The question goes back way before When Harry Met Sally. It's one of the oldest and most debated questions: Can a man and a woman be friends? Or does the sex thing always get in the way?
Let me ask the question another way. Can a man and a woman be friends? Or do other people's assumptions about the sex thing get in the way?
a scene to contemplate. A couple is out with a group of friends. A is a
regular, B is there occasionally. Several people do not know them very
well. When B leaves, A gets rather snuggly with a girl, as he does
almost every week with this group. B and the girl seemed to get along
alright. As the night goes on, A is playing with the girl's hair, and
she is bear-hugging him.
I think most people would assume that
something fishy is going on with A and the girl. They are gently
affectionate, his other half is gone, and he seems to do this a lot with
the girl when his partner is not there. Would anyone believe that they
are just friends, with nothing else going on? What kind of gossip
happens when they are not there? (Note: I can personally attest to the
fact that there is nothing fishy going on.)
These kinds of
assumptions get made all the time, often on the premise that any man who
enjoys the company of a woman, or women, wants something from them,
whether it's sex, the admiration of his peers, the attention of another
woman, or to take what belongs to someone else. Do people assume that
the women have an ulterior motive? Sometimes, I'm sure. But I think the
majority of the fault is found with the men, whether there is fault
there or not.
And it's sad.
It brings up the old stereotype
that a man is controlled by his urges, a user, a predator, trying to get
something, get ahead, always having or looking for an angle, trying to
one up someone or compensate for something. That he's not capable of
affection unless he can get it to go farther. That he's not interested
in physical contact unless he can get more. That he sees a woman as some
sort of prize or pawn or goal. Let's give a big hand to mass media for
I call horse manure on this (and to be fair, I
call horse manure on the same fallacy that gay men and straight men
can't be friends, or lesbians and straight women can't be friends
because one just wants to "get" the other one).
What about common
interests, common likes and dislikes? Odd bits of humor or shared
experiences that bring them together? Shared lunch times or child care
assignments? Went to the same school? Go to the same place of worship,
or share a faith, or lack thereof? Are they only two people in the
building who root for a team on the opposite coast? Choose any one of a
thousand reasons you are friends with your same-gendered friends. Why
can't that travel across gender lines?
Truth is, it does.
Everywhere. All the time. Men and women are friends, without the desire
to hop in the sack at the first opportunity. There is no evil ulterior
motive. There are no late-night schemes, no secret texts, no coded
emails, no disposable cell phones, no third-party cover-ups. There are
no chats with Gloria-called-George. Those late nights at the office are
really late nights fixing someone else's screw up. Going to lunch was
just going down the street to grab a burger and a shake.
so many people tread so carefully because all it takes are a few
misplaced words or pictures, or someone's overactive imagination, to
tarnish what could be something amazing.
How many men don't take
the chance to approach and get to know a woman who they might have a
common interest with, because they are worried about the assumptions
others, or even the woman might make? How many potential friendships
never progress beyond small talk, where there could be a real, platonic
connection? And how many friendships and reputations get damaged because
people are still have the old "Men and woman blah-blah-blah" stuck in
their heads, and can't wait to gossip about something that isn't there?
To those people, I offer this little gem to think about: Sometimes, a hug is just a hug.