It’s one of the oldest questions known to man, and quite possibly one that’s caused the most relationship problems: can men and women just be friends?
A study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that problems arise in platonic relationships because men and women misunderstand each other: men interpret women’s friendliness as sexual interest, while women interpret men’s sexual interest as friendliness.
The saying ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ certainly rings true in this case, eh?
The study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, consisting of 308 heterosexual undergrad students between the ages of 18 and 30, surveyed participants about their friendships, sexual attractions and experiences with misread social signals.
The results were damning (and not surprising): men overperceived sexual interest from women (the women reported having their platonic actions misunderstood as sexual about four times a year). Meanwhile women reported underperceiving sexual interest from men.
This research backs up a 2009 study that found males reported females to be more promiscuous, flirtatious and seductive than females reported men to be.
So what’s behind the male gender’s baffled misreading of sexual signals? The Norwegian researchers believe evolution is to blame (not your sex-driven, reptilian brain). They hypothesise men overperceive sexual interest to reduce “errors” in choosing a mate. In other words, since men have a limited time to reproduce, the brain does not want you to miss any potential opportunities.
If you seem to be falling for all your female friends way too easily, don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s actually pretty common. A 2012 study found men are more likely to be sexually attracted to their female friends than their female counterparts were to them. They were also more likely to mistakenly think the females were sexually attracted to them.
The study also found females often underperceive sexual interest from men because, well, sorry to say – they just aren’t attracted to you.
“Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual,” reported Scientific American.
Misreading signals from a female friend is a sure-fire way for things to turn really awkward really fast. To avoid this happening to you, your best bet is to be open about your intentions with a woman soon after meeting her.
We aren’t saying profess your love to her via text message 30 minutes after getting her number. But making your interest clear early on will ensure she doesn’t misread signals, and gives her a chance to decide whether she feels the same way.