Can Women and Men Be "Just Friends?"
I visited my neighbor, earlier, to talk about a freelance paper that I was planning to write. He had questioned me about one of my male friends whom I had been talking to, almost by incident- when we were in the midst of discussing my term project, the buzzer rang, and I explained that I had friends coming over, to join me for Thanksgiving (it wasn’t much of a Thanksgiving this year, really, but it was my first time hosting it at my own place, and I was super excited). As I got up to leave, he asked me who was coming over to join me. I answered that one of my Chinese girlfriends from class, and some guy. I didn’t realize how what I said sounded, until I heard the palpable pause between us, and then he asked me the inevitable question,
“I met him randomly at a coffee house,” I’d explained, hedging a little. “I haven’t really known him for that long,” I added, as an aside. He glanced at me. I laughed, a little bit.
“So . . . you have no feelings for this man at all?” he asked me. He sounded very smooth. That was something that I always found interesting about Steve. He could talk about a myriad of topics, from dating to birth control, and never sound as though he was out of his boundaries. It made me comfortable enough to be able to speak to him in turn, without feeling as though I were doing something that was completely out of my depth. I just shrugged, and said,
“I haven’t really known him long enough to have developed feelings of that nature.” I paused, thinking. I was having an internal battle with myself, struggling to explain what I meant. This is something which had taken me a great deal of energy out of my thoughts, lately, and I found myself wanting to give those thoughts some form of tangible character.
“I don’t really like the idea of dating,” I said, slowly. “I prefer to be friends with the person, and if anything develops later, then that’s okay. I don’t really make a conscious effort to date my male friends. I like to communicate with them, and then, if we decide that we enjoy each other’s company enough, and would like to escalate it, then that works for us.”
“I see,” he said, and nodded. “Now, this actually makes a great deal of sense,” he told me, making a hand corresponding hand gesture, with that. I smiled at him. I grabbed a peanut from the tray between us.
“So do I,” I said, tossing the nut into my mouth.
I had had ongoing thoughts about everything for a really long time. They had started back with a guy that I dated about a year and a half ago, and had through several men since. The most notable was the first- whom, I had long since, termed ‘the Neanderthal,’ due to his practically non-existent communication abilities. We’d had several conversations, or rather disagreements, about what is was like to be only friends. He had said that practically no relationship existed, between men and women who were friends, which was of a wholly platonic nature. I had, openly and cynically, voiced my disagreement to this idea, telling him that it was absurd to assume that men and women could not be friends- I also had some personal stake in this opinion, admittedly, due to the fact that I’d had a personal interest in him for quite awhile, one to which he’d not willingly opened the doors. To me, the fact that he considered me to be on the same level as any other friend (with just the same ‘friendship attraction), just made me feel insignificant . . . in his eyes, I’m sure I was.
I’d had several conversations, with several men, after this point, contrasting opinions of what it meant to be friends versus being in a relationship, which meant something more. The chat with my neighbor I’d had earlier, had caused me to recall some of these conversations. It had provided me with a firm basis, on which I could again start to examine my own understanding of this particular viand of a relationship; to my surprise, I found myself more open to what my neighbor had said, and comfortable discussing it in the open. Perhaps due to the many talks, trials, and tribulations over ‘the talk’ and prickly contexts that typically surrounding them when they took place, I had finally begun to feel comfortable-
Then again, it could have just been the fact that I had made some remarkable male friends, myself, since I’d come to New York City, and the fact that it had been months since I’d spoken to the Neanderthal. Due to the new people, environs, and many livelier engagements, I was finally able to put him far behind me. That distance had caused me to view him from a different lens, and to compare/contrast him with other people that I knew. The conclusion that it led me to was that he was a unique case . . .
Since I’d come to the city, I’d made friendships that I actually enjoyed. There was a comedian friend I’d made, for instance, who had helped me to move several items of his own furniture into my new place for nothing (after months of talking with me about apartment options, being potential roommates, and leasing on his own place- none of which had worked, but had led us to further deepen our relationship) whom I had ended up crushing on. When I told him that I liked him, he was already dating another girl, and it was really too late for me to pry the door back open. Upon hearing his answer, my heart was cut up for a little while, but then I reanalyzed the situation, and realized that what we had was healthy . . . we remained in a friendship that we both found value in.
There was another dude, whom I had met at a café, once. It was a completely accidental, makeshift occasion, which led to his frequent efforts to message me over Facebook. The first time we met up for coffee ‘on purpose’ therefore, I headed him off, and told him that I was only interested in being friends, at the moment, and not really into doing ‘the date,’ thing. He said that he understood, that such was also his interest as well, and- long story short- on Thanksgiving evening, he ended up joining myself and my Chinese friend, eating Chinese dumplings and holding political/history discussion with us that kept me engaged for nearly three hours. He offered to put artwork on my walls before he left, giving me the opportunity to save money, and decorate my new apartment as I had always longed to-
We are still good friends, as well.
It is indeed possible. Men and women can be good friends, after all. I had not been sure, until I’d had the chance to move on, and heal the tissue of my heart, which had been dying, on a certain level, ever since I had taken the opportunity to try and get to know the Neanderthal.
My new experiences had allowed me to move on, finally, and overcome any past insecurities which he had caused me. My original desire to open up a friendship with the Neanderthal, I’d realized then- my belief in the fact that a relationship within the matrix of ‘just being friends’ existed, was not misleading. It is the people that lead you astray. The road to utopia, and idealism, is always available, but the door can only be opened when you have the right people helping- if you are talking to someone who doesn’t have the key, then it will be virtually impossible to open the door, because they don’t have the tool to envision the same scenery-
It is a beautiful vision, which can only be opened with the help of true friends. Or only with the help of . . . ‘just friends.’