Can Men and Women Ever Be Just Friends? (ANSWER!)

Be Just FriendsThere have been movies about it, TV shows that touch on it, even songs about it. You may have even found your­self ask­ing this very big ques­tion in your own May-December dat­ing adventures—can a man and woman ever really be “just friends?”

It’s an age-old ques­tion, one that often leaves peo­ple sit­ting on either side of the fence. But researchers in Nor­way have come up with one pos­si­ble expla­na­tion that sup­ports the naysay­ers. Accord­ing to the find­ings, men and women can’t be friends because they mis­in­ter­pret each other too much. The study found that men mis­in­ter­pret women’s friendly ges­tures as signs of being sex­u­ally inter­ested, while women mis­in­ter­pret sig­nals of sex­ual inter­est from men as signs of friendliness.

In the realm of rela­tion­ships and May-December dat­ing, this mis­un­der­stand­ing is what gets in the way of men and women being able to main­tain strictly pla­tonic relationships—if she’s being friendly, he’s likely to assume that it’s a sex­ual advance, and if he pur­sues that assump­tion, it can cause conflict.

While it’s inter­est­ing to see how this study fits into May-December dat­ing, it’s even more inter­est­ing to see what the researchers have to say about why this big mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion hap­pens. It all has to do with evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy, which believes that men seek out the abil­ity to reproduce—which may be why they seek out younger, more fer­tile women and hence May-December dat­ing. For men, repro­duc­ing “is depen­dent on how many women he is able to make preg­nant,” explains Mons Ben­dixen, one of the researchers. And that’s why he’s more likely to see sex­ual inter­est where there isn’t any. Sex is low-risk and has the poten­tial to be highly rewarding.

That’s not how it works for women though. For women, sex comes with a higher cost because of the risk of pregnancy—they have to carry the child for nine months and then assume respon­si­bil­ity for it for at least 18 years. That’s why women are sub­con­sciously more selec­tive about who they have sex with, and why they’re more cau­tious about how they per­ceive sex­ual inter­est from men. “Even though these processes aren’t con­scious, we can still empir­i­cally mea­sure the results,” says Bendixen.

Does that change your opin­ion on whether or not men and women can be just friends? The next time you’re out with an older man, don’t be sur­prised if you find your­self ques­tion­ing whether it’s May-December dat­ing, or the start of a happy friendship.


Nauert, R., “Is the Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Gen­der Inten­tions Hard­wired?” Psy­ch­Cen­tral web site, Jan­u­ary 30, 2015;

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About Isabella

I was never patriotic, so when Independence Day came, the last thing on my mind was to go out and celebrate. I was bored and I was lonely, and though they weren’t my normal crowd, thesse girls were friends and family members who I grew up with. But Diana had her man, Marsha had hers, and my cousin Lisa had her own. I was the only one who was single and my taste was just too high; the kind of men they dated did not appeal to me. I wanted the executive, the entrepreneur. I was 22 and unhappy about my life. I yearned to be in a relationship; I felt I had so much to give a man, and yet I was single. My friends and I waited for cab and I was still second-guessing whether or not I really wanted to go out. While we were waiting, an older looking gentleman driving a blue pick-up truck drove up to us. As he slowed, he said, “Don’t move. I’m coming right back!” He drove off, leaving a trail of his cologne, as he sped away to drop off the construction workers sitting in the back of the truck. Literally moments later, he came back, stopped in front of us, asked us where we were going, and told us to get in. It turns out his name was Keith. After Keith dropped us off, I realized I didn’t want to stay and asked him to take me back to where he picked us up from. He turned, looked at me, and said, “You were the reason why I picked you all up. I wanted to get to know you. So, I’m happy you decided to leave with me.”