It’s an age-old question. Can men and women be friends? “Just” friends?
This topic has popped up periodically since 1989’s blockbuster rom-com, When Harry Met Sally. For those unfamiliar with the film — five of you? 12 of you? — it tells the tale of a long-term friendship that blossoms into love.
If you’re the suspicious type, it hardly takes a night of cable movie indulgence to ignite a little fevered fretting over Hubby’s long-time gal-pal or the Wife’s coffees with her high school ex…
And even the most trusting among us is not exempt from the green-eyed monster. The right (or wrong) circumstances can trigger doubts about any relationship. But then what?
You may have reason to feel insecure about your relationship. Okay, fine. Maybe that “friendship” she nurtures has outlived all other involvements, and that leaves you wondering. Maybe the two of you are going through a tough time and your guy friend’s BFF is too touchy for comfort.
Some of you harbor the belief that between any heterosexual man and woman, there is always the potential for chemistry. As far as you’re concerned, even if one or both are spoken for, friendship is fertile ground for an emotional affair.
Personally, I count myself in a different group, those who are generally neither jealous nor suspicious. Have I ever been jealous? Of a partner’s ex, yes, but not for long. Have I ever been suspicious? Of a friend? Only once. But these are exceptions. And while I’ll never know whether my suspicions were founded or not, I remain firmly convinced that men and women can pursue non-sexual, nonthreatening friendships that need not land them in love, in bed, or in the doghouse with the hubby, the wife, or the latest heart throb.
But that doesn’t mean we’re careless in respecting boundaries — ours, our friend’s, and those crucial to other ongoing relationships.
Friends With Benefits? Think Benefits of Friends
Pop-culture also approves of the concept of friends with benefits — as do I — when circumstances make it harmless and pleasurable to all concerned. But these days, I prefer to set aside the notion of friends with benefits in favor of appreciating the benefits of friends.
Consider these examples.
Your best buddy at the office is of the opposite sex. You chuckle your way through the worst assignments, and you have each other’s back when the boss is on a tear. Is there really any reason for a spouse to be jealous?
Maybe you confide in a longtime workout partner at the gym, another divorced parent in an activity-based meetup group, maybe even your ex-lover, ex-wife, or ex-husband — now well past the animosity of your break-up.
Common values, common interests, common hobbies. Empathy, history, trust. The ability to laugh together to lighten life’s stresses. Why must we assume that sharing any of these aspects of friendship with a person of the opposite sex will lead to an affair?
Friends With an Ex, Sans Ex-Sex?
While sex with an ex may be possible, it’s definitely not inevitable. When it comes to an ex and the romantic love is gone, isn’t it possible for the foundation of friendship to remain?
Now, if a husband or wife is spending more time with his or her best friend than with you, I might agree there is cause for concern regardless of the bestie’s gender or status as an ex. To me, this is a sign of an absence of shared activities or intimacy in the couple. Then again, even in that statement, aren’t I making assumptions?
Circumstances keep spouses and lovers apart — work, family issues, health issues, military service. Aren’t these instances precisely when supportive friends can help?
Of course we need to nourish our core romantic relationship if we have one. Of course there is a fine line to walk to avoid misunderstanding. And yes, if we find ourselves on our own and feeling vulnerable, we may imagine feelings that really have no place in a traditional (platonic) friendship.
31 Flavors of…
I’ve never found it to be vanilla. It comes in all flavors, like ice cream! Ditto on all styles, all degrees, all ages and stages and mix of genders… and more.
Friendship is an increasingly rare commodity in a chaotic world — a world too often fractured by coupling and uncoupling, by job-chasing cross-country and the demands of work, and lately, by the divisiveness of political differences. How many of us can afford to walk away from its benefits? Must we really deny ourselves a friend of the opposite sex for fear of the dreaded emotional affair? Or a partner’s fear that any sort of affair is an eventuality?
So I ask… While the “Harry Met Sally” model with its sweet, predictable dénouement may be satisfying to movie-goers, does it mislead us? Does it falsely promise that “love” (and sex) will bloom no matter what, and consequently, that men and women can’t possibly be “just friends?”
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