Can straight women and men ever be just friends? Some say platonic friendships between men and women are dangerous and impossible in the long run. Others say that they are not only possible but that they can actually run deeper than same sex friendships. Will sexual tension always be an issue? My take is that male-female friendships can be very enriching, but only when both individuals are on the same page. Studies tell us that most often, we are not.
In the past, gender roles separated men and women. Now, both sexes share the workplace, the playground, and the grocery store checkout line, and this has changed how we relate to each another. We are teammates, workmates and friends. It’s a complicated dance of communication, expectations and entanglements.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire conducted a study that showed that in opposite-sex friendships, most men were attracted to their female friends, while most women didn’t share the attraction. Men also mistakenly assumed their female friends were attracted to them, while women were less likely to assume such a thing. Furthermore, women were more able to keep it platonic, even if attraction was involved, while most men tried to act on their feelings. So, according to this study, female-male friendships have a short shelf-life.
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Hollywood doesn’t promote female-male friendships either. Just look at When Harry Met Sally or a host of other popular rom-coms. Beneath the friendship lies a romantic relationship, every time. Remember the ironically-titled TV show Friends? Two of the six main characters on the show became much more than friends, and for years, plot lines revolved around their romantic tension.
WHAT HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE
Still, I do think we women can have healthy friendships with straight men. I find men’s —less emotional and more straightforward—approach to life refreshing and I am curious about our differences. So, male friendships are a way to better understand how differently our minds work. Yet I am cautious because I don’t want to ruin a good thing by destroying a rewarding platonic relationship with a romantic turn of events. As soon as I notice any attraction on either side, I step back. I don’t believe in Hollywood endings.
A CHECKLIST TO KEEP YOUR FRIENDSHIP IN CHECK
Now, if you’re romantically or sexually attracted to your male friend or vice-versa, you may be in for disappointment. The constant attraction lingers in the air. And what about that painful loss when your friend gets married, or talks about his love interests? In situations like these, it’s best to keep the friendship casual, and go out with groups of friends, instead of socializing exclusively with a buddy you’re secretly pining for.
If you’re not certain of your feelings for your friend, ask yourself these questions to figure out if this a friendship or a romantic attraction.
Why do I enjoy his company?
What would I do if he showed romantic interest in me?
What don’t I like about him?
Am I 100% open about my personal romantic life? Do I hide that side of my life from him? Why or why not?
Can I call him up at any time without giving it a second thought?
Can I imagine sleeping with him?
Simple questions that will help you evaluate what you feel for your friend. You will know if it’s safe to pursue and keep this friendship, give it another name, or perhaps end it altogether. Female and male friendships are just another very personal matter in our already complicated lives. One size doesn’t fit all and, like most personal affairs, your instinct probably already knows what’s right for you.
And remember that Julia Roberts film, My Best Friend’s Wedding? Her heart was broken when her best friend, whom she always thought she’d marry, gave his heart to another. So where did our heroine finally find comfort and solace? In the arms of her gay best friend, of course!