Why Men And Women Can’t Be Just Friends

March 19, 2014

You gotta love your friends. They are with you through thick and thin. Unless, of course, they are of the opposite sex. In that case, it just gets weird.

There are plenty of advice guides out there teaching you how to keep your platonic boyfriend or girlfriend without angering your real boyfriend or girlfriend, and without making things go to a place you’d rather they didn’t.

But it turns out that there’s some truth to this idea.

Men and women can theoretically be friends. But in practice, it doesn’t typically last very long or end well.

Friendships in history

Cross-sex friendships are quite new, when history is concerned. For centuries, friendship was considered something you would have with someone of the same sex. If you were a man, generally you worked around men. Depending on what you did, you may also work around women.

The typical peasant experience was to be a tenant farmer, and there everyone worked the land. But work was grueling and there was not much time to play around.

Most cultures believed that there were extreme differences between men and women that made it senseless to try to bridge the gap. Until people began to find the leisure time to pursue a variety of interests, cross-sex friendships were unlikely to happen.

Relationship trouble

Part of the problem is that defining the line between a platonic relationship and a romantic relationship is difficult. When researchers have attempted to study how cross-sex friendships happen, and what discerns them from romantic relationships, there was a serious overlap.

One study conducted in 2000 noted that most young men and young women do not feel sexual attraction for their cross-sex friends. Another study from the same year stated that half of the respondents reported having sex with a cross-sex friend. Clearly, people are confused. They are not becoming less confused over time, either.

According to a study published in the 2012 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, even friendships that are confirmed to be strictly platonic are actually not really. Of the respondents, the men were significantly more likely to be sexually attracted to their cross-sex friend, and were also more likely to over-report their female friend’s attraction to them.

Making sense of it all

The fact is that between the sexes, there will always be sexual tension. The line between what makes you a friend, versus what makes you a boyfriend or girlfriend is blurry and reminiscent of a Robin Thicke song.

If understanding how to attract people and how to understand whether or not they are attracted to was so simple and clear, it wouldn’t be a constant struggle throughout the whole of humanity.

“This does not apply to me, though,” you might be thinking. “I have plenty of friends in the opposite sex.” But if the statistics are true, you might be wrong.

You may just think that these friends are not secretly trying to groom you as date material. Being oblivious isn’t a crime, but it certainly can land you in a number of sticky situations. Consider the litany of hilarious film and television comedies on the subject of cross-sex friendships.

Whether you go back as far as “When Harry Met Sally” or you recently streamed “He’s Just Not That Into You,” cross-sex friendships do not last as long. They either turn into romantic relationships, or end when it becomes awkward. Men and women can try to be “just friends,” but it’s rarely a smart move.