Men and Women Can Be Friends, In Pop Culture From ‘Wedding Crashers’ to ‘Mad Men,’ As In Life

Essayist William Deresiewicz has a fascinating look at the evolution of friendship between men and women in the New York Times—and a suggestion for why we don’t see these friendships in popular culture:

So if it’s common now for men and women to be friends, why do we so rarely see it in popular culture? Partly, it’s a narrative problem. Friendship isn’t courtship. It doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories about friendships of any kind are relatively rare, especially given what a huge place the relationships have in our lives. And of course, they’re not sexy. Put a man and a woman together in a movie or a novel, and we expect the sparks to fly. Yet it isn’t just a narrative problem, or a Hollywood problem.

This isn’t entirely true, of course: friendships have narratives and experience strains and uncertainties that can be just as impactful and interesting to explore as the stresses of new romantic connections. And one of the hallmarks of the Frat Pack and Judd Apatow is that they treat male friendships with that level of significance. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy’s growing connections with his coworkers, and the various ways in which they’re alternately respectful and insensitive, are the catalyst for him to develop his love life, and their friendships are almost as important as his first adult romantic relationship. In Wedding Crashers, John and Jeremy are the most important people in each other’s lives, and the movie is about how those friendships have to change when they start treating women as potentially permanent additions to their lives instead of as temporary interludes. I Love You, Man treats the process of finding a best friend as if it’s as significant as the quest for a permanent partner.

And even if you don’t want to do a 90-minute exploration of friendship in a movie, or believe that friendships are inherently less dramatic than romantic partnering (which strikes me as somewhat strange), that’s not an argument against including friendships between men and women on television, where they can be an established part of the background dynamic rather than foregrounded. New Girl, after a rocky start, has settled into a nice dynamic between Jess and her roommates, and has dealt with the sexual tension question by having the characters be honest about the fact that it exists while also being clear that they don’t intend to act on it. One of the many virtues of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, which debuts on ABC this Wednesday, is that it features a significant friendship between a man and a woman, the equally funny Krysten Ritter and James Van Der Beek. Peggy Olson and Don Draper are arguably friends on Mad Men, and this season’s Game of Thrones involves Arya’s friendships—or at least alliances—with men. These kinds of stories are far from impossible to tell. It’s not as if men and women who are friends are fictional creatures who have to be conjured into existence.