When Harry met Sally at the Polar Bear: Bowdoin men and women
"You realize, of course, that we can never be friends."-Harry
We've all seen the movie a hundred times. We know by heart
how Harry met Sally driving to New York, how they hated each other, met
again on a plane, still hated each other, met again in a bookstore, became
friends and ultimately fell in love and got married. It's wonderful and
heart-warming and we smile every time. But under the smile our thoughts
race: "Which one of my friends will I fall in love with and end up
marrying?" "Of course I'll marry her." "I could never
fall in love with him." In the day and age of co-ed colleges with
men and women living next door to each other, every one of us has our
"best guy friend" and "best girl friend" regardless
of whether or not we have girlfriends or boyfriends. But how big is the
distinction, actually? Are we secretly in love with (or lust after) our
friends of the opposite gender, if we are heterosexual, or can we feel
the same way about them as we do our same-sex friends? Which leads to
the paradox of Harry and Sally that I investigate this week: CAN MEN AND
WOMEN EVER REALLY BE JUST FRIENDS??
There seem to be some opposing views on this question: sort
of, yes, and no. Women, in general fall into the first two categories,
while men, though represented in all three, make up the largest percentage
of the latter.
The "sort of" belief goes something like this:
there will always be sexual tension between friends of opposite sexes
but it can be put aside and a friendship can exist. Charlotte said to
me recently, "That's half the fun of guy friends! I love flirting
with them and knowing nothing will happen!" This assumes that there
is no other way to see someone of the opposite sex than romantically.
But that this makes the friendship fun and different than those with same-sex
friends. Beth rationalizes it as such: "People like to surround themselves
with the kind of people they want to be and want to be with. Therefore
they are attracted (friends-wise) to the same people they are attracted
to sexually and romantically." But this is not to say that the sexual
attraction may not be addressed and then moved past. "I haven't had
a friendship with a guy without having a talk where we establish that
nothing's going to happen," says Megan, "but then we can go
on to be real friends."
Another facet of this is that men and women can be platonic
if one or both of them are "off-limits." Harry sees this in
When Harry Met Sally and amends his previous statement to allow for men
and women to be friends if and only if they are both attached. There is
no chance for the sexual tension to amount to anything anyway, so the
friendship can progress without worry. Carrie commented, "I would
say that many of my best friends in the world are male, and I have no
plans for romance with any of them. But most of them are practically married
and the ones that aren't now at least were when we became close."
To Carrie, I pose the question, what happens if these so-called platonic
best friends suddenly are no longer off-limits? Would she all of a sudden
"discover" that she is attracted to them and that she has repressed
these feelings because she knew nothing could come of them? She replied,
"I don't think so. But I guess that's part of the excitement of the
friendship, you know?"
Some would say that she never had these feelings in the
first place. For instance, my professor, Jean Yarbrough, of the Government
Department (that's her real name-she told me I could use it), said that
men and women can absolutely be friends without any sort of sexual tension.
Women are not attracted to every man they meet and vice versa. So of course
friendships can develop. Friendship is an attraction of the mind and therefore
men and women are attracted to each other as well as to people of the
same sex in that they are attracted to their minds and nothing more. A
guy and a girl may be friends all their life, single and attached and
never even want to sleep together. Will agrees, "Yeah, definitely."
Polar opposite (no pun intended) is Paul who quickly replied
to my question with an "Absolutely not." He elaborated, "If
a guy is willing to put that much effort into any woman, excluding mothers
and sisters, he is hoping to sleep with her, whether now or later."
This is supported by the theory that there is always the physical possibility
that a man and a woman could actually sleep together. So that a female
friend is closer to something a man would be attracted to than his male
friends. There is something intrinsically different and female about all
women that men are attracted to and all women will have that at some level.
Therefore, at some point, a man will realize that this girl who he spends
so much time with is a female and, like, whoa, they could actually
Kitty confides that she knows that she keeps many of her male friends
because she is aware of sexual tension and uses it to her advantage-she
is sure that men and women can't be friends without it and so she embraces
This leads me to wonder about how gay, lesbian and bisexual
men and women feel. I wonder if a gay man can ever really be friends with
another gay man or even another straight man without feelings getting
in the way. If this it is really impossible to be friends with someone
of the gender you are attracted to, then can bisexuals ever have any real
friends at all?
I realize that the Harry and Sally Paradox will never be
truly resolved, for feelings can change in seconds and circumstances affect
everything anyway. But for now I'll dismiss those who say "absolutely"
as deluded and those who say "absolutely not" as over-sexed
and close-minded. Rather I will agree with the "sort-of"s who
seem to understand that each and every friendship is unique and based
on the chemistry that develops between people, whether they are of the
same or opposite genders. It appears that men and women can, in fact,
be platonic friends; at the same time, it is possible for friends to be
attracted to each other and remain friends with no intention of acting
upon that attraction. So that a straight woman can love her best guy friend
just as she loves her best girl friends but have a hidden longing to sleep
with different guy friend and one day want to marry a third. In the end,
just keep 'em all around-you'll need someone to take to the Spring Gala
(or a New Year's Party, if you happen to be Sally Albright) if you aren't
attached or your significant other can't go anyway.
***ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED***