Here is the latest entry from the Kenny and Erris project: She Said, He Said: The Gender Eclipse. Kenny and Erris are close friends, blissfully married to others and tackling gender-related issues from their respective viewpoints.
This time we were challenged to address the touchy age-old question: Can men and women be just-friends without, you know, the sex-thing getting in the way?
We are in a roomful of our friends on Valentine’s Day when Erris and I pop the question, “Can men and women be true friends without the sex thing getting in the way?”
The men plead the fifth without uttering a sound. The women start quietly but build up steam as they spout about how they would not be happy if their husbands went out to lunch with attractive women. Well, that wasn’t the question, but okay.
Their responses were as non-responsive as the guys’, but much more intriguing. They weren’t saying they didn’t trust their husbands, but they also weren’t thrilled with them even being tempted. Somehow to these women, lunch is now much more than lunch. So with those non-responses and that tension, one could conclude that the answer is for the most part NO, men and women cannot be true friends without the sex thing getting in the way. And if you are not in a healthy relationship, you are right.
But if you’re happily in a relationship, it’s not that simple or that bad or even that correct. In the end, regardless of your relationship, the deal is that men look and women look. If along the way they develop friendships and one is attracted to the other, so be it. For the one that is attracted, it’s friendship +.
But let’s not get attraction confused with sex and let’s not think that because one is attracted to the other, or even if both are attracted to each other, that they will inevitably end up in the sack giving each other massages, or that somehow that friendship is any less real. It isn’t. It’s only when it heads from friendship + to friends with benefits, that it’s a problem.
So relax. If you are happily in a relationship, then the friendship won’t go there and lunch will in fact just be lunch. Maybe with a dessert, but rest assured, no “happy ending.”
Life and law school taught me that there are exceptions to every rule. With that disclaimer, here we go: Men and women cannot be just-friends, except under certain circumstances. Maturity, marital status, and mutually understood expectations alleviate the inevitable sexual tension, which would otherwise preclude the success of such ventures.
In high school my best friends were girls – guys were reserved for crushes and dating. But in college I discovered a whole other gender that I had dismissed as not friend-worthy. There were interesting guys, funny guys, smart guys… They ate meals with us, hung out and talked late into the night (plus other stuff – but my mom reads my blog). But gender related tension always got in the way. Inevitably someone wanted more. Maybe it was the closeness: the studying in our beds, the late nights, the drinking. Whatever it was – was palpably present. I am reminded of a guy friend whom I loved with all my heart, but not in the same way he did. And when he “dumped” me, I didn’t blame him, but it hurt more than a “real” break-up.
Now that I’m a little older, I still prefer the company of my girlfriends. I do know several guys that are interesting, but still, you know, kind-of doofy (not you though, Kenny, so relax).
Clearly laid out expectations and unspoken guidelines make my relationships with guys possible. My husband and I have been together for 28 years and I’m certifiably crazy about him. I imagine that our friends can probably sense that. Our gravitational pull revolves around our frisky sense of humor, sarcasm and mad love. No one gets me like he does. No one. So for me he resides in a unique niche, leaving no reasonable expectation for competition.
Just because you’re married, doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful guy-girl friendships. It is the combination of managed expectations, maturity and fulfillment in your own relationship that sets the right tone and enables a productive friendship with the opposite sex. However, I suspect that generally these qualities and circumstances are relatively uncommon, making it difficult for men and women to be just friends, without “stuff” getting in the way. Confused? Me too. So my answer is yes, under certain narrow circumstances.
You know what? I changed my mind. Even with all the exceptions in place, “stuff” can get in the way. It just does.