Can men and women be 'just' friends? An interview with my lady-friend, Chris

The third interview I did for this series was with my friend Chris; a 27 year old bisexual woman who is in what she calls a ‘monogamish’ (so, monogamous, but flexible) relationship with a man.

I met Chris through my ex-boyfriend. She plays music with some of his friends and band mates and is super awesome. I’ve only known Chris for a few years but we’ve made an effort to keep a semi-regular after work date at local bar/live music venue. Chris is a feminist and knows lots of things about Scotch. So I like that.

I talked with Chris about her experiences navigating platonic relationships that turn temporarily sexual with both her male and female friends, about the stupidity of the ‘friend zone’, and about dudes who can’t take a hint.


Meghan: So do you have platonic male friends?

Chris: Yes

M: And how did those friendships develop?

C: In college I met a lot of awesome people through music and made a bunch of really good male friends that way. What’s followed, though, is this trend where, maybe 5 years later, after we’d been friends for a long time, it was like, “Oh hey, I’m not in a relationship anymore and I guess we’ve been meaning to do this for a while…” So we’d sleep together just once and then that would be it. It was always really great and fun then it was like “OK, that happened. And it’s fine.”  We always stayed friends and nothing really changed.

M: So sex didn’t make it awkward? It didn’t impact your friendship?

C: No. I mean, it was kind of cute and maybe awkward temporarily but it never changed our friendship. I think it was more funny then anything else — especially with old friends, I mean, we’d just laugh our asses off about it, like “OK, that was hilarious. I guess we probably should have done that a long time ago ha ha. Anyway, cool, I’ll see you next week.”  So it’s never been a thing and that makes me really happy.

I don’t know what that says about us or the way that I think about sexuality in general where it’s not a huge deal and its not going to change everything…

That said, this has happened with a lot of my female friends as well so I can’t say that this has necessarily been a gender thing for me.

M: And how did that play out with your female friends? Did those friendships develop in similar ways?

C: Yeah. It seems like that’s just my story of my college time – which sounds a little stereotypical but at the same time its like you finally get out of the house and start meeting people. I do seem to develop friendships first and then the sex comes later.

In fact that seemed to happen even more with female friends where we’ll have been friends for years and then all of sudden its like “Hey lets try this out.” It usually ended up cementing our bond a little more. These are women who are my really close friends and we’ve got a shared history and then you see each other at your most vulnerable and at your silliest…I mean, sex is so stupid and funny, right?

I think it’s great to sleep with someone you’ve known for a long time, who you already have a pre-established relationship with. You hook up for a night and then you can laugh about it after and it’s no big deal. That’s not something you can do if you’ve just meet somebody at the bar or something— you don’t know what their background is. You don’t feel as comfortable.

M: Well yeah, I mean sex is the best, in my experience, when you can be vulnerable and it’s just not necessarily that easy to be comfortable or vulnerable with someone you don’t know or you only just met.

C: But with a friend, it’s different. Well, for the most part… You were telling me earlier that with some male friends you felt like they were just always waiting for the opportunity to pounce. I do feel like I’ve been really good about eliminating those people from my life really quickly and being like, “I don’t want to be friends with you – I can tell you’re being creepy.”  It’s that whole ‘nice guy’ thing where its like “I’m going to befriend you to get you to trust me and then when you’re not expecting it I’ll try to get in there.”

M: Sometimes I feel like that’s just about dudes who don’t respect women. I feel like, if you can’t just see me as a friend and we’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve already said no and you continue to feel like you need to try to get in my pants whenever you get the chance, then maybe you’re not comfortable seeing women in a non-sexual/sexualized way.

C: Yeah I think my bullshit tolerance is just really low. If somebody were to hit on me and I were to say “No, I’m not interested” and they say “Oh, that’s cool. We can just be friends” but then they keep at it and don’t take the hint, like, I just cant even fucking handle that. I would happily cut that person out of my life because they aren’t respecting what I said.

M: Do you feel like that happens more with men than with women?

C: I do. Yeah. I’ve never had a female friend or even a woman that’s hit on me who has pursued anything after I said no. I just think women are socialized to be a lot more sensitive. But guys get a lot of messages that say – just keep pursuing. It’s that evolutionary psychology bullshit where it’s like you just have to keep pursuing the prey. Like it’s a competition or like eventually you’ll just wear down her defenses.

M: Well yeah, also women are (within kind of stereotypical heterosexual dating) supposed to be that ones who say ‘no’ – and men are taught to keep trying and are taught that ‘no’ actually means ‘maybe’ or ‘yes’. Women are supposed to be chaste and men are supposed to be obsessed with trying to get laid all the time.

C: I feel like I’m talking in stupid stereotypes that I hate but yeah…

M: Well I’m not sure they’re stereotypes, I think we’re socialized to behave or think that we need to act as gate-keepers in a sense. Whereas men are taught to pursue, pursue.

C: They’re cultural narratives, right? And we’re immersed in it all the time via movies and books and television etc. On top of that, it gets backed up by certain science –  again it’s that evolutionary psychology / evolutionary biology stuff, some of which makes sense but, you know, that stuff really doesn’t explain behaviour and doesn’t take socialization into account. So when people start talking about behaviour and being like, “Back in cave man times…men would hit women over the head with a club and drag them back to their caves!” and you have to say, ok, but where have you seen that? Have you seen that in fossil evidence? Have you seen that in any kind of texts? In cave paintings? Or have you seen that on The Flintstones? Or people will look at chimpanzees and say that, you know, chimpanzees are the closest related primate to humans and therefore all chimpanzee behaviour explains human behaviour so, for example, this chimpanzee has a harem of female chimps and that’s ‘natural’ male behaviour. Or they observe male chimps fighting over the available females or observe competitive behaviour when it comes to mating and then use that to justify reinforcing stereotypes around heterosexual relationships.

