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  • Writer's pictureJ Wolfe

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

evan wasser and Jessica Wolfe make a promise about friendship

On September 1st I joined that early morning workforce that exits the train right around seven and for the first time since it got hot it smells like New York breakfast. The crispier-than-what-we’ve-gotten-used-to air accentuates the smell of bacon, cheese melting onto eggs, coffee meeting breath that we’ll soon be able to see like steam from the subway. The kind that back in the day blew Marilyn’s dress and today makes me think of construction workers blowing kisses.

I’ve been trying to approach the question: Can men and women be friends? In answering this question over the last month I’ve had to refer to the Bible, have debates with friends and break the boundaries of friendship itself all in the name of field research. The answer: yes but.

Yes, but the Bible taught me that although the big man is in support of friendship, we all agree that men pose a bigger problem in these gray-area relationships. Evangelical Protestant leaders went as far as to establish the Billy Graham rule which asks married men to refuse to spend alone time with any woman who is not their wife. Some men have a hard time with accountability, so it can be easier to avoid the bait all together. This level of self-governance in some ways treats the wrinkles in my trust issues with that retinol serum we girlies like and a gua sha. But not only does this evasion point to a problem in the way men think about women, it also excludes them from the value a platonic relationship with a woman can provide. And in avoidance we fail to address the problem, to challenge ourselves to be better, and it’s systems like this that keep our male friends reading their homegirls outfit instead of her body language.

Often religion is built on this foundation of avoiding temptation, but if religion is supposed to measure the “goodness” of man, of which his rewards are determined, then how does avoiding temptation prove anything? A good man makes good decisions that go beyond his biology, despite being in the face of desire. A “good” man thinks of his kids instead of destroying the AI generated family he’s created in Woodland Hills with his chippy living right down the street. As my dad put this summary of a family’s escalation into tremors, “he did it bass-ak-wards. You’re supposed to address the problems in your marriage, and if you can’t fix them, you get divorced and thennn you get a chippy. But you have to think about your kids.”

This generation engages so heavily in appearances, it’s as if we are starting to fail to create a true moral compass for ourselves. What's really important is that our friends don’t find out about the weird shit we do behind closed doors. If that were to happen one might have to move back to LA, pick up new hobbies and either reject or accept the foreclosure of their most beloved scenes.

In the beginning of cancel culture I think we felt we could save people, and as time went on we became aware these problems exist in most, if not every person in the scene on this spectrum. The way people fight this is through an individual desire to understand right and wrong. When guiding people to an approved method of apologizing for a wrong-doing you fail to leave one room to show their true colors. It’s in the way people handle these situations that allows us to measure their empathy, goodness and desire to change in the face of public scrutiny. If you don’t give someone the chance to react to something, they never have the opportunity to prove themselves.

Friendship between a man and a woman is a constant test of this theory. Because there are no rules, no guidelines, every single one is different and the outcome is unpredictable, you are always waiting to see if your friendship will prove itself or not. Stand the test of time or see if when it rains it pours.

A friendship between a man and a woman is a space void of expectations, it's all about proving yourself. The whole time the woman doesn't know if she’s being courted and the man doesn't know if he has a chance. It is a test to see how long one can bury their temptations. In some cases, it’s also a test to see whether a man can conquer his own insecurities and fears, puff up and go for it. See what happens. A friendship that lasts forever is either between two people who do not have temptation for each other, two people who have explored that temptation and therefore can let it go or two people who truly value each other’s opinion. Generally, do men really value women’s opinions much? And generally, do women challenge themselves much to have one? I ask these questions because they are questions I have to ask, because “men” and “women” are incredibly hard to generalize in the first place. So as this question does, it reflects the values I have absorbed and at times am unconscious of. There is a part of me that genuinely believes men are funnier than women, at the very least I think the quantity of funny men is far larger than that of women. As I debated this question with my coworkers I found that I correlate “entertainment” with my male friends and “intimacy” with my female friends, and that is part of why I have always gravitated toward men. Is friendship about entertainment more than it is intimacy? Do male and female friendships tend toward lightheartedness? Friendships are for listening, supporting, laughing, plotting, getting along and also sexual tension. Some friendships definitely make room for that last part.

evan wasser and Jessica wolfe

Yes, but in the friendships where attraction exists there has to be equal value of the friendship aspects (i.e. listening, supporting, laughing) in a non-sexual way as there is in the possibility of there being a vibe. Otherwise, that’s not a friendship. That’s a fake out until you get what you want, also known as “playing the long game.” That sad look on a person’s face when they’re discontent with their position in the friend zone makes my heart sore, forreal. My interest in those types of relationships are what made me want to write this article. It is odd to be confronted with ulterior motives in relationships you may have thought were wholesome.

