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Man. Woman. Friends?

Could these two just be friends?
Could these two just be friends?
Eryne!/Flickr/Creative Commons

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It’s only in the last several decades that friendships between men and women were even a possibility, given social norms. For instance, the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” weren’t introduced until the 1890s. After the social revolution in the 1960s which led the way for women to receive equal rights and working conditions as men, a new world existed in which men and women could no doubt become friends on a level playing field.

Nowadays, one only needs to cite empirical evidence to see instances of male and female friendships. It’s gotten so ubiquitous that the term “platonic friendship” is redundant. Whether it's through school, shared activities or work, there are tons of pairs of guy and gal friendships out there. Surely you can think of some in your own life.

So, since it’s well established that these relationships exist in the real world, why is pop culture still fixated on the issue of whether or not men and women can “get past the sex thing,” as said by the male lead of “When Harry Met Sally.” Even though it’s well documented in private life, television shows and movies are constantly placing male and female characters together to see if they can stay friends, or if they end up becoming lovers.

According to Bill Deresiewicz, who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times about men and women being friends, scenes like the one in "When Harry Met Sally" have become cliché.

"It's something that sort of as a culture, in the way that we talk to ourselves about it, we seem to refuse to want to accept. We like to perpetuate this 'Harry Met Sally' idea because it's fun, in some level it makes sense to us, but I think it's really out-of-date," he said.

Deresiewicz said it's because as a collective society, we have difficulty imagining relationships outside of this stereotype. "We seem to have a lot of trouble imagining relationships, imagining love – to use a loaded word perhaps – that isn't based on either sex or blood. That isn't either sexual love or family love," he continued.

Deresiewicz said he's not ruling out the "Harry Met Sally" scenario, but instead asking people to pay attention to other male/female relationship possibilities that might exist.

"I'm simply saying there are a lot of other possibilities. I'm not asking anyone to believe me. I'm asking them simply to consult their own experience or their own observations about what they see around them," he said. "I don't like these blanket statements that it's not possible because the sex always gets in the way. That's what really bothers me – that there's no appreciation for the fact that there's a great variety of human experience and human possibility and human emotion."

From the phones:

Don from Culver City is single, and said he totes a prolific dating lifestyle. He says sexual attraction can ruin friendships.

"I've lost friendships because we've decided to go down that road," he said. "Sex actually winds up complicating something to the point where bonds are created that you're not ready for."

Danny in La Crescenta agreed, and said he doesn't allow the possibility of sexual attraction into his life, as he's happily married. "I have plenty of guy friends and that’s all I need. Bottom line is the temptation, and there's always going to be an attraction between men and women. Even girls, when I was younger, who I wasn't necessarily attracted to them at first, I developed a friendship with them, and after that, their beauty became more deep and I became more attracted to them."

Anu, 45, called in as she drove along the 5 Freeway. She said she's able to balance her marriage with her male friendships, adding that the male/female dynamic is valuable.

"It's highly possible to have a decent, mature, friendly relationship with people of the opposite sex. You tend to feed off of each other and there's stuff that a man can tell you that is completely different from a woman's perspective," she said.

What gives, entertainment industry? Why does such a gap exist between reality and what we see on the screen? Where do you fall on the issue: can men and women remain friends? Is sex inevitable? What examples do you have in your own life?


Bill Deresiewicz, Writer, wrote the opinion piece in The New York Times, his book “A Jane Austen Education” is out in paperback on April 24th