The question sounds like a case of giving meat to a cat for safekeeping. In recent past, it would perhaps have been the most irrelevant question. Those days, men and women lived mostly separate social lives—men moved with men and women with women. So when the sexes crossed, the motive was obvious. Today, the issue has become more complicated.
From the late nineteenth century, with women joining the once predominately male workforce and educational system, the simple equation has been muddled to birth flourishing cross-sex friendships.
Some men I have asked this question said it wasn’t possible when they were much younger and “firing”, but now, having matured and become God-fearing, they can keep female friends “harmlessly”.
Many women respondents were spontaneous. They said it is possible when there is mutual respect, and where there isn’t, they quit.
Yet, as we will see presently, this kind of relationship is not that easy. Many of such relationships are driven by men in cultures where women are passive. And this is the point: what do men want? What is the strongest force on their minds? Sex! It takes more than mutual respect for a man to control this urge when his female friend is attractive, or as they say it now, sexy.
The man’s mind
There is ample evidence from how men relate to women to know what they want. There is enough scientific evidence too. For example, a 1989 study by psychologists Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield conducted in Florida State University made an interesting find.
They recruited young women to approach male students at random and have a brief conversation. Average-looking women, mind you—”moderately attractive,” even “slightly unattractive”—in casual clothes. No supermodels; no stilettos; no bare midriffs. It was important that the young man remain coherent. The ladies all told their guy they’d seen him around campus. They said they found him very attractive. Then some asked their man on a date. Some asked him to come over that night. And some asked him, point blank, to go to bed.
Nearly 70 percent of men agreed to visit the lady’s apartment, and 75 percent accepted the sexual proposition. Extrapolating the finding to the real world means that on any given first date, the man would sooner sleep with the hostess than dine with his companion.
Although, on the average females are less motivated by sex in cross-sex friendships, unless when it comes a tool, the question is still relevant. “Can a man and a woman be just friends?”
Experts have spent years researching opposite-sex friendships, and the truth is that the man cannot be trusted as much as the woman. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that while women were generally not attracted to their male friends and saw the relationship as strictly platonic, the men usually had romantic feelings for their lady friends.
In the study, not only were the guys more attracted to their female friends, they also mistakenly believed that the feelings were mutual, and they were more willing to act on their perceived mutual attraction. This unbalanced feeling has been identified as a possible cause of rape cases.
The Wisconsin study concluded that women generally think men and women can just be friends, while men secretly hope the relationship can become something more. True talk!
But this isn’t to say that truly platonic male–female friendships aren’t possible. Experts have documented that men and women can indeed be friends in some instances and that such relationships even offer some benefits that are unobtainable from same-sex friendships. Opposite-sex friendships could be very useful opportunities for single women to understand men better, to know how the male mind works. That could be useful in navigating romantic life more successfully. Also a healthy opposite-sex friendship could evolve into a fulfilling romantic relationship.
The experts, however, qualify those conclusions by noting that cross-sex relationships are typically more complicated than same-sex ones, requiring far more communication and transparency.
Complicated for married women
Opposite-sex friendship could be dangerous for married women or committed relationships. They may be safe when the woman is in a strong relationship or marriage. But here is the danger. When the marriages hit a storm, women are more likely to turn to their friends for emotional support. If those friends happen to be of the opposite sex, there’s a chance that “a nurturing hug can turn into something more physical without either party’s having intended it.” Adultery beckons from this point on, and in some cases, it has led some women, and even men, to leave their spouses for their friends.
Experts, therefore, warn that although we may think we are capable of being “just friends” with members of the opposite sex, the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” is often lurking just around the corner, waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moment.
Daniels is a journalist and author
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