I grew up with my dad and my brother so I’ve always felt more comfortable in my relationships with men until I realized there was this parti pris I had to navigate. As with men, because I grew up with my dad and my brother, I spent a lot of time doing activities instead of talking. This gave me certain powers that carry me through life now, like knowing when something is important enough to bring up. Like showing instead of telling. I also learned how to be that bit of feminine force many men lack in their lives. What I didn’t learn from my dad and my brother is that men tend toward lying, with that same talent for avoidance, instead of confronting hard truths or rejecting their own desires when faced with them.

This year I had set out on a mission to go to MSG for free as many times as I could, a venue I had never even been to before this year. After Skrillex, Depeche Mode and the Knicks I made my way into the garden to see the one and only Aubrey Drake Graham. As Drake walked right past us and onto stage, beginning to play “Marvin’s Room,” we met King. King had traveled all the way from Texas for this, he spent close to a thousand dollars on the ticket, travel, hotel room. My best friend, King, and I enjoyed the first few songs together. It was nice to have another friend. At a certain point King started getting physically closer to us and I had to say “King wait.. We’re just friends right? We’re not doing all that?” and King said “Yeah of course!” He then tried to grind on us again and I said “King!!!! We’re just friends!!” After he tried the maneuver again I had to say “Okay King this is where we leave you.” Now, I understand King paid a lot of money to be there, I’m sure the idea of dancing with two White girls to Drake sounded like the perfect end to his story, and that makes it the perfect end to mine. King would agree to our faces that we were just friends, yet that didn't mean the advances stopped. King’s all like “I wanna benefit from the friendship / I wanna get a late-night message from you.” And I’m all like “the lyrics begin to reveal themselves over time periods / promise you’ll get that shit when the sky clears / this shit designed for divine ears” just like that I pack it up and I’m all clear, see you King.

Throughout history humans have found reason to separate men from their biological need to woo a woman. One way people have avoided the ulterior motive can be seen in the eunuch class. Eunuchs were castrated and demasculinized completely in order to earn the trust of those in power. Without their members it was thought there was no reason to challenge, to crave power, to pose threat and would be less prone to corruption. The lifestyle must be pretty severe if men are willing to cut their joysticks off for it. Without this force coming between a man’s pure heart and the beauty of the female species, unification could occur and an unattended relationship could ensue between these men and their respective queen, a friendship if you will. So maybe all it takes is conquering that spitting cobra, pork whistle, lap lizard, baby leg that gets a boy’s brain all scrambled.

Friendship seems to be an active decision, it is ongoing and drawn out. It is a choice that lasts the timeline of your relationship with anyone. In my attempts to break down friendship I’ve reached the conclusion that it must have two things. 1. Trust and 2. A level of mutual support. Therefore, in a friendship between a man and a woman maybe the most important thing is that 1. A woman can call the man equally with her problems as he probably taxes his emotional weight onto her and 2. There is some level of trust that even if the man does think of her in a sexual way, he will not act on it, or at the very least will not make it weird. He will not sense a vibe when there isn't one, he will be mature if that vibe is ever explored, he will not sexualize her in the moments she tries to expand and he will not get mad if in the end the woman does not want to have sex with him. Her value will not decrease with the realization that the relationship is platonic.

In my completely platonic friendships I often bridge this space of “friendship” with something more akin to a “siblingship,” we’ll refer to each other as brother and sister, we’ll talk about being friends forever and have both mutually excluded any opportunity for being down bad enough for each other. That mutuality is important. Friendship functions in this mutual delusion, that’s the case with any pairing of a friendship regardless of gender, context or attraction level. In relationships it’s easy to think you're right all the time, especially as you get comfortable. Sometimes you forget to even have the fight because you're friends. You'll have falling outs, get weird and build subtle resentments but always return to each other, hand in hand, pulling up to the function. In friendship there is individualism that meets individualism to form a bond, two people coming together and hopefully being on the same page.

I’ve found in asking people this question it reflects more than anything a level of an individual’s relationship with their sexuality. I’ve had men who say “yes all I want is to be one of the girls” and women who have said “no I want all of my friends to want to have sex with me. I’m hot and we all know it.” I’ve had men that have said “no” followed by backtracking and men that have said “yes” followed with nothing. Women who hit a hard “no” and women nervous they’ll be wrong or crazy if they say “yes but.” Men who admit to playing the long game, women who think their friends actually just really like spending time with them. I’ve had to ask men I really am just friends with. The boldest response: “I’m super attracted to you and we’re friends.” There have been people who thought I was directing this question at them because we’re navigating a return to friendship. And overall, I think a lot of people thought I was flirting with them. But this is a question that projects estrogen and testosterone levels, jadedness and gives more insight into the psyche of parties than you may want to have. The range of answers constructs equations in my mind, sexualization + intention = an individual approach to friendship.

evan wasser and Jessica Wolfe

Obviously, women contribute to relationships going awry too. Here’s the part where I have to admit I’ve contributed countless times to relationships getting silly, and I have my own thoughts about my friends that I have to navigate, but I never value a man only for the parts of him I’m attracted to. I’ve found a lot of grief in learning that many of my friendships end if I don’t eventually put out. I was once given the advice to stop smiling after everything I say, because that smile was giving my male friends all these ideas about the possibilities of getting to know me. The kind of boys that are angry with me when it is revealed that my smile was just a smile, my hug was just a hug, my jokes were just trying to be funny and sending them that song was just because we have the same taste in music. The imagination intimidates reality into a dark corner where at times it cannot see the light at all.

