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Can Men and Women Ever Just Be Friends? An Investigation

We asked some smart friends why they aren't shagging.

From Taylor Swift's squad to the real life friendships of the actors who played the friends in Friends, there's no denying that friends are a hot commodity right now. Even Prince Harry has been spotted indulging in the hobby of having friends, suggesting that, incredibly, this phenomenon transcends barriers such as wealth and class.

You may be thinking that friendship is now so mainstream that VICE writers couldn't possibly have friends. But in reality, at least two do. How much can they tell us about friendship in 2016? As it turns out: some. One of us moved across the Atlantic ocean last year, which has meant communication is pretty much limited to the web. And what's wilder: we're not even the same gender! Anyway here's a conversation we somehow duped VICE into paying us to have.

Jack: People are going to think we're insufferable for doing this aren't they?

Emily:Drinking game: one shot for every comment telling us we're cunts, two shots for "narcissistic sociopaths," three for...

Jack: "Mangina." That's one I get a lot. Why don't you ever get called a "shenis"?

Emily: So: what makes a good friendship?

Jack: I think it's a combination of shared interests and hobbies (the first time we met IRL was at a Titus Andronicus gig) and, I dunno, some saccharine shit like "being good at communicating."

Emily: Yeah, I'd agree—someone you can get embarrassingly drunk with at a punk rock show but also someone who'll talk to you about how depressed you are or whatever.

Jack: Isn't talking about feelings the real punk rock? The answer: no.

Emily: Also, in my specific case, I need someone who'll be around at 4 AM to be like, "No, Emily, you're not going to give up writing to become a rickshaw driver" or "No, Emily, do not sleep with that guy with the bad tweets."

Jack: Here's a question which obviously I already know the answer to, but humour me: can men and women ever really just be friends?

Emily: I actually find it super confusing that this is still a relevant question in 2016. Obviously men and women can just be friends. OBVIOUSLY. The idea that two people can't hang out and not immediately or eventually want to bone is frankly pretty weird to me, but there's still a whole thinkpiece industry that runs on articles repeatedly asking this question in slightly different ways.

Sorry, had to.

Jack: Why do you think so many people still believe it?

Emily: I think a lot of it is to do with the way we think about gender roles and what those roles mean. Like, feminism has given women the language to talk about their identity and where that identity fits within a gendered hierarchy, but I don't think men have been given a vocabulary in the same way. Which means that a lot of us still don't really know where and how we sit in the world in relation to the opposite sex, and we just don't know how to have those conversations. What do you think?

Jack: That, or people are just really fucking stupid. But I guess it leads us to the killer question: Have you ever fancied me?

Emily: No.

Jack: Jesus, you answered that quickly.

Emily: Why, have you ever fancied me?

Jack: It'd be awkward now if I said yes, wouldn't it? But honestly, no, by the time we met I was in the very happy relationship I'm still in, so that was never even something that crossed my mind.

Here's some more British friends. Photo via Warner Bros.

Emily: There's this cliche that girlfriends hate their boyfriends having female friends, but me and your girlfriend really get on. I guess it goes back to what I was saying about gender roles—even though it's 2016 and everyone has ~progressive politics~, when it comes to relationships between men and women these really hackneyed and outdated stereotypes start emerging, where women are jealous, nagging crones who secretly think of other women as their competition, and men are these gross, dead-eyed perverts who can't stop themselves staring at their best friend's rack.

Jack: It's weird, but there are people who genuinely think like that. I wonder how many good friendships have been ruined because of unreasonable jealousy on the part of someone's partner?

Emily: I think one interesting thing about our friendship is that it's a really good example of how modern friendships have changed and morphed because of the internet. Since you moved to Canada, the vast majority of our interactions have been online—which I guess is just an exaggerated example of how a lot of people interact with their friends now.

Jack: If anything, we probably talk way more than friends would have pre-internet, and I get that that's not everything when it comes to friendship but it's a massive chunk. We didn't meet IRL for the best part of a year after we got to know each other online, and when we did it was fun and not awkward and we just clicked.

I think attitudes around this have changed a lot in our lifetime and while some people get weirdly nostalgic about real-life interactions—do you remember how awful that was? We live in a time when even the most socially awkward weirdos can have a broad group of friends. And isn't that what the internet is about, a bunch of nerds helping each other out?

Emily: That's also where mental health comes in, I guess. The internet is such a good conduit for talking about this shit; there's stuff I can say to you online that I probably wouldn't just announce to you if we were sat in the pub or going to a gig or whatever. Online, I've opened with "Oh boy, I feel really suicidal"—there is no way that I'd lead with that IRL without couching it in about an hour's worth of bleak, unfunny jokes beforehand. Talking remotely means I can actually express that stuff immediately, even when I'm unable to deal with face-to-face interaction. I have the same thing with some friends who live in Berlin, and they're now an absolutely vital part of my support system even though I see them way less than loads of my friends who live in the same country; the internet is a vital part of facilitating those conversations.

Here's some more friends who never hooked up in an unfortunate series finale. Photo via Fox.

Jack: Yeah, I'm a big advocate for people talking to their friends but in reality it's often difficult to do that in person. I love the detachment that comes with the online world—somehow it's way easier to type stuff out than to say it aloud.


Emily: The relationship between the internet and mental health isn't perfect, but the fact that it basically gives you a lifeline to talk to someone—especially someone in a different time zone who's up when you're having a 4 AM breakdown—is invaluable. I remember one time my drink was spiked at a party, and because it wasn't also 5 in the morning where you were, you were there and talked me through it and helped me out the next day when I felt like shit. It was an experience that I would have otherwise have to have dealt with alone, and I think it's an incident that's kind of symptomatic of the kind of friendships that the internet fosters.

Jack: On the subject of being there for each other, we've both written books and come to this stage of our lives at the same time. Do you think there's been any tension? I mean, statistically speaking, one of these books is probably going to do better than the other.

Emily: Yeah, I have to admit I get panicked and jealous about your book because I know how great it is. But all friendships have tension over something, right? One person will always be doing better in their career or in their relationship or whatever. I think it's just realizing that the issue is yours, rather than the other person's—knowing that when you're jealous it's a problem with your own insecurities rather than anything the other person is projecting. It comes back to what you said about communication, which sounds really corny but is annoyingly true?

Jack: Also, beneath all that, there is very much a sense of pride. And though it pains me to say it I often struggle to comprehend that I get to be friends with such an interesting and cool person. I mean, you're terrible in so many ways too, don't get me wrong, but it is nice. You could say that the real friendship... is the friends we made along the way.

Emily: I hate you.

Become friends with Jack and Emily on Twitter.