Fri. January 18
Can’t We Just Be Friends?
Earlier this week an amazing article appeared in the New York Times detailing a longstanding friendship between a man and a woman. Like most friendships between heterosexual men and women, it was complicated. She was in love with him almost from the jump (he was so good looking he made her nervous), he confessed his love later on well after each had been in and out of other relationships, they eventually had sex, and ultimately he got married and had children with someone else. She stayed in love and ten years after their friendship started he came to her saying his marriage was falling apart and he needed her for support, looking to her to be saved. Despite the pull to go back into his orbit, a decade later after it started she decided to finally walk away–it just wasn’t worth taking the risk one more time to give her heart to him.
We have all been there. Meeting someone who we are attracted to and starting a friendship that we hope will lead to something more, only it never happens. Over my four years as a college professor, I have had so many students come into my office who are in this situation asking for advice that I have incorporated a discussion on “can men and women be just friends” into my lecture class. I call it a public service announcement. To get to the bottom of this question is actually very simple, so long as you believe in the basic principles of evolution that we have the innate desire to survive and reproduce.
Though there is certainly some debate on this issue, consistently research has found that (whether it be biological or societal reasons) men want more sexual partners then women, and women want fewer, but higher quality partners then men. For men, their priorities are on finding attractive partners (it is an indicator of gene quality for healthy offspring) but for women it is both about attraction and resources–emotional, financial, and physical. These resources are critical for women in determining if a guy will stick around after a child is born and be a good parent.
How does this knowledge apply to the friendship question? Heterosexual men and women in the same age group can be friends–it’s possible. But there are conditions. Is one or both in a serious relationship and thus off limits? Check. Are neither physically attracted to each other? Check. Is the man not physically attracted to her, and she is only physically (but not emotionally) attracted to him. Probably a check. But if a situation arises where the man in the friendship is physically attracted to the woman and/or the woman is physically and emotionally attracted to the man, believing that friendship could occur without either wanting more is the same as believing evolution doesn’t exist. It’s not survive and be friends, it’s survive and reproduce. Of course, one can roll the dice and stick out this type of friendship knowing it may never amount to more, but is it worth the angst?