Can men and women be friends – for real?
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!