Society has a hard time believing a "just friends" label between people of the opposite sex. Or maybe it's that "just friends" implies that "the relationship is not what it could or ought to be but is "just" a friendship." (O'Meara, 1989) Many different values and behaviors affect cross sex friendships such as, attraction, gender roles, past relationships, education and obviously, family values. In the first article, 'I like you... as a friend': The role of attraction in cross-sex friendship" Reeder explains that attraction, and the different types of attraction affect cross sex friendships.
There are four major types of attraction that are included in cross-sex friendships. The four attractions are subjective physical / sexual , objective physical / sexual , romantic, and friendship. These four different types of attraction can be present separately or collectively within a friendship. The first attraction, subjective physical / sexual , is represented when one of the friends feels sexual or physical attraction to the other friend. The friend who feels the attraction starts off the friendship based on the expectation of the friendship developing into a romantic relationship. In a high majority of subjective physical / sexual friendships the feelings were strongest in the start of the relationship.
Because of the imbalance of feelings, clarification is usually needed to maintain equilibrium in this type of attraction so the friendship continues to strengthen. Objective physical / sexual attraction is similar to subjective physical / sexual attraction, however while one friend admits the other friend is good-looking she / he does not feel the attraction. The friend may realize that others find the friend good-looking, but she / he only has platonic feelings for the friend. As an example, a man might make the comment, "My best friend, who is a girl, is really attractive and I see and can relate to that, but I just don't feel the attraction myself." These type of attractions are healthy for both parties.
The third attraction is romantic appeal. In romantic attraction the friend is interested in turning the friendship into a romantic relationship. Usually the interested friend has ulterior motives in the friendship and is hopeful the friendship will advance into a "couple dom" or sexual relationship. Romantic appeal is the least common of all four attractions, and the most successful at ruining cross-sex friendships where one party does not share romantic feelings. The last attraction, friendship attraction, is the most common. Lots of cross-sex friends grow to like each other, and even love each other, as friends, with absolutely no extra sexual feelings.
Friendship attraction is when one friend enjoys the behavioral traits of the other friend and physical attraction does not factor into the relationship. For example, a man enjoys his woman friend's company, but he thinks she talks too much to consider her as a girlfriend, but likes that particular characteristic in her as a friend. Symmetrical and Asymmetrical appeal also plays an important role when examining the different types of attraction and how they affect communication. Symmetrical attraction happens when both friends feel the same type of attraction as mentioned above.
Asymmetrical attraction occurs when the two friends have different feelings or views about the friendship, which is more common. In the article, 'Cross-sex friendship and the communicative management of sex-role expectations,' Rawlins points out many areas of uncertainty in cross-sex friendships. An important area of interest is women's perceptions of cross-sex friendships versus men's perceptions. Rawlins's theory is that men and women tend to cater to their respective gender roles within cross-sex relationships (i. e. women nurture and men provide).
Women have a harder time differentiating their friendships with men from friendships with women because they apply the same rules for opposite sex relationships and same sex relationships. Some of the gender rules women utilize during friendships are communicating candidly with their friend, self-disclosure, and emotional openness. However, the results of this study reveal that men apply different rules when communicating with their cross-sex friends compared to that of their same sex friends. Men reported that they felt more emotionally dependent on their female friends, and men rated their friendships with women on a higher level all around. The development of sex roles in cross-sex friendships asserts that males typically rely on females for emotional fulfillment, whereas females depend on other female and male friends for emotional and self-disclosure. Another element Rawlins illustrates is the propensity for men to stereotype cross-sex friendships and emphasize masculine sexuality.
It appears that for the most part men have a hard time achieving cross-sex friendships without involving romantic tendencies or expectations. One reason given was that men are inclined to represent a "romantic ideology" (Rubin, Pep lau, and Hill 1980) that makes it easier for them to try and develop sexual relationships with many women. Women on the other hand are more discriminating and selective when entering a romantic relationship and as Chodorow (1976) suggests are more likely to detach themselves from male friendships and understand the difference between cross-sex friendships and romantic relationships. Rawlins also defines two factors from Booth and Hess (1974) that control the development of cross-sex friendships. 1) The societal norm of cross-sex friendships 2) The narrow opportunities in society that allow males and females to interact non-romantically Generally speaking, people understand the idea of sex without friendship but cannot comprehend friendship without sex, or at least attraction with the intention of sex.
