Although women seem to be genuine in their belief that opposite-sex friendships are platonic, men seem unable to turn off their desire for something more. But if we all thought like men, we’d probably be facing a serious overpopulation crisis.
Men seem to see myriad opportunities for romance in their supposedly platonic opposite-sex friendships.
The women in these friendships, however, seem to have a completely different orientation—one that is actually platonic.
He can be reached at garethideas AT or Twitter @garethideas. Ward is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.
His doctoral research is focused on the relationships between technology, cognition, social relationships, and self-esteem, and he worked briefly as a scientific consultant for a dating website.
Can heterosexual men and women ever be “just friends”?
Few other questions have provoked debates as intense, family dinners as awkward, literature as lurid, or movies as memorable. Daily experience suggests that non-romantic friendships between males and females are not only possible, but common—men and women live, work, and play side-by-side, and generally seem to be able to avoid spontaneously sleeping together.
Variables related to romantic attraction (e.g., “our relationship could lead to romantic feelings”) were five times more likely to be listed as negative aspects of the friendship than as positive ones.
However, the differences between men and women appeared here as well.
In order to ensure honest responses, the researchers not only followed standard protocols regarding anonymity and confidentiality, but also required both friends to agree—verbally, and in front of each other—to refrain from discussing the study, even after they had left the testing facility.
These friendship pairs were then separated, and each member of each pair was asked a series of questions related to his or her romantic feelings (or lack thereof) toward the friend with whom they were taking the study.
The results suggest large gender differences in how men and women experience opposite-sex friendships.