends who really wish they weren't because of the amount of verbal abuse and discrimination they get when people find out.

 

 

 

 

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I'm happy to have friendly disagreements!

 

I wouldn't say Sherlock's orientation is one hundred per cent gay. He seemed to like the look of Irene's body as well as her mind and, as you say, she's naked in his mind palace. Evidently he didn't delete that memory! On the other hand, he doesn't seem to have consummated his "relationship" with Janine, even though she was up for it. Maybe it was because he was being a gentleman, as he knew the relationship would not last beyond its usefulness to him, but it is hardly gentlemanly to pretend to propose to someone, so noble motives seem unlikely. (From Janine's point of view, it would surely have hurt less if he had slept with her and dumped her than if he proposed to her and dumped her.). You would think that, if he was really trying to convince her that his interest was genuine, he would have been intimate with her. (Though she did get to have a bath with him. Lucky girl.)

 

It is true that his lack of interest might be due to fear and/or indifference regarding sex. He does appear to have a low sex drive (unless he has a secret life, which he manages to hide from John who is gobsmacked at the thought of Sherlock with a girlfriend.). However, I think he is remarkably relaxed about suggestion of homosexuality ( unlike John, who is horrified) and his only discomfort with the idea of being chatted up by John at Angelo's lies in the fact that he doesn't want a boyfriend, not with the idea that John appears to be offering himself. Yet he has firmly ruled out girlfriends - "not my area" - and seems affronted by John's reassurance that it is ok if he is gay. I have always thought that this was because he was indignant about the implication that there might be something wrong with his sexuality.

 

I am not at all sure that Sherlock would want a physical relationship with anyone, including John. His needs just don't seem to go in that direction. What he seems to need is John's love and commitment, and his physical presence. Maybe it is just brotherhood but it seems deeper than even the most profound friendship.

 

I'm not sure that Sherlock is uncomfortable regarding sex. I think he is extremely uncomfortable about taunts regarding his supposed virginity, whether they are spoken by Mycroft or Irene. It sounded like a bit of cruel older-brother mockery and it obviously stung, as Sherlock gets his own back in TEH ("How would you know?") I wonder how Moriarty managed to find the same weak spot - or maybe it was Irene herself, attributing her own observation to Moriarty. Apart from this, he seems reasonably at ease. It could be that he walks around in a sheet, grabs John, etc, because he is asexual or it could be because he enjoys this sort of intimacy with the one person to whom he is attracted.

 

Iyour comments about ACD's Dr Watson made me laugh. Poor Watson, nursing a terrible crush on his unattainable friend. ,I tend to feel that our John feels the same but his emotions are buried beneath layers of social conformity. But I could be wrong, and I probably am.....

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I'm happy to have friendly disagreements!

 

Oh goody!

 

Who knows what the writers have in mind concerning John Watson. I am sure if asked, they would act a lot like John himself. I think I don't much care or want to know, but speculation is always fun and I totally see where your interpretation comes from.

 

As for Sherlock and Janine, I think I will take my "friendly disagreement" on that matter to the thread for His Last Vow, so, uh, see you there ;)

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I don't think John and Sherlock will ever be lovers in the tv series. Neither the writers or actors want to go that way, and I doubt that the general public does either. Actually, I do not want it to happen ( though some part of me does want John to give poor lonely Sherlock a kiss...) I prefer them to keep the tension and occasionally play with the idea, but keep John in denial and Sherlock with no apparent need for a sex life. It is more interesting that way.

 

Amen to that. As for the rest of your post, let's argue, okay? I love arguing.

