Can Men and Women Really Be Just Friends?

“When Harry Met Sally” posed the age-old question, and seemed to answer it: No. Men and women can’t just be friends. Attraction always gets in the way. But if you’re lucky, you can fall in love with your best friend.

This popular YouTube video
posits largely the same premise – men will always want to sleep with their platonic girlfriends.

And while I don’t trust college boys to teach any life lessons in platonic friendship, even science validates their claim that men will sleep with their friends. From this Psychology Today article:

“In a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Sapadin asked more than 150 professional men and women what they liked and disliked about their cross-sex friendships. Topping women’s list of dislikes: sexual tension. Men, on the other hand, more frequently replied that sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship, and that it could even deepen a friendship. Either way, 62 percent of all subjects reported that sexual tension was present in their cross-sex friendships.”

Pretty predictable, but important for women to understand. If a guy is making an effort to hang out with you, it’s probably not just “as friends”. He’s merely accepting friendship, in lieu of dating you, because it beats the alternative. And what’s the alternative? Having no girl friends, and, therefore, no one to confide in. From the same article:

If a guy is making an effort to hang out with you, it’s probably not just “as friends”.


“Men rated cross-sex friendships as being much higher in overall quality, enjoyment and nurturance than their same-sex friendships. What they reported liking most was talking and relating to women—something they can’t do with their buddies. Meanwhile, women rated their same-sex friendships higher on all these counts. They expect more emotional rewards from friendship than men do, explained Sapadin, so they’re easily disappointed when they don’t receive them. “Women confide in women,” noted Blieszner. “Men confide in women.”

This all reinforces a principle extolled in my book, “Why He Disappeared”. Men don’t choose women because you’re taller, smarter, richer, funnier or more sophisticated. Men choose women because you listen to them, provide empathy and support and affection – none of which he really gets from his guy friends.

As for me, I do believe that men and women can be friends. Here are the ways in which I’ve made women friends:

1) I’ve hooked up with her already. Once we’ve gotten together, there’s no sexual tension. We either become boyfriend/girlfriend or lapse into regular friendship because we’re not mutually interested in each other.

While attraction itself is not a choice, acting on that attraction is.

2) I’m not remotely attracted to her. This keeps things simple. It’s easy to be friends with someone you’d never sleep with. Just keep in mind that men will sleep with women they’re barely even attracted to – especially when drunk, lonely, and horny.

3) I’m in a satisfying relationship. Now that I’m 100% taken, I can’t act on any crush or attraction, so I don’t even allow myself to go there emotionally. The problem is that you’re really not “allowed” to make new opposite-sex friends when you’re married – largely because of the perceived risk involved. It’s generally a good idea to avoid putting yourself in tempting situations, which is why I pretty much stopped making women friends once I got involved with my wife. Before that, however? I probably had a dozen friends that I’d fooled around with once or twice before. My wife has met most of them.

4) Finally, it IS possible for a man to be friends with a woman, but he has to be a very experienced, very evolved man. One who can say, “I’ve been down this road before, and it does not end well.” This is how I can be very attracted to someone, but not act on it. She may be a narcissist. She may be emotionally unstable. She may be trashy. She may be sad. While attraction itself is not a choice, acting on that attraction is. If you have maturity and self-control, you don’t act on your attractions and you can maintain platonic friendships.

Keep in mind that other variations of friends may be fraught with danger. The guy from work may have a big crush on you but can’t act on it. Your boyfriend’s best friend? Same thing. The guy you’ve known since childhood? He may be holding a torch for you for all these years.

So if you’re a woman reading this, check out those four bullet points. If the guy doesn’t fall under one of those categories, he probably secretly wants to sleep with you.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Grace Pamer

    Too true Evan.  The only ones you can really be long term friends with are the ones you’ve been out with in the past, it didn’t work out, and so you know he has no interest in that side of things.
     
    How did the salmon trousers work out for yesterday?  Turn a few heads strutting John Travolta stylee?  I love it.  I’m going to get a pair for my hubby.  Men who wear pink are statistically more successful in relationships and careers.  I reported on it a while back after reading a research paper on it.  It takes confidence and an at eased state of mind. 
     
    Best
    Grace

  2. 2
    Ruby

    Good article. I think it’s pretty accurate. I also think that men tend not to want to be friends unless there is some physical attraction present. And some men enjoy a dash of flirtation in their opposite-sex friendships. It’s safe, but fun. But sexual attraction adds a very unpredictable element to friendship. It’s much easier for me to be friends with someone I’m not that attracted to or who is already taken, then with someone I’m very attracted to, who isn’t as attracted to me.
     
