Can Boys and Girls Be “Just Friends”?
In two weeks my book about boys, Masterminds and Wingmen, will be published. But I’ve just realized it didn’t include a critical issue I need to share with parents. So what better place to tackle that topic than my Momster blog?
In Masterminds, I spend about one-third of the book explaining how boys interact with girls. I cover:
- what they think about girls,
- their experiences with girls that they don’t tell adults about, and
- what their parents say to them about girls.
I also talk about girls as friends. Boys, especially in high school, often have friendships with girls that are incredibly meaningful to them. Here are a few of the comments that two of my high school guy editors shared with me:
“I love hanging with my boys but I've had the closest of relationships with my mom growing up so I naturally function better when I have close girlfriends around me.” —Ryan
“I think guys can look at girls and think of them as someone who they can talk to about sensitive subjects. You really can't talk about sensitive subjects with your best guy friends because you know their opinion of you prior to whatever you have to say. With girls, you can tell them more without knowing them as well.” —Grant
That part I knew. What I didn’t realize can best be explained by Raffael, another guy contributor, when we talked a few days ago:
"Last spring I was really stressed out. I was playing football and filling out 22 college applications. So I decided to break up with my girlfriend. Two days later I realized that I had made a horrible mistake and I needed someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to the guys on my team because we don’t talk about things like that. We talk about who we’ve hooked up with but not relationship stuff. So I take a really good girl friend out to dinner so I can get her advice and when I am walking out the door I tell my mom where I am going and she starts probing me with all these questions about the girl as if I want to hook up with her. This was my friend. And my mom is accusing me of trying to get with her just two days after this breakup."
That’s the part I didn’t realize. Parents often reinforce the stereotype that boys and girls can’t be friends. We don’t mean to do it, but we do. Boys need friendships with girls for many reasons. They know having a strong friendship with a girl can give them the “girl” insight they need. But we all need boys to have strong friendships with girls so as they mature they know how to collaborate with girls, compete with girls and have healthy intimate relationships with them.
What do boys want from us? They want us to stop peppering them with questions that come across as if we think all they want from girls is to get it on. That’s true whether they’re in fourth grade and we’re teasing them about who they have a crush on, or they’re in high school and we’re assuming that their real motivation for having close female friends is sex.
This doesn’t mean it’s not possible for boys to be sexually attracted to a girl that’s a friend. But instead of comments, what boys want from us is relationship advice. I know that sounds completely different from everything we think about them, but it’s true. They want an adult who they can ask questions and get direct, straight-up answers from. They want an adult who role models how to have healthy intimate relationships and who treats their partner with dignity.
Do you think boys and girls can be “just friends”? Are you guilty of making your son’s friendships seem like something more? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the forthcoming Masterminds and Wingmen and the best-sellingQueen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.