We're Just Friends. Really!

What Harry told Sally was wrong. Platonic friendships are not only possible; they're flourishing

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The benefits of platonic friendship are multifold, if a bit different for each sex. Male friendships tend to be founded on companionship; men typically define their best friend as someone with whom they can do things. Women usually count a close friend as someone with whom they can talk and share feelings. "Men often find it difficult to become emotionally close to other men," says Peter Nardi, a sociologist at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. "They're more comfortable revealing their emotions to a woman." Each sex looks to the other for aspects of the other's form of friendship. While men want a deep emotional connection, women crave undemanding companionship. Alexandra Robbins, an author and self-professed tomboy from Washington, says she has more male friends than female. "Guys tend to be more laid-back," she says. "There's no agenda, and none of the cattiness. I've never gotten into a fight or even an argument with a male friend."

Mike Zani, 33, a private equity investor and former professional sailor from Dallas, has met many of his closest friends through sailing, including several women. "Sharing that lifestyle really brings people together," he says. "In a sailing race, it doesn't matter if you get beaten by a female skipper. You treat that boat like any other boat."

Zani met Louise Gleason while competing against her college sailing team. Several years later, he was her coach for the 1996 Olympics. The two lived in the same house and spent long, intense hours training side by side. Today he considers Gleason, 32, a physical therapist from Miami, one of his best friends. "Louise is the kind of person I'll call if I have a personal problem or joy and, at the same time, someone I like to go have a beer with," Zani says. "My sister died when I was 15, and in certain respects Louise fills that sisterly niche in my life."

On Sept. 6, when Zani gets married at his bride's family farm in Monticello, Ky., Gleason will be right by his side, along with seven groomsmen and the best man. Although she'll wear a dress to match the bridesmaids', her role is different: she'll be the groomswoman.

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