Can men and women ever be “just friends”? The correct answer is: “Yes, obviously, so why in God’s name do paper editors, authors of dating books and headline-seeking psychologists keep asking?”
My evidence is as follows: one, I’m female; two, a good friend of mine is male; three, the prospect of romantic involvement with him strikes me, as absurd, but friends yes.
What’s striking about the “just friends” debate is how useless it is. If you believe such friendships are common, it’s meaningless to be told you’re deluded. Conversely, if you are a woman tortured by unrequited love for a man friend, it’s little use to learn that some other men and women don’t feel that way: you still have an issue that needs addressing.
The real reason some people continue to deny the possibility of such friendships, I believe, is that they subscribe to what you might call the Harsh Realities of Relationships. Not, let’s be clear, because they’re more in touch with reality, but because they derive such enormous satisfaction from believing they are.
Just as the Harsh Realities position on male-female friendships is that sex always gets in the way, the Harsh Realities take on dating is that it’s a battlefield, where playing mind-games is essential; relationships, meanwhile, are mutually manipulative power struggles.
The problem isn’t that this is always wrong – it isn’t – but that its claim to insight is unearned: if you always pick the most cynical explanation, you’ll sound “brutally honest” every time.
So, might approaching strangers and asking them to sleep with you, as per the old Russian joke. Just because a strategy works as a numbers game doesn’t mean it gets at anything true about human nature. Some cross-sex friendships are more platonic, others less so. Some people are more manipulative, others less so. And so, boringly, on. The real harsh reality is that reality isn’t always harsh.