Earlier this month 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.
Amy is a 33 year old heterosexual woman. She is engaged to be married and is doing a Masters in Education while simultaneously growing a human inside her uterus. Amy and I went to high school together and have known each other for about 20 years now (ack!). We’ve had ups and downs and fun times and dumb, high school times. All of those memories are awkward and embarrassing enough to have bonded us for life.
We chatted on IM recently about her experiences navigating platonic relationships that are periodically interrupted by sex feelings, as well as how her friendships with men differ from her friendships with women. We also speculate briefly about things like “science” and “biology”, though it should be clear that both of us understand all that to be mostly about lasers and psychic powers.
A: So what are these BIG IMPORTANT QUESTIONS?
M: Do you have platonic male friends?
M: That you see on a regular basis?
M: And/or talk to on the regular?
Is this the end of the interview?
How did those friendships develop?
A: I have close male friends from my high school and college years and also from being in the arts – so performers, colleagues in theatre, etc.
M: Did you get the feeling that most or any of those dudes wanted to do you?
A: Yes, some of them… at some points in our history. It’s pretty obvious to me when a male friend wants to do me, even when he insists that it’s platonic. I haven’t had to “fight off” advances physically, but rather with the POWERS OF MY MIND.
M: And how does that make you feel? When a friend wants to be more than ‘just’ friends?
A: It’s flattering. It can also be frustrating. But it isn’t a deal-breaker… Unless it becomes obnoxious, too uncomfortable, or the guy clearly is not into respecting the friendship. But I think if I let that kind of emotional imbalance ruin the friendship for me, then I would have far fewer male friends. I figure it comes with the territory.
Also – women are WAY more aware of those imbalances than guys, so we also have to deal with our hypersensitivity to emotions, attractions, nuance…
Normally when I suspect a male friend wants to do me, I assume he hasn’t admitted the same to himself yet… He is living in denial perhaps. But I can smell it from a mile away; it’s predictable and therefore easy to deflect if you are AN EXPERT LIKE ME.
M: Right. So why do you think it is that women are more aware of this stuff? Is it just that were used to it? That it doesn’t happen to dudes as much? Or are their brains wired to not have a clue?
A: Not sure. I think women are definitely raised/trained/tuned to understand the emotional clues around them. We are aware, sensitive, anxious, and analytical about them. Maybe men just walk around in a haze; blissfully unaware of the kinds of hormones they are putting out there, all the while secretly hoping their “platonic friends” will get naked. I dunno.
M: That sounds kind of stressful. Is being friends with men stressful? Like, if you have to always be aware of their SEX FEELINGS on their behalves?
A: No, because you can pretend to be unaware too – but then you do have to deal with their sex feelings when they inevitably come up…If you can stay a step ahead of the game, you can deflect — i.e. “I am SO GLAD you never hit on me… If you ever made a move on me I would feel so uncomfortable but that would never happen because we are BEST FRIENDS, RIGHT?!?!”
Then the guy is like “Yeah of course, I would never. I don’t have those feelings for you?” And you are like “WHAT A RELIEF – I would hate to RUIN OUR FRIENDSHIP.”
TA-DA! Disaster avoided. Then like ten years later they will admit they “secretly” wanted to do you that whole time and you can be like I KNOW, DUMMY. GOOD THING I HAVE SKILLS.
M: Brain skills!
Ok so can you still be friends with someone if the SEX FEELINGS come out and are placed on the table? In front of everyone? For all parties to stare at awkwardly?
It’s kind of up to the person with the sex feelings though.
M: So how do you deal with that?
A: Is the man the one with the feelings?
A: So in my teens, when that happened it felt awkward. In my twenties I was annoyed. Now … meh. I’m flattered I guess. If the feelings are returned, you have the basis for a new relationship that is built on a solid friendship — which can be a great thing. But if it’s only one party who feels that way, I guess you have to measure your own comfort with hanging out with that person. Are they creeping you out? Then bail on the “friendship”. But if they are just their same old awesome self (the one you love as a friend) and they have some added awkward feelings about you, I think you owe it to them to help them through that stage or offer to disappear for a while if that’s what they need.
