It wasn’t that long ago friendships between men and women were thought of as unseemly. As more women leave the role of homemaker behind to work beside their male counterparts, this separation between the sexes starts to feel really…silly.
During my formative years, I was surrounded by men. I learned to play tennis in high school by cajoling the men’s team to teach me. In college, I attended the Air Force Academy, where the ratio of men to women was 10 to 1. Then I became a chemist, joining yet another male dominated field.
There are pluses and minuses to spending so much time with the opposite sex. One thing’s for sure: relegating men to the role of boyfriend or future husband would have left me mighty lonely.
After literally hundreds of platonic relationships and far fewer romantic ones, I feel pretty qualified to say men and women can be friends. The problem is there are so few role models for these kinds of relationships, men and women often don’t know what to expect–of if they can trust themselves to keep their end of the friendship bargain.
What’s the secret to making it work? It’s probably not what you think. In my experience, here are 4 myths that might be preventing you from reaching across the chromosomes in your search for companionship.
Myth #1: You can’t be friends if you’re physically attracted to someone
You might not trust yourself with a good-looking man, but avoiding the friendship may be even worse.
I’ve always had a weakness for men with foreign accents. So when a good-looking German arrived in the lab next to mine in grad school, I thought it best to steer clear. But I found the more I kept my distance, the stronger the attraction became. My imagination was gifting him with qualities he didn’t actually have. When I finally allowed myself to chat with him, the mystery disappeared, along with the spark between us. Often, friends are a lot safer than forbidden fruit.
Myth #2: Once you feel that “spark,” it never goes away
If you spend enough enjoyable time with someone from the opposite sex, you’re bound to wonder if there might be something more lurking between the two of you. This is exactly where most women get spooked away from friendships with men. Hang in there. The truth is, most of your male friends are not well suited to be your spouse–something you may not discover if you bolt at the first sign of attraction.
For example, a co-worker and I, who very much enjoyed each other’s company and had engaged in some mild flirting, were asked to organize the company picnic. When we went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies however, we started bickering like crazy. It became clear he and I had very different approaches to life which would preclude us from ever crossing that friendship barrier and living happily ever after. While it was great having a beer together, I’m really thankful I don’t have to share a house with him.
Myth #3: Friendships only work if both are single
When you’re both single, navigating the boundaries of a friendship can get pretty tricky. In my experience, those “friendships” were much more likely to include an romantic undercurrent. If something beyond friendship didn’t develop, the friendship itself eventually petered out as well.
I made a list of all my male friends, noting our relationship status when the friendship began. In every case but one, the friendship started when at least one of us was already involved in a happy, committed relationship with someone else. This is, in my opinion, the cornerstone to healthy cross gender friendships. I’ve never seen a healthy relationship ruined by a friendship with someone of the opposite gender. But the reverse is also true–avoiding cross-gender friendships won’t prevent a bad relationship from falling apart (or even infidelity).
Of course, a little common sense and transparency go a long way towards keeping the trust with your significant other. What works with a girl friend cannot be equally applied to those of the opposite sex. I wouldn’t hesitate to have lunch with a male friend, but I probably wouldn’t schedule a dinner without my husband’s permission. And while business trips with male colleagues are inevitable in my field, I certainly would never vacation with a male friend without my family along.
Myth #4: Your male friendships will damage your relationship with your spouse
While many claim their spouse is their “best friend,” no one really expects your significant other to be your sole friend. And there’s good reason to expand your circle beyond your own gender.
As Camille Chatterjee of Psychology Today explains, friendships between men and women provide each different benefits. Men appreciate having someone they can safely share their feelings with, while women enjoy men’s more direct conversational style, without worrying if anyone’s feelings got hurt. And sometimes, you need the perspective of the other gender, just not from someone who’s emotionally invovled with you.
This is important to remember when your boyfriend or spouse suggests the only reason a guy pursues friendship is because he’s hoping to have sex. After all, is sex the only reason he starting daing you? Of course not. You don’t have to visit the bedroom to enjoy spending time in the kitchen or living room.
I’m lucky to know so many wonderful men, including a husband who understands their in my life, without seeing them as a threat. And maybe that’s because, as much as I enjoy spending time with my friends, I always come home grateful for the man who became something much, much more.
If you find yourself disagreeing with me, check out Julie’s post in which she explains why men and women just can’t be friends. It’s interesting and might resonate with you!
image: photographer padawan
Follow author Jennifer Gresham on Twitter here: @jengresham