I recently watched a Bollywood movie, which revolved around the idea of live-in relationships. Its kick-off was an extremist Hindu party rallying against an actor accused of being involved in such a relationship and was boycotted. Moreover, any girl and boy seen out together, were thrashed by the police or the party workers. This reminded me of a very real-life scenario that took place in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, where a group of police workers, namely the “Anti-Romeo” squad were unnecessarily hunting down “couples”, which essentially meant any man and woman, girl and boy, seen out and about.
While these might seem like extreme examples, such is the mentality of many in the world. If a girl is hanging out with a boy alone, they are teased in school or college by people their own age. It is especially hard for parents to believe that their child is simply “friends” with someone of the opposite sex. But these are stipulated, conditioned mentalities from the time of Adam and Eve. Where did the concept of platonic relationships come from? How do they form, and how are they different from the romantic ones? It is hard to make one’s parents or people around believe the phrase “we’re just friends” when all the teasing takes place. It is somehow a given that people of different genders cannot be “just” friends. A fair example would be school trips or boarding schools where the boys and girls are kept “away” from each other by making exclusive rooming facilities.
Today, in a world which is actively recognizing people for who they are, and their fluid sexualities, does the old thought process of “men and women can’t be friends” even apply anymore? Because of course they can, the society norms have made it habitual to believe that we must be attracted to people of the ‘opposite’ gender in some non-platonic way at one point in time or the other. This ideology is an insult to every non-heterosexual, gender noncomforming person out there.
However, a good question is to weigh the intensity of the chemistry in a relationship versus a friendship: something which has always remained a mystery. Besides fulfilling one’s sexual needs, what else does a friend lag in that a partner can provide or vice versa. When a girl breaks up with her boyfriend, the pain is considered life-shattering, but when it happens with a friend, even a boy, it is deeply undermined. My angle, in the context of “can men and women be friends?” goes even beyond the romantic versus platonic aspect. With the rise in the feminist movement, we have seen a large number of “men too” named counter arguments. This simply puts to test how much can men and women really see eye-to-eye, how biased or unbiased their opinions may be. Things like these are often overlooked in forming any kind of relationship. We “agree to disagree,” but is that worth it in the long run? Can men and women, with ideologies poles apart due to the way they have lived their lives, be “friends”? Going beyond social constructs, almost everyone has platonic relationships with another gender, and it has become common practice. But the inherent disparity that exists between “men and women” will always remain a cause of concern, as well as a source of strenuous phases in most platonic/romantic relationships. This is an issue which will persist, but it will also decrease as people start having healthy and open conversations about them.
To finally answer the question if men and women can be friends: it is subjective. However, there’s scope of improvement in every aspect of life, and I hope the mentality of forced heteronormativity as well as the patriarchy dissolves slowly and steadily, paving way for the answer to be not so complicated.