Can Men and Women be Just Good Friends?

I had a drinking game I liked to play when I was in school.  The goal was to guess someone’s religion based on their answers to a short series of questions.  The catch?  The questions couldn’t be about religion.  Instead, the questions had to be about love and sex.

The game fascinated me.  I got so into it, I would keep a running tally of hits and misses from which to work out a “career average” for correct guesses.  I couldn’t get over how often you could match someone to the religion they grew up in with no more than the answers they had given you to three or four questions about love and sex.

To be sure, I did not try for the denomination.  The categories were Catholic, Liberal Protestant, Conservative Protestant, Jewish, or Mormon.  In other words, I wasn’t dealing with a lot of religious diversity.  Back then, most everyone fit into one or another of those categories.

I can only recall one of the core questions now, but it was my favorite because I felt it did more work than the other questions in allowing me to figure out someone’s religious background.   If I was asking a woman, for example, I would phrase the question this way, “Do you feel men and women can be just good friends, without having sex?”  Followed by, “Why or why not?”

I read a blog post tonight that reminded me of that game.  Specifically, the woman claimed it was all but impossible for a man and woman to be platonic friends.  She said she’d only in her life had one boyfriend she wanted to be real friends with.   And making friends with him had taken 20 years from the time the two of them broke up to the time they were “just good friends”.

Twenty years to make a friend?  After reading that, I figured maybe he and she didn’t bring to the problem the world’s best people skills.  But I also took a look at her “About Me” page, and noticed that her religion fit her attitude that men and women cannot be just good friends.

Religion isn’t everything, of course.  Lots of other things influence how easy it is for men and women to be just good friends.  For instance, the older you are, the easier it gets.  And the biggest influences of all are arguably the individual people involved.  But religion does seem to have an influence on what we tell drunks in college bars about our attitudes towards sex and love.  Of that, I’m reasonably certain.

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18 thoughts on “Can Men and Women be Just Good Friends?

  1. I think it depends on the sex drive of the parties involved (but mostly the man, unless of course the man is gay, which is bff material all the way). Speaking for myself specifically I usually make friends with people who share common interests with me. I’m not really into stilettos, or Louie Vuitton knock offs, or ironing my thinning hair, or fake nails, or the health of some other dudes bank account (only my own) etc. So I find that, strangely, I tend to not become great friends with people who like these things, unless (a) they’re female and (b) I feel an overwhelming sexual attraction to them. Mommas lock up your daughters.

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    • Common interests is a good point. I don’t think I have many friends I chose for our mutual interests, but I recognize that many people do. So, I suppose that would tend to be a limiting factor, as you suggest.

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  2. Yes, they can!!!! I’ve always enjoyed having men as friends since I my tomboy days. I like it! I find that men — gay or straight — make great friends.

    1. They don’t talk about me behind my back.

    2. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it.

    3. They keep confidences

    And assorted other reasons.

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  3. When I was a teenager, my father used to tease me about the boys who came around our house, and I rolled my eyes and said, “Dad, they’re just my friends.”

    And my father always laughed: “Jenny, no boy wants to be your friend.”

    Even today, I can’t tell whether I feel denigrated or flattered.

    But mainly I”m commenting because I want one of your t-shirts. 🙂

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    • Sounds like your father was practicing “better safe than sorry”. Of course, he might have been right about teens. At least, I don’t recall myself being able to sort out feelings of friendship from sexual feelings at that age, Jenny. There were girls I wanted to be close friends with, but my hormones routinely overwhelmed my ideals.

      One of the things I have loved about growing older is that, at some point, women became persons to me first, and foremost.

      But mainly I”m commenting because I want one of your t-shirts. 🙂

      Excellent! Please consider posting something on my “About You” page. What you choose to say about yourself doesn’t need to be elaborate, but everyone who posts on that page is automatically entered into the giveaway pool for the drawing.

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  4. One of the nicest things about blogging is that I get to count as many male as female bloggers among my friends. This format is perfect for friendship that way: we tend to stick to issues or risk having our input deleted; we take each other literally “at our word;” and the boundaries are relatively tall and sturdy.

    And, more to your guessing game, I could frequently guess a new patient’s religious inclinations within the first session or two (if the information hadn’t been directly asked or volunteered by that point). Here’s a peculiar wrinkle to the game: When a couple came in for marital counseling and the husband was the guilty party, he invariably asked me within the first half hour–challengingly, demandingly–whether or not I was a Christian. There was a wealth of information conveyed by that question and the manner in which it was asked.

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    • Great comment! I find blogging is a way of meeting diverse folks with all sorts of backgrounds. And of course the occasional troll or two — but they don’t last long.

      When a couple came in for marital counseling and the husband was the guilty party, he invariably asked me within the first half hour–challengingly, demandingly–whether or not I was a Christian.

      Although I’m not a therapist, I very much recognize that attitude.

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  5. I am “just friends” with a number of men. That doesn’t mean my friendships with men are indistinguishable from my friendships with women, even if I probably come closer than most women to treating my male friends like “girlfriends” (phoning one up for insight into menopause comes to mind). There is no such thing as a generic friendship. The degree to which I discuss sex, flirt, tease (both sexually and non-sexually), discuss politics, chat about child rearing, share work place experiences, talk with my potty mouth and so on varies as much in my relationships with men as with women. It is only honest to note that some of my male “just friends” were once boyfriends or men I wanted as boyfriends. Of course I felt stung by the rejections and dashed hopes. However, the transient unhappiness of having a wonderful man not desire me for a partner has never been greater, in the long run, than the enjoyment, warmth and mutual fondness that have accompanied non-romantic friendships. Life is too short for me to discard anyone with whom I share a deep common ground. I am usually among the first phoned by one of these men when there is good news (an engagement, a child, a new job) or bad (the death of a parent, the loss of a relationship, unemployment). We have taken care of each others’ children, helped each other with broken down cars, loaned and given one another money in times of need and seen each other through medical crises. Two men friends helped me stay alive when I was extremely ill some years ago. One recently saved my life when I phoned him to describe an odd assortment of symptoms. Through some meeting of remarkable intuition and intelligence (for he doesn’t have a medical background) and a thorough experience of my functioning, he was able to guess what was amiss when I probably only had a few hours left to live. Is it possible to be “just friends” with a member of the opposite sex? I would have a hard time not being friends with some of the wonderful men I know.

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  6. I think another reason I have so many male friends is that I grew up in a very female family. Women had outnumbered men by about 5 to 1 for at least three generations by the time I came along. Men and boys had great novelty value for me!

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    • Not very well. The only one that I seem to recall besides my favorite from that time, was something about whether a wife or husband was more a partner or a lover. But I’m not sure about that.

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  7. I was recently reflecting on how I feel much safer with my sexually open and experimental friends than my religious and sexually rigid friends. Although technically I could be a potential sexual partner with some of my poly/bi friends I feel no sexual tension or pressure. I can enjoy long hugs with those friends of any gender that feel completely platonic. And I feel the same with my liberal or seeking Christian friends.
    However, I feel extremely uncomfortable around some people who seem like they try too hard to fit into a sexual norm. Mostly this is with conservative Christian men, but even secular guys and a few supposedly monogamist hetero women send this vibe too. If I only knew men like that, I couldn’t be close friends with them.
    Fortunately, I have amazing brothers and male friends so I’ve never had to ask that question.

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