Friday, August 6, 2010

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

This is a common question asked of advice columnists, so I thought it a good one to tackle. Since the scope of Smart Love is quite a bit wider than that of a traditional advice column, so our take here is a little different than some others you might have read.

Joe says: Guys and girls can't ever really just be friends. There's always that attraction there, and you just can't get around that.

I agree with Joe's supposition, but not his conclusion. When men and women come together, there is often attraction, assuming both are straight, but this does not mean that they will invariably be overcome with passion, and, will, at some point, when the music crescendos, tear away each other's clothes and finally give into their desires. (Yet another way movies have mislead us.)

When men and women are friends, there is often attraction, perhaps some passing sexual thought. There could even be fantasy. However, most people have desire for a great many things that they will never have, and, in the light of cool reason, never want. People also may have desires of their friends that are not sexual.

Dan says: For a while I sold life insurance, and when I did, anyone I met was a potential customer. My friends were all potential customers, but I had to be very careful with that desire if I wanted to keep having friends.

People can have all kinds of desires of their friends, sexual and otherwise. It is all a question of what they do about those desires. If Dan had tried to sell insurance at every encounter, it would have created awkwardness.

Certainly, some friendships blossom into romance. The most important part of a primary or exclusive romantic relationship is the friendship that underlies it. If the couple does not enjoy each other outside the bedroom, they will rapidly tire of each other.

One should also consider the case of bisexual men and women. If it were impossible for people of compatible sexual orientations to be friends, bisexuals would lead very lonely lives.

Ex's as Friends

Casanova says: One of my best friends is a woman. We met as I meet most women, in a manner which found us in bed together the next morning. I am not much for long term relationships, but we had both enjoyed our experience together and found each other agreeable. We are good friends to this day, and sexual tension is not an issue because, if we find it building up, we just give into it, and go back to being friends afterwards.

Candy says: I dated and even lived with this guy for a while. We eventually broke up because we just were not compatible as a couple. It took a few months to get over it, but after that, we were able to be friends again. All the things that had brought us together were still there, the common interests, the shared stories, but we knew that that was where the real connection was, not romantic.

If the break up is not too catastrophic, ex's can be some of the best friends. They know each other well, and understand each other's strengths and weaknesses in a way that no one else does. Most importantly, the sexual tension is often discharged. They have ridden that ride and may not feel any particular need to ride it again.

Friends with Benefits
What if one does sleep with a friend? In the movies, they have an existential crisis because, in movie land, every sexual encounter is either with a stranger who is never seen again or with a person who is destined to become a marital partner.

Thankfully, in real life, things are more complex. Call it 'friends with benefits', 'Um-friends', or 'f***buddies'. It's all another way to refer to someone with whom one has a friendly relationship and also a physical relationship but not a romantic relationship. For people who can do this, the answer to the question of men and women as friends is a no-brainer. Of course, they can be friends. Sometimes they sleep together.

Before you try this, however, there are a few things to consider. At some point, your friends with benefits will want to get with someone else because a friends with benefits situation is usually not fully satisfying to most people. This may mean that the physical aspect of your relationship will have to end or it may mean that you will have to share, depending on the situation.

You need to know yourself well enough to know if you are willing to accept this, and you need to be honest with yourself as to whether or not you can deal with it. If you get into this situation, and you develop more serious feelings than you expected, unexpected disappointment, jealousy, and even anger may destroy the friendship.

Suzie says: I was friends with this guy. He said he just wanted to be friends, but then I found out he wanted to sleep with me. I was so pissed. I felt like he was taking advantage of our friendship.

Suzie's situation is a common one. However, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that, if Suzie is an attractive woman, most of her male friends have at least entertained the thought of taking the relationship to a physical level. Perhaps it is a passing thought or perhaps it is a thought with deep intention behind it.

Suzie might be justified in feeling upset if the man had entered the friendship on false pretenses. If he swore that he only wanted friendship but was doing so in order to get close enough to get her into bed and was not really interested in the friendship, then that is some sketchy territory. On the other hand, if the friendship is legitimate, but there is some attraction involved, it is not betrayal. It is simply human nature.

Can men and women be friends? Yes, but, like in most other situations, one must be honest with themselves and everyone else involved.

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