April 14, 2008

Men and women can be "just friends," if she's pretty

It sounds crazy, but hear me out. Everything I've ever heard on the difficulty of males and females staying "just friends" has focused on the guy's threat to the friendship's stability: deep down, he registers her as a girl who he hasn't fucked yet, and at some point he'll make an awkward move on her, thus endangering or ending the friendship.

But what about the girl's threat to the friendship's stability -- she treats him as a surrogate doormat boyfriend, and a guy with any balls at all won't stand for this, so he is likely to stop investing in her as a friend. *

Her boyfriend doesn't listen to her problems? She runs to the friend. Her boyfriend doesn't cook for her? Her friend does. Her boyfriend doesn't do sweet, romantic things for her? She'll try to get the friend to do them. She also flakes out on plans with her friend, uses him to get attention and validation, and similar things that she should only be able to get away with if he were her boyfriend.

And although the guy and girl are trying to manipulate each other, the girl can be quite successful, while the guy gets only blue balls in return. If you've forgotten what this is like, just rewind to your friendships with girls during high school and college.

The rational thing for the guy to do would be to just "dump" his female friends -- but what if they could do something for him? She may not want to satisfy his libidinous needs directly, but she could assist him in meeting these needs through other females. That's why it only pays to have attractive female friends: by being seen with them, especially when they are relaxed and having fun around him, he demonstrates higher value to the female onlookers, who he can then easily approach. If she is particularly ballsy, she may even act as his wingman.

He will still have to listen to her problems, drive her places, and inflate her ego, but he can put up with it because he's getting something in return.

Because each party enjoys benefits that they could not provide by themselves or get from members of the same sex, we have a simple case of specializing in comparative advantage that leads to mutually beneficial trade. For once, the guy has a rational incentive not to try to escalate the friendship sexually -- his trading partner would cut off relations, and he'd have to search for quite awhile to find a suitable replacement, starving in the meantime.

In terms of satisfying his sexual needs, the pretty female friend is worth more to him as a broadcaster of value and/or wingman than as a single notch on his belt. She is like a gunsmith supplying a warlord: he will conquer many other tribes with the weaponry she provides, but he'll leave her untouched since he would have a much weaker offense without her. And since he will always be out on conquests, she will have a stable source of revenue.

Also like a gunsmith, she can supply many warlords (although there is probably a natural saturation level), so that below the saturation level, access to the gunsmith is not a zero-sum game for the warlords, preventing potential conflict among the superpowers. The only trouble that could arise is if the warlords wanted to conquer the same tribe, but we live in a world with so many defenseless areas that they can amicably agree on who gets to enslave whom.

Clearly, if the female friend cannot perform this role, he should not be friends with her. That would mean doing all the dopey things she expects her real or non-existent boyfriend to do, tolerating her flakey behavior, inflating her ego with attention, and so on -- without receiving anything in return. Sure, she could provide company, be a conversation partner to discuss shared interests, an activity partner, etc., but a guy could do these things too, and wouldn't flake, complain at length about men, and so on. Indeed, it's more likely that a guy will share his interests, activities, etc. What would she bring to the friendship as a female?

It seems a bit cruel, but let's get real: friendship with members of the opposite sex is not an inalienable human right. If attractive girls get to have guy friends while the ugly ones don't, then that's just tough luck.

* If you call out a female friend for this type of manipulative nonsense, her self-deception kicks in and she will defend her righteousness loudly. However, it is as believable as a guy showing moral indignation when his female friend accuses him of physical impropriety -- hey, he only wrapped his arm around her lower back "just to make her feel safe" while walking.

23 comments:

  1. Do you have many female friends? This seems like an analysis based on unreal, hollywoodised interactions between men and women.

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  2. I have and I still do. Most guys are just social retards and can't see what's going on under their noses.

    It's like how children manipulate their parents but try to appear cute while doing it, and get offended if you call them on it.

    Some parents are total suckers for this (especially Anglo-Germanic parents), but I wouldn't be.

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  3. "Most guys are just social retards and can't see what's going on under their noses."

