Can men and women ever be just good friends?

In the enlightened 21st century you probably have a female friend or two. But can men and women really get past the sex thing?

Many men still think Harry (from When Harry Met Sally) had it right. Men and women can’t ever be true friends, because sex always gets in the way.

That piece of throwaway celluloid wisdom has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men and women can’t be friends because their red-blooded desire is bound to get the better of them sometime. And even if it doesn’t, bona fide romantic partners will come to view the friend as a potential rival, leaving one relationship or the other floundering on the rocks.

Many men still think Harry (from When Harry Met Sally) had it right. Men and women can’t ever be true friends, because sex always gets in the way.

That piece of throwaway celluloid wisdom has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men and women can’t be friends because their red-blooded desire is bound to get the better of them sometime. And even if it doesn’t, bona fide romantic partners will come to view the friend as a potential rival, leaving one relationship or the other floundering on the rocks.

You have to admit that it’s a shame. A female friend can give you things that your male friends just can’t, and we’re not talking about sex. Female friends can be an unrivalled source of comfort and feminine wisdom.

So with that in mind, we ask: can men and women ever really be friends? Here are the pros and cons.

The pros

There are very few male/female friendships portrayed in films and on TV, and those that are invariably lead to romance. The friendship is just a stage the characters have to get through before realising how very much in love (and lust) they are.

Friendships devoid of lust are possible

But that’s not necessarily true off-screen. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships looked at different kinds of friendships and found that a friendship bond between a man and woman devoid of lust was possible, and that was as true for men as women. A man could find a female friend attractive, but not always want to sleep with her.

Some experts also believe that the idea that men and women can’t be platonic friends – which originates long before When Harry Met Sally – should be consigned to the past.

In an era when men went out to work and women stayed at home, both genders only tended to mix romantically. These days, we comfortably mix at work, at home and in our recreational activities, so male/female friendships are a natural and welcome consequence.

All of which is great, because a female friend can be a boon for men. In fact, in one study men rated their friendships with women as some of the best they had.

That’s because female friends give men the chance to share their feelings and get advice on personal matters, things they don’t often do with male mates.

“Men might find it easier to open up to a female friend about emotional problems than they would to another man,” says Kate Taylor, relationship expert for “Women might be more supportive and encouraging than men, and less likely to tease.”

Research by Kathy Werking, author of We’re Just Good Friends, showed that the most positive thing both men and women get out of platonic friendships is the chance to talk one-to-one. She found that many male/female friendships are highly mutually supportive. Both parties get a lot out of them.

Cons:                                                                                                                                 One friend might start to want more

On the other hand, it’s certainly true that platonic friendships with women can be more testing than all male friendships, and that’s at least partly because of the possibility of unrequited sexual tension.

“It’s mainly that one of the friends will start to want more than the other,” says Taylor. “When this happens, things can get strained. There can be jealousy towards your friend’s dates, which is often displayed as moodiness, or unfair criticism towards the third party. If you feel that one of your platonic friends seems to dislike all your partners, it may be they secretly care about you romantically.”

Watching the friend you secretly fancy swan around with other men can be tough. In the study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 62% of the respondents admitted to sexual tension in their male/female friendships.

Mixed signals are always a danger

Sheepish couple in bed (© Image Source_Getty Images)

Women, in particular, disliked the fact that a supposedly platonic friend might misinterpret a supportive hug. Friends of different genders often have to walk a fine line between being playful, supporting and flirty, in the knowledge that physical contact, in particular, can be easily misconstrued.

They also have to put up with the nudge-nudge remarks of same-sex friends. If you’re friends with an attractive woman, expect a relentless examination of the relationship by mates in the pub. “You’re not really just friends are you?” won’t be the half of it.

Girlfriends and dates might get jealous

Finally, a close female friend will most probably attract the jealousy of dates and girlfriends.

“Partners can sometimes feel threatened by a close friendship you have with someone of the opposite sex,” says Taylor. “They might start questioning if it really is truly platonic.”

But she also suggests a solution. “If that happens, you can erase a lot of the doubt by introducing your partner to your friend. Let them see for themselves how distinctly unromantic you are together,” she adds.

The verdict:                                                                                                                     Male/female friendships are hard work, but worth it

So can men and women be friends? The answer is yes, of course, and as the genders mix more than ever, mixed gender friendships are becoming more common. But they take work, an acceptance of boundaries and the strength of mind to put up with the barracking of the boys in the pub. But they’re almost certainly worth it. As well as everything else, says Taylor, “female friends will give you great dating advice.”

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How to decipher her flirting signals

Even the savviest man can sometimes find it difficult to read whether a woman’s just being friendly or if she’s actually flirting with you. Signals of attraction aren’t always straightforward so here’s a rundown on 10 key signs to watch out for:

1. The eyes have it – When you spot her across a room you notice that she doesn’t just do a ‘double take’. She actually does a triple take, glancing at you three times to confirm her attraction to you. Keep an eye out for that third glance and you’ll know that she’s interested.

2. Wandering eyes – Things might’ve seemed to go well in the first few minutes of conversation but then you notice her eyes seemed to wander around the room. Whenever the door opens or closes she can’t help but glance in the direction. Unfortunately you’ve lost her interest.

3. Watch that fiddling – Yes, women often fiddle with their hair and that can signal flirtatious attraction but it can equally signal nerves. Take note if she starts to fiddle with her necklace while chatting to you. This is a key signal of attraction because she is subconsciously drawing your eye-line to her cleavage.