A: If you are sensitive to those kinds of feelings (and I think I am), you can sense them a mile away. And no one wants to hang out in awkwardness just so you can bask in the glow of a misdirected crush…Maybe some people do – but they are narcissists maybe? Or they have perpetually low self-esteem and can’t fathom an opposite-sex friend (assuming we are talking about heteros) who’s not attracted to them. And that is just sad.
Although it’s possible that, for a woman in that position, maybe she just didn’t have good male role models to teach her how to engage in meaningful relationships with men that aren’t sexual.
M: Right. Maybe she’s been trained (as women often are) to think that men only want to be around her for sex-type purposes.
M: Did you ever feel like that was a breach of trust? Or did you ever feel disrespected that a friend tried to turn it into something more?
A: I have never felt a breach of trust. Because I don’t think friendship is a contract – it’s a constant negotiation. Friends change, move, screw up, disappear, reappear, act like idiots, develop into more interesting people (and sometimes into less interesting people). Developing romantic/sexual feelings can happen at any stage in the friendship, towards any party. If you were to accuse a friend of “breaching the trust” in the relationship by developing romantic feelings for you, that would be akin to telling them they ceased being the person/having the thoughts/feelings that you want them to have, and therefore the friendship contract has been breached.
I’ve had numerous friends “come out of the closet” in numerous ways to me – as queer, as survivors of incest, as addicts, as perverts…. And all of this is just “new information” that you use to continue to synthesize what you believe to be true about the person in front of you.
In every single case, I have felt honoured that the friendship was strong enough for potentially painful revelations and admissions or that I was thought to be the appropriate confidante. In some ways the sexual desire piece is a similar admission. Potential for awkwardness, yes. Deal breaker, no.
M: I’ve felt pissed off at friends for trying to hit on me, for example, because I felt as though they were putting me in an awkward position. Like, can’t we just be friends? Why do you have to try to make out with me – do you try to make out with your dude friends or do you just let them hang out with you peacefully without trying to impose THE SEX on the friendship, you know?
A: Ok the situation you are talking about is dumb. Get new friends.
So you said something about women being more aware of these kinds of secret love feelings than men. Why do you think that might be?
A: Because we are superior in the department of brain-reading.
A: Actually, I don’t know if I should essentialize here — because I have some pretty clueless female friends — but I definitely know that, just as a woman is more likely to be aware of who in the room is sad, or angry, or defensive, we can also sense who is horny.
It’s not rocket science.
But is this a biological development? It might be. SPEAKING AS A PREGNANT PERSON, who can’t help but get effing “medical advice” from every effing pseudo-website out there trying to sell motherhood, and I am constantly reading that this biological talent is honed and/or heightened during pregnancy. Like the pregnant mammal has a biological imperative to sense dangers, and to understand where predators are, and how strong the community is, and where the next food is…
… But seriously, this seems reasonable to me, that females who are biological-reproducing-inclined may be the super-sensors of human emotions, pheromones, testosterone, estrogen, and all kinds of other invisible rays of human thought and emotion.
But I can see how that hypothesis could be very polarizing…Also I made that last part up. What do you think of this hypothesis?
M: Well obviously I think science is dumb.
M: BUT I do think that women are socialized to be hyper aware of what other people are feeling and then also deal with their feelings for them. Do you know what I mean? Like – how do I make sure that you feel ok about your feelings.
A: Yes – that is definitely learned! Do you think there might be any underlying biological reasons as well?
M: I mean, generally I think that socialization plays a bigger part in our interactions than biology does but it’s likely a combination of the two.
A: Yeah – I agree.
