Can Women and Men just be Friends?: Dating and The Age-Old Question

Can men and women just be friends?  That is a question that many writers, singers, and infinitely countless number of women and men and boys and girls have pondered through the ages.  It is the quintessential age-old question.  I, too, have pondered this question over the years, and my interest in gender studies and my own personal experiences in the murky waters that can be male and female friendship has led me to examine this subject one again.  Also, I have noticed that of all my blog postings, the most popular one is my first post on Word Press, “Love, rejection, and poetry (a.k.a. a heart, a wall, and vulnerability)”.  I have observed that there is an wide interest in the topic of rejection judging by the many google searches where people end up on my blog when they are looking for topics such as “love rejection poems”, “heartbreaking love poems”, “rejection poetry”, and “famous poems on rejection” (I didn’t realize that I was famous).  If you are interested in reading my post on love and rejection, then feel free to link to it here: https://julieannesmith.wordpress.com/2012/01/

Today I was reading an article in the Daily Illini online written by Tanya Trivedi on 4/24/12 entitled “Just friends or hidden desires: Cross-gender friendships not clear-cut.”  I found the article to be thought-provoking and well-written, and it caused me to re-visit this topic, ponder my personal experiences, and take action to write a blog post.  Trivedi begins her article with a quote from Oscar Wilde and then she poses some interesting questions.  Here is an excerpt:

“Centuries ago, Oscar Wilde said, “Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.” Can his perception of friendships between males and females still ring true in regards to sprouting relationships in the 21st century? Perhaps love, passion, enmity or worship is lurking under the illusory layer of what we think of as friendship.”

(Quoted from http://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/04/just_friends_or_hidden_desires_crossgender_friendships_not_clear_cut)

Look deeper in to your friends personality

Look deeper in to your friends personality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My experiences in the vastly murky waters of male/female friendships (and relationships) has not always been a pleasant one.  Hence, some of my poetry.  I am definitely not a huge dater, and I actually have only dated a small number of guys in my life.  There is a long list of reasons for that, but I am sure no one here wants to read a book.  However, to give a “Julie’s condensed version”, I would say some of the reasons are:

1. My parent’s divorce scarred me, and I have various fears related to love.  I am greatly troubled by the vast number of marriages that end in divorce, and how it seems (for reasons that I do not understand) that people can have longer relationships with their favorite sweater than a committed, lasting, and emotionally healthy and stable marriage.  Pardon my bluntness.

2. I am quite independent, and I have never been one to “need a man” to be happy.  Sometimes it seems to me that many women let  their own emotional contentedness and happiness with their life rest on the fact of whether or not they have a boyfriend (or husband).  I would like to think that has never been me.

3.  I am not a fan of internet dating.  I prefer to know a guy in person.  However, with the current rise of internet dating, sometimes it seems that I am the only one not really desiring to run out and do e-harmony or Match.com.  Almost every wedding that I have attended in the last 5 years came about as the result of internet dating.  Am I missing out?  Personally, I do not think so.

4. I keep busy with my friends, family, interests, church, and (previously) my educational degrees that I attained.

5. Financial limitations, perhaps??? I was unemployed after the two companies that I worked for both closed during the Recession, and no way was my focus on dating.  Also, these days, while I am a feminist, I still think that it is beautiful for a guy to treat a girl very special on a date, as well as to pay, especially if you are first dating and the guy has initiated the date.  Call me sexist if you want to, but honestly I like that tradition and think it is quite noble and honorable.  However, often times both parties wish to date but do not have any money.  Dating doesn’t really need to involve much money, and creative and free alternatives can also be done. Personally, I am quite content with pizza (which you can cook at home) and a relaxing movie, but it can be nice to go out, too.  (Good conversation is always free, might I add).  However, if I am left to fend for myself and pay my own way (as some guys seem to prefer), then honestly I would much rather be able to afford to pay my rent and have paper towels than to go to a nice dinner at Texas Roadhouse.  Dating is not a necessity, but I will not go so far as to say dating is a luxury, either.  I also think that there are economic factors in dating that have been overlooked and heretofore have not been the focus of Sociological studies about dating.

6. I strongly prefer being friends with women to being friends with men, with a few exceptions over the years.  Those exceptions are typically  the husbands of my close female friends (or my Dad or brother), however some other exceptions that I have made over the years have led to pain and heartache, causing me to being even MORE apt to prefer friendship with women rather than men.  My heart has been hurt enough over my lifetime.  Finally, it can be hard to safeguard your heart and still be open to romantic love, which I desire.

7.  Ok, ok, maybe I am writing a book here.  So, I will end this list with the fact that I am picky.  Also, often the guys that I would enjoy dating do not clearly initiate, most guys seem gun-shy about using the D-word (author’s side note: which I understand, because none of us like rejection…but I totally agree with a quote from the movie When in Rome: “the passion is in the risk” or “the beauty is in the risk”), and I can be shy when I like a guy.  And, as far as being picky, I think that it is important to have an emotional connection with a guy that you would date, as well as a physical attraction.  Also, I would enjoy some common spiritual beliefs, however I have had it both ways in dating, and honestly I found it challenging both ways but for different reasons.  Finally, two of the qualities that I find most endearing in a guy are seldom found together: boldness and gentleness.  I desire to be treated tenderly and gently, and guys that have a gentle and caring personality are very attractive to me.  However, I also enjoy bold guys who are leaders, highly verbal, and “Joshua” type men (meaning Joshua from the Bible).  If I ever find a guy who has both qualities, that may be the perfect guy for me.

