Platonic friendships: Can men and women really just be friends?

When it comes to this burning question, there are all sorts of views, some may even have an anecdote to share. In the 1989 movie, “When Harry Met Sally”, the writer Nora Ephron was exploring the exact question, “Can men and women be friends?” According to Harry (played by Billy Crystal), men and women can’t be friends “because the sex part always gets in the way.”

“Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.”

Oscar Wilde

Firstly I’d like to note that I am referring mostly to deep, connected friendships between both a heterosexual man and woman and not the casual and circumstantial interactions that happen between people in groups of friends or work colleagues.

From an evolutionary standpoint, men and women were never meant to be friends in the first place. Many leading philosophers claim that the entire purpose of life is to reproduce and pass on your genes. Although this statement is controversial and debatable, we can all agree that our basic instinct is to survive and reproduce.

“If I had the chance, I would smash”

There’s a reason why cross-sex friendships tend to make a significant other feel jealous or threatened. Even if it isn’t said outright, sometimes you can feel tension in the air or glaring eyeballs burning into your skin. Trust me, I know! At this point, I’d expect someone to comment and say, “Oh but if someone’s jealous of a cross-sex friendship, then that’s down to their own insecurities!” — sure, I don’t disagree with this statement. You do find many individuals in relationships while simultaneously still healing from old wounds or unable to let go of past trauma which can create these negative feelings towards the “friend”. However let’s be real… there is a risk that in cross-sex friendships, one or the other will develop sexual attraction, and possibly feelings over time. It’s just how human nature works, but it doesn’t always happen.

Bear in mind that just because your friend is sexually attracted to you, it doesn’t mean they will necessary act upon it. Either they will keep it hidden from you or confess to you when they get the courage to do so. In the past, I’ve had one great friendships fizzle out because he chose to admit his feelings for me… it was pretty awkward and a shock to say the least. After I told him the feelings were’t mutual, he started backing off and our friendship unfortunately never went back to normal. I really hoped he’d be fine over time, but he clearly wasn’t. I reached out a few times to see how he was, and although he would respond (short, blunt answers), I realised our friendship was pretty much dead in the water. 🙁

I have many male friends, and it’s not by choice. I’ve always naturally found that we have more common interests, the same humour, a similar outlook on life and I appreciate that they’re all straight up, no bullshit kind of people. That’s not to say my girls aren’t!

Here’s a confession… I had a little thing with one of my good guy friends about 9 years ago… it was a while back and we were young, but I definitely don’t see him in that way at all. There’s no emotional attachment and it’s certainly the same from his side. He’s a good looking dude and we’ll joke about the past if it ever comes into conversation (rarely!) but it’s never impacted our friendship. These days we’ll talk about life and even offer each other dating/relationship advice!

There’s a couple guys I’m close with who I’ve known since primary school and we literally have a brother/sister type of bond, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve been to their house, I know their parents, siblings and vice versa. And I really value those long-lasting friendships.

With some of the other fellas, they have openly told me that if they had the chance, they would “smash”. Does it bother me? No. Does it affect our friendship? No. I’ve always set and maintained boundaries and I don’t entertain flirtatious behaviour for sake of an ego boost or anything. I draw the line and they know that. I’ve joined in on a “lads holiday” and taken a trip with just one of them in the past. Nothing happened — we slept in separate rooms, partied together, dined together and soaked up the sun by the pool. All amazing holidays! Ultimately, I believe we all have a high degree of maturity which allows our cross-sex friendship to be really lovely, fun and wholesome.

Woman please

When my guy friends get into relationships, I respect the boundary and tend not to invite them out one-on-one. I also decrease the calls, texts, cut the explicit chats about sex, etc. — I just know that their partners wouldn’t appreciate it. Likewise I would feel the same if the roles were reversed. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want their partner to feel uncomfortable or feel like I’m getting in between them. Funnily enough my friend recently admitted that his ex wasn’t a fan of me, 😆 she thought I was “going after” him. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Woman please.

I do get it though, I used to be in a relationship with a guy who was always chatting to his female friends. If we went to an occasion/event, all these chicks would be hugging him, constantly floating around him, giving him that little “playful” stroke on the arm. He ended up being a cheat anyway 🤷🏻‍♀️ so yes I get it!

So… can men and women really just be friends?

I do believe it’s possible… with a few caveats here and there. Sometimes you grow up as childhood friends and it simply remains that way. In other cases you build friendships overtime, and if it so happens that one develops feelings or the “sex part” gets in the way (and it’s not reciprocated) then by all means, a line needs to be drawn. From my experience, this “line” usually come from the woman. This is where boundaries must be put in place. I’ll leave you with some final points to think about.

BE EXPLICIT WITH THEM
It’s important that you’re clear on why you are friends with them. If the motivation is not platonic, then be honest with yourself and admit that you are attracted to this person. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a friendship with them, but it will help to acknowledge the attraction you feel and know your limits in awkward situations.

