The other night I was sitting next to a friend at dinner – someone I’ve known for ages – and the conversation turned promisingly to the subject of close friendship between men and women.
Now I know you know what’s coming. We’ve all seen the film and we’ve all sooner or later considered this topic. But I still think it’s one worth airing – particularly for us OUT LOUDERS.
Interestingly once I wrote it all down, I postponed posting for a number of days; even seriously thought about abandoning the whole thing – which is very unlike me. There’s something in here that I worry doesn’t cast me in the best light – I’m feeling some of you may think this is all a bit silly or out-dated. I’m also anxious you might judge me – here’s an aspect of my life I’m not happy with and yet I’m not actually doing anything about it. Call yourself a coach!
Still because of all that, and probably because I’m a contrary kind of person, the subject and this blog is sitting on my shoulder saying ‘Post me, Post me’ so here we are…
Therefore to continue … this friend was saying that he felt that ultimately however friendly and neutral things seem between a man and a woman, sexual attraction is inevitably going to get in the way. His perspective was that’s just how human beings are (I think he was saying that’s how male human beings are but I don’t want to misquote him) and, at the end of the day, we are all just animals with animal instincts.
I gave my spiel about how I didn’t agree, that we do have the capacity to control those ‘animal’ urges and I quoted this other friend (also male) who said that intimacy does not of itself signal sexuality. My dinner companion really disagreed with that one- that word ‘intimacy’ seemed to take things to another level altogether.
But then he asked if I had any male friends. Really, really? And I have to admit I was stumped. I had an emergency think and offered rather weakly that I had male friends through work but he said they didn’t count because that’s professional. I’m not so sure because there are at least a couple I feel close to and who I regard as more than just work colleagues.
However putting work aside if we must, the answer was a rather shamefaced ‘no’. I had to concede that I don’t have one male friend who I could phone up and say come and have a coffee and a natter or go to the cinema with. I said this was all down to marriage, that I always had lots of male friends before I got married right back to when I was a little girl and was great friends around the age of 10 with Robert and Brian who I really liked a lot.
But once I got married all that seemed to go out the window, especially once I had children, was a stay at home mum and sucked in to a predominantly female world of toddler groups, play dates and school pick-ups (oh, the flurry of interest when a daddy appeared in his suit at the school gates or more intriguingly in weekend wear).
Convention dictated that you couldn’t get too friendly with other men, even other daddies, especially other daddies … because that would signal potential infidelity and however innocent you might be, it’s not what’s going on in your head, it’s what’s going on in everyone else’s head that counts. I’ve always thought that really sad but accepted it as ‘how things are’. (I wonder, would I accept it now?)
So as a result we are all friendly with the husbands of our friends and you can have a little flirt or a little conversation with them and sometimes those conversations can go quite deep but then we never cross the boundary, never take it further, never allow those friendships to develop independently of our spouses.
How very, very odd we all are, don’t you think? Or are we?
I’ve passed this by a couple of girlfriends and they say stuff about boundaries and they don’t look particularly bothered. But I am bothered. I’ve always noticed that big gap in my life because I absolutely know that if I were friends with a man, real, intimate friends that functioned outside the marriage relationship, I wouldn’t sleep with him – and if I did decide to, I wouldn’t be married any more. In other words I think I could be friends with a man and sex wouldn’t get in the way but it’s society that says no.
I’m not sure why this is so important to me. Reading back, it sounds rather old fashioned and irrelevant. And for an OUT LOUDER like me makes no sense. It all feels a bit dishonest. And a bit inauthentic.
So what do you think? If you are in a committed relationship, do you have true, real, intimate friendships with people of the opposite sex? If not, why not? And if you do, how have you managed it? Is your partner super enlightened or is it not a big deal? Is it a generational thing perhaps? Did I come of age in a time when people were much more conventional about who you could get friendly with?
Would it be different if I’d carried on working? Is it just the stay at homers that are affected by this stuff? Is it different if you’re married? If you’re gay? Please share with us – I would really, really like to know about your experiences.
Finally if you are as confused as me and would like to explore being more authentic and honest in all your relationships, then maybe you need to speak to someone who’s got this stuff sorted. On the other hand if you want to explore with someone who openly admits she offers no solutions, has absolutely no idea of what’s right or wrong in this most fascinating of areas but does pledge to be honest, non-judgemental and truthful (in other words, in my own way, fully OUT LOUD) then maybe I am the coach for you. If so please contact me at and we can start the conversation.
This is an interesting question. I have several male friends – made through working in the coaching or embodiment field. We meet for coffee and work on projects. And I honestly can say that there is nothing sexual in our relationship! Occassionally over the years, I’ve met a bloke and there has been a strong attraction. I find this difficult as I’m in a long term relationship and as it happens so rarely, it takes me by surprise and stirs things up – although nothing happens! I can also find myself occassionally feeling a stiring of sexuality with other women.
Bascially, I think regardless of gender there are a few people who will rouse sexuality in us and the rest are just friends!
That is how it works for me anyway!
Hmm interesting Beth and I notice that the friendships with men that seem to feel comfortable for you are ones from work. I wonder about the others and whether once there is a sexual element, then you have to back off. Is it possible to know about the attraction yet still pursue the friendship without it threatening your relationship with your partner?
Yes – I often work with men and never a problem here. I tend to ride out the attraction thing when it (rarely) happens – I still keep on in friendship. I think telling your partner you do fancy someone else helps keep it in check. But I think it needs to be done with lightness and ease – not in a ‘I have something to tell you’ way Interesting discussion I think!
Great, so as is so often the case, openness is the key here Beth
Oooohh – in-ter-es-ting. Growing up I always got on MUCH better with boys, which I always put down to having 2 brothers, and being encouraged to be a tomboy. That only changed when I got married and I suddenly seemed able to be friends with women in a way I hadn’t managed before, which I loved and now really treasure those friendships. And THEN I realised at some point that I didn’t have any male friends at all any more. Not sure why. Maybe it’s the same reasons you’ve written about? I also think I either made up, or picked up some vibe that it would cause problems with my husband, but I was never conscious of that – it was more some kind of telepathy. And when my marriage broke down I discovered that I actually felt starved of male company, and I began, awkwardly at first, to make friends with men again, and make the effort to rekindle some of the male friendships I’d let slide. They feel different to my female friendships, and like you, I think, there’s something about that that bothers me. And now that there’s a very slight whiff of reconciliation with my husband in the air, one thing I feel is important to hold onto and to nurture, is my friendships with other men. I am choosing to see it as unfair to rely on any one man to provide such a huge proportion of the male energy in my life – too much responsibility for anyone!
Love where you are looking Louisa, somehow focusing on male energy makes things feel different. Maybe the quality of friendship between men and women is not so much to do with sexuality but more energy. But I’m not sure why. Are you? And I really like the point you make about it being a big ask to expect us to get everything from just one person. The question of Jealousy seems to be floating around now but are jealous feelings worthy of so much attention?