London - Look around pretty much any workplace that employs both sexes and you’ll usually spot a few men and women who enjoy a close friendship.
Now answer this honestly: have you ever wondered if, well, there’s anything else going on?
Science has now put its hand up to express an opinion on the whole “Can men and women ever just be friends?” question.
New research in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships focuses on 88 pairs of American university students, all opposite sex friends, who were grilled separately (and mercilessly, it seems!) by researchers.
Crucially, all the information was given anonymously and guaranteed to be kept confidential.
If one friend confessed undying love and the other said “Couldn’t think of anything worse”, neither would ever know.
The result? Men and women thought differently. Now there’s a surprise.
Turns out men are more attracted to their female friends than vice versa – and way more likely to think their female friends fancied them. Any romantic or sexual feelings they felt were assumed to be mutual.
Because women tended not to fancy their male friends, they assumed the lack of attraction was mutual as well. In short: men over-estimated how much their female friends fancied them, women under-estimated.
Given this, it’s not surprising that men were also more willing to make a move on a female friend – regardless of whether she was attached or not. Whereas women, sweet creatures that we are, weren’t interested in pursuing male friends already involved with someone else.
Most telling of all though, was the finding that both sexes found it more a burden to fancy a friend than a bonus.
Even the topic is prickly – one that’s guaranteed to divide the table at any dinner party, no matter who you’re with.
It makes people feel uncomfortable. If you don’t fancy your best male friend, you don’t want to think that while you’re moaning to him about work, in his head he’s got you in a corset and nasty-looking spiked heels, re-enacting some weird Fifty Shades Of Grey dungeon sex scenario.
If you’re the one dreaming of the day he stares into your limpid, loving eyes and says, “I know I’m risking a lot here but I just can’t not do this any longer” before pulling you in for a deep, long, satisfying kiss, it’s equally off-putting to imagine his reaction as “Yuk!”
The scenario of one person thinking it’s just friendship, the other desperately hoping it will turn into love, happens a lot. No wonder both sexes see it as a negative: it is! Fancying a friend is a knotty, tricky, risky situation to be in and requires crafty, cunning manoeuvring because there’s so much to lose.
Not just the friendship but your pride. Being rejected by a stranger at a club is ego-deflating but being rejected by a best friend who knows you intimately is devastating. If you’re not lovable to a good friend, who is going to love you?
It takes a brave soul not to take the coward’s route and simply pump a mutual friend for information or send them in search of answers.
Said friend then has to casually mention something like “Sarah’s terribly attractive, don’t you think? Have you ever thought about, you know, the two of you…?” then report back. (Said friend’s heart meanwhile dropping into her boots knowing it’s not going to be pretty if the answer is “No. But I do fancy Rachel.”).
Which is why I heartily recommend the “I had a dream about us” technique.
Here’s how it works.
The next time you’re chatting with the friend you fancy, you simply say, “I had the strangest dream about us last night! You and I were going out! How funny is that?” Their reaction will tell you all you need to know.
If they’re confident and feel the same, you’ll get a cheeky, broad grin and alert interest: “What happened? What were we doing?”
If they’re not so confident but feel the same, they’ll probably flush and dip their head, but still look back up at you, a little embarrassed but hopeful.
If they don’t feel the same, you’ll get either “Ewww! How weird is that!” (at which point, you consider rushing out into the traffic) or “Hilarious! Could you imagine?” accompanied by much guffawing and slapping on the knee (when your eyes narrow and you instantly decide you actually despise, rather than desire them).
Your heart might be splitting in two, but at least the situation is easily rescued with your friend none the wiser. If they aren’t interested, all you need to do now is chime in with “I know! Ewww/ funny indeed! Dreams are weird, right?”, swiftly change the topic and move on.
You have your answer and the friendship remains intact without everything being all weird and awkward afterward.
Believe me, it works a hell of a lot better than pouncing after five drinks too many! – Daily Mail