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A Friendship That Crosses Genders

One boy, one girl. They've been friends forever, having met at the ripe old age of 6 months. And so far, at age 7, the friendship continues. Sure, the relationship has had its share of bumps. For instance, when boy wasn't invited to girl's princess birthday party because he couldn't be a princess. Or when boy said he hadn't yet made up his mind about whether he would marry girl.

As you've probably figured out, the boy is mine. The girl is one of his best friends. Or, as she put it this week, "He's my best friend who's not a girl."

And that's where the question comes in. Every so often, they talk of having a sleepover. Somehow, we parents have never made it work, other than some joint family vacations to the beach.

While they played in a homemade fort of blankets and pillows in the closet on snow day Monday, I couldn't help but wonder when their play would change. When will those hormones begin to kick in? When will their innocent play turn to first kisses and first touches? When will we have to tell them to keep the door open when playing in their bedrooms? When will they say they can't be friends because they are different genders?

What's your experience with such cross-gender friendships? Do your kids tend to make friends with their own gender or do they play with anyone, girl or boy, as long as they share interests?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 4, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development , Elementary Schoolers
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My best friend from jr. high through high school was a guy -- and we never did anything more than hug. We were just a good fit and were able to talk to each other about everything. I think our relationship set me up well for my marriage because there's no 'Venus/Mars' disconnect in communication or expectations between my husband and I mostly because I figured out the easiest ways to communicate successfully with men because of that friendship.

Now, almost 15 years later, my best friend and I are still friends -- including friends with our respective spouses. And even though he's not my best friend any more (my husband is and we only talk a couple of times a year, it is still one of my most cherished relationships.

My advice - just let it play out and don't interfere unless necessary. Don't assume that you'll have to intervene.

Posted by: danielle514 | March 4, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

For the first three years of my daughter's life, her best friend was a boy. But I noticed around age 4, she prefers to play with girls. She has more in common with them. She will play with boys at school but generally prefers girls.

I think it is nice that your kids still want to play together.

I wouldn't worry too much about the kissing thing. I think they would have to be around age 10 before I would start to worry but my guess is they won't be best friends by then.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 4, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

OK, the easy one first: you never tell them they can't be friends because they're different genders. They will likely decide that for themselves at some point, but if they don't, hurrah for them.

My daughter's class (also 7) is pretty clearly divided into the boy group and the girl group. My girl seems to be the only one who likes to play with both; she likes the "Littlest Pet Shop" stuff the girls do, and the more rough and tumble the boys do. Plus a couple of the boys have a crush on her and let her order them around, which she really likes. :-) I think it's great that she's not going to grow up seeing boys as some alien species.

But I have drawn the line at the sleepover (although I am still thinking through it). She has this one boy friend who keeps asking for her to come have a sleepover. His mom and I sort of look at each other and say "we'll have to call each other, yeah," and then hope it dies down.

Posted by: laura33 | March 4, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

This hits close to home. Our closest friends have 2 opposite, same age kids as us, and the 3 yr olds have more or less done everything together since birth (or 8 weeks& birth...). They are in the same preschool, same class, 5 days/week, etc. really, we're more like family than just friends. While we presume some sort of boy-girl curiosity will take place, its ok, b/c all 4 parents are The adults in the kids ,lives. i hope they end up with the same loving, innate closeness that they have now. we'll all be sad if they don't.

Posted by: memekiki | March 4, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Don't intervene at this point, the friendship will most likely evolve over time. If you do see specific behavior that concerns you (kissing, groping) step in and address that.

But I agree with those who prohibit cross-gender sleepovers.

Now here's one you can start worrying about. The high school band makes a week-long trip to Florida. Kids are paired up in hotel rooms. How do you handle sleeping arrangements? Specifically, if the traditional rules are "boys together; girls together; no girl/boy pairs in a hotel room" who do handle those kids (let's say five of them) who are openly gay? With whom do they room? (If I get a chance I'll return this afternoon and tell you how it was actually handled. But until then you can think about it.:-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 4, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

My firve year old whispered to me last night that he would like the next door neighbor girl (who are around his age) to have a sleepover. I asked him where they would sleep and he gallantly offered to sleep on the floor and the girls could take his bunk bed. I pointed out that my be uncomfortable for him-- what about sleeping on our sofa downstairs and he agreed to that. that seems doable to me and I think I actually will approach the neighbors about it. My son has always had an easier time communicating with girls than with boys. And being a good host just comes to him more naturally for a girl visitor rather than a boy visitor-- but he's never had a sleepover situation with a girl before-- just simple playdates. I think he's up to the challenge and my neighbors may enjoy a night all to themselves!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | March 4, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

I was actually the only girl in 3rd grade to sit at the "boys' table" because my friends were there (and the other girls in my class were very noisy). My friend group eventually ended up about 50/50 M/F mix but that wasn't until I was at least 12 or so.