M: Ok so this having feelings for a friend thing…Has this always been a male directed thing? Or has a female friend ever developed more than friend feelings for you? Is it just dudes that think that their penises should be IN the friendship? Though of course ladies don’t have penises…you know what I mean.
A: Yes. Definitely. That happens all the time or there wouldn’t be so many rom-coms.
M: Has that happened to you? Has a woman friend developed more-than-friend feelings towards you?
A: Oh. YEAH. Obviously. I am a magnet for lesbians.
… If you publish this will I sound like a douche?
M: I wont publish things that make you sound like a douche.
A: Thank you.
M: Ok so what happened?
A: I have a best friend who is a lesbian and she sometimes gets her wires crossed about friends and making out – i.e. which ones of her friends want to make out randomly, and which don’t. It probably took about ten years of us being best friends for her to remember I am in the latter category.
M: Did you have to remind her? Was it awkward? Did it impact the friendship?
A: Yes I have had to remind her. But that has never felt threatening/offensive/annoying to me … I just think she is an extremely affectionate person. And it doesn’t impact the friendship now, no.
M: So if men and women can’t be friends (SUPPOSEDLY) then women and women can’t be friends either!
And thus concludes my scientific experiment.
A: THE END.
M: I have one more question.
M: How do your relationships/friendships with women differ from your platonic friendships with men?
A: Oooh…I have thought about this one a lot actually.
A: I seem to have a certain kind of rapport with my male friends and I really, really like it. I have one brother, and growing up I was often trying to impress him or his friends, and maybe that had an effect.
Basically, I think it’s easier in some ways to maintain friendships with guys. They are low maintenance, less calling on the phone; no need for apologies or probing the emotional depths of our last heated exchange, etc. My male friends also happen to be hilarious. I laugh my ass off with them, and perhaps my female friends are more prone to “serious” conversation. Which I get enough of in my work and school life. So it could be that the value I get from hanging out with men is more of a release, and less work.
M: WOMEN ARE SO COMPLICATED.
A: I KNOW.
Especially at this age – many women I know are occupied with young families. The men I count as my best friends don’t have kids yet, so it’s a different kind of conversation than the ones you have with parents.
M: Although I have some very serious, emotional, man-friends…
So over the course of your life do you see any other differences? Are there things you can talk about with women but not with men? Or vice versa?
A: Yes – now that I am in a healthy and happy relationship-for-life, I don’t need my friends (male or female) to produce a suitable dating pool for me, so that’s a relief.
M: Ha. I still need that. Step up, friends!
A: I talk about things with women that are close to my heart and make me feel vulnerable – things like aging, growing into motherhood, etc. I don’t particularly like having heart-to-hearts though, so that explains why I seek out those conversations less often.
I have some very strong female friends who call me on BS, which I love and need occasionally. My male friends are less likely to call out behaviour or cognitive dissonance issues. For example, when I really needed to end a bad relationship — long overdue — I went straight to my friend Genny, who said straight up: “Why haven’t you ended this relationship yet?” And I broke up with him that night.
I doubt a male friend could have given me that same kind of kick in the pants that I needed. He would have been like “meh, do whatever”.
M: I hear that. Although Tom told me never to talk to my ex ever again and would definitely yell at me if I started all that up again. He also gave me some pretty tough love over some recent (non-ex-related) bad choices I made…
But you also tell me things like that.
A: Lots of us have told you things like that.
M: MEGHAN HERE IS THE REAL TRUTH.
A: Maybe you only listen to Tom?
M: No, no that’s not what I mean. I listen to you. You are a very good advice-giver.
A: Thank you. And NO PENIS! Ta-daaaaa!
Ok so that’s all of my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Before we get back to talking about SHOES. AND WEDDINGS. AND SHOPPING.
A: YEAST INFECTIONS!
M: MY VAGINA!
A: CUP SIZE!
A: LADY FLAVORED SHAVING CREAM!!
M: IT TASTES LIKE SKIN.
OK THANKS AMY!!!
That was fun.
A: Yes me too.