Can Men and Women Ever Just be Friends?

1124595Words: Meryl Cubley

It’s the age-old question that rears its ugly head time and time again; and more often than not causes an uncomfortable shuffling and sorting of feelings as you ask yourself: Are we really just good friends?

In early January I was asked to appear on ITV’s This Morning, following an article I had written on friendship between the sexes. An amazing 76% of viewers supported me in my argument that yes; men and women can be just friends. Sweet victory.

OK, I’ll admit to being pleased to succeed over my opponent, someone who found it necessary to reassure those of us in the studio as well as those happily munching biscuits and slurping tea from the comfort of their own sofas at home, that: “…I really do trust my husband, honestly I do…it’s just that I don’t want him to have any female friends.”


Here at Rude Towers we decided to look a little deeper into this sticky conundrum and find out what our beautiful and broadminded community really feel about the matter. We do so love opening a can of worms!

Lauren at Jo Divine said: “I think they can be friends – I have a male friend who is like a brother to me, I don’t see him in that way at all and even the thought of it is just weird – but only under certain conditions. For example, I think if the man is attracted to the woman, they find it a lot easier to bury their feelings or siphon them off to someone else, whereas if the woman is attracted to the man they find it a lot harder to bury them. It’s a great topic with endless answers – I’d be interested to see what a man’s answer would be!

Well, we aim to please Lauren! Most of the men I asked gave a resounding YES to the question! And thanks to Paul at Jo Divine, who pointed out that: “Men and women can be friends, but it depends on not only their attitudes towards each other – but also the state of their ‘main’ relationship. If you are happy you are unlikely to stray anyway.”   

Some of our male colleagues and friends were shy though of dishing the dirty on whether they had ever fancied any of their female friends. One guy was however willing to tell all; having found himself in exactly that situation: 

“I’d liked *Claire for ages,” says *Morgan, “but it was clear she just wanted to be friends, which made it kind of difficult if we were together and had one too many shandies – I just wanted to spill my guts about how I felt about her, but then when she started going out with one of our other mutual friends it kind of gave me the shock I needed and I decided that if I wanted Claire and our friend *Mike in my life; it was up to me to make sure it wasn’t awkward… Now I’m with my girlfriend of two years and I wouldn’t have things any different. I think I just had a crush on Claire because of proximity and shared interests and friends – whereas what I feel for my girlfriend is real and built on strong and mutually shared foundations.” 

So does it all come down to attraction?

Young Independent Filmmakers Jesse Budd and Patrick Romero think so. They set out to prove a point with their film – ‘Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends’ – by interviewing various students in and around Utah State University. Though the film is fun and interesting, it mainly concerns itself with the cute protagonist shoving his microphone in the unsuspecting faces of his victims – and asking ‘can men and women just be friends?’ Most of the women answered yes; most of the men on the other hand (Sorry, I mean dudes! This is Utah remember!) said no. Their reason? Physical attraction.

Further research out there, conducted by April Bleske-Rechek and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, found that that men were more likely to be attracted to their female friends than women to their male friends, and that men also overestimated their own attractiveness to friends of the opposite sex. Surprise!

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to see a trend here: The research was also conducted on undergraduates at a University – so should we really trust this beguiling question to a bunch of college kids who are filmed in a cool YouTube vid; or indeed are involved in a research project heavily influenced by their own university? Neither is exactly a true cross section of society – more like a study of raging hormones.

So maybe the answer is that as we all mature we can start to compartmentalize these feelings of attraction? “I think sometimes men and women can just be friends,” says Katie from Jo Divine, “but only where they aren’t attracted to the other.”

Jo and Faith from Passion Online agree: “We both think yes too… “However, sometimes a friendship develops into something more, and then it’s difficult to just be friends, if it’s not mutual.”

Katie goes further by saying that: “I think it’s easier for guys to be friends with a woman that they are attracted to, but it is less easy for a girl to be friends with a guy that she is attracted to. This is nothing to do with the woman, but just that guys are generally (I believe) more likely to want to encourage and keep a friendship going with a woman that they feel attracted to, or is likely to end up leading to something further, and can bury their feelings more easily than a woman can if it doesn’t.”

A secondary study in Bleske-Rechek’s research backs this up. It found that most people considered physical attraction to a platonic friend to be a burden rather than a benefit – particularly if it is not reciprocated. 

OK now whilst attraction may cause hiccups, it is worth noting that this research never set out to prove that men and women can’t be friends; but that the experiences between mixed-sex friends does reflect men’s heightened short-term desire to copulate – in comparison to women’s rather different ideas about who she deigns to ‘mate’ with. Pun intended.

As I explained to my opponent on This Morning, to suggest unreciprocated feelings in a friendship would irrevocably prevent the continuation of same friendship, is at best unrealistic. At worst it would cast us all as emotionally and intellectually baron in a situation that simply needs communication and respect; and maybe a little gentle handling. Time really is a great healer; and you’d be surprised at how many people have the ability to bounce back and take on the world once more – and focus their lustful attention elsewhere – where it’s wanted.

There are many different kinds of friendship and its definitions are as individual as the people involved. Think of all of the different people in your life: Everyone from a best friend to a colleague, someone who you partner up with to enjoy your favorite sport or pastime perhaps, a drinking buddy; and indeed the ‘friend with benefits’. Keep the boundaries clear and nine times out of ten, you can avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to the rules of friendship versus sexual attraction.

The doom and gloomers seem to want to blanket cross-sex friendship with ultimatums so many and desperate it has me running to my book of quotations and scouring the pages for Anais Nin. *Breathes big sigh of relief*

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Friendships bring support and joy – occasionally they’ll bring strife. The trick is to keep the communication respectfully flowing – and if the tricky subject of sex comes up – it’s down to you to decide: Mate? Or playmate? Have fun people!

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