Ah, the age-old question most famously posed by Billy Crystal to Meg Ryan in the 1989 romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally. The question has been around much longer than the late eighties, but it has no more famously (and frankly) been asked than in that movie. And their answer to the question?  No.

[Be advised, clips are PG-13]

Twenty-two years later, on December 1, 2011, an informal interview was conducted on the campus of Utah State University asking the exact same question to 20-somethings on campus. The answers are exactly the same an entire generation later (and just as frank): No.

[Be advised, clip is PG]

The answers are fascinating and mystifying. And, I tend to agree with them. Single men and single women are rarely, if ever, “just” friends. Attraction plays a large part in how we select the friends we have and we would all be better off simply admitting that than deceiving ourselves.

So, are all male-female friendships suspect, then? 

Yes.

They are not all sexually suspect (as the clips suggest), but they are certainly suspect when it comes to the fact of attraction. Granted, there are exceptions to every rule, but the vast majority of friendships are started because of some type of attraction.

Well, what are we supposed to do then? Can single women & single men ever be friends? 

Actually, yes, I think they can. Here’s how:

  • First, I think single women have to be more honest with themselves and realize that a single man’s motivation for friendship is probably because he is interested in her. Equally as important for her to realize is that she’s probably allowing the friendship to happen for exactly the same reasons. This is completely fine. No one is getting married; no one is even dating. It’s just attraction. That’s all.
  • Second, single guys need to quit with the be-friends-with-her-before-asking-her-out approach. If a guy likes a girl and wants to date her, instead of starting a friendship, he should ask her on a date. If more (or most) guys would do this, there would be a whole lot less confusion about this question to begin with. The guy has to decide: “If I’m going to be her friend, then I’m choosing not to date her. If I’m choosing to date her, I’m choosing not to be her friend.” Nevertheless, it is also possible for single men and women to say, “Sure, she’s attractive, but I’m not interested.” Attraction doesn’t necessitate romance.
  • Third, it is important for these male/female friendships not to become ‘best’ friendships. That’s called dating. A woman’s closest friend ought to be a woman and a man’s closest friend ought to be a man. If a man and a woman find themselves as close as ‘best friends’, then they have likely both ignored the first two bullet points and are simply fooling themselves into thinking they are ‘just friends’. Men and women friendships should maintain a healthy distance from one another with regard to intimacy, vulnerability and physical contact.

So, that’s what I think. Do you agree? Disagree? How would you answer the follow-up questions italicized above?

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