Myth #3: Men and women can never be “just friends.”

Truth: Men say their friendships with women are actually closer than their friendships with other men.

Can men and women really be “just friends”—with no romantic or sexual overtones? Not only is this a wildly popular subject in the movies (think When Harry Met Sally), but it’s also a very popular question among singles out in the dating world.

How do researchers, myself included, weigh in on the matter?

Studies show that most people currently have or have had a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex—and that men and women can be platonic friends. In one recent study, sociologist Diane Felmlee at the University of California-Davis asked 406 adults this same question. The majority—83.5 percent—said yes, men and women can be friends, and only friends. Only 2 percent said no, and 12 percent said maybe. These results held true for both sexes: men and women did not differ in their views.

Not only are these types of relationships possible, they also give you an edge in the dating world. Your opposite-sex friends may know of “just the right person” to introduce you to; they are also great sounding boards and an instant support network. Besides, where else can you learn the ins and outs of the opposite sex firsthand?

To top it off, opposite-sex friendships are personally rewarding. Studies find that men have closer friendships with women than they do with their male buddies—and this type of close friendship becomes very important after a breakup or when you step into the dating world. If you read through the research, it makes sense. For men, how they form friendships starts at a very early age. Young boys engage in rough-and tumble play with their friends (like wrestling or football) and spend
most of their time in large friendship groups. In contrast, when girls are young, they spend more one-on-one time with their friends. They play less physical games, such as dolls and house. Even girls’ sports activities are less likely to be contact sports (like tetherball or four-square). This type of play, and the small intimate nature of their friendships, allows girls to create closer and more intimate same-sex friendships. Fast forward to adulthood, and these same friendship patterns hold true. As adults, women spend more time simply talking with friends, and men spend more of their time doing things with friends. When men get together with their friends, they engage in activities—not conversations— such as going to a sports event, playing basketball or poker, or watching TV.

Did You Know?

Women’s friendships are typically “face-to-face” and are built on support and talking things through. Men’s friendships are usually “side-by-side” and focus on shared activities and interests. While friendships with other guys can be bonding for men, they don’t create the necessary intimacy and closeness we all need and crave as human beings. So when men have friendships with women and “do friendships the female way” (with lots of talking and intimate discussion), men end up reporting that these opposite-sex friendships are much closer than their same-sex friendships. In these cases, men and women are not only “just friends,” they are very good friends. And this, of course, is quite fulfilling.

When you understand these differences, you can easily see how same-and opposite-sex friendships play out after a divorce or a breakup. A woman is likely to call her girlfriends to talk, discuss, consult, chat, and analyze what’s happened. They may spend hours, if not days, deliberating about the situation over the phone or in person. This talking time is therapeutic and rewarding to women. For a man, if he calls or gets together with his guy friends, the friends are more likely to play
sports, work out, or have a few drinks to help their buddy get over the breakup. You just can’t imagine a guy saying to a male friend who’s been dumped, “Not to worry, man. Let’s get together for coffee and talk about your feelings.” When a guy needs relationship advice, he’s going to turn to his female friends first.

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