Never ended up as anything more than platonic with them (just wasn't interested; they didn't really register in my brain as "boys" per se when I started noticing boys that way although I did find out years later that at least one had had a short-term crush on me) and I am actually still friends with several of them now that we're adults (the one with the childhood crush actually got married last year, actually, and wanted me to be his best "man;" I couldn't make the wedding since it was overseas and I had to decline, but I was very touched that he asked).

Never did the staying-overnight thing with any of them growing up, but then again I'm not sure it ever actually *occurred* to any of us to do so, come to think of it (but then I was a weird kid and wasn't all that huge a fan of slumber parties and sleepovers).

Sure a bunch of us would usually crash at someone's house after homecoming or something in high school, but 1) that wasn't a one-on-one thing, more like 10 of us at once (which doesn't give anyone a whole lot of privacy for making out or similar), 2) the parents were always home and occasionally checking in on us, and 3) we weren't in someone's bedroom, we were usually all conked out on the living room or the rec room floors. (Also of note, we didn't have a whole lot of couples in our group; this may also have affected the reason we were allowed to do this.)

Posted by: | March 4, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

"who do handle those kids (let's say five of them) who are openly gay? With whom do they room?"

--You have them share room with the same gender. It's not rocket science.

Posted by: Soguns1 | March 4, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

My 2 year-old has been doing sleep-overs at his "girlfriend"'s house for a year now. The kids enjoy having play dates, and the parents enjoy a night off once in awhile. Every so often we, the parents, chuckle about if/when we'll need to limit the hugs and kisses. For now we're just glad to see them having fun and playing with each other's toys.

Posted by: library2 | March 4, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Stacey, if you've been letting your 7 year old boy play with his same aged girlfriend in the bedroom/closet with the door closed, you can pretty much bet that those touches have already occured. It's called "doctor".

My favorite childhood playmate was 2 days older than me and lived 2 doors down. She taught me all the important things in life like how to color in between the lines, count, skip, jump rope, tie shoes, button, zip, Dominos, and open an individually wrapped slice of artificially flavored cheese food in one piece. Most importantly, at age 3, she brought her shiny new red bicycle over to my house where we both learned to ride in a single day.

Her family moved away when I was 6. Needless to say, it was a very sad day for the both of us . In an attempt to find other friends, I walked around the block and saw some boys my age pushing around cars and trucks on their driveway. They were running over little plastic army men. I asked if I could play and gave it a try. Vroom, vroom, screach, splat! Where was the skill? What's the point? Boring!!! They ended up stealing my hat to play "keep-away" and I ended beating up 2 of them to get my hat back. So that was it for playing with boys until I began participating in organized sports at age 8.

Funny thing, since I recognized that my childhood girlfriend was smarter and more skilled than I was, I naturally thought that girls are always that way when compared to boys. To this day, I haven't run across anything that would suggest otherwise. One other thing about this since birth relationship; We got together several times in the last few years when she visited the DC area, and the similarities of things like our career choices, number of kids, hobbies, religion, politics, and type of pets is astounding.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 4, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

REgarding the openly gay band members, I think just treat them the same as all the other kids. stay only with your gender. Why not? It's not like "gay" is contageous or something.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | March 4, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Don't worry about it. As a kid, my best friend was a boy. I was a tomboy, and our fathers were best friends, so we got along great and had lots of fun father-son-daughter times. There were definitely sleepovers too. But somewhere around age 10, we stopped being friends - I think I started to realize that it was weird that I was always the only girl in his circle. Because our fathers were so close, we found our way back to being friends at age 13, but there was never anything else between us. Instead I became the "how do girl brains work" consultant, and he became the brother I never had. Our relationship remains very much in the sibling mold, 30 years later.

As for how to manage the sleeping arrangements on a class field trip, when I was in high school, it was like with like, four to a room, and then after the chaperones had gone to bed, everybody rearranged to accommodate the couples in the group.

Posted by: northgs | March 4, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

captiolhillmom, soguns: think about why you don't let boys and girls share hotel rooms on these trips. What's the reason for saying that Joe can't share a room with his best friend Megan if they both want to?

The answer is "limiting teen sex on the trip". "Limiting" because these are teenagers and nature is what it is and you can't supervise every one of them every second.

So if you want to "limit teen sex on the trip" why would you have gay members of the same sex rooming together?

