Can Men And Women Be Friends? Or When Harry Met Sally Did He Really Just Want to Jump Her Bones?
Men and women can’t really be just friends, can they? Of course not. There’s always that pesky sexual tension to contend with. And what about the spouse, spousal equivalent, or boyfriend/girlfriend who’s sure to be jealous? Plus, there’s the biological/sociological nesting imperative that women contend with and the hunting imperative that seems to drive men.
A number of years ago, a landmark study published by Dr. Don O’Meara, a sociology professor at Raymond Walters College, identified the following four key obstacles to the success of male-female friendships
The inability to define the relationship
A fear of confronting feelings of sexual attraction
The inability of both partners to see each other as equals
Society’s response to a non-romantic relationship
(This is all of the above rolled into one: What’s going on here? Who do they think they are? They just won’t admit that they’re hot for each other!)
Let’s face it, when you come right down to it – there are just too many impediments and too many inherent differences between the sexes for cross-gender friendship to work. Right?
Wrong, wrong, and double-wrong – at least in today’s world.
Fifty years ago, when Harry met Sally, he was a breadwinner who worked outside the home and she was a stay-at-home mom (or stay-at-home spinster). Harry and Sally had very little in common and very few opportunities to explore their commonality. Their paths never crossed except at a church social, perhaps, or in situations that were specifically created to foster romance and, by extension, procreation and the continuation of the species. (Not the stuff sonnets are made of, perhaps, but good for society.)
That was then. This is now.
21st Century men and women follow their passions inside and outside the home and stand shoulder to shoulder as equals in most situations. In 2002, Harry and Sally work side by side at the office. They argue head-to-head at the boardroom table. They run hip to hip on the jogging trail. They may not see eye to eye on every issue, but they freely debate them in Internet chatrooms.
So today, not only do Harry and Sally have a solid foundation of shared interests on which to build a real friendship, they also have time and space to pursue a cross-gender friendship and a society that encourages them to do so. In fact, experts tell us that in today’s world, men and women in platonic friendships enjoy dozens and dozens of benefits from their relationships.
Interestingly, men seem to get more out of cross-sex friendship. In a study by a psychologist in private practice on Long Island in New York State, men rated cross-sex friendships higher in overall quality than their same-sex friendships. Men reported they most enjoyed talking and sharing with women – something they didn’t do with male friends.
All that sharing that men find so appealing – organic though it may be to women — can be a bit of a drain, so les femmes say they turn to les hommes for a different dynamic. With men, women say they enjoy the lightness of not having to carry someone else’s emotional ‘baggage.’ Women may also derive a sense of safety and protection from their male platonic friends – much as they might from a big brother. Interestingly, women say the chance to learn ‘what guys are REALLY thinking” is the number 1 benefit of cross-gender friendship.
So does Harry WANT Sally? You bet. But if he can’t have her ‘that way,’ friendship will do quite nicely, thank you!