This has come up more than once lately, so of course being naturally curious about EVERYTHING, I did a little research. This actually consisted of polling friends, and thinking of my side of what I consider to be platonic relationships. Turns out, it totally depends on who you are asking.
At dinner Monday night with yes, a platonic friend, we discussed this. He and I met back in the fall, and have been friends ever since. Real, honest to goodness friends. Like me, he is a runner (although no way would I put myself in his class of being a runner…not by a long shot!). We meet as often as we can manage for dinner, or to hang out, or whatever, and talk about running, relationships, work, life. Just like I do with my girls. So, we happened on this subject by total coincidence. Halfway through dinner and in the middle of serious conversation about trail running and how I would currently suck at it, I looked at him and said,” Wow, ya know I just realized how to spot when 2 people are firmly in the friend zone”. And he said “What, because neither of us made any effort to look nice?” I started laughing and was like, “EXACTLY!” It was so true…here we both finally got our schedules to mesh to meet for dinner, and I show up in jeans, a hoodie, hair in a ponytail, glasses, and zero makeup. He strolls in in a baseball cap and a track suit. When you are dating someone, or wanting to impress them so that they will be attracted to you, one of the first things you think about is “how do I look?” So it makes sense that this can be sort of a litmus test for if you are REALLY in a platonic relationship. Because it’s not like when you have been in a relationship and you just start to get comfy with each other and you both start to slack a bit on the “dressing to impress” stuff. If you have a friend of the opposite sex, and maybe you have become attracted to them, or maybe even have been attracted all along and are hoping they will want more, you won’t slack. Of course, this excludes group settings; I’m talking about one on one time. So…my first observation: If you hang out with your friend of the opposite sex and you never concern yourself with how they are going to think you look, this is a most likely a platonic friendship.
I then decided to ask a few of my friends about their thoughts on this. In our circle, we girls have many male friends and acquaintances. Some of the responses I got were: “You can definitely have platonic relationships! Look at me and Mr. X, we have been friends for years and nothing has ever happened with us.” “I think it depends on the person. Sometimes you feel like you are just friends, and that is all you want, but they may be thinking something different.” “I think women can but men can’t. You can be friends with them but I think that they are always going to be open to something happening.” “I think it is pretty obvious if you are friends with a guy and he is hoping to be more. Think about it, if he is always hanging out with you instead of trying to talk to other girls, that’s a big sign. But, I do think it is possible to be platonic as long as you both know that is all there is.”
Hmmmm….all of those comments gave me lots to think about. Particularly the “women can but men can’t” comment. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think of several of my close male friends and I can’t imagine that they think of me in any context other than friendship. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would have picked up on that. We all know when someone is interested. It’s never really THAT subtle. And why is it that men would be put in the “can’t do it” category anyway. That doesn’t seem fair. I think that my male friends are quite evolved enough that they can handle a friendship with a woman, and that they are capable of being honest about their intentions. So, I am going to completely disagree with that one.
I guess the one that really intrigued me was the “it depends on the person” comment. This I think I can wrap my head around. But, I would change that to “it depends on the TWO people involved.” What I mean by this is that just because someone may have stronger feelings for one supposedly platonic friend does not mean that they could not have an honest friendship with a different person. It just means that for whatever reason they have developed deeper feelings than friendship with this one particular person over time. It could happen to any one of us. I don’t think this means that we aren’t capable of being platonic with someone else. So, my second observation is: If you are not picking up on any vibes that your friend is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with you (and yes, again, c’mon…you would most likely know), and you haven’t found yourself thinking of them in that way either, you are most likely in a platonic relationship.
My last observation comes from thinking about some of my guy friends who were not in a relationship when we met but are in one now. I asked myself honestly what were my true thoughts when these guys started to date these women? Jealous? Protective? Happy for them? In each case, I came back with both protective and happy for them. This turned out to be one of the most important things I learned about the possibility of true opposite sex friendships. Never in any of these instances was I jealous. In fact, quite the opposite. I had been rooting for them to find someone who would appreciate them and treat them well, having seen them go through not-so-good dating experiences in the past. Just like I do my girlfriends. At first, I was always cautiously optimistic. A cheerleader, but behind the scenes thinking “Man if she turns out to be like so-and-so I am going to be so pissed.” Because just like anyone else you care about, you want to see them happy. You don’t want to see them hurt. Not because YOU want to be with them, but because you think they deserve happiness, period. So…final observation: If you find that when a friend of the opposite sex ends up in a successful and happy relationship you are genuinely happy for them, you are in a platonic relationship.
I think what I have figured out from all of this is that it can be a slippery slope. It is definitely possible, and I know I am proof of that. I have several very close male friends that I confide in, who confide in me, that I love to hang out with, dance with, that I can call at 2 a.m. sobbing over some jerk and they will pick up the phone because they care. Not because they want anything more from me, but because they know that at that moment I am in need of male perspective and they want to be there for me. And the same goes for them. They know that they can lean on me in the same way (although if one of them called me at 2 a.m. it’s doubtful they would be sobbing. They would probably instead be looking for a ride home!). It’s great to have friends of the opposite sex that you can bounce things off of and get the other gender’s point of view. So for those reasons I am of the opinion that platonic friendships are not only possible, but they can STAY that way. As far as the slippery slope, I will concede that of course sometimes something that starts out platonic will lead to something more. But that is not a reflection on either the man or woman’s ability to have friendships with other people of the opposite sex. Just means that they can’t with you. What to do about that I am not certain…it hasn’t happened to me so I can’t say. But that would be a good research project for looking into this more in depth. So maybe now I will find people who started out as friends and ended up together, and ask them how that evolved. Stay tuned….