In this article I spend a lot of time talking about how men create these dynamics, but that’s really just because it interests me. Not because it’s an inherently bad thing, or because women don’t also do these things, but because there is this biological need in men that at times makes them override the things they already know. Because as my brother said “there is an epidemic of emotionally broken men who don’t want to do anything about it, for whatever reason.” There is an overall lack of empathy that stems from a lot of things, primarily how much people are not seeking mental health help and the internet because we're getting desensitized to information – we’re turning into robots in many senses. Therefore, in 2023, how do we approach combating that hard-wired-knee-jerk with something that will actually help us all avoid being in unsafe, uncomfortable or disappointing situations? How does one break their own biology? Attack the forces they were born with? Fight their own psychology on top of just trying to have a good time?

This is a specifically interesting question for me to ask because I have been in particularly volatile trenches with men who disrespect their friendships with women, who violate behind closed doors and who know how to maintain that good boy image just well enough to not raise suspicion. I think there are cells of my brain I will never be able to get back from all the fried things I had to do to prove to myself I was still hot after losing my entire personality to my ex-boyfriend’s 3,000 picture collection of my good friends. That is the reason my expertise on this subject is important and it’s also the topic I want to avoid the most. I must plead the Billy Graham rule here and circumvent, break the ankles of my trauma. I refuse to explore it deeply.

Post two long term relationships, I learned monogamy works because it’s the least confusing, in being the least confusing it also becomes the most fragile. The second things get good they tend to get bad. In more toxic relationships, it becomes such a lonely thing, which plays into so many of the challenges of monogamy. You can’t have friends because your partner doesn't know how you're thinking about them, you can't be satisfied only with your partner because its repetitive, frustrating, boring, you go in and out of the over and under responsibility of being tied to someone, you make sacrifices and become so entangled and shut out from the rest of the world that breaking up is the most terrifying thing ever. Because then the turf wars happen, you fight over friends, you fight from afar over the ability to explore those relationships you refused being interested in when you were together, you compete to do the more interesting thing post-each-other. Eventually, the transition from monogamy to singlenomoly becomes simply about being happy. In healthier relationships, friendships become more possible because you realize the value of having a girlfriend who is willing to satisfy your needs gives you the opportunity to build friendships that value non-sexual things. Living in a world of chaotic young people who are all trying to be happy, to have friends, to get enough attention, to get a cool job, to find love, to meet their goals, to build community, to make art, to get involved in fashion, to outdo each other, to not overindulge, to have talent.. It’s all so overwhelming often I have to break these things down to this almost retarded level just to make sense of it all. It makes me want to look dough-eyed at my friends, in this state of simplistic wonder, and ask “so what’s it all mean?”

After seashell picking with a male friend we drove up windy Topanga Canyon and on that part where your eyes should be on the road my friend started side eyeing me, interrupting the conversation we were having about Tame Impala, and says “I don’t think men and women can be friends.” This was a while ago now, but the question stuck with me. The motivation behind the comment stuck with me too, like..wait..are we flirting? That was one of those friendships I never thought would teeter far over the line. In that moment I responded “it’s really not that deep,” and went on to think about this question from time to time for the next year until with this essay I close the chapter of curiosity, having met the conclusions I need to so I can wake up tomorrow, go to work at seven AM and continue on in the confusing world of partying in New York City.

The answer is yes. Of course men and women can be friends, what kind of a society would we be if we said no? But, being friends takes a level of mutuality that must remain on one side of a line, the mystery is necessary to the friendship. “Truth or dare, I'ma take a double dare / Truth is a suicide.” The more outward the flirting, the discussion of our thoughts about each other in our spare time – the more we risk losing each other. I will always strive to find the value in friendship because I want to stick around to hear your thoughts, stories, jokes, to explore the dynamics and be around people who put me in my place when I deserve it and take my place-putting when they do. I’d like to end this by saying thank you to all the male friends I have. You guys make me happy and I’m appreciative of the lessons I’ve learned from you. Lessons like: the ways you are when there isn’t a woman around, how to be funnier, how to embrace cruelty either like a child or like a wall, how to do an ollie, how to drink 6 beers, how to play basketball and most importantly… how to be friends with a man.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this debate, it is still open.

They say loves like a BBL you won't know if it's real till u feel oneeee......

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