Can men and women really be just friends?
Whilst it is comforting to think that men and women can be purely platonic friends with no hidden feelings of romance or sexual attraction, this ideal seems to consistently get discredited with real-life examples.
I’m sure most of you reading this can claim to have platonic friends of the opposite sex, but can you be certain that the feeling is completely mutual? In my experience there are only two characteristics that will allow two people to void the popular theory that men and women can never really be just friends, which I will explain shortly.
I predict that there will be many differing opinions and examples for this topic, so whilst I will share some of my own insights, I want you to share your own thoughts too…
Can men and women really be just friends?
The two characteristics that allows two people of the opposite sex to be genuine friends are people who are in completely fulfilling relationships and people with a genuine abundance mentality towards dating. Notice that these are two instances that void someone of having any form of sexual frustration.
Until I had fully developed an abundance mentality towards dating in my early twenties through years of effort and experience, I too sometimes had trouble distinguishing friendship and attraction.
On a basic level, deep friendship is similar to a romantic relationship, only without any physicality or sexual attraction. Based on this hypothesis, genuine friendship can only occur if sexual attraction is nonexistent. Both recognition of this sexual attraction and the desire for it can differ substantially between the man and the woman in question, which is where confusion or conflicting views come into play. I talked about this particular scenario in the recent article How to get out of the friend zone.
There is a great scene in the film When Harry Met Sally where Harry (played by Billy Crystal) and Sally (played by Meg Ryan) are discussing this issue of whether men and women can be just friends. The clip can be viewed below:
Please share your thoughts:
Based on what I have written, do you think men and women can happily be just friends? Do you have examples of this theory working or not working in your own life? 🙂
I guess I’ll be the first comment on here…
I’m bisexual so does that mean I would not be able to maintain friendships with anybody? =) This is unrealistic. I am drawn to people who are on my wavelength but who I may or may not be attracted to. In some ways I certainly am but it is overtly their *mind* that draws me in as opposed to their physical features.
I am friends with all kinds of people and whilst they do veer towards the “certainly not unattractive” I would not say I had entertained the idea of a sexual relationship with over 95% of them. The other 5% are probably my ex’s in that equation. :p
I think some people have underlying motives for wanting to be friends and as such, will be sussed out eventually. I believe men and women are able to have platonic friendships – it’s a sign of maturity.
That’s an interesting point about bisexuality and one I admit that I hadn’t considered yet. I don’t think it changes the dynamic too much because what I should have emphasised is that the amalgamation of friendship and attraction is rarely a mutual feeling. In fact, by definition it can’t be, else aside from some serious miscommunication or external factors, the two people in question would be in a relationship of some sort!
I agree with your points that there is a difference between physical attraction and emotional attraction but the key to the whole summation that you mentioned is sexual attraction. Physical attraction followed by emotional attraction and then sexual attraction is also the order that they manifest when going through the phases of attraction, rapport and seduction so this is all mainly relevant to people who have trouble consistently following that pattern. That is what I was referring to as having an abundance mentality towards dating, which it has to be said women create a lot more easily than men due to the way we are socialised differently. It is also worth noting that this is all rarely a conscious thing.
So whilst cross-gender friendships are indeed a product of maturity, the maturity either stems from contentment or social etiquette.
Thanks for your comment; it was just what I was looking for to kick-start the discussion! 🙂
I used to think it was possible when I was younger. Now that I’m older, I think that it’s really hard for men and women to be just friends.
For one thing, the most successful relationships are based in friendships. Most friendships occur because something about that person stands out, or you wouldn’t be interested in befriending that person.
From my experience, it’s rare that two people of the opposite sex who are unattached will feel the same amount of non-attraction for one another. One of them usually is attracted, which can make true friendship really hard.
I think the only time men and women can be platonic friends is if 1. Both are in happy, content relationships, or 2. If you have a girlfriend (or if your a guy, a guy friend) whose significant other does absolutely nothing for you attraction-wise. It may sound superficial but looks are the first thing that gets a person’s attention and their personality will keep or lose it.
You have summed up a lot of what I was trying to get across, thank you. 🙂
Fulfilling relationships are indeed based on friendships and that’s what I was also trying to get across: we are ATTRACTED to our friends and like you say, this is going to differ between the two people in both its form and intensity. So whilst it is possible for these attraction levels to be at the right balance to maintain a mutual friendship, it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.
I agree with your list at the end of your comment too. The topic of our friends’ partners is an interesting one actually. It’s one of the situations where people really restrain their desires because they know how socially unacceptable it is to have feelings for a friend’s partner!
Thanks for adding to the discussion, 🙂
I work in a very male dominated workplace and I don’t think I would be able to survive if men and women couldn’t be friends. Maybe it is one sided but without sounding selfish I can get on with it and pretend we are just friends at least. The worst scenario is men who befriend you believing that it is a way to get in a relationship with you. Yes it can work but I make a strong point of separating between my friendships and relationships. Two of my best male friends are gay men and maybe it is because I can fully trust them and know they are not even slightly attracted to me in that way that makes out friendship so real.
I’m glad someone has brought up the point of the types of friends we have. How you make your friends and what you are looking for definitely plays a part in all this: whether you met a friend proactively or through the consequences of life (such as at work). Normally friendships in the latter category progress a lot more nonchalantly, which can allow one to both soften and phase out any undesired feelings more easily.
