Can men and women be ‘just friends’?

when-harry-met-sallyA few years ago, I went to the wedding of a good friend – a good guy friend – and somewhere between the exchange of rings and that first slice of cake realized the family and friends of the bride were giving me the stink eye. 

Why?  Apparently because I didn’t have the good sense to realize I was having an affair with the groom. News to me, of course, since we were strictly buddies (I often referred to him as the “little brother I never wanted”). But to anyone familiar with the movie When Harry Met Sally – which apparently included the entire bridal party — we weren’t friends at all, because men and women can’t be friends, the sex always gets in the way.

The old opposite sex friends thing is a long-standing dilemma and has made for many such scenes and stories. I was even interviewed about it recently by freelance writer Mark Amundsen for an article that just went live on  And I’ve written about the topic myself for

Personally, I’ve always felt that you can be “just friends” with a guy and have a raft of sex-free straight friendships to prove it.  Of course, I’ve also had a handful of friendships with men where there was some kind of spark, a spark that was sometimes allowed to flare up. And other times, tamped back down (because of boyfriends, girlfriends, or because having sex with a friend is just “Ewwww,” as one source puts it). 

But it’s not always about sex.  The real issue with opposite sex friendships – or any friendship, for that matter – is intimacy. I know now that that was what was really bothering the bride and her posse all those years ago. I wasn’t in bed with the groom but I was in sync with him. There was a closeness between us and that closeness was threatening, something that finally hit home when the bride icily handed me a piece of wedding cake (I felt like she’d frosted it with her gaze). Not surprisingly, she served up an ultimatum about the friendship to her husband shortly thereafter.

So what do you think? Have you had opposite sex friendships that stayed spark-free? Or is there always something brewing in the background? And what about the other relationships that come into play – the girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, the confused family members and friends who don’t quite get it (“So you’re not dating, you’re just spending all of your time with him or her?”) Have your sex-free friendships come under fire by a romantic partner? Have you ever had to give them up?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.  After all that talk of cake, baked goods gladly accepted, as well.


9 Responses to “Can men and women be ‘just friends’?”

  1. 1 Judy November 9, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve had lots of guy friends and I’ve found that they tend to vanish into the ether as soon as they get into a serious relationship. I don’t know if this is because the woman is threatened (though I’m not very threatening and am always very conscientious about being extra nice and warm towards the girl) or because once men get in relationships they get lazy about making plans. I know my boyfriend doesn’t see hardly any of his friends (male or female) anymore and that’s not because of me—I see my friends all the time and we spend plenty of time apart.

    I will be fedexing you some cookies shortly.

  2. 2 amandacastleman November 9, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    My fella’s comfort zone: “just don’t be more intimate with a buddy than you’d be with me. It’s not sexual jealousy. I just want to be the person closest to you. If I’m not, we have a problem to talk about independent of crushes, friends, business partners, whatever.”

    Course, some issues are best tackled with cousins or colleagues or childhood comrades… But on the whole, I find this benchmark pretty happy and healthy. As long as our compasses swing back to each other – magnetic north – who cares about the occasional tug of an iron-rich erratic boulder?

    • 3 steven bullock January 19, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      I also believe women and men can be just friends. As a man, most of my friends are females and my two best friends are females. Usually it has a lot to do with up bringing and culture. I am from Florida and that is very common to see guys and gals as friends without there being any question about it. Here in Seattle though, I have almost seen it as a crime to be hanging out with another mans woman and there has been some tension because of it. As for intimacy, I have never crossed the line, but usually at the beginning of any friendship with the opposite sex there is some kind of attraction wether its physical or emotional. I guess it comes down to each other having a healthy self-esteem, trusting partner, and respect!

    • 4 Barbara April 12, 2010 at 1:37 am

      I can’t relate to that at all. Then again, I’m one of those people that’s never had a “best friend.” Every relationship – including the romantic ones – seems unique and intimate in different ways. Also, how does a person even tell if another person is “closer” to someone than he is? Behaviors? If so, what behaviors? Just a “feeling” – seems ripe for misunderstanding.

  3. 5 Singlutionary November 10, 2009 at 9:58 am

    I have lost a best male friend because of a similar situation. Which is why I am reluctant to become close friends with men. I think this all has to do a little bit with our culture where romantic relationship is put on this high pedestal but really everyone is just afraid of falling off of it. I have had my friends husbands be jealous of my friendship with my friend. They hate that there are things that my friend and I talk about that they don’t share as a couple. If that can happen when sexual attraction isn’t possibly involved, imagine the jealousy when people think that there is sexual attraction.

