It's a question that we’ve all faced at least once in our lives, and it divides opinions like the general public’s preferences on Marmite: Can men and women be just friends?
I've met people who swear that men and women can never just be friends and that something more must be going on if they’re spending any time together.
I've also met people who insist that every friendship that includes people of opposing sexes is purely platonic.
I've always been a proponent of the fact that men and women can be friends and nothing more.
However, the other day, I was watching an American sitcom that concluded that men and women cannot be just friends.
Why is this belief so widespread? As a (slightly effeminate) liberal male, I have almost as many female friends as male; yet, some of the ladies I know swear that two members of the opposite sex cannot be platonic (which leads me to question what strange kind of pseudo-friendship/relationship/acquaintance-ship we do have).
Does being “just friends” with someone mean that if you partake in the occasional flirt, you’re automatically more than friends? Or, does it mean that as long as you don’t end up in bed together, everything is okay?
The problem with this question is that the answer is entirely subjective; it seems to depend on one's level of jealousy, or rather, how jealous a person’s significant other is.
The more jealous a person is, the less likely it is that the person will believe that opposite-sex friendship is possible. Alternatively, someone less jealous might think that most interactions with a friend, however flirtatious, are fine.
It seems to boil down to the potential for attraction between two people. If you’re heterosexual and you’re spending time with someone of the opposite sex, there is the potential that attraction could form, or already has.
It’s this possibility that seems to lead jealous people to conclude that men and women cannot be friends.
As humans, we tend to gravitate toward those who are most like us, so it’s natural that most people have more friends of the same sex than the opposite. If you intentionally strike up a friendship with someone of the opposing gender, could you already be attracted to the person?
If you don’t have any common denominators with a friend (like no mutual friends, no school or work connections or anything else), then chances are, one of you struck up the friendship with the potential for “more” in mind.
As a man, I’ll admit that I have struck up friendships with women because I've found them attractive, mainly out of curiosity regarding whether or not they would reciprocate.
The funny thing is, most of these encounters have actually led to real friendship, where the sexual attraction (from my side, anyway) has decreased to none.
In fact, some of my closest friendships have emerged this way. Two people become very good buddies after getting to know each other as a result of an attraction that was either mutual or one-sided. In these cases, had there been no initial attraction, the friendship would never have existed.
On the other side, we all have some friendships that exist due to some form of mutual interest or activity. These may have arisen from classmates or workmates, through friends living in the same building, or anything else.
In these circumstances, friendships don’t necessarily come about after one person’s intention to get to know someone else better. Rather, they blossom due to the situation you both happen to be in.
Even with these initial relationships and blossoming friendships, the potential for attraction still exists. Again, it’s this potential that leads a lot of people to conclude that men and women can’t just be friends.
The bottom line is that in almost every opposite-sex friendship, at least one person has thought about what it would be like to be more than just friends with the other.
I'm not saying every friendship is this way -- just that there is a chance that one person in the friendship might have thought about the possibility for more.
This doesn’t mean that any fleeting impulses will be acted upon or that two people cannot be friends if such fleeting thoughts do occur.
So, it seems that the “men and women can’t be just friends” scenario does carry some merit in that we, as humans, are social beings by nature and can’t seem to help our innate drive to find a mate, or at least avoid the thought of it flashing through our minds.
However, I maintain that men and women can just be friends. Despite the potential presence of attraction, from one side or both and however small it may be, this doesn’t mean that friendship doesn’t exist.
Attraction and friendship are not mutually exclusive and one will not necessarily negate the other.
Whereas moments of attraction may be small or large, for the most part, they will be fleeting in nature, and while attraction will rise and fall, friendship will endure.
So, even though some friendships might come about through attraction or there may be momentary thoughts of “what if?,” men and women CAN just be friends and can have some of the best friendships imaginable.