Platonic friendships may involve attraction
When Harry Burns met Sally Albright in the 1989 film,”When Harry Met Sally“, he told her men “can’t just be friends” with women. And it turns out, he was right. Researchers have found that while men and women may think they are capable of being “just friends,” they are always driven by sexual attraction regardless of whether they are single or not.
To put the viability of platonic opposite-sex friendships to the test, researchers brought 88 pairs of undergraduate opposite-sex friends to a lab at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and asked each of them a series of questions regarding the other. To ensure that each of the pair gave honest responses, they asked both friends to agree to refrain from discussing the study afterwards. And much like the premise of the film, “When Harry Met Sally“, the study suggested there were gender differences in how men and women perceive opposite-sex friendships.
In When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal, who plays Harry, said, “Men and women can’t be friends because no man can be friends with a women he finds attractive. He always want to have sex with her.” And the study shows there is some truth to that because men were much more attracted to their female friends than the other way around. Not only that, but men were also more likely to assume their female friends were attracted to them — an indubitably misguided notion.
The study showed that what men assumed women to feel toward them had nothing to do with how interested the women actually were in them but rather how the men themselves felt about the woman. Essentially, men assumed any attraction they had toward their female friend was mutual, when in fact they weren’t. And women, generally not attracted to their male friends, were blind to the level of attraction their male friends felt toward them.
Advanced Placement Psychology teacher Timothy Drennan believes that from an evolutionary perspective, men have been the ones to “make the first move.” He said a woman would tend not to notice that her male friend was attracted to her because that would mean she would have to “fend him off.”
“I think probably evolutionary-wise it has something to do with, you know, the men were kind of the ones in control of choosing [who they want to date] and the one with the power and so forth,” Drennan said. “And I think mostly that women are somewhat more self-protective. So I think that they would not want to read [that a male friend was interested in them] particularly if they didn’t feel the same.”
But senior Rachel Volmert said while most males focus more on the physical aspect of relationships and attraction, females focus more on the emotional aspect, allowing them to be friends with males and other females in the same way.
“I think that girls can be friends with guys because they’re not as attracted to all of them, and they don’t think about the romantic side as much,” Volmert said. “I have some friends that I do not think of in terms of ‘I wouldn’t date them,’ but we’re friends. And it’s probably because I like them as people, but I just don’t find them attractive in that way.”
However, senior Joel Pruitt thinks many teenage males are interested in their female friends because they don’t take time to think about whether they really want a relationship with someone after they feel the initial attraction to a friend.
“What a lot of teenagers do is they’ll feel something and then it’s like, ‘Oh, this must mean that I want a relationship with this person,’” Pruitt said. “And they don’t really sit down just by themselves and really think it out and say, ‘What are the extent of my feelings?’ And if you can identify that, then all of a sudden you save yourself a whole bunch of trouble. But I don’t think people really think about it. And they’re like this is really exciting, so I’ll just run with it and see how it goes.”
According to the study, what Pruitt had to say holds true to an extent. Men are more willing to act on the perceived “mutual” attraction. Based on the study, both men and women are equally attracted to romantically involved friends. But men are equally likely to want to date a “taken” friend as with single ones while women are uninterested in pursuing male friends already in a relationship.
Volmert said that when a guy is in a relationship with one of her friends, he is “off limits.” She said she can’t look at him in a romantic light. And she thinks part of the reason this holds true for women is because women are more able to form close relationships with each other, which carries over to when they form relationships with men.
“When we choose who our friends are, we choose them because have similar interests to us or we find them funny or have things in common,” Volmert said. “And you’re generally attracted to the same things when you’re looking for someone to date. So that that’s a possibility. And the more often you’re exposed to someone, the more you like them. And guys think about sex a lot, and you know it’s hard to keep that out of relationships.”
Drennan not only thinks women are more empathetic but also that they have more to lose from pursuing relationships sometimes. It’s “not a matter of morals” but rather a matter of “self control.”
“If I were in his girlfriend’s spot, would I want some girl you know messing around with my boyfriend? Whereas [for] guys, it’s maybe more selfish in that, you know, ‘Of course I wouldn’t want my girlfriend to do that, but it’s OK for me to do that,’” Drennan said. Guys have “never had to exercise self control the way a woman has. But for some reason when it comes to moral things men, their decisions are based more on self-centeredness. And maybe the fact that they’ve always been the controlling person and could be selfish and get away with it.”
By Ipsa Chaudhary