Just Friends?

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I suspect that most females, myself included, have uttered one of the following phrases at some point or another:

Oh I just hang out with the guys.
Pretty much all my friends are guys.
Guys are just easier.

And we say this with pride.

Now, there are some girls who grew up naturally as tomboys and didn’t ever need to tell anyone about it. They are the girls who, in elementary school, just really got into sports or grew up with brothers, or who may have felt genuinely rejected by girls. They had fun with the boys and they never thought anything of it.  But these are not the girls of which I speak.  For most of us aren’t this type of girl.

Most of us started out at the all-girls lunch table.  “Guys are easier” began when one daring girl decided to forge the great valley between her table and the boys’.  This is the girl who used to play four-square but had been closely watching the football game out on the recess field and decided it might be to her advantage to go out there and play.  She would occasionally come back to the girls and they would build up a combination of admiration and resentment for her.  As time passed, a few would follow in her footsteps. Typically, these were the more popular girls on into middle and high school. They were not the ones who only wore Nike shorts and t-shirts (the tomboys who didn’t need to tell everyone they were tomboys,) but instead, the girls who could change easily between the Nike shorts (rolled up,) and a mini-skirt.  These were the girls who could mitigate and manage crushes while still confidently trusting that if her guy-friend liked another girl or dated another girl, he would still, somehow, in the end, belong to her, and that, deep down, he secretly liked her more.  Because in the end, I’m friends with all the guys meant, for most of us, all the guys wish they could date me.

I know that many women will protest.  They will say that the efforts to bridge this gap and have un-sexual, equal relationships among all genders is completely possible and an important part of progress.  And that the real culprit for any sort of uneasiness or stress about it all is simply because of society’s incorrect reliance on gender distinctions and personal lack of control.

But I pose this question. If it’s no big deal to have guy friends, if it’s no different from having girlfriends, why do women so often take pride in it?

I would suggest that it is because, like it or not, we are no gender-neutral society and we are nowhere close to being such a society.  We are sexual and we are romantic beings.  And when we know that tons of guys are close friends with us, in more cases than not, we take pride in this because it affirms us.  It affirms our womanhood. It affirms our sexuality. And it affirms us emotionally in a way that a female friend cannot affirm us.  It doesn’t matter if we are not attracted to the guy.  It doesn’t matter if we think of him as a brother. He likely does not feel the same way, (See this video for example.)  But even if he does, he is still giving us something that a girlfriend cannot give us.  We know this because we say it ourselves.  Flippantly, and with a laugh, we acknowledge, guys are easier.  And by easier we mean that we get the benefits of a boyfriend and the benefits of a girlfriend altogether in this guy friend for whom we do not have to be a girlfriend.  We get to feel affirmed in a way that usually involves a certain type of commitment without the commitment.  (Again, I am not saying that all women in their friendships with men are like this. Some women really are “tomboys,” and some women may genuinely feel absolutely nothing different between their relationships with men and their relationships with women.  But I am speaking of the women for whom “having lots of guy friends” is something that gives us pride, and gives us pride because it gives us a certain type of affirmation.)

This may seem like not that a big of a deal – like, yeah sure my guy friends make me feel particularly good about myself, what of it?  But too often we get caught up in the idea that the only sort of infidelity or romantic hurt we can cause a person is that of the physical nature.  So we think when we have a guy friend who affirms us in this special, somewhat romantic – but not really – way, that we aren’t hurting anybody.  But with this we can potentially have the same mentality of the guy who sleeps around.  He says, we both enjoy it, and we’re not committed, so we’re not hurting anybody. But deep down, he ought to know that there is more to it than that.  He ought to know that he is taking something precious from the girl.  He ought to know that he is perhaps taking something from another guy.  He ought to know that he is taking something from himself.  Indeed, he is reducing the beauty of sexual commitment to simply an act that makes him feel good. 

Similarly, women can too often take the beauty of emotional commitment and reduce it to the momentary thrill of being desired or sexually approved of – to the momentary thrill of being a man’s sole or primary confidante.  I am not at all claiming that being the sole confidante for a man who is not family/boyfriend/husband is always wrong.  But we must be aware of its potential gravity.  In the same way that a man can be tempted to possess a woman physically for his own self esteem, a woman can fall into possessing a man emotionally for her own self esteem . . . and worse – fall into thinking there is nothing wrong with it.

And why do we do this?  Why do we use each other like this?  I believe it is because we are scared of rejection.  We may not feel approved of, and when we don’t feel approved of where we should feel approved of, we will go elsewhere in search of such approval.  Men sleep around because they cannot trust that they will get the affirmation they need as a man from their one woman.  Women insist on seeking out many close friendships with guys because they cannot trust that they will get the affirmation they need as a woman from their one man.  It is so sad.  Women have been let down so many times.  They have been cheated on.  They have been left.  And women are afraid.  So naturally, they want to ensure a backup plan. They want to ensure that they will still get the affirmation they need when they may not be getting it anymore.

But the only way we can ever stop the cycle of insecurity between men and women is if one side decides to make a change.  One side must admit the truth and admit their own fault in the matter.  For if we admit the truth, we will see how women who use men emotionally have contributed to unfaithful men (and in turn, how unfaithful men have contributed to women who use men emotionally.)  We will see how we have told men to cheat.  We say be our friend even when you have a girlfriend.  Don’t you dare get closer to your girlfriend than you are to me!  Keep hanging out with me.  Keep confiding in me.  Keep building me up.  But do we think about the girlfriend? What it would be like to be the girlfriend?  And do we think about how for a man, this emotional commitment too often inevitably turns physical, if at least in his mind?

We must recognize that as women we have so much power.  And when we use our power incorrectly, we hurt men so deeply and in turn, we hurt ourselves.  So I challenge us, let’s stop lying to men, and most importantly, to ourselves.  It’s not fair.   Our society is not gender neutral.  We are sexual. We are romantic.  And until that turns off, it’s going to be very difficult to accomplish legitimate deep and close platonic friendships between women and men (not impossible per se, but very difficult.)  I don’t have all the answers or the exact formula for all this.  I don’t know exactly where each boundary is.  But I do think that it is a boundary that needs to be talked about more seriously and more honestly.  It does us no good to pretend we are stronger than we are.  Thousands of affairs, physical or emotional, have begun between two friends who believed they were stronger than they were.

And so, if you are in a relationship, I urge you to talk about this with each other, and when you talk about it, listen closely.  Too often, we don’t listen. We don’t listen between the lines.  We don’t listen to the eyes and to the soul.  We shouldn’t be thinking about what we can get away with, but instead, about how well we can love this person.  So I urge you to think about how you would want to be loved and to love in that way.  And if you are single, do the same.  Think of every guy as someone else’s until he is your own.  And treat him the way you want any girl to treat your own guy. Because I promise you.  Guys will respond to us.  They want to.  They want to love us and to make us happy.  But we have to stop sending them so many conflicting messages.  We have to start loving them first.  And sometimes, depending on the situation, we must consider that loving them may mean not being their friend at all.

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