Real Live College Guy Joe: What Guys Mean By "Just Friends"

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Ever wonder what guys think, how to deal with them, or whether instead of listening to you they just imagine you naked?  Our Real Live College Guy Joe will answer all your questions about men and relationships with wit, clarity, grace, and physical attractiveness (can you tell he wrote this intro himself?) all while imagining you fully clothed!  Well, usually – he is a college guy.

When a guy says he just wants to “be friends,” does he really mean it? Do guys ever actually want to stay friends?  Or are they just saying it to be nice, and really they don’t care to stay friends with you but want to let you down easy?  Also: what is the appropriate way to then “stay friends” with the guy without being too clingy?  - Friendly at Florida State

heart down the drain

Let me tell you a story.  Roger and Stella have been dating for about a month.  Some might even say they’re “going steady.”  At least, that’s what Stella would say, and has said to all her friends, relatives, and pastor at her weekly confession.  Roger, on the other hand, has just learned how to spell Stella’s last name and that – even though all his “dates” have included ordering in from Pizza Planet – she is horrendously lactose intolerant.  She gladly spends the next day in the bathroom after a passionate night with him; he wishes she were cool with hooking up on the toilet.

One night, Stella asks to take it to the next level: live in the same house, use the same car, find a place that makes pizza with lactose-free cheese.  But Roger balks.  He likes what they have, the hook-ups with no strings attached.  But since they obviously want different things and it will be difficult to move forward, he says he wants to just stay friends.

This situation represents, I feel, one of the most common uses of that most heartbreaking of all phrases, “let’s just stay friends.”  You want one thing, usually something serious-relationshippy, and he wants another, usually serious-let’sjusthavesexy.  Usually when a guy tells you he wants to be friends, like Roger, he wants to end any possibility of a serious romantic relationship.  Or, you’re just really cool. 

That said, Roger wouldn’t mind receiving the occasional hanky-panky from Stella.  He shows the mutability of the term “friends” in these contexts –  just like a chameleon, a big, horny chameleon.  Because when a guy who you’ve just been in a relationship with says “friends,”  he doesn’t mean it in the kickball-and-dress-up sense.  In his ideal world, he’d  get to keep hooking up with Stella while not worrying about remembering her birthday or talking to her for more than seconds at a time. 

Granted, that’s a little extreme – what can I say, Roger just knows what he wants –  but the point is: the definition of “friendship” often depends on the type of relationship you’ve just had with the guy.  If you’ve had a good, casual relationship but he doesn’t want to take it further, “just friends” likely means keeping your relationship at the hook-up level.  If you’ve been in a pretty serious, long-term relationship and it ends amiably, he probably legitimately wants to stay in touch.  But if you’ve been serious-dating for only a matter of months, and he breaks up with you because most of what you do and say is extremely offensive to important parts of his personality or race, he probably won’t be calling you up for a play-date any time soon. 

As that last example shows, sometimes guys say “let’s just be friends” just to be nice.  But if you’ve ever had a friend before – and if you’re not in the position of hook-up buddy or anything, just plain old friends – it should soon be clear to you whether or not he really means it.  If you call him and he never answers, or if you try to hang out and he’s evasive, or if you see him on the street and he runs the other way, he doesn’t want to be friends.  If he is responsive, or if you are fast enough to catch him, then you can be friends.  And if he files a restraining order on you because you keep running him down on the sidewalk for some reason after reading this article, the message is clear: he doesn’t know what friendship really is.

guy and a girl at a bar on a date getting drinks girl laughing at a guy's jokes happy hour  drinking beer

This consideration of friendship should also answer your final question: how not to be too clingy.   If he contacts you first, he clearly wants to stay friends and you don’t need to worry.  If he doesn’t contact you after a couple weeks, go ahead and call or shoot him a text.  If he evades, he doesn’t want to stay friends, so cut your losses and move on.  But if he’s open to hanging out, go for it, as long as it doesn’t hurt your insides too much.  Hanging out every once in a while is fine; or, if you stay really close friends, hang out however much you deem necessary.  In the end, just don’t let your past with him blind your judgment. Treat him like you would any other friend. 

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About The Author

Joe attends Harvard College, class of 2012, and studies English.  Originally from Chicago, he grew up in Miami, FL but now lives in Connecticut.  At school, Joe is a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team, On Harvard Time (a comedy news show), and is still on the email list for the break dancing club.  He's been to every continent in the world except Antarctica, South America, Africa, and Australia, and spent this past summer cycling across Norway and interning for MAD Magazine.  After college, he plans to become famous, hopefully by legal means.  

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