Opposite-sex friendships got big attention in the 1989 Nora Ephron romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally,” one of my all-time favorite movies about a divorced man and a woman (played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) who develop a meaningful platonic friendship and struggle with attraction and whether or not they should make the transition to a romantic relationship.
“A man can never be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her,” says Harry in the movie. Sally responds, “So, you’re saying men and women can be friends if he doesn’t find her attractive.” Says Harry, “No, you pretty much want to nail them, too!” He then goes on to say, “Men and women can never really be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
I think “When Harry Met Sally” shaped the way people thought (and still think) about being friends with someone of the opposite sex. I think it taught men and women about the importance of being best friends with and really, really liking and trusting someone you fall in love with. But, it also gave people hope (and maybe false hope, in some cases) that opposite-sex friendships can easily turn into love.
Movies like “Friends with Benefits,” “No Strings Attached,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” all have storylines in which platonic friends become lovers. There are also countless TV shows that tease friendships for seasons and then the friendships turn romantic. Examples include, “Mindy Project,” “Friends,” and “The Office.” So, maybe these movies and shows give us hope and expectations.
Each opposite-sex friendship is unique, as are all friendships, regardless of gender.
Let’s take an honest look at opposite-sex friendships.
I’ll start by saying that I have always had opposite-sex friendships—even when I was married. I never cheated, and I never had any ulterior motives to being friends with these guys—at least on a conscious level.
My ex-husband, my old boyfriend and my current boyfriend never had issues (that I’m aware of) with me having friends of the opposite sex. But I think that’s because these guys were and are genuine friends. What I mean by that is, it was always very clear that the friendships were platonic.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think there are certain opposite-sex friendships that are inappropriate, and that can negatively affect a couple.
For example, how would you feel if your spouse suddenly developed an opposite-sex friendship, let’s say with a woman from work or someone he recently reconnected with on Facebook? All of a sudden he’s getting texts from her all the time and you say, “Honey, are you cheating on me?” with a sort of nervous chuckle, and he says, “No, I just feel so bad for her. She’s going through a divorce.”
Now you have to wonder, is he innocently trying to help this woman? Or, is there an attraction here? Maybe he doesn’t even know and now he’s confused. Now there’s a breakdown in trust in the marriage. Now you want to see a picture of the woman. You’re thinking, maybe the friendship started because he is feeling some sort of void in your relationship.
When it comes to opposite-sex friendships, here are some things to think about:
1. In my opinion, high school friends of the opposite sex are probably safe.
Personally speaking, I have a group of high school guy friends who I adore. All are married and none of the wives have issues that we all keep in touch.
2. What if you dated someone (even a long time ago) and now you are platonic friends?
Is it OK to meet that person for a drink? Here’s what I think. If you do this, you should be upfront with your spouse and actually even invite him or her. If he/she has a problem with it then you need to talk about it and maybe even respect the fact that they don’t want you to see this person.
Ask yourself if it’s worth it—risking the trust factor in your relationship to see an old flame. Then again, maybe you have an issue with your spouse being insecure about it because in your mind, there is clearly no threat.
The best thing to do is to dig deep into your heart and be honest with yourself about why you feel the need to see the ex. Are you looking for closure? If so, tell your spouse that. Do you genuinely want to be platonic friends with the person? Or, are you unfulfilled in your current relationship, maybe bored and/or lonely and curious to see how you will feel around your ex?
3. Facebook can be the devil.
I think Facebook has caused countless breakups and divorces as it is such a temptation to look up old flames and friends of friends, etc. Reconnecting with someone on Facebook is wonderful…if you are single. Reconnecting on Facebook with someone of the opposite sex when you are married or in a committed relationship can easily turn into emotional cheating.
4. Texting conversations with an opposite-sex friend can be very very rude and disrespectful to your spouse.
How would you feel if your spouse was texting and giggling and engaged in a text conversation and you found out it was a friend who was a woman?
5. Like in “When Harry Met Sally,” I do believe that the best relationships start with friendships.
My current relationship started platonically (for years we were friends). So, when we went on our first date, which was about 7 years after we met, there was a comfort level there that was wonderful. We already had trust, respect, and likability going into it. Being friends with someone first is like taking things REALLY slowly, which is great!
6. Be honest with yourself as to your motives in an opposite-sex friendship.
What really is the purpose of the relationship? Do you view him in the same way you view one of your girlfriends? Or do you secretly want to rip his clothes off? Big difference. But, it’s only an issue if you’re in a relationship. In other words, if you are single, it’s OK not to know and let the friendship take its course and reveal in time what it truly is. But if you are committed to someone else, you have to wonder why you are nurturing a new friendship. Is there something missing in your relationship? Are you unfulfilled?
I absolutely love my opposite-sex friendships. Being friends with a guy is just so different from girlfriends. You get to hear a different perspective from a male friend, and it’s refreshing to have conversations you probably wouldn’t have with your girlfriends.
The bottom line is, a friend is a friend, regardless of gender, and each friendship is unique with different reasons behind why you are friends with someone. But if you find you have deeper feelings for your “friend,” it might boil down to the fact that you need to look at your own relationship and examine why this is happening.
In other words, before the “friend” turns into an affair, step back and take a good look at your spouse and the relationship you have. Ask yourself if you’d rather your wife/husband be that “friend” instead, and if so, that’s a really good conversation starter.
Also, if you have a friend of the opposite sex that doesn’t really include your spouse, you are most likely hurting your spouse and you could be borderline cheating/having an emotional affair. Even if your spouse doesn’t verbalize it, trust me, you having a friend is an issue and it is hurting that person.
Lastly, if your spouse is the one who has this new opposite-sex friend and you are the one who feels insecure or hurt, the best thing you can do is to talk to your spouse. Be honest. It’s OK to be vulnerable. Talk to him or her about your feelings. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You will know immediately from his or her response what the truth about “the friend” really is. And, if he/she chooses “the friend,” then at least you have the truth. Or, maybe your spouse will say, “I’m glad you care,” and you can build from there.
Like this article? Check out, “12 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Getting Divorced”