Can real friendship exist between the sexes? Many people have a very close friend who is of the opposite sex and find the relationship worthwhile despite potential issues. Research into relationships reveals a four different types of relationships between the close other-sex friends. Dr. Heidi Reeder, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Boise State University, has analyzed hundreds of interview transcripts and surveys of men and women reflecting on their closest other-sex friend. While these can change over time, and there may be grey areas, according to Dr. Reeder the 4 types of attraction are:
1. Friendship attraction
2. Romantic attraction
3. Subjective physical/sexual attraction
4. Objective physical/sexual attraction
She defines these types of relationships as per the following:
Friendship attraction is not romantic or sexual in nature, but is the kind of attraction you feel when drawn to someone because you like that person and enjoy being with him or her. It’s the type of attraction that most heterosexuals presumably feel for their same-sex friends. This was by far the most common type of attraction between cross-sex friends in our survey. Nearly all the respondents, 96 percent, said they currently feel friendship attraction for their friend, and over two-thirds said that their friendship attraction has increased over time.
Next is romantic attraction. It’s important not to confuse this with physical or sexual attraction. While the two can go together, it’s certainly possible to find someone physically attractive but have no desire to be in a romantic relationship with them. Romantic attraction is about the desire to alter the friendship into a couple relationship. Only 14 percent of friends said they currently feel romantic attraction for their friend. Interestingly, almost half said they used to feel more romantic attraction, at an earlier stage in the friendship, than they do now. (“Now that I know what she’s really like, I couldn’t date her!”)
Subjective physical/sexual attraction refers to feeling drawn to the other person physically, and perhaps wanting to make sex a part of the relationship. Almost a third of the survey respondents felt this form of attraction for their friend, but the strong majority (over two-thirds) did not currently feel such attraction. This feeling can change over time, and is more likely to decrease (in 30 percent of respondents) than to increase (20 percent).
The last form of attraction is the one I find most interesting, in part because I haven’t heard it discussed, either in the research or anecdotally. I’ve labeled it objective physical/sexual attraction, and it refers to thinking that one’s friend is physically attractive in general terms (“I can see why others would find him attractive”), but not feeling the attraction yourself. This kind of attraction was experienced by over half of the people I surveyed—one-quarter more than subjective physical/sexual attraction.
Just plain friendship attraction is the most and extremely common way these relationships are experienced. Following that are these types, in order of prevalence: objective physical/sexual attraction; subjective physical/sexual attraction; and, finally, the least reported—romantic attraction. It is of note that the latter had a tendency to decrease over time. So revel in your friendships with the opposite sex, as contrary to most perceptions when we see male and female friends together, you are both most likely just experiencing a pure friendship. However, just because you are not romantically involved, best friends can always send their bestie flowers. Just don’t read too much into it.