Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?

Interesting look at attraction between friends from Heidi Reeder Ph.D.

The stereotype is that men become friends with women because they’re hot and they want to sleep with them. Maybe they’re in the friend zone. Maybe they’re waiting for her to break up with her boyfriend. Maybe they work together and can’t act on their attraction. As such, this stereotype has a large basis in truth. It’s just not the full story.

Reeder analyzed hundreds of transcripts written by people about their best opposite-sex friends and discovered 4 unique but overlapping types of attraction:

  1. Friendship attraction – the kind of attraction you feel when drawn to someone because you like that person and enjoy being with him or her.
  2. Romantic attraction – Romantic attraction is about the desire to alter the friendship into a couple relationship. Only 14 percent of friends said they currently feel romantic attraction for their friend. Interestingly, almost half said they used to feel more romantic attraction, at an earlier stage in the friendship, than they do now. 
  3. Subjective physical/sexual attraction – Almost a third of the survey respondents felt this form of attraction for their friend, but the strong majority (over two-thirds) did not currently feel such attraction. This feeling can change over time, and is more likely to decrease (in 30 percent of respondents) than to increase (20 percent).
  4. Objective physical/sexual attraction. Refers to thinking that one’s friend is physically attractive in general terms (“I can see why others would find him attractive”), but not feeling the attraction yourself. This kind of attraction was experienced by over half of the people —one-quarter more than subjective physical/sexual attraction.

This would indicate that men and women may be drawn into friendship by attraction, but as they get to know each other, that attraction can morph considerably.

Can men and women be friends? Absolutely.

You can find someone objectively attractive and not want to sleep with him.

You can start off by feeling romantic attraction with someone and feel less over time.

You can feel sexual attraction for someone and not act on it.

So let’s settle this debate once and for all:

Can men and women be friends?

Absolutely.

It’s that it often takes more time to see how you truly feel about someone. Which is why half of friends felt their romantic attraction lessen the better they got to know each other. Too bad more couples don’t consider this before hopping into bed themselves.

So, do you think men and women can be friends?

Join our conversation (30 Comments).
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Comments:

  1. 1
    SAL9000

    “Friends”? Sure. True legit friends? No, which is precisely what the write-up says. Even when the relationship transitions from attraction based to platonic based there is still an element of attraction. Pretty much no one remains “friends” with someone of the attracted gender hat doesn’t fill some sort of attraction-based need – what could have been, backup, periodic ego boost, arm candy, etc.

    1. 1.1
      twinkle

      I think it depends though. Maybe for introverts, they are less likely to be close friends with someone unless there’s some attraction, since it takes a lot of effort for introverts to maintain friendships. But for extroverts, who often need lots of friends who they see regularly, I think it’s much more likely that they would have good friends of the opposite gender who they were not attracted to.

      Also it depends on how close these friends are. I have loads of guy friends I have no attraction to–generally the ones I meet less often, like a few times a year. But if you’re talking about guy friends who I meet regularly–at least once a month–then yes there is some attraction there, which is partly why we bother meeting so often.

      I think these are just 2 of the factors that could determine whether a particular man-woman pair have a pure friendship.

  2. 2
    Noemi

    Yes, I believe men and women can be friends, but it often takes two mature people to understand that. I have a few male friends, and I enjoy their company. They are great guys, and there’s no romantic attraction there. However, in the past I’ve attempted to establish friendships with members of the opposite sex who seemed genuine and interesting, and I’ve received odd reactions. Some have brushed me off because they thought I was romantically interested, while others didn’t understand that my intent was purely platonic and tried to pursue me. Aargh!

  3. 3
    Sunflower

    Nope, because if the woman is even slightly hot, it will get in the way. And, if the man has a gf and she’s aware of her looks, it will more than likely not go over well.

    1. 3.1
      Michell

      I can relate to the ‘no’ about them having a gf/bf and sees you differently. But I have to say yes opposite-sex friends have some sort of attraction with each other in order for them to be friends, attraction in the sense of having similar interest, background, social status and age (wiki Peer group). And I do believe in being friends first before hitting the sack (I must confess doing the opposite in my early years). I must admit though in often times than not, when they find their better half you have to prove to them that you are not romantically invested in your relationship with their better half. Sad to say that those kind of romantic relationship are not a happy ones and are likely to fail (or miserable).

