Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Can't We Be Friends? Oh, Wait. We Can!

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?

Here's 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 perpetuating this.

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.

And yet 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.

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