Just good friends? Science says you're probably kidding yourself
I have a man problem. It isn’t an unrequited love (normal story) or a guy who just won’t quit (if only). No, this man problem comes in the shape of my best mate, flatmate and all-round, number one pal. You see, having been friends for eight years now, no one quite believes that we’re not secretly sweet on each other.
Our parents ask when we’re getting married, and our friends have basically chosen their outfits. I even went on a date with his friend once, during which he asked me not once, not twice, but three times if we’d ever hooked up. Really, the answer is no.
But no matter how much we protest, no one believes us. And it’s ruining both of our dating lives. Don’t even get me started on how awkward potential partners look when we bring them home, on the rare occasion that either of us actually pulls.
For years, Hollywood has peddled the “best mate to bedmate” plotline. Pushing the idea that romance is an inevitable conclusion of a close male-female friendship. Unfortunately, some scientists are saying they might be right, even going so far as to say that platonic friendship is “impossible”. So can it really be that men and women can’t ever just be friends?
Can men and women just be friends?
A study carried out by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the US would certainly suggest so.
They recruited 88 pairs of supposedly platonic, straight, opposite-sex, undergrad friends, then split them into separate rooms and asked them to answer questions about their physical and sexual attraction towards the other, on a scale of one to nine, with nine being the highest.
As you can probably imagine, no one really wanted anyone to know what answers they had given. So the results were kept strictly private. Probably for the best really.
Nonetheless, the results did make for some interesting reading. Researchers noticed that the men in the study were far more likely that the women to report that they felt an attraction to their supposed "friend." And this was regardless of their own or their friend’s relationship status
Scientists proposed that this was likely because “young males possess strong short-term mating desires that are activated in the context of the opposite sex”. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be subconsciously dominated by a “long term mating orientation”.
In other words, the whole friends-with-benefits thing is less of a goer for women.
Men are more hopeful about their chances in general
Hilariously, it seems that some of the lads were a little too hopeful about their chances. As researchers explained:
"Men were also more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief.
In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt."
What's the argument against?
Not everyone agrees that attraction is inevitable, however. Dr Linda Sapadin, a psychologist and coach, with a particular interest in relationships told Four Nine:
“Certainly men and women can have platonic friendships. When men and women lived in separate worlds, their primary attraction to each other was romantic. In today’s world, however, men and women live, work and play together. They are fellow students, colleagues, committee members, bridge buddies, tennis partners and more. This cultural shift has created a new norm in which people generally keep their sexual involvement and friendships separate."
There's also the question of whether the results from the study would still stand once the thrill of being a fresher had worn off and real life set in. After all, being 21 involves a lot more tequila and regrettable kisses that most of us would be prepared to stomach just a few years later.
The bottom line
From first-hand experience, I’m inclined to believe that yes, men and women can just be friends: my flatmate will always be the skinny posh boy that I’ve watched drunkenly throw up one too many times, who has hooked up with most of my gal pals, and who once told me he would “definitely” get with my sister. Yeah; a swing and a miss.