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Despite Harry's contention in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally that men and women can't be friends because "the sex part always gets in the way," male-female friendships have traditionally been hindered more by practical obstacles than by sexual trapdoors. In generations past, girls and boys played on opposite sides of the playground and were groomed for distinct roles in life. Now, however, "strict gender roles have broken down from age 7 onward," says Michael Monsour, author of Women and Men as Friends: Relationships Across the Lifespan in the 21st Century (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002). Americans come of age sharing soccer fields and video games, roaming the Internet together, occupying the same dorms at college and then winding up as peers at work. Not only are there more opportunities to befriend members of the opposite sex, there are also more reasons to get along outside a romantic context. "A big basis of friendship is commonality," says Monsour, "and today the different sexes have more in common as they go through the life cycle, which becomes a catalyst and incentive to cross-sex friendships."
Amy Augenblick, 31, an educational consultant in Alexandria, Va., and R.P. Eddy, also 31, a management consultant in New York City, have been friends since Eddy was assigned to the desk behind hers at study hall in high school. The two didn't become close until they attended Brown University together, but at that point they forged a lasting bond. "People usually think of a spark between people in terms of romantic relationships, but I think there are friend sparks as well, where you suddenly feel this intense connection," says Augenblick. "R.P. and I had that in college. I really wanted to spend time with him."
Eddy is equally impressed by Augenblick. "If I have a big emotional challenge--anything from a problem with a boss to a girlfriend I don't understand to worrying about what I should do with my life--Amy is the friend I most want to talk to," he says. "She's unbelievably insightful."
The two never dated each other but did become the other's fall-back escort to formal functions and work picnics. Within 24 hours of her engagement to Walton Smith, a fellow Brown alumnus, Augenblick asked Eddy to be in her bridal party. "He's my friend. He's my guy," she explains. So in June of 2001 Eddy ended up next to the bridesmaids, wearing a tie that coordinated with their dresses. "Walt didn't bat an eyelash," Augenblick insists. "He's not the jealous type, and there are no questions about the nature of my friendship with R.P. Besides, R.P. and I were friends long before I dated Walt. R.P. was part of the package." When Augenblick gave birth last year, she and her husband asked Eddy to be their daughter Isabella's godfather.