We see it in romantic comedies, TV shows and books: a man and a woman meet and by default they fall in love. It's rare for the relationship to be purely platonic.
It is a common belief that men and women cannot remain friends forever. Somehow sex or romance must get in the way, especially in college, when many are exploring romantic relationships. However, this is an extremely problematic and toxic way of viewing friendships and relationships. It is not only possible, but also exceptionally realistic to foster a lifelong friendship with someone of the opposite sex.
“There is often a romantic or sexual aspect of cross-sex friendships, but this does not necessarily mean that the friendship must turn into a relationship,” said ASU doctoral student James Stein, who is studying relationship communication with a focus on romantic relationships. “I think people often conflate these two ideas. Humans are sexual creatures and this reaction is natural, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will tarnish the nature of the friendship.”
If we go into every friendship with someone of the opposite sex expecting some kind of romantic and sexual dynamic, we will not be able to experience all that the friendship has to offer. Being content with just friendship will allow us to fully know that person.
Going into a friendship with an automatic expectation of flirtation, romance or sex creates barriers in the friendship. It forces us to perform and live up to some standard reserved for romantic interests. If we go into every friendship expecting it to turn into our favorite romantic comedies, we cannot expect any friendship to be fulfilling or authentic.
Flirtationships with a friend are completely normal. However, this does not mean you are destined to date or that you have to have sex.
It is reasonable for a friendship with this sort of dynamic to remain completely platonic. Just because these feelings exist does not mean you must act on them, and it certainly does not mean that the friendship is doomed to fail.
In fact, abandoning romantic expectations could potentially create more intimacy in the friendship because you get to know different facets of each other.
A romantic or sexual dynamic within a friendship does not mean the friendship ultimately has to end. Just because you are attracted to someone does not mean you have to have sex — relationships are not all or nothing. It is simply an obstacle you must work through, similar to many friendships.
Believing that a friendship is ultimately doomed to sex or failure is an extremely unhealthy way of viewing friendships and relationships. It suggests that the people in your life can only serve a single role, instead of being multi-dimensional.
It assumes that a person you are romantically or sexually interested in cannot add any value to your life that is not inherently sexual or romantic. This severely limits the experiences and community we can share with others.
We can realistically expect to foster a healthy friendship with a member of the opposite sex, or with someone we are romantically or sexually interested in. Doing so simply means viewing this person holistically — not just as a compilation of certain features you are attracted to.
Overcoming romantic attraction to build a friendship allows us to practice empathy and understanding. This will foster healthier and more mature relationships and friendships that will be more fulfilling in the long run.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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