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Do You Honestly Believe Men And Women Can Be Just Friends?

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Do You Honestly Believe Men And Women Can Be Just Friends?

Dear Duana,

A guy friend of mine made a very hard pass at me.  I’m stunned…I thought we were friends and nothing more.  Was I asleep during the men-are-always-interested lecture?  How do I make a male friend who understands that friendship is *all* I’m after?

Anika

 

Dear Anika,

Can men and women ever really be Just Friends—without sexual tension? 

When Love Science readers answered informally, most women said Yes; one even has a BFF from high school who, with his wife, vacations with her and her husband.

But the #1 answer men gave referenced this famous scene from When Harry Met Sally—where Harry insists that even with unattractive women Friends, “You pretty much wanna nail them, too.”

Who’s right—if anyone?  Did we *all* miss the opposite sex’s lecture?

In a set of studies where young heterosexual adults were asked about their actual behavior with—and what they value about—their opposite-sex Friends, these three conclusions stood out:

  •           Men and women primarily want the same thing from their Friends:  Friendship.

For instance, one man wrote me that, “Sure, I’d have sex with my [women friends] if they offered.  But asking isn’t worth the risk.  I can always find someone to have sex with….Good friends aren’t so easy to find.”

  •          Not all men want sex to be part of their Friendships.  But men are much likelier to envision the potential—and twice as likely to act on it. 

Indeed, research shows that over half of men desire sexual involvement with their women Friends—whereas very few women feel likewise.  And about 1/5th of men say they’ve actually had sex with close Friends—double the percentage of women who claim the same.

  •           When someone in the Friendship wants *love*…again, it’s probably the man.

It may seem against common stereotypes, but here it is:  Men often name the potential for a long-term romantic relationship as a plus of having female Friends.

Perhaps due to the oft-unrequited nature of these feelings, men then have other uncomfortable emotions—such as confusion about whether the relationship really is Just Friendship or something more, and sadness if their love is not returned.

Meanwhile, women enjoy a relationship that is remarkably free from complexity—for them.  They say they love the Friendship in part *because* of the lack of sexual or romantic pressure/possibility—and find their happiness marred only when they perceive an attraction they can’t or don’t return.

So, if you want a Friend who’s on the same page regarding the Just-Friends deal, what are your options? 

Option 1. End your Friendships: 

Actually, that’s a really dumb idea. 

For one thing, most of us, regardless of gender, genuinely like our Friends.  For every man who *is* on the make, it appears there’s another who *isn’t*.  And most men value their opposite-sex Friendship much more than its potential for sex.

For another, Friendships give everyone a shot at emotional Intimacy—plus, according to the research participants:

— someone to respect;

— someone to speak openly with;

— someone to go get dinner with;

— a self-esteem lift;

—good feelings when we help a Friend;

and—uniquely—insider-info about the opposite sex—advice research participants say they *don’t* think a same-sex peer could give as expertly. 

Option 2.  Announce your unavailability up-front:  

Although I’ve heard this suggestion before, I think it’s bad advice.

Stating point-blank that you’re Not An Option when you barely know someone (or even when you do, but they’ve never made a pass) communicates a lot more than your unavailability.

It can also convey your status as a snob, egotist, and/or weirdo.  And it can hurt and anger someone who really wasn’t Interested anyway.

Option 3. Cultivate Friendships with gay men: 

It may not be PC, but this is probably a pretty smart idea, and one that Love Science readers introduced:

From a straight woman:

“I like having men as friends, but I prefer gay men because [we can relate] without being an affair risk…”

From a lesbian woman:

“I don’t have any straight male (good) friends right now. I often get the kinda sexual/creepy vibe pretty quick.”

Bonus:  Befriending a gay man means never having to explain to him, to your (rational) sig other, or to anyone else that really, you *are* Just Friends.

Option 4: Go forward with your Friendships, knowing there’s a strong possibility that some times, with some men, you conceptualize things a bit differently.

I see this as your best bet.  It keeps the Friends you have, removes shock that a man could turn out to be pursuing you, and avoids selecting Friendships based solely on demographics. 

Specifically, assume your normal friendly behavior is often perceived as sexual interest.  And accept that.

Around the world, men see mere friendliness as a sign of sexual interest (whereas women perceive it as mere friendliness).  And the #1 thing a woman can do to advertise availability is simply to smile.

So unless you’re willing to avoid straight men, frown constantly and dress like a nun, a certain amount of unwanted interest may be part of the deal.

What *isn’t* part of the deal is the on-going expression of that interest.  If a kindly-put “I treasure your friendship, but I don’t want any level of romance or sex in this friendship” doesn’t bar future advances and keep a buddy just that—

It’s time to make some new Friends.

 

Cheers,

Duana

The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists and sources:

—April Bleske-Rechek and David M. Buss, for their research into what opposite-friendship really means to men versus women—and how it fits into evolutionary psychology.

You can read their articles here:

Bleske, A. L., & Buss, D. M. (2000).  Can men and women be just friends?  Personal Relationships, 7, 131-151.

Bleske, A. L., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Opposite sex friendship: Sex differences and similarities in initiation, selection, and dissolution.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1310-1323.

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and Love Science Media, 2010

 

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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