Debunking “When Harry Met Sally . . . ”

Can men and women be platonic friends? Whenever I get into conversations on this topic, someone usually brings up the movie, When Harry Met Sally . . . (1998). This film is an icon for making a case that men and women cannot be platonic friends. The protagonist, Harry Burns argues,

men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Harry may be right for his life but his theory is not universal. I, for one, am an example of someone who breaks the rule. Some of my closest friends are women and we have not gone down or even plan on going down the dating path. Some people are skeptical of my platonic friendships with women because of their subjective experience and perspective. It is understandable why they think they way they do, however, I would like to shed some light on why I disagree and show why When Harry Met Sally . . . is just a movie.

Does Sex Really Get in the Way of Friendship?

The biggest argument against platonic man/woman friendships is the possibility of sex. This reason presumes that we have not evolved beyond our primal instincts and that we have no control over our sexual impulses. It also supposes that men and women are only primarily interested in each other for sex. This reasoning is too simplistic and neglects that there are many other reasons why men and women befriend each other. Also, sex may be an issue but people have a higher level of discernment than that. Therefore, sex may be a factor but it is not mutually exclusive for relationships between men and women.

Rules of Attraction

In terms of attraction, people surround themselves by people with similar levels of attraction. The company you keep is like a mirror of your own self-image. There may be a few outliers (an ugly or hot friend) but most of your close friends are probably equally attractive. Therefore, it makes more sense to see friends be attracted to each other than not.

Importance of Communication

One of the most important factors in maintaining any relationship is communication. Most fights and arguments occur because one or both parties were not clear in conveying their wants and needs. People are not mind readers, however, we often think that people close to us should just “know”. Often we assume someone else’s intensions but we do so with little accuracy. Confronting a person about their intension can be awkward so many of us often settle for our misconceptions. However, if we are able to communicate our wants and needs more clearly and get confirmation from the receiver that they understood what we said, then many problems would be eliminated.

Boundaries

To make a good relationship work, it requires clear boundaries. By clarifying the basis of the relationship, it is easier to develop the relationship to its full potential. However, not being clear with where you stand can often blur the relationship. Having the Define The Relationship (DTR) talk may be uncomfortable but it is a necessary step in developing a close friend.

Usually when I hear why a platonic friendship did not work out, it was because one person crossed the line. Often this breach occurred because one party felt lonely, horny, or drunk. They may have also taken too much liberty in their friendship and did not respect the boundaries that were set up. Furthermore, a person can confuse intimacy with passion, which goes into my next point.

Difference Between Intimacy and Passion

According to Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (1986), there are three components of love. These elements are commitment, intimacy, and passion. Depending on the existence and combination of these components, different types of love evolve. The following are the different forms of love:

  • Nonlove = No Intimacy, No Passion, and No Commitment.
  • Liking/friendship = Intimacy
  • Infatuated love = Passion
  • Empty love = Commitment
  • Romantic love = Intimacy + Passion
  • Companionate love = Intimacy + Commitment
  • Fatuous love: Passion + Commitment
  • Consummate love: Intimacy + Passion + Commitment

Therefore, intimacy and passion are separate components. Intimacy is closeness and sharing of private information. Passion is lust and desire. Close friends can be intimate without having the passionate feelings for one another.

Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of having a platonic friend of the opposite gender:

  • Have someone to accompany you to +1 events (i.e. weddings and parties)
  • Access to information and perspective from the opposite gender
  • Opportunity to talk about different topics than you normally would
  • Fulfill a need for male/female companionship
  • Ability to participate in partner activities (i.e. ballroom dancing)

Having a close platonic friend will help a person learn more about themselves and how they interact with the opposite gender. By examining the relationship, a person can realize their capacity, habits, and blind spots. Ultimately, this will help a person become more sophisticated and grounded, therefore, more able to be in a healthy solid romantic relationship.

In Conclusion

Men and women can be platonic friends. There may be unique challenges because of gender differences and sex. However, a challenge is only a challenge and does not mean it is impossible or improbable. Therefore, be honest with yourself and be clear with your intentions. If you want to date someone, date them. If you only want to be friends then just be friends. If things change, communicate. Be truthful if you can be friends with someone you had a previous romantic interest in but they are not interested in you, and vice versa. The clearer you, the better able you are to nurture yourself and the relationship.

4 thoughts on “Debunking “When Harry Met Sally . . . ””

  1. Great post! I have found “companionate love” with a few lifelong male friends, some going on 20 yrs now, and a few of them even surviving unwise breaches. I’m much more careful about boundaries now b/c I respect those friendships so much more than in my 20’s. They have lifted me up when life crashed down, and provided insight to the opposite sex that probably saved more than one of my romantic relationships.

  2. Interesting…I have to say coming from a family with boys all around me I just couldn’t understand WHY people say men and women can’t be just friends! It is about intent and boundaries for sure!

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