Platonic friendships between men and women may be a relatively new phenomenon — but over time, they could make us better people.
Kicking off a series on such friendships for Slate, Juliet Lapidos writes, "the critic William Deresiewicz has written that 'friendship between the sexes appears to have been nonexistent before the 19th century' and did not become a 'widely accepted social possibility' until the 20th." I wondered about the universality of this statement — what about cultures outside the West? — but at least in America, Lapidos points out that "just two generations ago, the institutions that incubate friendship — universities, workplaces, even summer camps [...] — were still segregated by sex." Nowadays men and women have the opportunity to become buddies — but plenty of people still insist that every connection between heterosexual members of the opposite sex has to be about boning. They're missing out.
Simply put, having female friends makes men, especially straight men, better people. In a culture that's still misogynist in a lot of ways, it's all too easy for a boy to grow up thinking that women are irrational, emotional Venusians he'll never really understand — and the mainstream media is happy to reinforce the view that all communication between the sexes must require a complicated translation process. Daily, we all get messages ranging in awfulness from "women are much more emotional than men" to "when a woman says no she means yes," and one of the best antidotes to these is talking to actual women. Guys who do this will usually find that women aren't mysterious aliens whose motives are decipherable only by reading AskMen articles, but rather human people with human brains similar to their own. And they're more likely to find this out in a platonic context.
Sure, sexual relationships can teach us a lot about the opposite sex. But given that heterosexual flirting and fucking and coupling are so laden with cultural baggage, it's good for men and women to get to know each other outside of this system. Men can learn that women are worth talking to as people, not just potential sex partners. Women can discover that men are interested in talking to them — and in talking, in general — even if they're never going to bone. Both can figure out that members of the opposite sex are normal people worth getting to know — just like all their other friends. And knowing this makes it a lot harder to be a sexist jerk.
In May, one of AskMen's interminable pickup advice pieces offered this tip: "Imagine that you're just approaching this woman to have a conversation, not to bang her." I'd tweak that: don't just imagine it, actually do it. You both might learn something.
Jeff & Juliet [Slate]