Can men and women just be close friends or is it inevitable that it will eventually end up in a sexual relationship or the two becoming estranged? This was, of course, the question that was central to the 1989 hit comedy film When Harry Met Sally and as I recall the answer given in the film was the former. But Johanna Leggatt argues that not only is a close non-sexual relationship possible, she feels that a desirable quality that she looks for in a man is that he have female friends.
When women are single, and they would rather not be, they will often talk about what they’re looking for in a relationship. What they will and will not put up with, where the lines are.
My own chief criterion has always been about whether or not he has any female friends. And by friends, I don’t mean women he is hoping to one day wear down to date or sleep with. When I met my partner, this was one of the many things I liked about him. He had male friends, yes, but lots of female friends, too, many of whom he is still close to. Some people asked me tentatively if I was OK with it. Of course, I replied, why wouldn’t I be? Well, you know men, they would say, they can’t help themselves.
And that is of course the issue, that society has still not quite come to terms with the fact that two unrelated members of different genders can have a close personal friendship and nothing more, which is a little strange especially these days when same-gender romantic relationships are so common and yet it is assumed that same-gender friendships can be platonic. Why is it that two people of the same gender can have a friendship and do things together but there is social pressure that looks askance when it is people of different genders?
Last year, a Morning Consult poll found most Americans were wary of male-female interactions, with nearly two-thirds saying workers should take “extra caution” around members of the opposite sex. Most stunningly, a majority of women and nearly half of men said it was unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.
This kind of thinking is antithetical to the expansive quality of great friendships, which may not be romantic, but are no less important for it. Any successful and enduring male-female friendship is a tiny rebellion of sorts against anachronistic notions of uncontrollable male desire and the female sirens that lure and distract them.
She argues that not having female friends helps create the conditions of sexual abuse and harassment that we are hearing so much about now because it seems to force men into thinking in purely binary terms and in fact creates a sexual dynamic when there need not be one.
Is it any surprise then that some men see women as either mothers or sex partners? That in their minds womanhood is made up of two distinct and mutually exclusive categories of Madonna and whore?
On the opposite end of this spectrum is the male-female friendship, which involves the whole-hearted recognition of the other person’s humanity and our many shades of grey.
But we are a long way from the kind of climate that Leggatt wishes to see, at least in the US. If a man and a woman go to see films together or eat out or visit museums and attend sporting events, it is not taken as a given that they just happen to share similar tastes in films or food or whatever they do. It is assumed that there must be something more. And that is a pity because it is closing the door on many friendships that can be fulfilling and mutually beneficial and widen our horizons.