It has been known for a long time that men and women can be good friends. But now, a new research claims that no matter what some may think, romantic feelings and attraction will always get in the way of the platonic relationship between male and female friends.
The investigators from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire decided to analyze the platonic, opposite-gender friendship relationships in order to find out whether people could just stay friends without ever wanting or expecting anything more from the relationship. For that, they involved more than 400 heterosexual individuals with the ages between 18 and 52 years in two separate experiments.
In the first trial, researchers placed 88 opposite-gender pairs of friends into different rooms, separately and anonymously, and asked them a series of questions regarding attraction towards their companion, desire to ask a friend on a romantic date, and perception of whether their friend was interested in them romantically. The results revealed that:
male participants showed more attraction or romantic feelings towards their female friends than women did towards their male companions;
men overestimated their female friend`s romantic feelings towards them while women underestimated these feelings;
men had a stronger desire to go on a date with their female friend than did women.
In the following experiment, researchers analyzed to what extent people valued their platonic friendships even if they suspected that there was some sort of attraction involved. The participants were divided into two test groups: "emerging adults," aged between 18 and 23 years, and "young and middle-aged adults," aged between 27 and 52 years. All the subjects had to spontaneously name the benefits and costs of their friendship with a member of the opposite gender, and also rate how satisfied they were with their current romantic partnership. Researchers found that, among all the participants, younger or older, people named more benefits than costs:
attraction was listed as a complication (or a cost) five times more frequently than as a benefit;
both men and women who had serious relationships were no more likely to name attraction as a cost;
in every group age, except for men from "emerging adults" group, the more attraction a person experienced towards his/her friend, the less was their satisfaction with their romantic partner.
April Bleske-Rechek, associate professor of psychology and the study's principal author, said that based on all the data researchers could obtain on the majority of opposite-gender friendships, there was at least a low level of attraction involved. And in case that the affection was experienced more by one person than the other, it was most probably a man. Bleske-Rechek believes that due to the fact that platonic inter-gender relationships are a relatively novel concept in the history of human evolution, men are still controlled and motivated by their hard-wired mating instincts.
The details of this research are published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.