The Hard Facts: Your Best Male Pal Might Be In Love With You

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Researchers surveyed more than 80 man-woman pals. They found that men were more attracted to their female friend than vice versa. Men also consistently and mistakenly assumed that their female buddy was attracted to them more than they actually were.” (“Attraction Between Friends of Opposite Sexes”; ScientificAmerican.com 7/22/2012)

Fascinating! In another attempt to answer the “can men and women be friends?” question, studies now show that, more often than not, ladies can handle it. It’s the men who want more.

This holds, apparently, even if one of the pair is in a relationship. “Men’s attraction to their women friends was not deterred if they, or the friend, were already romantically involved with another person. Women, on the other hand, reported having much less desire to date their male friend if they, or he, were already romantically engaged with another.”

I don’t love thinking that a guy already in a romantic relationship might still want to date his female pal, but I guess this is where trust comes into play. Feeling an attraction is one thing, acting on it is another.

When I think about cross-gender friendships, I see the possible attraction as a hazard. It complicates things. Apparently, most people agree. But, according to this research, some people think potential romantic feelings is a plus. An opportunity. (I guess this makes sense. There’s the whole “be friends first!” theory of romance, after all.) But even this is a bit gender specific.

So how to handle the conflict of attraction between friends? In another survey the researchers found that, overall, the participants were five times more likely to see it as burden than as not.  Although the scientists spotted a gender difference here, too. Turns out men felt there was more to gain from attraction in friendships, and women felt there was more to lose.

Does this information surprise you? When you see a male-female pair of BFFs, do you question if one is secretly in love with the other? Do you think it’s usually the guy who has the romantic feelings? (I’ll be honest, I would have thought it was the other way around. That  more often the girl would have the crush than the guy.)

18 Comments

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18 responses to “The Hard Facts: Your Best Male Pal Might Be In Love With You

  1. Well, my best male friend is gay, so that makes things less complicated🙂 I’ve never been romantically attracted to him, but in high school I did kind of use him as a substitute boyfriend by seeking attention/hugs from him when no one wanted to date me.

  2. I think if you have a male friend you find yourself attracted to more than the person you are in a relationship, that might be a red flag for your relationship. Whenever I have been in that situation in the past, I realized I just wasn’t committed to the relationship I was currently in.

  3. Sarah

    I totally married my best guy friend. =) I had a huge crush on him while he dated my best girlfriend, but when they broke up, my friendship with her also ended and he and I started hanging out a lot. I was actually totally content to just be friends because I didn’t think he wanted more – and it turned out he did! He was the one who initiated taking it further. That was 12 years ago and we’ve been together ever since.

  4. Mia

    I wonder if the study measured true “romantic” (relationship) feelings vs. general attraction (sex)? As Harry said when asked about being friends with an “ugly” girl , “Nah, you pretty much want to nail them too.”

    As far as the mistaken assumption that the female friend was mutually interested — I’m not surprised at all. I think women are much more comfortable with expressive displays of affection (romantic or platonic) than men. So if men are on the receiving end of said display, they may be likely to assume stronger intentions.

  5. I wonder if all the women in question were being completely honest. I agree with you that having an attraction is one thing, acting on it is entirely another.

  6. Harriet

    I used to have a crush on my best friend. It all ended when we changed schools. I made new friends and had a crush on one of them. The line between really liking your best friend and loving someone is thin, especially when you’re a teen.

  7. The problem with this is that sometimes women are naturally flirtatious when being friendly with guys. As a result, a female’s male friend may take this as an opportunity or even encouragement. Some might feel they are “supposed to” do something about it. Most guys would rather take the opportunity with an open mind rather than lose the interaction/friendship. Notice I didn’t use the word “slutty” or “whore-like.” I myself am a female, and I notice myself doing this. It’s important for me to be self-aware. Of course, to be fair, men do this too at times.

  8. Brenda

    Most of my friends are female, as am I. However, I know someone in her early twenties and she has very few female friends. She is regularly trying to hang out with guys and “be pals” and more than once, she has lost the friendship because the guy wanted to be more than friends. Some of those young bucks left the relationship angry and bitter. I think it didn’t help that (as I perceived her,) she was very flirty with them. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules such as, “Men & women can not be friends,” but I do think many people aren’t being exactly honest about their motives for friendship within opposite sex relationships.

  9. I’ve never been attracted to guys that I was friends with, but I’ve been on the receiving end of them having crushes on me. It makes things so complicated and awkward.

  10. I’m glad you wrote about this and posted the study because I’ve felt that to be true. I’ve always enjoyed my guy friend’s company but had this feeling there was something brewing on his side. I always feel horrible because usually I don’t feel the same. Then it’s like walking on egg shells around them some times, like “be nice, but don’t be too nice.”

