Q&A From "Can Men And Women Really Be Just Friends?"

Wise Readers,  

Our recent article said men and women can, indeed be Just Friends—but, as Reader comments showed, those Friendships come wrapped in Caution Tape.  Is Friendship just another form of love?  Are Boundaries one-size-fits-all?  Are men construing every smile as a come-on?  And how do people dance around the Caution Tape?    

Wise Readers—what do *you* think? 

Cheers, Duana


—Is Friendship Just Another Form Of Love?—

 From Quinn:

Duana - I love this topic! Its probably the most common scenario I face in the working world. As a man, I meet women often and sometimes the attraction is what captures your attention but most often its the ability to get to know someone personally (their heart and mind) that gives you a sense of comfort and willingness to want more of them. It can get confusing when the opposite sex becomes your confidant. Sadly more of a listener and understanding than you would often get in a relationship. Your options #2 and #4 I would agree with. Knowing up front is important. Managed expectations. But sometimes you don’t see it coming and it clouds things as you didn’t intend to have that “want” that has manifested itself without the physical. Actually a more powerful means to have bonded without any intimacy. Well…not physically anyway. Sometimes the shared mind is as attractive and tempting as anything that could be advertised on the surface!

But if both are mature about it, and the initial association was not false and without agenda in the beginning, the friendship can be salvaged if both are respecting the friendship and expectations. If not, you have to sever ties because it can no longer be geniune when one is in a holding pattern for you while you stay grounded to the friendship.

I’ve been on both sides and its a conveyor belt of helplessness when you get wrapped up without realizing you’re there. To lose the could have been when they are actually the never was due to frienship, puzzling.

A friendship as a foundation…now there’s a concept!

Thanks for another great topic!


Duana’s Response:

 Quinn, so good to hear your voice again.  I love your musings on the nature of Friendship becoming Love. 

Friendship is indeed the best route towards establishing lasting love. 

And Friendship is actually a kind of love, as several men readers (but—interestingly—zero women readers) pointed out to me privately.  To wit:

“I think [whether men and women can be Just Friends] depends on the people involved in the friendship.  I’ve seen heterosexual-friends who kissed all the time but were not exclusive.  Seen friends who were comfortable being naked in front of each other but were not having sex.  Seen extremely close friends who were coworkers.  Known “Friends with Benefits” that were good people just a bit alternative.  I personally believe that friendship is love.”

In fact, the most famous model of love is Robert Sternberg’s, which you can see here.  In a nutshell (or, rather, Triangle), it shows three core components of love: Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion.  Combining the three elements forms the most common forms of adult love. 

Friendship all by itself is Intimacy—nothing to be scoffed at, now that a raft of health and psychology studies show that the sharing of one’s emotional self with another can be literally life-saving, and loneliness is a huge detriment to health-and-longevity. 

Commitment all by itself is Empty Love—you know, the people who never speak at dinner, live separate lives under the same roof, and stay married only because they said they would. 

And Passion alone is just Infatuation—ineffable, ephemeral, and impossible to hold onto without an anchor to concrete similarities and commitment between two people. 


Most of us embody only two of the concepts at a time in our adult sexual relationships; Passion + Commitment early-on, and Intimacy + Commitment later on.  Relatively few of us grasp the brass ring: Consummate love, which encompasses all three components.   Why not? 


Perhaps because so many of us launch our intimate relationships with Passion before Intimacy. 

My guess, based on arranged-marriage studies, is that those relationships that *do* wind up with Consummate love often started out with real Friendship that lasted long enough to equate Intimacy + Commitment…(accidentally) adding Passion only after it was crystal-clear that they had enough genuine similarity and liking to make a Life together work. 

 Unfortunately, our dating structure that emphasizes Passion before all else may not help us gain Consummate Love…


And ironically, our work environment, which  throws highly similar, and often highly married, people together is the situation  *most* likely to lead toFriendship and then accidental love you and so many in this Q&A describe.  

 Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Quinn.



 —What ‘Rules’ Do Couples Set Up To Protect Themselves From Friendships’ Becoming Too Friendly?—

                            From Joan:

Love the article. For one-on-one friendships with men, I choose Option 3, befriending gay men. That was my strategy all through college and early (unmarried) adulthood. No sexual pressure, no weird vibes, just enjoy the friendship. I had women friends, too, but the guy friends were special —they offered another perspective.

