There is a most iconic phrase from a most iconic romantic comedy that has oft been paraphrased, cited, and employed over the decades. It’s a defense mechanism and maybe a hopeful wish, something so simple yet complex, though not necessarily right or wrong.
It goes something like this: ‘men and women can’t be friends without the sex getting in the way.’ That’s what the titular male character relays to the female in When Harry Met Sally. The film is a paragon of the genre, the first and still the greatest, and that phrase is true—at least in the context of the film.
Of course relationships are far more nuanced than that, right? Well, yes, and no. Sex is part of our lives, and can and does indeed complicate relationships, but that doesn’t mean men and women can’t actually be friends.
It can be hard beginning such a relationship, especially when you’re not brought together by a mutual convenience, be it a shared friend or job. What can be simultaneously the hardest and funniest part of the process is the first act, that of ‘hanging out’ or ‘meeting up.’ Ambiguity and uncertainty are sure to cause problems, and there is no easier way to fix it than be up front. Point out that it isn’t a date, and set your expectations accordingly. As the friendship advances too, don’t pretend that attraction and the possibility of sex doesn’t exist. It may or may not become a part of the friendship, but that’s not the point. If Harry posits sex gets in the way, point it out to take it down. Being honest, even awkwardly so, strengthens any relationship.
Comfort is Not Romance
As we stated, relationships tend to blossom from that which is convenient. When spending time with someone so often, it’s easy to find and embrace romantic feelings, in part because they are not being forced. This can be a trap of a platonic friendship. Comfort is easily misinterpreted as romance—which is not to say that sex will ruin anything, but sex is not the same as romantic love either. We all have moments of vulnerability, and when perhaps feeling lonely or sad, it’s easy to want to rid those negative feelings with something positive and hopeful, even if those feelings aren’t genuine. So be aware, hyper aware even, and realize that moments of weakness and familiarity aren’t the same as love.
Don’t Pretend She’s Not a Woman
Do not treat her as ‘one of the guys.’ That is to say, don’t feign as if she is just like a long-standing male friend just because there is nothing sexual between the two of you. Too often it’s easy to think the opposite of a sexual relationship with a woman is simply the same as a homosocial one with a man. Be aware of what the words you use and they way you speak about other women—maybe your friend doesn’t particularly favour certain words beginning with the letters ‘b’ or ‘c.’ And if you’re going to talk about your bodily functions, be ready to hear about hers—that’s friendship.
Understand Different Perspectives
On a similar thread, don’t deny the fact that chances are that you two experience the same things differently. By now we should have all heard or at least seen the video of the woman walking around New York City getting heckled and hollered at. It doesn’t happen to men, not like that. In certain life arenas, women are treated differently (often for worse), and within a friendship, the different life experiences, the privilege a man might receive without ever realizing it, must be acknowledged.
This is where sympathy comes into play. Listen, actually listen. Every friendship has its own various ways of dealing with problems. Men tend to want to solve them immediately, as that seems to be the way for them to get passed a snag. Women (again, generally) often don’t necessarily want someone to solve the problem for them right away, but someone to listen. Sympathy is a powerful ability and one often lacking from the male half of the relationship. Sometimes the solution is known and the problem will be taken care of, but first, grievances need to be aired.
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. You can follow him on Twitter @MrAnthonyWrites.