If the most famous line in When Harry Met Sally… is “I’ll have what she’s having,” the most famous assertion is that men and women can never be friends. “The sex part,” according to Harry, “always gets in the way.” Although Sally vehemently protests this claim, Harry turns out to be right. After a decades-long friendship, sex does get in the way, and then it’s just a matter of time before Harry and Sally’s relationship goes from platonic to romantic.
Harry’s pessimism is seconded not only by the outcome of Nora Ephron’s film but by the American entertainment industry as a whole. Sam Malone and Diane Chambers get together on Cheers; in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julianne realizes she’s in love with her closest friend the day he announces he’s marrying someone else; even Mulder and Scully ultimately find themselves in the sack. Duckie and Andie may never kiss in Pretty in Pink, but Duckie wishes they did.
In the real world, however, Harry seems to have it all wrong. I know, because I’ve experienced such friendships and have seen them all around me. And while the overwhelming majority of academic friendship studies focus on same-sex rather than cross-sex pairings, there is evidence to suggest that men and women can, and do, keep “the sex part” at bay.
Over the next several months, I’ll be researching male-female friendships for a project I’m writing for Slate. I’ll be looking into the history of such friendships, the science of why such relationships might form and of how they work, and the depiction of male-female friendship in our popular culture.
I’m also looking for research subjects: men and women who are close friends and nothing more. If you have a close friend of the opposite sex and might be willing to fill out a short survey and share your story, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In your e-mail, include your age, gender, and the city and state you’re writing from. Please also mention whether you have one or multiple friends of the opposite sex. I look forward to hearing your stories.