This is an age-old question that is still widely disputed and there is no unanimous opinion on it. It has been argued, proven and disproven both ways. EliteSingles spoke to international relationship coach and dating expert Sami Wunder to get the real low down on can men and women be friends or not.
Can men and women be friends: the debate
Many modernists and generation Y folks would tell you in the blink of an eye, “Of course men and women can be friends. Is that even a topic of discussion in today’s century? Are we seriously talking about this in a day and age where men and women walk shoulder to shoulder, work together and play sport together?”
And yet, I would venture to say that while men and women can definitely be friends, cross-sex friendship is still quite tricky, if one cares to investigate this topic deeply and with honesty. In this light, there are several layers to consider when asking ‘can men and women be friends’?.
Here, I am referring mostly to deep, connected friendships between a man and a woman, and not the more casual and circumstantial interactions that happen between people of all sexes in groups of friends, work buddies or colleagues.
As I offer this standpoint that close cross-sex friendship is tricky, I am also completely aware that we live in a society where expressing the trickiness of this situation can make you quickly get judged as archaic, traditional, too stuck up or living in the past century.
I beg to differ and I am very much a modern woman of the 21st century. While I do technically believe that cross-sex friendships are possible and do exist, I also believe they require a huge sense of self-awareness and the willingness to admit to yourself what is behind your real motivation.
Can men and women to be friends: the obstacles
There is a reason why cross-sex friendships become the talk of the town or your significant other feels jealous or threatened by your close, cross-sex friendship. While this behavior shouldn’t be condoned in any way, there is a nuance for navigating cross-sex friendships that one has to be aware of. Here are two primary reasons why cross-sex friendships can be tricky:
1. One party is more invested / more attracted
You will often find that men stay in friendships with women they were sexually and romantically attracted to, but there was no possibility of anything moving forward because of the woman’s feelings. In such cases, the man stays friends with the woman because they are hopeful there is a possibility something could still happen in the future.
On the other hand, women will often retain men as friends they know are really into them even when they don’t feel the same sexual attraction back. These available men will give a shoulder to lean on during the hard times and be a safe space to turn to in case of need, as should be in the case of friendship. Only that, for the man it may signal that something more is possible. When the friendship is based on attraction, the answer to ‘can men and women be friends?’, is no.
2. Sexual tension is present
Sexual tension will be present in most cases between a normally functioning heterosexual male and female, even when they are just friends. While this tension may be extremely visible and palpable in certain cross-sex friendships, and hence raise concerned eyebrows, in some others it may only rise to the surface in rare moments. These rare moments could include situations like when your cross-sex friend has had a break-up and is suddenly available or during drunken rendezvous when the defenses are low.
Again, the idea here isn’t to communicate that men and women have no sense of self-control or are so easily influenced. The idea is to bring to light the slippery slope that cross-sex friendships can be for both parties, unless pursued with extreme self-awareness.
In one study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Sapadin asked more than 150 professional men and women what they liked and disliked about their cross-sex friendships. High on the list of women´s dislikes was the aforementioned sexual tension. Men, on the other hand, more frequently replied that sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship, and that it could even deepen a friendship with a female. Either way, 62 percent of all subjects reported that sexual tension was present in their cross-sex friendships!
How can men and women then really be friends?
As I have stated above, I do believe it is possible for men and women to be friends, when both parties involved practice self-awareness. Here are some tips that will help.
1) Be extremely clear around your motivation for the friendship
It is okay to have a strikingly good-looking male or female as your friend, alongside your marriage or committed relationship. What is important though is that you are extremely clear on why you are friends with them. If the motivation is purely platonic, great. If not, be honest with yourself that you are attracted to this person. While it doesn’t mean that you cannot have friendship with them, it will still help to acknowledge the attraction you feel for them and will help you know your limits in tricky situations.
2) Don´t entertain flirtatious behaviors
Whether man or woman, if you are 100% sure that you don´t want this to go anywhere beyond platonic friendship, then it is best to not keep the hopes of the other party alive. Don´t be rude but don´t entertain flirtatious behaviors that keep the attraction and spark alive.
3) Practice healthy boundaries
I recommend to my clients that there are some situations you should avoid being in, in case of cross-sex friendships, no matter how emotionally intimate. For example, not sleeping in the same bed even though it may feel like the most innocent and harmless thing to do in the moment is a good idea. So is not criticizing your significant other to your cross-sex friend as it may unnecessarily trigger jealousy and feelings of inferiority in your SO, if you have one!
Can men and women be friends: the outcome
In conclusion, I do believe that male and female, cross-sex friendships are possible when practiced with self-awareness and good boundaries. In fact, they are not only possible but also healthy and much-needed. Without them, we would be living in a primitive world where half of the population does not talk to the other half of the population. Having said that, it is also important to not close our eyes to the natural attraction instincts that exist between a heterosexual male and female. Once we can acknowledge this truth and factor it in our friendships, we actually have the chance to create true and lasting platonic, cross-sex friendships.
About Sami Wunder:
Sami Wunder is a leading international love, dating and relationship expert. Her understanding of the dating process and masculine/feminine energy dynamics has helped hundreds of couples revitalize their relationships by capturing romance, trust and excitement. Sami is an author, wife and mother. For more info, visit her website.