Can Men & Women Be Friends?

At first glance, this post title may seem a bit off-topic in the realm of mindfulness, but upon closer examination of the word ‘mindfulness’, we may come to realize that really anything can be included under this umbrella word when we apply the application of direct and engaged attention, spurred by a desire to come into a deeper relationship of understanding.

This topic has been coming up for me lately. Can heterosexual men and women be friends? Part of me says yes and part of me says no. I think it depends largely on the circumstances involved. Social friendships, where interactions occur mostly in group settings, are different than close one-on-one friendships, where you’re spending more concentrated time together. I think social friendships are much more plausible than one-on-one friendships, in terms of the likelihood of having romantic feelings develop on either or both sides of the fence.

I was interested in boys at an early age. I had my first boyfriend in third grade and stayed in a steady stream of romantic relationships up until I met my husband, at age 19. Growing up, I had mostly guy friends. And I falsely told myself that it was because I just related better with guys. When I encountered SLAA (sex and love addicts anonymous) at age 19, I realized I had developed a lot of patterns of behavior that were detrimental and destructive. I came to understand that a big reason as to why I surrounded myself with guy friends was because I got a certain amount of attention that I really enjoyed, craved, and used to assert my self-worth and feel good about myself. A hard truth to come to terms with, at that time, was realizing that while I may have had no intention of being physically involved with my guy friends, I got a certain high from knowing that it was an option.

While that was a long time ago and I’ve been happily married now for over 17 years, this question still lingers for me. Can men and women be friends? I think the answer that makes the most sense to me is: Yes, but under certain parameters. I came across a blog post, entitled: What You Should Never Do With Men Other Than Your Husband – read full post here: – and I think she makes some very practical points. The post recommends never to: Cry on their shoulder, Make physical or sexual comments, Contact them privately, Spend one-on-one time with them, Share physical contact with them.

I also read an interesting article from Scientific American, where they did a study revealing some interesting results – read article here:

This is an evolving and ever-changing topic for me. One I mostly generate more questions to than answers. Another aspect of this is something in which the article from Scientific American addresses: Even if I myself have no romantic feelings entangled into the mix of a platonic friendship with a heterosexual guy, what might I unintentionally be sparking in him? I am, after all, only one part of the equation.

And I’ve also experienced what I judge to be jealousy and discomfort, when exhibiting what I would consider to be innocent forms of human connection (hugging, sitting closely…), directed from the romantic interest of guy friends I’ve had. So even when I have the best of intentions, I also want to be sensitive to how my actions might come across to the girlfriend or wife of my male friends.

This is all to say that I don’t think there’s just one answer that can span all situations here. For me, it’s important to keep this dialog with myself open and remain inquisitive. I think the question as to whether or not heterosexual men and women can be friends is best summed up in what our local dharma teacher calls the classic Zen answer: It depends.

What do you think? If you’d care to comment, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.



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