 

First of all Sherlock. I seriously doubt he's meant to be gay. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind if he was and I would not think it untrue to the original character at all. But what I see on screen is a man who finds anything sexual pretty unsettling and is uncomfortable with it, no matter what he says to Mycroft to the contrary in A Scandal in Belgravia. So if he were sexually attracted to men  - or just one specific man, i.e. John, he would feel uncomfortable in his presence. He would never have chosen to share a flat with him and he would certainly not grab his head in an attempt to jolt his memory or communicate with him wearing nothing but a sheet. Sherlock was also very obviously attracted to Irene as a woman, not just a mind. As she herself put it, he "knew where to look", very well. And he has her running around naked in his mind palace. I very much doubt that all they do there when he isn't busy is chat. Of course, it was also Irene who pointed out, quite correctly, that sexual orientation isn't that cut and dried.

 

Secondly, John. There are plenty of plausible alternative explanations for why he acts the way he does, but I admit the way they portray him invites speculation, and after series 3, they really can't tell me any more that it was not intentional. Yes, they do seem to be playing with a certain, probably involuntary undertone of the old stories. It has always provoked a sly grin from me that when writing about a case that they handled years ago, the good doctor was able to tell exactly when, where and why any kind of physical contact took place and what it felt like. I mean, either his memory was very tenacious when it came to these matters or he actually wrote them down in his notebook. Poor Doyle. He was only trying to make his story come alive. He also had his characters quote verbatim long conversations that took place months ago, so I really don't think he was trying to tell his readers anything particular about poor Dr Watson.

 

 

I've always imagined Sherlock was asexual and homo/biromantic. One can have no sexual desire (though, sometimes there is still a bit pf physical need in the way our hormones react to things) and still very much romantically love someone. I say homoromantic or biromantic based on a lot of the same things that Slithytove stated before. The way he reacts to things (such as the infamous coversation in Angelo's) and just generally how he treats people hitting on him.

 

He thinks John is hitting on him - he politely refuses (though, I suppose many could aruge he politely refused because he needed the flatshare). Molly hits on him, asking him to coffee and wearing lipstick - he very carefully acts as though he doesn't even notice (even though he later admits to using Molly's crush on him, so he knew it was there). I doubt the many that notices the specific brand of underwear Jim from IT is wearing wouldn't notice and deduce why a girl puts on lipstick around a boy.

 

As for Irene. This is just where I disagree a bit. I think he may well have been very attracted to her mind. She challenged him. And as is said, brainy is the new sexy. However, the way he acts around her, to me, doesn't imply a physical attraction. He looks at her and analysis her, takes her in. Sherlock notices the state of a woman's nails and how they relate to her worklife, I don't think it's too odd to think if a woman presented herself naked and he had trouble reading her, that he would look for all of the information he could to store to go over later. As for his Mind Palace, if he is mentally attracted to her, then I think her being naked - that moment she posed that great challenge to him - would be a good way to show her.I always say Sherlock and Irene as a love of the challenge and wits than a physical attraction.

 

Sherlock's general attitude and sheet wearing all say to me he cares nothing about the phsyical and he is comfortable with who he is in that sense. I don't see him being over defensive to the implication he's a virgin. Maybe in that when Mycroft says it it implies there is something Sherlock doesn't know but not that sex alarms him. His reaction to Molly in TSoT also seemed to be a "Why in the world are you telling me this, of all people?" Confusion at her mention, rather than a physical discomfort.

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Then there is the stag night, with the drunken touching, John's "Am I a pretty lady?", and both of them curled up on the stairs like a couple in bed..... Small details but I think Moftiss and co are quite knowing and are playing with us. Anyway, why doesn't John invite anyone else to his stag do? He must have friends - Greg and Mike, for a start, and presumably ex-army pals, people from work.... Does he only invite Sherlock because he knows the latter is uncomfortable at social gatherings? We know that he previously avoided John's birthday party for the same reason.). Presumably his presence to John is so much more important than any other friendship.

 

Well, as I understand such things (i.e., not terribly well), it isn't the groom-to-be who chooses and invites the stag-night guests, it's the best man.  One does wonder why Mary didn't help Sherlock draw up a guest list, but maybe she offered and he declined on the grounds that it was his job.  Or perhaps others were invited but did not attend -- after all, Mike Stamford wasn't even at the wedding, and Greg might have been on duty that night.

