A couple of weeks ago I began a little project based on the frequently asked question: “Can men and women be ‘just’ friends?” For the purposes of my (and hopefully your) entertainment and interest, I’ve been publishing transcripts from some of these interviews.
Daniel is a 37 year old single heterosexual male and a Hip Hop Karaoke superstar. I haven’t actually known him for very long. I suppose we know one another through friends of friends. Our friendship began pretty recently, at a party back in the fall when we ended up in a long conversation about porn and misogyny (BECAUSE I’M SO FUN AT PARTIES). I think we probably also talked about rap music. I had just gone through a pretty bad break-up (are there ‘good’ breakups? I’ve never had one of those…People who have ‘good’ breakups are, from what I can gather, notably more mature and more evolved than I) and had zero interest in being anywhere near a dude (in a non-platonic sense, in any case) ever again. I think I made my aversion to dating pretty clear at the time so we kind of became friends. Because Daniel lives in New York, most of our conversations since then have happened online, and often have revolved around issues concerning feminism/gender.
Seeing as the majority of our interactions have been online, I decided to chat with him over instant messenger about his friendships with women and how a little maturity and self-awareness can go a long way.
M: Ok so first things first – do you have platonic female friends?
D: I have many.
M: And how did those friendships develop?
D: I develop friendships with women pretty spontaneously and pretty regularly. It’s not a novel thing for me to become friends with a woman and then for that friendship to last over time. Some were friends from summer camp; some from college; some from grad school and my time in NYC; a few from Hip Hop Karaoke; some from various personal growth workshops I’ve taken over the years…
I have way more platonic female friends than I have male friends, I’d say. That’s not to say I’ve never had non-platonic feelings for any of these women — I have. But that’s never been fatal to any friendship.
Well, maybe not “never”…
The vast majority of them are now not single. Which might contribute to the sustainability of the friendship. I don’t know.
M: Hmmm. Interesting. So do you think it’s easier to be friends with women who are in relationships or ‘unavailable’, as it were, than single women (and therefore potential mates)?
D: Probably, yes. It’s cleaner, simpler. But I do have single female friends, and have pretty regularly. Lesbians also fall into the “easier because unavailable” category.
Not that I don’t flirt with my lesbian friends, I just hold out zero hopes of “getting anywhere.”
M: Why is it cleaner and simpler with women who are in relationships (or lesbians)?
D: Because my imagination is kept in check by a certain pragmatism: “They have that area handled. That’s not what I’m here for” (area of their life, not “area” anatomically).
It helps me focus on being a friend. Which is a role I like.
M: So it’s difficult for you to be ‘just friends’ with single women… Because of their vaginas.
D: I think that’s a bit reductive.
D: I didn’t say it was difficult. I just said it was less simple. There are more factors in play.
D: I never set out to be “just friends” with someone. I set out to connect with people in whatever shapes and forms those connections take. If someone’s in a relationship, that closes off a certain avenue of types of connections, since I’m not the home-wrecking type. However, just because a woman is single and is my friend and has a vagina doesn’t automatically mean that I’m going to want to “go there”.
There’s also the fact that “wanting to go there” is somewhat automatic — it arises as a function of biology and conditioning — I don’t take it all that seriously in most cases. It’s like, “oh, I’m thinking some thoughts.” So what. You know? I’m not attracted to every woman. I’m attracted to a lot of women, but not every one.
M: Right. So the sex thing can be there in your mind or whatever but doesn’t have to impact the friendship?
D: It doesn’t have to, no. Whether it does or not will depend on a few factors.
If I am in a balanced state of mind, I don’t need to get my desirousness all over that person. I can deal with it, digest it, and be appropriate about it. Maybe express it, maybe not. Most women friends I’ve had find that flattering, amusing, bemusing, charming. Not irritating or a friendship-breaker. I used to think it was shameful, which is when I would get weird and creepy about it. Didn’t work too well.
M: You thought it was shameful to be attracted to a female friend?