Post-marriage, I find that my guy “friends” are actually the husbands of my women friends. At this point in my life (no longer in college, or part of a large workplace), I don’t have any one-on-one friendships with men that exclude my husband.

How about enjoying friendships with men as couples? I can still enjoy the guy’s company, and feel safe, if his wife (and my husband) are sitting right there in the same room :)

                           Duana’s response:

Hi, Joan,  Welcome back!  I’ve missed you here.   

The research that forms the basis for this article focused only on young heterosexual, typically unwed American adults; its purpose was to figure out whether male-female Friendships serve some of the same evolved mating purposes that male-female sexually bonded relationships do. 

The answer?  Yes.  Men, who can breed almost forever but who must find someone fertile with whom to accomplish the feat, are indeed more focused on sexuality in Friendships; and women, who historically need(ed) provision and protection, should emphasize men Friends’ protective plusses.  The theory was largely upheld by the Friends research. 

But it might or might not fully apply to The Married.  And therefore, I refer your questions to other Wise Readers: 

What do you think about having your only straight opposite-sex friends being spouses of a same-sex friend?   

If those are your parameters, could you hang out with your same-sex friend’s spouse when your same-sex friend was not around? 

Or would the relationship be limited only to what was shared in the presence of one another’s mates? 

Would that be too limiting for you, or would that feel comforting and safe?      Or both?



—Can Friendships Survive Becoming Something (Illicitly) More…Then Ending The ‘More’ Part?— 

AND…How Friendly Is *Too* Friendly?—

                                       From Sonja:

Hey Duana - what a great topic and article. I think this is on a lot of people’s minds. I enjoy actually both male and female friendships a lot. Of course, I have more female friends than male ones but that’s alright. I enjoy my male friends though too. If they are truly your friend then they will accept you as you are and honor your status. I know, this sounds too great to be true but I truly believe that a man and a woman can be great pals too. As long as the wife or husband of the other is alright with it, then there should not be a problem. That is just my opinion. I also think that having a friendship with a man could be of benefit because it’s hard enough for us women to understand our men. So, if you can talk to your male friend about a certain situation then you might see it a bit better and clearer and that goes the other way around. too Women give each other comfort but can’t really figure out why their hubbies are acting that way or doing things a certain way. Now, if my friendship with a man is so open that I can talk to him about anything and everything, then I would contact him instead. and hear it from a man’s point of view. Trust and confidentiality is of course a big must in any friendship (and yes in a marriage and relationship too).
Now, regarding that “attraction” thing - yes, it is quite possible that the friendship between a man and a woman might end up between the sheets or even be just cyber sex talk, but if that happens, I think their friendship is scared or even damaged and they might not be able to trust each other any longer and this once so great friendship will fall apart which would be a shame.
Again, this all is only my opinion. I feel like that I am a quite easygoing person and could hang out with anyone as long as there is trust among us. 


                                        Duana’s Response:

Dear Sonja, Welcome to Love Science!  Your opinions do have quite a bit of support.

 For instance, the research participants in Blesky and Buss’ research   –male and female—agreed that having a Friend of the opposite sex was the best resource for understanding the other gender’s mysterious workings

And other research covered last week showed that many, many times, people who think (and say) they’re “Just Friends” are in reality moving towards an affair.  It’s the most common way emotional, and, increasingly, sexual affairs begin today. 

And what happens then?  Usually, discovery by the other person’s mate..and, as you surmised, the ending of the Friendship.  Neither relationship—spousal or Friendly—will ever be the same. 

And the Friendship is usually utterly sacrificed, not only because the marital recommitment demands it…but also because the two people in the Friendship have now taken the relationship to a level that they can’t back away from

(We now pause while I think on all the letters I’ve received from people who are almost desperate to keep both their Friends and their spouses…It Just Does Not Work.) 

Perhaps these Friendships, once we are married, are best seen as carrying a huge sign:

WARNING: Sharing things with a Friend that you could not say or do directly in front of your spouse is a risk to your marriage and your Friendship both.  

Handle with care.   


                                    From Mocha’s Mom:

… one thing that is very important for women who want to avoid sudden declarations of passion from male friends is that one should NEVER TREAT A GUY AS A CONFIDANT in matters of love and/or sex.

The guy who hears about your relationship woes and frustrations can easily be hearing, “I am so lonely and sad and am just waiting for a wonderful man like you to fix everything.”

