Editor’s note: The name Jackie Barnett was generated randomly, as he person originally interviewed requested their name be taken off the site. Please direct any questions toward firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems that whenever I tell my mom I am going somewhere with one of my guy friends, I get the same response. Her eyebrows arch and she gets this sly little grin on her face. By now, I know this face. It’s the one she offers as if to ask, “Oh yeah, and is this a date?” Before she even says anything I am already responding in my annoyed leave-me-alone voice. “Don’t worry, Mom, he’s just a friend.”
Just a friend. Three little words with plenty of meanings. Are we talking buddy-buddy, seriously just a friend? A friend with benefits? A friend who could, in the future, be a possible mate? An ex who was a victim of the famous “I just want to be friends” line? A sick-he’s-practically-my-brother kind of friend? As I run out the door this time with my “friend,” my mom is left to ponder all the different types of “friends” I may have.
And it’s a classic debate: is it possible to have platonic friendships? A true platonic relationship is one in which both persons have no romantic feelings and both wish for the friendship to stay in its current position. Comedian Chris Rock once made a comment about a man’s view on platonic friends: “Men don’t have platonic friends. We just have women we haven’t had sex with yet.” Thanks, Chris. Really mature. After hearing this somewhat shocking observation of the male mind, I decided to find out what some of the male MSU population thought.
First I went to familiar territory – my very own platonic guy friends, the sick-he’s-practically-my-brother types. Between video games, seniors Chris Roebuck and Greg Milewicz let me in on their idea of platonic female friends.
Milewicz: “It’s not possible to be good friends with a girl.”
Me: “Why’s that?”
Milewicz: “We don’t have any of the same interests except Laguna.” (Yes, Greg is talking about Laguna Beach, the reality show about high school kids living in Orange County, California.)
Me: “What can’t you talk to girls about?”
Milewicz: “Fart jokes.”
Roebuck: “Guy stuff.”
OK, so maybe some of that discussion was a joke, but Roebuck said he doesn’t really treat his female friends any differently than his male friends (except he says he wouldn’t go to a NASCAR race with the girls). He said the reason many guys may not have good girl friends is because some girls whine, complain and gossip too much. But he also believed not all girls are like that, and that’s what he likes in his female friends.
Other guys are more weary. “Having girls as friends is a bad idea,” said business sophomore Kurt Faust. “The closer you get, the more attractive they become…unless they are really ugly.” Faust has a girlfriend and said he doesn’t really have platonic female friends anymore because of it. He has seen these problems with his friends too and doesn’t think it’s a good idea on both sides because feelings tend to develop. “Guys should be friends with guys – dating is separate,” said Faust.
Jealousy issues are often common in platonic friendships when one or both have a significant other. Georgia Rockwell, interior design sophomore, said the only time she had a problem having male friends was when she had a boyfriend. “He was jealous and insecure,” she said. “Whenever I went to parties without him, he would get mad.”
Of course, there could be some psychology behind this. “Males really are more suspicious of their female partner being in a friendship relationship with another male,” said DeColius Johnson, a counseling psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center. “It’s a socialization type thing; guys are only after one thing. If I believe that about myself and if I believe that about my friends and about other guys, then I become suspicious even if there’s no basis for that suspicion.” He said platonic relationships are an issue of trust and intentions. I asked him if it was truly possible to have these sorts of relationships without romantic feelings.
“Yes! (long pause) Well… yes with an asterisk,” he said. “It really gets back to the games people play with respect to love, primarily between males and females. I think romantic attraction complicates the situation; it makes everything a little more suspicious. Do I really like you as my best friend? Or would I like it to be more, if I wasn’t frightened by the prospect of losing the friendship?”
Jackie Barnett, on the other hand, has a boyfriend of almost two years and says he doesn’t have a problem with her being surrounded by testosterone, which comes along with sharing many mutual friends as a couple. The anthropology senior said her boyfriend is not a big fan of the guys who she dated in the past, but it has never caused problems in their relationship. She said her boyfriend knows there is no sexual attraction with her other guy friends so the friendship works.
