“Men don’t have platonic friends,” Chris Rock once said in a famous standup bit. “We just have women we haven’t [slept with] yet.”
In the classic rom com When Harry Met Sally, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) agrees. “Men and women can’t be friends,” he tells Sally (Meg Ryan), “because the sex part always gets in the way.”
“I’ll have what she’s having” did not refer to the brunch special. Or friendship.
A “special friendship”? Maybe.
It seems to make sense, right? Men are irrevocably attracted to women, so any inkling of (inevitable) sexual tension undermines the possibility of friendship, whether the parties involved care to admit it or not. Keep in mind this argument comes from both sides of the gender divide: Rock, a man, and Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, a woman.
Not surprisingly, the theory is validated in the film when—holy plot twist, Batman!—Harry and Sally fall in love. But, think about real life. More often than most collegiettes realize, a guy calling a girl a “friend” is like anybody calling Paris Hilton an “actress”: it’s a euphemism and/or a downright falsehood.
Ladies, if you still think all those guys in your life are truly your friends (or are satisfied with that status), maybe it’s time to stop. All girls believe they have male friends and, if we put our faith in Rock and Ephron, almost no guys have female friends. Do the math.
Then, look beyond the open arms, available ears, and comforting shoulders you’ve long appreciated from your male “friends.” There’s a chance he’s lying to you or, if we’re giving the benefit of the doubt, lying to himself. Rock spits the truth: “Every platonic friend I got is someone I was trying to [sleep with],” he admits, speaking for the majority of the male gender. “I made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the ‘friend zone.’”
While guys frantically flail, sinking further and further into the suffocating quicksand of the “friend zone,” girls, meanwhile, bask in the warm comfort of what they delightfully describe as “just friends.” While he’s drowning in his unrequited, unspoken love, you’re blissfully tanning in what you fail (or choose not) to realize is unrequited friendship. Sorta complicates that weekly coffee date, huh?
Of course, this disconnect of attraction can work in the opposite direction, too. Although, according to Harry, attraction is irrelevant.
Harry: No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So, you’re saying a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive.
Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail them, too.
As much as When Harry Met Sally is my holy grail of rom coms, for my sanity, I’d like to believe guys and girls can indeed be friends, because if they couldn’t, who are all these girls and what are they doing in my life?
First, I think it’s unfair to say that all men want to have sex with all women, hence the reason you’ve ever heard a guy say, “she’s like my sister” and mean it. It almost goes without saying that all females aren’t attracted to all males, hence my female friends—the ones with good taste, at least.
But, even if there is a level of sexual awareness between a guy and a girl, as one friend aptly put it, physical attraction and friendship don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The former may try its mightiest to undermine the latter, but there’s no guarantee it will. You might actually be friends.
I’d recommend evaluating your platonic relationships to see if you’re friends or, for lack of a more accurate term, not friends. Here are some scenarios I’d pose to my guy friends to get them started.
-Friendship is marked by honesty, comfort, and vulnerability. Non-friendship is marked by bravado, flirting, and erections. Which do you have?
-Do you seek her advice about the girl you’re crushing on? Or, do you avoid the conversation altogether, because it would inevitably be about her?
-Do you genuinely want to hear about that guy she’s hooking up with? Or, do you secretly wish that guy would be killed in a dune buggy accident?
-Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Non-friends don’t let friends drive drunk, invite friends to crash on their couch, and wake up in bed with friends the next morning.
Friends, despite what Happy Gilmore may suggest, do not listen to “Endless Love” in the dark. They can, however, make out in the dark or at a party or in the library stacks, if they’re into that. Even if they take a foray into something romantic, it doesn’t necessarily negate the friendship they previously had or disallow the future friendship they’ll desperately want to regain.
Rock and Harry suggest friendship doesn’t exist. In the adult world, maybe they’re right; just three months out of college, I’m not qualified to say. But, in college, “friendship,” an intentionally vague term like “hooking up,” conveniently describes an entire array male-female relations. Considering the collegiate resistance to defining relationships, making commitments, and succumbing to titles, pretty much everyone is “friends,” despite the fact that “friends” are just as likely to study in the stacks as they are to fulfill their weird librarian fetishes in the stacks.
This is to say, male-female relationships are rarely black and white and never stagnant. You and your friend have a weekly coffee date, you drunkenly hook up one weekend, you don’t talk for a month, you get involved with someone else, you don’t talk for your friend for another month, you break up with that someone else, you cry on your friend’s shoulder, you hook up again, you regret the whole thing. Resume weekly coffee date.
Along with your thoughts and feelings, your relationships are malleable and evolving. Sometimes you’re friends, and sometimes you’re hoping that other guy rides dune buggies. The key is, being honest with yourself: are you truly satisfied with the current circumstances of the relationship? If your answer is yes, just pray your friend’s is, too.