why i think harry burns was wrong

I have the good fortune of having a few very close male friends.  They are each amazing men in his own way, and I am grateful for their friendship, especially now.

When I first met my husband, he espoused the Harry Burns theory (from the movie “When Harry Met Sally”) that “men and women can’t really be friends because the sex thing always gets in the way.”  As time went on, I came to realize that this theory applied to me only; he, it seemed, was quite capable of having friends of the opposite sex, but my male friendships were all viewed skeptically and with great suspicion.  So, over time and out of respect for his insecurities, I let nearly all of them go… one at a time….   I told myself that this was one of the small sacrifices that we make to create a safe and secure space in the relationship for those we love.  I was wrong, and it was stupid, and I won’t do it again, but at least it taught me to never take those friendships for granted.

Because the thing is, they are friendships. Some of my male friends are people that I’ve reconnected with from my pre-marriage life; others are guys I dated since leaving my husband.  Most are very different from my girl friends and from each other. These men support me and care for me and protect me to no lesser degree than my female friends.  They just do it differently. My male friends say things my girl friends never would.  They’re more blunt and less concerned with boosting my self-esteem and they expect the same in return from me.  When they do pay me a compliment, it’s in that matter-of-fact way that takes my breath away — “You’re one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met and every guy who meets you knows it.  Whether they’re capable of dealing with it is another story.”   Wow.  Can I get a double order of THAT?

These men are far more likely to call me on my bullshit, and far less likely to be my personal cheerleader. But they are also much less forgiving of the men I date than my female friends.  Pretty much, if a guy I’m dating screws up once, my male friends write him off completely.  No second chances.  Either he appreciates me and “works for it” or he doesn’t and he’s out.  It’s all very black and white, apparently.  Of course, if I exiled every man that didn’t meet their collective high standards for me, my male friends would all be kicked to the curb, too, but men seem surprisingly comfortable with that hypocrisy.

One of the sweetest aspects of my male friendships is the way that they seem to simply know when I need them.  It’s the oddest thing, but when I have been hurt, almost immediately one of my guy friends will contact me.  These men don’t know each other, and sometimes I won’t have spoken to them for weeks or even months, but suddenly they are there, just wondering how I am.  It’s honestly almost eerie.  Much has been made of female intuition, but male intuition seems to be alive and well among my friends.

As for the sex thing:  of course it’s caused problems on occasions, but most of the time, you can work through it and past it.  And the fact that some of these friends have known me sexually is actually helpful at times, for reasons that should be obvious.   Plus, it never hurts to have a guy around to boost your ego after it’s taken a bruising… and men are shamelessly comfortable with being a rebound date.

None of this is meant to imply that these friendships are somehow better than my female friendships.  Indeed, I have a handful of girl friends whose love is like sunshine and water to me; I sincerely am not certain I could survive this world without them.  I think I’d likely wither and die emotionally without their love and friendship.  But I’ve also come to realize that my life is richer and more honest and more real to have both men and women in it.

I think my ex-husband would probably still say that men and women can’t really be close friends, and I doubt he would understand or be comfortable with my male friendships.  But I do and I am.  Take that, Harry Burns.


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Filed under divorce, friendships, general musings, relationships, sex

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