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Was Sally Wrong, and Harry and Chris Correct?

I remember being introduced to certain male codes of honor as a youth. One was never kiss your girl cousins. Another one implicitly decreed that the women in your crew that date your boys are forever off limits, unless you square it away with your buddies first. I know at first glance this appears to reek of sexism, it sounding as if a woman is the property of men (like the lyrics from an old Frank Sinatra song “woman was made for man).” While this was a dysfunctional cultural norm of maleness (actually thinking it was necessary to check in with your boys before you made a move on a woman you both may be admiring) it also made sense because it minimized competition between friends, more so, it helped reduce strain on friendships. Not until my more enlightened adult years did I become savvy enough to realize the complexity of this gender dynamic. As a young adult I also learned that many women have a similar code that they honor and adhere to. So the rules of engagement around gendered interactions were somewhat articulated for me as I was coming up. Oh, but I still had questions that were unresolved, like what about those women that are simply your friends, the women that are only friends and have never been involved with anyone in your crew? Flipping the script, for women the same question can be asked, “what about the men that have been your road dogs through college or in the work place?” What are the rules of engagement in these scenarios?

In the film “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry insists to Sally that it is impossible for men to not desire their attractive female friends, and that even if men and women who find one another attractive are friends, at any given moment that friendship/relationship is a romantic accident waiting to happen. It is quite interesting to consider whether or not men and women can be friends without any romantic involvement if they find one another attractive. Acknowledging the obvious fact that relationships aren’t necessarily predicated on intimacy, nevertheless Harry states that men pretty much do want intimacy from their female friends, with the assertion that they pretty much would seduce any female friend if they could. Now, while Harry is expressing much of this in the film for laughs, does that negate its truth? Can it be true that men harbor these secret desires?

Comedian Chris Rock in his “Never Scared” stand up comedy film says that women who leave their boyfriends/husbands alone with their female best friends are asking for trouble, because a woman’s female friends are not to be trusted with their men, especially if the woman’s friend is single. This can’t be true, can it? Are men more inclined to take advantage of friendships with women? Are women more inclined to backstab other women for an opportunity to "kick it" with their men? Do women even imagine an opportunity with their attractive male friends?

Is the dynamic for gay men/lesbians the same? If a gay male is friends with a woman, then it would appear that their friendship is safe and Harry’s assertion about friendships being in trouble if both people are attractive is nonsensical. However, if a gay male is friends with a male, by Harry’s rationale, does that make him more likely or less likely to desire his friend if that friend is an attractive male? Would a lesbian be more/less apt to desire her attractive female friends, regardless of their sexual orientation, or can the libido be filtered to only process like sexual preferences? Why can’t everyone simply ignore their hormones and just focus on the intellectual and spiritual components of the individuals they meet? If this is the case, then what is the reality for a bisexual man or woman? Is everybody quietly awaiting an opportunity to take friendships to another level? Perhaps people are just positioning themselves for the opportunity if they ever become single or free to explore others? Is this a problem as well? Where do we draw the line in our admiration of others? Wasn’t it Jimmy Carter who admitted that he had lusted? No matter what we admit to others, should we feel bad if we find ourselves desiring a friend or another’s partner?


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Too many questions JW! I just dno't have that much time, so, here are some thoughts.

Time magazine ran a cover about 20 years ago with the headline "Men and Women are Different." What an amazingly obvious and controversial statement. The article inside demonstrated how the sexes are wired differently from the begining. Men are, in fact, predisposed to be more aggressive and protective while women are, in fact predisposed to be more nurturing. Men are better at focusing attention but women are better at multi-tasking. Men's tempers are shorter but women hold grudges longer. What makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we can sort of re-wire ourselves to overcome our instincts, if we choose to. So, while a man's primal instinct is to desire every woman with whom he might procreate, he is able to overcome that instinct and "dial it down" to behave within socially acceptible norms.
As for women - I have no idea what they think. Haven't figured them out yet and probably never will.
Overall, I don't think the "codes" you speak of in your first paragraph are so out-dated or even sexist. Is it sexist to consider how your actions might impact another person?

Don't take this wrong, but I cracked up laughing at one point while reading this. You write:

Why can’t everyone simply ignore their hormones and just focus on the intellectual and spiritual components of the individuals they meet?

Why? Cause if we could, chances are, the race of humans would have died out long ago. Our bodies are biologicaly programmed to desire sex. It's hard-wired into us, it may be culturally influenced, but as JP Sartre writes, "Sexuality begins with birth and ends with death."

The TIME article Card Buddy cites is a cultural example of men and women. "Men are better at focusing attention but women are better at multi-tasking. Men's tempers are shorter but women hold grudges longer." He says. Those are cultural values, not biological values. Some men, I'm sure, are very diffcult to anger (monks and priests come to mind) while certain women will forgive the next day.

In my experience men and women cannot be "just" friends, unless there is a reason that both of them know, that nothing will happen, such as a he/she is dating his/her friend. Even then, hormones will be hormones, and the creeping thought of "what if" will probably enter both the female and the males mind. The difference being, in our culture, female sexuality is not...celebrated, the way male sexuality is. Would women admit that they think about sleeping with all their male friends? Some might, but few. Would men admit that? Some do--and the numbers are higher for men than women. Is that because men and women do different things, or is it because they are willing to admit different things?

Well, I know for a fact that men and women can "just be friends". Some of my best friends are men.....straight men at that.

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