I agree that actively befriending someone is a bad way to potentially date them but such an act is rarely intentional. It is more often than not them not knowing how to act in order to develop a relationship the way they want to in the first place.
It’s interesting that you mention you make a point of separating between friendships and relationships. Why I say this is because when meeting someone new for the first time both people are in a default category and so presumably at some point you specifically place them in the friendship pile or not. The way I treat it is a slight variation of that, which is based on my situation at the time: either looking for potential relationships of a certain kind, or not.
It may sound unorthodox but the way I often teach people to meet members of the opposite sex when in this mode is to treat everyone as a friend by default but act as if they are potentially something more until you have discovered one way or the other. This alleviates the possibility of ending up with one thing and wanting another if done correctly.
As for your last point, I hear a lot of women say that their gay male friends are just like their female friends in the sense that they don’t have to worry about there ever being any awkward sexual tension. I think that’s great and if only everyone was more authentic with their intentions and feelings then this could happen between straight men and women too!
Thanks for your comment, 🙂
Interesting discussion. I would like to think that men and women can be friends but in reality I think it is hard to have 100% no feelings on both sides. Obviously you are their friend in the first place because you like them so is it only physical attractiveness that is a factor?
The one relationship I have had that blossomed out of friendship did not work out like we imagined and effectively ruined the friendship. Perhaps you could also talk about why we find it so hard to be friends with exes?
As mentioned in some of my earlier comment responses, physical attractiveness plays a part but is not the only factor. It is hard to have an exactly equal level of attraction from each person and this can also change throughout the friendship as other circumstances change.
As for your question about remaining friends with ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, this is because we know that the attraction was once prevalent and it is hard to pretend otherwise. I’ve spoken about this specific situation in previous articles, most notably the article ‘Do you have an ego in your relationship?’ I remain good friends with a number of ex-girlfriends and it is by utilising the concepts outlined in that article that enable us to do so both mutually and healthily.
Thanks for your comment, 🙂
I am currently attracted to and possibly in love with my best friend. What do I do to stay best friends with him? I think my question is more about I dont want him to know, because right now I know his feelings are not mutual… so how do I be his best friend and see him date other women? Is it possible to still stay best friends forever? At what point can I tell him?
That is a tricky situation. How long have you known each other and been best friends for?
Normally in a situation such as this, it is largely the mental visualisations that make the feelings so strong: fantasising or imagining what it would be like together. Coupled with being around each other frequently, the feelings can become very intense.
The only way to start to counteract these feelings is to make a conscious effort to reframe your thoughts and prevent yourself from thinking about this attraction too much. The easiest way to achieve this is with real-life distractions for the time being. Taking this a step further is to distract yourself with other romantic interests and start dating and mixing with other people until you start to view him more platonically again. Your desires for other people may seem fruitless at first but this technique does work over time.
Whilst I wouldn’t recommend explicitly telling your friend about how strong your feelings are if you want to preserve the friendship, there are ways to slowly reframe the friendship to start to incorporate mutual attraction and let him know your true feelings; I talked about this in the article ‘How to get out of the friend zone’. You still risk ruining the friendship this way so whichever route you choose, you want to conduct it with a careful degree of subtlety.
I’m a guy, and I’ve found that in most cases my female friends are actually better friends to ask for help from something than guys. I treat some of my female friends as mentors/psychiatrists (please excuse me if I hacked that word to pieces) and things seem to work out. I do have one instance that still puzzles me. Last year in school, this girl that was 2 years older than me became really friendly with me. We’d talk at least 3 times a day and she was extremely nice and friendly. She, however, always talked about a boyfriend and I was in a relationship at the time (although that has changed since then) but her friends were telling me to ask her to go out with me. Obviously, with both of our relationship standings I knew it was taboo to ask her, so I didn’t. Before she left, she had told me that her current relationship wouldnt last because the guy was not fit to lead an adult life with her. Still, by that time I considered her a friend even though we were talking less.
What really shocked me is that, the summer afterward, I had tried to get in contact with her online. After three spaced out attempts she had pretty much told me to never talk to her again and that she was living a perfectly happy life with a boyfriend of hers and didn’t want me bothering her anymore. I did as she said but I am disappointed to lose a friend and wonder if it was my inaction that caused it? I would have told her that I was in a relationship, but the oppertune moment didn’t show up, so I simply chose inaction.
Is there something I’m missing in this equasion or is my guess accurate?
I can definitely understand how you feel you often get better advice from females than males when dealing with personal issues. Whilst a large generalisation, women are a lot better at seeing the bigger picture and analysing things such as emotions, whereas men typically look for the narrow solution using a logical mind. What kind of advice you are looking for at any particular time will warrant a different one of these stereotypes.
As for the situation you describe, there are many unknown factors that could have influenced her change in behaviour whilst she was away but your guess might be a good one.
It seems she made hints that she was possibly interested in more than friendship where she mentions not feeling her current relationship would last. Now that time has passed and she is concentrating on this relationship I imagine she feels rekindling a friendship with you wouldn’t be for the best, or she feels betrayed.
Two things women often do that men don’t seem to relate to (and remember that these are all generalisations) is firstly that they think any indicators of interest they give to men are far more obvious than they actually are, and that once they have emotionally given themselves to a man, it generally sticks. It’s impossible to determine if this is the case in your situation without knowing far more details but they might have played a part along with what you suggested.
If you did want to rekindle any friendship, it’s generally a combination of time and a well thought out renewal that will work the best.