According to Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally (via YouTube), “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Although that film came out in 1989, this “truism” was a Hollywood cliché by that point, since in movies and TV shows (and quite a few books, too), it’s rare have a man and a woman who simply interact with each other without there being any type of undercurrent that hints at a potential romance.
But what about real life, can men and women be “just friends” there? The List spoke with clinical psychologist, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, and she did confirm that, “Given our societal norms and general gender preferences, same-sex ‘best friendships’ are more common than opposite-sex ‘best friendships.'” She explains that it’s natural that males tend to feel more comfortable with other males, and the same goes for females. However, she says, “it’s certainly not highly unusual for a male to have a female as a best friend.” She also points out that many straight women tend to have close friendships with gay males (she didn’t say whether the same situation exists between straight men and lesbians) due to the fact that, as she puts it, “when sexual interest is off the table, an authentic friendship often blossoms.”
What are some of the factors leading to opposite-sex friendships?
Men and women become friends in much the same way that men become friends with other men and women with other women -– friendships often arise quite naturally out of shared life experiences. Boys and girls can be friends when they are attending the same schools, and many male and female coworkers also share close, yet non-sexual friendships. People who play on the same sports teams or share other hobbies may also become close without gender being a factor. Manly says that, “If a best friendship is truly just a friendship with no romantic overtones, the relationship is often the result of common interests, shared values, and a mutual appreciation.”
Even if one or both of the friends are involved in a relationship, this need not be a concern. As Manly explains, in a relationship, “if both partners feel safe, secure, and bonded … the sex of the best friend is a non-issue.”
Why a woman might feel threatened if her boyfriend's BFF is a woman
In Manly’s opinion, “A girlfriend who has never encountered a situation where a male has a female best friend can be taken aback simply because it is an unfamiliar situation.” She’ll most likely move from “taken aback” to concerned, and rightfully so, should her partner be less than open about the situation. If he starts acting secretive around her, and/or flirtatious around his friend, either action can be seen as a serious red flag. Things get especially tricky if the friend was ever, at any point in the past, a romantic partner, as in such a case, according to Manly, “the girlfriend may naturally fear that the romance will restart at some point.”
Another factor contributing to friction surrounding same-sex friendships is if the girlfriend doesn’t feel secure in her relationship apart from any perceived threat posed by the friend. If she and her boyfriend aren’t rock solid to begin with, she’s likely to feel threatened and jealous by the thought of her boyfriend sharing a close friendship with another woman.
How to cope with your BF having a female bestie
If a woman find herself in a situation where it’s her boyfriend who has a best friend who’s not just “one of the guys,” she shouldn’t beat herself up if it makes her feel uncomfortable, since this is only natural. Instead, what she should do, according to Manly, is “self-reflect about any internal fears she has that are not well-founded.” If her boyfriend is generally an honest, up-front guy and he’s given her every reason to believe he genuinely cares about her, then chances are he’s not interested in hooking up with his gal pal.
Easy to say, yeah, but getting to such a state of acceptance isn’t always easy to do. Manly acknowledges that “being introspective can be difficult, as it takes objectivity to tease apart our fear-based feelings such as jealousy.” She encourages continuing to dig, though, via journaling, talking with a good friend (of either gender), and really trying to come to grips with any fears that are not founded in reality.
Don't ignore any red flags
If, on the other hand, Manly says you find that your “fears are based in red flag issues such as the boyfriend being secretive or having a history of betrayal,” in that case, she cautions, “it’s important to take the issues seriously.” Her advice is to have a straightforward, open conversation with the boyfriend, even if he (and you) would rather have a root canal than the dreaded “relationship talk.” Sometimes you just gotta, you know?
If your boyfriend is what Manly calls “emotionally intelligent,” she feels that “he’ll be able to support you in accepting that the relationship is not a threat. ” If he truly is just friends with this person and committed to you, clearing the air may enable the two of you to work things out and emerge all the stronger for it. If, on the other hand, he explodes in rage or tries gaslighting you by insisting he doesn’t even know this woman he’s DMing with daily … well, in that case, the problem lies not in his friendship with a woman, but in his personality. Let his friend deal with him if she’s able –- you’d be better off channeling your inner Gloria Gaynor and belting out these words, “Go on now, go. Walk out the door / Just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore” (via AZLyrics).
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