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 thought they just 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 December 21, 2015, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.

  1. I do believe that men and women can be friends. Platonic relationships are a great thing! However, I’ve certainly struggled with having straight male friends. Ever since high school, any straight male friends I had either developed feelings for me or only became my friend because they expected it to lead to something more. I probably had one male friend who always kept it strictly friendly, which was definitely a refreshing aspect in a man. That being said, I believe that a majority of the time feelings tend to develop in cross sex friendships. The way each person handles the situation is the tricky part. Setting boundaries and respecting each other’s positions are an essential part in maintaining a platonic friendship between men and women.

  2. I think this topic is interesting for many reasons , first of all I believe that men and women can be friends . I also believe though that in most cases men have to feel that they are gaining something out of it or else they will not pursue that friendship, In many friendships between a man and a women I always have seen a man end up confessing feelings or a woman or just sexual tension between both. Something that I have found interesting as well is that everytime I have talked to a guy about their friendships with girls they ended up explaining to me how apparently a guy will not pursue a friendship with a girl if they do not at least find them pretty . He explained they have to feel like they are gaining something out of being that girl’s friend whether it is a relationship , potential hookup , or using them for something free food , rides etc. I think though regardless there is always that underlying sexual attraction .

  3. I think men and women can be friends. Some of my greatest friends are actually males and I believe that they provide a unique perspective that most females cannot get with their other female friends. Most of my platonic friendships with males are with those with who I work or go to school. For that reason, a set boundary of the type of relationship we have is defined and constricted to our professional lives. I also think that having friends of the opposite sex is important to expanding our knowledge of human beings. The more we understand about the opposite sex, the better we are at forming romantic relationships. For example, I will not understand a male’s motives or thoughts, but my male friends can. There is still a possibility of romantic or sexual urges getting in the way, but that shouldn’t limit one from befriended a member of the opposite sex.

  4. I think men and women can be friends. My oldest friend is male and we’ve known each other since elementary school. There are definitely different factors that can can change a cross-sex friendship. For me I think the fact that both me and my friend are more introverted and have known each other and each other’s friends for so long contributes to our friendship. I’ve always been a bit irritated by the people around me who hint or suggest that our friendship will eventually morph into romantic or physical attraction. I feel like having a mindset like that just inherently weakens how we treat cross-sex relationships and feeds into the idea that they can’t remain platonic

  5. Of course woman and men can be friends, why wouldn’t they be? its amazing! But yes, I get the feeling. My mom, she is very strict about dating in general and so she thinks every one of my guy friends are dating me. To be honest, sometimes when I say I’m hanging out with a guy or a guys comes over the house, I always say “oh, he’s gay” so I don’t get in trouble. It is so much, but I got to lie in order to stay friends with my guy friends 😦 Same goes for my guy bestfriend. We do almost everything together, the sad part is my mom does not know about him because I know she would be like “oh your’e too young, you shouldn’t have a boyfriend” My best friend and I go everywhere together, we are literally the same and yeah we do get mistaken that we are dating but obviously not. We genuinely don’t have feelings for each other, I mean at least I don’t.

  6. In my opinion, I think a man and a woman can be friends certainly. The relationship of everyone in the society start from a friend, whether a man or a woman. If there is sincerity together, they can be friends, but with the difference of sex. It’s imperative that women with male friends have to be appropriate, for example, If we have a women friends, we can hug or kiss without worry, but if a men can we give him a hug or kiss so easily? In which sometimes need thought about appropriate. Even if a man and a woman can be friends, but there are things we can’t talk to men friend comfortable than women. In my country, the woman who goes out with a male friend just only two of them is serious because the nature of the male and female should not be let go together. It can cause the relationship more than friends, both willing and unwilling. So, I think men and women can be friend, but women needs to consider appropriate for both sides happy.

  7. I had a friend about 25 years ago that started as my hair client. He would come about every two months to get his hair done and we would have these en depth conversations for hours. He was a truck driver who lived in another state, but would always come though Palo Alto to visit family and get his hair done. We would talk about our relationships and give each other advice. I loved hearing the male point of view from him. He never said anything to me out of line or tried to come on to me sexually. I thought he might try after some of his wild experiences that he told me about.
    He always showed me respect. He told me that in the big diesel truck that he drives that it had a bed and TV inside, I was curious to see what it looked like I, because I never knew that was in some of those big trucks.He helped me get up there and gave e a ride around the block and that was it. If he would have tried anything with me it would have messed up a great friend ship. Although, I wouldn’t want my husband to have a friend of the opposite sex that talked like we did. I wonder what his wife would have thought. He move farther away so I am no longer his hair stylist, but I sure miss his company.

