Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Michael Abrahams | Men and women can just be friends

Published:Monday | August 14, 2017 | 12:24 AM

Recently, I was called to see a patient of mine who was in labour. When I arrived at the maternity unit of the hospital and entered the labour room, I saw her lying supine in the bed, in the middle of a contraction, with a woman tightly grasping one hand, and a man firmly holding the other.

I asked the woman what her relationship to the patient was, and she informed me that she was her sister. I forgot that the labouring woman’s partner lives overseas and was unable to make it back to Jamaica at that time, and assumed that the man in the room, who was comforting her, was her spouse. She reminded me that the father of the child was in America, and introduced me to the gentleman, who was her best friend.

Between the time I arrived at the hospital, which was approximately 8 p.m., and the time she delivered, which was the next morning at 2:40, her best friend and her sister never left her side. The situation initiated a conversation among us on whether men and women can be ‘just friends’.

Irish writer Oscar Wilde said, “Between men and women, there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.”

More recently, comedian Steve Harvey said, “We remain your friends in hopes that one day there will be a crack in the door, a chink in the armour,” adding, “trust and believe, that guy you think is just your buddy, he will slide in that crack the moment he gets the opportunity because we're guys.”

Harvey claims that this is the case with women’s male friends 99.9 per cent of the time. I beg to differ. When men posit such statements, they should clearly state that they are speaking for themselves, and not for all of us. Some of my closest, best and most loyal and valued friends are women. I have females who have been my friends since I was a teenager, for decades, with the line between platonic friendship and intimacy never being crossed.

I have seen some go through painful breakups, and have offered my shoulders for them to cry on (not place their legs on). I object to people saying that men and women cannot be platonic friends, because it is a fallacy.

There is a popular saying that goes, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.”

This “truth” leads men to believe that the only rational reason to be in a woman’s space is to get some. If a man gets close to a woman, the way many of us are socialised, sex becomes an expectation, and for some, this mindset enables a sense of entitlement.

A female friend of mine related a story to me a few years ago about a male friend of hers. She valued his friendship, but he wanted to have sex with her. When she refused, he told her that they could no longer be friends. If that was his attitude, he was probably never her friend in the first place and did not understand the concept of friendship.

 She is not alone.

Many women have told me of being pursued by men who claimed to care deeply about them, only to have the suitors dry up off them when sex was not forthcoming. But in turning their backs on women who did not desire intimacy from them, some of these men may have walked away from people who have the potential to offer them valuable and solid friendships, and friendships contribute significantly to our welfare.

 A good friendship can be a formidable source of companionship, affirmation, advice, laughter and support. Indeed, a World Happiness Database study found that people with close friendships are happier than those without, and happiness impacts significantly on health as it affects physical, mental and social well-being. Unfortunately, misogyny, patriarchy and the objectification of women still persist globally.

When boys are socialised in environments where these situations thrive, the mantra of not being able to be 'just friends' with girls and women influences the way they see the opposite sex, and this prejudicial thinking serves as a barrier to the initiation and development of genuine friendships with them. And when people like Steve Harvey, who consider themselves to be relationship experts, make statements such as the one mentioned earlier, this type of backward thinking is reinforced.

I believe that our boys should be raised and socialised to respect and value women not just as prospects for intimacy and sex, but also for friendships as well. They must learn that just because they may be attracted to a female, it does not mean that they have to hit it. Sometimes, if they get past the attraction, they may appreciate qualities in a female that they would truly desire in a friend, such as honesty, loyalty and unwavering support. Women have minds and hearts, too. They are way more than just transport vehicles for vaginas.