Living Madly: Just Friends

Photo credit: Kampus Production

Living Madly: Just Friends

By Emilie-Noelle Provost

In the 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally, Harry Burns, the character played by Billy Crystal, famously says, “. . . men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” I know some people believe this, but I’ve never found maintaining a platonic friendship with a person of the opposite sex to be a problem.

Among the friends I’ve been fortunate to have throughout my life, a small but significant number have been men. A few of my male friends have been gay, but most were not. I dated a couple of the men I’m friends with for a while before we became friends, which is sort of the opposite of what Harry Burns believes to be true. But most of the men I’ve been friends with have just been, well, friends.

My friend Tony is a good example. I met him during my senior year of college after he transferred to my university from another school. We were both enrolled in the same Chinese history class and often talked during breaks. We quickly discovered we had a lot of common interests, and before long we became friends.

One of my favorite things about Tony was his frequent use of certain phrases in everyday conversations. I can still hear him saying, “I’ll buy that for a dollar,” whenever he heard or read something he found interesting. If he had to take on a task he thought would be challenging, he’d say, “Looks like it’s time to run with the big dogs.” He’d also say this to anyone he thought needed to pull themselves together or who needed to learn how to be more mature or responsible.

Like any friend I’ve had, Tony had his quirks. He used to steal sugar and ketchup packets from restaurants. He kept a large stash of these in his dorm room that, as far as I know, he never used. But he was a great person to talk to, especially when I needed advice about men or dating. We used to talk to each other about everything. He’d always pick up the phone if I needed to vent, even in the middle of the night.

My friendship with Tony was entirely non-romantic. He came to my wedding. When he got married, I sent him and his wife a Lenox vase. We haven’t seen each other in a while, but if we did, I’m sure he’d say, “How’ve you been, Jerkie?” which is the way he used to greet people he liked.

Most of the men I’m friends with these days are married to women with whom I’m also friends. One of these is my friend Tom. Although Tom and I are almost always with our respective spouses when we see each other (our spouses are also friends), we’ve gone hiking together in the White Mountains by ourselves on a few occasions.

On one such trip last fall, Tom and I were hiking toward Mount Hancock when we came across an older man who was hiking with his dog. As people on mountain trails often do, we stopped to say hello. “Is this your wife?” the man asked after he and Tom had been chatting for a minute.

“No, we’re just friends,” Tom said.

“She must be your ‘trail wife’ then,” the man laughed.

“No, we’re just friends. We’ve known each other a long time,” Tom said.

As brief as this interaction was, something about it bothered me for days afterward. When I was finally able to put my finger on it, I realized the thing I found disturbing was that by assuming Tom and I couldn’t “just” be friends this man had made me feel like I was somehow unworthy of his friendship by virtue of being female.

Although I realize that sexual attraction is a factor in some opposite-sex friendships, I find the idea that men and women can’t be friends without being physically attracted to one another to be sexist. It’s demeaning to women because it discounts qualities such as intelligence, wit, loyalty, strength, and kindness in favor of physical attractiveness.

And although some studies have shown that men are more often attracted to their female friends than women are to their male ones, this attitude is also unfair to men because it implies that they are on the whole incapable of viewing women as anything other than potential sexual partners.

At a time when women’s human and reproductive rights are under assault in many parts of the country, I think it’s more important than ever for men and women to be friends, just friends.

We need to be able to talk to one another honestly about our lives, our challenges, our dreams, our accomplishments, and our disappointments. Our economic, social, and political futures hinge on men and women being able to regard one another as equals. Recognizing and appreciating one another’s abilities to contribute to society based on who we are as individual human beings is critical if our children are to inherit a civilized world.

Men and women can help one another. We can make each other’s lives better, now and in the future. That’s what friends do.

As my friend Tony would say, it looks like it’s time to run with the big dogs.


Emilie-Noelle Provost is the author of The River Is Everywhere, which was released on March 14, 2023, and The Blue Bottlea middle-grade adventure with sea monsters. Learn more about Emilie and her work at


One Response to Living Madly: Just Friends

  1. Karen Stairs says:

    I agree with Emilie! Now more than ever men and women need to be an important part of each other’s lives. As someone over 60, It’s nice to have meaningful friendships…male and female.