Why Harry and Sally can never be Friends

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Harry Burns: Would you like to have dinner? Just friends.
Sally Albright: I thought you didn’t believe men and women could be friends.
Harry Burns: When did I say that?
Sally Albright: On the ride to New York.
Harry Burns: No, no, no, I never said that…Oh well, Yes, that’s right, they can’t be friends. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can’t be friends.

From the motion picture, When Harry met Sally.

Was Billy Crystal speaking the gospel truth? Has evolution programmed a heterosexual male and female in such a manner that they can  never discover the pure joys of a platonic relationship? We have battled long and hard for decades to prove the theory that men and women can be friends , and to an extent succeeded, but yet even after all these years of etiquette and relationship evolution, the grey areas still remain.

Gender stereotypes are everywhere around us. In our thoughts, intentions, and actions, there is a gender specific subconscious that is playing a major decisive role. For a woman, language for example is used as a medium to enhance the intimacy factor, and for a man, it is just something to find solutions and answers. The crux of the debate lies in the fact that a woman is able to see a purely non-physical angle to friendship with the opposite sex, and a man, well easier said than done…

[tubepress video=”T_lh5fR4DMA” theme=”youtube” embeddedHeight=”400″ embeddedWidth=”640″]

Incidentally, I received an SOS call from a friend recently. One of her closest male friends had proposed to her, and she was in a state of paranoid hyperventilation. Of course she knew this was coming and yet when it happened she just did not know how to react! I let my inner calm prevail and tried to dissuade her from the most catastrophic decision of her life. It was a fact that both of them were having a platonic relationship  (or so I am told) for almost a decade, and to push that into the intimacy of marriage, for want of choices, was a terrible faux pas in my books. She was obviously not in a position to say no to him.

Being just good friends for years, it was obvious by now that their relationship was stuck in second gear. Each one was so used to the other that neither could even conceive the notion of being with anyone else, and yet, they had been friends for so long that it seemed sacrilegious to let any “romantic” thought come into their relationship. Yet a decade later, and both being single, one of them decided that it was time to change course and push the button.

Another one bites the dust, I thought to myself, and once again the two people who so far had defied the age old prejudice that “men and women can’t be friends” themselves reaffirmed that ideology.

Behavioural Research Analysis

William Deresciewicz argues that the notion of a buddy camaraderie between men and women was, more or less, an unknown concept until feminism became a movement in the 20th century. According to him, “the new woman was intelligent, well-read, strong-willed, idealistic, unconventional and outspoken. For her, relationships with men, whether or not they were physically involved, had to have  elements of mental companionship, freedom of choice, equality and mutual respect.” It laid emphasis on the man to accept whatever the nature of relationship his woman wanted and to respect her decision.

friends love physical relationship diagram

An interesting research analysis by Don O’Meara, Ph.D., at the University of Cincinnati-Raymond Walters College, published a landmark study in the journal affirmed that “platonic love does exist.” A study conducted on 20 pairs of friends by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships lends credence to his assertion. In it, Heidi Reeder of Boise State University confirmed that “friendship, attraction or a connection devoid of lust, is a bona fide type of bond that people experience. Distinguishing between romantic, sexual and friendly feelings, however, can be exceedingly difficult.”  The lines between the three are most often blurred leaving one frantically to read all the signals and signs, between the lines!

Another study conducted by the researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire studied more than 400 adults ages 18 to 52, proved otherwise. They found that close friendships between people of the opposite sex just made their lives more complicated. There was always some degree of attraction and the more attracted A was to his friend B, the less satisfied was he with his current partner C. The most interesting find of this particular study was that the culprit was almost always the male (any surprises?) who apparently are not wired to be good friends.

Media/Hollywood Influence

The television and Hollywood are not helping matters either. They have played a major role in perpetuating the “friend vs amour” ideological fantasy with endless blockbuster romantic comedies. Things go on exceptionally well until two good friends, or one of them, happens to watch “When Harry met Sally” or “ You’ve got mail” or my all time favourite buddy movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” that does inevitably plant that seed of doubt, the “what if” into the unsuspecting victims. And in that fleeting moment, that second of indecision, one or both of them are never the same again. From then on the relationship is marred with the usual complexities and chaos, blurring between expectations and frustrations, of an incognito relationship status.

men women friendship
Image from the movie “You’ve Got Mail”

“When Harry met Sally” was an iconic movie that universally perpetuated the idea that men and women can never be “just good friends”, and if they were, chances are that they are “soulmates” in reality. Who else can put up with your annoying compulsive habits and incessant, unforgivable teasing except your best friend a.k.a. soulmate?

Following is what you can do in a catch-22 situation:

1. Gauge your feelings: Most often what women see as platonic, men misread. Experts say that the evolution theory has a lot to do with that. So make sure you are not misreading the signs and building castles in the air.

2. It’s a Red Sign to keep off if there is attraction and if one or both the friends in question are already attached.

3. Your Call? In an interview with several men and women from different backgrounds conducted by Shape magazine, it was inferred that it is almost always the woman, who calls the shots, and keeps the lid on the steam because obviously men can’t.

4. OK with the status quo? The best cross gender friendships are the ones which start off without any physical attraction and are based on mutual trust and care. But to keep the status quo is what requires tact.

5. Is it worth it? Male–female friendships can be one of the most enduring and genuine relationships, sometimes better than same gender ones. Ask yourself whether if it is worth to risk it all.

Final Mantra

So while my friends have decided to tie the knot, despite my initial scepticism, I am very happy for them. After all, isn’t that what we all strive for in our relationships – to be best friends with our spouses? And if it is happening in reverse, I think it is only a win-win situation.

In conclusion, I wish I could give you that “moment of wisdom” relationship advice that would clear the entire picture. But the truth is that there’s no way out. Once you both have crossed the lines, shared silly jokes, laughed at each other’s embarrassing habits, bitched about common friends, been there for each other no matter what, there is nowhere to go but the free fall. But still the question is, is it worth the ride? As George Downes would say in “My best friend’s wedding”: “The misery! The exquisite tragedy! The Susan Hayward of it all!

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