Can men and women just be friends?

Does hanging out with someone of the opposite sex put you at risk for falling in love?

Do we choose not to hang out with the opposite sex because we are worried about  hurting our significant other’s feelings? Or is it that don’t we trust ourselves to keep things platonic?

Is everyone on Dancing with the Stars sleeping together?

Is the male-female friendship something the next generation has figured out better than we have?

I’ve been thinking about these questions more extensively since I read William Deresiewicz’s essay, “A Man. A Woman. Just Friends?” in the April 8 edition of The New York Times.

Pan Mass Challenge

The essay also resonated with me, a long distance biker since 1986, who has spent almost two decades biking exclusively with men. It wasn’t until eight years ago, that other women joined my male posse for 20 to 30 mile rides. Until then I hung out with the guys, spending my spring and summer weekends, riding and gabbing with the boys.

My friendships with men started when I met Bob. I was 35 and he was 40 and we were introduced at a birthday dinner for a mutual friend. I had been training alone every weekend for a 200 mile fundraiser bike event called the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) which I have ridden in every August since (26 years) to raise funds for cancer research.

I was thrilled that Bob and I had so much in common as bikers; we compared our average mph and distance, bike routes, gears, pedals and technology. When we made a time to train together our spouses were thrilled that we would no longer be riding alone. And with our spouses’ encouragement, Bob and I became fast friends and regular biking partners.

We soon had two more guys join us, and began training together to ride the PMC. The guys and I loved our training rides during which we shared our life stories, work challenges, parenting issues and pushed each other to ride better, further and faster.  As time went on, it turned out that we were friends with biking benefits.

After a long ride, our spouses met up with us for coffee or brunch. We got together as couples regularly going out for dinner. And after the PMC, we celebrated with our better halves in what we became our annual bikers’ celebration.

All the while, I had no idea there was gossipy buzz around our tightly knit bikersphere. Most people were suspicious of our motives for training together. My girlfriends wanted to know if there was anything between Bob and me. One close friend told me she would never be okay with her husband spending so many of his weekend mornings riding with another woman. But Bob’s wife was totally cool – she even called me Wife #2. Now that some of the wives and other women bike with us, the buzz has quieted down.

But it still surprises me how often the topic of male – female friendships raises eyebrows. Deresiewicz is right to challenge us to re-evaluate our attitudes about these relationships. He writes, “Friendship between the sexes may no longer be a political issue, but it is an issue of liberation … the freedom to love whom you want, in the way that you want.”

I think our kids are ahead of us when it comes to figuring out this gender blend thing. Maybe Title IX, with its emphasis on equality of the sexes in higher education and college athletics programs, has enabled our boys and girls to share hockey rinks and playgrounds without a second thought. Or maybe it’s just that time has caught up with our desire to be more of a community. My guess is our kids won’t be whispering about male-female friendships when they’re older; they’ll be celebrating these relationships.

The truth is, our friendships are precious and by allowing the gender gap to fade, it does feel better as we move forward into our next phase as BA50’s. This is a time when our connections should expand, our playmates multiply and our lives feel fuller.

If I’m being naïve, please don’t tell me. I’m having too much fun with all of my friends.

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