One woman of my acquaintance came to me quite bewildered in that no less than three of her single male friends had declared their love for her at an out-of-town event. One of them had even proposed to her, seemingly out of the blue.

Why was she so shocked? Well, she was a married woman with no interest whatsover in any of these males. Even so, the fellow who had proposed had in fact offered to wait as long as it took for her to get out of her marriage!

She couldn’t understand this sudden outpouring of ardor. On a hunch, I asked her (in so many words) if she had been dumping on these guys all about how awful her husband was and how there was nothing in any way fulfilling left in her marriage because of his apathy (poor guy was actually clinically depressed). In other words, I asked if she’d been dumping her misery on her male friends they same way she dumped it on her female friends.

She said that of course she had told her male friends this — what was the point of having friends if you couldn’t “vent” to them?

I explained, carefully, that when a woman says “My husband doesn’t understand me or fulfill me anymore,” what the available and hopeful male hears is “Come and get it!!!!!” I likened her repeated confidences to these fellows to standing on an air strip waving those bright orange lights to indicate where they were to land.

Fortunately, she didn’t seem to notice how unfortunate that last metaphor was.

Okay, so I wasn’t dealing with the sharpest knife in the drawer. She not only was shocked that her constant bemoaning of her lonely and alienating marriage had led to multiple declarations of love, but she was also really open to an affair — that is, she told me she was having one. With a hunky jerk who tossed her aside darn quick when she got serious, but that’s another story.

At any rate, what nearly killed me was when she described how icked out she had been by the marriage proposal — she told me, with particularly off-putting emphasis, “My god, he’s really short and he’s SWARTHY, for heaven’s sake.”

(How I wind up being chosen as a confidant by acquaintences like this one is a subject for another time. Let’s just say I now regard any offer to buy me lunch as suspicious.)

By the way, the guy who proposed was known to me, and he was roughly a 5 or a 6, while she was a 4-5, so it wasn’t outrageous that he thought she might be interested. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is what these guys saw in her. Maybe they were “rescuer” types as well.

In short (too late!), if you are a straight woman and you chose a straight male friend to confide in about the emptiness of your love life; your tragically loveless marriage; or the general lack of men who are kind, decent, and available; chances are he will think you are interested in him and in fact are trying to get him to pursue you.

For my part, I find you can filter out the guys who’ve got the wrong idea by occasionally dropping into conversation little bits of information about how wonderful your husband is. If a fellow asks if you’d like to go somewhere with him, simply respond, “I’ll check and see if my husband wants to go; I’d love it if we can join you.”



—How Do People Handle The Risks Of Friendships?  What Boundaries Are The Best Ones?—

                                   From Penelope:

I miss my guy friends. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all still friends, but I don’t have my “go-to guy” anymore because I am married. My feeling is that, regardless of intention, marital relations ebb and flow and there are emotional openings that invite closeness with the friend. It’s just too risky. 

                                   From Joan:

Hi, Penelope … Well said! I miss my guy friends, too.

Though I do keep in touch with my favorite one on Facebook, a wonderful gay guy in NYC, whom I’ve known since High School. (Long live Facebook!)

As for straight guys … well, now that I am married (with child), straight guy friends are too much of a risk.

Today, I would likely pursue a friendship with a gay guy, but I don’t meet that many gay guys anymore. Whereas the pickings were more plentiful in college and law school, today I’m married and work at home, thus my social circle is limited to: 1) extended family; 2) friends I meet through my daughter’s school; and 3) friends I meet though church. There aren’t that many (openly) gay guys as the local elementary school or local Catholic Church.

I enjoy male company. For me, guys fill a gap that girls cannot. But the solution for me is enjoying male company only when the guy’s wife is also present.


                                   Duana’s Response:

Dear Penelope and Gillian, it sounds as if you’ve both come up with some similar strategies for protecting your marriages.  Although some might consider your boundaries extreme, those “some” are not, to my knowledge, involved in affair research. 

Indeed, Penelope, your words bear repeating:   “My feeling is that, regardless of intention, marital relations ebb and flow and there are emotional openings that invite closeness with the friend. It’s just too risky.”

Science backs you to the hilt.  Every marriage, however perfect, has ups and downs in the emotional connection.  And those down periods (even the up periods, too, actually) are ripe times for an involvement with someone else—especially a Friend, and especially if we just stumble along sharing stuff with our Friends as if sharing stuff bore no particular significance. 

