Sunday, June 23, 2013

Friends Without Benefits?

A while back I spoke with an aquaintance about friendships between men and women. He firmly believed that no such thing was truly possible. That there would always be some sexual tension. I have many male friends. Underlining the word 'friend'. However, many of these, who I have thought of as just friends, have, when the subject has come up, told me that they would sleep with me if the opportunity came up. Sure, these confessions have mostly been made under the influence of alcohol, but isn't that when you say the things you really mean?

Inseparable. (Photo from The Chaotic Soul.)

The subject of cross-gender friendships has been researched quite a bit. Maybe not so much in science labs, but even more on the silver screen. Psychology Today argues five challenges and six truths in an article about cross-gender friendships. In the article I found many things that I don't agree with, maybe them being cultural. For example the thought that cross-gender friendships are taboo as a child and that you don't really come in contact with the opposite gender until puberty. I don't know, maybe this applies to the United States, but I had a lot of male friends as a child. I even got along better with them than with girls. One thing in the article I agree with is that media doesn't really help with the confusion in forming platonic cross-gender friendships. In movies and tv-shows friendships nearly always turn into romantic relationships. It's the classic setting. A girl and a guy are best friends. One is getting married or finds "the love of their life" when the other one realizes that it's all wrong and they should be together instead. Then there's a lot a drama and a falling out, but in the end the guy and the girl always ends up together.

"'When Harry Met Sally set the potential for male-female friendship back about 25 years,' said Michael Monsour, assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado at Denver and author of Women and Men as Friends. Television hasn't helped either. "Almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance," Monsour noted." (Psychology Today)

In an article in the Scientific American Adrian Ward talks about a research on cross-gender friendships. The research shows that men are more likely to misinterpret the level of the attraction in the friendship. Men were also more willing to act on this misinterpreted mutual attraction.

"Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them - a clearly misguided belief. [--] basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends." (Scientifuc American)
Well, both articles state that opposite-sex friendships are indeed possible, but in many cases men and women see the relationship differently. So, is there always an underlying sexual tension within cross-gender friendships? One of my male friends once told me, that he has basically never slept over at a girls place without something happening. Is this a guy-thing? Because I have surely had many male friends sleeping over on my couch without there being any sexual tension. Or have I misinterpreted the situation?

(Photo borrowed from The Chaotic Soul.)
In the end, what's better than a great friendship turning into a great love story? (Photo from Why Library.)

However I have experienced situations when I notice that a guy I am spending time with as friends is starting to develop some feelings. It's a very tricky situation. It's difficult when you like a person, and want to spend time with them, but you only like them as a friend and they clearly want more than that. Before I was usually not very good at handling these kind of situations. I usually just let the situation go on, and after a while just ended up avoiding that person and not wanting to hang out with them anymore. The situation just made me uncomfortable and I didn't have the guts to tell them that I only saw them as friends. I haven't had that kind of a situation in a while now, mostly because I have told the truth. But sometimes it's not that easy. Sometimes you're not sure whether the other person is interested in more than being friends, especially if it's just a vibe you're getting, and you don't want to ruin the relationship by assuming things. But then again, if the relationship it ruined by that, you might ask yourself whether it was a relationship worth having.

I do have a few great male friends who I value a lot, but couldn't see myself in a romantic relationship with. The relationship with these guys is based on trust. It has been non-verbally clear from the beginning, that there is no attraction there. Although after reading the article in the Scientific American, I hope that this feeling is mutual. I also have male friends whom I have dated or had a romatic relationship with (past tense). Currently I see some of these guys as great friends, but there is still a romatic tension there, at least to some part. Still, I couldn't see myself in a romantic relationship with these guys (anymore). But what is that then? Can you still call it a friendship, it there are other feelings mixed into it? I guess it is a different kind of friendship. A more intimate one maybe. And that might be a good thing. Maybe it's even better this way, because you've "tested" it, and realized that you are better off being friends.

I believe that close cross-gender friendships are possible without sexual tension. (Photo from Psychologies.)

So what's the conclusion? Relationships are difficult. Well, nothing new there I suppose. Balancing cross-gender friendships and interpreting them right is very tricky, but in my opinion very much possible. You might have to face some difficult situations when dealing with friends of the opposite gender, but I think it's worth it. And yet again I come to the conclusion that everything can be solved by communicating and telling the truth. The truth might even lead to a closer relationship and at it's best to a life-long friendship. What's better than that?

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