Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?

Now for day 2 of Relationship Week. For those of you returning, thank you. Thus far this week is turning out to be a success. For those of you just arriving, take a look at what has been said so far and add your voice.

Let me preface what follows by tendering the definition of friendship I will be using. I took the liberty of borrowing this definition from @girly1121 who is a new blogger at Latte Then Thoughts Blog:

When I think of a Friend, I think of someone that is there for me no matter what, someone I can share my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs and they are not going to judge me.

I once had a Friend like that. We were good friends for quite a while. Sometimes I really miss her friendship.

She was a young, single black female. I was a young, married black male. Perhaps when I think about it, it couldn’t have lasted anyway.

We worked the nightshift together. And I guess it was only natural that we should have become friends. We were raised in the same geographical area, and had many shared experiences. Plus, I welcomed the familiar accent; it soothed me and reminded me of home. And we had the same quirky sense of humor.

So, eight to twelve hours a day, five days a week, we spent the night talking and laughing together and plotting how we were going to get out of a job we both abhorred and move on to bigger and better things.

I found it humorous when our co-workers began referring to her as “my work wife.” But I grew wary when our co-workers began whispering of an affair between the two of us. I wanted to do nothing to disrespect my wife and family.

But nevertheless, our friendship escalated. We began to have phone conversations during the day, sometimes several times a day. And my wife and I visited her home several times for dinner or a party, and she visited ours several times for the same reasons.

The turning point in our friendship came one weekend when my wife and children were out of town for some family function, a wedding or funeral or something. I really don’t remember. But on a Saturday night when we were off, she called me seemingly upset. She asked that I come right away but wouldn’t give me a reason.

I didn’t feel right about the whole thing. I had never been to her home except in the company of my wife. And on the drive over, the advice of the minister who had counseled me and my wife before we got married kept playing in the back of my head. He had advised me that the very best way to keep from cheating was not to allow myself to get into any situation in which I had to say no.

And then I thought of my frat brother who always seemed to be in trouble with his wife for cheating. A young, single woman who he was “friends” with called him over to help her move some furniture, and they managed to move some furniture all right.

So about halfway there, I turned around and went back home.

From then on, our friendship went downhill. We became downright nasty toward one another. More and more, we spent the night arguing and insulting one another until we just stopped speaking at all, and she finally just went to the day shift.

From this experience, I can only believe that it is practically impossible for heterosexual men and women to be just friends given the definition tendered above, especially when one party is married and the other is not. There is always a certain sexual tension present that if not resolved can only turn affection into resentment.

Perhaps if we had both been single and the relationship been allowed to run its natural course, perhaps if we had an outlet for that tension that had built up between us, I can only imagine where the relationship might have gone.

Since then we located one another through a mutual friend via Facebook. We have exchanged cordial greetings and messages, and she even sent me a birthday card. But I know nothing of her life now, and as far as I know, she knows nothing of mine.

Also, since then I have had many female friends. In fact, I have many more female friends than male friends. But besides those childhood friendships that I maintain from afar, most of what I am referring to as friends are only really acquaintances that I hear from or see from time to time. We have a short conversation, catch up on what has transpired since we last saw one another, and then move on with our lives.

Am I too bound by my own experience to believe that heterosexual men and women can be best friends? Can heterosexual men and women be just friends, and what would that friendship look like, consist of? Do you have a close friend of the opposite sex? What has sustained your friendship?


Kim said...

Men and women can be friends more than likely if the MAN is NOT attracted to the woman. Take a platonic male/female relationship and if the man is attracted to the WOMAN and one night out of the blue, she extended him an intimate invitation. I don't think he would say "No our friendship is too important". But I actually appreciate male friendships and like dealing with men and working for and with men, because men are just straight forward, so logical, they hardly ever take anything personal. When I have to call any customer service line to b*@#$ about something, I always request to speak with a man. I love my sistas but we can be something else sometimes.

Keith said...

I guess it's possible, but I'm not sure. Most of my friends who had a friend of the opposite sex ended up at some point dating that person. It's not just a big deal if both are single. Even though most of them eventually broke up and their friendships were over. I've known several people who had friendships with someone of the opposite sex and they were married. Marriages suffered or ended because the friendship escalated to something else. I guess if the two are not attracted to each other in that way it can work. You don't want a case either that while one doesn't feel that way about the other the other person does. Great post. Glad things worked out for you and you didn't do something you would regret later on.

