There have been many times when I have been presented with this question, or have been in a situation where I have to ask the question of myself. Is it really possible for men and women to be friends. The simple answer is yes. The problem is that we don’t live in a simple world, and inevitably, there is a possibility for it to cause complication.
In my experience, over 38 years of living, I have realized in my life that there is a basic desire to connect with someone emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and of course, physically. Notice that I place physically at the end, as it is the least important, albeit very important. None of these things are considered unimportant, but some are much more important to me than others.
As I have discovered, men who have not yet come to terms with their emotions, who have not yet learned how to process their emotions in a healthy way, tend more often than not to have trouble talking about those emotions with other men. After all, if I have come to terms with how I feel, and I process my emotions in a healthy way, which can include very deep and intimate conversation between myself and another man, yet I am speaking to someone who has not learned these skills, it will be very difficult to expect that person to be able to offer any support. Most men don’t learn that skill due to our culture. It’s sad. Some would say that emotionally, those men are still boys. I would agree. I was a boy once and I remember what it was like to be unable to process my emotions in a healthy manner. Oh, and there is a healthy manner by which emotions can be processed. Throwing something through a wall, such as your fist, is not a healthy response to anger. The evidence is in the destruction of something. Processing emotions in a healthy manner should not involve destruction.
So, in a culture where more and more men are being raised without the skills to express emotions in a healthy way to each other, it only makes sense that they simply don’t do it. As a result, male bonding appears on the surface to be unaccompanied by emotional connection, even though that emotional connection is a very real desire.
So what is a man who needs an emotional outlet to do when he has nobody to connect with?
Enter the male/female friendship. Very much a reality, but with boundaries that are colored with eventual tension, simply because of our biology. Not every man wants to have sex with every woman, and not every woman wants to feed off of the emotional connection they have with a man. In fact, men, while we are wired to be more responsive to visual stimuli than audible stimuli, deeply desire an emotional connection, and since we have a hard time doing that with other men, it makes sense to turn to a woman. Women are naturally better at processing emotions. After all, women face a completely different world of emotional growth, being very open with one another about how they feel. Guys, the ladies practice this stuff their entire lives. They get it.
So is it healthy for a man and a woman to carry on a friendship one on one? Simple answer? Of course. But there are certain relationship dynamics that enter into the equation that can turn that simple answer into a very complicated answer.
We’ve established that the core of the male/female friendship is built upon common interests that aid in the development of an emotional connection. Why else would a man and a woman be friends? Why else, for that matter, would anyone have a relationship but to develop an emotional bond with that person. We’ve also established that many men aren’t particularly good at expressing themselves emotionally, but still desire that connection. We also know that women enjoy a man who is open and willing to express his emotions about common topics.
So the next question I’ll pose is this. In the context of a romantic relationship between two people, is carrying on a one-on-one relationship with someone of the opposite sex outside of that romantic relationship possible? Yes. Obviously. Is it healthy? It can be, but it can also be dangerous to the romantic relationship. Whether or not it becomes toxic to the relationship depends on many variables. For instance, is it a business relationship? Is it a casual acquaintance? Is the friend healthy? And what are their motives? Are both you and your significant other friends with this person, or is this an exclusive relationship?
In an open and honest and loving, trusting relationship, two people will share with each other everything that happens in their lives. They won’t hold out on account of “protecting” their partner from information that could be potentially toxic to the very bond that has been created in the romantic relationship. In fact, withholding could begin a long process of destructive patterns that will tear a long-developed fabric of trust. When one person develops an emotional relationship outside of a romance with someone of the opposite sex, it’s highly likely that their partner is going to experience feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and betrayal.
It takes a very unique set of boundaries between 3 people, two of which are romantically involved, for that third person to be a part of the micro community without causing problems for the romance. All 3 people need to be clear on each others boundaries and expectations. A married man who meets with an unmarried or married woman outside of the home is likely to be at risk of developing an emotional bond with that woman that will damage his marriage, and potentially her marriage if she’s not single. This is not rocket science. It’s romance.
Exclusivity with someone of the opposite sex, in any way, shape or form, can be easily interpreted as potential romance. If it’s not going to be romance, many times one of the two will know this, and the other will not, and someone gets hurt. Male/Female friendships that have no potential for romance are more scarce than those that do, which makes this a very delicate topic that needs to be discussed in a very productive and healthy, respectful way.
If I am in a romantic relationship, I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to accept an invitation from a woman to meet one on one unless it is to serve a purpose outside of developing a personal bond with that woman. I want my spouse to know what’s going on in my life. I don’t want to keep secrets from her, and I want her to feel like she is a priority to me, second to God. If I divert my focus, or give the appearance that my focus is diverted away from her, then I may run the risk of hurting her deeply.
In a mentoring situation, I don’t have a problem until it becomes a problem. When it does become a problem, it’s time to put on the brakes, re-evaluate the purpose of the relationship, consider how it may affect the one you love, and make the right decision no matter how hard it would be. Protect your home (meaning, your heart and your significant other’s heart) at all costs, from toxicity through the interaction between you and someone of the opposite sex. Make sure you’re both on the same page, and discuss openly the way you feel without pointing your finger at the other, or playing the blame game. These are not healthy ways to communicate. When your partner expresses how he or she feels, let them feel. Don’t assume you know why they feel the way they do. After all, they are the one experiencing the emotion. Don’t interrupt them and don’t presume to know what they’re thinking or feeling. Learn to listen. If they aren’t good at expressing their feelings in a healthy way, then it might be time to seek outside counsel to learn more productive ways to respond, or perhaps it’s time to recognize that the person with isn’t healthy at all. If you discover this, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate yourself to determine why you would be attracted to them in the first place.
I don’t believe that Harry was right about relationships when he told Sally that all male/female friendships end up sexual. I think it’s very likely that it could reach that point, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to have male friends, I don’t have a problem with it. If you want to keep that friendship compartmentalized and not include me, I’m not okay with it, as I would expect from you the very respect that I give you.
To sum up my thoughts:
A friendship with the opposite sex can become the solvent to the glue that holds a romantic relationship together. Be very careful with the heart of the one you love, and don’t let someone else drive a wedge between you and that person.