Because Harry Loved Sally: Why Men and Women Cannot Be Close Friends


It has been said many a time (in New York City especially) that men and women can hold significant friendships with each other outside of marriage. Or, even more simply, that men and women can be friends without the bother of sexual tension. The iconic film When Harry Met Sally, has accrued its widespread popularity precisely because it is a discussion of this idea. Can men and women really be friends without any romantic implications? And if so, how close can they become before that friendship becomes either romantic or a danger to the romances already established?

A scene from When Harry Met Sally. Photo credit: Movie Riot.

Initially, friendship between a man and woman is natural. Growing up we have siblings, and in school we forge friendships--all of which are simple enough. But then comes junior high, and with that new stage of life all the hardships we had been trained to fear: hormones, cliques and the discovery of the pervading existence of sex. As I tried to negotiate the ins and outs of middle school, one of the toughest hurdles for me was the sudden attraction I had to boys. With no warning, they were cute, and suddenly, I had the overwhelming urge to kiss several of them. It seems fair to assert that this was not a singular experience for me, but that many people made this discovery also. Inexplicably, the thought of holding my buddy Jason’s hand was no longer distasteful, but actually desirable.

But what, in all of this, had changed? Why now did all of these boys matter, when before they had hardly deserved a second thought? It was the realization that I was a female, and they were male, and what that meant. We were decidedly different, and this was strange to consider. Suddenly my friendships with these boys I had grown up with were vastly more complicated—because now there was the underlying awareness of sex. It existed. This was a terrifying and wonderful thing to consider (adults really must go easier on adolescents; discoveries like this are quite startling).

Despite these discoveries of distinct genders and the immanence of sex, there is still a chance for functioning friendships between men and women. What I fear, however, is that these friendships must remain shallow at best. This seems a puritanical stance, I know, but allow me to explain. Humans are made in the image of God, and a necessary result of that is the desire to both know and be known. This is because, first, we desire dearly to be completely and properly loved, and second, we hope to see the face of God as clearly as possible. This is attempted and in some degree accomplished through relationships with other created, eternal beings—people, like you and me. God made two distinct genders so that through marriage, friendship and kinship we might know our Creator and ourselves better.

But, because of this desire to know and be known, a problem arises: we naturally long to become closer and closer to those we care for. This may not seem like a problem, but believe me, it is. It is a problem because God, rightfully, deemed it good for just one man to become intimate with just one woman, which then necessitates that all other men and women must be kept at a distance. The idea that you can be married, or even in a committed relationship, while also sustaining significant friendships with the opposite sex is foolish. It ignores the reality that when you get close to someone, your desire to be close to them will only grow, not diminish. To believe that you can have a best guy friend and also a boyfriend or husband just ignores and discredits your own capacity and desire to love.

Understand that humans are astoundingly beautiful. This is why we must be so careful when we nurture friendships outside of our committed relationships, because humans are too wonderful not to fall in love with. The desire to love copiously often overrides any rational decisions—though a woman knows she must be loyal to her spouse, this is hard to remember when her close friend becomes so close she can’t help but desire greater intimacy with him also. My point is that the desire for deep knowledge of another is so natural that you must avoid any intimacy that you do not want to consume you. The heart is so good at drowning out the head that it takes all our strength to even try to contain it.

Some might take issue with this assertion. They may wonder why they are required to give up one good thing in order to have another. Why not both? I would ask these people to consider this: there are many good things in life. Marriage is good, and so is friendship. But just as we must give up the startling butterflies of an adolescent relationship in order to gain a deeper, more serious adult relationship, so must we also substitute the goodness of friendship in exchange for a far greater good obtained through marriage. The astounding intimacy of marriage far surpasses any intimacy that can be obtained through friendship. This is because in marriage we come the closest to understanding and imitating God—to seeing Him face to face. In order to obtain the greatest good, we must sometimes sacrifice the lesser goods. This is sad, but not extraordinarily sad. After all, marriage may be the most wonderful thing God has ever given us. So be thankful.