Relationships » The Platonic Friendship Debate

The Platonic Friendship Debate



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Many people will tell you that relationships of a non-sexual nature between men and women cannot exist. The argument is based on a number of beliefs that usually focus on one or more persons' sexual attraction to the other. Some say that an attraction, or any thoughts of a sexual nature, undermines a friendship that a man and woman may think is totally innocent.

While many purely platonic friendships do exist between men and women, this article examines common elements that influence both men and women who support the theory, and those who do not. Eventually, our observations will answer the elusive question: Can men and women be friends?

The answer ultimately depends on who you ask, and how that person processes his or her connections with others. Women tend to believe that non-sexual, man-to-woman friendships are possible. The male belief system is often a little less forgiving.

To help get a better understanding of the difference in thought processes, let's take a look at a few issues and beliefs from both men and women:

Male Issue #1:

Men will openly acknowledge that they lack the self-control to maintain platonic friendships with women -- especially attractive women. Most men who are physically attracted to a female friend, know how to keep their hands and words to themselves. But social norms tell us if either person carries intimate thoughts, or a physical attraction to their friend -- a platonic bond will always be compromised by sexual tension.

For men, it can be difficult to maintain a friendship with women who are physically appealing. This is when maturity and respect should take precedence. Not surprisingly, many men seek friendships with women they find sexually attractive. This often results in a stressful situation for men who may find themselves in the company of women they can't have sex with.

Of course the media helps fuel this issue. Television shows that feature male/female friendships usually evolve into romantic flings. It happened on A Different World, Girlfriends, Friends, Living Single, and several other shows.

Female Issue #1:

Women who designate men into the 'friend' category, don't usually have problems lusting after them, or controlling sexual tension in the relationship. Women tend to develop close friendships with male acquaintances, thereby eliminating the possibility of a romantic encounter. When this happens, women seldom cross the line.

Sociologists believe that friendship attraction, devoid of sexual attraction, is a type of bond that men and women can experience. Women believe this, and can separate their physical attraction to a man (if there is one), from their desire to be friends. This is especially true if the man has character flaws or personality differences the woman seeks in an intimate mate.

Since there are no predefined feelings or emotions in a male/female friendship, women often choose to be friends with men who make them feel safe. This 'safeness', as defined by women in these situations, says: "This is a male friend with whom I'm comfortable because he doesn't view me in a sexual conquest." In these instances, a woman may know that she loves her male friend and enjoys his company, but not enough to date or marry him. She usually believes that her male friend thinks the same about her.

Male Issue #2

Some men believe that the only way a truly platonic friendship can exist, is when a man is not physically attracted to a woman; or when a woman sends clear signals that she is not, and cannot be attracted to him.

The male ego occasionally creates confusion in the male mind, causing men to wonder why a woman thinks he's good enough for friendship, but not for intimacy. The problem with this thought process is that men and women have different beliefs regarding platonic friendships. Women see a friend, who just happens to be male; while men see a female, who just happens to be a friend.

Men also have a natural tendency to think that a female friend, in a vulnerable state -- may be more open to male/female sexual contact. This reasoning is generated through years of social nurturing that places men in the role of rescuer or problem solver. In fact, most male/female friendships start off with some type of attraction to the woman.

Female Issue #2

Sexual tension is probably the biggest dislike women have in their platonic friendships. Women choose male friends who are open, comforting, and supportive -- almost using them as surrogate partners or big brothers. For many women, having a good male friend is like having a special partner -- without the commitment.

Women often mention that friendships with men are more fun and relaxing than those shared between female friends. Female-to-female friendships often include social challenges like jealousy, competition, and emotional baggage.

Friendships with men are less dramatic and gives women the opportunity to edify relationships without compromising trust.

So can men and women be platonic friends? The answer is a resounding, "Yes"

The challenge for men is determining whether any physical or emotional connections exist. If so, a platonic friendship will likely be nothing more than a lustful quest for something more. If not immediately, some time in the future.

Cross-sex friendships can benefit both men and women:

  • Men spend time being more open and communicable -- something that doesn't usually happen in male-to-male friendships
  • Both women and men are able to communicate with the opposite sex without relationship tension.
  • Men and women who recognize a physically attractive platonic friend and respect their bond -- are more likely to have more stable platonic friendships in the future
  • Over time, both men and women may recognize qualities that are tolerated in friendship, wouldn't work in relationships

Platonic friendships can be extremely rewarding. It is up to the both parties to establish effective communication and define the boundaries. If sexual attraction becomes a part of the dynamic, friends should address it for the sake of survivability.

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