    In some ways, I think that men and women would be better off romantically, if they spent more time being friends first. This, to me, is one of the biggest flaws in online dating. When you meet through a dating site, there’s a lot of pressure to have a relationship right away, but if you’re friends, the romantic aspect has a chance to build slowly as you get to know each other better. Too many people are operating on the “big bang” theory of romance.
     
    As to point number 4, if you thought someone was a “narcissist”, “unstable”, “trashy”. or “sad”, why would you want to be friends with them?

    1. 2.1
      Rebecca

      Ah, Ruby, you hit the nail on the head.  I just logged in to this site after telling a really great guy that I don’t know how to jump straight to a relationship without the slow, secure friendship first.  I think this is going to be my downfall in online dating. 
      On the other hand, maybe it’s why I’ve been able to maintain so many rich friendships with men.  Is EMK telling me that all the guys I think of as platonic friends actually want to date me?  That’s my ideal source of committed relationships anyway!  I can’t stand the idea that I must give up on friendship with half the people on the planet just because we could be attracted to each other.

  3. 3
    Amy

    Great post Evan, thank you. I just have to ask you and any guy reading about your 2nd point. That guys can really sleep with someone they’re BARELY EVEN ATTRACTED TO… is this really true? Yuck. Come on guys, please weigh in. I’ve heard this before but if I asked my guy friends about his, I think they would say that they’d have to be fairly attracted to a woman to sleep with her. Or is that wishful thinking on my part? I guess it comes from me worrying that maybe some guy in my past who I had a great time with wasn’t the least bit attracted to me….ouch!

    1. 3.1
      Jason

      I have slept with someone I wasn’t sexually attracted to, and it sucked because I knew I was dishonoring both of us. However, while in the act, I was able to connect and, on some levels, it was a legitimately pleasurable experience. It happened A couple different times when I was operating in a scarcity mindset and feeling especially lonely. But, The level of passion in the sex I’ve had with women I WAS attracted to was so obviously present, that I sometimes wonder if the women I wasn’t attracted to really WANTED to know whether I was truly attracted or not. Because, if I were them,  like to think I would have been able to tell what their level of attraction actually was, by tuning in to the energy. If you’re afraid somebody in the past might not have been legitimately attracted to you, think about the level of passion and energy between you.

  4. 4
    nathan

    I don’t really think it’s as simple as a guy hanging around you probably wants more than just friendship. There’s context to take into account. How did you meet? Where do you spend your time together? What draws you together? Are you both single? Were you both single at the time of meeting? Secondly, I get the sense this kind of research assumes cross-gender relationships at similar age backgrounds. My own friendship circle is widely diverse age-wise, and the same is true for many people I know, including members of my family. Workplace-based friendships frequently are cross generational, as are friendships amongst members of spiritual/religious communities. Obviously, big age differences don’t always negate sexual attraction, but it clearly reduces the likelihood. Thirdly, it isn’t a one way street. I’ve had more than one friendship over the years where my female friend was sexually attracted to me, and I didn’t really feel the same. I can go along with idea that men are more likely to be the “interested party” in the friendship, but I also think there’s a minority percentage of women in that role as well. Fourth, men are not a monolith. Some of us actually are capable of listening, providing support, etc. It may look a bit different from what the average women offers, but that’s different than painting men as all being “manly dudes.” And actually, I’ve met guys who are quite stereotypically manly that also are good listeners and supportive in their own ways. At the same time, I’ve known men who are more stereotypically “beta” and yet aren’t supportive at all. Go hang out in academia for a little while if you don’t believe that one. Bottom line is that I’m not convinced it’s accurate to assume that any guy who wants to “hang around” with a woman wants to also sleep with her. It seems helpful to note that sexual tension is fairly common amongst cross-gender relationships, and to use that as a cue to consider other issues, such as context.

  5. 5
    Sarah

    @Amy – They can DEFINITELY sleep with someone they aren’t attracted to even remotely, or find irritating, especially if they’ve been drinking.

  6. 6
    Girl in the Midwest

    I have a question for Evan and all others who would like to weigh in:
     
    What if I’m on the other side of that?  I.e.  I am dating a guy and most of his friends are female.  I’m ashamed to say but it makes me feel insecure, because he has mentioned many times, he had asked the girl out, and she replied that she’s already in a relationship.  So then he settled with being a friend to her.  This has happened with most of his female friends that he has today.
     
