Is Gender a Curse on Platonic Friendship?

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.

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.

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

Read more on VSB:

“Things Men Talk About When Women Aren’t Looking.”

 

Image courtesy of Flickr/Mike-wise

 

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About Damon Young

Pittsburgh native Damon Young (aka “The Champ”) is the co-founder of VerySmartBrothas.com. Their first book Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide To Dating, Mating and Fighting Crime is available at Amazon.com

Comments

  1. I don’t do platonic friendships with women. Have no interest whatsoever.

    I have only one and that’s because she is married. I don’t do married women. Otherwise I would be sexing her because I know she is into me.

  2. This is really sad. Perhaps because I’m overweight I’m capable of have platonic friendships with men? A lot of my good friends are male – we really do tell each other most things. We’re been friends when I’ve been single, when they have been and when we’ve been in relationships. Nothing changed. I think it’s a very undeveloped person who can’t see a person as a person, a friend – rather than, underneath it all, someone to fuck.

    I hope, one day, you get a good enough female friend to change your perspective.

    • I agree, and though I don’t know you, I doubt your weight has anything to do with the strength of your friendships. All my life I have had close guy friends and they were purely platonic. I’m not being naive because believe it or not, my guy friends and I share our feelings, and the subject of our friendship and it’s possibilities (past present and future) comes up from time to time. I still cherish and honour these friendships, we are living proof that men and women can and SHOULD be friends

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I am of normal weight and have always had guy friends. Very profound relationships, in fact. You can get to know one of my best guy friends, Eli, at our blog http://www.shesaidhesaid.me – I have also had one best guy friend since we were born, we even lived together, and he’s straight and handsome. We were never attracted to each other, as far as i know, but we traveled together and everything. When I was sick, he twice carried me off the floor and took me to the hospital and sat up with me all night until we reached my boyfriend.

      It’s different now that I’m married. I don’t make new best guy friends whom I hang out with one-on-one, only because there is a certain sanctity to my marriage about forming new intimacies with men. Marcus and Justin here at GMP are dear to me, but we aren’t BFFs. Also, my old guy friends know and are close with my husband, and the respect for my husband and our union comes first.

      But YES, male-female deep friendships are possible! But you have to recognize that sex and romance aren’t an overwhelming tidal wave that can sweep you away. If once you think you might want to sleep with your friend, that doesn’t mean you have to go with that, or that it ruins anything. You just focus on the friendship.

      Just my two cents.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    So there’s sexual tension: Had a platonic relationship–which means non-sexual and without expectation of sex–with a woman who was more or less engaged to a guy while I was on the cusp of getting engaged with a woman–my wife for over forty years.
    My relationship was in the context of a half-summer’s field project. My partner had what is known euphemistically as a stunning figure, great eyes and bone structure, etc. We had some nice talks about various issues including personal ones.
    We were going nowhere except home when it was over.
    Period.
    As to “opening up” as a criterion for friendship, nobody opens up completely to anybody. If you try, you soon find everybody including your closest friends crossing the street. It is a courtesy to not burden them with your nasty little nastinesses, or your wildest fantasies. If you have a problem they might be able to address due to their experiences, sure. Free-association opening up…not in it.

  4. Yeah, I agree with above comments…this is sad. Of course men and women can be friends. The assumption that stops this is that men want to f*ck (as you quaintly put it) every woman they know. If you say you do, I guess I’ll have to take your word for it, but I don’t think most men are like that. They have women they’re attracted to sexually and romantically, and women they’re not but like anyway. In the same way, women have different kinds of feelings about the different men in their lives. Imagine a woman saying, “I can’t be friends with men because I’m secretly angling to have sex with all of them.” She would sound like an idiot, and so do you.

  5. I think that’s crap. I have had several platonic relationships with the male population growing up. I was close to several guys in high school without ever bringing up sex and the only reason why we aren’t close anymore is because we moved apart! One of my best friends is a guy. We met in college, he still a very close male friend of mine. He is not gay, he is not sexually into me, nor I with him, and we have never had any kind of ‘moment’ other than fun, no sex. He shares everything with me, and I with him. All is good. He is married to another close friend of mine, and I have a bf. I know several friends with male/female friends. I didn’t think it was that unheard of. But, I guess there’s always the When Harry Met Sally debate.

