Is it Possible For a Man and a Woman to Be “Just Friends”?

Adrian Johnson
5 min readJul 24, 2020

Can a man and a woman maintain a close friendship without sex entering the relationship? Or are platonic cross-sex friendships the exception to the rule?

cute boy with girl

It’s no secret that relationships between the sexes can be a bit of a minefield. Websites, seminars, coaches, therapists, magazines, books, and even entire sections of bookstores are dedicated to assisting our romantic endeavors. Each person has their own theories and strategies to make these bonds as long and as productive as possible.

There seems to be, however, a distinct lack of guidelines for navigating a friendship between a man and a woman. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it is still questioned whether such a relationship can even exist. Or maybe it is because close friendships between the sexes have only emerged in recent years and this concept is too new to be “figured out”.

Whatever the reason, platonic relationships happen to be substantially tricky to navigate as well. This complexity is only magnified when the friendship is between a guy and a girl.

Can a Real Friendship Exist at All?

This is a very loaded question that has caused a great deal of debate in the past. Some people, mostly men, are quick to reply with an emphatic “NO” along with the one giant reason why: sex. Many men and more than a few women would argue that a close friendship cannot exist between a man and a woman without sex getting in the way somehow.

Sex could take the form of unaddressed tension in the relationship, misinterpreted flirtation, or an out-and-out sexual relationship. Regardless of the degree to which sex is part of the friendship, many would argue that it is always present.

On the other hand, many would argue that given the right circumstances, a close friendship can certainly occur between a man and a woman. We live in a society of equality and shared interests between genders. Women are involved in sports and men are finding that it is more socially acceptable to access their emotional sides. This all makes it easier to participate in casual social interaction between people of different genders; but if sex is always lurking in the background, is it truly a platonic relationship?

Falling Into the Sexual Hierarchy

While I was discussing this issue with a variety of people, I was presented with a very interesting theory from a friend of mine; who incidentally happens to be a guy. Dave is very passionate about this particular topic and jumped at the chance to assist me in writing about it. His position on the issue is that men and women cannot ever maintain a true friendship because of, what he describes as, a Sexual Evaluation Hierarchy.
When a man and a woman meet for the first time they size each other up. Immediately and subconsciously each are placed on some level of the other’s metaphorical sexual ladder. As their interactions continue they may move up or down the other person’s ladder as a result of many different factors.

For example: Laura may say something ditzy to Kyle about how fake tanning has become like a religion to her and Kyle subconsciously drops Laura down a few rankings in his hierarchy and she is no longer a sexual prospect in his mind. Meanwhile, in Laura’s mind, Kyle loves the same music and movies and he tells the best jokes so he remains in the top spot of her “ladder”. This causes an unbalance in the relationship and a true friendship cannot develop.

As long as this hierarchy exists among men and women it will almost always hinder a genuine platonic relationship between the sexes. No matter what the current dynamic is between a guy and a girl, this theory states that everyone will always be seeking to move up the ranks of another person’s “ladder”. If at any point in the friendship Laura moves back up to the top of Kyle’s sexual hierarchy a physical encounter is likely to occur.

While the notion of a subconscious sexual hierarchy remains a working theory, and is in no way intended to be taken as anything more than a theory, it lends itself to a few exceptions. Clearly there can be a deep and meaningful cross-sex friendship if one or both people involved are of a different sexual orientation. I see no need to further explain that exception.

The other exception occurs when neither person sees the other as sexually attractive; meaning both people have fallen down the ranks on the other person’s ladder and they do not see each other as a sexual prospect. This one happens quite often, however, it is a delicate balance to maintain.

Many things can occur to throw the relationship dynamic off and it quickly becomes a one-sided friendship. One person might start developing deeper feelings for the other and when it ends up that the feeling is not mutual, the friendship shatters. A classic trapping of cross-sex friendships is when one person’s romantic relationship starts crumbling and she seeks her “great guy friend” for support and suddenly he moves to the top rank and the relationship turns sexual.

friends

Take a Closer Look

When asked if you think a relationship like this could exist, you might initially say, “Of course!” Many would jump to this initial conclusion. A survey done by Match.com of 1,400 members revealed that 83% believed that a completely platonic friendship between a man and a woman is certainly possible. However, 62% of those surveyed reported having a friendship with the opposite sex become romantic or physical.

Often when a so called “platonic” relationship between members of opposite genders are placed under closer scrutiny it will be discovered that there is, in fact, a sexual element present. Ask yourself: is your relationship with your “great guy friend” or that girl who is “awesome to hang out with” the standard in today’s society? Or are you two the exception that proves the rule?

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Adrian Johnson

I’ve been working in online dating for 10 years. Not to be recognised, I use a pseudonym and not real photo and want to share my thoughts, researches here.