Can men and women be friends?

When I was fourteen or fifteen, my father told me at breakfast one Saturday morning:

“Men and women can’t be friends. That’s just the way it is.”

I don’t remember what prompted this black-and-white statement, but I DO remember getting angry.

“Catherine, one will always want more than the other,” he went on, his voice softening a little.

I probably said “I’ll show you!”, or something else really mature, and proceeded to call one of my guy friends to play hacky sack or get pizza.

Since then, I’ve been pretty determined that my father was wrong. I’ve had a number of friendships with guys, and even though only a few have rivaled my female friendships in terms of emotional intimacy, these men have been just as dear to me. Friendships with guys look different, but, I thought, that’s just because we do different things together. Only on very rare occasions do we talk about our feelings – most of the time we play wiffle ball, touch football, a raucous game of foosball, or drink a beer by a bonfire.

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I’ve watched my guy friends date, new girlfriends circulating in and out, me trying to keep my distance long enough to determine if this one’s gonna stick. Weddings are coming up, the girlfriends (now fiancees) are just as dear to me as their guys, and I’m so excited to be part of their lives.

But my father’s words keep echoing in my mind.Β Men and women can’t be friends.Β There’s still something about this that doesn’t feel quite right. A little part of me wonders:Β Am I missing out on a beautiful, romantic love because I’m investing too much in my platonic relationships? Am I giving too much emotionally without expecting more?

Should I really stifle one kind of love in hopes of finding another kind? That doesn’t seem right, either. Friendship love, according to C. S. Lewis, is often even stronger than that of the romantic persuasion. To say otherwise would undermine all the female friendships I’ve enjoyed and grown from for so many years.

I don’t feel like I’m any closer to an answer. Most of my guy friends will never read this, and if some do, they’ll probably be the ones who’ll understand. Maybe these friendships will truly be able to transcend whatever silliness goes along with most male-female friendships, and this caring will teach me how to better care for someone down the road.

That’s what I hope, at least. Or, to quote my father again (he’s getting a lot of airtime these days):

“Maybe you’re over-thinking it.”

6 thoughts on “Can men and women be friends?

  1. Jen Conant

    Oy, this subject! πŸ™‚ Something I have thought on many a time. And have much grappling with, as I’m sure you know. At this point in my life, I do believe there can be true, honest, no otherwise-intending friendship between sexes, but it is a careful, intentional line, and one that often takes much much longer to develop than I ever thought it would need. I agree with you about the differences between guy and girl friendships…but they are no less precious, even if less soul-bearing much of the time.

    The thing I found interesting (in my experience, anyway) is that I thought it would be simpler and easier once being married…but that is not necessarily the case. Ah well. Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough! Thanks for the post!

    Reply
    1. Catherine Post author

      Yeah, I think I agree. They’re possible, but maybe harder to navigate than I originally thought. And definitely yes to “equally precious”! I just talked to a new friend today about this topic, and it helped a lot to hear a fresh perspective.

      Looking forward to the day when things like this don’t seem so pressing! Onward-ho! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. tobeladymara

    I think it depends largely on what you mean and expect by ‘friends.’ And regardless, friendship between guys and girls tends to look different than, say, girls and girls. As you mention, emotions are generally not as evident or talked about or important in your friendships with guys.

    And it also depends on what else is going on in your life. From my various conversations with people, it sounds like once you’re married and have kids, it changes the face of all your friendships, and especially those with the other gender.

    The thing that stuck with me from Lewis is the idea that friends are friends because they have something in common, and they can pursue it together. You have different friends for different reasons, and share different parts of your self and your life with them. And that’s good. You’re not missing out on romantic love because of your friendships. They are good, and they teach you how to care for other people.

    You might be over-thinking it. And maybe still invested in proving your dad wrong? Just keep being yourself, and sharing your life with people, and being wise with your boundaries, and you’ll be fine. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Catherine Post author

      Ah, you’ve hit the nail on the head: “wise with your boundaries.” I hate that word ‘boundaries’ and at the same time, I’m realizing how important they are. Bummer.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m pretty much done trying to prove my dad wrong – it never goes well πŸ™‚

      Reply
    1. catherine_hawkins Post author

      You were definitely on my mind when I wrote this, dear Hannah πŸ™‚ So looking forward to celebrating you!

      Reply

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