Can men and women be friends?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
February 23, 2011, 8:40 PM GMT+0

The age-old issue of whether a man and a woman can ever be ‘just friends’ has been on the minds of our panellists this week, who, on the whole, think such platonic friendships can happen, but feel that this often depends on those involved, and the length of the existing friendship. Some felt that men would have more trouble than women in keeping romantic feelings at bay while others thought that friendships between men and women would always turn into something more, at least from one party’s point of view.

Many feel that men and women can have platonic friendships, particularly if those involved are older or the friendship has already lasted a long time.

Others made a distinction between the sexes, saying women are more capable than men of platonic friendship.

A few people thought that sexual tension would always get in the way of an opposite-sex friendship.

The idea of whether men and women can ever be just friends is a recurrent concept in popular culture. Classic 80s rom-com When Harry Met Sally features Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal as the two leads who are involved in a long-running friendship, in a film which asks whether romantic feelings can ever be kept out of an opposite-sex friendship. The pair remains close platonic friends for years before the two finally realise they want to be together. More recently the new film, No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher (pictured, above), explores the idea of ‘friends with benefits’ – friendships which regularly drift into something more physical without becoming a full romantic relationship.

New York psychologist Dr. Linda Sapadin is optimistic about the potential for platonic relationships. ‘The belief that men and women can't be friends comes from another era in which the only way they could get together was for romance,’ she explains. But now, she says, a shift in culture has meant men and women can be successful friends. But as some of our panellists say, it seems to depend heavily on the friends involved…