    Then again, the sort of "rational" friendship you describe seems to require a significant degree of social sophistication. If I'm not mistaken, the consensus among amateurish observers of social dynamics is just the opposite - on average, "pretty" girls have more trouble getting the kind of credible friendship you describe and even their relations with girl-friends may be strained by competition (with much female manipulation arising as a defense mechanism), while unattractive girls are much closer to their "saturation" level.

    Sometimes there really is a $20 bill on the sidewalk, even though you'd think that someone must have picked it up. Or swapped it with a fake when nobody was watching.

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  4. You seem to be limiting this analysis to situations in which the man has no girlfriend, while the woman may or may not have a boyfriend. How does it apply to situations in which the man has a girlfriend (or wife)? Is he then able to be "just friends" with a woman, assuming of course that his girlfriend doesn't mind?

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  5. agnostic, this is a good post... I've also thought a lot about friendships between men and woman where the man is attracted to the woman.

    I am a man who many women want as a friend. I'm an interesting person, and I enjoy connecting with people. However, with female friends I am attracted to, I've learned to keep an eye on the net benefit, to me, of the friendship. I have a lot of hardwired long-term mate tendencies, which makes it easy to fall into the role of a nonsexual boyfriend. When I see this happening with a female friend I am attracted to, I shut it down. There is no virtue in me sacrificing my happiness, time, and energy to pine after her and support her in dating guys other than me, even if we have a connection. In addition to my own self-interest, I don't want that connection to be undermined by an exploitative and non-sustainable interaction developing.

    I have been able to have successful friendships with women I am attracted to. For this to be the case, the net benefit to me of the friendship must be positive (though she might be getting more out of it than I am). There is some kind of math going on, which probably looks something like this:

    net benefit to me =
    connection
    + attraction
    + her contribution to my success with other women (either in terms of social proof, introducing me to her hot female friends, or accompanying me in social situations where I can meet other women, or giving me useful insight or a listening ear for my dealings with other women)
    + her support and contribution to my self-esteem (which indirectly helps me attract other women)
    - negative feelings due to unfulfilled attraction or crush on her
    - jealousy of her getting with other guys
    - time and energy spent with her that takes away from other women

    One of the most important variables is whether or not I am experiencing negative feelings due to unfulfilled attraction or having a crush on her, especially if those feelings are inhibiting my success with other women. Suppressing these feelings is not sufficient. What I find helpful is simply to be pursuing other women, which take my emotional focus off her; having a girlfriend performs the same function, as Peter points out. (Consequently, I think that if a woman has a male friend who she has to reject but wants to stay friends with, she should sit him down and say "let's find you a girlfriend.") Game is important here. In the past, having a crush on a female friend meant pining for her for months, getting rejected, then pining for her for another few months. Now that I have game, I can allow myself to have a little crush on a woman, and still be able to go out and pick up other women (in some cases, in front of my friend; she functions as social proof to attract them, and they may serve as social proof to attract my friend for later on, which is the optimal strategy I think).

    Another important variable is whether or not a female friend makes you feel attractive in general. My female friend A is not attracted to me, and treats me like I'm kind of silly (which is the way I used to act around her). My female friend B is attracted to me and makes me feel important and masculine around her (though she has a boyfriend). It probably won't surprise you that I hang out with B more.

    It helps if your female friends dance. Then it is much harder to lose by being friends with them, because you can go dancing with them which will help you meet other women, and dancing is better than long, drawn-out conversations in which I can get stuck providing the emotional support of a pseudo-boyfriend.

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  6. Why do gay men tend to have more female friends and fewer male friends than heterosexual men do? Gender confusion trumping any rationality at all? But that would have to be trumping the sex drive, one gay men share with heterosexual men but not with women. I don't see how, as you're describing it, gay guys get anything out of this. But I'm pretty obtuse when it comes to this kind of stuff.

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  7. If men with girlfriends, gay men and men who refuse to let friendships be "undermined by ... exploitative and non-sustainable interaction[s]" are more successful staying "just friends" with women, this is pretty damning evidence against Agnostic's theory - in fact, it seems to vindicate the "naïve" credibility theory.

    The naïve theory is also more congruent with what we know about male-female relationships in general. It's well known that "escalating" friendships is tough and generally not worth the effort, but empoldering some solid grounds for attraction improves the friendship quality regardless, as Hugh Ristik points out.