 

In any case, this presumably reflects more on Sherlock's outlook than on John's.

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Well, as I understand such things (i.e., not terribly well), it isn't the groom-to-be who chooses and invites the stag-night guests, it's the best man.  One does wonder why Mary didn't help Sherlock draw up a guest list, but maybe she offered and he declined on the grounds that it was his job.  Or perhaps others were invited but did not attend -- after all, Mike Stamford wasn't even at the wedding, and Greg might have been on duty that night.

 

In any case, this presumably reflects more on Sherlock's outlook than on John's.

 

I think so too. And I think it didn't even occur to Sherlock to invite other people. He's not exactly a sociable person. And he didn't seem to have entirely grasped the concept of that evening, anyway.

 

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I'm happy to have friendly disagreements!

Oh goody!

 

Who knows what the writers have in mind concerning John Watson. I am sure if asked, they would act a lot like John himself. I think I don't much care or want to know, but speculation is always fun and I totally see where your interpretation comes from.

 

As for Sherlock and Janine, I think I will take my "friendly disagreement" on that matter to the thread for His Last Vow, so, uh, see you there ;)

 

Yes, definitely!

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/>

 

 

Then there is the stag night, with the drunken touching, John's "Am I a pretty lady?", and both of them curled up on the stairs like a couple in bed..... Small details but I think Moftiss and co are quite knowing and are playing with us. Anyway, why doesn't John invite anyone else to his stag do? He must have friends - Greg and Mike, for a start, and presumably ex-army pals, people from work.... Does he only invite Sherlock because he knows the latter is uncomfortable at social gatherings? We know that he previously avoided John's birthday party for the same reason.). Presumably his presence to John is so much more important than any other friendship.

Well, as I understand such things (i.e., not terribly well), it isn't the groom-to-be who chooses and invites the stag-night guests, it's the best man. One does wonder why Mary didn't help Sherlock draw up a guest list, but maybe she offered and he declined on the grounds that it was his job. Or perhaps others were invited but did not attend -- after all, Mike Stamford wasn't even at the wedding, and Greg might have been on duty that night.

 

In any case, this presumably reflects more on Sherlock's outlook than on John's.

Yes, you are probably right about the best man thing. I don't actually know anyone who has been on a stag night (I know that sounds ridiculous but it is true.). However, if I was John, I would have been somewhat surprised to find it was only going to involve the two of us! Surely he must have accepted such an unusual arrangement because he knew it made Sherlock more comfortable.

 

If other people were invited and none of them turned up, then I do feel sorry for poor old John.

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If other people were invited and none of them turned up, then I do feel sorry for poor old John.

 

I seriously doubt Sherlock would have asked anybody. Lestrade for example - I'm sure Sherlock would not have relished the thought of yet another "funny video" featuring him making the rounds at Scotland Yard. Besides, Sherlock might just agree to get (a carefully planned and calculated level of) drunk with John for a special occasion, but I do not see him compromising his dignity that far in the presence of anybody else, unless, of course, it was for a case.

 

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Personally, I've always thought of John as uncomfortably bi and not wanting to think about it.

 

There is a fair amount of stigma attached to being bi, you get misunderstandings from both ends of the spectrum (gay and straight) and it seems to be almost acceptable to bi-bash now that gay-bashing is seen as non-PC. As I'm speaking from personal experience, I know it happens and I have bi friends who really wish they weren't because of the amount of verbal abuse and discrimination they get when people find out.

This is rather the same way that I see John. I think he loves Mary and can acknowledge it, but he cannot acknowledge his feelings for Sherlock, even to himself. This is not surprising because, as you say, bi people get criticism from both gay and straight. I have even heard it said that bi-sexuality does not exist and it is just gay people kidding themselves!

