The Elusive Male-Female Friendship

man-woman-friendshipUnfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, most friendships are between members of the same gender — males or females. Cross-gender friendships, those between a woman and a man, are comparatively rarer and becomes even rarer as people move from childhood to adulthood. Why is this the case? Can men and women ever truly be friends? The rarity of the male-female friendship has been a subject of discussion and research throughout time.

Several theories have been made as to why men and women can never just be friends. Some researchers contend that it all comes down to biology: both men and women are made to seek out partners and sexual relationships. Unless other factors intervene, a man and a woman will always initially see each other as potential partners.

Other interpersonal relationship researchers believe that the most important factor is not biology, but gender role expectations. When a man and a woman of similar demographic meet for the first time, their first perceptions of each other is in terms of attraction. Because they are aware of their gender and their relation to the opposite sex, their initial response and interaction is concerned with their attraction to the other person and the other person’s attraction to them.

According to this view, people largely learn how to react to the opposite sex, and in most societies men and women tend to be seen as (potential) romantic partners. So in meeting each other, gender awareness and cultural expectations don’t allow men and women to forget the potential for romantic involvement. As a result they either pursue each other romantically, or not at all.

Gender-Bending

One type of male-female friendship is more common than others, and that is one where one member shows traits of the opposite gender — the effeminate man or the tomboy. Interpersonal researchers claim that the gender-bending of the woman or man in the friendship allows their friend to view them not a romantic partner, but more like themselves. Thus this friendship is either more like a friendship between two women or two men.

Outside Factors

Besides the main theories, there are many other factors that keep men and women from forming friendships. Current relationships, activities, and work prevent men and women from meeting in a platonic setting.

If either a man or woman is currently involved with someone else, they are more hesitant to take up a friend of the opposite sex for fear that their partner will disapprove. In addition, men and women still take part in different activities and career which cut down on the potential meetings.

Do you have a close friend of the opposite gender? Do you believe men and women can or can not be friends and why?

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32 thoughts on “The Elusive Male-Female Friendship

  1. I don’t have a close friend of the opposite gender, but then again, I don’t have many friends. And there are two males you could say are my friends, but they are my husband’s friends.

    But I believe in male-female friendship, I really do. Now, I am not sure if this type of friendship is really popular when kids are young: kids tend to self-segregate based on gender up to the age of 10 or 11, at least where I live. From that age to puberty is just a few years before you start noticing the opposite sex in a different way.

    Still, I don’t see why a man and a woman can’t be friends. (I won’t say “just” friends, because, let’s face it, friendship is sometimes (often?) more valuable than dating).

    Seriously, I’d love to have guy friends but they don’t like me back 😦 And I’m a tomboy. Which, btw, is bad for this kind of friendship in my culture, I think, since many (most of?) the guys want to be friends only with women they’re attracted to, while they completely ignore the existence of the other women. And women here often want to be friends only with men who are attracted to them. So I guess THAT is a recipe for fail.

    Still, I believe male-female friendship can work and be fantastic, if people involved are honest and really want to be friends.

  2. I think It’s partly the sexual tension. Most men wants to fuck you is my experience. I have male friends here but not super duper close friend who I talk sex and really personal stuff with as my girlfriends do..

    But you can always get a gay friend. That would be so cool having a gay friend lol.

    It’s the whole gender thing as well.. I know my husband got two close female friends but I don’t mind at all since both are married and I trust him.

  3. Mira,

    According to research girls and boys can be casual friends when younger because they haven’t formed their gender roles as strongly/don’t see each other as partners. But that quickly changes.

    There aren’t any guys near you that are willing to be friends with women who like the same activities as them even if they aren’t attracted to them? You know, sports, video games, etc? There are friendships like that here. My brother’s best friend is a girl he became close with because they both loved the TV show Seinfeld.

  4. Nkosazana, if you talk about intimate topics with them don’t you think you are adding to the sexual tension? 🙂

    I have a few gay guy friends. They are great. It’s definitely a different dynamic than being friends with straight men.

  5. Alee,

    According to research girls and boys can be casual friends when younger because they haven’t formed their gender roles as strongly/don’t see each other as partners. But that quickly changes.

    It makes sens,e of course. Only in my experience (and it might be just my culture), kids hate socializing with the opposite sex. I’m talking about kids aged 7, 8 etc. It’s that time when you think “eeew, boys, they’re so boring and obnoxious”, and they think the same for them. But at this age, tomboys and feminine boys DO play with kids of the opposite gender more.

