A woman and a man walk into a restaurant. They eat a pretty decent meal and sling back a few drinks, all the while indulging in pleasant conversation that’s perfectly blended with just the right amount of seriousness and sassiness. The bill is paid (they go Dutch) and they make their way outside. On the sidewalk, another private joke is exchanged between the couple before . . . they go their separate ways.
So what happened? A bad date? Playing it cool?
Neither. The man and woman happen to be, you know, just friends.
Yeah, I know that a god awful movie with the same name starred Ryan Reynolds and it was really about how—despite its title—a man and a woman cannot just be friends. The forgettable flick was just another in the long line of Hollywood movies that seemingly attempt to explore the reality of having a hetero-friendship, but which ultimately all end with the two “friends” banging, throwing platonic—and panties—out the proverbial window. We can probably blame When Harry Met Sally . . . and the infamous “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way” quote for this so-called truism.
But as a woman who’s been “one of the guys” throughout her entire life, beginning with being raised as the only girl in a family of five boy cousins, I can confidently assure you that it is indeed possible for a man and a woman to be “just friends.” You just have to know how to do it right.
Respect the Fact That She Has a Vagina
A little while ago, I took a yearlong comedy sketch program with seven dudes and only one other female. As you can imagine, there were a lot of dick jokes, fart jokes, and butt jokes being thrown around in our writers’ room, week after week. That stuff didn’t bother me at all. It’s funny shit. What did bother me were the sketches being delivered from the guys on a regular basis that featured women in submissive and, rather insulting, roles (think “secretary” and “slutbag”). I was disappointed that these guys—guys who I liked and respected and who I believed liked and respected me—would go home, sit in front of their MacBook and write their female character as “maid” rather than “medical doctor”. So I said something. The next week, I was pleasantly surprised to find that female cops, female lawyers and even a female Prime Minister, had “popped up” in their scripts. The truth of the matter was, they just never really noticed what they had been doing before I called them out on it.
FYI, guys: sexism isn’t cool. Slut-shaming isn’t cool, either. So try to be aware of what you’re saying and doing when it comes to gender issues. I’m not suggesting you have to be a straight-up feminist in order to be friends with a woman (well, maybe a little) but your girl friend should believe you have her back no matter what, and that means you not only respect her, but her divine sisterhood, too.
Get to Know the Other Man in Her Life
Maybe your gal pal is dating a chump. It happens. And though a true friend—female or male—should point out any red flags to avert a heartbreak blitzkrieg, try to refrain from bashing the guy because, as much as it sucks to say it, she will probably side with him ‘cause love is blind, etc. On the other hand, maybe your gal pal is dating The One. Either way, she’s spending more time hanging out with this dude than you and it’s disappointing. Rather than getting all jealous and staking your territory, try to be supportive instead. Invite him out on your own to a ball game or something and get to know him without her. Who knows? You could end up liking him, which would be awesome—instant new bud! But even if you don’t, at least she’ll know that you tried, and that will make you Friend of the Year.
Or at least, she’ll buy you a beer on Saturday.
Don’t Forget About Her When You’re Getting Some
Yes, sex-on-a-regular-basis is awesome, but don’t forget your female BFF when you become a BF. Definitely introduce the two new women in your life and hopefully they’ll get along and you three can hang out as a cool triangle, or double-date if she’s seeing someone. But also ensure you still maintain some one-on-one time with your buddy as well. And if you made plans with her on Friday but all of a sudden your girlfriend is coming home from work early and wants to see you, don’t be a douche. Keep your plans. Chances are your BFF will probably realize your BF time is precious and will be accommodating, but like any relationship, taking people for granted isn’t cool.
Try to Be Cool That She Likes The Bachelor
Sure, your bud loves Die Hard as much as you do and she likes to geek out with World of Warcraft, so that makes her super cool in your books. But she also plans her Monday nights around watching the latest episode of The Bachelor and is known to rock out to Taylor Swift from time to time. You may never understand the appeal of watching helicopter dates and listening to a twiggy brat whine about boys, but try not to judge her for it. You can make fun of it, sure. Just no judging.
How to Handle It When You Get Those Fuzzy-Wuzzy Feelings
Okay, so maybe you’re actually crushing on your female friend. It’s cool. I totally fantasize about being best friends with my future husband. Some of the best couples I know have started from being “just friends”. But, please, guys, for the love of god/universe/Zuul: be straight up about your feelings!
I think this category is so huge that I need to divide it up into a few subs to break it down for you.
One: don’t date her without telling her. Seriously. This has happened to me on more occasions than I’d like to recount. One of them involved this guy named Matt who I was partnered up with in an acting class. We instantly got along like a house on fire. We joked around, shared food, watched movies—you know, friendsies. Then one night, Matt surprised me with dinner at a restaurant that I had mentioned wanting to go to months beforehand. In hindsight, this was my first big warning. After our meal—which included three courses and two bottles of very expensive wine—Matt insisted on paying the bill. This was my second big warning. Then, during our drunken stupor towards the subway, Matt asked if I wanted to go back to his place. Ruh-roh. This was when it finally dawned on me that I was on a motherfucking date and I didn’t even know it! I politely turned him down and bid him good night. I never saw Matt again. He disappeared from class and disappeared from my life. A few weeks later, he dropped off at my dorm, a hand-written birthday card, doused in cologne, along with a Kings of Leon (my favourite band at the time) CD. He wished me well and, told me despite everything that had happened (and the Axe-soaked card), that he never had any romantic feelings for me. But, “regardless”, it was “probably easier” to say good-bye. This situation just sucked. Not only did I lose an awesome friend, but I also believe that if Matt had just been straight up about his feelings from the get-go—before his clandestine attempt to wine and dine me—then we would have been able to navigate through it, maybe joke about it, avoiding embarrassment and, possibly, saving our friendship.
And so here’s the second part: if she doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, don’t be weird about it. Getting rejected is the worst. I make no bones about it. But losing a friend who really gets you and who you trust is pretty much the worst, too. For both sides. If you really have such a major jones for your friend that you absolutely cannot continue being a decent human being to her, then, yes, end the friendship (gently, humanely, respectfully, honestly). But if it’s more of an ego-thing, then, give it some time, swallow your pride and invite her over for a game of Parcheesi.
And, lastly, if your gal pal ends up being the one to confess her unrequited feelings for you, then be as cool about it as you would want her to be if the roles were reversed. Respect her, let her down gently, crack a joke. Assure her that’s nothing changed, and give her some space until (if) she’s ready to come around. And if she doesn’t, send her some good vibes and wish her well.
Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer based in Toronto, something of a humorist, and considers herself more Bridget Jones than Samantha Jones. Though she won’t reveal which parts, she will admit to liking emotionally unavailable men and drinking lots of wine. You can follow her on Twitter @briannehogan
Photo courtesy of Logan Campbell.