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  8. the sort of "rational" friendship you describe seems to require a significant degree of social sophistication.

    To figure it out on your own, yes. To use it once you've been taught it, no. It won't work for every guy, though, that's true -- if he tends to fall for his friends almost as a reflex, then he'll just have to wait until his brain isn't swimming in hormones (since this mostly afflicts adolescent guys).

    How does it apply to situations in which the man has a girlfriend (or wife)?

    He could be just friends with her, assuming he was acting almost as though he didn't have a gf. Like, he wants to be seen with pretty females to make his gf jealous, or signal that he has other options.

    In general, though, I'd worry about it since if you've been involved with a gf or wife for awhile, you will start to crave variety again, and your pretty female friend will be one of your first thoughts.

    If he doesn't mind being used and getting nothing out of it, he could still hang out with her.

    Another important variable is whether or not a female friend makes you feel attractive in general.

    I've noticed that my more masculine female friends (who still look pretty and girly in the face, but just have high testosterone) are much more likely to boldly give me unsolicited complements on how I look. "That shirt is hot, by the way." "Hey there, gorgeous." "Dude, you look freakin' hot today." My girlier friends are more coy and reserved about dishing out complements.

    dancing is better than long, drawn-out conversations in which I can get stuck providing the emotional support of a pseudo-boyfriend.

    Yep!

    Why do gay men tend to have more female friends and fewer male friends than heterosexual men do?

    Gay men don't need to use friends (in this case male friends) to get sexual access -- they just show up to a gay club and make out with whoever will let them.

    As for female friends, I'd say because they are like females in needing constant attention, validation, and get high from chatting and gossiping. So they do it for the same reasons females are friends with each other.

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  9. If men with girlfriends, gay men and men who refuse to let friendships be "undermined by ... exploitative and non-sustainable interaction[s]" are more successful staying "just friends" with women, this is pretty damning evidence against Agnostic's theory - in fact, it seems to vindicate the "naïve" credibility theory.

    Huh? My whole post is about how to keep the friendship from being undermined by exploitative and non-sustainable interactions -- introduced by the girl wanting the guy to do all those dopey things for her while he gets nothing.

    Both sexes threaten the friendship, and their desires are deeply rooted and cannot be fixed: the guy's desire to crush on, make out with, or sleep with the female friend, and the girl's desire to have him be the emotional doormat / asexual boyfriend.

    The only way to resolve this conflict is to get their self-interests to benefit each other, so some kind of trade system is in order.

    Just about any guy can listen to her problems, drive her places, get flaked out on for plans, tell her her hair looks great when she gets it cut and colored, etc. But only pretty girls can do much for the guy's romantic and sexual prospects (again, indirectly).

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  10. "Both sexes threaten the friendship, and their desires are deeply rooted and cannot be fixed: the guy's desire to crush on, make out with, or sleep with the female friend, and the girl's desire to have him be the emotional doormat / asexual boyfriend."

    Yes, but your whole post implies that the girl will not stay friends unless the guy caters to her desire for an asexual emotional tampon. If I'm interpreting HR's post correctly, he refuses to play this role:-- "I have a lot of hardwired long-term mate ... When I see this happening with a female friend I am attracted to, I shut it down". My speculation is that this actually improves the friendship by establishing his credibility: the girl's desires for emotional support can always be served by her same-sex friends.

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  11. Oh OK. Two things:

    1) If the guy has to shut down the girl as she tries to steer things down the path toward asexual boyfriend land, he's got his work cut out for him.

    You can do it, but you'll have to *keep* doing it, just like a girl will have to keep reminding her guy friend that nothing physical is going to happen, that she won't go on "date" activities with him, etc., if she knows he wants a relationship with her.

    The male urge for friends with benefits, and the female urge for an asexual boyfriend, are just too strong for them to be slain once and for all.

    So it would work, but how many times do you want to firmly say, "Hey, I'm not your therapist / chauffeur / etc"? Especially considering that better alternatives exist.

    2) Such as the mutual manipulation scenario I proposed. It's good if neither exploits the other unilaterally, but it's even better if both exploit each other. Like trade.

