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Can men and women be 'just friends'?

Updated: May 17, 2023

A few weeks ago I posted something on my Instagram story on my daily what’s out list (see photo below)** that said “guys who want to date you but aren't willing to be just friends.” I got a lot of messages from guys about the post stating they didn’t agree.


They said if were just friends with a girl, they would be lying about their intentions.


Other women messaged me stories of ex-friends confessing feelings unexpectedly, and all of this made me curious about the true nature of cross-sex friendships. So, can men and women really be friends? Let’s find out together.



**for context, I post every day on my Instagram about 5 things that I think are “in” and 5 things I think are “out”. My instagram is @lauramaigainor


Do I have guy friends?


Just so you know where my biases lie. I’ll explain my own male relationships. I have a lot of guy friends. We don’t hang out all the time, a few of them are uni friends living in different countries. With my guy friends I tend to text them rarely, send memes, hang out in groups and sometimes hang out one on one.


I have always said my guy friends are just friends, and it’s true, nothing has ever happened between me and a guy friend, but I have asked myself whether I would date every single one of my guy friends. No exceptions. A few of them I’m attracted to, and to two of them the answer to the first question would be yes. I just assumed the attraction wasn’t mutual or we’ve had a conversation about why it wouldn’t work.


In times when I’m in committed relationships, I’ve always aimed to hang out in groups vs. one on one or asked my partner for permission before going out of respect. Upon reflection on my actions in relationships, it appears I have always realised subconsciously there is a risk involved in cross-sex friendships.


Can men and women be just friends?


On Reddit, why cross-sex friendships are a red flag friendship returned answers like:


“Three of my wife's guy friends tried to sleep with her in the first year of us dating.”
“Because they are either lying about knowing the person’s interest in them, or they’re naive to it. Neither are good.”

The naivety explanation is likely the answer for women. A study covered by Scientific American explained men and women can perceive the same relationship completely differently. Men are attracted more often to female friends and perceive this attraction as being mutual, while women believe a lack of attraction is mutual. Women in the study tended to be more sensitive to the male’s relationships, whereas men were equally willing to be with a woman regardless of relationship status. If we all thought like women, men and women couldprobably be just friends, but we don’t.




What about in modern times?


Not everyone is me. If you’re reading this and you feel differently, that’s ok. I know a lot of people who claim to have platonic cross-sex friendships. According to the Atlantic, true platonic friendships between men and women of compatible sexualities have, of course, been common for what researchers believe to be a few generations now.


Same-sex and cross-sex friendships have been shown to benefit our human and emotional development, but cross-sex male-female friendships have also been shown to lead to romantic and sexual relationships, but times are also changing and there are some places where same-sex friendships are necessary. Like in the workplace for example.



I think what people are afraid of are the risk associated with same sex friendships, especially when things get rough because cross-sex friendships do reduce barriers to cheating. With a viable option close, cheating is easier when couples hit rough patches.


Should you stop having friends of the gender you're attracted to?


Everyone is going to be different, but everyone has the right to boundaries and you have the right not to be in a relationship with that person if they’re not able to respect what you need, whether your need is to have cross-sex friendships or for your partner not to have one.



My feelings after researching this are to know your own intentions, respect your partner’s boundaries and remove double standards.


You might be someone who is fine with cross-sex friendships, and the aim of this article isn’t to create problems or change anyone’s minds, but I hope it will encourage conversations about what cheating is and what boudaries are important for future relationships of people reading this.


Enjoyed this post?


Thanks for reading! Tune in next week where we'll explore another question keeping me up at night.


Questions that keep me up at night - the blog for curious people every Wednesday at 9:00am.


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