Monday, October 1, 2012

Not 'just friends' (Femina)

In an overflow of emotions, Monica Geller could barely finish her sentence when she went down on one knee to propose to Chandler Bing: “I am so lucky to have fallen in love with my best…” Monica, did you mean “best friend”?

Yes, she did. But that was the television series Friends. In reality, many women clearly demarcate between friendship and love. They think they can be just friends with their male friends and they can’t befriend those they want to be romantically involved with. For example, Aditi Misra, 29, says she can either be friends with a man or she can be attracted to him in the “other way” but not both together. And she has different reasons for each. “I am friends with men because we are in the same place or because we share common interests like sports; but I date men because I am attracted to their looks or qualities.” Similarly, to Anjali Jhaveri, 29, who is married to her high school sweetheart, her husband was always more than a friend. “In my mind, my husband was never a ‘friend’ because he fit into all the criteria I had wished in my life partner,” she says. She adds that her male friends have always been just that.

Dr. Sanjay Chugh, a senior psychiatrist of the country, reasons, “Women perhaps find it easier to categorize or label the relationship for it brings in clarity and keeps the boundaries in place which might add to a certain sense of security.”

Even when the relationship changes its category or label; in women’s psyche, once a friend always remains a friend. When Rumana Hussain, 28, was proposed by Suhel Khan who she always thought of as her buddy, Hussain accepted the offer. But she still considers Khan to be more as her friend than her husband. Likewise, Dimpy Shah, 28, also thinks that she shares a friend-like relationship with her pal-turned-hubby even after delivering a baby. “We still share secrets with each other and have the same kind of fun that we used to have when we were just friends,” she says.

Hussain and Shah were wooed by their male chums but there are examples in real life like Monica of Friends who fell in love with their guy friends. A case in point is Alefiya Bhatia, 25, who on spending one on one time with her friend realized that the relationship had potential to evolve more. “We were just great friends for three years when we hung out in a group,” she says. Now that she is married to her best friend for about two years, she thinks of her husband as a friend first. Jaina Shah, 27, seconds the viewpoint. She also considers her friend-turned-lover-turned-hubby to be “friend first, husband then.”
Dr. Nimrat Singh, a human behavior scientist, says, “The attitude of ‘friend first’ is probably knitted in women’s want to not lose the equality that is characteristic of friendship while avoiding the hierarchy that is intrinsic to marriage.”
In contrast to most women’s compartmentalization; in most men’s Venn diagram, friendship and love can intersect. Although many men say that they are just friends with many of their female friends, they also add that they can be more than friends with at least few of them. “I am attracted to some of my female friends but I just admire, respect or like to converse with the others,” Karan Mahajan (last name changed), 28, says. He adds that he cannot think of getting involved in a romantic relationship with the latter because of various reasons like culture mismatch, incompatibility in value system etc.
However, Amol Gupte (name changed), 25, differs. He holds the extreme viewpoint that there is definitely some level of attraction between a boy and girl for them to become friends. “I don’t know if the attraction between a male and female is the cause or effect of friendship, but there definitely exists some attraction between the two,” he says. He admits that he is attracted to all four of his female friends. “It’s like hedging the bets,” he chuckles.

Dr. Chugh deciphers the logic behind men’s psyche: “Men perhaps go with the ‘try your luck’ philosophy more than women. They are willing to keep their options open and go with the flow.”

Unlike Gupte, the answer to “Can men and women be just friends?” is not so black and white for Aman Gandhi, 28, who succinctly replies, “depends.” First of all, he says that it depends on whether a boy and girl spend time in a group of friends or one on one. “Unlike in a group, if two friends of the opposite sex spend a lot of time interacting on a one on one basis, I have seen that mostly they hook up,” Gandhi says which jingles with Bhatia’s story. Furthermore, he says that within a group, the ratio of boys to girls also significantly plays into determining whether they will be just friends or more. He gives the example of the institute that he is a graduate from. The ratio of boys to girls was so highly skewed towards males that Gandhi guesstimates most of the female students would have dated at least once.

