I must start by explaining that I am referring to straight men here. A gay man would probably not feel sexual tension while in the company of his female friend, so this stereotype is specific to the context of straight men and (typically) straight women involved in platonic relationships. My focus is on whether a straight man can handle this arrangement and whether he should.
I consider myself a near-expert on the subject because, throughout my 30-plus years on the planet, I have had a number of platonic relationships with women, many of whom I had romantic feelings for in the past — and still do in some cases. There were some I previously dated who morphed into friends and others I never formally dated. It did get confusing and frustrating for me at times.
As studies have shown, the potential for conflicts of interest and misunderstanding in this context is enormous. Is it hard to establish proper boundaries or communicate (often) mixed feelings in these situations? Absolutely. Is it impossible? No.
Should straight men avoid platonic relationships with women they are attracted to because of the difficulties? No. And I’ll tell you a good reason why: it’s excellent practice.
I do not mean that platonic friendships are not inherently rewarding (they are) or that men should treat female friends as a means to an end. I mean that healthy friendships between men and women are essential for developing the skills necessary to maintain a romantic or sexual relationship when the time comes. Boundaries and clear communication are just as important — if not more important — in a romantic relationship as they are in a platonic friendship. Practice makes perfect.
For my part, I have never had a romantic relationship that has lasted more than three years, but I have maintained friendships that have lasted ten years. I have gained so much from these friendships that I plan to keep them regardless of what happens on the romantic front.
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