When you’re in a romantic relationship, sometimes opposite-sex friends start to dwindle, such as in Faust’s case. It might sound selfish, but you don’t really need that person when you have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Additionally, there are standards of society and certain images conjured up when you say you’re going out with “just a friend,” and reactions like my mother’s are common.
Roebuck disagrees. He says he gets annoyed when his friends start disowning friends just because they are dating someone. “I don’t do that,” he said. “It’s important to maintain friendships because that’s what actually lasts. You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
So if platonic relationships are OK, when do they cross over into romantic relationships? It’s acceptable to drink and hang out with the opposite sex on the weekends, fine if you want to talk about that stupid thing your friend did, all right to partner up for a game of beer pong. But what about casual lunch on a Tuesday? Chatting for hours on the phone? One-on-one shopping for your sister’s birthday? Sorry, that’s for couples only.
It’s a natural assumption. If a guy and girl are out to dinner, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Boyfriend/ girlfriend. And if they’re not in that category, well…expect questions. Not just from your parents, but friends as well. The fact is, it looks like a date.
If this is true, I would be “dating” more than one of my guy friends. And although people will assume things, times have changed, and more than ever, platonic relationships do exist – and I’m not talking the “friends with benefits” kind. Sometimes “it” just doesn’t exist between two people.
Sophomores Katie Popovich and Nicolai Mansoori sit in the hall of Haslett Arms apartments, flirting and joking with each other. “When we first met, there was an attraction there,” said Popovich. “But once we got to know each other, we realized we were interested in different types of people.” The pair agreed they are over their attraction and they are comfortable their relationship will never go past a certain point. They seem to have this imaginary boundary established where the flirtation stops. Mansoori, who has a girlfriend, said he values Popovich’s opinion and the “girl point of view” because she has a good personality and good morals, which is ultimately what he says he is looking for. “She keeps me in check,” he said.
Mansoori even has a Facebook group named after his flirtatious ways but Popovich said although he flirts, she knows behind the flirtation she has someone who will support her no matter what. She said she values his honesty in their friendship and since the two have many mutual friends, Mansoori tells her the truth about certain guys. “He’s one of the first people I would tell about a new guy in my life,” she said.
“Yeah, you get really shy around those guys!” Mansoori chimed in.
Certainly some people are more likely to have these platonic friends. It all depends on personality and what they look for in someone who is just a friend. “I like that guys are not as emotional or dramatic,” said Rockwell. “I talk to them about more fun stuff like partying and I don’t feel judged by guys.”
Barnett agrees with Rockwell, and since middle school, has been “one of the guys.” “I’ve always been friends with guys,” she said. “I was never really close with that many girls. I don’t like drama or confrontation and guys aren’t like that. If they get in a fight, they are cool with each other 10 minutes later.” Barnett also said the fact that she can be around her guy friends with wet hair and sweats and not care is probably one of the reasons she is friends with so many of them. “Some girls, when they are around guys, automatically get flirty and try to make sure they look good. I’m not trying to impress anyone when I’m around my friends,” she said.
What about platonic friendships that form after a breakup? Roebuck says it depends on the situation but thinks it is possible to be friends with an ex. Rockwell says she remains friends with her ex-boyfriends because they have things in common, but she has moved on and no longer feels an attraction toward them.
When there is no sexual tension or romantic attraction, it does seem possible to have platonic friends. Despite the When Harry Met Sally myth that it just doesn’t happen, in real life it can. It may not be the rule but it’s a big exception to it. The most important thing is to make sure you and the other person are on the same page. Make it known you are “just friends” and it never has to be an issue. “You actually get to experience how the opposite sex thinks and feels and reacts to things,” said Johnson. “It’s sort of like having an ‘inside view.'”
That insight into the opposite sex may help future romantic relationships develop. Finally, as you walk out the door, you can turn to your suspicious mom and say, “Yeah Mom, it’s a date!”