EASE UP ON THE TOUCHY FEELY-NESS
Rein it in so you don’t give the other person the wrong idea. At the same time, don’t entertain it if they start getting all touchy-feely with you. A hello/goodbye hug is okay, but shoulder rubs, thigh grabs, hair stroking… well! 👀

SHARING THE SAME BED… REALLY???
You know, I was reading up on this… and perhaps I’m an old skool kinda gal but apparently cross-sex friends sharing the same bed is fairly normal? I never realised that and don’t get it. I’ve never shared the same bed with any of my guy friends and wouldn’t want to! How awkward! Personally, I wouldn’t suggest this.

BE AWARE OF EACH OTHER’S SITUATION
When a boyfriend or girlfriend enters the scene then it’s probably time to take a step back. It’s not worth treading on someone else’s toes. Acting accordingly is the respectable thing to do, the last thing you want to do is cause conflict!

We’re not friends or enemies. Just strangers with some memories.

Being friends with exes, there’s no universal rule. Research has shown that maintaining contact with exes is pretty common, but the motives for wanting to maintain contact should be thought out carefully. I’ve personally never had any desire to remain friends with a man I broke off a relationship with. There’s a reason why I walked away and that reason still exists. It’s not that I’m bitter, it’s not that I can’t handle it, I have no beef or ill feeling towards any of the guys. It’s just that by the time I’m done with the relationship, I’m emotionally checked out, I have no care for it or them. I’m happy to move on and put things in the past. They’ve served their purpose and I already have enough friends.

When I’m investing time and effort with anyone, I’d like to see if there’s real value there. My friends are the people I turn to when I want to have chit chats about current affairs, work, family, TV shows, dating, sex, reminiscing the old days, etc. Having great friendships is enjoyable, effortless, there’s mutual respect and each individual holds a important place in my heart. With that said, the thought of exchanging these kind of conversations with exes and sharing my personal business with them doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Reminiscing about the past? Giving them updates on who I’m dating? Nah, it doesn’t make sense to me.

What else makes me skeptical about the whole idea?

Truth is, one person is always a little more invested in the relationship than the other. In breakups, we have our egos challenged. These situations are never easy or nice to deal with on either side, the whole process is excruciating and exhausting. No matter what people say, it’s a challenge to go from loving words to no contact and awkwardness (it gets easier over time with more practice 😬) But I simply couldn’t think of anything worse than resorting to that cliché response of “let’s be friends” just to soften the blow after a break up. Offering friendship while the other party still has feelings for you is giving them false hope… and boy, do some exes clutch at the straws! Perhaps I’m a bit brutal but I’ve made an attempt to remain friends with an ex once! Unfortunately it wasn’t long until he started pissing me off with his inappropriate jokes and going on about the “good times” 🙄 — you can leave now.

In addition, I’ve always been someone who prefers to start off a new relationship with a clean slate, meaning no drama or baggage pulled in from the past. Hovering exes can be quite off-putting and let’s be real, it doesn’t really set the tone for a great start. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, many (insecure and jealous) people will use continued “friendship” to constantly compare themselves to the new partners in their ex’s life. A guy I once dated remained friends with his ex, and that ex would occasionally reconnect to ask silly questions about me 😒 I was not impressed. In instances like these, people tend to hang onto exes for the purpose of an occasional ego boost or to keep tabs on them.

Where new relationships are concerned, “friends with an ex” is tricky terrain. Letting your partner hang out one on one with a person they’ve previously had sexual and emotional history with? Having your partner’s ex call/text them at ungodly hours of the morning for a chat? Your partner getting sent birthday gifts and cards to the door from their ex? I mean… how would you feel about this? I know where I stand with those scenarios. And if your relationship started off romantically charged to begin with, then there is no friendship to really transition back to. Which was the case for all my previous relationships. Don’t get me wrong, if I bump into an ex, I’ll be civil but it’s never a case of “let’s go for a coffee one day!” Lastly, there are circumstances where staying on talking terms is necessary, for example, if you have kids together. You’d have to navigate some sort of friendship or at least have some form of communication there because it’s the right thing to do, even if there were feelings of hurt involved. 

Some of y’all are too liberal with the word “friend”… But that’s none of my business.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer with regards to being friends with an ex, it’s a choice you make as an individual. In my opinion, I believe there is a difference between “being on good terms” and “being friends”. If neither party has ulterior motives, and if the friendship doesn’t interrupt your current relationship then who knows, it may work. Although I’ve never heard of any success stories thus far. Either way, it’s important to have boundaries in place so that the past doesn’t interfere with the present. A good test is whether you’re comfortable hanging out with your current partner and your ex together, and whether your ex’s partner is comfortable with you. If you choose to stay friends with an ex, it might be worth asking yourself some important questions.

What are my motivations here?
Is this friendship truly feasible?
Can you be truly honest with each other?
Is this friendship fair to your current partner (if you have one)?
Is this friendship interfering with/delaying my recovery and emotional well-being?

Every individual is entitled to choose their own friends and live the way they feel comfortable. But things like this may have the ability to alter the dynamics of new relationships, so communication and understanding plays a vital role. Being entirely open and honest with each other will help relieve any worries/concerns as well as set the expectations early on.