Can Single Men & Women Really Be Friends?

Single friends traveling From the office to the campus dorm to romantic comedies featuring Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan, single men and women have wrestled with this question and sometimes been smacked down after flirting with the rules of the buddy system. Is it possible, however, for single men and women to really be just friends?

There’s no doubt that sexual tension can run high in a male-female friendship, especially if it had a romantic past, and without a wedding ring to mark either party as private property, the opportunity to explore a more intimate dynamic is always present.

But, despite popular insistence that a man and woman can’t have a conversation that isn’t permeated with cartoon thought bubbles of unclothed body parts smoothed to perfection in the Photoshop of the imagination, plenty of singles would rather enjoy their opposite sex friends without “benefits.”

Chances are you or someone you know has settled into a comfortably platonic groove with at least one such single friend, who is by now “just one of the guys” or “as close as a girl friend.” However, you may still be mystified about what it is that keeps these cross-gender pairings on the friendship track while others derail somewhere between Frenemyland and Hookupsville.

Let’s examine three male-female duos that have a good shot at lasting friendship and three that prove the point of anyone who’s ever said that single men and women can’t be friends:

When Single Men and Women Can Be Friends

1. The Big Brother & Kid Sister (aka The Big Sister & Kid Brother)
Believe it or not, men don’t want to get in the pants of every woman they meet. The legs in those pants might not be attractive to a certain guy, or the girl may be his type as a jogging partner or study buddy but not so much as the mother of his future children. Likewise, a girl might go to the end of the earth for her best friend but wouldn’t want to kiss him if he was the last guy there.



In short, some male-female duos are just lacking the attraction factor.

Oftentimes, this is the pair that reminds you of that sweetly irritating familial rivalry you were raised with. One minute they’re pranking each other, the next one is rushing to the other’s defense. They understand each other implicitly and make a formidable team in work or play. But if you pop the cork on the bottle of sexual tension you assume they share, you discover it’s flat. They can’t muster a smidgeon of chemistry between them.

These sibling-like sidekicks are the best of friends…and best left as friends.

2. Not-Worth-Its
This offshoot of the Big Brother & Kid Sister pairing is a little more incestuous. These are the single friends who may occasionally wink at the boundaries of platonic friendship but, for legitimate reasons, have determined not to cross them. Maybe the chemistry doesn’t sizzle enough on either end to jeopardize the friendship, or perhaps they recognize that the differences which fire their friendly debates would burn them as a couple.

Whatever the case, each has considered it while watching reruns alone on more than one Saturday night and concluded that it’s not worth it.

Since Not-Worth-Its acknowledge a latent attraction, they are always at risk of giving in to their curiosity in a lonely, drunken moment and ruining the friendship. But if they’re dedicated to maintaining solid boundaries, they have at least a decent chance of staying cool with their friendly vibe.

3. Exes Without Regrets
You’ve probably heard the adage that exes can’t be friends, if not had it shoved down your throat once or twice by amateur counselors intent on saving you from your own optimism. Unfortunately, if you failed to heed their warnings, you may have discovered that they were right on the way home from your ex’s place, minus strategic articles of clothing and the scabs that once protected your relationship wounds from a safe distance. As much as we’d like to believe that platonic love conquers all, most of the time, it doesn’t.

However, as with every rule, there are exceptions. The first occurs in that rare event that both members of a couple want out of the relationship due to incompatibility, waning attraction, or some other innocuous reason and part ways amicably. They continue to think the world of each other even though they no longer want to be each other’s world. Did I mention this is rare?

More commonly, one or both parties will walk away hurt, angry, or both but, in time, may recover, get on with life, and revisit the amazing friendship that was buried for so long in a dysfunctional relationship. In this case, reconciliation hinges on true healing, which doesn’t happen effortlessly or overnight.

Both members must reach a place in which they no longer resent each other and, more importantly, not only accept that they’re not together but no longer want to be. It helps if the two had a strong history of friendship before the romance evolved. It also helps if they have moved on to new relationships so that neither will be tempted back by loneliness or nostalgia.

In both these scenarios, the key to genuine friendship is that the ex-partners are Exes Without Regrets. They may have fond memories of a time when they were more than friends but are now perfectly content to leave those memories in the past tense.

