Can men and women be 'just' friends? An interview with my 'just' friend, Tom

Last week I began a little project based on the frequently asked question: “Can women and men be ‘just’ friends?” For the purposes of my (and hopefully your) entertainment and interest, I’ll be publishing transcripts from some of the interviews I conduct over the next week or two.



The second interview I did for this series was with my friend Tom. I’ve known Tom for about 15 years or so. We went to high school together. I had a really big crush on him for a few months after he played Sky Masterson in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls. Basically the way to my heart is through musical theatre and/or hip-hop karaoke.

Tom is 33 years old, heterosexual and married. We’re pretty close and have shared a lot with each other over the years. Often I share things with Tom that he would rather I kept to myself. We have a lot of mutual friends from high school and so we’ve all been hanging out together for years. Tom and I talk online most days, play online scrabble, and then sometimes we go to the beach together and eat chips and drink wine.  I talked with him about our friendship and, more generally how he felt about his platonic relationships with women in his life.

Meghan: Are we friends?

Tom: Yes, of course

M: How did our friendship develop?

T: The way normal friendships do…Through friends, by partying together.

M: Why are we still friends? On what basis has our friendship persisted?

T: A few factors. Some of the least romantic ones are: we’re used to each other, as one gets older it becomes more difficult to form new friendships, we have many mutual friends, we became friends at a young age… Those kinds of things.
But some of the better answers are: we share the same sense of humor (that’s a big one), we know how to forgive each other when we do something lame, we enjoy doing the same things, etc.

M: Ok. And how does our friendship differ from your friendships with dudes. Are there things we talk about about that you don’t talk about with male friends and vice versa?

T: Well… Yes, our friendship is different from those I have with my male friends, but only in terms of conversation subject matter. The way I FEEL about our friendship is the same. And even then, regarding the subject matter, the differences are very trivial — i.e tone, inflection, delivery, joke style.

M: For example?

T: Well… That’s a tough one because it changes from person to person, so maybe gender isn’t even the issue. I’m friends with my wife but I would not make certain jokes around her that I would feel comfortable making around you.

M: Ok so like what? What’s the difference between how you talk with men/other friends and how you talk with me?

T: Ok, well there is more “bravado” (I hate that I used that word) when guys talk. We tend to discuss successes more than failures. Conversations with you can be more self-deprecating than if I were having a conversation with Mike, for example.

M: Interesting!

T: But that’s only because I’m not trying to bang you. So it’s really hard to answer. It might be different if we were single and friends… But I’m sure that is a question that’s coming up so I’ll wait.

M: Which brings me to my next question. Do you hang out with me because you secretly or not so secretly want to do me?

T: Haha. No, in all seriousness no. BUT that answer has layers to it.

M: In what way? What are the layers?

T: I’ll speak more generally. I can’t speak for all men, but for me I have always had a lot of female friends and I’ve hooked up with many of them, and that’s great, and I’m still friends with many of them. It’s not the REASON I’m friends with girls, but it’s always an option. When I was single, I felt perfectly comfortable having sex with a friend. I didn’t expect it or think I deserved it or anything… It was just a nice bonus.

That’s another thing on the question about differences between guy and girl friendships — sex is not an option with my guy friends. But that doesn’t make my female friendships more appealing. I’m not friends with girls because of the possibility of sex.

That said, I suppose I haven’t always had these views. It took me being very immature about relationships in terms of the way I reacted to friendships and sex for me to get to the point that I’m at now. I have ruined or have come close to ruining what could have been or turned out to be very meaningful friendships by pretending that I wasn’t interested in someone sexually.

I’m glad I got all that drama out of my system by the time I was in my mid-twenties, because it opened the door for a lot of really fun, drama-free sex.

M: Do you think sex changed any of those friendships? Or do you think sex could potentially change a friendship? If you want to make out with a friend does that change the friendship? The wanting to?

T: Well there’s a difference between wanting to do and would actually do. Wanting is different… If you WANT your friend, then it’s not really a friendship and it’s more a secret desire, which has a whole host of nastier complications and results. But yes, having sex/hooking up with a friend can change a friendship, it just hasn’t done so for me personally.

M: Ok so if you literally wanted to have sex with a friend it wouldn’t ‘really’ be a friendship?

T: No, it would be a secret sex project.

M: Haha.

T: You can’t base a real friendship on that. That’s why I think the ‘friend zone’ thing is bullshit.

M: Why is the ‘friend zone’ bullshit?

T: If you want to have sex with a girl, you court her like a normal person. If she’s not down and you think you can handle it, by all means be friends. But if you can’t handle it, move on.

M: Right

T: Don’t pine for her love by being nice and hoping that she’ll realize you’re attractive after all… That’s a fantasy and it has never ever worked. “Be a man” — i.e. be a thoughtful, normal person.

M: So do you secretly or not so secretly want to do/make out with all or most of your female friends?

T: Again, there’s that “want” word. I WOULD make out with the female friends that I find attractive, yes. But I’m not actively pursuing that (that I’m married is not the only reason, haha). And that depends on a few factors too. I would not make out with a female friend if I thought she couldn’t be mature about it or if I thought it would ruin the friendship. But it never has for me.

…I mean, you and me made out a few times and we’re fine.

M: Indeed.

So it’s more about being mature about the whole thing?

T: It’s more about appreciating sex/play for just being fun and wanting to do it with someone you like.

M: Right. So does my vagina get in the way of our friendship?

T: Not at all. Your boobs on the other hand…

M: Do my boobs get in the way of our friendship?

T: No, haha. No not at all. If I was in love or in lust with you though, then that would get in the way, but we wouldn’t have a friendship if that was the case.

M: I see

T: Unless you loved me back, in which case we would have a romantic relationship, which is very different too.

M: Then we would be in love. Not ‘just’ friends.

T: Yes.

M: So you’re saying we’re not in love.

T: I do love you Meghan, but not like that.

M: Thanks Tom. I love you too.

Ok last question. Can we be attracted to a person and still be a friend? Does that necessarily interrupt the friendship?

T: Yes, I have no issue being friends with someone I’m attracted to. I’m attracted to most of my female friends — so it goes back to the sex question – Yes, I’m attracted. No I’m not pursuing. If you want to have sex, let’s do it. But I’m not going to lose my mind if you don’t want to fuck me. I don’t assume I’m attractive to everyone and I’m not going to take that personally. It’s those people that need to be wanted that can’t maintain co-ed relationships.

M: Right. Because then it makes everything about sex/sexual?

T: Yes! For me, in a truly healthy, mature friendship, sex is an option, but not expected or necessarily sought after. It’s just a nice bonus if it happens.

M: But it’s not the point. Or the number one priority?

T: Yes.

M: The number one priority is the friendship?

T: Yes, absolutely.

M: Thanks Tom! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

T: Nope. Did I sound like a douchebag?

M: No you sounded awesome.




Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.