Dissecting the Modern American Male

Platonic Friendships: Can They Work?

I recently came across an interesting article in Scientific American concerning Platonic Friendships. The article summarizes an interesting paper by April Bleske-Rechek, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. I won’t give a full summary of the paper because the article does a good job (or you can read the full paper), but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on it and how it relates to the Modern American Male.

The paper basically says that platonic friendships between sexes are always imperfect, meaning there is always a possibility that the sexual attraction will get in the way. The results of the study suggest that men are much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. In addition, men incorrectly perceive that the women are attracted to them.  “… 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.”

The paper also points out that as we get older two things happen. First, the number of platonic friends decreases, but so does the sexual attraction. So as we age we will have less cross-sex friends, but the possibility of acting on the sexual attraction decreases.

I did some reading on this subject and I found a great little op-ed piece in the New York Times that somewhat contradicts the academic paper. The piece points out that platonic friendship is a relatively new concept, and therefore carries a lot of negative stigma. Only in the 1960s did women and men finally mix on (relatively) equal terms at school, work and in social circles, so there is not enough history of true platonic friendships to make a ruling one way or the other.

From my personal experience, I have lived through all three possible scenarios of platonic friendships. I have frequently been the one who was secretly crushing on my friend. I have also been (though not as often), the one who was secretly being crushed on. But, I also have been in a few longstanding purely platonic friendships where I can safely say that neither party ever had any interest in the other. I bet that if you think about platonic friendships in your life, you will see that you had all three scenarios as well.

Therefore, I personally believe that maintaining a true platonic friendship with a person of the opposite sex is possible. More than that, I think it is actually vital to creating a normalized, robust, and nuanced understanding of the world around. Say what you will about trite adages, but men and women do see the world differently, and react in different ways. Only a true friend of the opposite sex will clue you in to how the other 50% of society thinks and functions, which will only enhance your ability to interact with the world.

I’ll go even further, guys who only have guy friends typically exhibit a fundamental flaw in how they interact with women, and vice versa. In my opinion, the typical Modern American Male has no idea how to deal with the Modern American Female because most of them have never related to women as anything other than booty prospects.

My point is twofold, first, truly platonic relationships are rare and should be cherished, they only add to your life. Secondly, don’t be intimidated if your potential guy has a best female friend. It doesn’t necessarily mean he harbors feelings for this woman. In fact, this woman could be the reason why your guy is so insightful and respectful to you in the first place. Even though every teen rom-com shows platonic friendships succumbing to sexual interests, not everybody is Monica and Chandler. Some are Joey and Phoebe.


Main Image via Someecards

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608805084 Elizabeth Craig

    My best friend is a guy. We have never and will never have sex! Luckily, he married another of my best friends so I havnt had to succumb to the inevitable end of so many of my other friendships with guys who’s girlfriends “Havnt liked/trusted me” so they’ve chosen them over me (despite me never having actually done anything to make them THINK that way I hasten to add!) He is more honest with me than any of my girlfriends when it comes to things like “that outfit looks ridiculous on you” and any current boy issue I may have. Being a guy he does know how they think which provides me fantastic perspective but also means that when I meet my future husband he will have to go through the “Liam approval process” so I don’t get lumbered with and I quote “a complete douchbag”
    He’s my fiercest defender and my harshest/most honest critic. And that’s why he’s my best friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=56005280 Anna Walters

    Agreed! I have had the friendships with guys that you described here. And even though some may be a bit awkward, when you find ones that are strictly platonic, its pretty great. Most of my best friendships are with those with the opposite sex, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1652421693 Amalia Pantazi

    Well, I don’t see why a man-woman friendship can’t work. Sure, sometimes, or for some people, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it’s by rule impossible. I’m a womane, so I can’t really say that I know how these things work for men, but I think women can bond with men and care about them without falling in love. Except, that’s very tricky if you get too close to the other person, talking all the time and sharing everything, and spending A LOT of time together, it’s difficult not to develop feelings. And the truth is that sexual attraction or elements of it do get in the way sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that they ruin the whole friendship, I mean girl friendships can get pretty messed up by worse things, like jealousy or antagonism.
    I have boy-friends that I feel quite close to, but noone too close, not like a best best friend. I’ve had a crush on a close guy friend of mine once. I got over it and we’re still close. I never told him and never felt awkward about it. Nothing has changed. Sexual attraction might occur, but that’s not a definite disaster (see end of friendship)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596547090 Catie Anderson

    I love this article! I have two best guy friends who I’ve been friends with since high school (With no romantic feelings messing up our friendships). They are like the brothers I’ve never had.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604445906 Ivan Remtoula

