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Just friends – is it possible?

You and your male friend have been pals for many years. You know each other’s secrets, complete each other’s sentences and are true soul mates. But your husband doesn’t like it. According to him a platonic friendship between men and women is impossible. Does he have a point?

“Most of my life I have always been closer to boys/male friends than girlfriends,” says Liezl du Plessis, a single teacher from Cape Town. “At school my friendship with my best boyfriend was also a lot closer than those with my girlfriends. We did everything together and shared deep secrets and it never once leaned towards being romantic. Not even once. Everyone always thought there was a lot more going on between us, but we were truly just best friends. My current best friend and confidant is also a man. We have been best friends for almost a year now and share absolutely everything with each other. We can spend hours lying on the same bed just talking about anything and everything, and there is, or was, and never will be, any type of romance involved.”

It sounds ideal. A man that gives his honest opinion, that goes with you to weddings and with whom you would never have a cat-fight over trivial things, right? Maybe. But will such a friendship be able to withstand the test of a marriage?

Liezl notes: “Just the other day he asked me whether I think things between us will remain the same after we both get married one day, and we both came to the same conclusion. I believe that you can find a soulmate in a friend and that it doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with romance, and that platonic friendships with men do absolutely exist. And the best is that there are fewer hang-ups and drama as is the case with girlfriends. My best friend is currently in a relationship with a girl and even that isn’t a factor.” That’s what YOU think, Liezl, some readers will say, while others will wholeheartedly agree with her.

Yes, it is absolutely possible!
In today’s day and age, more than ever before, men and women interact with each other on a platonic level. We interact daily in mixed groups both within professional and social environments. As boundaries in sexuality at offices are being broken down, men and women are forced to look at each other through non-sexual lenses. As is the opinion of some readers, these types of interactions instil and enforce the idea that platonic relationships between men and women are indeed possible.

Life isn’t just about sex – it’s something we need to keep in perspective. Just because you think your male or female friend is attractive, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will act on those feelings or thoughts. Many married couples have single or married friends of the opposite sex without it ever developing into something problematic. Couples who have affairs, cheat on their partner’s friends as well as with strangers, therefore it doesn’t necessarily imply that a friendship will automatically lead to something more.

According to individuals that are pro-friendships with the opposite sex, it is also not impossible for people (of both sexes) to feel that a friend of the opposite is like a brother or sister they never had.

In the end everything comes down to you as an individual and how far you allow your thoughts and behaviour to go . . .

In some cases . . .
According to Stefan van Zyl, a single man and lecturer at Potchefstroom, it depends on the certainty of the relationship and to what degree the two individuals trust each other. “Platonic relationships should not fulfil the functions of a spouse – your partner is supposed to be your best friend and for this reason, platonic relationships should not take over those roles. It also depends on the definition of what exactly platonic means and entails and how it is understood by both parties. I do however believe that it is safe to have platonic relationships outside of a marriage as it ensures that the marriage does not become a cocoon.”

Stefan continues: “I have several girl friends that have more boy friends and visa versa. These relationships are often less complicated and seldom lead to something romantic, because people want to protect those friendships and are afraid that any type of romance can threaten the friendship. I think it is possible and even necessary, but both parties have a responsibility to proactively stipulate the boundaries of such a friendship. It is also important to remember that a successful marriage consists of three spheres: The husband’s life, the women’s life and their life together. Each person needs to maintain their own functions. But never at the cost of their marriage.”

No, it’s a recipe for disaster!
There are several people who believe that a platonic friendship between men and women is impossible. A Sociological study (Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross- sex friendship; Journal of Social and Personal Relationships) has found that it is possible for a woman to have a platonic relationship with a man, but it is harder for men to have platonic relationships with women. The study revealed that men are more often attracted to their female friends as opposed to women, who are less attracted to their male friends. It also showed that women believed their male friends to be less attracted to them as was actually the case.”

Only if both parties are involved . . .
Karien van der Berg, a married lecturer at Potchefstroom, is of the opinion that it is very difficult to keep a friendship purely platonic. “The one party has a tendency to always develops more feelings than the other person. Even if it is never acted on, I still believe that it can complicate things if the other person is, for example, in a relationship, or even married. Of course there is room for old friends, but then I believe the person you are in a relationship with, gets involved with this friendship. Even between married parties, or a couple who is friends with a single person, there are always certain limits with regards to friendships between men and women. I don’t believe there is a true future for good friends between men and women without it eventually becoming more complicated.

Annari Combrink, a married housewife from Heilbron, says that she has a friend whom she truly loves, but that she loves his wife just as much. “And the same also applies to my husband, who feels the same way about them both. So in this regard, yes. The trouble starts though when I am, for example, married and my friend isn’t. Of course we can be platonic friends, but the devil is cunning. He roams about like a growling lion on the lookout for prey to destroy and his favourite meal is a marriage! Before you know, he persuades your husband that you and this friend have spent one coffee too many together this week, causing great damage to your friendship and marriage. It is also a lot easier for two single individuals to have a platonic friendship, as there isn’t another individual that could be threatened. So I really believe that the success of a platonic relationship depends on the situation and circumstances.”

What do the experts say?
Stephen Claassen, lecturer at Lewende Woord, believes that platonic friendships between unmarried students and young adults are healthy and he strongly encourages such friendships. “Friendship groups and socialising between both sexes are very important and critical and for developing healthy perspectives and interpersonal relationships. Currently, thousands of rands are being spent on ‘dating’ clubs’ in order to develop skills and relationships between the opposite sexes and to keep these as balanced as possible.

He does, however, feel differently about platonic relationships where one or both parties are in a relationship or married. “Platonic friendships within a marriage can cause serious relationship problems and develop emotional connections that have a negative impact on any relationship, because these types of friendships always lead to something more. You may regard a platonic relationship as innocent, but the question remains . . . does your friend really feel the same? My wife, Elmien and I, had to make the decision to end all platonic relationship with the opposite sexes after getting married and neither of us were against this very important decision!”

According to Marie Nel, Research Psychologist and therapist, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question as to whether couples, especially married one’s, can have platonic relationship.People and people relationships are complex and each marriage differs. What is possibly more important, is how to define ‘platonic’.

What would your honest answers be to the following questions?

  1. Do you behave differently to this person than you would to other friends of the same sex?
  2. Does this friend behave differently towards you than they would to your other friends?
  3. Is your spouse aware of your friendship?
  4. Would you feel uncomfortable if your husband/wife visited with you and this person?
  5. Do you discuss your marriage with this person> Do you ask him/her for advice or do you moan about things in your marriage to this person?
  6. Would it bother you if your husband/wife had similar platonic relationships with other me/women?
  7. Are you attracted to this person?

If you answered yes to any of the following questions, it may be needed to re-assess this friendship. If you are currently in such a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex, think carefully about the nature of your relationship. Be honest with yourself, as no friendship is worth damaging/losing your marriage.

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