    There aren’t any guys near you that are willing to be friends with women who like the same activities as them even if they aren’t attracted to them? You know, sports, video games, etc?

    Oh, there are. Especially if it’s about music taste, and music is rock music or the like 😛 I was just generalizing, which is never good. However, what I mentioned is what ruins most of the male-female friendship, as far as I can tell.

    So, it’s not as much about not being able to resist sexual chemistry as not starting a friendship with honest motives in the first place. If you only reason to be friends with this girl is because you find her attractive, is that a good way to form a friendship? Likewise, if your only reason to be friends with a guy is for him to admire you (because you can sense he’s attracted to you), is that really the best way to build friendship?

    But by all means, there are male-female friendships here. I know about them. That’s why I believe they can work. Especially if they share a strong bond (they know eachother since they were kids, they are in the same band, etc.)

    PS- I have a gay friend and the dynamics is more or less the same, I think. But like I said, we’re not really close friends.

  6. Nkosazana, so what do you talk about with them?

    Mira,

    It’s very true about smaller children thinking people of the opposite gender are generally “icky”. But they do play with each other sometimes, on their own terms.

    Oh, I see what happens in those situations. That’s a big problem — beginning a “friendship” with sexual motives.

    I think my friendships with gay guys are different from those with straight guys because the straight guys are mostly “typical guy” athletic types.

  7. One of my closest friends is a straight male, though he’s my personal exception to the rule because almost every other time I’ve been friends with an unattached straight male, he’s wanted to be more than friends. At this point, I feel most comfortable befriending guys with girlfriends–since we’re both attached, there’s no sexual tension (even though Z swears that every man who comes within a 6 foot radius of me is smitten :roll:).

  8. Alee,

    It’s very true about smaller children thinking people of the opposite gender are generally “icky”. But they do play with each other sometimes, on their own terms.

    You might be right about that. I used to be friends with a few boys in the kindergarten, especially one quiet boy who played with girls more than the guys. But wait, he ended being my boyfriend, so I guess that doesn’t count!

    I think my friendships with gay guys are different from those with straight guys because the straight guys are mostly “typical guy” athletic types.

    Athletic guys (girls, or whatever athletic) and I don’t go well together, so even the straight guys I’m ok with are not of that type. That’s why everything’s the same with this gay guy.

  9. Jasmin,

    I’ve never noted whether most of my guy friends are in relationships or not. But when I think about it, most of them are single or have a revolving door of girlfriends. In the beginning some of them did make advances but I guess we just got over that eventually. I do think guys with girlfriends would be a better bet, especially if you know or are friends with their girlfriend/wife. 😉

    Z might be on to something! You do seem to have that “it” factor.

  10. >>Oh no no no I don’t talk to them about sex that would be wierd since they are men and would not get most of it.

    Nkosazana, you crack me up!

  11. As I said in a previous post, I am always the friend, so clearly I have no problems with being friends with straight men! I suppose in theory all members of the opposite sex start off in the “potential” category until something else rules them out. Therefore the folks you have crushes on are people who have nothing that rules them out.

  12. Ive had a few genuine friendships with straight males but they were with guys that started out being attracted to me but I wasnt interested to they settled for friendship. We could only stay friends because they ended up getting girlfriends usually and their attraction for me died down. I did have one instance where a friendship with a guy ended because of his lack of attraction toward me offended me haha. One day we were hanging out in a group and someone accused us of sleeping together (which we were always accused of that) and my guy friend said no he loves me as a friend but im not his type at all cause im not the race that he dates. That stung so bad and it was the wrong choice of words on his part. I knew I wasnt the race that he preferred to date but to hear someone your close to say in your face that you arent their type does kinda hurt. I never really looked at him the same after that. Maybe it shouldntve bothered me so much, I dont know.

    I prefer my friendship with gay guys because there is no ego involved on either side. We arent gonna be offended if one isnt attracted to the other since we arent suppose to be attracted to each other obviously.

  13. Jessica,

    I might be wrong, but saying he’s not attracted to you personally is different than saying he’s not attracted to the whole race. The race comment raises many red flags that simple “I’m not attracted to you” doesn’t.

  14. Jassica,

    “my guy friend said no he loves me as a friend but im not his type at all cause im not the race that he dates.”

    …Eh?

    What does that mean? (Half-serious question…) What is your race/what race do you identify with, btw?