D: Because of a personal history of suppressing my own libido in order to be considered acceptable, which goes back to some formative moments in my pre-teen and early teen years. I developed the “friend” modality as a back-door to intimacy with women, but underneath it was a seething cesspool of resentment at not being desirable, not being noticed “in that way”, being overlooked for other, cruder guys, etc. All of which I made up and then believed was true.
M: Ahh. Interesting. So you would try to become friends in order to get more? Did that ever work? i.e. is the getting caught in the ‘friend zone’ thing that men are taught to fear a real thing?
D: It never worked, no. It was the ceiling I imposed on myself — that was as good as it was going to get for me, due to some imagined basic flaw in myself, and/or some imagined basic cruelty/inaccessibility in women.
… All entirely imagined (as I later discovered, to my shock and delight).
This discovery, interestingly, opened me up to a whole new world of quality in both my friendships AND my sexual encounters/relationships with women. Because I was just being myself, which is all women really want anyway. I stopped all the game-playing.
M: Game-playing is the worst.
D: It is. It is death.
I should say, I stopped all the COVERT game-playing. I started playing, in like, a fun and shameless way. Transparent. Like a kid would: “Hi! I like you. Do you like me? No? Okay, bye!”
M: So what happens with women who just want to be friends when you want more? How does that go?
D: Again, it depends mainly on me and how secure I am at that moment. There was a time when that sort of thing would create a whole lot of heaviness in the friendship — coming from me, I should add — which was toxic to the friendship itself.
These days, I bounce back from a “no” with a lot more gusto and buoyancy. My response is basically, “Okay, well, let me enjoy what there is to enjoy about this friendship.”
I’m also good friends (or at least very amicable) with a large proportion of the women I’ve slept with or been in relationships with. I can think of a handful where that’s not the case, and that’s totally because I acted like a dick and then kept acting like a dick.
And they basically decided it wasn’t worth the effort, understandably.
…I can’t tell if I sound like a great guy or a total douchebag right now.
M: I can’t tell either.
D: Hopefully neither.
M: So do you think this is different for women than for men? Like is sex or a sexual relationship kind of ‘on the table’ for men in a way that it isn’t for women (between men and women who are straight anyway)?
D: I don’t know, honestly. I can’t presume to know what women go through on that front. I think they may be more used to keeping those feelings hidden, or maybe they just feel less urgency. Women, it seems to me, are better at containing opposing/mixed feelings within them without having to have it be one way or another.
I also can’t speak for most men, mind you. I don’t relate to most notions of masculinity. “How men are” conversations bore me to tears.
M: Totally. But I mean, it’s possible that there are either biological factors or social factors at play here…
D: Sure, but who’s to say?
M: I mean, why are men (stereotypically) represented as not being able to truly ‘just be friends’ with women? When I was reading about this topic online that came up a lot…
Men would say they wanted to do all their female friends whereas the women would feel totally platonic towards their male friends.
D: Because inside the set of social conventions and agreements called “being a guy” in our society, there’s an implicit assumption that men’s sexual needs are an overriding imperative that trump everything else, and that women’s power to seduce and attract is an all-powerful force with the magnetism of a thousand suns.
Which is bullshit, of course. It’s all made up. It’s a script.
It doesn’t have to be that way. But if we believe it, it becomes true, over and over again, and then we have proof.
M: Right. Women are supposed to be the ‘gate-keepers’ and men are supposed to try to, you know, get past ‘the gate’…To use a terrible metaphor.
D: Or something…Men are helpless in the face of women’s “power”.
M: Women’s fake power. Vagina power!
D: The whole thing is a sham, and it hurts everyone. Moreover, it’s a rip-off from genuine experience. It keeps these things inside such narrow limits. It’s BOOORING.
M: So do you find that your friendships with women differ from your friendships with men?
D: Less and less, because most of the men I’m friends with have some capacity for being sensitive and nurturing and loving — all the things I “look for” in women.
It’s a slightly different dynamic but I don’t know how different. I don’t have a coterie of “bro”s — I have individual male friends I watch hockey or listen to hip-hop with, but I have women I could do the same activities with.
M: Right. So are there things that you talk about with men that you don’t talk about with women? Or vice versa?
