Successful Opposite-Sex Friendships Are Possible: Here’s What You Should Know
Whether you’re married or partnered up, where do you draw the line in your loved one’s (or your own) opposite-sex friendships?
In the classic Hollywood rom-com When Harry Met Sally, Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) argue in the car about how men and women can’t be friends because “the sex part will always get in the way,” according to Harry, to which Sally disagrees. They argue throughout the rest of the movie, but eventually, (spoiler alert!) they do end up together.
This “members of the opposite sex can never be friends” trope is repeated in many other movies through the years: Lost in Translation and In the Mood for Love are just two of the many cinematic examples. But what about in real life, when you are partnered up or married — can you and your partner have your own healthy opposite-sex friendships without it taking a dangerous turn?
But first, who among us have opposite-sex friendships? According to AARP.org, it’s more of the men than women who maintain these types of friendships: 22% of men claim to have opposite-sex friendships compared to just 14% of women; men also have much lower same-sex friendships (82%) compared to women (91%).
In the same report, in terms of the generational aspect, opposite-sex friendships are reportedly highest among Millennials (22%), and lowest in Baby Boomers (11%). Don’t worry — they didn’t forget about the Gen Xers. Generation X women are far more likely to be open with their opposite-sex friendships than the Millennials (49%) and boomers (44%). But in same-sex friendships, generally, women will be more open about their friendships than men. This suggests that in friendships among and involving women, there could be a greater level of emotional attachment or intimacy for both genders and in all generations. Hmm.
For those looking to bullet-proof their relationships, you don’t have to resort to what is called the “Billy Graham rule”: the rule practiced by the famed evangelist of not eating, traveling, or dealing with women at all to prevent any potential infidelities. After all, having respectful opposite-sex friendships is beneficial to you, as it can be enriching, both in work and in recreational socialization, and could offer alternative perspectives for different situations in life.
Stylist Wendy Torres, who is married to art director Reynaldo for 15 years, says that they both agreed to maintain safe and healthy opposite-sex friendships. “I know I can’t possibly share 100 percent of my husband’s interests or history, and I’m sure my husband feels the same, so we give each other space to share part of ourselves with other people,” Torres shares.
But despite this openness with either partner, there is a minimum set of rules to follow to maintain respectful opposite-sex friendships:
Put priority on your partner.
If something fantastic happened to you today, say, you got a promotion or your daughter got high honors and you go on and tell the good news to your guy friend, perhaps you should stop and examine why you aren’t telling your husband first.
According to Dr. Greg Smalley in his families.org.au article on opposite-sex friendships, it is the trust and the friendship with your spouse that you should nurture first, and it should be your utmost priority above anyone else outside your immediate family.
Be transparent to your spouse about your friends.
If you maintain opposite-sex friendships, be transparent about it and mention this to your partner without leaving anything out. It would also be great if your partner could actually meet your friend. Now, if you’re hiding this friendship from your partner, this could be a problem, as friendships of any kind should be out in the open in a relationship — your partner has the right to know who you’re hanging out with.
Dr. Willard Harley Jr. of marriagebuilders.com suggests that acquaintances of the opposite sex you should avoid include those whose presence is not agreed upon by your partner, a person of the opposite sex with whom you have a bilateral relationship — meaning, a very personal, one-on-one relationship that you keep secret from your partner, or a friendship with someone who was a former lover.
According to Torres, she definitely draws the line at friendships with exes. “Out of respect, we both keep contact with exes to a minimum, but [it’s] not hidden,” she says.
Set healthy boundaries.
While you don’t need to instigate the “Billy Graham Rule” here, you can set fairly decent boundaries for your opposite-sex friendships, wherein you could still be good friends, but neither of you won’t be tempted to fall off the deep end.
Don’t get intoxicated while alone with them — or better yet, don’t go out on a lunch or dinner date alone with them. If he or she is a colleague and it’s a work-related issue, perhaps there are safer ways, like sending an urgent email. As much as possible, lessen the one-on-one contact, be it face-to-face, or messaging and taking calls on the sly.
Regarding messaging and phone calls, there should be limits, too!
Social media and messaging apps can become a hotbed for potential infidelity. Before you start chatting with your opposite-sex friend, ask yourself: is what you are messaging innocent, friendly banter or simply catching up, or is it a prelude to flirtation? Are you sharing more information than you would with your partner? Or are you hiding these chat conversations from your husband or wife by changing your phone or laptop PIN? Then perhaps you should put your phone down and nip it in the bud.
Don’t discuss marital and family issues…
Unless they are your therapist or marriage counselor! Every relationship has its own problems, but sharing your marriage or familial problems with opposite-sex friends may open a can of worms, so to speak — you could end up leaning on this girl or guy friend for emotional support instead of actually communicating with your partner and solving these problems together.
In the end, it’s all about mutual trust and openness. If you want to hide from your partner what you are doing with your friend, that means you shouldn’t do it! Torres says it best: “I think we trust each other enough that though we may be friends with other people, there’s only one person we choose to spend our life with.”
About The Writer
Rachelle Medina has covered the shelter and lifestyle beat as a writer and editor for almost twenty years. Formerly editor-in-chief of Real Living Magazine, Rachelle now freelances for different lifestyle outlets like Spot, GMA News Lifestyle, and ANCX, creating content for both print and web.
She has also worked as a consulting content editor for the websites of SM Home and Manila FAME.
Rachelle is a licensed interior designer with a degree from the University of the Philippines; and is a single mother of a wonderful nine-year-old boy who loves to draw.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and do not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.