4. Not any old laugh – Not only does she laugh at your jokes but she throws her head back and seems lost in the moment. Wow, you’ve never felt so funny. When attracted to someone soon after meeting them it’s been found that a woman will magnify your sense of humour in her mind. So if she’s into you, she’s into your jokes too.

5. Time doesn’t matter – Anyone who knows what they’re doing on the dating scene will usually claim to have only a ‘little time’ as a man chats them up. This gives them a get-out clause if they decide they’re not attracted to you within a short time. So if suddenly she seems to have all the time in the world it’s an excellent sign.

6. Get closer – You notice that when she comes back from, eg, the ladies room that she pulls her chair closer to you. Not only has she touched up her make-up – so she’s feeling at her best – but she now wants to get up close and personal with you too.

7. In the pink – As you two chat she seems to flush/blush a bit – known as the “sex glow”. Unless she’s been drinking a lot – and this is the result of excess alcohol – it’s a physical sign that she’s feeling warm and cozy in your company.

8. Swaying is the way – Again, as long as she’s not been drinking excessively look out for her body swaying gently in time with your conversation. This will take the form of discreet little back and forth movements that show she’s mirroring your body language. Mirroring is a clear signal of attraction so relax – you might find you mirror her movements back.

9. It’s all about you – You notice her conversation doesn’t just to revolve around her life or general interest topics like hobbies but she asks direct questions about you. She seems keen to hear what you have to say, about what makes you tick, your likes and dislikes, etc. And that means she’s really taking an interest.

10. All important hesitation – As the evening draws to a close and you’re about to go your separate ways she seems to hesitate. There is a distinct ‘moment’ of pause where she doesn’t rush to get her coat or charge for the door. This is a clear signal she wants you to take her number or definitely give her a call if you already have it. If you’re interested in her then go for it.


Things men love to hear on a first date

1. “Hello! You look nice.” Confident, self-assured, friendly. It doesn’t take much more than that to impress a man. Look him straight in the eye and tell him he looks nice, and the nerves that he’s been fighting all day will immediately start to subside. It’s not only women who want to look good on a first date. He probably changed outfits five times before he left the house, so reassure him that he made the right choice and you’ll be off to a flying start. Your confidence also sets a positive tone for the evening.

2. “What are you drinking?” Men on dates are torn between two strong financial instincts. The first is the provider instinct: he wants you to think he’s loaded, because it makes him feel manly. The second is the tightwad instinct: he wants free stuff, especially free beer. Buy him a beer, offer to go halves on dinner, then tell him he can pay for the cab.

3. “What are you working on at the moment?” Men tend to value themselves in terms of their work, so get him talking about it and respond encouragingly. Be an active listener – look at him as he talks and prompt him to tell you more about the bits that interest you. By making him feel good about himself, he’ll think you’re fantastic company even if you’ve only uttered a few sentences.

4. “Oh I’ve been there too, loved it. Where did you stay?” Sharing travel anecdotes is a cornerstone of grown-up date talk. It shows that you’re experienced, independent and interesting. But resist the temptation to dwell on your own anecdotes, at least until a couple of dates down the line. Let him chat about his own travel stories, hint that you’ve got some similar tales of your own, and then put the spotlight back on him, because the one person any man finds most interesting is himself. Again, be an active listener rather than a silent starer. He wants to know that he can talk about his work, his travels and his music collection without getting a blank look in return.

5. “I’ve got the DVD box set of that!” Men love women who have good tastes, which is to say women who have the same tastes as them. DVD box sets are also a very important item in the dating game. They enable you to spend all weekend in bed together without having to talk or have sex the whole time.

6. “Fancy a curry?” We don’t need to explain this one. Try not to get it down your top. Down your cleavage is fine.

7. A joke that makes him laugh

It’s not just girls who look for a GSOH. A woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously (or seem to) is immediately attractive to men, and if she can make him laugh she earns extra points for being the kind of girl he can show off down the pub.

8. Laughing at his jokes If you can make him laugh but he can’t make you laugh, you have failed. He wants a girl who’s funny, but he certainly doesn’t want a girl who’s funnier than he is. Men love women who laugh at their jokes even more than they love women who can put their ankles behind their ears.

9. “I really didn’t want to start liking anyone. Damn you.”

This is a nicely non-needy way of telling him that you like him. He’ll like the idea that you’re too independent to want to go out with anyone, but that he’s so awesome he weakened your defences. Psychologists call this kind of thing “selective playing hard to get,” because you’re playing hard to get with everyone except him. Your choosiness is a huge turn-on for his ego.

10. “I love what I do.” All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl, right? All play and no work doesn’t do much for her, either. Your job is an important part of your identity, and men respect women who have passions and ambitions. If you love your job and you’re full of hopes and dreams, don’t feel pressured into playing it down for a man who doesn’t understand your passion.

11. “Do you fancy going on somewhere? A mate of mine is DJing at this club.” Decisiveness is sexy, and so is having mates who are DJs at clubs where you can get him in on the guestlist. Plus, suggesting that you “go on somewhere” will make him think the date is going well.

12. “I’ve had a brilliant time. You are fantastic. I’m off home now.” Of course, he’s not getting lucky tonight – and that’s fine by him, though he may not realise it right at that moment. Ultimately, he will be much more excited by your decisive independence. First dates are a lot of pressure, and sometimes the last thing he wants is the added pressure of sex with someone he really likes. Let him go home, then text him in a couple of days to say hello.