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Can Men and Women REALLY Just Be Friends?

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WOMAN AND MAN
Robert Deutschman via Getty Images

By Kelly Coleman for KnowMore.tv/GalTime

This month marks the 25th anniversary of when the classic rom-com When Harry Met Sally debuted in theaters and captured our hearts. The film follows main characters Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) through years of friendship -- until one night of drunken passion changes their relationship which eventually turns into love.

Was Harry right to question whether men and women could really just be friends without "the sex part getting in the way," or can certain friendships remain platonic? Since there's been a countless number of famous friends-turned-lovers on the big and small screen, we turned to three experts to get their take on whether or not it's possible to be 'just friends'.

So Can Men and Women Keep Their Relationship Platonic?

Non-sexual and non-romantic relationships between people are absolutely possible -- despite what our culture depicts. "Friendships, unlike romantic relationships, aren't as interesting in a sex-obsessed, commodity-ridden culture like ours," says psychotherapist Silvia M. Dutchevici, MA, LCSW, founder of Critical Therapy Center in New York City.

Today's society plants the idea of friends turning into romantic interests in our heads, making it difficult for some to recognize a platonic friendship. "When we value friendship for the sake of collaboration and community, rather than sex, then friendships can flourish."

How to Identify "Just a Friend"

Men and women can be 'just friends,' but there are some criteria, according to relationship expert David Coleman, also known as The Dating Doctor, and author of Date Smart!: How to Stop Revolving and Start Evolving in Your Relationships.

"If you're physically attracted, romantically interested, or if they can make you jealous by what they say or do with other people, you can't be just friends,' says Coleman.

In fact, he believes that there are six strict criteria for someone -- anyone -- to be considered a "true friend." A true friend is rare; the time spent together is effortless; neither party keeps score about anything serious; there is no gossip; no jealousy; and there's always a judgment-free zone between the two of you.

"If your 'friend' expresses interest in another friend of yours, you wouldn't hesitate to introduce them," explains Coleman. "But if you feel saddened or threatened by their interest in your other friend, then you're simply NOT 'just friends' with this person -- there are feelings there!"

So If You Can't Be "Just Friends' Should You Take Things to The Next Level?

If you determine that you are in fact crushing on a friend, KnowMore's relationship expert Dr. Jane Greer, author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, advises you to consider the intensity of your friendship before revealing your true feelings.

If you see this friend infrequently and in unimportant settings -- let's say you play bridge with this person once a month -- then you probably don't have anything to lose by revealing your feelings. If things go south after your confrontation, well, you never saw them that much anyway!

If this person is a close friend with whom you interact frequently, then think before you act. Are you willing to risk giving up all contact with this person if your feelings make them feel uncomfortable? If you're struggling to answer this question, start by distancing yourself from your friend-crush. "If you're pining after them every time you hang out, you may develop feelings of frustration and your interactions may even become unpleasant to you," says Dr. Greer.

To gauge your friend-crush's feelings without outright spilling the beans, try to slip a few select phrases into conversation and judge their responses. If you've already taken the distancing yourself step, explain your motivation in a suggestive and playful way.

Dr. Greer suggests, "If I keep seeing you I might fall in love with you." Listen carefully to their response. David Coleman thinks simply slipping, "Do you ever think we could be more than friends?" into conversation. If they say no, laugh it off and say, "Me neither!" On the other hand... maybe they won't say no!

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