Saturday, December 24, 2011

Men and Women and Being Friends

Apparently the "Christian Blogosphere," something with which I am only ever scare-quotably "current" by random chance, has been debating lately the topic of whether men and women can ever be "just friends." Here is one of the more balanced posts I've seen on the topic, which contains a link to another longer one by the same author.

Personally, I find it presumptuous and pretentious at best to even call this a debate. Why? Because in order to render this debate completely pointless, all that is needed is one single instance of a man and a woman being "just friends" and nothing more. If there is one single instance of this, anywhere, ever, then no matter how well-reasoned or smugly self-anecdotal an argument against the idea of men and women being "just friends," that argument has been disproven.

To be smugly self-anecdotal myself, I actually have rather a lot of experience here: I have more truly close friends who are women--that is, there are more women with whom I would entrust my life or my deepest secret--than men.

I would not want to belittle the complexity involved here; male-female "just friendships" tend to be more complicated than same-sex friendships (though I even have personal experience to contradict that generalization). Basically, in such a friendship, the possibility of romance has to be dealt with in one way or another. Sometimes one or the other or both friends have to go through a "crush" phase; sometimes re-evaluations need to be made--in some cases, frequently. Or, sometimes, both sides are uninterested in being anything more than friends from the beginning.

Whatever. The whole "debate" leaves a bad taste in my mouth; it's the kind of either-or thinking that a culture obsessed with polemics likes to jam down everyone's throats. It's the kind of binary thinking that makes for smug, self-assured, simplistic pronouncements whose effects are ultimately negative, in that they limit the range of options available in an already rather sticky territory. Sometimes when things are complicated, "either" and "or" are equally bad, and the best option lies somewhere not in the middle, but off to one side, above or below the stated options.

(By the way, as the post I linked above points out, this sort of "either/or" thinking is what's known as a False Dichotomy Fallacy--an argument that presents two options as if they are the only ones, when there are actually several more available.)

Ultimately, I think, it comes down to what world a person is willing to build. If a person decides to build a world where men and women have to be either More Than Friends or else ignore one another, then that is the world they are going to inhabit. However, if a person is willing to live in a world where it is perfectly possible to be friends with a member of the opposite sex, they will find that that world exists as well.


Nat said...

I dunno about your reasoning, Ethan. For instance, the best figure skaters are flexible, light women, and have already practiced a lot by my age. Since none of those things are true about me, I have naturally concluded that it is literally impossible for me ever to figure skate.

Robin said...

Despite my "BFFs" always having been girls, I think my closest friends, and the ones that were always most fun, interesting, and that I could always trust to have my back, tended to be boys.

But I always figured that, since I'm half, if not mostly, a guy myself, that I didn't count in this kind of debate.

Ethan said...

Nat, you're right. What was I thinking?

Robin, see? You've just disproven the whole debate, claimed mostly-guyishness notwithstanding.