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.


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