“Men and women can’t be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way.”
“That’s not true. I have a number of male friends and there is no sex involved.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t, you only think you do.”
~When Harry Met Sally
Quick, how many friends of the opposite sex do you have?
Now, out of those people, how many have you either a) had a thing for b) known had a thing for you c) dated d) hooked up with?
Once you take those people out of the equation, how many are left?
If you’re like me, probably not that many.
A recent study came out that apparently “proves” that men and women cannot be just friends – and that in general, this is because of the man. As Harry says “A man can’t be friends with a woman he finds attractive, he always wants to have sex with her.” And if the sex thing is out there, the friendship is ultimately doomed.
So the movies and studies say.
I think men and women can be friends. But, as I’ve discussed with girlfriends of mine, there have to be rules. Generally you become friends with someone because something about them attracts you. This is harmless enough if that person is of the same sex (assuming you’re straight), but when something about a person of the opposite sex attracts you to be friends with them, it stands to reason that, on some level, you’re attracted to them. Or at least to some aspect of their personality. Now, we all of people in our lives who we’re just sort of friends with by proxy, so this idea really only makes sense with the people you’ve made a conscious effort to have in your life as a friend.
Here’s the thing about male/female relationships that trips me up – I love to flirt. And it’s fun to have male friends, because you can flirt. It’s just a natural part of that relationship. Unfortunately, it also means walking a fine line, and somehow ensuring that your flirting isn’t taken the wrong way. Sometimes, of course, even simple kindness can be mistaken for flirting by a person who wants to see it that way. Don’t even get me started on that one.
I think friendships like this take a certain amount of maturity to work, because there do have to be boundaries – especially if one of the people involved in this friendship is also in a romantic relationship. I’ve had plenty of friendships change overnight because either myself or my male counterpart gets into a relationship, and suddenly things that used to be appropriate become inappropriate. You have to put another person’s feelings into the equation of your friendship, and maybe they aren’t comfortable with the two of you going out drinking together, or staying up talking until 2am. And the immediate reaction to this is to jump to the defense. “What’s (s)he so worried about? We’re just friends.”
Are you, though? And if the answer to that is yes, then you shouldn’t have a problem being respectful of your friend’s relationship.
Then, of course, there’s the classic pickle of knowing that a friend is interested in you when you have no interest in them. This is something my friends and I talk about all the time - because what exactly are you supposed to do? First off, it’s a little uncomfortable, because suddenly you feel like this person is only so persistent with your friendship because they think that surely, eventually, they will change your mind and you’ll fall madly in love with them. This is generally false, and adds awkward pressure to everything you do together. But even if you move past that and make it clear that you’re not interested, how do you proceed? Is it selfish to keep hanging out with them because you enjoy their company, because it would make it harder for them to move on? Should you let them call the shot on that one? What’s best for the friendship? So many questions.
Ultimately, good friendships are worth fighting for – as long as you’re fighting for the right reasons. You can’t fight just because you want to lay claim on someone over their significant other, or because ‘it’s the principle of the thing’. You fight because you really care about someone, and want them in your life. Even if that means that some aspects of your friendship change. And somewhere along the line, you might have to set up boundaries. But that’s just the way it is.
After all, “we’re just friends”.