  4. 4
    marymary

    Yes. Some people can absolutely do this. Others can’t.

  5. 5
    twinkle

    I find the survey results encouraging. Some ppl seem to think almost everyone has the hots for their close opposite-sex friend. It’s nice to know that there are many many close intersex friendships that are truly, purely about friendship, about companionship.

    Personally I have close male friends who, in the past, had lots of mutual romantic feelings (I guess this is type 2), but like many of the respondents, we slowly gave up on that and appreciate the friendship as it is and focused on our respective partners. The romantic feelings are not 100% gone, but they’ve disappeared enough such that we are at peace with being just friends.

  6. 6
    ThatGirl

    I feel pretty lucky – there are two guys that I would consider to be in my circle of best friends. For reasons I won’t detail here, we know that there is no romantic future in the cards for [either pair of] us. (No, they are not gay.) I think establishing that has made it easier for me to be *real* friends with them instead of hanging out in the confusing “maybe this will turn into something….” zone.

  7. 7
    Tom10

    “Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?”

    I think yes, but that the dynamic only works when the guy is more attractive than the girl. When the girl is more attractive, the guy will usually fancy her to some extent, and possibly even secretly resent being in the friend-zone.

    1. 7.1
      Henriette

      Gee, @Tom10… Are you telling me that all my guy pals must think I’m ugly? 😉

      1. 7.1.1
        Tom10

        Er, I doubt it Henriette. I’m sure they think you’re beautiful. But they probably secretly fancy you. 🙂

  8. 8
    Rebecca

    I find these debates totally mystifying. Half the people on the planet are male so it seems to me unsurprising that about half of my close friends are male. The man I’m dating was “just a friend” for about 29 years before we became a couple; and most of the men I’ve dated in the past are still friends; so I guess it’s true that some of my mixed gender friendships had or may someday have some sexual tension. That said, the great majority of my male friends are guys I’ve never gone out with and never wanted to go out with, just as is the case with my female friends. That seems so obvious.

  9. 9
    Jay King

    Friends? Totally. It’s definitely possible for men and women to be friends. Attraction between men and women is developed when a man or a woman find something they are attracted to the opposite sex. But that one too is debatable because not everything you see nice with the opposite sex will make you like him/her to be in a relationship with. We can develop friendship with the opposite sex. We don’t need to be attracted to them before we can develop friendship. There are different levels of love/attraction, simply put it this way, we may want them just as a friend, or we may want them to be our better half.

    1. 9.1
      AllHeart81

      Jay – beautifully said! I couldn’t agree more.

      It is so surprising to me that we still think men and women can’t be friends. I guess if a man or a woman can only look at the gender they are attracted to in terms of sex only, they probably can’t be friends. But if you’re a developed person with a medium amount of emotional intelligence, you can very well be friends with the gender you are attracted to.

      I often think about how this plays into the LGTB world. We consider it completely ignorant when straight people think that just because a member of their own gender is attracted to the same sex, that they are always going to be attracted to them.  I hear this kind of ignorance at times – straight people worrying about same-sex situations. It’s so ego driven though and we know it’s not fair to push that perception onto LGTBs. And yet, we are still having this conversation as heterosexuals. It’s so lame.

  10. 10
    Clare

    As much as statistics and big data are valuable, I think we should bear in mind that people are individuals. I think the notion that men and women can’t be friends arose because *some* men and women can’t be just friends – everyone has a story of a person they know who fell in love with a friend of the opposite sex and it ended in heartbreak. This story is so common that it’s become part of our collective cultural wisdom.

    BUT it doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty of men and women carrying out their friendships every day with little or no complication. To me, it’s pretty clear what my takeaway is – people are individuals. There are SOME guys I can be just friends with, and some I can’t. There are SOME guys who can be just friends with me, and some who can’t. There is no one size fits all. Yes it is possible for men and women to be just friends. But you’ve got to assess each potential friendship on an individual basis, ie. are the people concerned capable of it.