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  12. I'll clarify what I meant:

    When I said that I would "shut down" my heading into asexual boyfriend land, this could be for either of two reasons:

    - She was steering things in that direction. "Manipulation" might imply that these maneuvers are intentional and conscious, which may or may not be the case.Getting a male to drive her places or do her favors unreciprocated is uncool, but it can be hard to draw the line between emotional sharing between friends, and her using him as an emotional tampon.

    - I was steering things in that direction (due to my longterm mate tendencies). I do have high empathy and interest in hearing about people's lives, I just have to make sure that a woman isn't talking to me primarily about her problems.

    My experience is not of girls manipulating me into servitude, but more like me being a good listener, which led them to talking about themselves, leading to them telling me about their problems, and my not doing anything about made it seem acceptable for her to lean on me emotionally more and more... Or she would ask for one minor favor, and I would accept, but not necessarily require anything else in return, and maybe I would do something altruistic for her, which would just escalate because I was indicating to her that it was acceptable for her to treat me that way.

    So what I am shutting down is usually my own tendencies. Though recently, I did take a verbal action toward a girl I am interested in (who I know is attracted to me), but has a boyfriend who I believe she is staying with primarily out of inertia and guilt over hurting his feelings.

    I told her that I only wanted to hear good things about her boyfriend. Yet agnostic is kind of right about boundaries needing to continually be reinforced: she proceeded to say bad things about her relationship, though not specifically about the boyfriend. However, I decided to let her say it, because she said she hadn't told anyone else, and I considered it in both her interest in mine for her to verbalize her doubts about the relationship lasting.

    However, my patience with her talking to me about her unhappiness with her relationship will be very limited. Letting her talk about it to me might speed up the process, but doing so might also backfire if my listening ear helps her stay in her current relationship. I need a little bit more time to tell, and I've picked up 3 other girls during that time (2 in front of her at a club).

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  13. "You can do it, but you'll have to *keep* doing it, just like a girl will have to keep reminding her guy friend that nothing physical is going to happen, that she won't go on "date" activities with him, etc., if she knows he wants a relationship with her."

    This is where social sophistication really comes in. If you're constantly nagging your female friend for a date/relationship, or trying to make a move on her and putting the friendship at risk, is she really going to be a convincing broadcaster of value or wingman?

    And why would you want to sabotage your slim chances for an actual relationship with her by being so nagging or manipulative that she will never develop any attraction to you - and then display wimpness and insecurity by getting manipulated right back?

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  14. "Gay men don't need to use friends (in this case male friends) to get sexual access -- they just show up to a gay club and make out with whoever will let them."

    Whoa...are you kidding?

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  15. If you're constantly nagging your female friend for a date/relationship, or trying to make a move on her and putting the friendship at risk, is she really going to be a convincing broadcaster of value or wingman?

    I don't know where you're getting this from, since I never suggested a guy nag his female friend for a date or relationship -- said the exact opposite in fact.

    I was using an analogy to explain how a guy would feel if he took the "try to shut her down" approach -- because her desire for an asexual boyfriend will likely never go away, the problem will keep popping up, and the guy will have to keep shutting her down.

    This is LIKE when a girl must constantly shut down her guy friend when he keeps pressing for a relationship. It annoys her, and the above scenario would annoy him.

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  16. You wrote:

    "The male urge for friends with benefits, and the female urge for an asexual boyfriend, are just too strong for them to be slain once and for all."

    so what applies to one must apply to the other. Either the male is constantly nagging his female friend for a relationship, or he has to deal with his own constant urges anyway (we're assuming that the friend is not unattractive), and ensuring that she is not going overboard in treating him as his "asexual boyfriend" will take little or no additional effort. If he's unwilling to do either, the friendship will deteriorate: whether the proximate cause of this is male- or female-manipulation is of little importance.

    As far as I can recall, this is pretty much accepted as standard knowledge in the SC (it would be useful if Hugh Ristik confirmed or denied this).

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  17. But my whole post is detailing how he can *channel* that desire in a way that won't jeopardize the friendship, by having her get him girls indirectly.

    I don't see how the guy would do something similar -- help her find asexual boyfriends indirectly by being seen with him, having him go to bat for her, etc.

