Many moons ago, I took an intimacy class with a group of people. The premise of it was to learn how to cultivate emotional attachments in a healthy way. A married couple facilitated it and, for the most part, the only steadfast rules were 1) do the weekly homework that was assigned and 2) get an accountability partner within the group—only, make sure it's someone of the same sex rather than the opposite one.
Why? The facilitators believed that if a man and woman ended up sharing too much emotional intimacy with one another, it could cause them to think there is a romantic connection, even if it isn't genuine. How can this happen? Again, the facilitators felt that it's what naturally transpires when men and women spend a lot of significant time together.
Although I got their point, I can't 100 percent get on board with that. Their perspective pretty much implies that Billy Crystal's character in the movie When Harry Met Sally was right; that men and women can never be just friends.
I live in the real world and, at this point in my life, I'd say that about 60 percent of the closest people to me are male. Men with whom I have no history with (we'll get more into that in just a bit). Men with whom I can—and do—talk to for hours on end. Men whom I love deeply and profoundly and platonically (I can't wait to share with you what platonic means!). Men with whom I am, and will continue to be, just friends with.
So, why is it that so many people seem to think that being just friends with the opposite sex is such an impossible feat? I'd venture to say that it's because the following five points aren't thoughtfully and thoroughly considered before a man and a woman decide to become (and remain) homies.
Be Honest About (Potential) Attraction, Off Top
I'm pretty open about the fact that, back when I was sexually active, my pattern was to sleep with my male friends. I don't mean all of them (goodness!). What I mean is, because I didn't become active until college and the time span of relationships in that environment is super short, once a guy realized that he couldn't bag me after a couple of phone calls and a midnight run to Krystal's, usually the decision was to become friends only. The problem with that is since sometimes, there was a mutual physical attraction, after a semester or so, we'd get click tight. Then the emotional attachment would turn into sexual intimacy.
That's why I say that the first thing a man and a woman have to get super honest with each other about is if one or both are attracted to one another. Mind you, not if both find the other attractive (I think my own brother is attractive) but if they find each other appealing. If so, that doesn't mean they can't be friends, but that does get into some of the potentially murky waters that Billy Crystal's character was talking about. Especially since sometimes bonding with someone on the mental and emotional tip can end up making them even more…enticing.
Get Clear About Your Motives
One of my closest male friends, we've been tight since college. It's always been platonic due to my first point. However, we did have a season where things got a little uncomfortable because while I've never been attracted to him, he had an attraction to me. It got to the point that he even said to me in my early 30s that if I would consider taking things to another level, marriage would be on the table.
I love this friend. He's one of my favorite people on the entire planet. But when he said that, I felt nauseous and not in that butterflies in the stomach kind of way. I love him but I don't LOVE him. Not at all. Never have and never will.
For him, his feelings were a little hurt, although we made it through. And one of the things that experience taught me is that when you decide to be friends of someone of the opposite sex, you've got to get real with yourself about what your true objective is. Do you want to be the person's friend or do you somehow see friendship as a mere starting point into something…else?
A lot can be said about someone's motives. Motives reveal A LOT. What are yours? What are his?
If There Is “a Past”, Keep It Out of Your Present
A few weeks ago, I ran into a guy that I was sexually active with for several years back in the day. Before we "took it there", we really enjoyed just talking on the phone for hours on end, about everything and nothing. To this day, we still communicate really well, although because the mental and sexual connection was pretty on-point, we keep things at a semi-surface level. Meaning, when we see one another, we can chop it up for hours. But exchanging phone numbers and hanging out at each other's cribs? Yeah, that's probably not a good idea.
Then there's another guy who, to this day, I don't know how he got to hit it. I really don't. I think back and I'm like "ugh, ugh and ugh". He and I are just buddies again because the past has remained there. I can't imagine what scenario could get us back in the sheets again. Not a one.
"Door #2"? He's proof that just because two people have history, that doesn't mean friendship is totally out of the question. Something can only happen in the present when both want it too (or are open to at least considering it). If that is not the case, things can transition into something more platonic without any temptation or subtext. Trust me.
Make Sure Their Significant Other Is Good
At this stage in my life, most of my world is married (or divorced). This means that some of my male friends have wives. Now, I know some people who believe that it's "dangerous" for married people to have single friends but, whatever. You'd be amazed by how many married people cheat on their spouse with, not single folks but other married people. It's a reminder that a person's relational status isn't really the issue, their integrity level is.
My married male friends? I have no problem with any of their wives and they have no issue with my friendship with their husband. One reason is because their wives have not only met me before, but they have full access to me including my email address and phone number. Another reason is because I am intentional about establishing some sort of connection with my male friend's significant other. We might not be besties, but we are definitely cool. Another reason is because, in these instances, there is no more-than-friends history to speak of.
In fact, I once remember talking to one of my "husband friends" who lives in a different time zone than me. It was 9:30pm to them and 11:30pm to me. The wife joined in for about 15-20 minutes and then told us both "good night". He and I spoke for about 40 more minutes after that. The next time I spoke with his lady, I commented on how a lot of wives would never let their husband talk to another woman while they were in bed asleep. Her response? "If you and my husband had sexual history or you weren't so respectful of our marriage, I wouldn't have. But neither of you have given me question to doubt your friendship. Plus, I have male friends. It's all good."
As a marriage life coach, although I do think that married couples need to do whatever works for them and their relationship, I don't think it's the healthiest for them to not have friends of the opposite sex.
The friendship isn't the issue. It's the level of openness, honesty, and trust that exists that is.
If all parties involved respect the union and there are healthy boundaries established, then yes, single and married people can be friends—even if they are of the opposite sex.
Embrace What Platonic Love with the Opposite Sex Brings to the Table
One of my favorite things about male/female friendships is the fact that the two genders coming together in that way help to create a balance of energy and synergy in a way that same-sex friendships simply cannot.
Personally, I can't tell you how many times a male perspective on something has spared me drama, heartbreak, and mass confusion. It's amazing how the love of a male friend can fill voids that make settling for a less-than-what-I-deserve relationship not even worth considering.
Like good brothers, male friends also have the ability to make us, as women, feel protected. I absolutely love that. Yeah, platonic love is nothing to sleep on.
That's why, I think, it's a non-issue to spend precious and valuable time pondering whether or not men and women can be just friends. From where I sit, not only "can" they be but, if everything else that I shared checks out, they absolutely should be. I say that because platonic is another word for "spiritual love" and anyone who has a true friend of the opposite sex, they know that although the connection may not be romantic, it is so profoundly pure and divine that it is still very necessary. The fact that one of the people in the friendship is a man while the other is a woman shouldn't be seen as an obstacle but a true blessing.
So, can a man and woman be just friends? If they are both striving for platonic love and a healthy bond, of course they can. Let me and my male homies tell it, they're only selling themselves short if they don't.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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