Dairy of a Feminist: Friendship Between Men and Women

Why can’t we have men friends the way we have women friends? A volatile question indeed, that of­ten puzzles a friend of mine. She thinks women can have friendship with men.

What she means by friend­ship is a relationship based on mutual understanding and care and sharing of interests and ideas — minus motive, sans desire. Just like a rela­tionship that exists between two female friends.

I don’t agree with her. Can you really treat a male friend like a female friend? You visit your woman friend whenever you feel like it and she comes to your place. You don’t wait for her telephone calls. If you want to chat you just dial her number without a second thought. You both can go out anywhere any time that suits you two — lunch, dinner, shopping, movie.

Is the frequency of meeting with your male friend the same? Are the places of meet­ing as varied? Can you visit his place with ease and does he yours; can you both go out together anywhere, any time?

If your answer to all these questions is in the affirma­tive, plus you are definite there is no romantic element creeping in, then I would perhaps accept that such a friendship between a man and a woman is possible. Though even then I would be doubtful because I think if a relation­ship reaches that level of un­derstanding, a certain affec­tion, a sort of longing is natur­ally bound to develop.

So my friend believes in platonic relationships between members of the opposite sex and I don’t. I don’t rule out the ex­istence of such a relationship but I think it is difficult for it to happen. In any society, whether permissive or repres­sive, the probability of such pla­tonic relationships is low.

Besides, I think our social milieu is not at all conducive for man-woman companion­ship at any level. Now don’t think I am saying friendship between the two sexes does not happen in our society. All shades of relationships, rang­ing from so-called platonic to erotic, are to be found in Pakistani society. It’s just that people have to be on the sly, and have to pay some price — feelings of guilt, social embar­rassment, condemnation, fear or hurting parents/spouse. To this you can add the lack of opportunities of meeting the opposite sex which further re­duces the chances of man-woman friendship.

To the people who make an effort, pay the price, take the plunge, these friendships sometimes prove emotionally exhaustive. So the majority of the people prefer to stick to the norm: If the society thinks it’s saner not to have man-woman friendship, let’s be sane.

Needless to say that many amongst us, particularly the young, hate this aspect of sanity’ in our society and wonder if they could only administer some psychotropic drug to society to bring it to its senses!

I remember one of my friends narrated to me a personal experience. She met a boy at her work place. After several brief encounters at the office and phone calls, he once visited her place and as­ked her casually to come to his house also.

After a few weeks my friend went to his place just as she would have visited any of her female friends. She met his mother who was a nice and educated lady. She stayed for an hour, felt quite at home and comfortable.

“I liked him as a person. I thought I could have a friend­ship, with no strings attached. I had no motive. The idea of love or marriage never occur­red to me in his case. It was a simple friendship.”

My friend realised her naivety, her stupidity, the sec­ond time she visited his place. She sensed something in his mother, though she was still polite with my friend. But her sixth sense, or rather, social sense, told her there was something subtle, something unspoken.

“It dawned on me that his mother must be thinking I’ve got some designs on her son who was an eligible bachelor. This thought crushed me com­pletely. I was so disturbed. I thought I had disturbed his mother unnecessarily. I don’t blame his mother. In our so­cial milieu, I think it was quite natural on her part to harbour this notion.”

So the relationship died, should I say a natural death. My friend never even called him on the phone. Though the boy occasionally comes to say hello at her office. But he has changed too. Both my friend and the boy were made con­scious of the relationship. And that spoiled it for good.

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