Male and Female Friendship: A True Bond

Friendship between men and women was studied using 20 heterosexual pairs. Four types of attractions are observed among such friends. These may or may not be the same for the two people in a relationship; that is, the relationship may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. This can affect the strength and duration of the relationship. The nature of attraction between friends over time is changeable. “The most prevalent form of attraction was the friendship attraction, and the least prevalent form was romantic attraction.”

A relationship between a man and a woman was expected to be only sexual or romantic till as late as 1986. Developmentally, children often befriend individuals of their own sex, because interaction styles of boys and girls are different. Cross-sex friendships develop later, and are often expected to result from heterosexual attraction. It is accepted that sexual, passionate undertones may exist in a cross-sex friendship, which is not however the goal of that relationship. Previous studies have defined friendship simplistically, without considering complex interplays of feelings and the effect of time. Also, usually only a one-sided point of view is considered. This study tries to sort the various layers of feelings of both partners and analyzes how romantic expectations affect friendship.

* In Study I, 20 pairs of heterosexual friends were interviewed regarding their first impressions of the friend, the depth and quality of current feelings, and possible changes over time.
* Talking to each person in the pair independently, reciprocation of feelings between the two was determined.
* Each statement was sorted into categories, and basic themes for qualities of friendship were identified and defined.
* The observations were confirmed in Study II, wherein 231 heterosexual individuals were asked to answer 10 questions, keeping in mind a friend of the opposite sex, unrelated and without any past romantic involvement.

* There were four kinds of attractions between friends found in the study. When a friend finds the other sexy, it is “subjective physical/sexual” attraction. In “objective physical/sexual,” one is aware of the other’s attractiveness, but is herself not attracted. In “romantic attraction,” there is a hope to convert the friendship into something more, and in “friendship attraction” there is love, caring, closeness and comfort, but no attraction is seen.
* The two friends may or may not have the same attraction toward each other.
* Attractions in a friendship can change in quality and degree with time.
* Friendship attraction is the most common one. With time, romantic attraction often decreases. Friendships last longer when sexual tensions decrease.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Broken cross-sex friendships and friendships ending in romantic relationships need testing. Volunteers were college-going and single. Hence the results cannot be extrapolated to all populations. The effect of marital status was not examined. Study II looked at one of the pair, so the other side remained unexamined. Data is based on self reports and could have been affected by the degrees of self-awareness of the participants.

Friendship between men and women is complicated, with multi-dimensional feelings. Despite the more popular depiction of romantic relationships between a man and a woman in media and literature, platonic friendship is a more commonly observed bond. People are even willing to sacrifice romantic aspirations to save their friendships. An added complexity is the asymmetry in the relationship, when the degree of attraction for each other may differ between two friends. This can affect cross-sex friendship over time, both in terms of quality and degree of attraction. However, it was found that when strong romantic feelings or subjective sexual attraction reduced, the attraction in the friendship generally increased.

For More Information:
“I Like You…As a Friend”: The Role of Attraction in Cross-Sex Friendship
Publication Journal: Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2000.
By Heidi M. Reeder; University of North Carolina at Greensboro

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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