Can Men & Women Be Just Friends?

In an old post of mine, I alluded to writing about this topic one day. Well, at the behest of several friends, here I am finally talking about it. It’s been talked about for so many years, even before When Harry Met Sally, and there are always different takes and different wisdom offered. What I might say and believe now may change when I’m 60 years old. There may be points that I miss, or points I stay too long on, but I’ll do my best to help those out there understand the quandary. This will perhaps be my longest post to date, but I want to cover nearly all aspects of this in one as opposed to splitting it up and sounding repetitive. And as I once said in another post, the answer is simple. . . yes and no.

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

Now I can only speak from a male, heterosexual point of view. I don’t know what it is like for those of different genders and preferences, however I want to say it’s similar in that feelings and intentions should be made known. What many other articles fail to mention is that we also have to take into consideration cultures and the environment everyone grows up in. In other countries, greeting others with big embraces or kisses on the cheek is used. But here in the U.S., it’s not very common; although I wished we did. Either it’s a quick hug, hand greetings, or just saying hello in some form. If someone kissed a person they hardly know, that person might misconstrue that as attraction of some kind. Oh, that’s another thing we must remember: attraction does not equal feelings! As I type this, I feel like I sound all analytical about this topic; maybe I should go on Tedtalk. But perhaps it’s best because as a society where technology speaks for us, we start to forget how to interact normally with others, and by that I mean making intentions known and saying what you mean without emojis and hashtags. When was the last time you ever written a letter to someone; remember those? Or engaged in a chat without pulling out your phone and just talked about life and it’s mysteries? Things used to be so black and white that, as society moves more into the grey, we need to understand what grey is. In this case the blur between friends and more than friends.

Back to environment, many of you probably know someone who hangs around people mostly of the opposite sex. It’s not always because they enjoy the attention, but maybe they grew up in similar settings. I know some guys who didn’t have father figures or brothers, and so their mother, sisters and other women were whom they spent time with; and vice versa I know some women who grew up around mostly men and are more comfortable around them. As we grow up, we learn and adapt to what and who’s around us while finding what we prefer to surround ourselves with. Of course, with any topic, there will be outliers who go against the trend. In this case, the people who passionately say “yes, men and women can be friends because we’ve been friends for years and never thought about getting together”. Two things: Have you always known exactly what the other person is thinking? And perhaps feelings were never there, but there is attraction.

FRIENDLY ATTRACTION

Attraction and feelings; remember they’re different. When it comes to our friends, we’re attracted to them when you think about it. Guys, you’re attracted to your bros and female friends. Gals, you’re attracted to your girl-friends and guy friends. Not in a romantic/intimate way (?), but mainly attracted to their personality. We’re drawn to their character, their quirks, their humor, and whatever else. Physically, we are able to acknowledge which friends are good-looking; though it’s easier for women to say openly. And of course, common interests can attract like-minded individuals. That’s what makes us great friends. Over time, however is where the main question arises. See, everyone is different when it comes to feelings and romantic relationships. For some, it can happen instantaneously whether it’s meeting them in public, one night stand, at a party, whatever. For others, it grows through building from acquaintances, to friends, and then romantic partners. In the latter, having friends of the opposite sex can get tricky if we don’t address it. Here we have someone whom we are attracted to for their personality, goals, character and other things. We spend so much time with, sharing things and being there for one another. If we throw in physical attraction, our curious selves might wonder: what if a little romance was thrown in? In any relationship, making sure you’re both on the same page is key, or we end up drifting apart or expecting something more than the other can provide.

Friends or not, or maybe something more, appreciate the time spent with someone. . . you never know what can become of it one day.

Like in an older post of mine, I didn’t say sex like many other articles on this topic like to throw in for it can make people feel taken for granted as if we’re a goal to our “friends” who really are just waiting for the right moment to get in bed with us. Yes, sex is a part of romance and intimate relationships, but not every person thinks about sleeping with their friend. If they do think about that mainly, well then it’s just a reality. Some just want sex; both men and women. You need to be able to reasonably sense it, and trust your gut on who’s a good person to keep in your life. Back to spending so much time with a friend, once a feeling pops up, then it’s like walking on ice. And so this leads to this “will they or won’t they” dance like Jim and Pam from The Office. Subtleties are thought about as you reflect on what that person said, how it was said, the context it was said in. Was that flirting? Do they like me? Am I crushing on them? I’ve been there, you’ve been there, we’ve all been through this murky area of doubt and wonder. And this is just in the context of two single people! Let’s explore when at least one person is already with someone. . .

THREE’S COMPANY, FOUR’S A PARTY

Now if you take what I said about attraction and apply it to someone in a relationship, we also must consider respect and boundaries. Two single friends who are more physically close can’t be done much when at least one is in a relationship. For the partner is “supposed” to be the person who is their go-to and meets many of the needs of the individual. Someone who will listen to how their day went, will go out and do common interest things like concerts or eating out, physical/sexual needs, and other things that apply to the individual and possibly for a family. But when many of those needs are not being met, and the partner is not a go-to best friend of sorts, that’s when trouble is at risk of happening. Speaking just as friends, it’s okay to have different groups for different needs. You may have certain people who you like going to concerts with, while another group who you go out hiking with. It’s normal, and holds true even in relationships if the partner doesn’t enjoy doing everything you do. A few friends of mine like going out dining and going to live shows while their partners do not, so we’ll go out instead. This includes female friends, but in this case it’s important to again remember respect and boundaries; especially if you notice trouble in paradise on their side.

