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Platonic Friends: Is It Possible?

The majority of the time, when we mention our “friends”, we mean our female friends. Male friends are typically hidden away in the elusive “guy friends” category – which begs the question – what exactly does that mean?

The main reason we differentiate is because of history and the society that we live in. Females are allowed to have female friends, but when you throw boys in the mix, we always have to wonder, are they just friends?

Bucknell itself, and its ever-rampant hookup culture, makes it bizarre to answer this timeless question. Maybe you and your boy BFF have had a handful of dance floor make-outs…does that make you more than friends? Where does that fall on the platonic friendship spectrum?

This question isn’t only afflicting our generation. Coming from the West Coast makes it a huge pain to go home for fall break. So, when I told my parents I was going to spend those days at a boy’s house, they reacted just how all of our other friends did.

“I knew you two had something going on!”

“So you’re finally dating?”

After a good eye roll, I explained to them (for the millionth time) that we are friends. We’ve never hooked up, we’ve never dated, and we’ve never had any kind of romantic interest in each other. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

As it turns out, there actually is a scientific reason.  

A study done at the University of Wisconsin states that, “because cross-sex friendships are a historically recent phenomenon, men’s and women’s evolved mating strategies impinge on their friendship experiences”. 88 participants were asked questions about their opposite-sex friend, including how attractive they thought they were, whether or not they had considered dating them, etc.

The study found that in general, men were much more likely to want to have romantic relationships with their opposite-sex friends than females were. But, in both groups, the participants in the study tended to admit that they were somewhat attracted to each other. Of course, there was a significant group that still stuck to their guns and claimed that the relationship was entirely platonic. For the most part, these individuals were female.

Interestingly enough, the answers often shifted when the participants were told that their friend was attracted to them or had some feelings for them. This hits on an underlying thought that has crossed many of our minds – would I like him if he liked me? When this thought arises, situations can get a little sticky. As shown in the study, we are often guilty of having more feelings than we would like to admit.

So here we are, in a day and age where platonic friendship exists, but maybe isn’t the norm.

At Bucknell, and college campuses in general, the party culture blurs some of these lines even more. Back in the day, friendship and courtship were very separate. Nowadays, with “friends with benefits” and the possibility of being a non-exclusive “thing”, it is somewhat unclear what the role of a friend is. Is it normal to – uhm – dance provocatively with him? Or does that cross the platonic line?

History tells us that this pushes the boundary of friendship, but modern society may say otherwise.

Sources:Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross-sex friendship

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