That's not gay-bashing; it's not an aspersion on gays; it's not an assertion that gays are less able to "keep it in their pants" than straights. It's an acknowledgment of the fact that when you take a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds out of state on a group trip there are issues you have to be concerned about - sex, drugs, drinking, etc.

If you allowed two gay males to room together, why can't Joe and Megan share a room?

Serious questions - this happens every year with band, chorus and other trips like that.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 4, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

what to do about the gay band boys? keep the boys with the boys, but distribute the gay boys with one in each room.

or don't worry about it - if they want to mess around, they'll mess around.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 4, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I think 'gay' boys stay with boys. Boy-couples need to understand that band trips are not opportunities for romantic interludes. If that means separating boy couples then so be it.
The same would go for boy-girl couples - the trip is not a romantic opportunity, it's a trip.

I can tell the job of chaperon has gotten more complex than when I was a kid!

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 4, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"I can tell the job of chaperon has gotten more complex than when I was a kid!"

Yep - more than when I was a kid, too.

But one thing hasn't changed - telling 16 through 18 year olds that a band trip is a band trip, not an opportunity for "romance" (to misuse the term) is a useless waste of your lung power.

That applies whether you put a heterosexual boy and a heterosexual girl together in a room, as well as if there are gay students involved.

FWIW, what happened is that all students were assigned roommates of the same gender, regardless of their sexual orientation. Then when one of the gay boys decided to room with a girl, a few chaperones just "didn't see anything".

(I'm just trying to tip Stacey, and a few others of you, off to what lies ahead. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 4, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

ARmy brat, I imagine groups get separated by sex because teen agers are used to sharing personal space with those of the same sex-- gym locker rooms, for example. I'm SHOCKED by your scandelous implication that there is some other reason to separate the sexes.

Ha! Ha! Only kidding!

Anyway, I'm all about reducing teen pregnancy and separating the sexes to try to avoid that as much as you can is certainly a legitimate reason in itself. But that's the great thing about gay teenagers-- they don't get pregnant and don't get others pregnant. In the in likely event that in the random distrubution of room keys two gay kids end up sharing a room (that would be like, what 1 in 100 possibility?) and they are physically attracted to one another (making it 1 in 1,000,000 possibility) and they decide to fool around a bit . . . I this is a problem and effects my life how??

Posted by: captiolhillmom | March 4, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

My DD is queer, and she's roomed with boys and girls over the years on church trips. They always had the 'big five plus one' rules (a UU thing) on church trips, which includes a prohibition on sexual activity for everyone on the trip (including adults!). School groups always do things same gender only, and so she and her buddies have I suspect taken advantage of this to some extent - but like capitolhillmom said, the chances that there are two queer kids in a room, and that they are attracted, and that they are both open to anything (neither in a committed relationship, not ready for sex, etc) are so small, I'd be more worried about someone accidentally getting hurt in the showers or eating too much at breakfast and getting sick.

Posted by: RebeccaMinAR | March 4, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

ArmyBrat1: Love to be tipped off... Now I just want to talk to one of those teens' parents. Would make a great discussion all on its own!

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | March 4, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

captiolhillmom, RebeccaMinAR - you two are so lucky not to be familiar with the concept of "hook ups". The number of teen kids who are willing to have sex with an appropriate "target of opportunity" is pretty high.

(FWIW, most reliable studies in societies far more liberal than the US put the gay population at something like 2%; going up to as high as 5% if you count mostly heterosexual people who occasionally, um, "experiment." That 10% number came from Kinsey; he made it up without supporting evidence and it's never been replicated. So the odds that captiolhillmom worked out are low; it would in reality be more unlikely. But that's if the term "musical beds" didn't exist.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 4, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Growing up, I didn't know there was anything wrong with boys until my parents told me so. Over and over again. I think they thought a lot more about youthful sex than I ever did.

It strained friendships when I was younger, and it was even worse as a teenager. I got to the point where I'd lie about what I was doing just because I was sick of hearing their comments. Our idea of fun was writing computer programs, but my parents seemed to expect teenage orgies.

Let kids play. When they're old enough, have the sex talk - but it's not likely to happen with friends. How often have you had sex with someone you've known since birth and think of as closer than a sibling?

When I take college students on trips, rooming assignments default to same-gender, but we'll put mixed groups together if they all request it. Sometimes students show up at breakfast with that "up all night" look, but it's never the ones in the mixed rooms. They're mature enough to know that sharing space doesn't always lead to sharing sexual favors. Adults probably should be, too.

Posted by: Laura1432 | March 6, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

These kids are LITTLE! Gross, people! I had lots of friends who were boys. Grew up in a semi-rural area- you played with who lived near you. My brother was best friends with the girl next door till she moved away.

Posted by: frenchtoast | March 9, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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