Male-Female Friendship

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Shockingly, research into the age-old question about the possibility for male-female friendship only started in 2000 with a study on the benefits and risks of opposite-sex friendships between college students.

Research has continued from there, but the question remains: Can men and women share intimate, profound friendship?

Of course they can.

With qualifications.

If possible mistaken impressions, discomfort, or optics—on your part or on the parts of significant others—would make you think twice about inviting someone to dinner or calling them to chat on the phone at any hour, can you consider your relationship truly unfettered?

Not that friendship needs no fetters to exist. I have a number of male friends. You can still call someone a friend if you wouldn’t reach out to them to join you for just-the-two-of-us theater attendance, for a long heart-to-heart phone call, or for a relaxed dinner on a Saturday night.

And I have a couple male friends I’d contact without qualification or hesitation—even for two-some vacation time. Yet I’ve called them friends for decades. We made contact and built our relationship in our youth, before careers, serious partnerships, and children. Making new friends without qualifications grows more difficult as we get older. How could I spend the time needed to cultivate a deep friendship with someone without awkwardness between us and raised eyebrows from others?

I’d venture that I almost can’t. The time has passed.

Research and analysis has guided psychologists to argue that men and women can share friendship—and that they should, as opposite-sex friendships provide unique benefits, including insight into how the opposite sex thinks and in-depth conversations. However, each of the psychologists providing guidance to women and women developing friendship give caveats around clear communication about expectations and intentions and explain that men and women should limit the amount and type of time they spend together as friends.

Yet if you have to ensure the purpose of the relationship stays clear with everyone—including and especially each other—and must constrain how and when you spend time together or even connect via phone or text, how close can you consider your friendship?

What do you think?