Can men and women be friends without benefits? : NPR
Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from the WBUR member station. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer “radical empathy” and advice on everything from relationships and parenting to dealing with drug issues or anxiety.
Today, hosts wonder if men and women can really be Platonic friends. First, a woman writes that her boyfriend believes that “attraction will eventually take over” all straight friends. Next, the Sugars overhear a woman wondering if all men are interested in having deep and emotional conversations.
I am a young woman in a tight-knit, male-dominated creative industry. I have a few close male friends that I’m deeply connected to, and I mean real friends with whom I share strong, yet platonic emotional bonds. I love the richness that these relationships bring to my life.
My partner does not. He is convinced that men and women can never truly be friends – this attraction will eventually take over one or both parties, becoming disastrous for all. He is always suspicious of my male friends and is frustrated with my investment in them.
Of course, that bothers me, but Sucres, doesn’t it? Is it just unrealistic to believe that true male / female friendships are lasting? Am I naive to think that we are not chemically linked to developing romantic feelings, and that if such an attraction occurs, we could recover without losing the friendship?
Lost Cheryl: Steve, I think we are proof that the answer to this question is yes, men and women can truly be friends. Platonically puzzled, I’m actually afraid your partner might not think so. This tells me that he hasn’t really opened up to relationships with women without always making sex and attraction part of the equation, which I think really limits his life. I think there are some things to consider when you’re straight and friends with someone of the opposite sex, and you definitely want to respect your partner and make your partner feel valued and sometimes included in those friendships. But you can really develop genuine emotional connections with people you have absolutely no sexual desire for and who you don’t deliberately allow that into the equation.
Steve Almond: It’s part of the problem with patriarchal thinking and, more broadly, our relentless gender interruptions. People have complicated lives, and because we are so confused about romantic intimacy and emotional intimacy, there is often an obscured view of what is perfectly natural. What your boyfriend is jealous of is that you have really powerful friends that you feel deeply connected with and invest in those friendships and your emotion in them. And so much the better! And if he can’t take it, then you’ve got to be with someone new. It’s so clear to me that taking the posture that male-female friendships are impossible is a teenage view of gender relations.
Cheryl: When I think of the closest male friends I have had, I have always brought them into my life in one way or another. Perhaps that is part of the problem here. Maybe introducing your boyfriend to these guys – meeting them for a drink, for example – will lessen his feeling of being threatened.
I have made several friendships with my male opposites over the years. Friendships that I cherish for their hilarity, their sincerity and their lack of drama. However, recently I found myself at a crossroads with these male friendships. I, an extrovert manual, take great care to know my male buddies. I ask frequent questions about their family, work, romances (or lack thereof) because I love them and want them to know that I care about their well-being.
My problem here is that it seems one-sided. I can count on two fingers the men, other than my husband, who will send me a message or call me to check in and say hello. These two guys are spending time getting to know the ‘real me’ instead of the ‘surface level me’. The others don’t bother.
So, I guess my question is, is this a guy thing? Or is it just my friends? Do men really not take the time to think about these things and ask the questions in depth? Can I attribute this to the differences between the sexes? How else can I continue to pursue these friendships without feeling emotionally drained all the time?
At the end of the day, each of them have qualities that I admire and I really enjoy spending time with them. Still, I wonder if I should be devoting myself to more fulfilling friendships for me. Are these just friends from now on? Because I don’t think I can handle that either.
Steve: Two male friends calling you up and really wanting to know how you’re doing – it’s not bad. Women, in my experience – speaking in generalization – are more caring, more empathetic, more inclined to wonder how you are doing than just wanting to joke around and not get into those deep, heavy things. I think a lot of friendship is in the yard – figuring out which friendships provide the things you need. If you have two friends who are caring in this way, great. Nurture those friendships.
But if you have friends who you have fun with who just aren’t constitutionally ready to be the kind of friend who’s going to look you in the face and say, “How are you?” just recognize that that is not what they are in the context of this relationship.
Cheryl: I, too, have noticed this about my relationships with men, and I have sometimes felt really pissed off and angry. But one of the most rewarding experiences for me when it comes to watching men in friendships and women in friendships is the close up view I got while watching my husband with his friends.
We are really good friends with this couple, Peter and Dorothy. We recently hiked Vermont with them. As we hike Dorothy and I go through it all: family, kids, marriages – all emotional and deep things. And then we come to the end of this walk and I say to my husband Brian, “What have you and Peter been talking about?” Books, basketball, music. What I have come to realize, however, is that this is how Brian has privacy with his friends. If he really needed to have that emotional conversation that I have every day with my friends, Peter and his close circle of friends would be there for him.
You can get more sugar tips every week at Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more answers to questions about friendships, including how to end a friendship and whether it’s possible to become platonic friends again after a relationship.
Do you have a question for sugars? Email [email protected] and it can be answered in a future episode.