    I’m scared that the only reason he is with me is because he can’t have his female friends.   I mean, in a sense, they all friendzoned him (politely, of course).  Sometimes I’m scared that if one of his female friends becomes available, he might lose interest in me, or at least become somewhat less enthusiastic about me.  I mean, I believe this is mostly my insecurities talking, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s with me mostly because of circumstance (i.e. everybody that he really wanted are not available) and not because of he actively chose me out of everyone.  He still has these friendships with women and I think he partly enjoys them because he is attracted to them.  It’s more fun for him to talk to somebody that he likes to look at, I guess.  I read somewhere that even if we know that things are going nowhere, we still like attention from the opposite sex. 
     
     
    Anyways, this makes me sound really immature and insecure, but I guess at times it’s true of me.  🙁 

    1. 6.1
      Lydia

      @Girl in the Midwest

      My first question about this situation is “Why is he telling you he asked them out previously?” And much more than that, the fact he feels he needs to mention this information to you many times…*red flag lol. Not that he should keep things from you, but this seems like non essential information, pertaining to your relationship, that may have alterior motives. Could it be that he’s (whether he’s consciously doing it or not) trying to make you feel insecure? How would you rate your partners self-esteem? Could it be that he wants to make you feel as insecure as he does? : the age old “Misery loves company.” Type in Narcasstic personality disorder into a search engine. Really get a good grasp on manipulation tactics such as triangulation. I’ve run into very similar situations that you described and truly understanding the entire berth of the situation really freed me and gives such a sense of empowerment. Your emotions/feelings are trying to tell you something isn’t right. Listen to them.

  7. 7
    Nadia

    Evan, I agree totally! Which is why my policy has always been with the men I date, that they are welcome to the women friends that they come into the relationship with, but there is no good reason for them to pursue new ones. 

  8. 8
    Jackie Holness

    I think women and men can be friends, but it is much easier for women to be “just friends” than the other way around…now, can they be good friends with nothing else going on…that’s something else entirely…

  9. 9
    Rose

    Personally I don’t want to be friends with men who hurt me or no longer find me attractive, if there was something there at one point. I don’t really see what the point is of trying to be friends with a woman you hurt or dumped. Especially if the guy hurt me, what does a friendship do for me?  I think by acting like nothing ever happened it’s rather insulting.  He’s not my friend.

    1. 9.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Rose – You’re making two patently false assumptions:

      1) That every guy who hooks up with you is hurting you. There are many women who enjoy fooling around and also agree that just because two people aren’t meant to be a couple, she shouldn’t have regrets about a few nights of fun. Stop playing the victim. And stop assuming that foreplay is a promise of a relationship.

      2) You’re also somehow concluding that your male friends should find you attractive. (“I don’t want to be friends with men who no longer find me attractive”) I think it’s obvious that men and women can have a much easier friendship if there’s NO sexual tension, but you seem to want your male friends to find you attractive although you don’t find them attractive. Got it.

      1. 9.1.1
        Dee Gee

        “There are many women who enjoy fooling around…”

        I do not believe you fully understand Rose’s comment. She addressed men who she was in a relationship with. Those who caused her “hurt” by “dumping’ her because they no longer felt the attraction. She simply expressed that being their friend would further prolong the pain, considering she still had feelings for these individuals.

  10. 10
    Jenna

    Most of my close friends are male, and I really don’t get the sense they are hanging around for sex. They are more like brothers. I was never one of those touchy feely flirty girls and radiate a strong friend vibe with them so it was never an issue. However, there is a close guy friend I sleep with but I don’t see him as relationship material at all and vice versa; nothing is weird and we even help each other out with the opposite sex. It just happens on occasion. At any rate, I always found girls more difficult to be friends with, and less interesting and fun — moreover most girls my age (late twenties) are in relationships so I don’t waste my time with them as much and just party with the guys on weekends. 

    1. 10.1
      Eliza

      I agree with you. I am married myself, and my friends ( or people that I get along with ) are men. They are both single and married men. I never feel or sense any sexual tensions or flirty feeling , we just get along very well and have good chemistry in working together ( my bosses are also men ). I don’t have very many women counterparts, when I do work with them,  I feel less comfortable around them.. such as being afraid of offending their feelings cause I tend to speak directly to the point. I don’t have that problem around men, and so do they. Maybe it is just me, and this is not a common situation.

  11. 11
    Goldie

    @ Girl in the Midwest #6,
     
    No definite answer, but I’ve had some experience being on all sides of this.
     
