There is an age old question that many disagree about: Can boys and girls, men and women, actually be just friends? This is not an easy question to answer. There is much disagreement and debate over this very question. Research has even been done on the matter, but of course with conflicting results.
There is some research demonstrating that there are benefits to having friendships across the genders. Perhaps we get something different from an opposite-sex friendship as a same-sex friendship. We might explore and discuss different issues, ideas, and interests, and we might actually benefit from this. But, there is other research showing that really we are biologically programmed to always be seeking a mate in order to reproduce, and therefore cannot truly be friends with any potential mate without complications.
There are many things to consider as to whether you can or cannot be friends with someone of the opposite sex.
- Defining the friendship. Do you both want the same things from this friendship? Are you in agreement that it is a totally platonic friendship? What if one person wants something more than friendship but is just settling for or going along with the friendship in hopes that it evolves into something more?
- Power and control. Friendships are supposed to be based on equality. No one person should yield more power in a friendship than the other. However, if one person wants more than just a friendship, then the other person actually holds all of the power and control. The one with desire will always be trying to convince the other, even in subtle ways, to take the friendship further. This is extremely unhealthy.
- Is your friend attractive to you in any way? Teenagers have a lot of sexual energy and desires, and if your friend is attractive to you in any way, this can cause problems in the friendship. For example, if you feel the need to always spend a lot of time preparing to see one another in order to look your best, this might be a sign that there is an attraction there. True friends can hang out in their pajamas with messy hair and no make-up. Girls do this all the time with other girls. Would you do that with your male friend?
- Platonic friendships do not involve sex. But we’ve all heard of ‘friends with benefits’, and it happens all the time. Is this something you two want? And if so, are you really okay just having casual sex with your friend or are you really seeking a legitimate relationship? How is having sex with a friend even different from being in a relationship? These are things you ought to be asking.
- Location/Setting. Where do you hang out? At someone’s house when their parents are not home? In their bedroom or on their bed? Do you meet alone or always with other people? Always in private or usually in public? This matters. Certain settings are more likely to be considered romantically dangerous than others. Teens have been known to not always think things through and to hook up with a friend. Are you sending mixed messages to your friend about your intentions? Even if it ‘just happened’ accidentally, this can cause problems.
- If you have or hope to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, how might they feel about this friendship? Do they think your friend might be interested in more than you might be? Is your friend quite attractive, making in hard for your partner to believe there is nothing more going on here? People often struggle with trust, even under the best of circumstances. This only makes it harder.
- This can go both ways. Are you jealous that she has a boyfriend or when she is telling you about a date? Are you comfortable telling each other about whom you are dating or even your sex life? True friends often discuss these things, so if you’re uncomfortable with this subject around your friend, maybe this means something.
It is possible for boys and girls to be just friends, but as you can see, it can also be quite complicated. It is important for you to understand all of the above, so you can really assess what it is that you want and what is really going on. Most importantly, all friendships ought to be based on mutual caring and respect. Friendships are supposed to be healthy and make us feel good. If yours isn’t, then it might be time to ask yourself what is happening.