Jhaveri relates to Gandhi’s experience. She changed her school in the 11th grade to one in which the ratio was skewed like above. She says that guys popped the question ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’ very casually and frequently. “After knowing a girl for as little as two weeks, the boy would ask her out,” Jhaveri recollects.

Men may communicate their interest in their female friends from the time range extending from now to never. Gandhi belongs to the former camp. “Rather than imagining stuff, I directly ask the girl I like if she likes me too,” he says. He cites avoidance of time wastage as the logic behind his approach. However, Arjun Agarwal, 26, has never been able to tell his female friends about his love interest in them for the fear of screwing up the friendship. Holding the middle ground, Mahajan says he makes sure that the girl is also interested on the basis of his observation of her body language over a considerable period of time.

Irrespective of when men express their feelings to their women friends, they gauge if the feelings are reciprocal by taking all kinds of cues from whether the girl laughed at their stupid jokes to whether she touched her hair while talking to them. Filmy, isn’t it? Remember Raj debating whether Simran loves him or not based on whether she turned back to look at him before boarding the train in DDLJ. Gupte discloses how he figured that his female friend that he was attracted to didn’t like him: “She always talked about how she would be so conscious about the way in which she dressed before someone she loved and she turned up to meet me twice in pyjamas.”

But these interpretations may not always yield accurate conclusions. Agarwal thought that his lady love was also attracted to him because she accepted to go for dinners with him alone. But it turned out later that she was not interested in Agarwal in a lovey dovey way. Rather she was social with everyone.
Dr Singh suggests, “Men’s interpretation of women’s attitude and behavior towards them is more a projection of what the men want to see.” A recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study finds that men overestimate the attraction their female friends feel towards them. Dr. Singh affirms that the overestimation could be due to misinterpretation of such cues.

Luckily, things worked out for Raj because Simran who glanced at him before boarding the train had similar feelings. But there have been instances wherein one-way feelings from the boy have put the friendship in jeopardy. When Pearl Gandhi’s (first name changed), 27, childhood friend approached her with the proposition of love, Gandhi who did not share the same feelings started ignoring him. “I thought if we met, his feelings for me would never die down,” she says. Now, Gandhi and her friend are not pally like before. On the other hand, when Naiyya Saggi, 28, came to know that one of her friends was attracted to her, she got concerned about dealing with the issue without losing a good friend. After telling him that she did not share the same sentiment, she resumed treating him like just a friend pretending nothing happened. “I laughed it off in front of him telling him that he would get over the silly infatuation soon,” she says. Saggi adds that after few weeks of awkwardness between the two, the friendship returned to normalcy. Agarwal concurs that when the girl he invited on romantic dinners acted oblivious about his feelings; his crush on her vanished after a while along with the friendship remaining restored. “I am sure she knew that I liked her because all of our friends knew,” Agarwal says with a confused look.

Dr Singh says, “If a person gets over heartbreak easily, possibility is that the intensity of feelings was not strong enough.” Dr. Hansal Bhachech, a prominent psychiatrist of Gujarat, specifies, “For majority of men, friendship with the opposite gender equates to sexual attraction.” The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study explains why. The lead author of the study, April Bleske-Rechek is reported to have said on that because platonic inter-sex relationships are a relatively new concept in the history of human evolution, men are still controlled by their mating instincts.

Gupte reveals a conversation he had with two of his friends at a club: “I asked them if they would have a one-night stand with the female friends they were attracted to. One of them said he would do it with all of his female friends while the other said he would do it with all but one.” Scary, isn’t it? Nevertheless, there are also guys like Mahajan who try to take friendship with their female friends to the next level only if he is serious about it on a long-term basis.

The debate about the costs and benefits of friendship between men and women will go on for ever. Yet guys and gals will continue to be friends and sometimes more than friends because as Chandler put it before Monica: “You make me happier than I ever thought I could be.”

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