    Great article! I love it! In 2006, when I entered university, I became friends with 3 girls. We were always hanging out. We didn’t see each other outside of university, but when we did, we always had fun. Even now, we have stayed in touch. We hope to see one another soon.
    Neither of us was interested in having sex with the other. Not only did it not cross our minds, but it would be awkward for all of us. And we would lose our friendship.
    Although many people thought I was dating all 3 of my female friends at university (I did not), the relationships you’re describing in your article haven’t happened to me.
    But I do believe in a man/woman relationship :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=671532687 Alle Connell

    My best friend since I was 14 is a dude. Neither of us have ever had even an inkling of romantic or sexual feelings for the other one, not even in the crazy days of teenage hormones.
    I can’t overstate how important this relationship has been for me. Michael has been a stabilising force in my life for almost 15 years now. Nobody on the planet can make me laugh as hard as he can, and nobody knows me as well as he does. His girlfriend understands the nature of our friendship and, because she’s secure in their relationship, doesn’t feel threatened or jealous. I like her immensely.
    I think there are a lot of variables that can affect the viability of the male/female friendship. I’ve certainly had male friends who were trying to sleep with me, and it’s sad when a friendship can’t survive because one party has special feelings. I’ve also had plenty of female friendships that haven’t gone the distance. Those relationships didn’t fail because of sex, they failed because of an incompatibility of personalities, or lifestyles, or whatever.
    What I’m saying is that no matter the gender and identities of the people involved, true friendship is a rare thing. It doesn’t always work out, even when you really want it to. But when it DOES work, you have to hold onto it. Because oh man, is it ever worth it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=45702445 Aura Fedora Bishop

    It amazes me that these kinds of dialogues still need to happen, but I’m glad that they do. Platonic relationships with the opposite sex are just as important as those with the same sex. They’re very worthwhile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34203941 Nicole Allan

    I personally love the friendship between Chandler and Rachel 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1314030999 Polly Frank Ebenezer Maestro

    Awesome article, very smart! I totally agree, not every relationship is about sex & romance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1373666055 Gazelle Joy DeFerrante

    I wish I could agree with this, but I cant.. I truly believe in the “when harry met sally” way of thinking.. not to mention just because a guy friend and I have never talked about or done anything sexual it doesn’t mean neither party hasn’t had feelings or thought about acting on them..We can never know whats going on in another persons head.. people only want you to know what they wish you to know.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625480040 Johanna Sch

      I totally agree! I think just because a guy doesn’t tell you he likes you /wants to sleep with you, it doesn’t mean it’s not true! While I do believe you can have those amazing, know-you-better-than-anyone-else friendships with guys and girls, I definitely think that 99% of the time, our feelings or biological “urges” will take over, and then one person ends up hurt or disappointed. But hey, nice to read that people here seem to beat the odds!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000199676269 Mampre Khachian

    hello i read your article and the 3 scenarios .. and i believe from experience you can go from scenario 1 to scenario 2 or scenario 3 to scenario 1.. the point i am making is if two human beings can be open and honset with each other.. they can maintain a friendship.. as long as your not a closed minded ,or too emotional you should be able to understand and respest the diseares of the other person.. I have had been crushed on and communicated that a relationship was out of the question and if they wished we can be real friends.. That is my second point.. its how you define a friend.. you defer with your defintion from gender to gender.. If a friend is someone u speak to everyonce in a while.. ya its more than possible.. If your defintion of a friend is something with substance , as mine is , you might run into problems.. you might confuse the person.. Sharing problems and issues with a human being makes them feel important or makes the feel apart of your life.. confusion has occured during the course of my life.. The key for me has always been to let down or been let down easy and communicated throughly.. You dont need to say your ugly or I would never be with a person like you.. friendship would never exist over that.. but if you take the time to consider the other person feelings.. that shows you are exhibiting one of the many important qualities of a friendship.. that is caring about how the other person feels.. ya thats what i think..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001046605194 Katherine Wheeler

    It’s interesting how much the male perspective changes the treatment of this issue. http://hellogiggles.com/bff-boy-friend-fancying-can-we-really-just-be-friends

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503090180 Kiki Smith

    I personally find the assertion that men and women can’t be friends deeply insulting as a human being. The romantic/sexual kind of love isn’t the only thing in the world, not everything boils down to sex, we are so much more complex than that and so are our relationships.

    Not ALL men and women can be friends, but that doesn’t mean NONE of them can. The same way not all women can be friends with each other. Or dogs. Or kids. Or whatever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000099304653 Dan Ganacias

    i definitely believe, and know from experience that without interference from other parties (i.e. insecure boyfriends), that platonic relationships work. awesome article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003686438378 Helena Pearly Gates

    One of my friends is a guy. We are a year apart and I’ve known him is whole life. We are like brother and sister. I love him and he loves me but not in any type of sexual way. I hate it when people think that just because a guy and a girl talk, they have feelings for each other. Granted some people get feelings for each other, but others don’t. If someone says they don’t have feelings for their best friend, leave them alone.

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