When Single Men and Women Can’t Be Friends

1. Friends-Plus
When you’re Friends-Plus, you and your plus-one are well on the way to becoming a twosome. You may tell everyone you’re “just friends,” but your accidental encounters at the water cooler, longing glances across the table, and breathless, blushing giggles tell a different story, and we all know how it ends. Either you give in to the growing pressure in the chemistry cooker and the friendship gives way to a relationship (or at least a series of lustful trysts), or you try to suppress your feelings.

Those who choose the latter option need look no farther than Yellowstone’s famous Old Faithful geyser to see what happens when something steamy is forced underground. After awhile, it can’t be contained anymore, so it erupts. Passion denied will eventually boil over in a flood of indignation, resentment, jealousy, or spite as the friends who can’t admit they’re more than friends watch each other pretending to move on (or not).

If you find yourself in a friendship like this, you must realize it’s not a friendship; it’s the prelude to a relationship. The solution is to transition it into a relationship so you can stop driving yourselves and everyone around you crazy or else be merciful and make a clean break. Whatever you do, don’t be fooled into thinking that you can be “friends” indefinitely when you have always been more. That is a recipe for heartbreak.

2. Seesaw Riders
Do you remember how hard it was to ride a seesaw when you and your playmate were imbalanced? One of you was always grounded, and the other was forever up in the air. Similarly, single adults have an imbalanced friendship when one is rooted in the belief that it’s nothing but a friendship while the other rides high on romantic bliss.

Though the infatuated party may cling to hope for awhile, eventually he or she gets frustrated when overtures of affection aren’t returned, and his or her dreams come crashing down to earth.

What follows may be an uncomfortable confession of love, withdrawal, a guilt trip, ploys for attention, or manipulative attempts to make the beloved “jealous.” Whatever tactic the jilted friend takes, it will have the same effect as jumping off a seesaw in mid-air. The friendship will hit the ground with a thud, and the unsuspecting friend will be hurt.

If your friendship is masking a one-sided attraction, you should understand that it’s as impossible to be long-term Seesaw Riders as it is to be permanent Friends-Plus. The temptation is to wait for your friend to change his or her mind about you — to either develop a crush or get over one. The problem is that you could be waiting a long time for this to happen, possibly with no results. In the meantime, if you are the unrequited lover, you hurt yourself by fixating on someone who doesn’t reciprocate, and if you are the object of affection, you hurt your friend by allowing him or her to hope in vain. Either way, harboring secret feelings prevents your friendship from remaining open and honest.

Seesaw Riders need to work up the nerve to air their feelings as soon as possible, before they establish an unhealthy pattern of secretiveness and obsession. Set your friend straight about what it is you want — just a friendship or something more — and then get off the seesaw. Make it clear that, as much as you care about him or her, you can’t stay in a “friendship” when either your feelings or your friend’s are not just friend-ly. With time apart, one of you may realize that your feelings have changed, and you can return to each other on the same page. But until that happens, seek out other, more balanced friendships.

3. Exes With Regrets
The reason Exes Without Regrets are rare is that the fate of most relationships is decided unilaterally. Someone leaves, and someone is left. Even if both partners agree that something isn’t working, often one person wants to give it another chance, communicate more, let bygones be bygones, turn over a new leaf, or otherwise reconcile.

Other times, neither party really wants to break up but can’t find an adequate solution to their conflicts. In all of these scenarios, it’s not unusual for at least one partner to cherish fantasies about the road not taken.

Many former couples attempt to scale back their relationships to friendships, especially if they were friends before they were lovers. However, Exes With Regrets face an Olympic-level challenge dodging the obstacles of unrequited affection, unresolved differences, and jealousy when new love interests appear. The baggage of pain and anger from the relationship may weigh down efforts to keep the friendship light, while the slippery residue of tender feelings may cause ex-lovers to stumble on the path to healing.

Ultimately, lots of these “friendships,” though begun with good intentions, collapse under the pressure of wounded feelings, disillusionment, and bitterness or fade away into strained, distant echoes of what they once were.

Still, there’s hope for these former teammates to join forces again. Like Seesaw Riders, Exes With Regrets should bench their friendship until the ghost of relationships past is no longer a hurdle. Once the regrets have left the building, they can dust off their friendship and give it another go.

The perennial question of whether single men and women can be friends has less to do with gender than with the unique feelings of the members involved. No matter how the friendship formed and what its past may be, the key to its success is platonic love in the present. As long as feelings on both sides are friend-ly, male-female pairs can represent the very best of what friendship offers, an understanding strengthened by its differences.

This article appears courtesy of

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