Does sex make it impossible for men and women to be friends?

Harry: Would you like to have dinner?... Just friends.
Sally: I thought you didn't believe men and women could be friends.
Harry: When did I say that?
Sally: On the ride to New York.
Harry: No, no, no, no, I never said that... Yes, that's right, they can't be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can... This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted... That doesn't work either, because what happens then is, the person you're involved with can't understand why you need to be friends with the person you're just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say "No, no, no, no, it's not true, nothing is missing from the relationship," the person you're involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you're just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let's face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can't be friends.
When Harry Met Sally... is a 90 minute meditation on the impossibility of men and women being friends. Movies and TV suggest to us friendships between men and women must result in some kind of romance, but I want to think there is a wider range of possibility in these friendships than what Harry and Sally faced.

Before the 20th century, men and women lived and worked in separate spheres, and friendships between the genders were rare. Even today, friendships between the sexes have ambiguous boundaries. Voluntary gender separation is still common. (Think of those parties when men may go off to one corner, and women to the other.)

Friendships between men and women can be so intimate. Sometimes sexual interest and sexual appreciation flare up. However, this is different from having sex. It is about the possibility of what could have happened if circumstances were different. Or it can be reassurance that we are still attractive or sexy. These kinds of attachments can and should be a support system. But can these friendships really work? Or does the presence of desire doom friendships between men and women? And what about the awkwardness of its absence?

Men and women tend to be subtle and creative when building friendships. Men probably get more out of it. In a friendship with a woman, men are able to share their feelings or personal reflections, something that they might be less likely to do with other men. Maybe women benefit because friendships with men are light and fun. (I was going to add that women can find out how men think, but men actually are not that difficult to figure out. They are simple creatures.)

Platonic relationships between men and women seem unlikely in our culture. People outside these friendships often assume the couple is having sex. If they are not having sex, the number one thing men and women do in these friendships is talk. And a spouse may be just as jealous of talking as of sex.

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Happy Frog and I said...

My other half and I have friends of the opposite sex and neither of us are jealous. I think it all comes down to a matter or trust really.

By the way, congratulations on nearly having 100 followers, way to go!

lisahgolden said...

I appreciate my male friends for how they are different from women. Sometimes I haven't been so deft at boundaries and that causes trouble, but it's not enough to make me want to swear off all male friends.

My husband probably has more female friends than male friends. It doesn't worry me. I like it that he can travel in that world, too.

Casey Freeland said...

I think it depends largely on what other relationships exist outside of the male/female friendship and how attractive to the other the man and woman are. 

For instance, where I am now, madly in love with my best friend, almost desperately sexually attracted to her after 16 years, the only female friendships I would have or do have are through her.  I've hung out with her friendswithout her for one reason or another and it's just fine.  They are my friends as well. But mostly they are really an extension of her.  There is nothing sexual, interest or appreciation. And by the way, for me sexual interest or appreciation when one is in a committed relationship might be different than actually having sex, but not by much.

Now, say I'm a single guy.  Love the man/woman friendship. If I'm sexually attracted to her, I'm hoping for more.  If I'm not, then it's a safe friendship devoid of the guy machismo pissing contests.  It would be impossible for the single me to be friends with an attractive woman without thinking about the possibility of eventually having sex with her. That is simply how I'm built.  I think it's how most men and women are built. But unlike what you said in your post about guys, that is much different than being simple or easy to figure out.  That aspect of who I am, sure.  Easy call.  The rest, good luck.  My wife has had me for 16 years and she's still a little confused.

There's another level here.  The internet/blogging/tweeting friendship. Certainly we can all argue that these aren't really friendships, but rather associations.  Right, of course. But that's semantics.  They are man/woman relationships. Because of the distance, because the association is strictly language with no possibility for any actual flirting, sharing pheromones, touching hands, there is the possibility of friendship free of the sexual tension, and also the possibility of friendship without endangering a long-term committed relationship, such as a 15-year marriage.  I consider this a gift of the internet and I'm glad it is the case.

Interesting post.  I can't say I agree with all your assumptions, but I do appreciate your viewpoint.