In the media, movies, and everyday life, we are constantly “shipping” straight men and women who have been friends forever. They have such a long history of emotional support, inside jokes, and shared adventures. They are in every sense the best of friends. Why then, do we try so hard to change this?
As a person with mostly female friends, I find these friendships under constant scrutiny. Romantic partners, family members, and even acquaintances take it upon themselves to dissect the nature of my relationship with each of my friends who are women. They all want to know — is it truly platonic, or is there something more going on?
The notion that people of different genders cannot possibly be friends is rooted in society’s expectation of men to sleep with anyone they can and women to fall hopelessly in love at any given time. In addition to devaluing meaningful friendships, these expectations serve to take agency away from both men and women. They cast us as romantic time bombs, rather than people who simply care about each other and enjoy spending time together.
We all want to feel understood by romantic partners, but how can they understand us without befriending anyone who shares our gender. Nearly everything I know about women (well, everything that is true, rather than middle school folklore) I learned from friends who are women. Without these close friendships, I would be quite ignorant, not to mention emotionally illiterate.
Close friendships between men and women serve as a reminder that each gender offers more than just “someone to sleep with.” By taking romance out of the equation, we are able to focus on intellect, compassion, and shared interests — the roots of a strong friendship. Let’s nurture and encourage these friendships, rather than dousing them in doubt and suspicion.
In the meantime, I will continue to value and foster my friendships with people of all genders. And when I do one day meet that special someone, there won’t be anyone happier for me than my friends.
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