  6. TwinkleStar says:

    I have several very close male friends whom I cherish and adore just as much as my female friends BECAUSE of the sexual tension that exists! We are all sexual beings and in my opinion we repress way too much of that on a daily basis. What is wrong with finding someone attractive, harmlessly flirting, making each other feel good about ourselves, teaching us that we don’t have to act on every sexual impulse and that the undercurrent of sexual chemistry that surrounds us everywhere is the force that keeps this world spinning around? Of course things shift when one of us gets involved with someone else … we talk less, we spend less time together, some of the sexual playfulness cools down, (and rightfully so out of respect to our current partners,) but I don’t ever want to be in a relationship with someone who is not comfortable enough in their own skin, or confident enough in my feelings for them, that mistrust would have a breeding ground. We all need some pretty clear boundaries, and two of mine include the fact that I don’t cheat and I will never give up my male friends.

    So yes, men and women can be platonic friends. ‘Platonic’ just might need a new definition. :-)

  7. TwinkleStar says:

    Really interesting that all but one of the responses so far are from women …

    • Kimburrito says:

      That was EXACTLY what I thought, too, TwinkleStar! It always seems like women (myself, included) say, “P’shaw! We can – and do! – have platonic friendships with men”, but when you question the male counterpart in your male-female friendship dyad, he’s not so adamant about the innocence.

      For upwards of a decade, I was very close friends with a man, but when I got engaged and innocently asked him if he would be part of my wedding party and stand as my “Man of Honor”, he bristled at the suggestion. When I pressed him, he confessed that he’d had romantic feelings for me for years and he found it insulting that I would ask him to be an active participant in an event that made it so painfully obvious that someone else got to be with me that way. Suffice it to say, our “friendship” did not last after that. How can it? You cannot maintain a true friendship with someone when you have contradictory objectives for the relationship.

  8. I have had several close non-sexual non-romantic relationships with women, a few that are whole life long, as deep as any friendship I’ve ever had. Only rarely has sexual chemistry gotten in the way, and it has never ended anything. If it happens, you just acknowledge it in yourself and move on. Focus on what is real and what you share, not your fantasies. But most of the time it is just not an issue.

    As far as the “she’s dating someone new” aspect goes or the “she’s married so now it’s different part” goes, I have found it in most if not all cases easier to make new friendships with women who are attached or married (especially when I was married) because it takes the whole issue of competition right off the table. I am not going to fuck up a good friend’s marriage or relationship! Or my own! This makes platonic intimacy easier to come by, not harder.

    For the life of me I can’t understand how one could rule out for friendship half the people you meet in life. What purpose does that serve?

  9. My best friend is a straight male. We have known each other since we were toddlers. We grew up together and the gender thing has never been an issue.

  10. I do believe that what is being get at with the theme of this article is that society portrays two types of platonic friendships. Those that are not sexual in nature and those that have sexual tension. I have friends that fall into both columns. My best platonic friend is a beautiful woman that men notice yet I have no sexual tension lingering in the friendship. Perhaps we are bonded on a deeper level because we are so similar and so close, helping each other with the separate lives that we lead. And then there are my other close platonic friends where sexual tension is always prevalent, especially with changes in relationship status. Most of my male friends do not have a best platonic friend where there is no sexual tension; it is a rare breed of friendship. I believe that a best platonic friend is difficult to find and to even classify, but men who have these friends are thankful for their presence in helping with the rest of life’s mysteries. Men should make these best platonic friends a priority in their life in my opinion, as they are very helpful for bridging the gender gap in trying to understand other interactions between males and females.

  11. PursuitAce says:

    One of the great mysteries of life; platonic friendships with the opposite sex. Never had one. It’s like there’s a secret code you have to break.

  12. One of the great things about GMP is that it gives women a chance to see men…to really hear from them in an honest and unvarnished way. To witness their courageousness as they share what is true for them. As someone said, it was interesting that only one reply (so far) was from a man. Arguing with a man when he is revealing something that is true about him is like having a man tell a woman why she shouldn’t have the feelings she’s having. Isn’t it more valuable to consider what that particular person’s experience is, and see if it fits with what you know? And if not, to see how it might add to what you do know? I happen to agree with the author; it is hard for men and women to have strictly platonic relationships, with zero awareness of the possibility for sexual connection. For the women who think you have men friends, my bet is that if you asked them, and they were willing to be honest about it (don’t count on it), they’d tell you that they did, in fact, have some degree of sexual attraction to you. Not all. But many of them.

