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How to Remain Just Friends with Someone of the Opposite Sex
Staying Friendly with the Opposite Gender without Crossing the Line
Can men and women ever be just friends? It's a question that sparks human debate, controversy, and even scientific study--the Scientific American's 2012 study and its resultant article, "Men and Women Can't be 'Just Friends'" seem to suggest it's impossible for opposite genders to remain platonic pals.
However, it's unrealistic to shun the opposite gender under the premise that you can't be just friends--work groups, study groups, church groups, and almost any other group you can think of is more likely to be mixed than not.
Read on for guidelines on how to remain just friends with the opposite gender, whether one of you has feelings for the other or whether you're both convinced your relationship is completely platonic. And remember, your friendships with the opposite gender are not just about you--if you have a significant other, their comfort level and feelings come into play as well (within reason).
Remaining Just Friends When One of You Feels More
Roughly after middle school (when kicking one another is a sign of affection) and adolescence (when drama means love for eternity--or until next week), we become fairly adroit at telling when a friend or co-worker of the opposite sex is interested in us. This is sometimes flattering, sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes--if you have a signficant other or just plain aren't interested--a situation you need to diffuse right away
When you suspect a friend of the opposite gender is hoping for a bit more than the casual happy hour or movie night, consider how you have been acting toward them. Have you been sending signals of unhappiness in your own relationship? If so, be more positive about your situation in front of your friend--praise your spouse or partner casually in conversation, or mention activities in which you've engaged. If you're single, have you been relying on that friend for company that's strayed from platonic boundaries out of convenience and loneliness? If so, try pulling back a little to signal your disinterest in something more--expand your circle of friends, or engage in more group activities with the friend in question rather than couples-type outings.
If your friend of the opposite gender has already crossed that boundary and professed their interest in you, don't give them hope just to save their feelings. If you are truly not interested, tell them gently but firmly, being sure to share the qualities that drew you to them in friendship while emphasizing that feelings of attraction just do not exist. If your friendship is strong, it can eventually recover from the awkwardness of that initial rejection.
A Clip from "When Harry Met Sally" on the Impossibility of Men and Women Being "Just Friends"
Remaining Just Friends Neither of You Feels More
If neither friend in an opposite-gender friendship feels anything, it's easy, right? You will remain just friends! Of course, it's not that simple in real-life situations. Attraction doesn't only arise when eyes lock across the room and that spark of chemistry flies; it just as often grows from a solid relationship in which both people take enjoyment from and pleasure in each other's company. Close relationships invite confidences, and with those confidences comes trust and intimacy. When two people are of the opposite gender, it's easy for that platonic intimacy to blossom into attraction.
Sometimes, however, we know that a person who is just our friend should remain just our friend--even if we don't feel attraction or interest at the time, a later development of feeling would ruin the relationship. Perhaps the person just isn't compatible with you or wouldn't make a good partner for whatever reason--or perhaps you're already in a committed relationship and don't want to jeopardize it.
In this situation, if you're not open to the relationship developing into something more, it's important to set boundaries on the friendship. Don't take every little trouble and bad day to that friend--instead, find someone of your own gender to fill that role or take your problems to your spouse or significant other. Avoid typically romantic situations--wedding dates, New Year's Eve dates--with that friend and don't use that friend as a replacement for your spouse or signficant other in situations where the spouse is not available.
Balancing Your Opposite Gender Friendship with Your Relationship
If you have a significant other, an important part of how to remain just friends with a person of the opposite sex is to make sure your signficant other is comfortable with the relationship. Be sure to spend time around both of them at the same time; a developing relationship between the two of them will help foster trust and acceptance of your opposite-sex friendship on the part of your spouse/significant other, as well as set boundaries for the friend.
If your spouse/significant other questions your opposite-sex friendship, answer their questions candidly and openly--do not become defensive or demand that they not control you. People's comfort levels differ, and as long as your spouse/signficant other is truly not trying to exert an unhealthy level of control, it might be best to tactfully pull back from the friendship.
Unconvinced that you can't remain completely platonic with a friend of the opposite gender? You may be the exception to the rule, and according to "Men and Women Can't Be 'Just Friends'" women are more likely to view attached opposite-sex friends through platonic glasses. Men, however, were much more likely to be attracted to female friends and to see a potential for a relationship--even if the woman in question had no feelings in return.