The intersection of friendship, love, and attraction

Image credit: Nathan Walker / Unsplash

Friendship is hard. As I wrote before, friendship means different things to different people. On top of that, you throw love, attraction, and lust and you have a crazy mix.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how differently men and women approach friendship. Be aware I’m making a gross approximation and that each one of us is unique and different in how they approach this.

Let me start with the male view of friendship. I’ve always held the theory that men can’t have female friends. That’s not entirely true, but it holds for most of us. Most men can’t detach friendship from physical attraction. I’ve come to understand the reason for this.

Men have buddies. Low maintenance relationships with their peers.

Men tend to be selfish. We are egocentric beings that tend to do what we want, how we want, whenever we want. We rarely think of others. We’re self-centered in most cases, and we have a hard time being empathic with others. It doesn’t come naturally. Confrontation, violence, and anger come easier to us than a calm, measured and empathic response.

Men have buddies. Low maintenance relationships with their peers. There is no drama, no reproaches, no need to give or take or a quid pro quo. Essentially it’s a relationship of companionship.

When a man feels attracted to someone else, then our behavior changes drastically. We have a need to “own” that person, and so the courtship begins.

Courtship means that the man will start accessing their emotional side. Empathy will start flowing, and they will make a significant effort to sustain such state. Let me repeat this; such state is rare in men. It’s not the default behavior for most.

The man will sustain such effort until they end up with that person or the other person ends the relationship.

For most women friendship is a state where you have someone that creates an emotional buffer in your life.

Now let me go for a second to the other side. Let me introduce you to the infamous Friend Zone. Yes, I’ve been there more times that I want to remember.

The Friend Zone is a complex construct for men. For most women friendship is a state where you have someone that creates an emotional buffer in your life. It’s obviously much more. But in essence, it’s about having a respective other that will comfort and help you when you’re lost. There is rarely a physical component; it’s mostly mental. Imbalances in the relationship aren’t allowed or are frown upon. Also, there seems to be a certain minimum frequency of the interaction.

Hence here lies the problem between men and women’s friendship notions. For men, it’s not an emotional transaction, for women it is. For men, it’s not about frequency but quality.

But more importantly, the emotional need women require of deep friendships only happens when men are attracted to that person. This is one of the reasons why the Friend Zone is so insidious for men. Us being selfish as we are, we only make an effort to tap into our emotional side when it serves our self-interest, in this case, procreation.

Now, we can have female friends. That said, these relationships will resemble more a buddy than what women refer to as friends. There might be an emotional exchange, but it won’t be sustained or extensive. The frequency won’t be comprehensive either, but more sporadic. So yes, men have female friends, but a very different kind.

It requires of a man to be able to be emotional while removing the attraction component.

Can men give women a friendship like what they expect or have with their female counterparts? I do think so. But I also believe it’s very very hard and complicated. It requires of a man to be able to be emotional while removing the attraction component. Without the attraction, men find it hard to make an effort to invest on the emotional side.

Here is where the notion of love comes in. Why would a man do that without or abstracting the attraction part? The answer might seem weird, but it’s Love. While most people talk about love for someone, love and lust are two different things. Love is the feeling of caring and wanting the wellbeing of someone else.

When you become a dad, you suddenly discover that you can love more than a woman. You fall in love with your children. You are caring and tender and desire the best for them. There is no attraction, no lust, just pure love for them.

Men can give the same friendship as women, but they need to jump through a set of obstacles.

The question is, can you develop love for a woman without the attraction in the first place? I don’t think so. I believe that it’s a process. Men can give the same friendship as women, but they need to jump through a set of obstacles. You first need the attraction; you need an emotional link. With time love starts cropping in, mingling with that attraction.

If the relationship doesn’t turn into a romantic one, most men will just abandon it. Some, very few, will be able to drop the attraction and sustain the loving part. Those relationships are rare, and I would argue, precious.

I hope this gives a better understanding of why men can be real asses or real sweethearts and why the Friend Zone is so hurtful for most of us.