Can men and women ever truly be “just friends?” The cynical, though perhaps scientifically objective, the response is that there is no such thing as a platonic relationship between members of opposite genders. Despite the benefits of cross-sex friendships, a look into evolutionary origins of sexual attraction seems to point toward the impossibility, or at least, the unlikeliness of non-romantic friendship.
Where healthy male-female friendships do exist, both parties often benefit from the relationship in ways not possible with their friends of the same gender. Though not exclusively, the majority of female friendships emphasize elements of emotional honesty and mutual support, while male friendships that contain these elements are sometimes ridiculed or mocked for appearing to be homosexual in nature. Though this criticism reflects poorly on society’s view of what it means to be a man, it still brings attention to the benefits of cross-sex friendships for men who find their other friendships lacking emotional depth—including space to safely verbally process.
Emotional honesty within a friendship does not require a female influence, but the tendency of female facilitation of emotional depth ought to inspire men to be vulnerable within their close male friendships as well. The positive aspects of friendships with women might serve as a reminder to men to deepen their other same-sex friendships, giving them the space necessary to include these emotional aspects that all people need, regardless of gender. More benefits for both genders include exposure to different perspectives not possible in same-sex friendships, platonic emotional support, and the potential for gender-specific advice.
Additionally, close cross-sex friendships allow both participants to build a more complete view of someone different from them apart from the specific role of romantic interest. In an age that is slowly dissociating from the gender binary, it becomes increasingly important to know and love people different from you, whether this is embodied in men’s ability to love women (and other men platonically), or romantic love between any two individuals.
Despite the positive aspects of these friendships, they can be difficult to sustain due to deep, evolutionary differences in the way that men and women view members of the opposite sex. While females tend to have higher standards in seeking a long-term partner, as necessitated by the impact of pregnancy, males function according to a “sexual reflex” that classifies all women as either potential sex partners, or virtually uninteresting to them. These different views of sexuality are also reflected in the diverging post-hookup responses: women are much more often regretful of a casual encounter than their male partners, as their subconscious desire for a long-term relationship is not satisfied by a one-night stand.
Perhaps this is why many women feel safe in their friendships with men, believing that the lack of sexual elements will allow for a more stable relationship. Men, on the other hand, may be frustrated by an apparent “friendzone.” The nuances of male-female friendships can make them difficult to navigate, but honesty and mutual respect can abate some of the negative outcomes of misunderstood intentions.
While modern relationships should be capable of evolving past differences in sexual instinctual, they still can make it difficult to sustain a pure friendship between a man and a woman. Especially in an age where hookup culture has become the norm, men’s intentional decision to respect women as complete human beings, rather than hookup options, is essential to the possibility of platonic friendship.
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