27 Jan Opposite-Sex Friendships: Can We Just Be Friends?
Can a man and a woman just be friends? It’s a question that gets asked every day, in real life and in the movies. It’s a question I’ve been contemplating recently.
We have this assumption in our culture that men are always on the prowl. The commonly accepted belief about opposite-sex friendship is that it will inevitably turn into a sexual or romantic situation. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have tried to test this theory; in a study reported in Scientific American, 88 sets of opposite-sex friends were interviewed about their friendships and feelings of desire.
“…these studies suggest that men and women have vastly different views of what it means to be “just friends”—and that these differing views have the potential to lead to trouble. Although women seem to be genuine in their belief that opposite-sex friendships are platonic, men seem unable to turn off their desire for something more. And even though both genders agree overall that attraction between platonic friends is more negative than positive, males are less likely than females to hold this view.”
OK, so men think about sex and sometimes they want to insert sex into the relationship. But to reduce all male-female interaction to a preamble to sex is unfair. It discredits men and it assumes that women don’t have equal measures of sexual desire.
Men aren’t encouraged to have the same kind of intimate, soul-baring relationships women have. Our cultural notions of masculinity limit the roles men play in relationship to the opposite sex and we become suspicious when men initiate friendships. Sexual desire is presumed to be at the base of every relationship between a man and a woman—even when it’s not present.
“He just wants to get in your panties”. Heard that one? If we approach all opposite-sex friendships with the idea that men can’t control themselves, that all they want is to f*** us—we are missing out on the richness of friendships. That is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago. A year ago I met this guy in a restaurant. We spent a pleasant hour or so chatting and several months later he wrote to ask me a question about blogging. I heard from him again a few weeks ago and he asked me to meet him for a drink. I wondered if he was just interested in sex (he is reading the blog) but I set that aside and agreed to have a drink. It was easy conversation, we have lots in common, and there was no hint of sexual tension. We talked about his kids and his wife, our mutual interests, etc. At one point I asked him why he wanted to see me, trying to assess his motives. It seemed a fair question and his answer was honest and spoke to the complexity of friendship. I was the one who was making assumptions about his motives.
Of course men and women can be friends. And, in those friendships we have to accept that sexual attraction might arise. People are attracted to each other in many ways. We meet someone who shares the same taste in mystery books, or collects good wines and there is a bond. We connect and relate to people on various levels and one of them is sexual. Is it possible to hold the idea of finding someone attractive and not feel the need to act on that? To simply notice the attraction when it arises, as we do when we have other emotions, and then let go?
I’m processing my thoughts and feelings as I write this. This is my atonement. And an opportunity for me to look at how I view men, in relationship to my single status and my work. Because I write about sex men have started contacting me via social media to start conversations, to get to know me. Harmless, but occasionally disconcerting even though I rarely reply.
This is also a musing on the complex topic of friendships and sexual attraction. We are schooled to assume that most man-woman relationships are about sex. We pretty ourselves up, he finds us desirable and wants to bed us. Old story, oversimplified. A story that puts the burden on men to control themselves because our culture would have us believe that men are sexual predators. The truth is that women have desires just as men do. Maybe the answer is to stop over-thinking this topic and build open strong relationships with people we enjoy. Clear boundaries, good conversations and mutual respect—key components of any relationship—allow two people to be present and engage in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
I want to continue exploring the male-female dynamic as it shows up in my own life and as it affects us on a societal level. How do you feel about opposite-sex friendships?