    1) Towards the end of my marriage, I had a crush on a single male friend, that I did not act upon for obvious reasons. As soon as my divorce became final, I asked him out and he said no. I immediately went out and started dating other people. That was a couple of years ago and now we’re both in LTRs with other people. I cannot say that we’re friends, but definitely on friendly terms. Weirdest thing though, as soon as he said no to going out, it was like someone flipped a switch. All my feelings for this guy just, poof, disappeared. I vaguely remember being attracted to him, but I cannot remember why or how! So hopefully this might be the case with the guy you’re dating, as well — maybe he’s not feeling anything for his female friends anymore, either?
     
    2) I dated a guy once who was an old friend from an old job. Once in a conversation, he mentioned another female coworker to me, saying something like “I wanted to date either you or her, but she’s out of my league, so”… ugh! Because he was an old friend, I let that one slide. One time after a date, his car broke down and we were stranded in the middle of a suburban street, at 2AM in the dead of winter. I couldn’t call anyone for a ride as I’d left my phone at home with all my contacts in it, so it was up to him to find us a ride. We had to go each to our own home, because we both had our kids that night. He ended up calling that other girl. She pulls up to where we were standing, he hops into the passenger seat, I sit in the back, they start chatting and forget about me. I tried to participate in their conversation, but they both totally ignored me. Keep in mind this girl is *my* old coworker, that I’d worked with for several years, whom I hadn’t seen also in several years, so in theory she and I had a lot to catch up on — in reality though, she just went on chatting with this guy, whom she saw at work every day, and seemed to forget that I even was in the car! At one point, I was seriously worried that she’d go straight to his place to drop him off and forget about me. Clearly he was NOT over her, and who knows what sparks were flying between those two. I’d been considering breaking up for other reasons, and I guarantee you, this incident helped me make up my mind. We only dated for another week or two after that.
     
    So bottom line, I guess, is that whether you’re safe with your guy or not, depends on your guy and his personality. Maybe he’s really and truly over his female friends, and maybe he’s not. Hard to tell without knowing any of them personally.

  12. 12
    Maya

    Gee Evan, way too true. Really works that way. 

  13. 13
    Kathleen

    Interesting post Evan Glad to learn something new from this article re the male perspective . Think the message is accurate.
    I always avoided having male friends while married.
    Have to admit I cringed when I read the point about men sleeping with anyone they are barely attracted to but thats probably right to. Post divorce and a 2 year miserable celibacy period I impulsively slept with a guy who extended no level of friendship to me and that was probably the case. Luckily now Im more enlightened and have my game down LOL      
     

  14. 14
    starthrower68

    I might be weird – and many would agree that I am – but the guys I’m friends with have no interest in me other than platonic friendship and I’m perfectly good with that, as I don’t have any sort of romantic interest in them.  I’ve never had this situation occur and don’t ever expect that I will.
     

    1. 14.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @starthrower68 – Then the most likely explanation is that the guys you’re friends with aren’t attracted to you. Because everything above indicates that men usually become friends with women they’re attracted to.

      1. 14.1.1
        Anonymous

        This does not make any sense. She says she has guy friends. You say that they are not attracted to her. Then you state that guys usually become friends with women they are attracted to. So, are her guy friends attracted to her or not because you are contradicting yourself.
        Secondly, have you ever thought that maybe SHE is not attracted to her male friends? Don’t make her sound like some hideous beast.

        1. Bluberry01

          I believe we should distinguish between men “seeking” friendship as opposed to “settling” for friendship with women. I believe Evan is referring to the latter. When a man first sees you, he’s NOT thinking, “man, I bet she’s a great listener and confidante”. If you possess physical qualities that a man desires, you will attract him. Now, if you’re not attracted to him, unavailable to date, or perhaps not his type (once he gets to know you), then you two will remain (or can choose to be) friends.
           
          The bottom line is that if men wanted someone who ONLY possessed the qualities of a friend, he could get it anywhere: a family member, a therapist, a dog, etc. He wouldn’t seek out a woman who he could potentially turn his “friendship” into a relationship. 

        2. Tanya

          Anonymous it totally makes sense. Firstly, a man not being attracted to you doesn’t mean you are physically ugly to him. I have a good male friend who finds me good looking but due to age and different life circumstances it would never happen so it’s that sort of “not even gunna bother” thing. With her friends, it’s probably he same thing, for whatever reason she doesn’t fall into potential mate category. Men do seek friendship, though, based on attraction often. But sometimes it’s also by circumstance (work together,  school, etc.).  So to change the wording of what Evan is saying in my own way…if she really has male friends that are just friends, they do not see her as a potential mate.

  15. 15
    Tom10

    Great post Evan – true on all counts.
     
    Amy # 3
    Can “guys really sleep with someone they’re BARELY EVEN ATTRACTED TO…is this really true? Yuck. Come on guys, please weigh in.”
     
