Can men and women be “just friends?”

I’ve been on this planet pushing a half a century and still don’t have a definitive answer to this question. Yes? No? Maybe?  Depends upon the woman? Depends upon the man? And all I’ve ever wanted was to be able to tell Rob Reiner that he was WRONG. Of course I’m referring to the 1989 movie “When Harry Met Sally,” which chronicles the platonic friendship of Harry, played by Billy Crystal; and Sally, played by Meg Ryan. The answer to that question as presented in the movie is that no, men and women can’t just be friends – because the “sex thing” inevitably gets in the way. I’ve never wanted to believe that this is right, even though I’ve been burned by this at least a couple of times in my life. I actually have – and have  had – quite a lot of male friends in my life, and only a handful of times have “complications” arisen. And here goes with the instances in my life when “complications” arose from my platonic friendships with men…

The first time was in high school, when a guy whom I’ll call “Darrell” (I am not using anyone’s real names in this blog) and I became friends. We joked around a lot, had some interesting conversations, we liked each other – but I wasn’t “attracted” to him.  A short time later, “Darrell” dropped a bomb on me – revealed that he had a crush on me and tried asking me out. And I did the unthinkable – I told him I just wanted to be friends. And thus was the end of our friendship. We didn’t speak to each other after this happened, and yes, I was a little bitter about it. So even though this wasn’t a phrase back in the late 1980s when it happened, I guess I “friendzoned” him. I have no regrets about doing it, obviously both of us have moved on. So in “Darrell’s” case, the answer to “Can men and women be just friends” is “no.” At least if left completely up to the guy, that is…

About a year or so later, I met another guy, with whom I became fast friends in my senior year art class, I’ll call him “Steve.” We joked around quite a bit, and he even became friends with a couple of my female friends, and we hung out together quite a lot outside of school. We “may” have engaged in some vandalism, went on a canoe trip together, saw lots of movies together.  He and I talked on the phone quite a bit, too. He was a wickedly smart guy (I’ve always been drawn to brainy types) – he even figured out how to use a VCR to record Super Mario so he could prove to my friend, whom I’ll call “Tracy” that he had gotten to a certain level (she didn’t believe him when he said he’d reached that level). So he played the videotape, which proved he’d reached “x” level. And the thing was, “Steve” had a girlfriend, whom I’ll call “Tabitha.” Complicating things, I had a bit of a crush on one of “Steve’s” friends, whom I’d even asked out to my senior prom (he said no, and of course it broke my heart).  Classic case of an unrequited crush, this high school stuff could be really painful, no way in HELL would I want to go back and relive any of it, but I digress! Well, “Steve” turned around and asked if he could take me to my prom, to which I said no. And after I turned him down? Guess what? We STILL were friends – we still hung out, talked, played hide-and-seek in the cemetery (there really was not a whole lot to do when you grew up in the country).  Long story short, I didn’t end up going to my prom at all. Steve, along with a couple of other female friends of mine wound up watching David Lynch’s movie “Blue Velvet” on my prom night. I still have no regrets about missing my prom, I’ve never been that much into the formal scene – dressing up, dancing, ugh…I still love David Lynch films to this day, but don’t think I’m going to ever start loving taffeta, pumps, restrictive undergarments, makeup and definitely not dancing (five drink minimum applies, fewer if it’s Prince playing, and because of the risk of being recorded, uh, no dancing by me is going to happen in public). Spiked punch? Maybe!

So if “Steve” asking me out on a real date wasn’t enough of a clue of his feelings? Yeah, I was a bit clueless then. He did have a girlfriend, so I assumed it was just a friendly gesture, maybe he felt sorry for me for being turned down by the other guy (who was friends with him). I found out later “Steve”  had a “thing” for me, even though he was already in a dating relationship. Nothing came of it, he wound up joining the Navy and married a Japanese woman he’d met at a beer drinking festival (not making this up). The two of them are still married, and they have a couple of kids. But we never completely lost contact, we still see each other when he manages to come back to Michigan, and are still friends on Facebook. Which “should” be proof that not all guys who are “friendzoned” have to automatically stop contact with and become enemies with the women with whom they’d previously been friends. But then, not everyone is like “Steve.” Great guy…he came to visit my husband and I last summer, joined us on a trivia night where the final question was about Kim Kardashian. I asked him what he knew about Kim Kardashian, he said, “Well, she has a big ass – and she’s an idiot.” That’s “Steve” for you! So when it came to “Steve,” the answer to the question, “Can men and women be just friends?” Yes, of course!

Fast forward to 1999….I was working at a suburban newspaper, which published a couple of issues a week. This is when I met a “veteran” reporter whom I’ll call “Patrick,” who was about 10 years older than I.  We hit it off, we were both huge “Simpsons” fans, shared lots of jokes, loved gossiping,  going on and on about pop culture, movies, TV… He was the one who turned me on to the world soccer scene, and for a few years, I followed it pretty heavily. I still get into the World Cup, and even do my own “bracket!” We even watched some matches together. I’m not going to lie…though we never engaged in anything physically “intimate,” that relationship was kind of like playing with fire. We were both kind of attracted to each other, though for me, it wasn’t so much physical as it was being attracted to his mind (if that makes any sense, as I said, I’ve always been drawn to brainy/nerdy types). I would actually give up my left arm to have this guy on our trivia team, lol… As for playing with fire, some of our online conversations wandered into inappropriate territory. It all came to a head one night where he’d met me, my husband, and a group of friends at a local watering hole, and he wound up in my car after the festivities (he was way too drunk to drive, and my husband drove his car back to our apartment, where he was going to crash for the night). He felt up my clothed leg in the car, and revealed quite a slew of…feelings toward me. I was not actually that bothered by it – number one, nothing technically happened, and two, he was drunk. I was willing to move on from this – but he was not. He was raised Catholic, and was riddled with quite a bit of guilt. His wife wound up putting her foot down and asked that he not have any more contact with me. Kind of complicated when we worked together, but yes, he shut me out completely, and yes, it hurt. It would only be years later when he would randomly find me and ask to befriend me on Facebook that we would occasionally begin talking again. I was using a pseudonym at the time, so I was not easy to find on Facebook. So we still talk from time to time,  especially when the World Cup rolls around, but it’s nothing like it used to be. And he still clicks “like” on some of my profile pictures, perhaps he still carries a little torch for me. Feelings aren’t something that can be shut off, after all.  So the answer to “Can men and women be just friends” in this case is…I’d have to say “no,” but with some caveats.

And it seems a new chapter in the same old story “might” be in progress right now, though I really don’t have any hard details. Another guy friend has recently stopped talking to me, for reasons I’m still trying to figure out, since we didn’t have a “fight” or anything. I’m not revealing any more information about that here, but I will go on the record as saying that I miss him. Terribly.  I’m not going to push him away if he decides to talk to me again. That is all…but this doesn’t mean I’m ever going to tell “Meathead,” aka Rob Reiner that he was right! 🙂


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