From a young age individuals are taught that cross-sex friendships are a mask to withhold romantic feelings until the time is right to express one's attraction. Individuals learn that one cannot really be a friend with someone of the opposite sex; feelings should evolve into something romantic. Bell (1975) states, "The belief in potential sexual involvement between any man and woman not married to one another has been the greatest deterrent to the development of cross-sex friendships.' Rawlins also points out the rhetorical challenges that face cross-sex friendships. On a societal level, cross-sex friendships are approved only when they fit into three realms. 1) Women and men who work together 2) Non-married women and men because their friendship is under the euphemism of possible "dating" therefore being friends is a natural stage they must go through.
3) And last, if endorsed by the friend's boyfriend / girlfriend , hence, reinforcing the romantic relationship between heterosexual couples. Another rhetorical challenge is third party insinuations. Some cross-sex friends may be unaware of third-party innuendos because they are innocent of the accusations. However, third parties can disrupt the "mystery of sexuality" between cross-sex friends and may inadvertently destroy the friendship without anything ever being openly expressed. Conclusively, there is also the possibility that one or both friends may want to leave the friendship open to a sexual or romantic relationship. In the article by Kaplan and Keys cross-sex friendships are defined by O'Meara 1989) as "nonromantic, non familial, personal relationships between a man and a woman.
The relationship is nonromantic in the sense that is function is purposefully disassociated from the courtship rights of the actors involved." These friendships that do not include romance do not necessarily exclude love, sexual attraction, and excitement, but these emotions are not prevalent or monitored and examined more closely than romantic / sexual relationships. Other differences in platonic vs. romantic relationships are exclusiveness and fascination. In romantic relationships there is usually a mutual understanding of exclusive monogamy for both partners; in cross-gender friendships there are no such boundaries. Cross-sex friends are able to date other people and make other cross-sex friends. Furthermore, cross-sex friendships are usually free of passion and normally lack reciprocated fascination shared in romantic relationships.
This article also suggested that examining social context is important when researching cross-sex friendships. A significant variable is concurrent romantic involvement. Individual cross-sex friends without current romantic prospects or relations may develop or maintain their current cross-sex friendships hoping that the friendships will convert to romantic relationships with time. For some, cross-sex friendships may take on the role of a replacement romantic relationship for unattached individuals; consequently cross-sex friends come to look at their friend as the object of their sexual desires. As a result, most uncommitted, single individuals may feel a stronger sexual attraction to their friend than their involved counterparts. Afifi and Faulkner (2000) talk about the existence of sexual teasing and how it can create an intimidating sexual atmosphere in cross-sex friendships.
Sexual interest that moves beyond flirting typically violates the expected behavioral norms of cross-sex friendships and is experienced with confusion and tension. Cross-sex friendships are somewhat fragile and the unexpected situation of sexual activity can cause many crucial implications in the future of the relationship development. In a study by Saladin (1988) 79% of respondents believed that having any kind of sexual activity complicates and will eventually destroy the cross-sex friendship. In a recent study it was discovered that protecting the cross-sex friendship was the principal motivation in keeping the relationship platonic and not continuing on with a sexual liaison. (Mess man, Canary, and Hause 2000) So why are cross-sex friendships so difficult to sustain? From the materials compiled and all the research encountered, it seems these relationships are manipulated by society.
Society thinks of cross-sex friendships as unacceptable and through that view they " ve created a standard that cross-sex friendships must have ulterior motives or cross-sex friendships are the basis and beginning of a sexual or romantic relationship. And while it is true that men and women have different means by which they communicate, people in general communicate in individual, unique ways also. Society has influenced both sexes to think that communication and platonic relationships are nearly impossible; therefore the sexes must concentrate on interaction where heterosexual love is the main focus. All in all, from what I've learned, for cross-sex friendships to be successful each person must disregard the other as a "person of the opposite sex" and think more of the person as "friend," so no boundaries constrict or suppress a friendship that has no limits. Afifi, W. A.
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