  15. Alee, Im black. On one hand I guess I shouldntve taken it personal cause it was nothing against me specifically but I felt like he shouldntve responded like that in front of everyone in the way that he did. He was biracial (Ethiopian/polynesian) if that makes a difference but thats a whole other topic entirely. He was a really attractive guy so even if I didnt want to date him anyway, it still kinda sucks to hear a hot guy say your not his type right in front of you and a room full of people regardless of the reason.

  16. Jessica,

    Oh, interesting.

    “He was biracial (Ethiopian/polynesian)”

    In other words, also black?… Funny how those things work. 😀

    (Btw, this is semi-related to a post I have coming up.)

    I agree that it was tactless of him to say something like that; it simply serves no purpose. However, I disagree that it shouldn’t have bothered you. You can’t change your perceived race and even if you weren’t interested in him, it hurts to think you’ve been canceled out due to a factor entirely out of your control.

    I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed his friendship any longer either.

  17. I think men and women can be friends, depending. A few of my really good friends are male (gay and straight) with my best friend being a gay male. I agree though there will always be that element of sizing each other up in terms of being potential mates when you first meet someone. I went to uni with these friends so we went past that phase in the beginning and just got on to actual friendship.

    When I moved to London and I was just trying to meet people for friendship I was unsuccessful with males in that respect. The men I met said they were cool with friendship but ended up wanting to date so I ended those relationships. The only men I didn’t end it with I ended up dating. My straight male friendships here mostly consist of my boyfriend’s friends.

  18. wanderlust,

    “I went to uni with these friends so we went past that phase in the beginning and just got on to actual friendship.”

    I wonder how many male-female friendships actually do start out with that “sizing up” but then eventually turn into a more platonic interest.

  19. I think it boils down to what an individuals definition of a friend is. Aside from that I really don’t think a man and woman can be true friends, one always likes the other or has a hidden agenda. I’m just speaking from my experience and what I have seen :).

  20. Well, i do have a close friend who is a straight dude. Im a teenager. We talk about personal stuff but we know our boundaries. We never did anything sexual. We just plain talk and hang out like normal close friends. Its like a best friend relationship , i should say 🙂

  21. Nikisha,

    “I think it boils down to what an individuals definition of a friend is.”

    Ha, yes, we know those definitions can be a bit… tricky. But hopefully people who claim to be friends are strictly platonic, or at least closer to it than romantic. Because of course being friends with benefits is a sticky situation, to say the least.

    Hi Nina *waves*

    Well, that sounds promising. Two teenagers of the opposite sex being best friends? I’ll assume you met him as a youngster. 🙂

  22. Haha actually we met when i was 15 he was 15 too.

    By the way, i love your blog so much. I just found out about it last night lol . Keep it up!

  23. Nina, oh, at 15? With hormones raging? Now that’s a success story if I ever heard one. 😉

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Make yourself at home. 🙂

  24. Eish wena.

    Teenagers shouln’t play adult games anyway, ends up badly in the end.
    I swear they get younger and younger each year!

    // prude mode off lol

  25. Nkosazana, they’re just friends, remember? They probably never even thought of playing “adult games”. 🙂

  26. I find it hard to make and maintain friendships with heterosexual guys because the majority of the time they want a relationship with me. And I find it hard to go back to the way things were when they’ve admitted to being attracted to me. It’s hard to go back to talking about random stuff after a guy asks if I found him “hot or not” then asks me out on another occasion.

  27. changingmoods,

    I find it hard to go back to the way things were when they’ve admitted to being attracted to me.”

    I imagine you’re not alone in feeling that way. It can be really awkward if a friend admits to liking you when you don’t feel the same way. That might be why so many people stay in the Friend Zone so long — they are afraid of making their feelings known and jeopardizing their friendship.

  28. Absolutely yes a woman can have male friends. In most cases, my friendships with guys fall into more classic male-male patterns because we do things in common, but not a lot of emotional bonding, which perfectly suits my nature. Sure there can be sexual tension, but it doesn’t become an issue because there’s mutual respect and the friendship is too valued to be risked on both sides. And for the most part, I make an effort to meet and get to know the female mates of my guy friends, so they see I’m not a threat.

    And forget the immature guys who hang around girls only for the sake of “getting some” instead of seeing her as an individual human being worthy of friendship. Just because she won’t “give it up” after hanging around her for awhile doesn’t mean she’s a tease or flirt or whatever epithet you use. Personally I think it’s much better to be in the Friend Zone than hated or reviled.

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