Opposite-Sex friendships may be ‘too attractive,’ according to study

By Kyle Rich

Even though some college students might enjoy the idea of “friends with benefits,” many men and women are able to maintain healthy, platonic relationships with each other. However, new studies suggest that the element of attraction and the consequences that go with it may make heterosexual friendships difficult to maintain.

The studies were conducted by a team of eight researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire who published their findings in August in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The research surveyed the positives and negatives of opposite-sex friendships, and results showed more burdens than benefits. Sexual attraction not only complicated opposite-sex friendships but also wreaked havoc in romantic relationships outside the friendship.

April Bleske-Rechek, lead researcher of the studies and associate professor of psychology at UWEC who has been studying opposite-sex friendships since graduate school, explained her team’s investigations, which used students at the university.

In the first study, 88 male and female students came in with an opposite-sex friend. They were asked about their feelings toward their friends and their interest in dating them. The study found that, overall, males were more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. However men in exclusive relationships were just as likely to be attracted to their female friends as men who weren’t.

In contrast, women in romantic relationships were much less likely to be attracted to their male friends.

Commenting on the study, William Bradley, who teaches a human sexuality seminar at Columbia, said he believes that reproduction and sexual attraction are built into male genes and their egos.

“I think men are literally always looking for sexual liaisons,” Bradley said. “Men are predatory. Men are pigs. I mean that in a gentle way.”

The second study was designed to determine how people perceive this attraction. College students and adults, 90 percent of whom were married and whose ages ranged from 27 to 55, were surveyed. They were asked about the benefits and challenges they experienced with cross-sex relationships. The researchers set out to find how often sexual attraction would come across as a benefit or a cost. They found that the older group had fewer opposite-sex relationships, but their friendships were of longer duration. Men were  more likely to rate this attraction as a benefit than women.

“We found some correlational evidence, especially in the married sample, that men and women who were less satisfied in their relationship were more attracted to the friend they mentioned,” Bleske-Rechek said. “It could be that being in a bad relationship or being unhappy leads people to perceive other people differently.”

According to Bleske-Rechek, some find benefits in these friendships regardless of whether the attraction is acted upon.

“There’s a lot of really good companionship, a lot of good advice and perspective you don’t get from your same-sex friends,” Bleske-Rechek said. “You don’t have the same degree of intersexual competition operating, so there are a [lot] of benefits that in my mind overwhelm

that challenge.”