Can men and women be friends — just friends, with no expectations and no romantic angle to their relationship? It’s an age-old question that has remained relevant through the changing eras, even as men and women navigate the maze of cross-sex friendships. If you’re drawing your inferences from pop culture, you’d be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that platonic friendship between man and woman is quite impossible.
From When Harry Met Sally to My Best Friend’s Wedding, from Monica and Chandler in Friends to Robin and Barney in How I Met Your Mother, from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na — the stories of the greatest cross-sex friendships always end up with a romantic twist. Even though these bonds come with their own sets of boundaries and challenges, a pure friendship between man and woman isn’t as unlikely as it made out to be.
Male-Female Friendship Psychology
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As opposed to what we’ve read about in books or seen in the movies, let’s dig deeper into a truer and more psychological aspect of things when raising the question — Can a man and woman be just friends? Some psychologists suggests that men and women are more often than not, guided by the biological drive to mate and create offspring. Which brings them to the conclusion that if men and women are innately designed to procreate, then being friends is off the table. While that is a valid argument, it’s not all true.
Can men and women be best friends? Sure they can. There are different types of attraction such as sexual, romantic or emotional that can develop between a man and a woman. A couple can have all or only one. And so one can say, that friendships are usually guided by an emotional attraction more than anything else.
Men And Women Friendship Challenges
Can a man and woman be just friends? The question has intrigued psychologists and sociologists alike, inspiring generous amounts of research on the subject. While different studies and surveys throw up different numbers, the broad takeaway is that sexual attraction, different expectations and societal perceptions often get in the way of such friendships.
A survey indicates 22 per cent of the men interviewed and 11 per cent women, had had sexual relations with a friend of the opposite sex. Another study carried out in 2016 finds that men are more likely to base friendships with the opposite sex on sexual attraction and with the expectation of immediate ‘sexual success’. Yet another study corroborates this trend, finding an incidence of sexual attraction even in the case of platonic friendship between man and woman.
To understand the conundrum — can men and women be best friends — we need to examine these friendships through the prism of the many challenges that define their course. These are some of the reasons as to why men and women can’t be friends.
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Challenge 1 – Men and women can’t be friends because of a difference in expectations
A platonic friendship between man and woman can exist, and many people establish a strong bond devoid of any lust or ulterior motive. However, more often than not, cross-sex friendships run into troubled waters because either the two friends have different expectation right from the beginning or one of them develops romantic feelings toward the other during the course of the friendship.
Human emotions are complex and often hard to compartmentalize, making it difficult for the people involved to differentiate between friendly, romantic and sexual feelings.
Challenge 2 – Strong sexual attraction
The possibility of sexual attraction invading a pure friendship between man and woman can never be ruled out. A casual hug can quickly take on sexual overtones, a peck on the cheek can give way to deep, passionate kisses.
Once that kind of an attraction takes hold, it is difficult to ignore. From here, there are only two ways forward — either the friendship is ruined or it transforms into a romantic relationship.
Challenge 3 – Why men and women can’t be friends? A lack of equality
Friendship is a bond shared by equals. However, our deep-seated patriarchal conditioning gets in the way of such equality being established in cross-sex friendships. Even when neither of the two friends consciously conform to the notions of patriarchy, the men may subconsciously assume a dominating position acting like an alpha male, while women take on a more submissive role. This power play can be detrimental to a long-term friendship.
Challenge 4 – Societal perceptions get in the way
This is the primary reason behind the ‘Men and women can’t be friends’ thought process. Even though a man and a woman are in a completely platonic relationship, societal perceptions can force them to reassess their equation. People in close cross-sex friendships often find themselves at the receiving end of skepticism, all-knowing winks and nudges. When this happens repeatedly, it can stir up romantic feelings that ultimately get in the way of the friendship that probably actually were not even there in the first place.
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Can A Man And Woman Be Just Friends? Types Of Friendships
Contrary to the monotone that movies and sitcoms paint male-female friendships in, these equations are not all cast out of the same mould. The male-female friendship psychology actually goes much deeper and there are many types of friendships that exist between a man and a woman. Some of the more common types of friendship between a man and a woman include:
1. Platonic friendships
Platonic relationships between man and woman are the most uncomplicated and simple manifestation of this equation. In such friendships, the man and woman share common values and interests and are on the same page about their expectations from each other. Such friendships are no different from their same-sex counterparts and are most likely to succeed.
2. Professional friendships
Can men and women be best friends? Yes, sometimes they can in the workplace. These friendships stem from a professional relationship between a man and a woman, originating in the workplace. These equations are based on common professional goals, issues and milestones, as well as thriving on a mutual admiration of each other’s skill.
