Print Edition: May 7, 2014
In When Harry Met Sally, Harry declares that opposite sex friendships are impossible because “the sex part always gets in the way.” Whether or not this is true in a 1980s rom-com, it has become a perennially posed and frustrating question. Can women and men be friends? Or does the spectre of sex hang over every gesture?
For most of us the answer is straightforward. We travel in circles of mixed sexes and have long since graduated from the high school dramatics of “friend-zoning.”
Anecdotal experience shows this is not always the case.
My first semester at UFV was a lonely one. The campus had few common areas to meet people in, and being a commuter campus, provided a rather cold atmosphere for a new student looking to make friends. Once I’d (mostly) recovered from my awkwardness at attempting to talk to the strangers in my classes, I found my attempts to be friendly resulted in an interesting pattern; girls were receptive, and guys interpreted these attempts as flirting.
Perhaps it was my fault. Perhaps I was sending unintentional signals that indicated an interest in something more than casual social interaction.
Psychological experiments have documented a male inclination toward assuming sexual interest in innocent female friendliness. An interesting example of this male proclivity to sexual inference comes from the wonderful world of customer service, as reported by a R.K. Browne in Managerial and Decision Economics. A grocery store chain implemented a “superior customer service” program which required its employees to smile and make eye contact with customers. Female employees reported a spike in overt sexual comments, come-ons, and in some cases stalking. Eventually a number of employees filed sexual harassment charges against the grocery chain.
I’ve found this to be true in my own experience in working in customer service; for some customers, the required small talk and polite greeting is mistaken for flirtatiousness, and the result is unpleasant for both parties. The woman resentfully finds herself obliged to come up with excuses so as to not hurt feelings or egos. The man slinks out and waits to try his luck with the next smiling barista, server, or grocery clerk.
The problem is once there has been a rejection of advances, any future social contact has been killed before it’s begun.
In some cases, the person making those advances could have made a good platonic friend; the question I asked myself in that first semester at UFV was if I presented myself as interesting enough to be ask out, why can’t I be interesting enough to have a conversation with? Was the potential for friendship less important than the potential for sex?
Women don’t want a poorly delivered pick-up line and the fluffing of some unimpressive feathers. Ask us out as a friend; you’ll find the experience much more rewarding than the usual pillowed rejection.