Society is a complex organism that functions due to the interaction of its elements. The type of interactions depends on the social groups and particular social characteristics of the individuals. Gender is one of such important characteristics. It determines many aspects of a relationship. Therefore, cross-gender friendship is an intriguing phenomenon, which follows the behavioral patterns of both men and women in their efforts to maintain their relationship platonic. While the purpose of cross-gender friendships is identical (“talk” is reported as the primary purpose”), the outcomes can vary (Felmlee, 1999). Some relationships remain platonic until the end, however, often they transform into a romantic relationship. This research will try to determine main reasons of “staying friends” together with the ways of dealing with sexual tensions in the opposite-sex relationships. Supposedly, it will lead one to understanding the position of sexual boundaries in the relationships. For this research, the method of content analysis of existing data will be used. Analysis of the five movies about cross-gender friendships is expected to be a sufficient ground for the appropriate research findings for two reasons. On the one hand, movies reflect the social tendencies, on the other hand, they shape them.
The first movie is a popular sitcom Friends. According to the plot, six roommates, three males and three females, usually spend a lot of time together. The names of the characters are Ross, Joey, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe and Rachel. According to the plot, these six adults share such characteristics of good old friends as trust, loyalty, commitment, tolerance, respect, consideration, affection, self-disclosure, and assistance (Felmlee & Muraco, 2009). These features constitute sufficient grounds to determine this type of relationships as friendship. However, some characters cross the line of just platonic relationships as the plot uncovers. In particular, Rachel and Ross become involved in an on-again-off-again relationship throughout the series. At the end of the first season, revelation of their romantic feelings comes accidentally when they realize they like each other. At the same time, Monica and Chandler actually fall in love with each other after spending a night together. At first, they hide their new relationship from their friends. It speaks of the Network Disapproval reason for maintenance platonic relationship (Messman et al., 2000). Relationship of Monica and Chandler results in their marriage later. The eighth season also shows how Joey falls in love with Rachel. Though they date for a short time, they decide to become friends again. The reason is they do not want to lose their friendship, and Rachel is still involved emotionally into the relationship with Ross. Therefore, two reasons for maintaining platonic relationships work here, that of Safeguard Relationship and the involvement of third party (Messman et al., 2000). Thus, Friends support the idea that cross-gender relationships gradually lead to romantic relationships if there are no precautions to it.
Movies like Friends support a common opinion that cross-gender relationships cannot last forever. One day they have to develop into romantic ones. One might suppose that My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts supports the same idea. However, this first impression would be wrong. According to the plot, Juliana and Michael had a love affair during their student years, and they stayed friends after that. They had been friends for nine years until Michael suddenly decided to marry another woman. Being a good friend, Michael invites Juliana to his wedding. Juliana sets off to her best friend’s wedding with an intention to ruin it because of a sudden enlightenment that she loves him. Juliana faces the challenge how to tell the others about her attitude to Michael. Messman mentions this particular challenge as follows, “One frequently cited challenge to heterosexual opposite-sex friends concerns the difficulties that arise in presenting the friendship as platonic to others and in dealing with issues of sexuality” (Messman et al., 2000). The movie shows that Juliana cannot control her feelings and her sexual attraction. However, she surrenders as the reason of the third party stops her. She realizes she cannot prevent this wedding, and makes the decision to maintain their friendship. Accordingly, this movie shows that platonic relationships can be maintained despite physical attraction.
Sometimes opposite-sex friends can discover their physical attraction spontaneously. This is particularly the idea of a movie Just Go with It with Jenifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. According to the plot, main characters Danny and Catherin work together in a plastic surgery clinic. Being Danny’s assistant Catherin knows him well. They behave like good old friends though they just work together. According to Messman, they follow most of the strategies of maintenance of platonic relationships, such as support, no flirting, shared activities, openness, avoidance, and positivity (Messman et al., 2000). Under force majeure circumstances, Danny and Catherine have to simulate their marriage to achieve their own goals. Danny wants to impress his new girlfriend, and Catherine needs to safe her face in front of her old “friend” Devlin. Fake marriage performance leads the couple to understanding that they love each other. It shows that friendships “develop and dissolve in part on the basis whether expectations embedded are met or broken” (Felmlee & Muraco, 2009). While Danny and Catherine had strictly professional expectations concerning each other, their friendship lasted. Nevertheless, as soon as they broke those expectations, their relationship changed. After watching this movie, it is easy to conclude that cross-gender friendships last until one of the partners becomes physically attracted to another. Besides, it conveys the idea that sexual tension is impossible to resist.
However, the cinema industry offers another solution of the sexual tensions in cross-gender friendship. According to the movie Friends with Benefits with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, sexual tension can be grounds for friendship. Protagonists of this movie, Dylan and Jamie, maintain platonic relationships while sleeping with each other. They make something like an agreement to have intercourse that would not cancel their efforts to maintain their friendship. Thus, they introduce their own social norms. As Felmlee poses it, “content of friendship norms may be contradictory at times, may not be fully understood, and may vary depending on factors such as the gender of the individuals involved” (Felmlle, 1999). Besides, Jamie and Dylan do not want to start a new relationship due to their recent breakup of the previous one. However, they discover that they like to spend time together, and they do not want to end their communication. Therefore, their behavior corresponds to Messman’s findings. They maintain their relationship as platonic because of Time Out and Safeguard Relationship reasons (Messman et al., 2000). Nevertheless, the surrounding notices the attraction that Dylan and Jamie feel to each other. Dylan’s relatives encourage him to confess about his feelings and so he does. It appears that they have fallen in love but had no spirit to admit it. This movie states that physical attraction is the first signal of a romantic relationship instead of a platonic one. Physical attraction and platonic relationships are incompatible.
Sexual challenge is, however, completely absent in Sex and the City movie. Here, viewers may observe the development of the cross-gender friendship between the protagonist Carrie Bradshaw and her gay friend Stanford Blatch. He is often referred to as the show’s “Fifth Lady,” being Carrie’s best friend outside of the three female friends. Carrie and Stanford have a long-standing relationship built on their pastimes. It seems that Stanford is a supportive and understanding friend, who is always ready to listen and give some advice to Carrie. Furthermore, he has a unique understanding of Carrie’s dating dilemmas since he also has bad luck with men. As long as Stanford has no heterosexual preferences, he cannot consider his best friend as a partner. As a result, first Messman’s reason works here, Carrie and Stanford are not attracted to each other (Messman et al., 2000). Their opposite-sex friendship does not present challenges such as negotiating the nature of emotional and sexual bonds (Felmlee, 1999). Thus, this movie supports the idea that cross-gender friendships are possible when sexual tension is removed completely from a relationship due to the sexual orientations of the both man and woman.
After the short review of five movies, the following conclusions can be drawn. According to Messman, “opposite-sex friends spend considerable energies dealing with sexual tensions, such as that the management of sexual issues becomes the central maintenance control” (Messman, 2000). This idea is true towards the first four movies (Friends, Just Go with It, Friends with Benefits and My Best Friend’s Wedding). At the same time, when the sexual tension is absolutely excluded from a relationship, as in Sex and City, there is no need in central maintenance control. The opposite-sex friendship is a common and intriguing relationship. Some opposite-sex relationships involve sexual attraction while others involve attraction of the spirit, not the body. Opposite-sex friends maintain relationships as platonic for such reasons as absence of physical attraction, network disapproval, unwillingness to start new relationships, for the safeguard relationship, or because of the third party involved. They can differ in maintenance strategies; however, they are expected to come to the same result. According to contemporary movies, cross-gender friendships are doomed to develop eventually into a romantic relationship.
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