No man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her. - Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) in When Harry Met Sally
In “Ice Cream in the Hand” I asserted that “it’s a lot easier for a woman to learn to understand men than it is for a man to understand women,” but I intentionally omitted a huge caveat to that because it opens up a tangent that requires an entire column of its own. With that qualifier in place, the first part of the statement reads, “it’s a lot easier for a woman to learn to understand men, assuming she wants to learn”; while it’s true that men usually cannot understand women, it’s equally true that women usually will not understand men. While guys have trouble comprehending the complex and shifting pattern of female sexuality, gals have similar trouble accepting the simple but threatening reality of the male drive. And though the typical man knows that women are different from him but can’t quite work out how, the typical woman prefers to deny that men are different from her and insists that apparent dissimilarities are pathological deviations from the (female) norm.
One perfect example of this can be seen in the strikingly disparate ways in which men and women perceive heterosexual friendships; to a man friendship is an end in itself only with other men, while with women it is perceived as an incomplete or intermediate state in comparison with a sexual relationship. Hence the distinctly masculine concept of “friends with benefits”; though I’ve heard some women use the expression, it only truly makes sense to the male mind because it automatically implies that the state of friendship with a woman is incomplete (i.e. lacking benefits, else the clause “with benefits” would be redundant). Women, on the other hand, perceive friendship as an end in itself whether the friend is male or female. It is this incongruity which has created the growing controversy over the idea of the “friend zone”: men see it as an accurate description of a certain type of relationship, while many feminists petulantly decry it as a “denial of a woman’s right to refuse sex”. This is an unusually hypocritical cant even by feminist standards, because it does exactly what it accuses those who speak of the “friend zone” of doing: demonizing and belittling the feelings of the opposite sex.
People who pay attention to what’s actually going on around them rather than looking at everything through a filter of politics, selfishness or pure naivety recognize that men and women can only really be friends if there is some powerful impediment in the man’s mind toward consummation of a sexual relationship. As long as he’s gay, or the woman is physically unappealing to him, or he’s deeply committed to someone else, or he has powerful feelings of friendship for her husband, or he thinks of her as a sister, or something like that, he will probably refrain from looking for opportunities to turn the relationship into “something more”. This isn’t to say he might not have sexual fantasies about her or that there won’t be some sexual tension, but as long as there is some counteracting influence in his head the truce can generally be maintained. This article on a recent study looks at what really goes on in the average male mind when there is no such restraining influence:
…Daily experience suggests that non-romantic friendships between males and females are not only possible, but common—men and women live, work, and play side-by-side, and generally seem to be able to avoid spontaneously sleeping together. However…new research suggests that…[though] we may think we’re capable of being “just friends” with members of the opposite sex…the…perceived opportunity…for “romance” is often lurking just around the corner…researchers brought 88 pairs of…opposite-sex friends into…a…testing facility. These friendship pairs were then separated, and each member of each pair was asked a series of questions related to his or her romantic feelings (or lack thereof) toward the friend with whom they were taking the study…Men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa…[and] more likely…to think that their…friends were attracted to them…in fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends. Men were also more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction…
…In a follow-up study, 249 adults (many of whom were married) were asked to list the positive and negative aspects of being friends with a specific member of the opposite sex. Variables related to romantic attraction (e.g., “our relationship could lead to romantic feelings”) were five times more likely to be listed as negative aspects of the friendship than as positive ones. However, the differences between men and women appeared here as well. Males were significantly more likely than females to list romantic attraction as a benefit of opposite-sex friendships, and this discrepancy increased as men aged—males on the younger end of the spectrum were four times more likely than females to report romantic attraction as a benefit of opposite-sex friendships, whereas those on the older end of the spectrum were ten times more likely to do the same…
To a degree, this is one of those “dog bites man” things; I’m sure it comes as absolutely no surprise to my male readers, and though it probably won’t be one to most of my female readers, either, that’s only because most women who would find it hard to believe probably couldn’t handle reading my column every day, either. Unfortunately, there are a lot of women who would not only react to this with shock or disbelief, but would take offense as well; all too many people, a disproportionate number of whom are female, seem to believe that the “purpose” of facts is to make people feel good or to support political agendas, and that indignation is somehow just as valid a reaction to data as acceptance or skepticism.