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Same Sex Vs. Opposite Sex: What’s The Rule On Friendship?

I’m stealing a post from Jay at Two Women Blogging entitled “Was Harry Right?” Here’s their post, and I discuss it below:

Was Harry Right?

Bluemilk got me started thinking about this. I first heard Harry’s thesis advanced by the resident I worked with on my med school psych rotation. She assured me that while I might think I had platonic friendships with men, the men didn’t see it that way. I was pretty sure they did see it that way. I wasn’t naive, I was engaged to be married and had done my share of dating and flirting — I knew what it felt like when a man was interested in me sexually and I knew the difference. I still know the difference, and I still have men friends. For most of my life, my closest friends have been men.

I had a best girlfriend growing up, but we weren’t together very much — she lived in a different neighborhood and had a lot of afterschool activities and we weren’t usually in the same class at school. We didn’t trade sleepovers and call each other to check our outfits and have long closed-door talks like Eve does with her friends. My day-to-day best friend, the person I hung out after school with and rode bikes with and watched TV with and waded in the creek with, was the boy across the street. We were inseparable until he moved away when we were ten.

During that same psych rotation, we had a lecture on child development in which I learned that “all children” had a same-sex best friend during latency. I asked the lecturer afterwards what would happen if a child had an opposite-sex best friend during that period, and she said “gender development would become abnormal.” Perhaps that explains it.

I started to seek out and cultivate female friendships when I was in med school, but I find I still gravitate toward friendships with men. I am blessed, now, with wonderful women friends, and I’m deeply grateful for them, but I still think my psych resident — and Harry — were wrong.


I picked this post to blog about because 1) I like the “When Harry Met Sally” clip and 2) these kinds of black-and-white statements about “how life works” come up all the time in therapy.

In the case above, the teacher tells the student that during latency one must have a same-sex best friend. “Must.” If not, the person grows up to be “abnormal” in their gender development. Show me the science. but first define for me “normal” in terms of gender development. And who out there has “normal” gender development? What’s the goal — Martha Stewart? Barbie? Elana Kagan? J Lo?

What comes up more often in therapy is the question of can you be friends with an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend? An ex-husband or ex-wife? I tend to think that it’s usually hard, but there are people who do it, so counseling that “you can’t be friends with an ex” or “you can’t be friends with a member of the opposite sex” — or pretty much any absolute — seems, well, not evidence-based.

My personal favorite piece of advice to give along this line is to tell people to stay away from the person they are so painfully breaking up with for a good long time, at least until all parties are no longer in love and have moved on with their lives. Now all I need is a movie scene.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

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