Whether men and women can be “just friends” is a topic that has been discussed to death in books, films, magazines and on just about every internet forum that has ever existed.

Obviously, we couldn’t help but want to weigh in on the discussion when a reader recently sent us the following question:

I read that all guys want to sleep with their female friends. Is this true? And if it is, can men and women be friends?

Read on to see what we have to say on the matter.

Why men and women can’t be friends…

The idea that men and women can’t be just friends is far older than modern society. In certain particularly conservative societies it has even led to social contact between men and women outside of marriage being severely restricted – a practice that persists in some countries to this very day.

Luckily, in most modern nations such practices are a thing of the distant past, and both men and women are free to socialize with whomever they want.

But the idea that any friendship between men and women will inevitably be muddled by sex persists in popular culture, to the point of being one of the most common themes in some kinds of films.

Probably the most famous example of this is the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, which features the following conversation:

Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sally: Yes I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

Sally: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?

Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sally: How do you know?

Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail ‘em too.

Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sally: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry: Guess not.

Sally: That’s too bad. You were the only person that I knew in New York.

While that’s just a scene in a romantic comedy, there’s undoubtedly some truth to the basic argument: If you’re an attractive woman, then most of your male friends have definitely given the idea of sleeping with you at least some thought – and probably quite a bit more than just some.

Moreover, many of the single ones and at least some of the ones in relationships wouldn’t hesitate for even a second to actually sleep with you if the opportunity presented itself.

There is no doubt about it – “the sex thing” is definitely out there in most male/female friendships. Your male friends do fantasize about you, and many would gladly sleep with you. But does that make friendship completely impossible?

A quick look at reality gives us the answer to that question: it doesn’t, as evidenced by millions of male/female friendships.

…and why they can

Sure, your male friends might fantasize about you. But they also fantasize about the cute cashier at the grocery store, the waitress at their favorite restaurant, the female Director of Marketing at work, and any other attractive women they encounter.

Generally speaking, men seem to be less selective in the women they are attracted to than women are in the men they are attracted to. But that doesn’t mean that they go around hitting on random women all day long. Most men have the common sense to only approach those women with whom they have a realistic chance of success, and whom they can see themselves in a relationship with.

Apart from that, a vast majority of us understand that once we’re in a relationship, we can’t hit on other women, and that if women are in a relationship, we can’t hit on them. In fact, most of us wouldn’t want to do either of those things in the first place.

So even if your male friends are attracted to you, it doesn’t have to be a problem. If they’re half-decent guys, they will realize when you’re not interested, and if either you or they are in a relationship, they will keep their distance.

The one big caveat

But even though there is no doubt that men and women can be “just friends”, in practice  it is far from uncommon for male/female friendships to become quite complicated.

The pattern usually looks a bit like this:

  1. Guy and girl get to know each other.
  2. Guy becomes interested in girl.
  3. Girl “friendzones” guy.
  4. ???
  5. Drama.

The opposite happens too, but for some reason does not seem to be anywhere as common. There are many possible explanations for this, with my personal theory being that while us guys judge potential partners merely by how much we like their personality and whether we’re physically attracted to them, women require something additional to become interested in a guy.

(As an aside: if you know the “secret ingredient” or have a better explanation, please leave a comment – millions of men are dying to find out.)

This situation can often be avoided quite easily. Just make sure that you’re not giving off mixed signals, and most guys will catch on soon enough.

If they don’t, you have to be clear about not being interested. That might ruin the friendship, but in the end it will be better for both of you – especially for him, since  he won’t waste months or even years trying to win over someone who simply isn’t interested.

As for those few who still won’t get the hint even after you’ve said it clearly, you’re better off avoiding them altogether.

What to make of all this

Of course men and women can be friends. Yes, your male friends might fantasize about you, but that doesn’t have to be a problem as long as that’s the end of it. Fantasies aren’t reality, after all.

Just be very sure not to give off mixed signals, and avoid those guys who can’t take the hint when you’re not interested.