There is one debate that’s been tossed around in relationship conversations since the Rob Reiner movie, When Harry Met Sally and Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake: whether men and women can really be friends, like the platonic (well kind of platonic when referring to Friends with Benefits…I mean like being friends.)
Many relationship experts will insist that a lasting male/female friendship is impossible. But then I have friends who are matchmakers whose opposite-sex friends are an indispensable part of their lives. There are glowing exceptions to every rule, aren’t there?
The thinking is that “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way,” as Billy Crystal’s character Harry says. He adds that “no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.”
I find this is true more often than not. I’ve tried – with patience and with simple, easy expectations – to keep my friendships with guy friends going, but one thing inevitably puts an end to them: they meet a girl. It happened with Cooper. It happened with Sid. And it happened with Jackson. We were having a ball! – a platonic ball, just to be clear – trying the new brews, sharing stories, and filling in the blanks of what we saw on each other’s Facebook feeds.
First and foremost, I’m happy for them. I want them to have love! And I’m delighted they found it. Sure, I miss them. But the role they occupied was more in the category of “drinking buddies” or someone to walk me across a dark parking lot to make sure I get to my car safely than as someone I confide in emotionally.
Sure, a little platonic flirting was exchanged, but I always try to keep the relationship slightly superficial and not too intense. Since I’m not single and not available, I try to be mindful not to give miscues. Having too much emotional intimacy with a male friend could turn into a slippery slope – especially if he’s attracted to you and you haven’t realized it yet.
And that could be the big snag in the male-female friendship: chemistry that shows up unbidden or 1-sided sexual attraction. In studies that took into consideration the history of the friendship, the current and past romantic involvement of the individuals, the sexual attraction of the individuals, and the level of relationship satisfaction with their current partner, evolutionary psychologists have found that men, regardless of relationship status, were more likely to admit to a strong attraction to their female friends. They also believed that their female friends were more into them than they actually were.
The women, on the other hand, were less attracted back (less attracted to and more the object of the attraction). They only reported a comparable level of attraction if they were unhappy in their current relationships.
So, it would seem that the male motive in a lot of so-called platonic friendships is actually sexual attraction. Remember, cross-sex friendships is a relatively new phenomenon in the history and development of relationship patterns. So, it’s OK to say, “We’re still figuring this stuff out.”
While I have hope that male-female friendships are both possible and healthy, I’m also very aware that such friendships can interfere with one or both persons’ long-term romantic relationships. And so, for that reason, I probably tend to view them as more temporary in my life and more malleable or in a state of flux. And I have “lost” several male friends whose company I really enjoyed when a special lady came into their lives.
I miss getting Moscow mules with Cooper, emailing with Sid, and going to fundraisers with Jackson. But I don’t take it personally that they had to shift their attention and energy to the new ladies in their lives. That’s as it should be. (Now, of course, if one of my girl friends did the same, I’d probably be a little more miffed! Haha!) But I understand that it can be a little trickier for men to multitask their relationships – especially female friendships – when they are fresh in the throes of falling in love. I want my friends to have happy, healthy romantic relationships, and if that means a briefer friendship with me, I’m OK with that.
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