If you’ve ever had a friend tell you that her and her male companion are “just friends”, you’ve probably questioned if this is really true or if there are hidden romantic feelings between the friends.
The age old question “can men and women really just be friends?” usually sparks a debate amongst friends, and leaves people sitting on either side of the fence when it comes to the answer. New research set out to investigate whether a truly platonic relationship can exist between a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman. The results may or may not surprise you depending on how you view these types of relationships already!
88 platonic male and female couples were brought into a science lab for the study to test if men and women can really just be friends. In order to obtain honest answers, confidentiality of the participants was paramount. This was done, in part, to protect each relationship after the study was finished. The male and female friend pairs were separated and each friend was asked a series of questions regarding their romantic feelings (or lack thereof) towards their partner.
The results of the study showed that men and women experience opposite sex relationships drastically differently from one another. For example, men were more attracted to their female friends. Additionally, men were more likely to believe that their female friend was attracted to them, despite any evidence to support their theory. Men’s estimates on how attractive they appeared to their female friends had nothing to do with how the women actually felt and more to do with the way the man felt towards the female friend. Men typically assumed that any romantic attraction they felt was automatically reciprocated by the female friend, which was not usually the case. Moreover, men were more willing to act on the perceived mutual attraction. Interestingly, women generally did not have any romantic feelings towards their male friends and believed that the lack of romantic attraction was mutual. As a result of the confused feelings, men consistently over-estimated the level of attraction that their female friend felt while women consistently under-estimated the level of attraction that their male friend felt.
When it came to other romantically involved friends and single friends, both men and women demonstrated equal attraction – finding attractive friends hot and non-attractive friends not, so to speak. These feelings of attractiveness were independent of whether or not the person rating their friends as good looking. Here, men and women differed in that men were more likely to desire a romantic relationship with a friend who was in a relationship, while women were more respectful of their male friends’ relationship status and didn’t pursue them any further.
The results are fairly clear: even though men and women are in the same platonic relationship, they may be experiencing the relationship in completely different ways. Men seem to hold onto the belief that a romantic relationship with their female friend may be just around the corner, while women generally tend to believe that their friendships with men are purely platonic. In order to avoid confusion and complications, it may be best to air out feelings felt within a male-female relationship before the friendship gets too messy. Good luck.