There have been a few times that I’ve introduced a friend to my favorite TV show 30 Rock and in the first few minutes of the show, they ask me, “Are Jack and Liz an ‘item’? Do they ever hook up?” And as I think both of these fictional characters would react, “No! Yuck!” While their relationship is filled with respect, adoration and playfulness, it is also completely platonic. While this may only be odd because this show exists in the ‘sex sells’ mantra’d prime-time television, male-female friendships in the real world don’t escape unharmed. (or male-male, female-female- awkward doesn’t discriminate)
Now, if you spent a day living in my brain, you would notice that I never miss an opportunity to relate my life to 30 Rock/Tina Fey. About once a week I find myself trying to retell a joke from the show that barely relates to the current conversation topic. I have had two male bosses for the past two years and I’ve felt they’ve been pretty symbiotic relationships. Both of these bosses are happily married to beautiful women. So naturally I’ve sort of seen these men as my Jack Donaghy’s, perhaps with a poorer sense of comedic timing, but supportive nonetheless.
When I lived in South Africa, that was probably the biggest cultural difference I struggled with. Especially among the isiXhosa, there was an understanding that if any male and female were alone together, hanky-panky was involved. No exceptions. I found I had to keep things superficial with men. There were even a few times where my being friendly was wrongly interpreted as “let’s get it on!” Awkward.
I’ve talked to monks about how freeing they’ve found celibacy to be- that in all of their relationships, because sex was 100% off-the-table, they felt able to connect on a deeper level. That is admirable. This is inspiring. This is not for me. Someday, I fully intend the enjoy the full range of marital benefits, but for the 2,999,999,999 men out there who aren’t my future husband, let’s just be friends. Really.
But I hope this is a sign of progress of the women’s movement: that we’ve come to a time where men and women who aren’t related can possibly, no, normally have worthwhile relationships that have nothing to do with sex. Perhaps (and this is a really long stretch) Jack and Liz’s mentor/mentee relationship is a modern day Jesus and the woman at the well in that we should see a person for the beautiful person they are, and not that labels our culture likes to put on them. That our gender doesn’t put limitations on loving your neighbor.