When my husband and I were dating, he was still frequently talking to an ex-girlfriend who he claimed was "just a friend." I didn't exactly agree. I had no doubt in my mind that this girl still liked my man, but I trusted him. She was nice and even helped us make our wedding invitations. She came to our wedding reception and was very supportive of our relationship, but part of me still wondered... if I wasn't in the picture, would my husband be with her?
Can you really just be friends with a guy or a girl?
Science says yes and no. Simply, it depends on a lot of different factors.
However, a University of Wisconsin study shows that men are attracted to their female friends more often than women are to their male friends. Men are also more likely to think that their female friends reciprocate those feelings.
That same study shows that women are more likely to think guys can just be friends, where guys tend to hope that something more will come from the relationship.
So can guys really be just friends? Here are the yes and no arguments.
Argument: Yes! Guys and girls can be friends
- Platonic love
It exists. Research done by a Boise State University Professor Heidi Reeder calls it "friendship love". This love, as she describes it, lacks lust, but there is still a bond that is created in between two people. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for you and your friend to figure out if this type of love exists in your relationship.
Both men and women can gain a lot through cross-sex friendships. A study done by New York Psychologist Linda Sapadin shows that men rate their friendships with women higher than their friendships with men in three categories: quality, enjoyment and nurturance. According to Sapadin, this is because men talk to women differently than they do with other men.
"Cross-sex friendships provided both men and women with what several people referred to as an 'insider's perspective' to the other sex," wrote Sapadin. "These friendships were often used to find out how the opposite sex thought or felt about marital/dating relationships and career issues."
Sapadin told Psychology Today that women also enjoy the "big brother" feel of their male friends.
Argument: No! Guys and girls cannot be friends
You don't become friends with people who you can't relate to. There is something that attracts you to a friend whether you love the same band or share hobbies. It doesn't have to be sexual attraction, but there is usually an intellectual or emotional attraction there. However, one person (usually the male) may expect or want something more from that attraction.
In Sapadin's study 62 percent of all participants said there was sexual tension in their relationships. A Penn State University study showed that 67 percent of the 300 people interviewed had sex with one of their "platonic friends," but over half of those relationships didn't turn into a romantic relationship.
Perhaps you don't see yourself marry a guy or gal friend, but you still might be attracted to them on some level, and that can be dangerous.
Since there is an attraction between friends, an innocent friendship can cause lots of damage, especially if someone in this friendship is in a serious relationship.
Verily writer Isaac Huss wrote, "Practically speaking, if I'm friends with a woman, and she starts dating someone, I take a step back in my friendship with her out of respect for the man she is dating. He shouldn't have to be wondering who this Isaac guy is and why he keeps hanging around."
Since you are friends, stepping back may be difficult and complicated - like this situation:
Bill and Sally are best friends; they tell each other everything. Bill secretly likes Sally and so is devastated when she gets into a serious relationships with John. Sally and Bill still hang out a lot, but John gets jealous, so he asks Sally to stop hanging out with Bill. Sally refuses because Bill is "just a friend." John and Sally fight, so Sally runs to Bill. Bill ends up kissing Sally. Sally says it was a mistake and that it should have never happened. John finds out. John and Sally break up and Sally doesn't trust Bill anymore since he was hiding his attraction her.
This may sound like something from a movie, but it can (and does) happen in real life.
What's our verdict?
There's lots of confusion that come with cross-gender friendships, but there is also a lot of good. The key to a platonic friendship between heterosexual people is communication. There is a point in life where you will have to create boundaries in your friendship. As you find your husband or wife, they become the person you confide in and receive comfort from, so you bonds with other people weaken.
So can guys or gals just be friends? I think yes, but only if both parties are careful and communicate clearly. Make sure you set boundaries for this friendship; There are just some things your cross-gender friends don't need to know.
Stacie Simpson is a FamilyShare staff writer. She loves listening to, gathering and sharing stories and advice to help others improve their quality of life. She spends most of her free time with her husband, ballroom dancing, reading and writing.