Specifically, as discussed last week, all our relationships consist of windows and walls.  In a healthy marriage, the windows allow mates to communicate with a level of intimacy (emotional—not just sexual) that *only* the two of them share.  Everyone else is kept out by walls. 

As Friendships transition from “just friends” to much more than that, Shirley Glass’ excellent (and heartbreaking) clinical studies show that the involved partner *reverses* gradually shifts the walls and windows.  Eventually, the former Friend is in on emotional details of the involved partner’s life that the spouse is walled off from. 

It’s a tiny little step from that to full-on consummation. 


So what to do?  Well, you’ve both hit on a solution that works for you:  Maintaining Friendships only in the presence of one’s spouse; having gay Friends; limiting what will and won’t be shared with a Friend.

Although some might find these options a bit constraining, most cultures actually mandate a version of these, *because* they acknowledge affairs as more a function of opportunity than what kind of person we are. 

In this assumption, they’re right; we’re wrong.  The *norm*, not the exception, is that good people do have affairs, without meaning to, just because they aren’t paying attention to the walls and windows in their relationships.


What, then, is the solution for those Readers who find your solution too restrictive—but who want to affair-proof their unions while still having Friends?

One option is simply to acknowledge with one’s mate that Accidental Affairs are rampant—and then to mutually agree on how you two will prevent that. 

For instance, I’ve known couples who agree that they will tell each other everything about their opposite-sex Friendships, and that if they say or do *anything* with that Friend that they could not comfortably say or do in front of their mate, the Friendship is crossing a boundary and needs to be stopped or cooled. 

Others I’ve known have dealt with this by agreeing that if they feel attraction for anyone but their spouse, they will actively avoid spending *any* time alone with that person—no water-cooler meetings, no lunches out, no phone calls, no office chats. 

Still others have a tacit agreement that if their mate is at all uncomfortable with how a Friendship of theirs is going, they will end or cool it—immediately. 

Wise Readers, I’m curious—how do you set *your* boundaries? 



—Does Smiling Really Make Men Think Women Want Them?  How Dumb!—

                                    From Gillian:

Duana, I know you don’t make the rules, but the thing about smiling at men is stupid. Smiling at a man conveys sexual interest? Wow.

What if I smile *and* wave? That means I want to be his love slave forever?

Come on, guys. We are just trying to acknowledge you as people.

This tidbit of information inclines me to ignore men entirely. For example, being a humanitarian at heart, I used to acknowledge strangers on the road of Life. I would smile or wave at the trash guys or postman, simply to acknowledge and thank them for their work in keeping society going.

Maybe that is different, and the smiling depends on the setting? Surely the postman doesn’t think I’m signaling a sexual interest … um, right?


                                        Duana’s Response:

Hi, Gillian,

I find a tremendous amount of what Love Science has taught me to be irritating, frustrating, annoying…but not often stupid (anymore). 

Here’s the repeated finding: Men all over the world do indeed, really and truly, find a woman of open, smiling, wide-eyed, dewey, youthful expression to be not only appealing…

but open to being appealed to. 

As with so many other Inconvenient Truths, maybe it’s not PC, but it’s also not really stupid—not at the level of inherited mating psychology, anyway

Genetically, as we’ve seen in many a Love Science column, men benefit from seeing sexual opportunity more often than it’s really there.  Whereas women can only bear one pregnancy per 10 months or so regardless of how many sex partners they have, men can populate their own planet, given enough fertile wombs.  And since consensual sex is (fortunately) the usual kind, men need to be attentive to these cues. 

So it’s doubtful that men consciously think, “She is smiling at me.  Perhaps she thinks I am hot.  And then maybe she will have sex with me and bear my children.”  But unconsciously, men act as if that is indeed what is happening. 

Whatever interpretation you like, it remains a truism.  Cry and you cry alone—but smile and you might get hit on. 




                                      From Gillian:

Seems to me the “just friends” deal is doomed from the start. It might last for a while, but guys are hardwired for sex, and sooner or later I’m gonna smile :)


                                       Duana’s Response:

Hi, Gillian,

Don’t take this the wrong way, but: 


My guess is that you’ve gone through your whole life smiling, and usually, it’s worked out well, or at least not badly.  The difference may be that now, you’re more aware of what that smile can signify to an attracted hunka manhood.  

(And to a young single woman, that knowledge may come as a welcome tidbit!) 