    Yes this is absolutely true – as Evan said it depends on how drunk, lonely or horny he is. Sex is just like eating a burger to many men – if you haven’t eaten in a few days and are absolutely starving you won’t turn down some scraps of food if you can get it. Distasteful but true. I very much doubt any men anywhere are actually attracted to prostitutes, yet they still exist for this reason.
     
    “I guess it comes from me worrying that maybe some guy in my past…wasn’t the least bit attracted to me…ouch!”
     
    I wouldn’t worry too much about this really – it won’t achieve anything except make you insecure. I think it’s reasonable for you to believe that every guy you’ve been with was mad about you.
     
    Girl in the Midwest #6
    “What if I’m on the other side of that? I.e. I am dating a guy and most of his friends are female. I’m ashamed to say but it makes me feel insecure…I’m scared that the only reason he is with me is because he can’t have his female friends.”
     
    I disagree a small bit Goldie – even thinking about this issue will feed that niggling little insecurity. Again worrying won’t achieve anything.
     
    I remember a girl I dated had a few male friends who were always sniffing around hoping for a chance with her. They were always making snide comments trying to belittle me so as to get in there themselves – however, I didn’t bite as I was so convinced of who I am that I just knew she wasn’t going anywhere. Even if she did get with one of these friends there was nothing I could do about it. We should only worry about what we can control. I know you probably don’t want to look stupid in case something does happen, but again there’s nothing you can do if it does.
     
    You really have to believe that you’re so special that of course you’re his first choice – this confidence is noticeable, and magnetic.
     
    Anytime those thoughts come into your head just think of something else, anything else.

  16. 16
    starthrower68

    That’s fine if they’re not attracted to me.  I’m good with that. 🙂

  17. 17
    marymary

    Yes they can! I used to think not but I guess I evolved. Or regressed.

  18. 18
    Alyssa

    @Rose #9
    Not really sure why Evan jumped on you for this one.  I have recently been ‘friend zoned’ for the first time ever by a man I had been seeing and was genuinely interested in.  Maybe we can be friends sometime down the line, but why would I want a friendship with someone who I clearly want more from? who got to know me and decided to ‘pass’?  I don’t think he did anything wrong to hurt me, per se, but I am hurt nonetheless.  
    Truth be told I have a lot more respect for those men I’ve friend zoned in the past- who were able to put their pride aside and continue a friendship with me.  My pride is totally bruised in a way it has never been before, but I’m sure after the 3 dates I have lined up this weekend, I should be on my way to a full recovery :)- maybe then a friendship with this other guy will be possible.

  19. 19
    Lucy

    This is very true. I used to have a lot of male friends and I realised this was partly due to personal issues. So I decided to pull back from it. Now I have more female friends than my male friends, and I am closer to them.
    So this post made me analyse my friendships with men. Of the men I’m friends with, the ones I’m closer to are ones I’ve known since childhood and are also in relationships and one is gay (so 2 proper genuine friends). Another guy I don’t see much of and we are not attracted to each other. He is only an acquaintance in my friendship group. But all the others have tried it on at some point, or have asked me out before. And if they haven’t asked me out, they’ve flirted with me or told me “you’re my type of girl” or something. I have a  male friend I no longer talk to. I used to talk to him like I would a female friend, ask him for advice, sometimes cry in his shoulder. Unbeknownst to me (and due to naivety on my part), he fell in love with me, then he watched me date other guys. So our friendship didn’t last after that.Two of my guy friends really want to date me but I’m not into them. They are really nice guys though and always offer to help with stuff.
    Wow. Now I feel that my friendships with certain men have just been fake. I genuinely like and see them as friends, and do not take advantage of them or lie about my intentions.
    There is this other guy I was good friends with but am no longer. We had some chemistry (which sucked because I didn’t want to have chemistry with him). He is engaged and a good guy. I can get past it but he can’t. He even said to me “I don’t think you’d have been my type”. It’s an uncomfortable dynamic.
    Of the guys I’ve hooked up with, the only ones who’ve become friends are the ones I was friends with anyway. The others have no respect for me and literally give me evil looks when they see me in public (I did not know they’d be like this before we hooked up). Or they think I’m going to get attached and probably don’t think we have enough in common to become friends.
    Apart from 2 of my friends, I can’t think of a single man I’ve been friends with where there hasn’t been at least some attraction from one side.

  20. 20
    Anita

    Rose didn’t say how the former friend(s) hurt her or why she feels that way, so I wouldn’t just assume her feelings are misplaced. Maybe the guy actually did a sh*tty thing to her. It’s been known to happen.

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