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Why Can’t We Be Friends? New Study Explores Couples’ Views on Close Friendships With Someone Of The Opposite Sex

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally...
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally...
Columbia Pictures

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From When Harry Met Sally to the more recent Always Be My Maybe, rom-coms have long depicted romance between opposite-sex friendships.

It’s an age-old trope— best friends falling in love and becoming romantically involved. 

It’s also something that partners sometimes find themselves worrying about, and might be left wondering if their partner’s close friendships could evolve into something else. 

That’s the topic of interest in a recent study by two researchers who looked into the attidude romantic partners in heterosexual relationships had toward cross-sex best friendships. The study, published in the Journal of Relationships Research, surveyed 346 people— 92 males and 254 females— ranging from ages 18-64. It found that engaged-to-be-married couples felt had most negative feelings toward opposite-sex best friendships, as compared to being single, married, or dating. 

The study notes past romantic experiences could have an impact on a partner’s attitudes toward opposite-sex best friendships, as well as heteronormative assumptions that might cause people to assume a man and a woman are romantically involved. 

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Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, associate professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama Huntsville; she’s a co-author of the study