M: Well yeah. I mean we live in a society and we are capable of making rational decisions and we aren’t just driven by biological urges. We are technically capable of using our rational brains to make decisions about what’s good for us and for society at large.

C: Exactly. It’s almost like people will take the worst behaviour that people engage in and try to justify it somehow. We’ve seen that with war, rape, objectification and all kinds of other things. Just because our ancestors did something or, you know, even if we were somehow genetically predisposed to be rapists or just even not know how to take a hint or not know how to respect someone’s personal boundaries, like, these are behaviours that we can think about and decide not to replicate.

M: For example, if someone isn’t interested in sleeping with you, we all have the ability to move on and recover from that and behave in a mature, respectful way about it.

C: Sure. I mean there’s also the issue of socialization and how women are taught to behave. So you meet someone at a bar, you have a good time chatting, but then you go out on a second date and then you just aren’t really feeling it — I feel like there’s a pressure on women to let guys down easy and not be direct and say “no I’m not interested.”

M: Yeah. And honestly what I usually just end up doing in those situations is just that — kind of avoiding the situation — not answering the phone or whatever rather than saying “I’m not attracted to you” because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Of course, in the end, being passive aggressive about it is much worse and much more disrespectful than just being honest. But I think that feeling like we have to be polite all the time leads us to behave in really messed up ways.

C: Right. Which is awful for everybody. And then some men are socialized to believe, for example, if a woman breaks up with them and says “let’s just be friends,” that they’ve still got a chance because she hasn’t cut him off completely. Like, she’d say no if she really meant it. So those messages are getting crossed.

Women today are supposed to be able to say what we feel because supposedly we’re super empowered and feminist but it doesn’t always happen that way. I wish that more women could be honest and that more men could not feel so butt-hurt about being rejected. It should be nipped in the bud a lot sooner in order to avoid trying to drag on a friendship where the dude is just hoping that she’ll change her mind or realize that oh actually she DOES love me. Don’t fake a friendship if you don’t think the person is interesting or if you don’t respect them and if it’s just about you hoping that if you hang out with them for long enough they’ll have sex with you. If that’s your only motive then fuck off.

M: So for you it sounds like there is no ‘friend zone’.

C: Yeah that’s stupid. The ‘friend zone’ would be like if I actually wanted to be your friend… So is that a bad thing? So we would have a mutually enjoyable relationship as equals and peers and enjoy each other’s company.  There’s no ‘friend zone’. There’s being friends. If you’re not friends then what are you doing?

M: Right, if you think it’s a waste of time to hang out with me unless I’m going to fuck you, then I definitely don’t want to hang out with you ever.

C: And then the ‘friend zone’ is his problem. If he can’t respect a woman as a friend that’s his own mental block if he can’t move beyond that – I mean, he’s friend zoning himself. He’s trapping himself in this terrible purgatory where if he doesn’t want to be her friend for real and he doesn’t want to engage with her and hang out with her without any promise of sexual satisfaction then he should just end that. Save yourself the heartache, man.

If you genuinely like that person as a person then why not be friends with them? And then look for someone who actually wants to be with you. I mean, don’t you want to be with someone that wants you back?

It’s the enthusiastic consent model. That can be applied to everything – friendships even. You want to hang out with people who want to hang out with you.

M: For sure. So would you say your friendships with women differ from your friendships with men?

C: I can’t be disingenuous and say it’s perfectly equal; though it feels like it is on certain levels. There are definitely nights when I only want to be around women to talk and drink wine and we usually end up talking about wildy different subject matter. But it does also depend on the individual person. My female friends discuss politics and economics in the same way my men friends do but there are times when I am really just craving female company. You can get a lot more intimate with women friends because you share the same physical body in many ways and the same experiences growing up as women. You can’t relate that stuff to a lot of men and that can be a block sometimes. If you’re upset about something that’s clearly a gendered experience and you don’t want get brushed off, you might be better off talking to other women about that. I find my conversations with female friends can get a lot more in-depth about our experiences in the world and how we navigate the world and I find conversations with my male friends are more on the surface —  more about external things as opposed to getting into a lot of feelings. While I don’t necessarily like that dichotomy that is my experience.

M: Do you feel that your friendships with men change when you have a male partner? A boyfriend or whatever?

C: Well I’m still affectionate and flirtatious but that means that I have to try not to give mixed signals if I can help it and I do try to just be really direct. I enjoy being flirtatious and outgoing and I like making new friends so I like to try to make myself be really straightforward about my intentions and boundaries… I’ll actually have a conversation with someone I just met and say you know, I’ve been flirting with you all night but I do have a boyfriend, just so you don’t get the wrong impression. And I think that’s fine.

M: Sure. If you’re being straight and direct and honest then that’s the best you can do.

C: If you’re not leading anybody on and if you’re extremely direct about it then I think it’s on them if they then choose not to believe me and try to pursue something despite that. Just because people flirt doesn’t mean they have to follow through with sex and if you don’t respect my boundaries and you push that I’m going be pissed off. I shouldn’t have to say it a second time.

M: Exactly. Well that’s it from me, Chris. Thanks so much for chatting!

C: Thanks Meghan!


Next up in this series, I speak with my friend (and Hip Hop Karaoke superstar!) Daniel.

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.