  8. Gabriela Valdez Pacheco

    Can men and women ever be truly 100% just friends? This is a tricky question because there is a lot that goes into interaction between men and women. In my job, I work with mostly men and we are all good friends. I cannot speak for them, but personally I have never had the slightest thought in my mind of being flirtatious towards them. From time to time we all get together outside of our workplace and it’s all innocent.
    On the other hand, I believe if a man and a woman are to become friends and they happen to mention that they don’t see the other person as more than a friend, there is already an underlying attraction as you have mentioned in your post. The tone has already been set that this particular male and this particular female cannot have an authentic friendship without having ever had the thought in their mind of being more than friends.
    Aside from this, we also have to look at the amount of time these two people spend together and pay attention to how one of them speaks highly about the other and how often that occurs. I believe neither the male nor the female will consciously nor unconsciously accept the fact that there is some sort of sexual tension between them. I guess what I’m getting at is if a man and a woman feel the need to set up a hindering space away from any possible romance like you mention, the chance of them being just friends is already gone.

  9. My answer is yes. men and women can and should be friends, because for some of them is hard to be in romantic relationship. For example, not every men or women can be a good partner, but they might be a good friends. Also, most of successful marriage i think starts from a good friendship between both. what i want to say is not only can be friends i think they should be to understand the other gander without being in romantic relationship, and that will help their society to be stronger and give the life different meaning of friendship

  10. I think men and women can be friends to an extent. Conflict can maybe arise if two straight people have friends of the opposite sex because it can create jealousy,which is often the case. But it might be okay if both partners are mutual friends with the friend. But for the cases that aren’t this complicated I definitely think men and women can have an uncomplicated friendship (depending on their maturity level) and if their isn’t any attraction to begin with.I have male friends that I am not attracted to and our friendship is great,If I Need a perspective,I have help in that department.I am pretty sure I Could not have a friendship with someone I am attracted to because I could start developing feelings for them and I would feel awkward having them talk to me about other girls. Very uncomfortable.

  11. Leanna Candelaria

    I agree with the idea that men and women CAN be friends. The truth of the matter is, however, that the sex part can definitely get in the way and that the friendships do not often work.. I am also an introvert who found it easier to make male friends rather than female friends because the men were always the ones to initiate the friendship (only because I was often too scared to do so). Coming from personal experience, I can say that all of the friends I have who are men have ALL tried to make a move on me, some more times than others. Because of my relationship with my boyfriend, I also felt like it was necessary for me to end my friendships with my male friends. It is very rare to establish a really solid man/woman friendship with someone because sometimes the stronger and more “romantic” feelings come to play when they are unwanted/unnecessary. I do wish that it was easier to stay “just friends” with the men I had to end friendships with but not everything works out. Although men and women can be friends, it is very rare for the friendship to continue without any underlying feelings rising to the surface and potentially ending the friendship.

  12. The male friend, if he was truly a friend, should be happy for the female friend that got hitched. Yes, they probably would spend less time together but, the marriage title doesn’t change a thing about the woman other than she’s married. Though, hearing a lot women losing their male friends after marriage comes off as they tried to prolong their “friendship” until they have their own shot of it developing into a romantic relationship. Once the woman was taken by some other male, the male friends seemed to lose interest in being friends. When a woman knows she just wants to be friends and makes it clear then, the man should not expect any more than just being friends. As well as to not keep sex/relationship on the back of their mind and hoping for a chance at it.

    But I do believe women and men can be friends.

    It would basically be like almost having another brother/sister except that their not blood related. But, outside groups tend to push people together when they see two really close friends who are of the opposite sex. I think we are so in the mindset of the only relationship between a man and woman is just romantic or they have a sexual relationship between themselves. Especially, if one of them is what society believes is extremely good looking than the other and people say, “there is no way she/he just wants to be friends with you because you’re too physically attractive”, or something around those lines. Despite the fact that they are just really good buddies, the thought of liking the other more than just a friend would never cross their minds. But we are so use to putting people together that it makes it difficult for those particular men and women who purely just have friendship between each other. So yes, it is possible as long as there is a clear understanding that it’s just a friendship and getting used to the common question of being asked, “are you guys boyfriend and girlfriend(or dating)?”.

  13. I think men and women can be friend if each other has a girl or boy friend. I had a man friend, we were good friends over 13 years since elementary school. We always share the emotion such as when one’s depress, happy, or sad whenever. This was our friendship. We thought, we can have a cross-sex friendship. However, this relationship was not for each other girl or boy friend. For example, I argued with my ex-boyfriend because my man friend and I connected too much, so my ex-boyfriend said he felt that he share me with him. I could not understand, for me, it seemed like just jealous. He also had a girlfriend and they had argue because of same issue as me and my ex boyfriend. Now, we do not contact each other anymore because he and I do not want others make a confusion of us. Except us, no one understand our relationship even we did not do physical contact. For each other was soulmate, but he and I gave up each other’s soulmate for our entire partner. Women and men can be friend but around them, people will not agree their cross-sex friendship.

