Today’s Genderal Interest column at Jezebel looks at the latest research about why platonic friendships between men and women remain so difficult.
The problem isn’t just, as the Bleske-Rechek study shows, that men wildly overestimate their female buddies’ sexual interest. It’s that they also undervalue their own worth as friends. In a world where we still cling to the belief that women are naturally more intuitive and verbally adept than men, many guys assume that if a woman wants a non-sexual friendship, she’ll naturally choose from the ranks of those who “do” friendship well: other women. The idea that a straight woman might want to be close to them without wanting to fuck or marry strikes them as utterly implausible. As a result, men do two things at once: they overrate their own sexual irresistibility and depreciate everything else they might have to offer. Little wonder, then, that so many dudes wrongly assume that their lady friends are crushing on them.
So what can we do to better equip guys to be “just friends” with the women in their lives? For starters, we can debunk once and for all the myth that sexual desire makes friendship impossible. The traditional reasoning is that male-female platonic relationships only work when neither friend is ever attracted to the other. Given how fluid and surprising desire can be, those friendships where lust never appears for even an instant are going to be relatively rare. But this reasoning overstates the power of sexual attraction to drown out everything else. As this new study makes clear, it’s not that women are never attracted to their male buddies. It’s that women are probably better acculturated to put lust aside for the sake of a friendship.