In the society that we know today, just the same as in the society that was known 100 years ago, the idea that men and women can just be friends has been discussed. Discussed during common conversation, explored in books, poetry, movies, and any other genre of communication that can be thought of. There is a host of ideas, definitions, opinions and facts that must be considered to answer this question. There are many challenges as to why men and women can be friends and just as many as to why they cannot be just friends. My own life experiences have made me genuinely interested in this very question. Can I be just a friend to a woman and likewise, can a woman just be a friend to me? There have been many times in my life when a current relationship has depended on this question; a future relationship has depended on this question, and a past relationship that has depended on this question. There is a possibility that men and women can be friends. Certain words and ideas must be defined, circumstances must be addressed as to why friendships can work between opposite sexes, and those “friendships” that do not work, must be dissected to propose why it did not work. Answering this question and the ongoing research that is being done is vital to every generation. An honest answer could prohibit hurt or provide a new pool of friends that could be made, provide a different structure of friendship and number of other things. It will be beneficial to both sexes.
Friendship is defined as “one attached to another by respect or affection” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1994). With this simple definition, there should be no reason at all that men and women cannot be friends. As long as you respect the man or woman and feel affection for them, that should be the end of the story. Then why does it not always work out? Could it possibly be that men and women view the term “friend” differently? Do they have different reasons for friendship? Research suggests that friends “must enjoy each other’s company, they must be useful to one another, and they must share a common commitment to the good” (Bell, 1991). Women typically describe their friendship in terms of closeness and emotional attachment. The characteristics the relationships between women is the willingness to share their feelings, thoughts, feelings and support. Men’s relationships tend to focus around certain activities and are more segmented (Bell, 1991). It is a relationship between men that serve as a “buffer to stress and reduce depression (Bell, 1991).” It is more difficult to find a true friend that encompasses character traits that prove beneficial to both parties’ intents and purposes.
Studies do suggest the friendships between men and women versus same sex friendships are much less common (Newton, 2008). These same studies also indicate that this is because issues of possessiveness and jealousy come into play just as they would in a relationship that is sexual in nature (Newton, 2008). According to Dr. Jane Greer, “often, when men and women are friends, they’ve already had a relationship and diffuse the sexual energy they used to generate it (2009).” There are certain circumstances that would allow for men and women to just be friends. The main issue as to why being friends just does not work is the topic of sexual tension. In the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry informs Sally during their first meeting that it is a fact the men and women cannot be friends. This is because one will always want to sleep with the other. There is simply no way of getting around that. Perhaps a man or woman is friends with someone of the opposite sex but it could be that one of them is keeping the option open for a sexual connection. Perhaps not right now, but maybe in the future (Greer, 2009). The only answer seems to be to diffuse whatever sexual tension exists.
The circumstances of the friendship between a man and woman has a lot to do with the success of a platonic relationship. Those friendships that succeed can because the people involved are in different stages of their lives, proximity to each other or they may be married. These are practicalities that may make having a romantic involvement impossible (Greer, 2009). There of course are cases of friends who have different sexual orientations and therefore the main problem of having sexual tension, simply does not exist. Because all friendships are built upon a mutual attraction and on compatibility, the potential for romance between a man and a woman being friends is definitely present. In order to diffuse that issue, it must be addressed in order for some sort of resolution to take place and from there, move on (Greer, 2009).
According to Michael Ferrel, there are four key obstacles to the success of male-female friendships. “The inability to define the relationship (Ferrell,).” Men and women have to be honest about the relationship, whatever the reason. There must be honesty as to what the attraction is whether it was sexual, having common interests, etc. “A fear of confronting feelings of sexual attraction (Farrell 1)” is another obstacle that is stated. Whether or not the feeling are there, which there usually is, being able to talk to your friend about them is vital to the success of the friendship. A third obstacle is the “inability of both partners to see each other as equals” and the fourth is “society’s response to a non-romantic relationship (Farrell, 2008).” These are serious impediments for a cross-gender friendship to work but not so serious that it is impossible.
“When Harry Met Sally (1989)” is a classic movie that explores the four key obstacles to the success of a cross-gender relationship. Harry and Sally were both very honest throughout their friendship and that is the only reason why such a relationship could work. It was definitely not love at first sight. It was a friendship of support through the entire story. According to research, “men and women in platonic friendships enjoy many benefits from their relationships. Men seem to get more out of the cross-sex friendship. In a study by a psychologist in New York State, men rated cross-sex friendships higher in overall quality than their same-sex friendships (Farrell, 2008).” This can be for reasons of perhaps being able to more easily express their feelings and get a female perspective on things. The old adage that men are from Mars and women are from Venus eludes to how very different our two sexes are. Why not find out what the other team is thinking? These friendships can provide support, love and an opportunity to understand life through someone else’s eyes.
In watching “When Harry Met Sally (1989),” it is evident that are many different types of friendships at play through the entire movie. Although Harry and Sally did end up being romantically involved, that is not to say that that is how it had to happen. If Harry could not have married Sally or been romantically involved with her, he would take her as a friend and vice-a-versa. Each had their own friends that were of the same gender but as Harry said, “there are things that I can talk to her about that I can’t talk to you about,” when speaking with his male friend. There are benefits as well as costs to every relationship but they discovered a true friendship that ended with them falling in love and being married. Perhaps if more people in our society focused on friendship, there would be more success in the married lives of people today.
Men and women can most certainly be just friends. There will be obstacles but through honesty, those obstacles can be overcome. I have a very good friend that happens to be the opposite sex. I have known her for over ten years and friendship is as far as it has ever gone. She offers support, enjoys activities that I do, compliments my personality, but I view her as a type of family member with no real sexual attraction. An obstacle that was addressed by Harry was that if you do get involved with someone romantically, they may have a problem with that person. “What’s missing from our relationship (When Harry Met Sally, 1989)?” That has been issue but only because to find a platonic relationship between a man and woman is so rare to find in a pure form. I would rather keep my friend than to be with someone who does not understand a real friendship. Through me saying that, that shows that a true friendship can exist without false pretenses. There have also been times when I thought I was friends with a person only to soon realize that that is not what is really going to happen. Either I become attracted to her or she becomes attracted to me. In order to stay friends with that person, the sexual tension has been addressed and either we can remain friends or not. But that is not to say that it is impossible. “When Harry Met Sally (1989)” sends the message that two people can be just friends.
Research has more often than not indicated that it is possible for these mixed-gender friendships to work. I was surprised to learn that this fact is supported. It is in every movie, television show and real life experiences that men and women cannot be friends, and yet, we now find out that they can. This research was purely based from research that was conducted in the United States. It would be incredibly interesting to have a cross-cultural perspective on this topic as relationships between men and women differ across our world.
In no way should men not be friends with women or women not be friends with men simply because they do not think that it could be done or they are asking for something more than just the friendship. We can see through this research that while there are times that these friendships lead to more, those that succeed can find a true friend and have a lasting friendship that will provide other elements that they may not be able to receive from a same-sex friendship.