Written by Tunde Ajaja - Nigeria
Is it possible for men and women, whether single or married, to be just friends without a romantic or sexual attraction? This, probably, is one of the longest, perhaps oldest, questions or arguments without a widely accepted answer. Inasmuch as the world comprises only men and women, mainly heterosexual, it is much expected and indeed understandable that they relate together as friends.
However, a study has said that beyond men and women living, working, relating and playing together, they (men and women) have very different views of what it means to be 'just friends,' hence, there is the possibility that the apparent friendship could be a decoy, covering up countless sexual impulses bubbling just beneath the surface. This, according to the study, is particular with the men.
Even though many women, especially the younger ones, have often said they would like to have men as friends because, according to them, it is more fun, they have less issues and quarrels unlike with fellow women that are often fraught with petty issues and quarrels. In fact, they said they like to enjoy men's discussion that is devoid of petty gossips and that they enjoy the protective cover they get from men, more so seeing them as proxy brothers and confidants.
It is however, interesting to know that in spite of the harmless and genuine expectations women have from men they make friends with, a number of men have other plans for the friendship; usually busy strategising on how to infuse romance into the whole affair and take it to the next level. So, the opportunity for romance is often lurking just around the corner, waiting to pounce at the most possible moment.
Even though many believe and some dispute that men's libidos push them to ask or look for more from their friendly relationships with women, the study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, has shown that men's friendships with the opposite sex are usually driven by sexual attraction. This is regardless of whether the men are single or not, whereas, women are found to be likely to consider their friendships with men as platonic (non-sexual or friendly) and only hope for more if their own relationship was in trouble.
According to the researchers from the University of Wisconsin, United States, led by April Bleske-Rechek, friendship can be defined as a voluntary, cooperative personal relationship involving varying degrees of companionship, intimacy, affection, and mutual assistance.
In the study, 88 pairs of young male and female undergraduate friends were brought into a science lab and asked to rate their attraction to each other in a confidential questionnaire. In order to ensure honest responses, the researchers not only followed standard protocols regarding anonymity and confidentiality, but also required both friends to agree to refrain from discussing the study, even after they had left the testing facility.
These friendship pairs were then separated, and each member of each pair was asked a series of questions related to his or her romantic feelings (or lack thereof) toward the friend with whom they were taking the study.
The researchers found that men, whether attached or single, were more attracted to their female friends and want to go on a date with them, unlike women who have no such feeling.
According to the researchers, men also consistently and mistakenly assume that their female friends are more romantically interested in them than they actually are, which the women may not be aware of, whereas women are less attracted to such men.
Reacting to the study, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, Adrian F. Ward, said, "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 were more willing to act on this mistakenly perceived mutual attraction while women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends."
According to the study, men and women differed in the extent to which they saw attached friends as potential romantic partners. While men were equally as likely to desire 'romantic dates' with their female 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.
These results suggest that men, relative to women, have a particularly hard time being 'just friends.'
This probably explains why many married people, especially men who are relatively jealous, tend to disallow their spouses from having male friends and, in the same vein; many married women tend to suspect their husbands when they keep female friends.
In the same study, a second questionnaire for 140 middle-aged people, who were almost all married, showed that the attraction of middle-aged men to their female friends was much lower than that of the younger men, except among those who were single, and for women, the levels of attraction was the same.
This explains that younger men tend to have romantic attraction to their female friends than older men do.
"Participants of both questionnaires said they gained benefits from friendship with the opposite sex including getting good advice and boosting their confidence. While women who did harbour a secret crush on their male friends were five times more likely to see it as a potential problem than a benefit, more men saw it as a perk and a benefit of being a friend to a woman they find attractive," said the authors.
In another follow-up study by Ward, 249 adults (many of whom were married) were asked to list the positive and negative aspects of being friends with a specific member of the opposite sex. Males were significantly more likely than females to list romantic attraction as a benefit of opposite-sex friendships.
If the results of these studies are anything to go by, it then seems that underneath a platonic friendship between men and women is a cluster of sexual desire and out-of-the-world romantic dreams by men, waiting for fulfilment.
Reacting to the study, Prof. Fagboungbe argued that it is possible for a man and woman to be friends without introducing sex or romance depending on certain variables, which vary with individuals. Hence, such could not be generalised. He added that even though temptation may come, what matters is the ability to resist it.
He said, "Sex is a feeling and a physiological need, just like food, and people – man or woman – want it, but the variables that triggers the sex urge vary with individuals. Nevertheless, that a man and woman cannot just be friends without resulting into erotic and sexual act is a fallacy; it is just some people's belief.
"There are certain restraining variables that could make it not to be a general thing, such as personal principle, taste, religious practices and cultural practices, therefore, it is possible. Those who see their female friends as sex materials, if given the opportunity, can even sleep with their own daughters."
However, Fagboungbe said if people would take advantage of their friendship to introduce romance, it could be either the man or the woman because the stimuli that trigger sex are in men and women, hence, they both have sexual feelings, even though women are more socially restricted in manifesting their affection and choices than men.
"Men are able to express their feelings and desire more visibly than the women, even though they have their own way of communicating their desire to men. The overriding thing is the mode of expression, the social restriction and the ability to express it. So, not all friendships have sexual undertone," he added.