Damon Young re-examines everything he thought he knew about platonic friendships between men and women.
I know that I don’t know everything. In fact, I don’t know most things. Actually, if you compare “what I do know” with “the amount of things that are possible to be known,” what I know is so insignificant that it basically amounts to not knowing shit.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I learn new shit in the comments of articles I write pretty regularly. And, even if I’m not learning new shit, I often encounter a perspective that forces me to rethink something I previously thought to be true.
This most recently occurred a few weeks ago, during Panama’s “Things Men Talk About When Women Aren’t Looking.” A regular (“AmaniKwenu”) left a comment that, well, let’s just look at it first:
I don’t think men and women are truly friends. Especially men and women who are in relationships with each other. That’s not to say that men and women can’t be friends–but it’s rare. There’s usually–not always, but usually–some form of sexual tension between “platonic” male and female relationships. Before you start to say how you have a platonic male/female friend, remember that such relationships are the exceptions and not the rule.
I figured this out from watching The Wire. I had never seen so many stories from a completely raw male perspective until I started watching that show. The way the characters were able to open up to themselves and reveal all that was in their hearts was…beautiful. But as I was watching it, I realized that this was a part of themselves that these characters usually wouldn’t reveal to the women on the shows. Just as how real life men don’t usually reveal their true selves to real life women.
I asked myself why. I thought men just have a problem with communication. But that can’t be true if men can communicate among people of their own gender. I thought women would think less of men if they truly opened up. That may be true. But I don’t think that’s the real issue, seeing as how its only a symptom of a larger problem. Men and women aren’t really friends.
When you are friends with someone, you genuinely enjoy their company. You think of them before you think of yourselves. You’re kind and loyal. You’re there when they need you. You’re decent, cordial, polite and respectful of their time, space and person. How often do the men on this blog complain of the behavior of the women in their lives and vice versa? How often does that happen in romantic relationships? How often do people find themselves with people who they ABSOLUTELY WOULD NOT hang around with if they weren’t “seeing” them?
I’ll tell you the answer–way too often. If someone can’t be open and communicate with a person they’re in a relationship with, then are they truly friends with that person? I believe its possible to love someone, to be physically intimate with someone, to be in a relationship with someone, but not truly be friends with that person. That’s why you can date someone, exchange heartfelt I love you’s, have and raise children together, but still feel miles apart.
If men and women were truly friends, women wouldn’t be surprised at the types of conversations that men have among themselves–because they’d be an active part of them.
Now, if you’re familiar with my work, you’re likely familiar with my opinion about men, women, and platonic friendships. Basically, because it’s so rare that men and women meet each other under conditions where physical/sexual attraction is a complete non-factor, the term “platonic” just doesn’t fit most of the male/friend friendships that exist. My opinion about this is so strong that I devoted the first chapter in our book to talking about it.
Well, was so strong. Since then, a few relationships in my own life caused my feelings about that subject to evolve. I still thought that the word “platonic” just didn’t fit (more on why in a minute), but came to realize that I cultivated friendships with a couple women that were just as strong as the friendships I have with my closest male friends. In fact, since I interacted with the female friends more often than the male ones, you could argue that, for the time being, they were even stronger.
But, as AmaniKwenu’s comment pointed out, our relationships had limitations. First, any relationship that can only begin and thrive if certain conditions are present is inherently flawed. Perhaps these flaws aren’t fatal, but they do exist. With each of these female friends, the direction of our friendship was somewhat dependent on our relationship statuses. As anyone who has a “platonic” friend of the opposite sex knows, once someone starts dating someone new (or becomes newly single), things…change. And, if something as arbitrary and tenuous as a new romantic relationship can effect a friendship that quickly and that easily, maybe the friendship wasn’t as strong and steady as you thought it was.
Also—and I know this is going to sound awful, but I need to say it anyway—AmaniKwenu’s point about (most) men not being completely comfortable opening themselves up to female friends brings up another, less flattering aspect of many male/female friendships: Often, guys who “hold back” with women hold back because, in their minds, revealing everything increases the possibility that the “I might be able to hit it one day” window completely closes.
Basically, one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for (some) men and women to maintain friendships is because (many) men never lose sight of the fact that the woman is a…woman. And, instead of seeing them as friends who just happen to be women, they’re always women first. If they happen to be friends, fine. Great! But, they’re still women. And, as long as they’re still women, under the right circumstances, they can get f*cked. Not exactly the best foundation for a great, great friendship.
As I stated earlier, though, I don’t know everything. In fact, I don’t know most things. Please remember and refer to me not knowing everything when evaluating the opposite sex friendships in your own lives. I really want someone to prove me wrong, to show me that a man and a woman can be BFF’s without any type of sexual or relationship interference.
But, although I basically don’t know shit, I still do know that’s probably not going to happen.
Originally appeared at Very Smart Brothas
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Image courtesy of Flickr/Mike-wise