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What it would take for a man and a woman to be BFFs for real

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine,,...

The Harry & Sally debate resolved: What it takes for men and women to be friends

Can men and women actually be friends? That seems to be the eternal question, especially in a society that espouses the (heavily stereotyped) notion that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus." So what does it take for healthy friendships to form between genders? We turned to our favorite Raging Feminists to find out how to make it work.

What does it take for women and men to be actual friends?

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"Mutual respect, honesty, compatible values, empathy, generosity — you know, all the things that it takes for a person to be actual friends with any other person, regardless of gender. I mean, I'm as big a When Harry Met Sally fan as anyone, but that movie really has some toxic messages about the way that men and women relate, doesn't it? Personally, I value my closest male friendships as deeply as I value my closest female friendships. The idea that women can't have real friendships with men is entirely heterosexist, and we need to stop pretending it's not." — Carrie Nelson

"I think it's really quite simple: They both have to want be, without subtext or expectation. Believe it or not, some of my best friends are men (Ha! I know, right?), and that's all we've ever wanted from each other." — Helen Androlia

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"Although gender vastly defines us, it isn't our sum total. As long as you're authentic to yourself, you can be friends with anyone. Sexual tension can be just that — tension; you don't have to ever act on it. Or maybe you do once or twice to get it out of the way, and on with the friendship." — Jill Di Donato

"Nothing more or less than a total absence of misogyny and sexism. I have a lot of close male friends, and it only works (long term) if there is strong mutual respect on both sides. If both people are straight, it helps to be mature enough to handle whatever fleeting sexual attraction you might feel for each other. As a straight woman, I have some strong friendships with both straight and gay men — they enrich my life immeasurably! If it made my husband uncomfortable, I'd be pretty sure I chose the wrong husband. (One of the things that attracted me to him in the first place is that he has some close women friends, strong and amazing women, and they vouched for him!)" — Kate Tuttle

"I find it to be very similar to same-gender friendships. Mutual respect, loyalty (but willing to call you on your shit when necessary), kindness, etc. Respect can include, 'If you find yourself developing feelings, I hope you will respect me enough to either a) talk about it without being creepy, or b) if you know it's not going to be reciprocated for whatever reason, don't make it weird.'" — Sara Habein

"Zero attraction or a whole lot of restraint."Amanda Lauren

"Friendship is some combination of fun, shared interests, trust, empathy and a bit of pixie dust. BUT, if you're crushing on someone who wants to be platonic friends, and you're hanging around with the sole hope that they'll eventually come around and sleep with you, all the while accusing them of putting you in the 'friend zone'? Not friendship. It's basically saying, 'I don't actually value you or our relationship unless we're also having sex.' Also, 'friend zone' is not a real word and should be stricken from the vocabulary." — Therese Schechter

"More than anything else, it requires men to manage their own sexual desires. As a woman who had testosterone running her endocrine show for about 25 years, I know how incredibly overwhelming those bodily signals can be. (Estrogen produces bodily signals that are similarly overwhelming, but in my experience to date over the last year and a half or so, much less difficult to recognize and manage.) With a testosterone-dominant hormonal makeup, I had to put real, serious, conscious effort into interacting in a non-sexualized context with women I was attracted to in any way (e.g., as another similarly intelligent person or one who shared an interest). I had to deliberately and consciously fight to not automatically sort them into 'sexually desirable' and 'sexually undesirable' piles in my mind, but to instead throw that system of classification out entirely. I had just started to see some real benefit to that practice, through continued conscientious application of it, when I realized that I was a woman, and started HRT. Once I had an estrogen-dominant hormonal makeup, the fight stopped. I still engage with other women in the non-sexualized context that I did before, I just don't need to work at it to do it, and I place the origin of that conflict squarely on testosterone." — Seranine Elliot

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"It requires setting ground rules and defining the relationship at the onset of the friendship. It also means having a conversation about expectations and revisiting the friendship if it matures into something more than a platonic relationship." — Rudri Bhatt Patel

"I've had many straight male friends for decades, one from age 4(!), from junior high and even from my college dorm freshman year. They're like the brothers I never had, even though I have a brother; the relationships are steady, constant as the North Star, there's no drama and never has been. We're equals, and depending on what's going on, we can be in a multiple email flurry one week, radio silence the next, but I don't ever need to wonder where I stand or feel judged on anything but my personality. It's liberating! They're also as spontaneous as I am, and less than a day's notice is typical on both sides for getting together — something that would drive me crazy in a romantic relationship." — Debra A. Klein

"Ha! I have no idea. I've never had any hetero male friends who weren't my hetero male partner's friend first. I have male co-workers with whom I am friendly, but as a childhood sexual abuse survivor, I've always been suspicious of men — even men who clearly do not deserve my suspicion. I think that's an unfortunate consequence of early conditioning, but I also imagine I'm not the only one. Many of my high school male friends came out of the closet after high school... So I don't know what that means." — Amanda Adams

"For women and men to be true friends to each other, we need to forget the stereotypes we have been taught — stop seeing each other as 'woman friend' and 'man friend,' with all the assumptions that brings, and start seeing just FRIEND. Just someone I respect. Just someone whose company I enjoy. Just someone I want to be happy and who wants the same for me.

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Of course, I'm pansexual, so all friendships come equally fraught with the potential for unrequited attraction. I need to decide that being friends is more important than sexual tension... Or realize when it actually makes a friendship better." — Bex vanKoot

"In order for a man to properly befriend a woman, he must possess the proper point of view. This can only be gained by a quest to the highest mountain in the Far Off Hinterlands, where one will gain the Flower of Insight. Upon returning, the man must seclude himself from society and nurture the flower to life using his blood mixed with water from the nearest river that has been blessed by a priest or priestess. When the flower has grown into its full bloom over the course of six weeks, the pollen can be placed on the tongue, and the man is permitted to leave seclusion and speak to the woman he would like to befriend without the haze of sex clouding his behaviors." — Seraphina Ferraro

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

The Harry & Sally debate resolved: What it takes for men and women to be friends
Image: wundervisuals/Getty Images
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