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Can Men and Women Really Just Be Friends (At Work)?

Lifestyle |

In the new film Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play best friends who work at a Chicago brewery together. They are extremely close, despite both having significant others, and both being extremely attractive. However, that gets a little complicated when Wilde’s character and her boyfriend breakup.

It’s obvious from the start of the film that this relationship is anything but complex. Because the two characters work so closely together, their relationship is extremely intimate. It is one thing for men and women to be friends socially, but when it comes to the workplace, the male-female dynamic can reach a whole new level of intimacy, especially during those hard late 20s years. Does working together add in a whole new dynamic to the age-old question: Can men and women really just be friends? Let’s discuss.

Though Nora Ephron gets the credit for asking this question most of the time in her amazing film When Harry Met Sally, this is something that I am pretty sure the cavemen were wondering as well when they went out hunting and gathering back in the day. But speaking of film, movies like Drinking Buddies and pop culture in general does stress the message that there will always be sexual tension between those of the opposite sex, especially if both the man and the woman in said relationship are heterosexual and not married (and in the movies, it often doesn’t matter if a ring is involved). Michael Monsour, assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado at Denver and author of Women and Men as Friends, told Psychology Today, “Almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance.”

A few that come to mind would be Jim and Pam on “The Office,”  Castle and Beckett on “Castle,” Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt on “Parks & Recreation,” and everyone on “Mad Men” at some point. The list could go on forever. The media stresses that eventually our basic human instincts will take over, or one of the people in the relationship will harbor a secret passion for the other that eventually changes the nature of the entire relationship.

Television and film depictions may not be far off though in choosing the work setting for these intimate relationships, because work can be a very intimate place. It is where we spend most of our time, and, on television, often it is literally where characters spend all their time. At work you go through a lot. Not only the stresses of the job, but your coworkers are often there when a family member dies, or a breakup occurs, or you are just having a really terrible day.

And romance does often play occur in the workplace. Nearly 40 percent of people have dated coworkers, according to a survey from Career Builder, and one-third have married a coworker. Nearly two-thirds of workers have, or have had, a “work spouse,” a close co-worker of the opposite sex who shares confidences, loyalties, and experiences, according to a survey of 640 white-collar workers. The relationship goes beyond just discussing office matters; more than half of these pairs discuss health issues or at-home problems, and 35 percent even talk about their sex lives, says the survey by Captivate Network, a digital-programming company.

Even if a male-female relationship is platonic, your coworkers will often automatically suspect it is not. “Perception is reality. While the relationship may be completely appropriate, the perception is that it is not and it can damage someone’s career,” Dan Moran, president of Next-Act in Colonie, told The Times Union.

If you’re close friends with someone of the opposite sex at work, be careful. While I think men and women can be just friends at work, the lines often get blurry, and the relationship can get a little trickier. For the sake of both your career and your co-worker’s career, proceed with caution.

Ask Levo Mentor Charreah Jackson, Relationships Editor at Essence magazine, if she thinks men and women can just be friends.

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Topics

coworkers marriage personal relationships

3 Comments

I can see how work relationships could certainly get tricky between men and women... interesting statistics in this article!

2y

It's so tricky, too, how different men and women are and how differently they percieve sex and relationships. I have a boyfriend who is very cool with my male friends from work, but is quick to tell me that they definitely would sleep with me if I was single and/or wanted to. I'd like to think that isn't true because I really value the friendships, but I can't help but wonder what to think because I have heard from many men - both friends and boyfriends - over the years that even when men have female friends, there is still an underlying sexual tone, no matter how innocent the relationship is.

This is what I have done: I once read a book about marriage and learned about "work husbands and wives" and how to ensure they don't lead to adultery. Keep your work relationship to windows, and not doors. Tell him about your day, your annoying boss, your crazy workload, a girlfriend you want to hook him up with. Things that most people know and can see through a window. Keep anything truly personal about yourself, your partner and sex life to yourself. Once you open up that door and let him in, he will know your hardships and weaknesses and may swoop in to "help" you.

2y

Hmmm very interesting article--really got me thinking. Kelsey I love the windows and doors analogy-makes a lot of sense to me!

2y
Meredith Lepore

Meredith is the Editor at Large for Levo League. Before that she was the Editor in Chief of The Grindstone and was on staff at Business Insider. She has written for magazines including Marie Claire, SELF, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Meredith resides in New York full time and enjoys SoulCycle, jogging and playing with her Yorkshire Terrier Otis, who also loves SoulCycle.