Denisha said...

I believe that women and men can be friends when an attraction does not exist. The bad thing is that sometimes one person will eventually fall for the other and feelings are hurt.

I've had a friend for about 10+ yrs whom I can do all those things defined in your definition of a friendship. Our friendship took a final turn (it had already begun to turn) when he announced his engagement. Not that I was jealousy but the late night talks, texting all day every day, calling randomly in the middle of the day to talk about whatever and having the best conversation ever....those things I'd miss.

His engagement signified an end to our era. Why did it have to end? Because we both have admitted deep down our feeling for each other...we had never acted on them. It's for the best and we are still close. He'll always be in my life and vice versa. Attraction can mess up the balances of whatever should be platonic.

Max Reddick said...

@ Keith

I'm feeling you Keith.

@ Kim and Denisha

The condition you give is that as long as an attraction does not exist. But doesn't some time of attraction, some time of connection be present for two people to become friends in the first place?

A. Spence said...

I'm going to say NO that men and women can't be close friends like you state above. ESPECIALLY, if you're married. Because, I feel eventually one of those friends is going to catch feelings.

In my experience, every male that I was friends with either expressed attraction outside of our friendship, and vice versa. I think it's natural for women and men to become attracted to each other after becoming friends first. Isn't that the ultimate beginner of a good relationship?

md20737 said...

Wow this is a touchy subject. I am almost embarassed to give the rules I go by on this. My boyfriend and I go by this rule. We dont pursue new friendships with people of the opposite sex. By that I mean we are not quarantined to just each other. I mean that if you have opposite sex friends you had before we became a serious committed couple its all good. They can call, hang out, have fun. But we dont practice having new relationships with the opposite sex that require spending time outside of work, school, etc.
I wonder how people view that rule we go by. I guess it doesnt matter because it works for us.

I am typically drawn to friendships with males. I feel more comfortable and less judged in their presence. But I always disclose my relationship upfront, and make numerous references that I am happy and not looking. In addition I dont put myself into situations where someone could misunderstand me. I understand attraction is natural, but it often fades and once it does you can truly become friends. Lately I tweet a lot because you can only be so close if you never meet each other.

I commend you for turning around and going home. I know your wife is glad to know you are a great decision maker lol

Neva Cross said...

When I was much younger I did believe that such platonic relationships could exist, and wondered why mine always went awry. As time has gone on, I have come to certain realizations about human relationships. First, people are drawn to other because they find them in some way attractive, rather than repulsive. We are also drawn to characteristics that we admire, are comforting, or familiar. This is true is our dealing with co-workers, family, and general friendships. For example, how many times have we seen those tests with teachers and how attractive children are favored while unattractive children are not highly regarded. This is just human nature. But then it comes to sex attraction and intimacy these tensions tend to escalate as people become more emotionally intimate regardless of the initial intend. These are the same "feelings" that you trust to guide us to finding our perfect mate, I don't believe this set of instincts that cause the species to survive can be turned on and off at will just because we feel they are inappropriate in a particular social setting. Of course we still make the final "choice", and I very much agree with your pastor when he said it is best not to have to make that "choice".

Yvette said...

I believe SOMETIMES men/women can be friends. I've had two very close male friends in my lifetime. One the sexergy was there, but never acted on. The other no energy at all. I truly loved these men, because there advice was always unbiasd and on point. Also, unlike a girlfriend, if I told them something and we fell out, my secrets were forever safe.

So happy, brotha, that you had the utmost respect for your wife/fam and turned around. Someone, very close to me, didn't and thought what he did in the dark wouldn't come out in the light... Well, it did. Destroyed every aspect of his "Good" life. Great article

Yvette said...

The comment from, Only1 is from Yvette/Sistaah. Trying to change name. Anyway, you have my thought/oppinion.

williedynamite said...