    I think that it is a person who is insecure in themselves and in their relationship that freaks out about their partner being close with other people.

  4. 6 Single in Seattle November 10, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Absolutely, men and women can be just friends. I have had many men friends. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t those relationships that have that constant nagging background attraction, which is something else entirely. Those I would not call friendships, but long-term flirting.

  5. 7 Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles November 12, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I’ve tackled this topic, too, but just on my humble blog! Or maybe on, as well. Can’t remember. No matter. In any case, I think there are a few circumstances in which men and women can successfully be friends. To sum up, those are:

    1. When neither is attracted to the other. At all. Period.
    2. When there’s only a minimal attraction, and they both have even stronger reasons to not want to get involved (like the fear of losing the friendship, an awareness of fundamental incompatibility, etc.).
    3. When they’re exes but have both truly moved on and have no regrets about ending their relationship.

    I think pure friendship is possible in all the above scenarios, but the thing is…I think those scenarios are fairly rare. It seems more common for unresolved attraction to be present on one side or both, in which case it’s next to impossible not to either explore it or get hurt and frustrated to the point that someone withdraws.

    But, in the right circumstances, I do think it’s possible to be “just friends,” and it’s something I’ve done successfully under those conditions. However, like Judy said, my experience has been that a lot of men only seem to have so much room in their lives for female companionship, and once a girlfriend or wife enters the picture, they don’t need it from other sources.

    What happened to you, though, is really disturbing on multiple levels! It’s disturbing that your friend’s wife couldn’t tolerate the idea that her husband might be close to anyone but her, it’s disturbing that she then “laid down the law” to keep a tight fist on his social contacts, and it’s disturbing that your friend acquiesced (or did he?)! I would’ve been very hurt and probably offended if someone did that to me. It amazes me how entitled significant others feel to swoop in and boot out long-standing friendships that existed before the bride even knew the groom did!

  6. 8 singleandalmost30 December 7, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for your post! I have lost two really close male friends over the years because of this same thing and I have to tell you that it really hurts!!

    I knew there was nothing going on in both cases; we were just friends…friends who liked to talk on the phone or hangout and watch the game every once and awhile.

    I knew about the girlfriends in both cases and was fine with them; but evidently, they were not fine with me. Long story short…I don’t speak with either of those guys now…but I still long for that type of friendship with the opposite sex.

    However, I’m no longer looking…I’ve learned my lesson and now get that type of male companionship in the form of my gay male friends!!

  7. 9 kim February 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I have run up against this many times, mainly with my male Texas friends from college some *30 years ago* (most have been married many, many times). I would call to catch up with *friends* and get the cold-shoulder from the *wife-of-the-moment*, although I would always be very friendly with them, addressing Christmas cards, etc, to them as well. The last time, I could tell one particular friend was getting a ration of crap from his wife and decided not put them in that situation again. Or feel the hurt and humiliation that it brought to my innocent phone call. But honestly, I am married, their same age and wouldn’t have any interest with them because frankly, I have known them since college … I saw them at their worst and really didn’t want them as a spouse then (why would I want the now?) But when discussing this dilemma with a mutual married Texas couple that I also attended college with and brought up the idea that the wife was a little miffed that I had called … was told that “that seemed reasonable, he WAS married to that woman”. Okay, right then, I decided I enough was enough of that small-mindedness and stopped most phones calls to old college friends. If they ever want to talk to me, they can call here where if my husband answers the phone, will not be so rude.

    My husband has female friends. I want him to have female friends. I have male friends in Seattle and my husband has never made an issue of it. I don’t plan on having affairs, frankly, working full-time, being a mom of a teenage son, cleaning house, gardening, keeping up with bills, trying to do my own art on weekends … really, who has time for such luxuries. And that is what I thought when someone asked me if they thought my husband would have an affair. My response … “if he FOUND THE TIME IN OUR BUSY lives to have an affair, that would make me angrier than the affair itself.” 😉

    Yes singleandalmost30 … gay male friends are ultimately better, more loyal friends anyway. And you can have a good friendship with their partner.

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What’s the story?

Meet Diane Mapes, your friendly neighborhood freelance writer. My beats include health (with an emphasis on cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship) and lifestyle and singles issues, but I also love writing about history, natural history, pop culture and TV/film. On this site, you'll find links to stories, praise for my writing (*blush*) and the odd bit of social commentary about the single life. Also here, a few shameless plugs for my books (hint: see links below). Have fun, glad you're here and hope to hear from you soon.

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