CAN MEN & WOMEN JUST BE FRIENDS? // SPOILER: OF COURSE THEY CAN!

This is me, circa 1977, with my BFF, Hamish.

My Dad was a pilot in the New Zealand airforce, and Hamish lived over the road from us on the airbase. Together we got up to all kinds of fun, like playing in the mudflats at low tide (we weren’t supposed to go down there, which just made it MORE fun!), taking turns on his skateboard and hanging out in his teeny red treehouse.

We were inseparable.

We both started school the same year, and it was brilliant to have my best buddy there to play with during breaks and at lunch time. But it soon became clear that our innocent, uncomplicated friendship was actually quite baffling to our peers. I was a girl, and Hamish was [GASP] a boy, which – according to our classmates – rendered us incapable of being mates.

At five years old, we were teased every time we hung out. ‘You loooooove him! Kiss him! KISS HIM!’ they’d order me, and I still remember feeling so confused. Why were people so bothered by us? Why on earth did I have to kiss him, just because he was a boy and I was a girl?!

I heard it so relentlessly I started to wonder if I SHOULD kiss him, before quickly realising that, no, it wasn’t like that. We were friends – the fact he was a boy was incidental to me.

In the end – and this still makes me sad to think about 40 years later – we simply stopping hanging out. It was easier than having to defend ourselves and constantly fob off the ribbing.

It’s a situation that’s infuriated me ever since – why is it so hard for people to understand that (as in my particular case) a straight female and a straight male can be no-lines-blurred friends?

Looking back, I can clearly see those early years made me wary. For the rest of primary school I did was I was supposed to do (eye roll) and only hung out with other girls.

Of course, this also coincided with those in-between years when the gulf between girls and boys widened and common ground got very thin. This certainly wouldn’t have helped, but it still annoys me that the small minds of other people dictated who I could be friends with.

It all changed again in secondary school, when we’d all grown up a bit. I’d even go so far as to say I had more male friends than female. I wasn’t into the mind games teenage girls seemed to relish playing, and found my male classmates refreshingly drama free.

None of them were boyfriends, they were all just boy friends.

When I was preparing to move away from New Zealand I was taken out for farewell lunch by a bunch of my male mates – the only girl in the five-strong group. I was incredibly touched by the gesture.

For one male to even go to the effort of arranging a lunch is pretty impressive to begin with, but for four of them to show up to bid me farewell felt like a real honour.

For over 20 years now one of my best friends has been a guy I flatted with in Sydney. There’s never been the tiniest iota of anything more to our relationship – from either side – and I know he’ll be a friend for life.

Side note: he and the hubby have actually gone on to become great mates too, totally independent of our friendship.

So it really does baffle me when people argue that men and women can’t really be friends, as I’m living proof that they can (and here are some more people who agree).

It makes me wonder if that train of thought comes more from social conditioning – being constantly told we can’t possibly be JUST friends – than any real fact that males and females can’t be around each other without an attraction developing.

You can probably guess which camp I’m in. I’m proud to say my daughters, aged eight and 10 – are reinforcing what I already believe, as both of them have boys who they consider good friends.

They’ve both had the same kind of ribbing I experienced, but this time I’m determined they won’t get swayed by outdated ideas.

‘If anyone teases you,’ I tell them, ‘look them straight in the eye, laugh, and say “So-and-so is my friend – whether they’re a boy or a girl is totally irrelevant”. Then walk away without another word.’ 

Just this past week my eldest was invited to a party for one of the boys in her class. She was one of two girls invited but the other couldn’t attend. When I asked her if she still wanted to go, knowing she’d be the only girl there, her reply was: ‘Why wouldn’t I go Mum? He’s my friend.’ 

Good on you girl! I thought to myself, before RSVP’ing on her behalf. When I dropped her off I was a teensy bit apprehensive – 11-year-old boys aren’t always known for their sensitivity – but when I picked her up she told me the boys had treated her as ‘one of their own’ and she’d had a great time.

It made me proud – both of the boy for going against the grain and inviting his female friends, and of Big Sis for refusing to be intimidated by being the only girl in the group. Maybe there’s hope for our younger generations yet!

What are your thoughts – can men and women just be friends? 

Are you guilty of hiding behind your camera? Read my post on why it’s important for mums to get on the wrong side of the lens

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