Can Men and Women be Friends?

Harry told Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. The question remains.

Short answer: Yes, they can.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be romantic undertones; in fact, there usually are. Typically, “he” starts a relationship hoping for sex, but “she” isn’t interested. Yet he stays friends because he likes her. And he’s often expecting that more will come of it.

Naively, I’ve been in cross-sex friendships without noticing the “underlying attraction” part.

Before I married I had more male than female friends. I now realize this was simply because I’m an introvert (I gain energy from being alone) and am perfectly content reading, writing, painting, or biking. But men would call to chat or get together for lunch or a movie. With these guys there was no physical affection, no kissing or handholding. We talked of nothing romantic. I just thought they enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs. Until each eventually made a move and I pulled back. Yet we remained friends.

After I married and lost my men friends I realized I’d actually have to take some initiative to have women friends. It was all so disorienting, and I’m still not consistently good at it. I was lucky to have my men friends.

In some ways cross-sex friendships mirror same-sex friendships, but they’re different, too.

These relationships can offer an “insider” perspective on the opposite sex. Especially when all involved are unconcerned with charming each other and can let their hair down and tell the truth about their own sex.

They are strong in trust, respect, acceptance and enjoyment. But they are less satisfying, maybe because they don’t fulfill the underlying sexual tension that is so often present.

And intimacy can be hindered when friends create space to protect against romance, since sexual involvement becomes a threat to the relationship. Over time, sexual tension wanes.

Yes, men and women can be friends. But as Harry warned, the sex part can get in the way.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 20, 2012, in gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. The sex does get in the way with some men women are picky men to.

  2. Obviously, men and women can be friends, but that does not mean there is not going to be any sexual tension if either finds the other physically attractive. I would say if a guy finds a woman attractive, assuming he is not already in a monogamous relationship, in most instances he is going to be open to the prospect of sex with her, even if he does not pursue it.

    Ideas about friendship are changing also, so now we have the concept of friends with benefits. Why is that not a genuine friendship too? Clearly it can be and warrants equal consideration as the stigmas surrounding casual sex dissipate.

    I saw an amusing clip on YouTube which sort of illustrates how men and women can sometimes perceive friendships with the opposite sex differently. If think it’s more or less true, but I think women are becoming more aware of how a lot of men think.

  3. Leave up to men sex will be involved in any relationship lol

  4. It varies from person to person, really; personally, I think that sexual tension never gets in the way of my relationships with female friends. Yes, I have found some of my female friends attractive, but I still can’t see them as potential partners simply because I’m not looking for anything beyond friendship with them. To me, there is a subtle difference between wanting a friend and wanting a romantic partner. I think another factor is that there is also this silly cultural assumption (based on patriarchal gender roles) that there is inevitable sexual tension in a male-female relationship.

  5. Hmmm. I have had two, perhaps three friendships with men that did not involve sexual undercurrents–but these were gay men! Perhaps material for another post, Georgia?

    I have often found the subtle, just-below-the-surface interactions with my heterosexual male friends to be a lot of fun–but they did all disappear into the woodwork after I entered a long-term relationship–not so much because they (or I) were not interested in pursuing our friendship(s), but because my guy was unhappy with those friendships.

  6. I loved this post, and I completely agree. I still struggle to maintain my female friendships; as I tend to hurt their feelings, and not call as often as they would like me to. I maintain several male friendships, which I allow them to express themselves openly (even sexually) with me. I feel it is easier to allow free and open communication. I maintain my friendships with exes as well. A sexual element being present is inevitable, but so what? It keeps everything interesting. Great post!

    Mistress M
    Giveheadandheart.com

  7. I believe it is possible to have friends of the opposite sex, but it is difficult sometimes. I’m a guy and I have a couple friends who are girls and everything is fine. No complications, no desire to be more than just friends with them and I think the feeling is mutual. There is one instance that I can recall where it didn’t work out. I was friends with this girl and I really liked her and wanted to be more than just friends. We ended up dating but that didn’t work out so well. We tried being friends afterwards but sex just complicated that too much. Now we are not friends and don’t speak.

  8. Like you Georgia, I have many male friends. I find the relationships with them a lot less complicated and less needy than with my friends that are females. Male friends, in my experince, dont care what you are wearing when you go out, and take you as you are. They have a tendancy to say it like it is and lay it to rest more quickly than my female friends. M y best friend is a male. I would have him meet a potential love interest first before I would my female friends. He has a better insite to them and looks past the looks and money. The same is true on his end. I have met his love interest for the same reason. My female friends are near and dear to my heart. They are like the sisiters I never had. We talk about EVERYTHING, and understand each others emotional ups and downs. I think the big difference between male vs. female friends is something like this:
    If I want to go to a movie with my female freind…I know we will discuss what movie we are going to for at least 10 minutes, then go to the movie, have a bite to eat, or drinks, and talk about problems or worries in life. It will end with a hug and a proimse to get together soon again.
    If I want to go to a movie with my male friend… I know we will go to the movie theatre and what is coming on next is what we are watching We are there to just watch the movie and enjoy each others company. We live in the moment…guys just tend to not stress and need to talk about everything in life.
    I have never had a problem with having a male friends and sex ual tension. But i guess if people are not honest with the reason they are friends with someone, it lead to that problem.

  9. I feel men and women can create strong friendships as long as a clear defined line is placed as to what their relationship is. When bounties are set people tend to write off any ideas of romantic hopes. Though I do acknowledge “sexual tension” but it usually is only one sided in friendships between men and women. My friend once told me that if your nothing about your opposite-sex friend romanticly then they are, in other words one of you have thought about it and has crossed your mind. I have never had that issue before where I feel “sexual tension” the reason might be that when I go into a opposite-sex friendship I approach it just as that, a friendship. I also make it clear that it is a friendship and nothing can or will come of it. When boundaries are set and ideas are communicated then things are a lot less confusing-for both parties.

  10. I have more female friends than male friends. Truth be told, I could care less about football or pick up trucks. I would rather watch HGTV than ESPN. So how do I resolve this contradiction of preferring female company to male company while being happily married and not wanting to risk my marriage because of the inherent sexual tension in male/female friendships? I hang out with lesbians…voila… no sexual tension.

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