Jackie, 34, a married woman, recently tickled this writer with an encounter she had with her husband. She says she almost exchanged blows with him over a mobile phone gift bought for her by a man who she considers ‘just a friend’ on her birthday.
That she accepted a phone from another man angered her husband so much so that he almost unleashed terror on her.
“Almost a year ago, a friend of mine who had sympathised with me because of the mulika mwizi (simple phone) he had seen me with for long, bought me a smart phone after I jokingly asked him to buy me one for my birthday. Little did I know it was going to land me in trouble with my husband,” she says.
Gifts from men
She tells me that she casually explained the source of the phone to her husband not knowing that doing so would bring out the beast in him. Never mind, she says, that he had refused to buy her a better phone, even after nagging him to do so.
“He snatched it and flung it on the ground while yelling at me, prompting protracted verbal combat. He told me in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as ‘just a friend’.
He proceeded to lecture and warn me against ever receiving gifts from men. To him, men and women can never be ‘just friends’. He warned that such men always have an agenda, and that they are very ‘dangerous’ but pretend to be ‘harmless’”, she explains.
Since then, Jackie says, she tries her level best not to have close, male friends, just for the sake of her marriage because her husband is very jealous.
Many other tales have been told of men and women who claim to be ‘just friends’, who regularly meet over coffee as they catch-up. Needless to say some even lightly touch each other’s hands to make a point, but insist there is nothing more to it than friendship. But the a million dollar question is this, can a man and woman simply be platonic friends? A simple enough question but one that has plagued humanity since time in memorial.
While one side argues that even the notion of men and women being friends is absurd and laughable, another school of thought argues that those who believe men and women can’t be friends come from the dark ages where women stayed at home to cook and clean while men went out to work. In that kind of set up, the only way both sexes could be friends was when they needed each other for romance or procreation.
However, times have changed. Both men and women are in the workplace and they need more from one another, other than just sex.
Crystal Kimeto, 29, a businesswoman, is of the school of thought that men and women can be friends without anything sexual.
“Before I met my husband I was very close with my ex, after our relationship did not work we surprisingly became very good friends. And I had no problem with it. My husband knew about our friendship all along.
“However, just after we got married last year my husband banned our friendship. He told me that married women should not have friends of the opposite sex. I now talk to him secretly, and we even meet once in a while for lunch, but my husband does not know. There is nothing wrong we are doing and I refuse to feel guilty. After all, I knew him even before my husband,” says Crystal.
Amos Kariuki, 44, a businessman seems to disagree and does not believe that women and men can simply be friends. This is what he has to say: “Men want to sleep with women, plain and simple. The rest are sideshows. No matter how you put it, no man is happy just being friends with a woman. Men always have ulterior motives. What is there to gain in that kind of relationship, anyway.
There is not a single woman in my social circle that is so bad looking that I would not want to have relations with if given the chance. Men do not randomly just make friends with women, especially attractive ones. Unless such women are their friends’ wives or girlfriends,” he explains.
He adds: “Otherwise if you see a man, claiming to be ‘just friends’ with a woman three things are very possible. Either, they have had relations, he is hoping to have relations (for instance, when her marriage fails) or he doesn’t find her attractive enough to have relations!”
Recipe for disaster
Justus Ogolla, a Uuniversity student, agrees with Amos and says that no man wants to be ‘friend zoned’. He says there is always more to those kinds of friendships.
“Why would I want to be ‘just friends’ with a girl? No man will voluntarily stay in the ‘friend zone’ with a girl, if he remains there then he is always hoping to take things to the next level. I mean, what is in it for me? I take her out for coffee, dancing, assist her financially and I get nothing in return? Forget it!” he scoffs.
On the other hand Caro Kimani a psychology student says friendship with the opposite sex, especially when one is in a relationship or married is a recipe to disaster.
“Friendship usually comes with emotional intimacy which excludes others. And when a man or woman who are in a relationship share intimate feelings with a third party, then that creates a wedge in their relationship. And lets us be adults and not pretend, emotional intimacy more often than not leads to physical intimacy. That is simply how we are wired as humans,” explains Caro.
However, Juliet Mbatia who works at an insurance company does not understand what all the hullabaloo is all about men and women being platonic friends.
“Men and women can be friends without anything sexual. All my closest friends are men. I have many close friends, some married, others in serious relationships and others single but nothing has ever happened between us. Come on, this is 2014 we are not living in the dark ages,” says Juliet.
Juliet is currently single, and says that the women in her male friend’s lives are confident that nothing is going on between their men and her. She says they understand she is just a friend.
“Not long ago, I went out with one of my male friends who has a girlfriend, we had fun and I drank too much and because I couldn’t make it to my place, I ended up staying at his house and nothing happened. We both slept in separate bed and in the morning we had breakfast and he dropped me at my house,” explains Juliet. But if she was high, if something had happened, would she be in a position to remember it?
Nick Mutula, an administrator, says that men and women can only be friends in the land of happily ever after but not in the real world
“Only in an imaginary world can men and women be friends. And yes, I have female friends but they fall in three categories - exes, women I have slept with or friends with benefits - there is nothing like a platonic friendship between men and women; those are just dreams girls make up in their heads.
“Women need to understand that if a man is making an effort to hang out with you, it is probably not just ‘as friends’. He is a patient wolf in sheep’s clothing, merely accepting friendship, while waiting for his moment to strike. Most men who pretend to be ‘just friends’ with women are just wolves in sheep’s clothing,” says Nick.
“I had a girlfriend who tried to pull that ‘I-have-a-male-best-friend’ on me, I told her off and threatened to also go out and get myself a female best friend, she got nervous! It is very simple: If a man is friends with a woman he wants to date her, and if she is taken, he just wants to have a good time with her. There’s nothing like ‘just friends’,” continues Nick.
When it comes to this very burning and often controversial question on whether men and women can simply be friends without any romantic or sexual feelings coming into play, everyone has an opinion and probably a story to share of how it worked or did not work; and the stories can go on and on.
However, over the years, psychologists and relationship experts have argued that women, unlike men, believe that the sexes can be ‘just friends’ and keep it strictly platonic.