As for male-female friendships being doomed:  The world is brim-full of examples of Just Friends who have remained that way.  And also, of those who…haven’t.   

I pause here to consider my own Friendships that have stood the test of decades and geographical separations, without which my life would be much the poorer.  I reflect on times I’ve actively avoided contact with men I really liked because I got The Vibe.  Or men I really, really liked and avoided because I could see I could grow to like them too much.  And I also pause to think of several Friends I’ve known who vacationed as couples…and later divorced their mates and (surprise!) wound up together.  Tell me those aren’t some mighty pissed-off, betrayed-feeling exes! 

Upshot?  I think what research and simple real-life observation shows best is that when it comes to sexual tension, folks are taking a gamble when they choose to interact with someone of the gender they’re attracted/ive to

The gambles don’t just come down to affair risks, being come onto if you’re a woman, or rejected if you’re a man (and to see what a screwed-up Just Friends scenario looks like from a man’s viewpoint, I highly recommend the funny and poignant movie 500 Days Of Summer.)    

The gambles also involve what occurs *after* a woman rejects a man…or merely gets a boyfriend or husband. 

Some research indicates men are significantly likelier to ditch a woman Friend if she rejects his advances, and real-life observation suggests to me that even loss of the *perceived (not real) possibility* of sex can drive some men away. 


For instance, the woman who wrote this week’s letter wasn’t just shocked by her “Friend’s” advances—she also got rejected; he ignored her ever after she refused him.  And a client of mine mysteriously lost several male Friends when she announced her engagement.  Apparently, these guys weren’t really being Friends…they were lurking in hopes of sex.  (Note: These men’s apparent agendas don’t match Most.  Most men strongly prefer their Friendship to any sex that could occur.  But finding one who is on the make is a risk.  Losing innocence and getting feelings hurt are other risks.)


And both sexes name other costs of opposite-sex friendships as well

such as feeling some jealousy of the Friend’s dates;

and wondering if the time they spend with Friends is time they could be using to find a mate. 


Overall, though, Friendships persist across time and many cultures.  Apparently, the risks are seen by many as being worth the rewards. 

 The question is: Is the gamble worth it to you? 

Readers: What do you think???  What do you value about your Friends?  And what risks have you taken?   


                                    From Mocha’s Mom:

As I’ve posted before, my field is Asperger’s Syndrome. From experience, I can tell you that the more socially awkward and/or naive a man is, the less likely he is to use a direct approach and the more (MUCH more) likely he is to hang around and as a “friend” in the hopes that one day his lady-love will suddenly say, “Gosh, I have been blind to the amazing hunk of man-meat that you are! Take me, big boy!”

Or something like that.

Males who are awkward, shy, and socially naive generally attract friendship from women who want to help them get a bit of a boost and to help them gain confidence and social know-how. Such males are also often lonely and isolated, so that kindhearted, highly empathetic social females are loathe to ignore them or send them away when they insist on hanging around.

It’s a fruitful situation for disaster. I cannot tell you how many young aspie males tell me that most women are horrible witches, or heartless, or the like, because their only attempts to get girlfriends involve hanging around, being adopted as a friend out of either genuine liking, pity, or both, and then waiting for months or years to declare themselves at what they think is the “right time” and getting totally shut down.

These are the same guys who never date but believe they are in demand because so many women are totally into them — like their bank clerk, their pharmacist, the lady at the post office, and so forth. They really do think that smiles are a sign of interest. Women who work as secretaries in engineering departments are often besidged.

Interesting, women engineers, programmers, and other geek chicks (like me) are often considered too “guy like” by those same guys. We are guy-like, in that we don’t take on hapless males as projects so that we can fix them and make them less lonely. Having no “pity friendships” equals no strange sudden declarations of passion from longtime friends who have no appeal to us.



—What’s Wrong With Flirting, Anyway?— 

(Or, Picking Boundaries, Part II.  Or, Why Not To Hang Out At Dunkin’ Donuts If You Are Trying To Lose Weight.)

                                  From Penelope:

As I read through these comments it makes me particularly appreciate my husband. Apparently I am a big flirt. I never knew this. Although in my mind I am just being friendly, my husband regularly keels over in laughter and tolerance as I distribute my “niceness” among the gentlemen in town. To him it is amusing (well, only mildly) because he absolutely knows me and my intentions and KNOWS I mean no harm.