  14. I do believe that men and women can be friends, but in order to make cross-sex friendships work there can be a challenge. From my own experience I had some male friends who had made a move to be more than “Just Friends,” but I’d never even thought about being more than just friends. However, once I told I’d just like to keep our cross-sex friendships, and they knew that nothing would ever happen between us, most of them ended our relationships and never talked to me again. Yet, I was able to remain friends with others, so I still believe that women and men can be “Just Friends,” but it can be brittle and difficult if we don’t define what type of relationships is, otherwise the male-female parts get in the way.

  15. My answer to this, in short form, is yes.
    I do think that men and women can be friends, and like Harry said to Sally, there can be things that get in the way. I would’t necessarily say that its the sex part that gets in the way, but there are other factors that can get in the way. My best friend is male, and we’ve been friends since our sophomore year of high school, and it wasn’t until much later that he started having greater feelings towards me than more than just a friend. We didn’t let that get in the way though, we continued as friends. After a while we decided to try something out between us, and though it didn’t work out, we still have our “more than just best friend” moments.
    Still, we are able to keep a balance between just best friends and more. That is why I say men and woman can be friends, however if things ever do start to escalate, there should be a balance kept between the two.

  16. I had a male friend, a really close one. We used to share many things together and he knew me well. However, after I got married, things changed. I didn’t have many time to hang out with him and I also felt uncomfortable to shared things with him. I still keep good relationship with other female friends but I lost him. I believed that males and females could be friend but after getting married, I reconsider that.
    Since you also said that you lost your male friend after getting married so I think marriage has an impact on this. There are some undertones in males – females friendship, and I think that undertones are getting complicated when we are married.
    So I think that keeping a safe distance is the best way to maintain friendship between males and females.

  17. They can… but eventually they will sleep together… Unless one of both of them are gay… and that not necessarily excludes the previous statement. Am I speaking from a strict biological perspective, you might wonder… Yes, I am, I´d answer. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas and all my best wishes to you, dear Georgia. Aquileana 🎄

    • Well thanks for your thoughts. But speaking from a strict biological perspective excludes a sociological perspective that has interviewed people in the situation. It also excludes my own personal experience. In which case – sociology and my own personal experience – the answer is that they can be friends without sleeping together.

  18. Dear Dr: I have this problem: Too many friend-girl bloggers. What can I do about it? Why is it that I gravitate to the women? Such good friends. Signed, INFJ….

    • I dunno. Because women are so fascinating?

      Signed, INTP

      • I do believe you are correct. I guesstimate women are more prolific writer/authors. More men are published, but are they more read than women authors? For one example, I would rather read The Hours ten times to one reading of James Joyce! And Angela Carter became to be great because of Poe, but is a “better” writer/storyteller. So fascinating, is right.

      • Yeah, I don’t know. For years women were’t allowed equal education, and prejudice was so high that some women authors resorted to giving themselves male names. We’ll see what happens with greater equality of opportunity. Plenty of great male authors though. Shakespeare, anyone?

  19. Stone-Age question. I am still on my way to conclude the topic whether men and women can be good, close, best friend?

    Remember, Karan Johar’s kkhh …Anjali Rahul’s friendship was on screen… at the end both realizes, “O Jeeeez, that was not friendship but something else. That smthg else eventually makes them get together as husband and wife.”…

    Even I have suffered personally in this dilemma whether the relation between Farah and me during our MBA was just a nice holy friendship. If that was friendship then why the hell we would get anxious when the clock moves lil ahead of the spot when she would usually come, then every 30 secs we would make sure whether our watches are working. These things were applied on both of us. Still, I never accepted what i was thinking was love as I had my own hot, sexy, giver, taker galfriend, and she always hated Farah… she had perhaps, read my eyes.

    Then we completed our MBAs, and moved ahead on our ways to be successful, I went to Brazil for a 3 years project, Farah had joined a multinational bank, and Frankly telling you guys I never ever cared where my hot sexy girlfriend had gone.

    What would you say? Have we crushed on each other, if yes what the hell my gf was doing?

    I would say this is something that would remain unanswered.

    Nice Work Mani.

