Why can’t we be friends?
Thanks to the hilarious and provocative Rob Reiner film,When Harry Met Sally, there is one debate that still gets even the most reticent people taking a stand. And, that, of course, is whether men and women can really be friends (y’know, of the strictly platonic variety).
In the film, Billy Crystal’s character, Harry, informs Meg Ryan’s Sally that male/female friendship is impossible. When she calls him on that statement, he informs her that “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way,” and “no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive” (nor, apparently one that he finds unattractive as guys “pretty much want to nail ’em, too”). It was a very funny scene–and a question, one might argue, that was never fully explored because, while Harry and Sally did become friends for a time, the two ended up as a couple.
Over the past few decades, I’ve heard good arguments both for and against male/female friendships. But a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire suggests that Harry was on to something–at least for the dudes.
April Bleske-Rechek, a psychologist specializing in individual differences and evolutionary psychology, recruited 88 students from UW-Eau Claire and their friends of the opposite sex to come in to the lab and fill out a questionnaire that tackled their friendship history, current and past romantic involvement, sexual desire and activities and physical attraction. They were also asked about their current relationship status and, if they were involved with someone, their level of satisfaction with their current partner.
She and her colleagues found that men, regardless of relationship status, were more likely to admit to a strong attraction to their female friends. They also believed that their female friends were more into them than they actually were.
The Sallies, if you will, however, were less attracted to attached men–and the attached ladies only admitted a similar level of attraction to buddies if they were dissatisfied in their current relationship.
The results suggest that men’s friendships with members of the opposite sex may be partially driven by sexual attraction. And given that cross-sex friendships are a rather new phenomenon, Bleske-Rechek suggests that evolved mating strategies may influence these friendship experiences. Basically, that physical attraction in male/female friendships is common and can get in the way of both platonic interactions as well as a person’s long-term relationship with a partner.
What do you think? Are male/female friendships possible? Are they likely to interfere with a person’s long-term relationship?
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