Yes, experts say, Platonic love does exist.
Researchers echo the anecdotal evidence that men and women can be friends. A few years ago, 83 percent of Match.com members agreed too. And times have changed over the past four decades: Coed dorms in college are the norm, male and female roommates often share apartments, and women take leadership roles in companies across America.
Donald O’Meara, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati/Blue Ash, published a landmark study in the journal Sex Roles on the topic two decades ago, and stands by his findings today. “Cross-gender relationships are not only possible; they are extremely rewarding,” he says. “I always find it odd when someone says that you can’t have a friendship with 50 percent of the population.”
David Brown, a therapist at Vitality Physician’s Group Practice in Albany and Clifton Park, says that for a man, a woman friend allows him to be vulnerable and talk about issues he might not discuss with his guy friends.
And women can learn about men, and how they can easily compartmentalize their feelings.
For psychotherapist James Hislop of Albany, cross-gender friendships allow both genders to speak freely about feelings and emotions, which can become an extremely rewarding experience. It also allows each gender to attain a deeper appreciation of the opposite sex without romantic involvement.
O’Meara has identified four challenges hindering successful cross-gender relationships. Challenge......
1: Friends or lovers?
“It’s all about how you behave in the relationship and the kinds of activities you engage in,” O’Meara says, suggesting that non-romantic activities or group settings are best. That’s not to say you can’t have dinner or a drink with a cross-gender friend. “Just don’t sit at a candlelit table in the restaurant’s most secluded spot,” O’Meara advises.
In some cases, one of the parties might be thinking romance. That’s when O’Meara says a conversation setting relationship boundaries is necessary for the Platonic relationship to continue. Sometimes the friendship dissolves. Often, it survives and becomes stronger.
And even if you are a naturally affectionate person, don’t be too touchy-feely with your friend. A good rule is to limit hugs and kisses to what you would share with a sibling or a co-worker.
Challenge 2: The power play
O’Meara says it’s hard to develop equal relationships since, culturally, men have dominated women for centuries. Although this is changing, it’s still something women contend with. It is important to make sure that one person is not dominating the relationship. With equal power comes a flourishing friendship.
Challenge 3: The naysayers
Plenty of people still insist men and women cannot be Platonic friends.
Saratoga therapist Jenny Olin of Lighted Pathways in Saratoga Springs is one. She says Platonic friendships are fine before a person commits to another, but once that happens, in most cases, the Platonic cross-gender relationship should end. “Sometimes you have to give up something good (the Platonic friendship) for something better (your partner),” she says. “My recommendation is not to go down that route at all.” She says there are always exceptions, but overall, these exceptions are not the rule. “You could be playing with fire,” she adds. O’Meara says this paradigm is changing dramatically, especially among those younger than 30.
Challenge 4: Finding friends
Not everyone is as lucky as the Sikoryaks, who found friends in grammar school. Many long-lasting Platonic cross-gender friendships develop in high school and college, while others happen everywhere people meet: at work, in bars and restaurants, through friends, at church.
Still, developing friendships later in life is not as easy as it is when you are young. Hislop cites one of his four grown daughters who would love to have a male friend. “She told me, ‘I know how girls think and feel. I want to know how a guy thinks.’ ”
When to say no
Problems can arise between cross-gender Platonic friends if one marries or is in a committed relationship.
According to O’Meara and the three therapists, to have the Platonic friendship continue, the significant other must possess certain qualities: trust in the person, security in the relationship, and a good sense of self.
Brown adds one more quality to the list: An interest in people and an openness to develop relationships.
If the significant other cannot accept the friendship, Olin says they often wind up in her office. “Sometimes you just have to decide where to put your energies,” she says. “Are you going to tend your marriage or your Platonic friendship?” For her, the answer is obvious.
One danger sign that all experts agree signals trouble is secrets. If either friend starts keeping secrets from his or her partner and starts sharing these secrets with their cross-gender friend, it usually means the relationship is taking a new path. “This might be the time to end the relationship,” Brown says.
""In a Platonic friendship, each party wants whatever is best for the other, regardless of what that might mean for the relationship.""