Contrary to some people’s beliefs, “let’s get coffee” doesn’t always translate to “let’s make babies.” Yet, ever since Harry threw up his arms and proclaimed, “the sex part always gets in the way” in When Harry Met Sally, the idea that a heterosexual man and woman could somehow want nothing more than friendship from each other still strikes people as a little odd.
Friendship, though, is not just the basis of a strong relationships, it’s also a type of relationship worth pursuing in and of itself. Even if a friendship begins to teeter into non-platonic terms — if you try hooking up or pull a Ross and Rachel in Friends and try to make it romantically serious — friendships can sometimes be strengthened by these failed attempts. It doesn’t mean you’re not real friends just because you’ve also entertained the idea of taking the relationship to another level.
The notion that a man and woman can be friends at all though is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. In the late-18th-century, British writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft said that opposite-gender friendship could “lead to mischief.” Yet she also said that friendship is “the most sublime of all affections” and is necessary for any healthy marriage. Compare that to previous ideas that men had a divine right to will a woman into romantic and sexual submission within the confines of marriage, and you’ll see that relationships between sexes have certainly evolved from their former status as predicated on pure erotic attraction.
Now, not all modern male-female friendships are purely deep and dedicated — some still have an element of sexual attraction. Beneath it all, there’s almost always a seed of attraction that just hasn’t been given the water it needs to grow. Attraction is a natural hazard of opposite-gender friendships. So why, you might ask, should we contend with all the drama and potential awkwardness of growing close to someone we’re potentially attracted to? Why not just stick to befriending people of a gender we’ve no romantic interest in?
Well, that’s because having a best friend of the opposite sex is worth dealing with all these things and more. Here’s why:
1. Figuring it Out Before You’re Married
Marriage is about love, romance, and sex, sure, but after those golden years of lovey-dovey romance have faded, your spouse becomes your best friend. Or at least she should. You better have some level of connection that transcends the honeymoon glow, otherwise the majority of your marriage is likely to be quite miserable. The words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” prove this point well: “friend” is the key part to both. That’s to say, if you aim for a trophy wife or get swept up in hormones with no friendship foundation, you might as well wave adieu to the prospect of a healthy future relationship. Learn how to have a meaningful friendship with the opposite sex now — that way it’s easy to parlay these skills into a serious romantic relationship (where you’re going to need them for the rest of your life).
2. The Proof is in the Friendship
Even if you are somewhat attracted to your best friend, if you’re setting boundaries for yourself and not making a move, you’re showing how much the friendship means to you. It proves you want her for her, not for what she can give you sexually — and that’s exceedingly important. Because if you can’t learn how to manage sexual tension with friends now, then you’re going to be pretty hosed in the whole, you know, crafting meaningful friendships department in the near future.
3. Tap into a Side of Yourself You Wouldn’t Otherwise Discover
The greatest writers, filmmakers and musicians — any sort of storyteller really — has the keen ability to not only understand men and women equally but to employ techniques typically viewed as masculine and feminine at the same time. In the Modernist tradition of writing, there are supposedly “masculine” tendencies, such as complex plot structure, experimental form, irony, and unresolved ambiguities. Then there are the purportedly “feminine” tendencies such as sentiment, melodrama, in-depth description, and sensationalism. The best storytellers are the ones who can tap into both, writing androgynously with a skillset that encompasses both genders. Of course, this goes far beyond storytelling too. If you can write like a woman, you can probably understand her too. Having a best friend of the opposite gender might be the only way to get to that point.
4. Learn the Rules of Attraction
I’ve never really understood the idea of straight girls going shopping with their gay best friend. I get that straight men generally aren’t keen to go shopping and gay men stereotypically are, but if she needs to look good for an upcoming date, I would think a straight girl would want a straight guy to help her out. After all, I would want a straight girl telling me what other straight women want because she would likely know best — or could at least say what she would like best. Thus having a best friend of the opposite sex is sort of like getting a free copy of a tell-all book about attraction. You help her out, she helps you out, and you both build solid dating lives and your own friendship. Ah, the ever elusive win-win.
5. Look through a Different Lens
Having a best friend of the opposite gender means you get to see life through a whole new set of perspectives. Whether it’s learning to appreciate both sports and House Hunters International or simply learning to try new things and not feeling the need to call non-typically masculine events (the ballet or shopping, for example) “girly” or “gay,” an opposite-gender best friend is a gateway into a new world of thinking.