3. Friends with benefits
These are friendships with a sexual dimension, minus the paraphernalia of a relationship. This kind of cross-sex friendship stems from a latent sexual attraction between two people. The friends with benefits equations take a messy turn more often than not, if one of the friends develops romantic feelings, or in the case of one of them getting into a new relationship, the equation can then become riddled with jealousy.
4. Friendships with a romantic ending
In this case, both friends develop romantic feelings and a palpable sexual attraction toward one another. They mutually decide to take their relationship to the next level. These often turn out to be long-term, committed relationships and last a lifetime.
Can A Married Man And A Woman Be Just Friends?
As established, the dynamics of men-women friendships or the male-female friendship psychology is already complex. What happens when you throw spouses in the mix? Can a married man and a woman be just friends? Or are such friendships a harbinger of infidelity? And can men and women remain friends after one or both of them finds a significant other?
Owing to the rampant perception that men and women can’t be friends, striking such friendships when you’re already in a committed, monogamous relationship can raise a lot of red flags for respective partners and become a contentious issue in the marriage.
A lot of people agree that while maintaining old cross-sex friendships after marriage is acceptable, building new ones can mean inviting trouble in the marriage.
Besides, the answer to ‘Can a married man and a woman be just friends?’ also depends on the kind of equation these friends share with your spouse. If your friend and your wife can get lunch together, or your friend and your husband can watch a game together, you are on solid footing to build a lasting, enriching friendship that doesn’t come at the cost of your marriage.
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On the other hand, if your spouse ‘picks a vibe’ or ‘has a gut feeling’ that there is a hint of attraction in your equation, you have a storm brewing. That being said, you can make such friendships work without jeopardizing your relationship as long as you austerely stick to some basic boundaries in your relationships.
1. Appreciate new boundaries
When it was just you and your friend, perhaps you did everything together. Now that one or both of you has a partner, that is bound to change. So, the first step toward keeping a friendship going without letting it hamper your relationship is to accept that. Then find new things to do together where you can hang out without worrying about healthy boundaries being crossed.
For instance, instead of drinks on Saturday night, you could meet up for lunch on a weekday. Or you can communicate via texts rather than indulge in long phone calls.
2. Hang out in a neutral territory
A friendship between a married man and woman is a balancing act where closeness in one relationship doesn’t hamper the other. Start off, by acknowledging that your spouse takes precedence and cut back on the one-on-one time you spend together with your friend. Don’t expect them to accompany you for lingerie shopping or make plans to get a spa together.
Find more neutral territory for hanging out. Getting coffee, going to watch a game, an outing with your extended circle of friends…these are all more apt choices.
3. Be careful with gifts
Let’s say it’s your friends birthday, and you get her an exquisite piece of jewelry while her husband gets her a dress. Or you buy him a camera, while his wife gifts him sunglasses. Ouch! Even though you don’t mean to, you can end up bruising egos and rubbing your friend’s spouse the wrong way. So, don’t go all out with your gifts just because you always have.
4. Strike a friendship with their spouse
Can a married man and a woman be just friends? Yes, as long as it is platonic. What better way of reassuring your friend’s spouse of that than by making an effort to build an independent relationship with them too. Take them out for a coffee or shopping, try to get to know them better so that they can rest assured what you share is just pure friendship between man and woman.
5. Don’t hold grudges
There may have been a time in life when you were part of each other’s every day life and now you haven’t heard from your friend in weeks or maybe months. Don’t hold grudges. It’s part of growing up. Life happens, you get busy and you drift apart. If that happens, let go of your resentment and anger. You should be able to carry on with no hard feelings. You and your friend will always have a special place in each other’s heart.
Can A Man And Woman Be Just Friends?
So, can men and women be best friends? Yes, they absolutely can. Sure, there are caveats to this equation, which is what makes it so intriguing yet compelling. As long as both the people involved share platonic love and are on the same page about what their wants and expectations are, men and women can build and share enduring friendships, even if one or both of them are married to other people.
Don’t let people tell you why men and women can’t be friends. It’s a dynamic path and not a straight one. Remember, a platonic relationship that relies only on an emotional undertone is no breaking news in today’s world.
It might not be easy, but it is possible. The thing with attraction is that it can subside. So if it is not necessarily romantic and is only sexual, it might be easier to get over and move past. But if your attraction is heavily romantic, then being friends might be a little difficult for you two.
Boy and girl best friends are more common than you think. Just because society does not talk about it more often, does not mean that it cannot exist.
Absolutely they can. A woman can bring a fresh perspective to a guy’s life as a friend. There is no reason they cannot have an emotional and friendly bond for life.