As far as men and women just being friends, I am coming to realize that I cannot do that topic justice in one blog post.  I will say that it is a hotly debated topic, and in my personal experience some guys that I used to be friends with have acted like they no longer wanted to be my friend after they asked me out, and I verbally told them that I did not feel that same way about them.  No one wants to hear “I just think of you as a friend”, but sometimes that is the truth and there is no romantic spark whatsoever.  I would rather be honest, but I never want to hurt anyone.  I remember a guy friend in college who I suspected liked me, but I had a boyfriend.  Almost immediately after my boyfriend and I broke up, there was an instance where the three of us were eating lunch together.  We went to part ways and my ex left first.  My guy friend at that point took the opportunity to kiss me on the forehead while I was standing there shocked and stunned, and he said, “I can do that now since you are single.”  UH, NO!  Sometimes stuff like that makes me frustrated, and at times it feels like male/female friendships (and relationships) are like buried landmines in a vast field where you walk across the field and do your best to escape without major damage to life and limb.  Alright, I am being dramatic.  It is nowhere near that complicated or harmful, but male/female friendships are challenging and pose unique issues for everyone involved.

How about you?  I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on male/female friendships.  Do you find them challenging?  How do you safeguard yourself from being hurt?  Do you even think men and women can be friends, or is it a lost cause and we are all fooling ourselves?

On the Eve of Valentine’s Day

A treehouse in Marayur, Kerala, India

When I was growing up, I lived on 18 acres in the country and we had a creek that ran through the woods…..that was definitely pretty cool….but I must say a major childhood disappointment of mine is that I never did get the horse that I longed for when we moved from the city to the country when I was in grade school.  Back then, I subscribed to Horse Illustrated, wanted an Arabian (one of the most beautiful horses, in my opinion), and I loved Black Beauty and the Black Stallion.  We also had a tree house which was neat….and then of course I also thought it was fun to build a fort with couch cushions and blankets.  But, here I am digressing…and if you are wondering what building forts (with couch cushions or otherwise) has to do with being on the eve of Valentine’s Day….well, then I guess you will have to bear with me.  Don’t forts and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand?  I have always thought so.  Just kidding!

Seriously, I think the reason I used to build forts out of couch cushions was because I was attempting to be safe and secure when my world had sort of fallen apart.  I think I wanted to “hide”(important side note: what concerns me is that sometimes I still see this tendency in myself, to hide, and that is something that I am attempting to break out of).  So, my parent’s divorced when I was five, and one of my earliest childhood memories was waking up to my parent’s in a huge fight and sitting on opposite ends of the family couch….and then my Dad leaving with his suitcase in hand the next day.  Honestly, every child longs to know they are loved and to know they have a family that they can lean on through thick and thin.  Divorce makes the security of a family unstable, i.e. that when the going gets hard, your family falls apart and marriage vows get thrown out the window.  When my Dad left our family, it was really sad.  I think for me it was like no longer having a security net. It did not help that my Mom would constantly bad-mouth my Dad, and sometimes it seemed like I was the ping-pong ball going back and forth between them.  Add in having to deal with family conflicts related to holidays and the added challenges of step-parents and you have a lot for a child to emotionally process, especially at a formative young age.

As you may suspect, my parent’s divorce PROFOUNDLY shaped my life and my childhood.  Sometimes, even today, it is really hard for me to imagine what it is actually like for someone to have 2 parents who are actually married, stay together, and are happy.  I wonder what it is like to not have to be a human ping-pong ball between 2 households?  I wonder what it is like to be a “functional family?”  Does anyone even know?  You only ever hear of “dysfunctional” families.  Personally, I think we need to talk more about family strengths and about the “functional” family.  I desire to know more about families where marriages thrive and are beautiful, healthy, and whole.  Since my family on both sides has a fair number of divorces and broken hearts, I eventually realized that I needed to cognitively search out marriages that I admired, which would give me hope and inspiration.  This was a good idea, and I think helped me to fill in the gaps, so to speak, in order to encourage me in my views of marriage and enabled me to have a more positive, healthy mindset (not a fear-based one….which can be hard sometimes, if I am being real).

Finally, being on the Eve of Valentine’s Day makes me think of love and joy and marriage.  I am not trying to be a “downer” with this post, and I know that it is nowhere near a typical Valentine’s Day post.  I do want to mention that Valentine’s Day is a beautiful time to express the sweet appreciation that married couples and dating couples should be showing to each other all year round.  It is so important to not take one another for granted….every day is a special, amazing gift….and kind words like “I love you”, “I appreciate you”, or “you make me smile” may just be what a spouse or significant other is longing to hear.  Some people also enjoy gifts, such as flowers, chocolates , or Teddy bears.  Valentine’s Day is also a good day for children to know how much they are loved by their parents and other people in their lives.  Essentially, while some individuals are jaded about Valentine’s Day, perhaps due to bitter break-ups and various hurts, and others lament about it being a “Hallmark holiday”, I believe that Valentine’s Day is a nice time for kind words, love, and appreciation.  May all who read this know they are loved and cared about.  Happy Valentine’s Day!!!!!

Happy Valentine's Day...

Happy Valentine’s Day… (Photo credit: Јerry)