 

Personally, I think everyone has the potential to be bi if they happened to meet the right person - a Sherlock, if you like, whom you could love regardless of gender. But that is just my opinion. I am not sure it could happen but I believe it could.

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Personally, I think everyone has the potential to be bi if they happened to meet the right person....

 

But even if we could somehow prove that John is bi (or gay), we still wouldn't know whether he's romantically / sexually attracted to Sherlock.  Just because someone is attracted to men in general doesn't mean they're attracted to any one specific man -- even if they happen to be really good friends.

 

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I'd like to know why some people just refuse to accept the fact that John is a normal straight man who loves his best friend like... well, his best friend. I just don't see either Sherlock or him being gay at all. Yes, they probably have some special kind of friendship, like someone else on this forum said that they are "soulmates". I like this idea. It's more interesting than being gay. It's something special.

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I don't think "refuse to accept" fits this, Janie. Every piece of art is open to interpretation (or we'd only have need for one sceen adaption of Sherlock Holmes in the first place). Personally, I'd prefer for them to be just the best of mates there are, too, and I never shipped Johnlock, but Sign, at times, got me wondering if this bromance still needed the "b". But isn't it more fun, in the end, for their relationship to be so rich and ambigious that we can endlessly debate it? :)

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You're probably right, Caya. I wrote a bit too strong words. I've just never understood why two men can't have a great friendship and even live together without anyone thinking that they are gay. It's a bit sad actually. And even in TSoT I've never seen them to be more than best friends. But maybe I just have a very poor imagination :)

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Janie, I suspect part of the "problem" is that we the (female members of) the audience find Sherlock so damned attractive (and sexy...) that it is hard to imagine anyone living with him and being around him so much without falling in love with him... :)

 

I don't think the "Sherlock" writers see them as any "more" than best friends at all (if there really is more than that - why do people think romantic attachments are necessarily a step up from close friendships?), but I do see a lot of potential for willful  misinterpretation in the original stories and I think it's a nice touch that they play with that.

 

The characters' relationship is kind of hard to pin down. I understand why some are not satisfied with the label "best friends" and I am beginning to understand what people mean by "bromance". For a story about "just" being friends, there is an awful lot of tempest and turmoil. Sherlock Holmes is not an ordinary being, so why would he have ordinary friendships.

 

I'm contented to not have any kind of definition. There's something at work there and I'll just call it love for want of a better word, but I do not believe it's physical.

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Janie, I suspect part of the "problem" is that we the (female members of) the audience find Sherlock so damned attractive (and sexy...) that it is hard to imagine anyone living with him and being around him so much without falling in love with him... :)

 

 

Well, yeah, I think I can agree with that :D

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I tend to think of Sherlock as demi-sexual (or at least someone who really can't be bothered with all the mess and fuss of 'romantic' relationships) so the description of him being 'married to his work' in his case is a true one. I don't see him as exclusively gay - or not, for that matter.

 

Part of the thing with John is the continued vehemence of protestations of being 'not gay' - is he putting a little too much into his denials? It makes one wonder a tad; being bi is certainly not being gay and John might just not like labels. In the army, I assume being gay or bi won't have been that acceptable, but in the NHS no-one tends to give a monkeys as long as you work hard and are good at your job.

 

At the end of the day John and Sherlock obviously care massively for each other whether it has an undercurrent of sexual attraction or not - they're fascinated and exasperated in about equal measure and I don't think either could think of their life without the other in it in some shape or form, not any more.

 

I've read fic where Sherlock and John are described as platonic life partners who happened to be married to others - Sherlock to his work, John to Mary.

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Janie, I suspect part of the "problem" is that we the (female members of) the audience find Sherlock so damned attractive (and sexy...) that it is hard to imagine anyone living with him and being around him so much without falling in love with him... :)

 

 

Well, yeah, I think I can agree with that :D

 

 

I think we all should be able to agree with that.

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