I am very grateful that our relationship was based on longstanding and sincere friendship before we ever even considered making a commitment to one another. And it seems to me, that by waiting for an “excellent match” instead of just a “reasonable match” when contemplating marriage, one is better-set to understand his or her spouse’s friendships (or, um, flirtations), and also seems to be generally indicative of a more solid relationship to begin with. The other aspect of this is that, because I have such a good thing going in my marriage, I treasure it and do anything I can to avoid getting into awkward situations. If I have a real attraction to somebody, I will pretty much keep my contact with him to the absolute minimum. I don’t care how interesting/talented/brilliant/hot he is — that just makes it worse! If you’re on a diet you don’t hang out at the Dunkin Donuts, for goodness sake!! I will, in a second, sacrifice a potentially blissful and fulfilling relationship for my marriage. Some people might say, “don’t you have any self-control?” Why, yes I do. That’s why I don’t even go there.


                                        Duana Responds:

Penelope, your entire letter made me smile, perhaps because it seems you and I are cut from the same cloth.  (Also, I love a good love story, and yours is one.)

Your comment about flirting is intriguing.  Shirley Glass, the affairs expert of whom I’ve lately written so much, was married for over 40 years—all her adult life— to her husband…and claimed she didn’t flirt.  Ever. 

Indeed, she tsk-tsk’ed and gave dire warnings about it, saying that flirting conveyed openness to More.  And that it’s therefore Dangerous. 

Doubtless she was right.  Doubtless, that suited her personality, too (she passed away earlier this decade, unfortunately—hence the past tense). 

And doubtless, at some level, while I agree with her—I also disagree.  I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all for what works or does not work to maintain Boundaries needed to protect a great marriage. 

It seems to me that the important thing is to a) identify your Boundaries (preferably with your mate) and b) abide by them stringently. 

That’s what you’ve done by minimizing contact with those you find attractive.  I, too, refuse to hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts, lol.  In fact, I don’t even tell attractive men that they *are* Dunkin’ Donuts (That’s a no-no.  Apparently, a major part of the downward slide towards an affair is admitting to one’s Friend that you have an attraction towards him/her.).   And I don’t allow myself in-person contact (even with their spouses present!) with those who seem eager to have pastries at *my* establishment, either. 

So here’s to being honest with ourselves about our motivations and attractions; setting Boundaries so as not to rely on our moral character all by itself—and still being whoever it is we are, even if who we are is a bit of a flirt. 



—Men Are Not Interested In Every Woman—Get The Memo, Already!—

                        From Tom:

I don’t desire every woman I see, nor do I desire every woman who smiles at me. Many women can now rest easy. On the other hand, I see a lot of women that I desire. Not all men retain intentional control over their innate drives, but I guess I do.

I am friends with a number of women who are also desirable to me. In fact, many of them would be pretty ticked if I indicated that I was *not* attracted to them.

I was faithful to my spouse for our entire marriage, which ended after 20 years at her request. When I became single again, I realized that being friendly and generous (TM) could be tailored to suit any given involvement with another person. As a result I’ve been physical with people who I also consider true friends. As has already been pointed out, that sometimes does not work for both parties. But sometimes it does.

I value a persons’ humor, intelligence, creativity and integrity. I also value a nice silhouette (preference for females).

I would just hope that men and women would spend less time being fearful of one another in the finite amount of time we have here, together.


                                      From Vincent:

I have women friends, and I appreciate the looks of some, and others, not so much. I know that my commitment and love for my wife mean I would never act on the feelings of attraction. It’s called self-control.

I find it sadly humorous that women feel that if they smile at a man, the man wants to have sex with them. On the other hand, when women lose their looks, they’re upset that men don’t smile at them.

And why is it that when I smile at some women, they turn around and give me a dirty look?


                                       Duana Responds:

Dear Tom and Vincent,

I have wondered where Ye Of Y Chromosomes have been hiding for most of this discussion.  Your perspectives are appreciated—and shared. 

Assuming a man is interested in every woman is akin to assuming that every gay man is on the make regarding every male of every orientation.  It clearly and empirically is Not So. 

Vincent, to clarify, women usually *don’t* assume that their smile drives men wild…they assume that they (women) are merely being friendly, and are usually shocked to read otherwise (as Gillian exemplified). 