  13. I have my guy friends from HS and my karate friends and we talk about everything….

    Karate forces you to deal with someone in a totally different way…which is kinda funny.. because so much of regular social interaction seems to involve some level of flirting (or can be misconstrued as flirting because maybe someone is looking for those signs)….karate is like the opposite…it teaches you to push people away…people who are encroaching on your boundaries….

    I never thought I would become so close to some of my karate buddies…it is fascinating to see men from this perspective…all the pretense and BS and whatever is stripped away…

  14. Gosh, this whole article was so heterosexually-biased that it was difficult for me to get through it. It simply does not take into account that sexuality occurs on a spectrum. (What would a friendship look like between a male who identifies as asexual and a female identifying as gay?) It also fails to even mention transgendered people. Let’s please stop living in a bubble.

    • I agree totally Lannea, though I guess it is the author’s right to consider it from only that narrow point of view if it is all he has experience with.

      I thought of mentioning that I was bi in my above comment but I thought throwing that in there might make the rest of my story irrelevant. As if my female friends could be dismissed as harmless if I had a boyfriend. Which isn’t true but somehow I thought it would just complicate what I had to say. Make me an outsider instead of just a man who happens to have close friendships with women.

      But your point is spot on. If the author was so blatant about ruling anything out but strict heterosexuality among all parties for the purposes of this article, perhaps he should have stated that just so we knew that he at least considered the possibility that not every reader is straight before dismissing us.

    • Good point. And basically this theory would mean that gay men can’t really be friends with gay men and that lesbians can’t be friends with lesbians. Which is fairly obviously not the case.

  15. Jen Crook says:

    This article, and the comments following, are the reason I subscribe to GMP in the first place. I love to hear a male perspective on things, and in some cases value it more than my female friends’ perspectives. For the same reason, all of these comments are interesting; I am especially glad to see that so many women, like me, have close male friends. As for the original premise – who really knows? All I can say is that without one of my bff’s I could go for days without speaking to anyone because I am jobless and looking. He cares, so we speak numerous times a day. My other bff provides much needed respite on weekends from the job search with movies he downloads (for free) while I make sure he eats a decent meal. These men mean more to me than any female friend right now; our discussions far exceed what my female friends ever talk about, and each in his own way has opened my mind to new and different experiences. Face it, the genders differ in so many ways, but it can be viewed as complimentary rather than just different.

  16. Many comments from people with opposite sex platonic friends here seem to indicate having had them for “years”, or since childhood. I think this is common.

    Now remove all the opposite sex platonic friends you’ve had since childhood, or from schooling of any type, or from work, or that you met while you were in a committed relationship. How many do you have left? I’m guessing it’s not many if any at all.

    The real question is can you _make_ opposite sex platonic friends when you are single. The answer for me is “no”. I wouldn’t want them and I’m not interested in having them. Every platonic female friend is someone I met in school, at work, or when I was in a committed relationship. I don’t think most men have a need/want for a platonic opposite sex friend most of the time.

  17. I find myself, as a married woman, enjoying a handful of very dear friendships with men. One of them, I think is very playfully platonic, in that, both of us being married, neither of us willing to change that, and so we can talk and honor our marriages by knowing those boundaries. We often work out alongside each other (our kids attend martial arts together) and we talk, at times about weight loss and our goals. It is fun to watch him lift, and know he watches me train. But where I really get it with him is when I listen, to his days, his stressors, and take the time to be a listening ear. I realize he wants to play the role of ‘cool guy’ to everyone around him, he plays it well, the tough soldier. But I also know that inside, he has dreams and aspirations, so I let him be more than the cool guy to me. And he reciprocates with his encouragement to me, through my heartaches and joys, he reminds me that I am still moving forward, as well. It helps that I am decent friends with his wife, and she isn’t the jealous or clingy type. In fact it was she who told me, when I helped their family move, ‘he really likes you’ which in no way carried a sexual or romantic overtone. We just all came to respect each other and help each other out with a ‘what do you need in me’ perspective on the friendships involved between us. My husband isn’t threatened by this relationship any more than his wife, even though he can be the jealous type. I think I’ve gotten really lucky that we have been able to have these connections, and it does take a lot of willingness to be honest across the aisles, but its very much a treasure to have him as a friend.

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