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  18. "But my whole post is detailing how he can *channel* that desire in a way that won't jeopardize the friendship"

    By my reading, HR's first post seems to indicate otherwise. He can "channel" his unfulfilled desires to some extent by focusing on other women, but this still requires some effort on his part.

    To his advantage, he's got determination and a clear model of the situation in his mind: can we say the same thing about the average "social retard" who's been taught this strategy in a superficial way? Hopefully he won't fall for the girl in the first place, but then again...

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  19. So what about a friendship between a man and a woman both in committed relationships, and she is more apt to talk about sexual matters? So rather than using him as an asexual boyfriend, she's using him to fulfill a sexual role. Friendship between men and women can involve conversations about sex, but not the act itself, so she keeps talking about it to tease him. Is this a beneficial situation for the man?

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  20. can we say the same thing about the average "social retard" who's been taught this strategy in a superficial way?

    Just give him a mantra to repeat:

    "She's worth to me as a wingman than as a notch on my belt."

    Even if he does want to get with her, he has a rational incentive not to. If it doesn't work for him, then again that's just tough luck.

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  21. "Just give him a mantra to repeat:"

    Fair enough. But honestly, out of all the guys who are being friends with attractive girls and doing all sorts of silly stuff for them, would you say that most of them are resolved to use her as a wingman/value broadcaster/setup arranger etc.? If La Grande Anse's post is any indication, there are far too many guys who have been misled by our popular culture to think that being friends with a girl is a great way to be seen as "boyfriend material" and escalate into a long term relationship.

    This is of course nonsense, but in principle, it seems to create a bit of a problem for anyone who would want to apply your strategy. Especially since one may in fact have to deal with unfulfilled attraction, which is psychologically taxing even for people who are in the best position to do so (which is what I take from Ristik)'s comment).

    Don't get me wrong, this strategy obviously has a lot of merit. It's just not something which can be boiled down to Misesian catallactics and one-line mantras.

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  22. Is this really the typical state of affairs in a male-female platonic relationship? I am currently a male in college, and I have a number of female friendships, though my guy friendships run deeper. Both sets of friends engage me, guys make me laugh, and the girls validate me - not because I feel, OMG, a girl is with me, but because they're consistently laughing at my jokes, and are playful as well, they're fun to talk to. Attractiveness, all else equal, is a huge plus.

    These girls don't come to me with their problems often, and even when they do, I don't dwell on them for long, as I'm a positive person and they don't just don't see me as a nice chump who'll listen to 'em bitch. There are girls who just bitch about their problems, but there are a number of guys too in the same category (tho probably less) - just don't be friends with them.

    I have a perfect mental image of the situation you're describing, but it just seems so unreal and implausible. Maybe I'm just so averse to lusting after female 'friends', that it seems unimaginable. If they reject my advances, I get over my desires for them by flirting/hooking up with other girls.

    Also, in college, it seems the more masculine the men or hotter the girls, the fewer cross-sexual friendships they have, although this effect is bolstered by, perhaps even produced by, the advent of fraternities and sororities.

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  23. I both agree and disagree with this post.
    As a woman who's best friend for years was male and who has a pretty mixed gender group of friends I know for a fact that men and women can JUST be friends even if the girl is pretty/guy is good looking.

    However, I agree that this is nigh impossible if one of them is attracted to the other. That was the key with me and my best friend - I was not attracted to him. Ever. and the feeling was mutual (only into Japanese women) I treated him almost exactly like my female friends (with a few exceptions - actual 'female' matters and clothes shopping etc was not on the social agenda) but playing video games, throwing parties, going to the movies, out to lunch, chatting for ages was identical as long as most of your interests are aligned.

    What you describe is NOT friendship. A woman using a man for lifts, money, etc is not treating you like a boyfriend she's not having sex with - she's treating you like an idiot and I'd put money on her trying the same things with her female friend. She's a leech and I'd dump her as a friend too.

    A man who feels he 'deserves' sexual favours for being friends with a woman (talking, spending time together as friends etc) is NOT being a friend/Nice guy - he is being a manipulative asshole.

    In short - platonic friendships are possible. But look nothing like what you've described at all. God knows what kind of women you hang out with.

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