So what does it really mean when someone says, "let's just be friends"? I can't speak for all women, but I can speculate based on discussions I've had, and on my thoughts in similar situations:

  1. To politely create or keep distance
  2. To defuse situations where the person feels pressured or scared
  3. Because that's what they've been taught to say in those circumstances
  4. When they have no idea how to say 'no,' or…
  5. Because they're just liars

All too often in a budding relationship, it is the woman who "officially" decides if the relationship will proceed to physical intimacy — not always, or exclusively, but in general that's what I've seen. However, it is almost always the men who hold the ability to both pressure the woman with physical violence, and/or to trash the woman's reputation — regardless of whether everyone knows he's lying or not. We start, therefore, with an unpleasantly imbalanced and unstable power dynamic.

Love's reason's without reason.
W. Shakespeare

What happens as the relationship progresses? A woman can simply leave open the possibility of sexual intimacy with the guy, and he'll most likely hang around hopefully for a while. But if she later honestly decides a sexual relationship is in fact not going to work, and tells the guy, "let's just be friends," she then runs the risk of being labeled a nasty tease by him — for telling the truth.

Obviously this is a bad choice for her, since it's commonly the case she'll also be viciously slandered behind her back by the angry guy. Situations like this occur because someone (in this example, the guy) assumed there was more of a relationship than actually existed — and is humiliated to find out he is so very wrong. It's always wisest to not assume, believe me. Doing so results in far fewer damaged fragile egos.

Alternatively, the woman can state flat out there won't be any sex in the relationship. If the guy doesn't immediately leave, and she later decides sexual intimacy is indeed a possibility, the guy will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

So better by far from the woman's point of view, to always say there's probably no hope, by using the phrase, "let's just be friends." Worthwhile guys will stick around because they want to be friends first anyway. Shallow guys will leave immediately, and are no loss.

That's an example of using the phrase to politely keep or create distance. If the person is pushed for sex and ends up feeling pressured or scared, the phrase can easily be used to try to defuse the situation. It would be simple for this to slide into the next example, of saying, "let's just be friends," because the person is being pressured for sex, has no interest whatsoever, and has no idea how to say no.

Take the example phrase I've heard guys use, "If you really loved me, we'd make love." This can be delivered with great soulfulness, or while leaning over the woman, or shouted angrily, or spoken teasingly. Faced with that statement, and depending on how it was emotionally delivered, a woman might feel uninterested, disbelieving, pressured, frightened, or amused. Her emotional state would then be reflected in the timbre of her reply of, "Let's just be friends then, all right?"

And as a good male friend noted while reading this, "Serves him right!" ;-)

As the above shows, it's easy for there to be multiple reasons to use the phrase, and multiple ways to do so.

So let's say the guy hangs around with women who don't immediately want to sleep with him. Weirdly, there's a faction of our society which considers that guy a sap. I don't know why, though, since usually the so-called "sap" ends up with a lot of great women friends.

Furthermore, have you noticed women often tend to hang out with other women? What a clever way for a guy to not only learn more about what women want, but also to meet a lot of nice women.

What explanation might there be for the last reason — that they're just liars? I've not actually seen this myself — I don't hang around a lot of women much — but I've talked to someone who's had it used on him for this reason. He didn't have an explanation of why they'd choose to do this, but he did have some rather sad examples, which I try to reproduce here.

Remember how I mentioned a man hanging around other women in order to be their friend and to be near someone he's interested in? Well, according to this guy I talked to, women are often quite cliquish, and won't date someone once any other woman friend has dated him, or even expressed any interest in him. Also, some women won't date guys they're friends with.

Sometimes these women aren't even willing to just talk to a guy if they know a friend is dating him. Again, I don't know why. However, under those circumstances it's easier for the woman to say, "let's just be friends," or "oh, you're too nice to date," or "I don't want to ruin our friendship." They don't mean what they're saying — they just want the guy to leave them alone.

It's emotional cowardice, true, but it's apparently easier for them (in the short run) to lie in a socially face-saving fashion, rather than being honest and saying they're really not interested in you either as a friend or sexually, or exploring their own feelings as to why they feel friends can't be lovers.

Curiously, these are often the same women who bemoan their lack of sweeties with comments like, "All the good ones are taken." I don't understand this. Can they not see they're doing it to themselves, by driving all the polite, interested guys away with lies? Why do they lie so constantly, to both the guys and themselves?

Familiarity breeds contempt.
Aesop

And of course, this also is not confined only to women. I've heard guys moaning about not having girlfriends, and in practically the same breath refuse to have anything to do with the friends of an ex-girlfriend, or laughingly mock less-than-perfect-looking women. I find it bleakly interesting how often those guys are less than perfect looking themselves.

People are strange.

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