HE SAID: Ladies, welcome to the biggest relationship cliché in the history of men and women. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan made this question famous twenty years ago in When Harry Met Sally, psychologists have studied and debated the merits of cross-gender relationships to death, and who hasn't heard a friend say "you can't be friends with a member of the opposite sex?" Despite what you may have learned growing up or what your girlfriends say at happy hour, men and women can absolutely be anywhere from good to great to best friends. It doesn't happen all the time and it's not always easy, but it is possible.
The single biggest reason that deep friendships between men and women fail is sexual tension. Women I spoke to consistently said that it is "difficult to impossible" to have fulfilling friendships with men because as the friendship develops, men will inevitably want to elevate the relationship to a romantic level. Similarly but in much simpler terms, men I spoke to said that it is difficult to be friends with women "when you want to sleep with them". Apparently, the tension between men and women can be so thick and muddies the waters of friendship so much that both genders are resigned to compartmentalize each other as a form of self-preservation.
From personal experience, I can say that I have been attracted to a fair share of my female friends. I have flirted with most, hit on a few, been hit on by others, turned down by some, and slept with some more. In almost every case, we were able to either maintain or improve our friendship because we confronted the sexual tension that existed, and mutually agreed how to deal with it. Sexual tension is certainly real, impossible to ignore, and can be difficult to negotiate. But like the weather, you can either let it dictate what you want to do, or you can deal with it. If you cannot manage your sexual tension or the sexual tension thrown your way, then be prepared to experience challenges in your day-to-day relationships throughout your life. Friendships between men and women do not fail because of sexual tension; they fail because of a lack of honestly about it—because it is brushed under the carpet, instead of being confronted. They fail, ultimately, because sometimes, we would rather lose a friend than go out on a limb. The funny thing we tend to forget about going out on a limb is that, after all, it's where the fruit is.
SHE SAID: I've had no trouble at all being friends with the opposite sex—once I've crossed that boundary and laid one on them, that is.
I'll admit it, I have poor impulse control—I've locked lips with most of my male friends, either before or after we became friends. For the men I've hooked up with at some point after establishing a platonic friendship, it's generally gone back to its pre-hookup state, our curiosities satisfied and our friendship unharmed.
I whole-heartedly believe that you can be close friends with the opposite sex. I also believe that almost all of these close friendships—friendships that venture outside of the group hangout setting—start with or eventually confront some sexual or romantic attraction, sometimes mutual and sometimes one-sided. Now, this doesn't mean you necessarily have to do something about it. Me? I need to confront the elephant in the room first and kiss them.
We're all busy people. We have enough friends. Fostering a new friendship takes time and effort...and let's admit it, sometimes we're a little more eager to do so if we're also picturing our new friend naked. Sometimes it grows and interferes with an actual friendship blossoming, but often, that attraction fades or is not all that strong in the first place, and the friends in question are able to carry on in a platonic fashion.
Bottom line: you can be just friends with the opposite sex, but chances are, one of you has entertained the thought of taking things a step further—but that doesn't mean you're not real friends. And if you're reading this and shaking your head in disagreement, thinking of that friend who's "just like a brother" to you, just know that you're probably on the receiving end of some very friendly thoughts.
On the Soapbox
Abraham Lloyd is a divorced dad, closet geek, and aspiring author dating in New York City. He believes all men should own at least five jackets, know how to dance, and pay on a first date. You can tweet him at twitter.com/abrahamlloyd.
Diana Vilibert is Marie Claire's Web Editor, a chronic oversharer, closet romantic, and blind-date addict. You can e-stalk her at diana-vilibert.tumblr.com.
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