What you need to know:
- The good man who is ‘just a friend’ will never see you as ‘just a friend’.
- Women generally stay blind to the romantic perceptions of their male friends.
- Men consistently overestimate the level of attraction from their female friends, and in most cases, often think that they are attracted to them too.
In a 2010 interview with CNN, show host Steve Harvey said he is incapable of having platonic friendships with women. Harvey also said that all men tend to feel incapable of having platonic friendships with women they are attracted to. Those who do are only using friendships as a stepping stone to a sexual and romantic relationship. "He's your friend only because you have made it absolutely clear that nothing is happening except this friendship we have," said Harvey. "We remain your friends in hopes that one day there'll be a crack in the door, a chink in the armor and trust." This interview has been sparking debates on whether a man can be just friends with a woman since it was re-shared in March 2021.
Is it possible?
For a long time, women have been encouraged to have a platonic male friend tucked somewhere. The advantages are numerous, from getting that elusive male perspective, emotional reprieve and, or support, and even having a precursor to romance! The big question, however, has always been: can a man and a woman be just friends? Well, researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire put platonic friendships under the microscope and found out that the good man who is ‘just a friend’ will never see you as ‘just a friend. This research appeared to echo Harvey’s perspective that the man in a platonic relationship will attempt to turn the platonic friendship into a romantic relationship the moment he gets an opportunity.
According to the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire research, interactions between platonic friends instinctually initiate mating strategies that evolved centuries ago. However, women generally stay blind to the romantic perceptions of their male friends. Consequently, men consistently overestimate the level of attraction from their female friends, and in most cases, often think that they are attracted to them too. Apparently, while single and attached women tend to show about the same level of attraction to their male friends, attached women tend to only want something to come out of that attraction if there is trouble in their current relationships.
Platonic friendships between two persons who are in other relationships can get complicated if one friend starts getting attracted to the other. “The more a platonic male friend feels drawn to their friend, the less attracted he becomes in his current romantic relationship,” says psychologist Dorothy Njoki. She explains that the elements hitched on romantic attractions – such as ‘a great platonic friendship could lead to romantic feelings’ – eventually become costly to both the friendship and the relations after the feelings of attraction are communicated. “For instance, the woman might be interested in nothing more than a platonic friendship because she already has an existing relationship and isn’t attracted to her male friend,” says Njoki. “Once the male friend communicates his desire for romance with her, she will certainly not view him in the same light again, especially if he is already married or in a long-term relationship.”
In relationships where the woman is in a platonic friendship, there is likely to be the burden of jealousy that she has to carry. “Although the woman will have multiple advantages from this type of friendship, jealousy from their romantic partners will be the main disadvantage,” says Njoki.
When sex happens
According to Dr. Diana Raab, a psychologist and the author of Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey, a platonic friendship will get compounded the moment the two friends decide to experiment sexually. “The lines and boundaries become blurred once two platonic friends decide to engage sexually,” she says. “If the intimacy is a positive experience, it can strengthen the connection, but if it is not, it will be detrimental to the platonic relationship.”
According to psychologist David Ngatia, the woman in a platonic relationship should be aware that men approach sexual intimacy differently from women. “The man is able to detach himself emotionally from the sexual act, which is one of the reasons why a man can have multiple sexual partners without emotional attachment to any of them,” he says. “The sexual experience is however a journey for the woman. There is likely to be heavy emotions involved from the time a woman decides to engage sexually to the time the actual experience takes place.” The woman will be more likely to attach emotions and may want the experience to graduate into a more concrete relationship. “If sex occurs in a platonic relationship, the man may thereafter want to be just friends while the woman may want a relationship,” he says. This mismatched outcome can easily spell doom for the friendship. “If the man was in the friendship just to have sex, he may no longer have the motive to sustain the friendship. This will inevitably injure the woman’s emotions, mental expectation, and even self-outlook,” says Ngatia.