Can Men and Women Be Friends?

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Date Submitted: 08/27/2011 10:11 PM

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If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, it may explain at least one of their shared beliefs: Men and women can't be real friends. Blame the sexual tension that almost inevitably exists between any red-blooded, heterosexual man and woman. Point to the jealousy that plagues many rational people when a significant other befriends someone of the opposite sex; Boil it down to the inherent differences between the sexes. It just can't be done. Right?

Wrong, say relationship experts.

"The belief that men and women can't be friends comes from another era in which women were at home and men were in the workplace, and the only way they could get together was for romance."

"Now they work together and have sports interests together and socialize together."

This cultural shift is encouraging psychologists, sociologists and communications experts to put forth a new message: Though it may be tricky, men and women can successfully become close friends. What's more, there are good reasons for them to do so. Society has long singled out romance as the prototypical male-female relationship because it spawns babies and keeps the life cycle going; cross-sex friendship, as researchers call it, has been either ignored or trivialized.

We have rules for how to act in romantic relationships (flirt, date, get married, have kids) and even same-sex friendships (boys relate by doing activities together, girls by talking and sharing). But there are so few platonic male-female friendships on display in our culture that we're at a loss to even defining these relationships.

Television hasn't helped either. "Almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance,"

It's no wonder we expect that men and women are always on the road to romance. But that's only one of the major barriers.

Five challenges to male-female friendship were identified: defining it, dealing with sexual attraction, seeing each other as equals, facing people's responses to the...