But you both make an excellent point that women can get offended if men *don’t* find them attractive…and that some women can assume a friendly man’s smile is a sexual come-on when it’s just a smile.  I have a very low Bitch tolerance, so I cringe when I hear of women being rude for any reason, and especially for no good reason.  But doubtless, it does happen. 

And—well-said, Tom: “I would just hope that men and women would spend less time being fearful of one another in the finite amount of time we have here, together.” 

All this said, one thing that interested me about the many notes sent in to Love Science on this topic was the striking difference in how women and men—of all sexual orientations—framed Friendships with those of the gender they are sexually attracted to.  Men were by far more open to thinking of sexuality as being a part—expressed or not—of many (not all) of their Friendships; women rarely mentioned the possibility, and when they did mention it, did so only by way of saying they wanted to avoid it. 

Personally, I find sexual chemistry, expressed and not, to be a great joy of life.  Like fire, food, water, and Life’s/Nature’s other tools, it’s fabulous when respected for the powerful force it is.  And not only do I fail to be bothered that men sometimes have a spark for some of us (and, Ladies, let us also admit we also carry the Torch at times), but…

I think the world would be a deadly dull place without it.   

So there :). 


                                    From Gillian:

Great posts by Tom and Vincent. I like hearing the male perspective. This time, I’m on your wavelength.

To clarify: My choice of words, “the smiling at men thing is ‘stupid’” was careless and inaccurate. I was trying to say what you guys said, i.e., that men don’t desire every woman who smiles at them. This was not acknowledged until Tom pointed it out.

As for my post that the male/female friendship is “doomed from the start” … I felt misunderstood again! To say the odds are stacked against it would more accurately express my view and personal experience. And from what I’ve read here, other people feel the same way. (No Dunkin’ Donuts.) And there’s alot of other parameters and Caution tape wrapped around it, too (ala Penelope, Duana, and Joan).

As I intended to say in my post, and based on what I’ve read in Duana’s (excellent) articles since this column began, men are hardwired to mate/procreate and women are hardwired to nuture/seek security. Thus, the male/female “friendship” is likely to go that route, absent a conscious exercise of self-control, which trumps the primitive urges. That wasn’t directly discussed in the article, and I’m glad Tom and Vincent brought it up.

I hope you guys continue to write in. I like hearing the male point of view. Even with all the Caution Tape around it, that’s why women do venture into the male/female friendship: Men have so many great qualities of personality and character, and women are always intrigued by the raw and authentic male point of view. And I mean that in a purely platonic, brother/sister, non-sexual way.

That is all.

                                    From Penelope:

Hey, Gillian. I do want to point out that the only reason why I tread lightly with my male relationships these days is because I am married. They used to be my bread-and-butter, and despite the fact that the men will (generally) always be open to sex, I figured that was just an aspect I needed to be aware of and manage as necessary. A very few of my close friends were interested in me sexually. The rest, though they would have happily hopped in the sack had the situation presented itself, were into me for the company I provided. My best friends EVER have been guys, and the only reason I carry my caution tape with me these days is to honor my marriage.



—What Are Men Thinking When Deciding Whether Or Not To Try For More With A Friend?—

                                    From Tom:

Penelope’s latest post sparked this thought. From a male perspective - I think that there’s a calculation that goes on in a man’s mind and it goes something like this:

—Am *I* available (the man)?
— Is she rockin’?
— Is *she* available? In other words, does she have another partner, and how tight are they anyway?
— Is she interested in *me*?
— Could she become interested in me after we’ve interacted in a friendly way for a good long while?
— Do I have anything to lose? In other words, things like Do I respect this woman’s partner, regardless of her interest in me? Or, are we co-workers and I could really really mess up my life if we do this?
— Second iteration of “Is She Rockin’?”

And this all takes place automatically, with frequent data updates. The “Go” or No Go signal is unique to that specific man. Even with the identical conditions, one man will think “Go” where another will think “No Go”.



—On Not Using GLBT Individuals For All Your Friendship Needs—

                                    From Mocha’s Mom:

A female relative of mine used a hint from the original column as her self-defense technique back in the early 60s. She “dated” a gay male athlete at her college, because he needed to be seen dating a girl (and she genuinely liked hanging out with him) while she needed a large male who would glower at any guys who were attemping to bird-dog her. She was (and is) both smoking hot and a lot of fun to hang out with, so it was not only necessary but a win-win that allowed her and her “boyfriend” to both spend their college years happier and less worried about what their male friends thought of them.