Having never been in a serious, long-term relationship, I don’t know the couples perspective when it comes to being friends with the opposite sex. Though I’ve seen a bit of it from others, such as their friends become your friends, vice versa, friends become scarce as it takes time commitment to be in a relationship and/or family, and other things. Someone you know may be better able to share their views on that aspect, but I’ve seen the scenarios from a single’s point-of-view (both with single and non-single women): they have feelings for me, I had feelings for them, their partners don’t like this situation, they either bring their partners everywhere or don’t go out so much. It can be frustrating, but understandable. Some are comfortable with their partner hanging out with friends of the opposite sex, while others feel uneasy about it. I’ve been told by my friends that at one point their partner didn’t like how often we spent time together, and I’m not just talking about my female friends. Jealousy is another factor we must keep in mind, for it truly varies per person and the origin of how it began. Someone who’s been cheated on several times will proclaim men and women can’t be just friends, whereas someone who grew up in an open, carefree situation will say opposite. There are many factors to consider before answering a simple question; go figure. I don’t mind if partners tag along, though if we don’t get along it is tough to keep hanging with the dynamic duo even if I was with someone too; some of y’all might relate. And if they don’t go out unless their partner comes too, well then it’s a bummer because couples don’t always need to do everything together. We have our “worlds” (Seinfeld reference) in that we have relationship-self and independent-self. Never stop working on each of them.

In general, not just those in relationships, it’s a helluva lot easier living when things are said. Now I’m not saying go and blow up a relationship, especially if it’s in a rocky state. But there actually is a way to be friends with people who are in relationships, even if you are single. Ever wonder how those two at work or at school pull it off? The “work wife/work husband, or school wife/husband” dynamic? They may not call it that, but they know they’re good friends. Respect and boundaries though, people! It’s okay to tell someone they’re attractive; even if they’re taken. It’s just a matter of how you say it, which hopefully is kindly. I’ve actually had a few women, single and in relationships, admit they found me attractive; a few going beyond saying if they were single or younger we’d be going out. The latter takes much courage to admit, no matter who you are or what situation you’re in. Then again, I see many people in relationships still look at other people and point out how easy on the eyes they are. So even those in relationships can admit someone other than there partner is attractive. It’s not acting on it that is important here. And honestly the ones I’ve had such talks with, it’s been so much easier to be friends with than the ones where you’re burying attraction. Before eyebrows raise, none of us dwell on it nor do we wish for it to happen. It just clears the air, and actually helps establish boundaries. You have to define what a friend means to you. When I was young, I used to think we have to talk everyday or hang out every week in order to be friends. That’s not true, for a friend can be anyone that is simply there for you at certain times. Though I’ve seen a few women ghost as friends, and only talk when in groups, to check in on you, or if they need something. It’s not just women who feel unappreciated when someone only talks to you when they have a reason. To summarize, yes two people in separate relationships can be friends, a single person can be friends with someone in a relationship and vice versa. The partner will certainly be a huge factor in if it will work out or not, and keep in mind how they grew up and other factors. Attraction is okay, because again (single or not) it’s okay to admit you find someone’s looks, personality, or character attractive. Just go about it the right way, and if feelings arise (whether taken-person likes single-person or the other way around) don’t ghost on them nor keep hanging out in private. Talk with yourself about it, and then decide if someone needs to walk away for some time. A great sign of maturity is being able to take responsibility, and discuss and accept things in life rather than run or hide from it.

For the women I was attracted to or we’re attracted to me, in the past I was guilty of not communicating. In college, if I crushed on a girl I was like Jim: thinking of perhaps waiting for Pam or trying my best to move on as I still spend time with her as a friend.  If someone I know might have a crush on me, but I can’t reciprocate, I’ll admit I had my defense mechanism I liked to call “boring Steven”. This is where if we hang out, mainly just us two, then I become as bland as can be. Unfunny, dull, and anything else that makes me uninteresting so they lose interest in me fast. Either that or I became avoidant, because in the past that was my way of not getting their hopes up. I still wanted to be friends, but unfortunately they chose to walk away. More on that later, but nowadays if I find myself in similar situations I simply talk about it. Life’s too short for guessing games. If we can talk about the universe, religion, the afterlife, and other thought-provoking topics, why not something simpler as attraction and liking someone?