  20. My short answer is “yes”, too. I’ve many friends who are male. Primarily, with a few of them, there was a sexual tension, but with time, as I made it clear with my words and body language that I’ve no intention to sleep with them, slowly they became friends. Some of them are very close to me, we share dirty jokes and everything just as friends, true friends. 🙂

    • Simply put, I think I and most already knew this answer. But yes men and women can be friends as far as woman seeing a man as a friend and not having sexual tension. I think this is where it’s a diffference. From a woman’s view point, it’s more likely true from her perspective as far as having male friends and being just friends, whereas, men are more likely to probably have a sexual or romantic attraction to their female friends, especially, particularly if she’s an attractive woman herself. A woman might have a better chance of being attracted or having tension if her guy friend is fit, really handsome guy, but still looks are more likely to cause tension for men than women, because there’s this “chemistry”, or arbitrary women feel or have to feel with a guy to have a sexual attraction and where he’s her “type”. If not there, the guy can be good looking and nice, but there wouldn’t be any spark or attraction, stopping her from wanting sex with him. A man might not feel that spark either from an attractive woman, but he’d still have some lust for her, especially if she’s attractive and sexy and tried seducing him.

  21. I do feel men and women can be friends.. In many cases, though They may get attracted to each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stay friends. I have many male friends with whom I never had any feelings beyond friendship.

    • I have many male friends with whom I never had any feelings beyond friendship.”

      That seems more common for women than men. I think more women have male friends whom they see just as friends, and it’s platonic or aren’t attracted to or would not have sex with compared to men who have female friends. This is especially true it seems the more attractive the girl or woman is that the man is friends with. It’s hard to imagine men even if long time friends not having some attraction to a girl that’s a friend if she’s “hot” or really hot and beautiful and sexy, smoking body. I have to imagine he’s had lust creep up, secretly or crossed his mind at times toward her when not with her. I’ve never been in that situation, because I don’t have many female friends where I’m close to them.

      Most are on an acquiatance level, where see them out every once in a while, but it’s not in a way hang out at movies or whatever, every saturday, talk or text a lot on the phone thing. I did have a girl that I worked with who had a crazy crush with me though. The thing is, I knew it and I hinted I wasn’t interested, but then she wanted to be friends. I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t want to make it tough for her, because it could suck being friend with someone who you lust for and have feelings for but they never want anything more then friendship. So she had the option and I said I’d be friends as long as she was fine with it as I didn’t want to mislead. We were, and she was funny but it didn’t matter, she still wanted to have sex with me and be with me even though she said she wanted to be friends.

      But unlike some girls, I wouldn’t hold it against her like some girls can for guys like “omg you didn’t even want my friend ship and just wanted sex with me…gawd” and then be upset. I think she liked the friendship, but I wasn;t going to hold it against her anyway even if she just wanted to be friends to date me or have sex with me. It’s unfortunate, because I did like being friend with her, but she eventually had a boyfriend and I unfortunately ended the friendship because she had a guy who loved her and was like a step father to her kid. But he was a little jealous and she would always text me and one day the dude text me saying cut it out and well trying to threaten me. It was funny, I almost wanted to mess with him, but I didn’t. But she had a previous jerk boyfriend who she had a kid with and like a dirtbag he disappeared and this guy loves her and her kid and even though I think the dude is an insecure dude, I’d feel really bad for her sake if I caused him to leave her. So I thought now that she’s serious with him, that I’d stay out of their business even though she liked talking to me. But like I said looks do make a difference. She was a “bigger” girl. If she was smaller and cute or pretty, I would have had sex with her during that time, but I wasn’t physically attracted to her so I didn’t want to.

  22. Men and women can certainly be friends. The underlying sexual tension is only natural but it must ideally serve to define the equation and guide it correctly along the invisible parallel lines that never meet. If sex, wittingly or unwittingly, comes in the way, the equation undergoes cross-lining changes that may or may not be salutary and not likely to stay the course. It all depends on the individuals, and there can be exceptions. Striking the ideally friendly note, I like to wish you, Georgia, happy holidays and another fulfilling year ahead…ciao.

  23. This is so true. I’ve really only got one, close male thing where sexual attraction has never been a thing at all, we just aren’t into each other in that way. But other times there has been undertones. I have a few close gay male friends but that is different. I also get along well with friends boyfriends and husbands but they aren’t friends in a way that I’d call them up and ask them to hang out! I think it is totally possible but maybe a little bit rate.

      • I do think that men and women can be just friends so long as both are not attracted to each other physically or romantically. When one can be happy for the other no matter what the other is doing with other people and not get jealous by what the other does with other people, this is true platonic friendship between men and women. When the air is clear from the beginning of a platonic friendship between men and women, then friendship between the two is possible. There are many ways to prevent a misunderstanding and maintaining a clear platonic friendship between men and women such as bringing in your other half into the picture, hanging out in groups instead of one to one, no misappropriate touching one another therefore keeping your hands to yourself is important, and having strong values, respect and trust in each other to not cross that line is crucial in maintaining platonic friendship between men and women. However when there are feelings/attractions between men and women, it complicates the friendship.

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