Yes it is possible for men and women to be friends but it's does become much more difficult and complicated whenever you add significant others (bf/gf wife husband) into the equation.
Depending one the level and closeness of your friendship it is likely to change when one of you are in a relationship. If you talk to each other everyday several times a day and text one another, that's probably going to cause conflict with someones significant other. Who are you putting first? Your friend or your significant other. At some point you will eventually have to choose.
I have had many female friends some platonic other not so much while I was single. Since I've gotten married I've decided that the best policy is to let them become acquaintances.
Sometimes people are in you lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Married man/single female. No way. That's asking for trouble. Married female/single male? The grass will always seem to be greener. But as far as two single men and women being friends not really. Usually a close friendship between a man and woman is nothing more than a non committal relationship. All the benefits of a relationship without the commitment. The friendship always seems to be just a technicality that leads to a relationship. Someone almost always catches feelings and if it isn't reciprocated the friendship is lost.

Lyn Marie said...

I believe men and women can be friends. Is it true that you can become jealous when your (male) best friend gets a girl friend, yes, but what wrong with saying "I'm a little jealous right now" and then get over those feelings.

Sometimes we feel insecure, once he gets a girlfriend or married then we'll no longer be friends. Isn't it okay to admit that? Then you can understand why you feel that way and you can move on and remain friends with a deeper understanding. My best friend and I have gone through that a couple of times over the years but we still have each others back.

Denisha said...

@MaxReddick - "The condition you give is that as long as an attraction does not exist. But doesn't some time of attraction, some time of connection be present for two people to become friends in the first place?"

I have become friends with people depending on diff variables. Similar work interests, athletes, religion, mutual friends, kid play dates, etc. So, the attraction I speak of is not physical. It's emotional and/or mental after I get to know them, realize they are good catches, and we connect on many levels.

CiCiWryter said...

I think men and women can be friends in a sibling type way. You can connect to people or be drawn to them without it being a sexual/physical attraction. If you are attracted to one another sexually and just not 'acting' on it that's something different, I think. Even when its never been expressed and then the 'opportunity' presents itself, to me, that means the attraction was there all the time and either one or the other hasn't been honest, probably to respect the other's relationship, yet maintain a connection. Male friends that I have feel like brothers to me and are treated like part of the family. Respect is always shown to the other spouse/relationship so that there isn't a trust issue and if there is you defer to that person's relationship because its understandable that they don't trust that situation because so many people are 'friends' until something happens. Usually time shows what a situation really is and that opposite-sex friend can be just like another family member or someone waiting to become something else and have to be cut loose. It's good you had the sense to not let it become something else Max. I'm like Kim in that I like having a male perspective and appreciate that there's usually less emotional reacting about situations but each person has to recognize what's going on especially if you notice the other party has a physical attraction that isn't mutual because you are leading the person on in a subliminal way. If those feelings are there and you are married or involved then being friends isn't probable because ultimately, some furniture will probably get'moved'as soon as the family's away.

Renee said...

My best friend of ten years is male. We gab on the phone for hours and go to the occasional movie together. People have been gossiping forever that we are sleeping together. Some even question whether my second son belongs to my partner. We have hugged once in ten years and are nowhere near sleeping with each other. We simply tune out what others say and go on about our business. I know that I can count on him for anything and the same is returned.
I believe if people act like responsible adults there is no reason why a relationship cannot only be maintained but blossom. To me he is like a second brother and I would not trade our laughs and good times for anything

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and honest perspective. My father always said men and women can't be friends and my mother always disagreed. As a married woman, I think the difference between the sexes explain the differing opinions. Women, perhaps naively, tend to believe a man who has never made an inappropriate, or sexual advance is truly just a friend. Men, knowing themselves, tend to be more skeptical. Not to say that women are not territorial and question other women's motives, but are more likely to accept the relationship at face value until shown otherwise. Being married and having single friends is a complicated situation because the interests are, at times, conflicting. Ideally, everyone should address their own insecurities and trust their partner to respect the relationship. Sometimes that may unfortunately mean abandoning a friendship when your relationship is of higher value.

msladyDeborah said...

I have a good friend who is married. We've been friends for almost thirty years. Our relationship has boggled many people's minds because we've never had the proverbial affair.

We attended the same church at one time. We did a lot of work together and through that work we discovered that we have common interests that we share. We both like music, books, art and photography. We have asked advice from each other on a variety of topics and situations.

