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Tales From the Friend Zone: REALLY Just Friends?

How many times do you think a guy sees a girl and thinks, “I bet we’d would really get along well. She’d be a great friend to hang out with and talk to?” That is, how often do guys start out wanting to be friends with a girl for purely non-sexual (i.e., platonic) reasons? If you suspect it doesn’t happen very often (if at all) then you’re right according to new research from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Researchers conducted a study in which college students came to the lab with an opposite-sex friend, and both of them answered questions about each other.1 Questions focused on their attraction to each other, their desire to date each other, and how much they thought the other was attracted to him (or her). Let’s take a look at what they found… 

What They Found

Finding 1: Young adult males were more attracted to their female friends than females were attracted to their male friends.

Okay, so guys find their female friends attractive, but females don’t exactly feel the same about their guy friends. That seems about right…and is consistent with media portrayals of these matters. For example, on Friends, Ross was more attracted to Rachel than Rachel was to Ross. Similarly, on Scrubs, JD was more interested in Elliot than Elliot was interested in JD. As the researchers explain, males have evolved an approach to relationships that seeks to maximize their chances for reproduction by having many partners, whereas females are more likely to try to focus their energy on partner quality rather than partner quantity.2 Interestingly, both males and females were more attracted to their friends when they thought their friends were more attracted to them. It just turns out that guys were a bit overconfident.

Finding 2: Males’ attraction to female friends isn’t changed by relationship status (theirs or hers).

Regardless of whether a guy is single or in a relationship, he finds his female friends equally attractive. He also finds them equally attractive whether they are in a relationship or not. Females, in contrast, show more restraint by not rating male friends as attractive. Similarly, when women were single or in a relationship they were equally attracted to their male friends, but when in a relationship women were significantly less likely to want to date their male friends. However, when females think their male friends are in a relationship, they find him less attractive and less desirable to date. 

Finding 3: Males overestimated female friend’s interest (attraction and desire to date), while females underestimated their male friend’s attraction but accurately gauged the male friend’s desire to date them.

Did you catch that last part? Women are pretty good at knowing when a guy friend wants to date them or not. So guys, if you are interested in her, she probably knows it. If she seems comfortable with the friendship arrangement, chances are that you are firmly entrenched in the “friend zone.” (Click here for Chris Rock's take on this. Fair warning, this is NSFW due to language, unless you happen to work as a sailor.)

This demonstrates an important point: being attracted to someone does not mean that the two people will ever hook-up or develop a relationship. Surely, the guys in the study who admit to being attracted to their female friends may simultaneously be more attracted to their current relationship partners as well (“my friend is hot, but my girlfriend is hotter”). Similarly, guys may never pursue a romantic relationship with afemale friend either because they know they have no realistic chance, because their female friend already has a relationship, or because she just simply does not see romantic potential with him (i.e., you are staying “just friends”).

What the Results Mean For You

Well, if you are a female reader, do a quick inventory of your male friends. Those guys likely think you are attractive and want to date you. Have a boyfriend? No worries. Think it isn’t true? Remember that this study suggests that females underestimate their male friends’ interest. Guys, your female friends most likely just want to be friends. End of story.

Know someone living in the friend zone? Email them this article by clicking here.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed. 

1Bleske-Rechek, A. et al. (2012). Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross-sex friendship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29, 569-596. doi: 10.1177/0265407512443611

2Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232.

Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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Reader Comments (2)

I wonder how much this is related to actual gender differences vs. expected cultural reactions? The study is based on self-reporting, which is limited by what individuals are willing to admit (to themselves or otherwise).

September 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGKM

Please, remain in the Friendzone.

Do not attempt to climb over the railing.

You are not authorized to move into the Boyfriendzone or even the F*ckbuddyzone.

If remaining in the Friendzone is not a satisfactory option for you, you are more than welcome to leave my zone completely.

Repeated attempts to enter unauthorized zones will lead to you being relegated to the Creepzone (and trust me, you don’t want to go there… the floors are all sticky).

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPennynickle Churchgoer
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