It has become increasingly more obvious to me in recent years that the common belief that women and men “can’t be just friends” is a fact of life as truth-filled as it is tragic. Even if men and women agree upon the title of being “just friends”, there always seems to be at least one person who feels more deeply for the other. One person, if not both, with expectations or intentions that exceed those of the other. Despite inward denial or stubborn claims to the contrary, this person might truthfully view the friendship as an obstacle course that must be conquered to gain the ultimate prize. He/she humors the friendship as a temporary phase, and plays by its rules only until the romantic feelings are realized, and (hopefully) returned, by the other person. At this point, the obstacle course is completed, and the trophy seized.
This individual views the friendship zone as a sort of a purgatory; a Hellish place where he/she festers in lovesick angst waiting for their friend to finally break up with his/her significant other, or give up their stubborn devotion to a first love, and see clearly enough at long last to reevaluate the nature of the friendship.
In the final case, and probably the most common, two people begin as friends, and through getting to know one another (and a disastrous combination of too little discipline and too many drinks on one blurry night) Voila! The dynamic suddenly changes. Whatever fragile resistance was previously combatting the magnetic forces of male/female attraction fails, and the superior forces of human lust triumph.
Although I’ve experienced each one of these scenarios at one time or another, and don’t disagree that these phenomena are a realistic part of being human, I honestly think it’s a shame that men and women can’t see the benefit, or the value, in keeping one anther as friends. I usually value my friends even more than any fling or crush I might have at a given time, and certainly keep friends in my life for longer. Realistically, flings only last until they fizzle, and relationships until they fallout; yet friendships last a lifetime. Friends can share every bit as much intimacy as lovers, with the obvious physical exceptions. Of the three relationships humans can share, friendships are arguably the best route for keeping somebody close for an extended length of time. So why is it considered such a disgrace to be considered “just a friend” to someone of the opposite sex? Here are some of my theories:
Myth #1 – If someone isn’t attracted to you, it’s because you’re not attractive.
Rebuttal: If somebody isn’t attracted to you on a romantic level, then it’s probably because not every human being on earth is the perfect soul mate for every other. If every attractive, intelligent, funny, and worthy individual were to date every other person with these qualities, fidelity rates would be even worse than they are now. The fact is, attraction is very complex. It’s apples and oranges; neither is necessarily better or worse, just different. Some apples like apples, some oranges like pears. It should not feel like a personal slight if not every person is attracted to you, just as i’m sure you’re not attracted to every person. Bottom line: the laws of attraction are more deep and diverse than many of us assume, and depend on much more more than looks or intelligence. If someone isn’t attracted to you, it is not because you are unattractive. It’s because you’re a mango, not an orange.
Myth #2- If everybody says “you two would be so cute together”, you should trust their judgment.
Rebuttal: We’ve all done it. Pestered and teased and pressured our friends to date that one really cute guy they’ve been friends with since childhood. “It would be a storybook romance!” “He’s the one who’s been there all along!” “He knows you better than anybody!” Allow me to invoke my previous point: If you’re not attracted, you’re not attracted! It doesn’t have to make sense, there doesn’t have to be a reason why not to date him- most important is your reason why to date him. And if your best reason is that it’s comfortable and if you date him maybe your friends will shut up and stop bugging you, you might want to re-evaluate. Keeping your childhood friend at a romantic distance will preserve the friendship; and lord knows if the attraction had been there all along one or both of you would have acted by now. Let’s be honest, even the most repressed and pious of us can’t hold back for 15 years.p>
Myth #3- If I don’t go after him/her, I might lose them to someone else
Rebuttal: This one is actually true. When you forego the chance to be the apple of someone’s eye, you’re doing so with the bitter understanding that somebody else will eventually take your place. It is human nature that we want to be adored, loved, and most of all, chased. It is natural for us to vie for the affection of others- even if we don’t necessarily want the affection, or feel it in return. We have to accept this about ourselves, and allow others to find their soul mate if it isn’t us. A true friendship will withstand this process, and your demotion from object of adoration to friend will preserve the friendship and be fair and healthy for both of you in the long term.
Myth #4- fun and friendly means flirty, and flirting constitutes interest.
Rebuttal: I think the biggest reason men and women cannot be friends owes to the above misconception. Many people make the mistake of interpreting an outgoing, friendly, or playful personality type as a “flirtatious” one, and therefore see interest where none exists. Some people behave in this manner indiscriminately, towards everybody, and do not intend playful or friendly antics as methods of flirting, or implying interest. Before interpreting somebody’s demeanor towards you as one way or another, it is important to see first how the other person acts in their natural environment. Some reserve flirtatious or playful behavior exclusively for those they have romantic interest in, others are more animated on a constant basis, and bring enthusiasm and engagement to every encounter, whether there is an undercurrent of lust there or not. It is very important to distinguish between friendly and flirty, and granted, not always easy. If ever unsure, put away the decoder, the flirting dictionary, and your preconceived judgments, and wait until that person makes a clear move- because if they are truly interested, this type of person is not afraid to show it.
Bottom line: Opposite sex friendships can be fun! And they should be simple. When we can appreciate friendships for what they are instead of what they could be, would be or might be, they are enjoyable for everybody. Over- analyzing male/female relationships is dangerous; it produces confusion and complication, where one or both people scrutinizes for underlying motives, coy antics, and ambiguous signals where none should exist. These things, as well as yielding to peer pressure and our own egotism, will muddle our friendships, making them seem impossible to maintain.
But they’re not. And we need to seriously shift our prejudices and misconceptions about having friends of the opposite gender. These friendships can truly have many benefits- and not one of them involving sex.