Can Men and Women be Friends?

I must have an answer, readers.  Men and Women.  Can they or can they not be “just friends”?

For years, especially in my teens, I considered males my better friends than females.  I found females catty, but truthfully I was probably fairly jealous of them myself, so it just wasn’t a pleasurable relationship. Through high school I was best friends with a male, but ultimately he married right after we graduated and our friendship waned after I moved to college.  Then in college I became friends with The Friend, as I guess we all know how that turned out.  But honestly, I probably consider these two people to be some of the best friends I’ve ever had that I haven’t dated.  In fact, up until about a year ago, I would have argued until my last breath that men make better best friends for females.

 But when I graduated college and became good friends with someone I work with, she adamantly and vehemently insisted that men and women CANNOT ever, under any circumstances, be “just friends”–individually.  Someone, she promised, always wanted more. Now I’m not sure to what extent this friend still sticks to this rule, but it really changed my philosophy when I sat down and really thought about it.

After arguing for months with my friend, I finally tried to think of a time that I was friends with the member of the opposite sex and didn’t secretly or openly have feelings for the boy….and I only came up with one scenario.  And then when I thought about it, the one scenario I thought of…ended up being an uncomfortable and ultimately forgotten friendship because of feelings the boy had for me.  I realize the ‘research’ I did wasn’t without flaws, but honestly, it blew me away realizing that, almost every single time I was “friends” with someone, someone wanted more. 

Maybe it’s because there is typically a sexual tension, noticed or unnoticed, between members of the opposite sex.  I think the sexual tension usually stems from intimacy, but the fancy thing about men and women being friends is that the intimacy comes from opening up about your life, your relationships, and other details of your day-to-day to this member of the opposite sex.  Somehow, detailed conversation causes us to attach much harder than any sexual encounter ever does.  The openness and honesty become serious intimate contact. 

It’s also easy to develop an intimacy with someone you see more often.  It’s fun to flirt in a bar, or spy a hottie across a room at a function, but how often do you pursue that contact?  Most of the time, you never see the person again.. but who do you see frequently?  The friend.  There are dinners, movies, hanging out.  It’s a constant in your life.  I think men are affected by the constancy of a friendship especially.  In my opinion, men can instantly judge whether someone is hot but when they’re confronted day in and day out by a friend who is not only attractive but has other great qualities on display in public, the real attraction develops. 

So, I’m convinced it’s impossible for two people to remain ‘just friends’ for very long, but the situation becomes even deeper when one or more parties are involved in a committed relationship.  Friendships don’t mix well with relationships for many reasons, but they’re nearly guaranteed to make something crumble when it is a friendship between a male and a female.  I don’t even have to remind you of all the dynamics of a relationship that can be affected by the jealousy that is sparked here.  The friend feels neglected, the partner feels insecure, and you’re stuck in the middle. 

I think that it’s probably okay to be friends with the opposite sex if you’re single..after all, it’s your funeral folks.  If you want to be friends with someone and risk pining away for them or having it turned around on you, that’s fine.  But if someone in the friendship is in a relationship of some sort, I think it’s flat-out inappropriate.  It’s just impossible to keep everyone happy, it’s unfair to the partner of your friend, especially if you suspect that you are developing feelings OR if you suspect your friend is developing feelings.

Where did all this come from?  I guess it’s because I think I have to break up with a friend today.  It’s not been a long friendship at all, really, it’s someone who I knew about 6 years ago through a group on campus.  We reconnected on Facebook, did the usual catching up.  We chat, have a good time, but he’s married.  I know my rules.  Men and women can’t be friends.  But I let it go on anyway. But this weekend the person asked for my number, and wanted to meet at a bar. 

I have to break it off and just explain that I don’t believe I can be friends with someone who is married.  For my safety and for theirs.  Am I totally off-base?

Are you friends with the opposite sex? Am I totally wrong?


8 thoughts on “Can Men and Women be Friends?

  1. Every relationship is different. I think that it’s possible for men and women to be friends, but I understand your point of view. Thinking back to my co-ed friendships, I do see the pattern where one of the parties wants it to be more than just a friendship. Not in every relationship, but in a lot of them. (Which is kind of weirding me out, actually…)

    The bottom line, though, is that you have to do what makes you feel comfortable. Don’t sacrifice your values for someone you don’t think you should be friends with, but who you’d feel bad about cutting off. If you wouldn’t make that sacrifice for a boyfriend, why would you do it for a friend you don’t know that well? And if you’re feeling so uneasy/stressed about a relationship that you think you should end it, letting it continue isn’t going to fix any problems. If someone’s crossing a line with you, you should stop them before they try to drag you across it, too.

  2. Most of my local friends are female — albeit older female — just by nature of my interests (I now live in a city where the women my age as rabid about sports as the men in most cities; I prefer attending theatre/art museums/the orchestra myself — and simply don’t understand the allure of football)

    My “best” friend, though, is a woman my age who I met through, of all places, — we have a lot of similar interests, and she’s quite impressive generally. We did 3 dates. Something I’ve never done before…I nearly kissed her at the end of the 3rd date (what can I say, I don’t have a whole lot of experience on the dating front…and I may forever regret that).

    The eve of our 4th date she called and told me that she’s enjoyed the time we’ve spent together but she met someone who she feels a deeper connection with and she felt that she should tell me. We met for the 4th time — not as a date but as time spent as friends. We’ve continued to hang out from time to time and her advice has helped me to understand the way “the other side thinks”.

    I’d be lying if said I wouldn’t be interested in exploring things if it didn’t work out with her current boyfriend, but I try to respect “the line” religiously and we’ve agreed that if I overstep that line she’ll tell me: I value her friendship too much to let interest in anything else ruin that.

    In the meantime, I’m still single and even with the help of her advice there aren’t many single women in my area under 33 who share my interests (or in other words would be caught something-other-than-dead in the Art Museum or at an Orchestra concert.

    1. I appreciate your perspective, especially because I think we’re near the same age.

      Respecting the line is key, I think. Perhaps I’m too judgmental on whether or not women and men can be friends. Or maybe I’m just afraid I can’t respect the line myself! Sometimes it’s easier for me to totally eliminate the possibility of a relationship–friendship or otherwise–than worry about whether I will be able to respect the line. Kudos to you, friend!

      Thanks for reading; I appreciate male perspective. I think we probably have a lot in common in terms of the challenges of meeting singles under 30.

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