D: It’s likely that on average, I allow myself more room to be graphic, crude, and caustic about aspects of male experience — masturbation, pornography (don’t hate me Meghan!), desire, etc. — when I’m talking to a guy friend who I know will “relate” than with a woman. But most of my women friends wouldn’t bat an eyelid at anything I’d say on any of those topics.
M: I don’t hate you.
D: … Not that any of those aspects are exclusive to men! But in our society there are definitely circumscribed “male” ways of relating to them and I struggle with finding my own genuine relationship to things like that. Other guys I know do too. So sometimes there’s a kind of “you get it, I get it” vibe with another guy.
M: So what about the ‘bro code’. Is there such a thing? Like that idea that there are things that you talk to men about, that you can’t share with women… Lest you break the ‘bro code’….
D: Again, I’m not a ‘bro’ so I don’t know. From observation I’d say definitely yes, there seems to be a ‘bro code’. I don’t much care to waste time cracking it.
Even for me, a sort of “enlightened” guy when it comes to this stuff — gag/puke/sorry — there are probably things contained in the recesses of my psyche that I’d be ashamed to share with a woman. It would take courage to share those things. But I’ve done it, and I’m never sorry when I do. And women almost always validate my candor with generosity and appreciation for my honesty.
M: Honesty is more interesting than dishonesty.
D: Fundamentally I just don’t see/feel/perceive/try to perpetuate some huge difference between me and women. But in a patriarchal society women have an outsider’s perspective, which I always relate to better than the dominant perspective.
Women are more emotionally connected, which I think is a gateway to sanity.
That’s not to say “I get” every aspect of what women feel/see/experience or that I have no blind spots — as a man in this society that would be impossible.
M: Right. Ok so are we friends?
D: I consider you a friend, yes.
M: Why are we friends?
D: Well, the majority of our friendship takes place online… We haven’t actually spent much time being friends in real time and space. That said, I think we’re friends because I enjoy you, I enjoy our interactions, I feel enjoyed by you, and I experience some sort of pleasant exchange of ideas, energies, views, and humour between us. I like the way you think, I like the way you express yourself, I learn from you, etc. I respond to your messages and posts and invitations with a certain inner enthusiasm that only happens with people I consider friends… And sometimes, with women I want to sleep with…
M: So you aren’t just friends with me because you want to sleep with me?
D: No. My being friends with you and my occasionally thinking favourably toward the idea of sleeping with you are separate kettles of fish. Have you felt like I’ve tried to mix the two in a distracting/irritating/overbearing way?
M: No I guess not. I think many of my male ‘friends’ when I was younger weren’t really my ‘friends’ if you know what I mean.
D: I do.
M: So I’m sensitive to these things. I think my male friends these days have more integrity. Some of them anyway… Trying to get into my pants every time I’m single or trying to trick me to have sex with you isn’t very ‘friendly’ from my perspective. It makes me feel not respected as a human being/friend.
D: Which dovetails with what I said earlier: people have histories around this stuff. And our society, moreover, in which we all operate whether we like it or not, has a big fat history around this stuff.
M: But generally I believe that people can be attracted to people and still be respectful and still value people as people. Even when those people have boobs!
M: I’m just not sure everyone feels that way…
D: Look, for me it’s like ice cream. There are a lot of ice cream flavours out there. I don’t have to taste them all. There are a whole lot of them that I would like to taste if I had the opportunity but if that opportunity doesn’t arise, I’m not going to burn the ice cream parlor down.
M: Nice metaphor.
And thus concludes my interrogation. Is there anything you’d like to add?
D: Nope, I think I’ve said it all.
… Hey, do you think we’re friends?
M: Of course
D: And why?
M: NO CROSS INTERVIEWING.
Just kidding. I like people who like to talk about interesting things and who have interesting ideas and perspectives. I like people who I feel like I can be myself around and be honest with…I don’t like censoring myself… I don’t feel like I need to pretend to be someone that I’m not around you. And I can trust you to be honest as well.
M: Thanks Daniel!
D: My pleasure.