Once upon a time, I asked (myself) the age-old question: can (and should) men and women be “just friends”? More specifically, if a man and a woman want to marry somebody of the opposite sex — but not each other — should they become close and intimate (yet platonic) “best” friends, aka besties aka BFFs in the meantime?
I believe there are compelling reasons to conclude that the answer is ‘no,’ because in my experience, it can complicate the romantic relationship(s) in your life. And while we may not ever agree on the opposite-sex BFF debate, here’s one thing I hope we can agree upon: opposite-sex friendships, generally speaking, are good!
Because, fortunately for all of us, there’s plenty of room between having an opposite-sex BFF and avoiding all non-love interests like the plague. Fortunate, that is, because it’s actually pretty awesome to have opposite-sex friendships.
How so, you ask? Let me count the ways I’ve experienced the benefit of non-romantic female relationships in my own life:
- Need to get something done, even in a complex situation? Ask a woman.
- Want to be more gentlemanly? Spend more time with women.
- Want to become better relationship material? Invest in friendships with women.
- Want to find a woman to date (and eventually marry)? Earn a recommendation or two.
There are definitely times in my life when I’ve been tempted to think I could do without women, whether it was after a particularly stinging ghosting or…after some other particularly stinging ghosting. But there are other times when I’m reminded that women can be more thoughtful, better listeners, better in tune with others’ feelings, etc. etc. etc. — and I would be much worse off without a number of them as friends.
Just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, I got a phone call from my friend Whitney. She thought it’d be nice to get some people together for dinner in honor of our mutual friend Will’s birthday. I’m closer to Will, and while I knew it was his birthday (and was ready to party), I was somewhat paralyzed by the fact that Will didn’t care to celebrate it himself.
Sure, I probably could have forced a birthday party upon Will, and he would have gone along with it. But there was something more persuasive about Whitney’s approach — thoughtful, tasteful, and appropriate for the occasion, given Will’s feelings about it — that made him more readily amenable to the idea. And, frankly, it ultimately turned out to be a more fitting celebration than if I had planned it.
Was there anything explicitly feminine about what Whitney did? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m not sure any of the guys I know could have pulled it off with the same sort of success.
Thanks to one particularly influential woman in my life — my mom — I know a man should treat a women differently than he would a man. For instance, I have a bad habit of being rather loose with the foul end of my vocabulary, and I know I could stand to use fewer four-letter words. But this is one habit that I’ve found particularly difficult to kick, despite my best (or at least somewhat persistent) efforts.
Working in my favor, then, is this sense that women are different, and that I should then act differently — and speak differently — around them. I am particularly intentional about how I speak around women, and not just the one who brought me into this world.
It’s not that I don’t think women can handle foul language, believe me. Instead, it’s a way to pay them a compliment by stepping up my game, not unlike dressing up for an occasion you deem worthy of the effort. We all know women have to put up with plenty of men acting on their worst behavior around them, so it’s the least I can do to show them they’re deserving of respect.
My buddy Malik and I went to a bar with his girlfriend Sheila, and I saw a couple of dudes I know — let’s call them more acquaintances than buddies. They’re cool, popular guys, and so when they made an off-color joke to Sheila, I laughed along and didn’t think anything else of it.
Turns out, Sheila was not amused, nor was Malik, and Malik let them know about it. In hindsight, it bothered me that I wasn’t able to see their comment for what it was: offensive and out of line. Thanks to my friendship with Sheila (and Malik), I was able to realize I was wrong and think about how to respond better in the future.
After all, I want to be a man who defends the women in his life — not one who stands by as they’re attacked, even in seemingly innocuous ways. And I know that I’m not going to magically pick up those skills and habits when I start my next serious relationship. Hanging with Sheila, and especially paying attention to her, how she’s being treated by others, and empathizing with her in that confrontation, I was able to think intentionally about how I want to be better — and do better — both now and in the future.
Dating in 2018 is kind of crazy, let’s be honest. It’s never been so easy to meet — or at least contact — other single people. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to find the right person. It seems that women especially are all the more guarded when it comes to romance, if only because they’ve seen so many men come and go, even those who seemed like good candidates at first blush.
That’s where it comes in handy to have some good friends of the opposite sex. Women, I’ve learned, trust their friends — sometimes more than anyone else — when it comes to love.
Thanks to that trust, I’ve met some of the most impressive women I’ve taken out on dates as a result of a favorable introduction by our mutual female friends.
It should come as no surprise, though. The women I’m friends with are incredibly talented, smart, strong, lovely, and loving women (you know who you are), and so if I’m looking for that in a partner, they typically know other women with similar characteristics. But they’re not just going to set their friends up with just anybody, so I’ve had to prove my worth in my friendships, over time, to get those dates. The better guy friend I can be to them, the more likely they are to set me up with another girl they know.
That’s just a few of the many ways I’ve benefited from the female friendships in my life. So before you write off opposite-sex friendships for good, consider investing in them more intentionally instead. You’ll gain a great friend and more.