THE OUTLIERS

Now psychology also covered this topic, and some parts ring true. Many who grow up with someone of the opposite sex likely will stay just friends. They usually see them as siblings the younger they knew them. But sometimes we do have many Barry Allen and Iris West stories (Flash fans anyone?) where they grew up together, and eventually dated. Some relationships are stronger starting off as friends. It’s not that many waited for it to happen, but life happened. We change as we get older, and so do our perspectives. Someone you hated back then, you can like later on in life. Same can be said the other way around too, and feelings and attractions can change too over time. As a kid, I hated the news. Now I don’t mind watching it. I used to hate sports, but now I love it and enjoy playing it. Take what I said, and apply it to people now. You might’ve liked a certain type of person, like an indoorsy, political enthusiast, back then but now you find yourself interested in someone more outdoorsy, non-political. Things happen over time, and if friendships change it doesn’t mean men and women can’t ever be friends. It’s just at this certain point in time they can or cannot be friends; if that makes sense. In the case of friends with benefits and exes. . . c’mon that’s just a whole can of worms itself with many factors to consider. For exes, it depends on how things ended. It can’t go to how things were before, but it’s possible to be good friends; with respect to the new partner of course. I’ve seen ex-wives and ex-husbands still be kind and supportive of their ex, even if they don’t stay in touch often. It’s just a matter of comfort level in accepting this new dynamic, but one thing certain was at least they tried making it work beyond friends. It didn’t work, now they know, and can go from there. With that said, fwb’s tries the same thing: going beyond friendship yet instead not calling it a committed relationship. Perhaps I’ll write more about this another day, but simply put: they’re friends, but they’re not “just friends”.

ONLY LIVE ONCE

Feelings never go away; especially if things ended on at least okay terms. If you reflect on your past, and the people you liked, if you ran into them again you’ll still like them (assuming they didn’t turn into jerks). This doesn’t mean we dwell on them, waiting for the next opportunity to see each other, rather we simply appreciated the time with that friend or partner. But like all things in life, we move on to the next chapter. To the core, it comes down to you as the individual with such feelings or as the person the individual has feelings for. For those with the feelings, and it won’t ever happen, if you struggle to just move on from that person then no you cannot be just friends. Maybe down the road, but right now it’s best to walk away and focus on you. I’ve been there, many of you have too, and it’s a bummer feeling. It truly is better to move on, even if the other person wants you to stay; you come first. But if you can move on, and still be friends then great! I know some guys feel it’s a waste of time or unappreciated when women “friendzone” them (notice this is the first/only time I mention that term?), but it also happens vice versa. Yet I can’t help but think how that concept is a waste of time in itself. In life, there are numerous cultures, religions, beliefs, etc. that we explore and talk to people of different backgrounds. We learn many things from them, and maybe become good friends. So why do some people think it can’t be done with someone of the opposite gender?

I have learned so many valuable things from amazing women, that I consider friends. Women understand certain things men struggle with and vice versa, so why not help each other, right? Men and women can certainly be friends even if they’re attracted to each other, I mean look at Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet! Though maybe there was feelings that we don’t know about. Who knows, but they made it work after all these years and are so supportive of each other. If you find a friend attractive or see yourself developing feelings for a friend, first off tell yourself it’s okay! It happens every day all around the world. Assuming they are available (i.e. single!), I say what the hell just tell them. We supposedly only live once, so why not just see what happens. I know if I was told by a friend they found me attractive, which has happened before, I would see that as a compliment! Things are only awkward if YOU make them awkward folks. Let people in your life know how awesome they are, and I’m not just talking about people you like but in general. We all need some sort of appreciation; whether it’s physical contact like a hug, or compliments, or we’ll just feel like crap. . . don’t be a crappy person.

Of course, there’s a right way and wrong way to go about this. I’ve seen some of my friends just straight up hit on someone they found attractive or liked that I thought they considered a friend. I’m sure we all know at least one person who’s like that. When I say tell them, I don’t mean it like that. If you find a friend attractive, it’s not hard to say a polite compliment. “You look handsome today.” “You’ve always had gorgeous eyes.” Things like that; I should really start writing posts for my Gentleman’s Guide category on here. If you actually like them, be like Nike and just do it. “Hey wanna get dinner tonight? Great, it’s a date.” It might not be as simple as that, but make it known (again, assuming this is between two single friends). If they say no, now you know, and if you can’t accept it, walk away. This is where I start sounding cold, but as I mention several times before on my blog: there’s always someone else out there. There’s many other unique, interesting people who you can build a friendship or relationship with even if the previous one lasted years; similar to how I discussed older people starting over. Of course it takes time to process and grow from it, but in the end we find our way. Yes, men and women certainly can be friends. . . at any point in time, but please don’t be surprised if at least one crushes on the other or something does happen between the two. We’re human! Rather than hide such feelings, embrace it and for once try saying it and see what happens. This isn’t meant to stir up trouble or have you second-guessing your status with your friends, it is meant to take the burden off shoulders and say hey, it’s okay if you find a friend attractive or like them! Take it as a compliment for how awesome you are. If we value friendships as much as intimate relationships, there won’t be any worries or hatred of things not working out. We go through life dealing with acceptance and rejection, this is no different. Hopefully this post helps a little, because even though the answer is yes (and at times, no) there are truly many things to take into consideration too whether it’s culture, upbringing, relationship status, etc.. Just don’t be afraid to be open and vulnerable, for if they truly are a friend they’ll understand; even if it means you have to walk away for some time. Enjoy the moment you are in with that awesome person, and you never know what life has in store down the road. . .


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