just friends

I hate the movie "When Harry Met Sally," but I love the quote.

“What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” — Harry, When Harry Met Sally

Yep, one of those “questions for the ages” — can men and women be non-sexual friends?  There are a few different sides, although one camp will tell you that they can never, ever, evereverever be friends, because there will always be some sort of sexual tension on one side of the equation.  Another camp will tell you that there’s never any sexual tension between friends.  Both camps are (obviously) incorrect — as it is with every other “hard question,” there’s no perfect, clean answer.

Those who reside in the first camp — the When Harry Met Sally camp — are wrong to think that just because sexual tension exists means a friendship cannot also exist.  Here’s a little secret: throughout your life, you will meet, work with, see, interact with, etc. many people toward whom you will feel some sort of sexual attraction (or who will feel some sort of sexual attraction to you).  If you nixed every type of relationship — be it friendship, colleague-ship, acquaintance-ship, etc. — every time you felt any sexual tension, you’d be a pretty lonely person.  The bottom line is: it’s going to happen, so learn to deal with it.

As for those who reside in the second camp, well, my previous paragraph should have answered the question of “why are they wrong?”

The reason I’m bringing this topic up is because marriage is one of the best times to have opposite-sex friendships — because being friends with someone of the opposite sex works the best if both parties are in relationships.

I have several close guy friends — in fact, most of my friends are guys (that’s a combination of many factors, not least of which is because I work in a very male-dominated industry).  Is there any sexual tension there?  Well, when it comes to my closest guy friends, I want to say no.  Not because I’m delusional, just because we’re all in really great relationships and so we leave the sexual tension for that.  But if you get right down to it, do I think my closest guy friends are hot?  Do they think I’m hot?

Yes, and yes.  No question.  A couple of them are even my ex’s.  But does that mean anything?  No, not at all.

Might it mean something in some crazy alternate world in which we were both single?  Maybe, but quite frankly we have better things to talk about.

Of course, just because it doesn’t mean anything to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean anything to your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever, especially if one of your close friends happens to be an ex.

So, a couple of tips on how to allay the fears of your jealous partner, based on my own expertise:

Don’t Lie – Should be pretty obvious.  I’m not saying you should never ever lie to your spouse — because, honestly, nobody is going to be able to keep that promise (sorry, but it’s true), I’m just saying you shouldn’t lie about your friends, your conversations with your friends, or when you go meet your friends.  The only real exception to this is if you’re lying to protect them — but even then, it’s sketchy.

Let me explain: a girl friend of mine (K.), who has a boyfriend, recently received communication from an ex who is also a friend.  The ex was reliving some of the good times in the message (voice-mail), so K. deleted the message and told her boyfriend about the communication, but not the exact nature of the message.  Basically, her current boyfriend would not have benefited in any way from knowing what her ex-boyfriend had said, and K. didn’t follow up (with the ex), so what her ex had said pretty much didn’t matter.  Of course, as I said before, this is still slightly sketchy and it’s likely that your significant other would still rather know what went down.

Have Everybody Meet – If you’re really close friends with someone, then why hasn’t your significant other met them?  Barring incredible distance/time barriers, there are no excuses.  Not only will having everyone meet help allay any misplaced fears your love may have (once he sees you interact with your friends…as just friends), but it will bring the two of you closer — next time you say “Nate is so crazy,” he’ll be able to say, “Yeah, I can see that,” instead of “Who’s Nate, again?”

Don’t Be a Bitch – If your boyfriend or husband is asking why you’re always talking to/about Max, it’s not because he’s a hater who doesn’t trust you.  It’s because he doesn’t know enough about Max (like the fact that Max is gay) and because he loves you and doesn’t want to lose you (to Max, even though Max is totally gay).  So while you may feel defensive and hurt that he doesn’t trust you, the answer is not to jump all over him.  Remember, even if you love Max to death and Max is your best childhood friend from when you were 2, you (presumably) care about your husband and your relationship with your husband more than you care about Max (if you don’t, then perhaps it’s time to rethink the marriage).  Of course, if you never, ever talk to Max and the only Max you have in your phone is Max’s Diner, then, yeah, he’s the one who needs to turn down the jealousy dial.

Make Your Relationship the Priority – Here’s another story for you: another girl friend of mine (L.), with a boyfriend and an ex-boyfriend.  Early in the relationship, L. texted her ex-boyfriend a lot, and even met up with him a couple of times (though she didn’t cheat, as far as I know).  Her boyfriend…not so down with that.  After a few months of this, he explained himself and politely asked her to stop the frequent texting.  She called me and asked what she should do — after all, this ex was her friend, though she could understand why it was making her current guy uncomfortable.  Ultimately, she stopped.  Not because he issued an ultimatum — he just asked — but because she loved the guy she was with, and if it was that important to him that she stop talking to the other guy, well, it was a small price to pay.

“Making your relationship the priority” doesn’t only apply to ex’s, either — if you have a friend with whom you talk about all sorts of personal and (arguably) “relationshippy” type things, make sure you’re not doing this instead of talking to your actual partner about these things.  In other words, if you’re always talking to your guy friends about video games and sports because your husband hates video games and sports, fine — but if you’re always asking your guy friends for life advice, make sure you’re not asking them instead of your husband (although you can ask them in addition to your husband…but it’s still a little weird).

Set Boundaries – What?  Your buddy is texting you naked photos of his dick?  Put the kibosh on that right quick or reap the consequences.  If a friend crosses the line then it’s up to you to set the boundaries, because past the first picture/sexy message “but he just kept sending me stuff” isn’t going to cut it.  Yeah, that means tell him off, block his number, change your number, etc.  Seriously.  If you don’t set boundaries, then your husband has every right to get pissed.

At the end of the day, can men and women be “just friends”?  Absolutely.  But if you’re in a relationship, remember who you’re in a relationship with.  I have a lot of guy friends, many of whom I have been very close with for many years.  But if my husband was uncomfortable with one of my friendships, even if nothing was going on?  Then yes, I would be prepared to set my pride aside if it came to that.