  11. Jay

    First of all, most women don’t usually agree they have feelings for a guy is the feeling is likely never going to be returned. A guy can love any woman and accept he has feelings for any woman. A woman in a relationship ‘hardly’ agrees she loves another one. ‘Denial of feelings’ doesn’t mean the said ‘feeling’ is absent. Sometimes it even takes the feeling going away for the female to realize her true feelings all the while the bff relationship lasted.

    I have had a few of female bff and most times they are the ones that want something more. Not that I don’t have feelings for them, I usually do, but I have always mostly never acted on it.

    I also wonder where this research was done. A research done in UK might not give same results in USA. A relationship research done in France would also not be same with one done in Nigeria. Maybe I’ll try this research in Nigeria and see how it goes.

  12. My best male friend is actually my ex, so that complicates things a lot! But we were good friends before we dated and we’ve worked to make sure it didn’t ruin things. It’s always quite hard to be friends with guys I’ve found – they mostly make more of an effort if they have feelings for you which sometimes ruins the friendship.

  13. Great post, Rachel! This is such a fascinating topic.

    I have a close male friend, and can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if we secretly love each other – some people cannot fathom that men and women can, in fact, be platonic friends.

    I think it’s natural to have feelings for your friends, regardless of your sexuality or if you’re single or in a relationship. Different friends provide different things for us – some friends are the ones to have a good time with, while others are the ones we go to for advice. Some of these friends may be of the opposite gender. For example, maybe your best male friend tends to be more honest with you, whereas some of your female friends may have a difficult time telling you things you don’t want to hear.

    It comes down to what you’re comfortable with, what your partner is comfortable with and how you manage these relationships.

  14. Jenny

    This topic defines the romance novel of my life. I am 28 years old and have two male best friends.
    Except the one friend is no longer a “best friend” as we recently crossed the friend line and don’t know where to stand with each other going forward. He had a crush on me when we first met over 12 years ago when we were in high school unfortunately I was just getting out of a relationship so when he made his move I told him no, “bad timing.” So our friendship was born and over the years after that night one of us was also in a relationship.

    Things finally took a turn when about three years ago he came into town visiting and we both drank too much, all of our feelings came out. (They call it liquid courage) Every summer for the last three summers we had a new confession about our true feelings for each other and during goodbyes agreed that it must just be “bad timing” due to him being in a relationship, and living with his girlfriend. So we’d sweep it under the rug again, leave it at that,continuing on with our friendship.

    Things changed during our last visit this summer when we both expressed our deep love for one another but instead this time I turned and told him I wanted to be with him, and hoped he would take steps soon. I had no idea what he would do after he left I just knew I had to clear my feelings and did not want to lose out on this great love with my best friend. Before he left though I made it clear that I wanted him to have time to mend his heart if he ‘did’ choose to end things with his girlfriend. No rushing into anything for us..I mean it’s been 15 years in the making.

    Two weeks later he had broken it off with her, and moved out. Was it for me or because of me, I wondered? I don’t know why he did. Currently I have no idea where we stand all I know is that we are still in the “bad timing” status, and who knows for how long or if we will ever leave that chapter and start a new story.

    I have a heavy heart at this point, heavy because I want to be there for him as a friend during this time of hurt as he always did for me during my break-ups but, I know my (bias)friendship is not the one he needs right now.

    But I can say I have no regrets, and I have no idea if men and women can really be best friends, without major complications when there’s an attraction involved on either side.

  15. I’ve always found that if its not you that’s attracted its him. My guy friends have never acted on their feeling with me though, and for the most part, I have not either,. Not for lack of wanting. I’ve recently acquired a new “guy friend” that I have strong feelings for. What sucks is that when we met I felt he was strongly attracted to me too, but then it turned out he was just starting to see someone else. I hope they break up, honestly. Cuz I’d jump all over him if he did, though I must admit those feelings have died down a bit. I just wish for once, it would be a mutual thing that could actually work. I recommend everyone to go for it. I think I waited to long and it slipped away right from beneath my fingertips.

  16. Tina

    I was friends with a guy pal since jr. high and one night in college we went to a party with some friends and later that night, he kissed me. After that, we didn’t speak for a few weeks. It was awkward but we both said to the other, ‘that was nothing.’ I was about to enter a serious relationship and he knew that and I felt like ‘the kiss’ was the big elephant in the room since he openly admitted to always wondering what it would have been like to kiss me…?! Needless to say, that moment I thought our friendship would not be the same. He and I have never talked about it since that night, unless you count apologies. Out of respect, he knew the serious relationship I was entering meant a lot to me and we never spoke about it again. And thank goodness because I never really wanted to ‘date’ him.

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