I know his wife and his children also. Anyone who know us will tell you that we are just cool with each other. I have never thought about trying to push it to another level. I do not believe that is why we connected as friends. He is happy with his family life. I was happy with my family life. We have kept in touch over the years.

I especially like the fact that we have never crossed the boundaries that actually exist in our lives. I value his presence in my life as a friend. People use to wig out about us. They waited and waited for the drama of an affair. I like the fact that they have never been satisfied with that ever happening.

I also have a single friend who attended the same church. We also worked together on a job at one time. He is cool people too. We share mutual interests as well. People use to think that we would connect up after I got a divorce. But he's not the one to fill that space in my life. We both like football, films,jokes and food. We share those interests together every once and awhile. He's the person I call if I need male assistance and my sons are not available to me.

I believe that some people are just meant to be friends. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. I let the men who I date know that I have male friends. This has caused some problems since it is an assumption that friendship leads to a relationship. But usually when they realize that these guys are not kicking it with me on a everyday basis the cool out.

Thee_Kween said...

I didn't read ALL comments so forgive any repetition...

I think it's hard and almost impossible. Only because we as men and women are naturally drawn to one another. One person's lack of attraction doesn't cement the other's as the same. You can never tell whose got issues of attachment, and what it takes to BECOME attached...so, therefore you may never know exactly what it is you may say or do that will garner adulation.

One of the things I say most often that a lot of my friends (who interestingly enough are the cheating kind) disagree with...is that your mate should be your best friend. That when in distress it is THEM you should run to, and not your friends...that includes same sex friends. They may know the aftermath if you choose to share, but ultimately you should take your gripe to the one you're gripe is with. That way...no one is "consoling" you and you're not in a situation where emotions run wild. Women's instinct is nurture, Men's is to protect. Those instincts may evolve and then your "friend" is intimately nurturing or protecting you. That's a recipe for disaster.

Anyway, that's my asshole...lol

MizzTracey said...

I agree largely with what Toya had to say. I don't believe that men and women can truly be platonic friends unless their is ZERO physical/sexual attraction between the parties. I am loathe to entertain the concept because sex inevitably rears it's ugly head. Even sometimes where there is no initial desire, the tension builds as you deepen in knowledge/acceptance of the other party. I keep my dealings with men at a minimum of arms' length and not closer than acquaintance level with very few exceptions.

Thembi Ford said...

Da Kween just took the words out of my mouth - everything from the role of your partner to the nature of men and women. I don't believe that men and women can really be friends because there's one more thing I'd add to the definition of "friend" - someone you don't have boundaries with. Maybe its just because I haven't been particularly successful with real male friendships because someone always catches feelings, but even at their best m/f friendships have a line that is not to be crossed, whether its talking about bikini waxes like I can with a gay man or gossiping with my girls - and obviously, there's the sex thing! Maybe its just me, but even the least attractive man can be such a great person that eventually my affection for him is no longer best expressed just through a high five or peck on the cheek. The few close male friendships I've had - those that are as close as any I'd have with a female - definitely waned to the aquaintance level once the guy was married, and I'd expect the same of my husband unless me and the woman became just as close (which is near impossible because her loyalty will likely remain with him). I tend to remind myself of the question "do the older people you know with strong marriages have opp sex friends? Does your 60 y/o mom or dad have opp sex friends?" The answer is almost always no. Uncle so-and-so is always dad's friend, and your aunties are your mom's friends! Once I realized I could never be auntie thembi to the kids of male friend, even though we explored our physical attraction YEARS ago, I realized that the days of all of my opp sex hetero friendships are numbered. Its just a hard thing to make last while respecting boundaries and being honest with yourself about what makes you tick.
Great post and decision-making on your part, Max!

ChewingStick said...

If one party is married, the answer should be HELL NO. Don't even decieve yourself like that. First it is disrespectful to your spouse.

I am married, and my husband should be talking to me about sensitive things and asking me for help, not another woman.

My husband has female friends, but they are my friends too. And when he talks to them, I also take a turn on the phone. Nothing is hidden.

Its best to just avoid the appearance of evil. In the words of Michael Jackson.. because a lie becomes the truth hey hey hey Billy Jean is not my lover...

Love this blog

ChewingStick said...

oh wait, it might be possible if one is married... and the other is purely gay

By the way... Did you get the snake?

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