However, I do NOT recommend that women cultivate “gays” because they want a coterie like women on TV have. Do not try to cast your own version of “Queer Eye.” But you can get involved with PFLAG because it is the right thing to do, and you’ll wind up knowing wonderful non-straight people of a variety of sorts. Lesbians know how to ditch pesky unwanted males fast (and I have *never* been hit on by a lesbian friend who knew I was in a relationship), gay guys don’t hit on female friends, and everybody benefits by learning a lot more about being human.

Just remember that you never, ever, ever want to criticize a drag queen’s makeup. Even if you honestly think she looks like Clarabelle. Seriously. You have no idea.



—A Summary Wrapped Up In Caution Tape—

                        From Duana:

The first question I ask myself when reading these comments is, “Are they rockin’?” ;)

The answer: Yes. Thanks for the multitudinous perspectives; Tom, for your insights into the Mind Of (non-Aspie) Men; Penelope, for highlighting the value of male friends, caution tape or no; Mocha’s Mom, for writing that tickles the funny bone and the imagination (and which, btway, research and common human decency support. Thanks for underscoring the point about having GLBT Friends because being Friends is Friendly…not just to hide away from the caution tape.) 

While we’re in a conspiriatorial mood around the Love Science forum, allow me to share this scenario from my grad school days. I had many a male Friend—like you, Penelope, boys and later men had made up the majority of the great Friends of my life. So much so that it was (incorrectly) assumed that my best Friend throughout grad school and I were dating.

(I really wanted to be Interested in him…he was Perfect. Alas…he smelled wrong—  as we LS readers now know, the genetic match was no match. But, not then knowing the research, I assumed there was just something wrong with me, moved on with my life and kept the Friendship, which remains among the most important of my life to this day.)

Anyway, one of my married women friends would only invite me to hang out if her husband was absent. It didn’t stop her and me from spending time together—he traveled often. Still, I briefly considered being offended; did she not trust me around her man? Did I appear to be on the prowl? Well…nobody else excluded me from hanging around their mates. What gave?

What I didn’t know then, which research could have helped me with had I understood, was this: The more one’s work takes one away from home, the more likely it is that one is having sexual flings; and jealousy is often a sign that one’s mate is messing around, or at least considering it. My girlfriend’s husband was not trustworthy, and it was likely that to which she was responding. And here’s how I found that out.

One day, at a group gathering where my friend and her spouse were present, he sat in between us. Several minutes in, he placed his hand directly on my thigh, under the table. I brushed it away. He did it again. I hit him—hard. He did it again. I leaned over to his wife, smiled, and said—in front of him: “Please convince your husband to keep his hands to himself. I can’t seem to.”

He kept his hands to himself after that. And she and I remained friends. And I didn’t wonder about why she kept me away from him anymore. (Indeed, I was grateful.)

Some men are on the make for sex and nothing more. Most aren’t. Some women are using men for resources and nothing more. Most aren’t. It feels awful when we’re on the receiving end of being used…but thankfully, this entire thread and all the research show that it *is* exceptional.

Real Friendship—caution tape and all—is the rule.




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All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and Love Science Media, 2010

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Reader Comments (2)

All I can say is THANK YOU for all the comments and for the article, itself. I recently experienced a rude awakening after an incident involving a male "friend". Somehow I missed the vibes and/or gave out misunderstood signals, but after receiving a very strong hit and after giving a subsequent gentle rejection, I've hardly heard from this "friend" again. I was dumped. I thought we were friends but now I understand what was really happening. I even tried talking to him about it, reassuring him that I held no ill will towards him...nothing.

I have other male friends that mean a lot to me. They have all been respectful towards me. Some of them flirt with me but not a single one has ever dumped me if I didn't respond in kind. This experience has taught me to be more careful and more wise to the ways of some men. But most of all, it's made me appreciate the other wonderful men that are real friends that like me for who I am and not for what they can get from me.

July 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Dear Anonymous, If you're the writer of the letter that launched this topic (or even if you aren't), thank you. You can see from the comments that it means something to a lot of people; I'm happy that the responses have proven a relief for you, too.

Ironically, in your situation, you're not the one who needs to apologize--and the one who does might not ever. Your "friend" is well-placed in air quotes as no friend at all--more like a predator. Thankfully, most Friends are real. Glad to see you've still got plenty of those.

Thanks again for sharing your letter and story with Love Science.

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