Can Men and Women be Friends?

Updated: May 13, 2021

This age-old question that has and is still widely disputed and there is no unanimous view on it. We live in the 21st Centuray, relationship status quo have changed and for some having cross-sex friendships is more comforting as genetically men and women having different ways of thinking. The difference for some can be of benefit when it comes to rationalising matters of life. But, what really takes place in a cross-sex friendship? Does one person catch feelings because of sexual tension or is one person there because the other has something of benefit and wires get crossed?



Type of Friendship

Friendships between men and women can be complicated especially if you catch feelings you might end up caught in a jealous, frustrating relationship that becomes detrimental to your mental state. You need to first understand what type of friendship you have for it to better serve you and for you to understand if feelings could ever be reciprocated:

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle named three types of friendships:

  • Friendships of utility

  • Friendships of pleasure

  • Friendships of the good

Friendships of utility involve an ulterior motive and a person is useful to you for one reason or another, and you’re useful to them. In this type of friendship you will both benefit from the friendship and both end up getting something out of it.


Friendships of pleasure are similar to friendships of utility, but the benefit is pleasure, or fun. The pleasure is not sexual, rather feel good, light-hearted social fun.


Friendships of the good are like the ‘perfect friendship’. This type of friendship is invaluable, seeking what's best for the other person and there is no altera motive; you just respect and appreciate each other.


We will come across many people in life and build different types of interpersonal relationships. As we meet people and get to know them, they will pass through levels of friendship allowing our interpersonal relationships to change over time. Acquaintances, clients, colleagues, business partners can all become friends but our friendships will differ and be categorised based on which category they fit into.



Friendship Gets Tricky

At times it can be hard to tell what type of category you fall into in a friendship as the other person may view the friendship as a pleasurable one and you mistake the pleasure aspect to feelings. The problem we face in today's society is many people do not realise the difference between being an ‘acquaintance friend’ someone with whom you are friends with and are on good terms and having a ‘friendship of the good’ where an intimate bond is shared on a platonic level. You may think of them on a romantic level, but they think of you as a person who is nice, and fun to hang out with, but they aren't connected with you enough to have a deeper relationship.


This is when channels get crossed and you find a man staying in a friendship with a woman they are sexually and romantically attracted to, in the hope of something happening in the future. And then you find a woman staying friends with a man they know likes them even when they don’t feel the same sexual attraction back because they are in a “Friendship of Utility”.



Clear Message

Being bombarded by mixed messages, hope and wild speculation on how or if someone will feel the same way can cause emotional conflict.To avoid this it's best to communicate feelings as early as possible. Being in a one sided relationship can cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

"Uncertainty always makes us feel as though we don’t have control over our environment,”

Conflicting emotional messaging is a major stressor that will undoubtedly contribute to emotional distress and increase the risk for psychiatric illness. Being subjected to a friendship with contradictory messages not only causes you frustration and sadness, it also impacts another, extremely important element of our psyche: trust.


When trust is questioned we sometimes overthink as we do not have control over someone else's action. If you find your self in this situation you need to focus on our physical health and wellness and only invest in the friends that are healthy to your wellbeing.



Healthy Friendships

A healthy, positive friendship can do alot for your mental health, not only will you be secure but you will thrive in life, boosting your happiness and reducing your stress levels. You will improve your self-confidence and self-worth. This is what a positive friendship should look like:

  • Mutual respect of each other’s opinions, even when you disagree,

  • Building each other up and compliment the best qualities in each other, rather than tearing each other down,

  • Present both in the good and bad times

  • Both make each other laugh, and share a similar sense of humor and outlook on life

  • Able to talk openly without feeling judged or embarrassed

  • Effort is made on both sides to stay in touch with each other, even in spite of distance or busy lifestyles

  • Both value each other’s opinions, and seek each other out for advice

  • Able to be open, vulnerable and honest with each other

  • Mutual love for each other and you would feel a gap if this person were not your friend


In conclusion cross-sex friendships have become a recent phenomenon and are not going away anytime soon, the key is when your friendship is implicated by an attraction that is not reciprocated in a positive way, you need to evaluate your mental health and the long-term mateship. Relationships change and evolve over time; it's part of the cycles of life, and people will serve different purposes in your life at different times. So long as you maintain mental balance and not put pressure on yourself to live in secrecy because of your attraction for another you can be in a happy healthy state, but If you’re struggling with the mental health impacts of mixed messages, consider speaking with a therapist to sort through the confusion of your present state of mind.


If you would like to speak to someone about any relationship issues or advice check out https://www.benenden.co.uk

Listen To Podcast Ep:20 Can Men and Women be Friends?




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