  11. 11
    Stacy

    Men and women can ABSOLUTELY be friends. One of my best friends is a man I have known since I was 8 years old. He is married now and lives in another state. I have also had others. And, while I had a crush on him when I was a kid, I have not found him the least bit attractive as a grown up. However, I think that men are more prone to befriending a woman for the ‘wrong’ reasons. But I think most women can be friends with men and have no romantic interest.

  12. 12
    Theo

    As a rule, when a woman and a man are friends, one of them wants more hoping for a romantic relationship. The one who is attracted to his/her friend might get heartbroken and suffer from this slow form of a rejection. It can be emotionally damaging!

    1. 12.1
      Maurice

      This is so true, I’ve been experiencing this for almost…..8 years.. unbelievable.. and I don’t know how to stop the nature of this connection (whilst both are still single) other than engaging in other ( unfruitful) relationships

  13. 13
    Karl S

    Why didn’t the study do a results breakdown for each gender? It just says x percent of friends felt y.

    I’d also love to know how results change between people who identify as single vs in a long term relationship.

  14. 14
    TimP.

    Can men and women be friends? Sure.

    But I’ve given up on having women as friends. Too complicated. Either she likes me secretly or I like her.

    I would rather hang out with the boys, drink beers and talk about girls, sports, or guns while keeping the girls for that sexual void. This streamlines my life and makes things less complicated. If a girl says “I like you as a friend,” I merely respond, “I have enough friends, thank you for you time though,” and I leave her life. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and I’m too busy to play games.

    1. 14.1
      AllHeart81

      TimP – you sound more of the game player here. You only want women for sex. That’s not exactly better.

  15. 15
    karen

    As a mature aged person i have seen and herd many friendship stories regarding these friendships.  Sadly most turn out to be just like (Theo -12) illustrated.  In fact i don’t know anyone that still has that kind of friendship when you get to my age as they are either together or hate each other. I find it very sad that as years go on the truth always comes out. Either one person was secretly in love and the other wasn’t or they start living together after their own marriage breakdown boasting how they had always loved each other.  Some have had sexual relationships discretely, only to be caught by the married partner.  The term ” best friends” between male and female is just a hidden term used to cover true feelings and lies.   The lying to their married partners always got me “where just best friends” Sorry don’t fool yourselves.

  16. 16
    mbabazi

    i thought it was possible but from experience, it is not. i have had a friend for the last five years and i always knew he was just a friend but i don’t know why my mind and emotions have now changed towards him though i really cant know what he feels. it is now a strange friendship.
     
     

    1. 16.1
      PJ

      Exactly, men and women cannot remain best friends long-term.

  17. 17
    Sarah

    Men & women can be just friends, for sure! I have had male friends throughout my life, without any intentions of becoming romantic. At least not from my end. I have 2 really good male friends at present. 

  18. 18
    Antonia

    No (well, at least, not REALLY). 
    I had quite a large pool of male friends throughout my teens and twenties, but they have gradually just fallen behind and now women are my friends. Quite a few of them admitted to being sexually or romantically attracted to me and then I was the villain for friend-zoneing them. When they saw they had no chance, they just weren’t interested in talking to me as much. And on two occasions, I lost two of those male friends when we actually did sleep together. Friendship just changed after that and felt too awkward, which I really regret.
    So I think i’m still in the “No” camp. 

  19. 19
    Helen

    Absolutey men and women can just be friends. I’m a female engineer and have been around more men than women my whole adult life. My partner’ best school friend is a woman. She’s now my friend too.

    Even if there is a slight attraction or thought of ‘what if’, you just need a strong set of boundaries. I know I would never ever do anything to jeopardise my, or a friends relationship. 

  20. 20
    lisa

    I have many male friends, several whom I refer to as my “best” friends.  We’ve been friends for many years, with no physical/sexual attraction. We have coffee, lunch and dinner dates, and even spent nights together. Still nothing. I love having them,  they keep me sane and smiling. They also are great for giving a “mans” opinion.  

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