The Real Reason Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends

October 29, 2012

The Reason

Pure projection by both sexes. 

Guys want to have sex with their girl friends, and assume girls feel the same way. 

Girls do not want to have sex with their guy friends, and assume guys feel the same way. 

The Cause

It’s built-in, massive miscommunication and it rarely ends well. Another wacky consequence of the feminist denial of sex differences, and of the sexes’ different mating strategies

Men were…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—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends.

Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual.

As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.

Cross-sex friendships are a historically recent phenomenon, according to the study’s authors, and mating strategies get in the way.  

Humans’ evolved mating strategies motivate involvement in cross-sex friendships and also lead to attraction to friends, even when not consciously intended. 

There are good reasons for men and women to view friendships differently:

As facilitators of a short-term mating strategy, men desire a greater number of sex partners than women do, experience lower levels of sexual attraction to their partners after initial sexual access to them, over-infer the degree of sexual attraction portrayed in ambiguous signals from women, and fantasize more about sexual access to a variety of partners.

In other words, men are all about getting it in, while women are (or should be) all about being selective. It is not surprising, then, that men had the hots for their female friends regardless of whether they were in a relationship, while women were less likely to diverge from a long-term mating strategy when partnered.

The men reported moderate levels of attraction to (and desire to date) their friend regardless of their own current romantic involvement or their friend’s current romantic involvement.

We predicted this pattern of effects from evolutionary logic that young males possess strong short-term mating desires that are activated in the context of the opposite sex, regardless of their current relationship involvement.

Women, whose long-term mating orientation tends to dominate, reported less desire to date their friend when they were already in a committed relationship. 

The Rules

Just in case you’re thinking it’s all good if you have a boyfriend, men didn’t hesitate to assume romantic interest from “taken” women, aka the mate poaching strategy:

…Although men were equally as likely to desire “romantic dates” with “taken” friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.

However, single women were more likely than women in a relationship to develop a romantic interest in a guy friend:

Single men across age groups reported relatively high levels of attraction to their cross-sex friend, and single women across age groups reported moderate levels of attraction to their cross-sex friend.

Romantic feelings towards friends of the opposite sex decreased the quality of the relationship with the existing partner:

Younger females and middle-aged participants who reported more attraction to a current cross-sex friend reported less satisfaction in their current romantic relationship.

First studied in the late 1980s, cross-sex friendships present several problems:

1. They incite jealousy in romantic partners.

2. They are viewed with suspicion by others in social situations, reflecting the frequent undercurrent of sexuality in the relationship.

3. Some people use platonic friendship as a mating strategy – parties are frequently at cross purposes in the friendship.

4. The media portrays ‘‘normal’’ relationships between men and women as sexual, and hence non-sexual relationships between men and women as strange and essentially impossible.

Moonlighting, Cheers, When Harry Met Sally, Friends, The Office, Scrubs, He’s Just Not That Into You – all…thrive on romantic tension and excitement portrayed between cross-sex ‘‘friends’’ who end up either in a romantic partnership or a temporary attempt at one.

They may also provide some benefits, however, including a boost to confidence and self-esteem depending on the relative status of the parties. Also, the discrepancy between men and women decreases as they age, perhaps reflecting a higher frequency of existing partnerships.

The most extreme example of cross-sex friendship mentioned by the authors is the Friend With Benefits arrangement. A cross-sex friendship of sexual activity without romantic involvement. The FWB is well adapted to male mating strategies. 

Finally, the authors note that we do not have a good understanding of causation in cross-sex friendships:

  • Perhaps men and women who are dissatisfied in their romantic relationships increasingly turn to their cross-sex friends or develop new cross-sex friendships. 
  • Perhaps attraction to a cross-sex friend leads to dissatisfaction with one’s romantic relationship. 
  • Perhaps men and women with certain dispositions, such as high levels of novelty seeking, are likely to both pursue cross-sex friends and grow dissatisfied with their long-term mateships.

Cross-sex friendships are messy and laden with drama. As humans, our mating strategies are at cross purposes, and this is nowhere more evident than in these friendships. 

The Strategy