Can men and women really be “just friends”?

Anyone who has been in a romantic relationship has likely had this debate at some point. There is a part of me that genuinely believes that a platonic friendship is possible between men and women. We like to cite our past experience as examples for why it’s possible. This does not always give an accurate depiction of the truth, though. There have been studies that show that members of the opposite sex cannot be “just friends”.

A study done in 2012 involved researchers interviewing 88 pairs of undergraduate friends who were of the opposite sex.

Ultimately, the study found that men were far more likely to be attracted to their friends who were women. If this attraction was present, the majority of these men also believed that their female friend shared those feelings. That belief had nothing to do with what the women actually felt. The women in the study, however, were not generally attracted to their friends of the opposite sex. Similar to the men, though, they most often believed that the men were not attracted to them either. 

This research shows that what someone believes about their friendship has more to do with their personal feelings, rather than the feelings of the other person. This is interesting because it proves that two people can have radically different experiences and beliefs about the exact same relationship. Thus, one person’s experience of a relationship has nothing to do with the other person’s experience of the same relationship.

Being a woman, I still wanted to believe that this article did not prove anything. I have always believed that I could have male friends that did not have other sexual or romantic motives. I had friendships with men where I was not attracted to them. Looking back at my experience though, I do have many examples of friendships that directly fit into this research study’s findings. I can remember countless times insisting that someone was just a friend – only to have that same “friend” get upset with me for not wanting to date them at a future time when I became single. 

My experience, paired with this research, leads me to believe that under most circumstances women and men cannot be “just friends”. The chances of the male not wanting it to turn into something more are slim, and there’s a potential for conflict when those feelings are not reciprocated. Of course, nobody wants to hurt the feelings of their friend. Not to mention, it’s disappointing for the female when she insists that someone is just a friend, and only sees him that way, just to find out that he felt an attraction to her the whole time. This makes the entire friendship seem less genuine, hurting both parties. 

Another article suggests that men and women can be friends if they communicate their feelings in the beginning of the relationship. Like any relationship, it will only work out if you are both honest with each other. This includes being straightforward with your friend about any expectations you have around your friendship.