Friends with Benefits? Study Says Attraction Between Friends More of a Burden

(Image credit: Friends in class via Shutterstock)

Perhaps men and women can't just be friends after all.

Attraction is common between people in opposite-sex friendships, and such feelings make these friendships more of a burden than a bonus, a new study suggests.

When participants were asked to list benefits and drawbacks of having opposite-sex friends, 32 percent listed feelings of attraction as a cost, while just 6 percent listed these feelings as a benefit.

Women were more likely than men to say attraction was a drawback: 47 percent of women ages 18 to 23 listed attraction as a cost of an opposite-sex friendship, while 22 percent of men said the same.

Opposite-sex friendships may also harm romantic relationships. In the study, 38 percent of women and 25 percent of men ages 27 to 50 said jealousy from their romantic partners was one cost of maintaining an opposite-sex friendship.

In addition, the more attraction that people felt in an opposite-sex friendship, the less satisfied they were with their current romantic relationship, the researchers said.

"Our findings implicate attraction in cross-sex friendship as both common and of potential negative consequence for individuals’ long-term mateships," the researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, write in the August issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

In a separate study, 88 college-age men and women came to the laboratory with an opposite-sex friend, and the pairs were surveyed about that particular friendship.

Participants rated their level of attraction toward their friend on a scale of one to nine. On average, men rated their level of attraction toward their female friends as a five, while women rated their level of attraction to their male friends as a four. Men and women reported about the same level of attraction toward their friends regardless of whether they currently involved in a romantic relationship.

The researchers hypothesized that interacting with a member of the opposite sex instinctually triggers mating strategies that evolved tens of thousands of years ago.

"Mating strategies may influence people’s involvement in cross-sex friendships to begin with, as well as unintentionally color people’s feelings toward members of the opposite sex with whom their conscious intent is platonic," the researchers said.

The researchers noted that some people did list attraction as a benefit to an opposite-sex friendship.

"Perhaps attraction can be both benefit and burden for the same individual in different friendships, or be both benefit and burden for the same friendship at different points in time," the researchers said.

Pass it on: Attraction to an opposite-sex friend is more often a burden than a benefit.

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Live Science Staff
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