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Can Men and Women be Friends?: The Friend Zone as Danger Zone

Friend Zone 2 smallCan men and women be friends?

Of course men and women can be friends… so long as one defines the term friend properly.

The real question is, can men and women be friends the way two men or two women are friends? Can men and women have a purely platonic friendship?

Recently a “friend” of mine, (I use the quotes because I am attempting to be coy and mysterious about my ultimate answer on the question of mixed gender friendships, not because of any shallowness in my sentiments toward her) a women I have known since my youth asked this question on Facebook.

She went to dinner with a friend from college, a man, while her husband was out of town, and he was less than pleased to hear it. She felt that since this man was just a friend, and that he would not think anything hinky about her having dinner with a female friend, she didn’t understand his reaction. Hence, the question on Facebook.

A lot of people sounded in, and while I normally respond quickly with my opinions on such matters, I stayed my typing fingers a bit to see how things would pan out. I was astonished.

The women, down to a man, (aren’t figures of speech lovely?) said that  men and women could absolutely be “just friends” (“When Harry Met Sally” notwithstanding). They were confident in the power of the friend zone. Its walls were 99% implacable. Her husband’s reaction was overboard and unnecessarily jealous.

The men, however, also down to a man, but without any mental consideration of When Harry Met Sally, having expunged that movie from their minds within minutes of watching it, preferring to use that valuable space for sports statistics, Sylvester Stallone flicks, and judo technique memorization, denied the possibility out right. There is no friend zone, they insisted. There were women who might be technically ineligible for romantic pursuit for a variety of reasons— Those reasons shall not here be listed. I would not want to risk offending the fairer sex with the kinds of “ineligible” categories, many unsavory, some men have— but to the men, women were always women and, thus, potential objects of interest beyond pure platonic friendships. They will never have the same type of regard for them as they do for their guy friends.

This wasn’t exactly a Barna Group study, but the sampling wasn’t too tiny either.

Of interest for me, was that the women took to arguing with the men. It was then, that I decided to speak my mind. I wish I had voiced the opinion of all opinions, silencing the masses with the depth of wisdom I had to share, penetrating the darkness of human folly with sun brightened mental glory… but, alas, I doubt my keen perceptions were attended amid the din of a hundred clicking keyboards.

I said something akin to: I think the women would be wise to pay attention to the men here. It doesn’t matter if all the women feel secure in this notion of an iron clad friend zone. The men don’t feel this way and friendships are a two way street. Friendships are a dynamic and one half of that dynamic has told you how it is for THEM.

I might also note, that many years of human experience has taught me that given the right situation female confidence in the friend zone proves poorly placed. The very idea of a friend zone suckers a person into situations both physical and emotional that evaporate those barriers in an unforeseen instant or in a series of instances that steadily erode them, creeping in on the heart unawares.

Now, many of you are straining to the end of your wits trying to conjure a special situation which nullifies the rule. “Well, what if the guy has a war injury which renders him a eunuch?” “Well, what if the guy is gay… like totally gay… like never had a natural thought about a women gay?” This may be a fun exercise, but it usually serves only to embolden a person to throw caution to the wind, convincing herself (or himself) that she (or he) is a special case… that the rules don’t apply to her (or him).

As for the marriage situation and the attempt to maintain friendships with the opposite sex while married, women and men should pay attention to this dynamic and guard against it.

My father-in-law gave me some solid advice when I was engaged to his daughter. Marriage was a bond that needed protecting. One needed to not only attend to the marriage itself (another issue) but also to external circumstances that could easily create problems. I should protect myself, and my marriage, from other women and from the tensions that inappropriate or potentially inappropriate situations could cause.

  • I should never allow myself to be alone with another woman (family excluded, of course).
  • My cross-gender contacts should be public, and as mixed group as possible.
  • Counseling situations with women should be limited, open-doored.
  • I shouldn’t drive women places alone.
  • I shouldn’t have meals alone with a woman, even in public.
  • I should never take a woman, other than my wife, into my heart’s confidences, sharing my problems with them as if they were intimate friends, especially my problems in my marriage.
  • I should avoid touching and being touched by other women. Handshakes aside… sometimes… physical contact with women other than one’s spouse is a risky business.

These may sound strict to many… almost puritanical… but strict rules prevent sliding down slippery slopes that are a real and present danger… slopes that destroy marriages every day, and compromise them every hour.

My brother once walked out the door of our house when he was a toddler. He walked into the street and stood there for about 30 seconds. He then came in the house and said to my mother, “You lied. You said if I went into the street I would get killeded. Well, I just went into the street and didn’t get killeded!” This is the folly of a child. Wise people see the potential end of a matter from the beginning.

3 thoughts on “Can Men and Women be Friends?: The Friend Zone as Danger Zone

  1. frank reedy says:

    Andrew, I agree with you that you are not a pastor, I noticed the smooth way you dealt with crazy theology in class Monday night. I was ready to conclude that you are only a brilliant teacher and theologian but this article is superbly pastoral. Keep up the good work.

  2. Lauren says:

    I’m guessing that after a guy is married I will have to cut off all communication with him that’s what I gather

    1. So let me get this straight. Your interpretation of:
      1. I should never allow myself to be alone with another woman (family excluded, of course).
      2. My cross-gender contacts should be public, and as mixed group as possible.
      3. Counseling situations with women should be limited, open-doored.
      4. I shouldn’t drive women places alone.
      5. I shouldn’t have meals alone with a woman, even in public.
      6. I should never take a woman, other than my wife, into my heart’s confidences, sharing my problems with them as if they were intimate friends, especially my problems in my marriage.
      7. I should avoid touching and being touched by other women. Handshakes aside… sometimes… physical contact with women other than one’s spouse is a risky business.

      is that I said cut off all communication.
      You could react childish and make infantile remarks like this… OOOOOOOR… you could use some wisdom and realize that the friendship should not be the same as before, and that there are lines that wise people don’t cross.

      Ignore me if you are inclined to do so, maybe you won’t get killed-ed.

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