Girlfriends? Boyfriends? Or just friends? Can men and women be friends without benefits? We seem to think so. However, I’m skeptical…for this is a question that, in all marriages, may just come “up” more often than he does. Can my sweetie be “just friends” with a person of the opposite sex? Well…maybe…if that person has a third eye, ear, or boob…and the extra boob disclaimer is iffy…that could backfire. We first need to define “friend.” A friend isn’t one of the hundreds of faces and statuses we see daily on social networks. It isn’t a co-worker we see only at the office and speak to in passing, or even chat with in spurts. And it isn’t the doorman, delivery man, or handyman we see and touch base with a few times a week. Discussing mundane details regarding the sweltering weather or the day-to-day details of our riveting existence does not a friend make. These are acquaintances, at best. Then there are the friends we grew up with and still consider great friends, but only speak to occasionally and see even less. With very little time to nourish the relationship…of course, we can manage these “friendships.” And sometimes, not. 😉 The “friend” I’m referring to — the one that blurs the line — is the one with whom we share our deepest secrets and feelings, hang out with regularly, grab a bite or a movie with, or call when we’re upset or excited…the one we look to for emotional support. Our shoulder to cry on. Our ear to rely on.
For THIS is the male/female “friendship” standing trial. The charges: providing a pick-me-up, tripping us up, and ending in breakup.
We’re so sure we, ourselves, can successfully have platonic friends…yet not so sure about our spouses. If our partner does develop a close friendship with someone other than us, we can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy…wonder why he/she needs that friend (aren’t we enough?)…obsess over just how “friendly” they are, or will be. Before long, our imagination has eaten away at our brain and sanity like a nosy live-in mother-in-law on steroids.
However, psychologists now say a successful cross-sex friendship is not only possible, but beneficial. Possible out of necessity…the idea that men and women couldn’t be friends, they say, came into play before women entered the workplace and had no reason, aside from romantic, to hang out with men other than their husbands. They say men and women have been forced to successfully manage friendships due to working conditions. Forced to…yes. Successful at…questionable. (So, according to this theory…if we force a sexual tension, the tension will dissolve? I think workplace affairs have “blown that willy” out of the water.)
Experts say a cross-sex friendship is also beneficial to both men and women. Men find they’re able to confide in and open up to a female friend in a way they simply can’t do with another guy. This freedom to confide gives men a “shoulder” and benefits them emotionally. Women, on the other hand, find they can be more laid back with a guy friend…walk on the lighter side a bit. She’s able to temporarily escape the drama that lurks among women like the grim reaper…eager to take our souls over just one wrong word at just the wrong time. Breaking news: Women are sensitive and easily offended. These benefits, though, are undeniably evident. It’s also reported that in order for us to manage this successful cross-sex friendship, certain precautions must be made. We must be up front, open, and honest about our friendship. Address a possible sexual attraction. Agree on how to handle that attraction. Negotiate what the relationship means…define it. And establish boundaries. If we define and manage it, psychologists say, a platonic friendship is very much possible. Men and women can, in fact, be friends.
The defense rests.
How very optimistic of them. Life always goes according to plan, doesn’t it? 😉
And now…the prosecution. The psychologists have determined one thing…yet, proven another through studies, interviews, questionnaires, etc. One study consisted of 150 professional men/women. Sixty-two percent of them reported sexual tension present in their cross-sex friendships. Men claimed that sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship in the first place. Hmmm, really? A separate study questioned 1,450 members of Match.com. The answers were oh so contradictory and proved us to be optimistically hypocritical.
~ 83% believed men and women could be platonic friends.
~62% say they’ve been engaged in a platonic friendship that has crossed the line.
~94% say it’s possible to fall in love with someone who starts out as a friend.
~71% hope that once they find a romantic partner, that partner would have been a friend first.
So, the majority asked declared with certainty that men and women could be friends without sex ever entering the equation; however, this same majority admitted to crossing the line, falling in love with a friend, and hoping to marry a friend. Get a calculator! This doesn’t quite add up. Wishful thinking, perhaps?
Cosmo has done its own informal questionnaire. Findings confirm that most men wouldn’t mind if a platonic friendship moved to the next level. It also found women truly believe they can be friends with the opposite sex…believe being the operative word. Eighty percent of the women interviewed underestimate just how often their male friends are attracted to them. I’ll now refer back to the previous result in which men declared a sexual attraction to be the main motivator for initiating a friendship. It seems we attempt to be intellectually driven, but remain a slave to our loins. Our minds may be evolved, but our animal drive to mate refuses to make the transition. Damn sex drive!
Psychologists also say that males and females participate in “voluntary gender segregation.” This refers to our tendency to group up with members of the same sex. “NO GIRLS ALLOWED!” Sound familiar? From the time we’re tots, we gravitate towards same sex groups. We tend to stay in these groups until we reach puberty, lest we catch “cooties.” Our main motivator for leaving and seeking out members of the opposite sex is our looming sex drive. Once we settle on a mate and marry, we once again find ourselves gravitating towards members of the same sex for recreational fun. And achieving and maintaining a “friend” of the opposite sex becomes more difficult…why? Jealousy! We know what that “friend” is thinking, don’t we? Because that’s what we’d be thinking…though we’d never admit it.
So, can men and women be friends? We seem pretty enthusiastic, in theory, that we’re perfectly capable of separating romance and friendship. But, as the studies indicate, that very thin line can blur quicker than the vision of a drunk on a tilt-a-whirl. When it comes to applying the theory and taking one of two routes, the libido seems to be the path of least resistance. Plenty of short-cuts and few stop lights.
When put on the stand and asked the infamous question, “Can men and women be friends?” we say “Yes, absolutely, men and women can be friends. Sex won’t get in the way.” But are we kidding ourselves? Are we denying our own animal instincts? Convincing ourselves we’re better than that. Are we better than that? When it comes to the case of male/female friendships…are we perjuring ourselves?
Can men and women be “just friends?” It seems the jury is still out. I think not. But you decide.