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Issues of Cross-Sex Friendships Research Paper

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Issues of Cross-Sex Friendships

Friendship is defined as a voluntary and cooperative personal relationship that may involve various degrees of companionship, mutual assistance, affection, and even intimacy. Cross-sex friendships are such non-romantic relationships occurring between the representatives of the opposite sex. Since cross-sex friendships are a historically new phenomenon, it is essential to understand how the mating strategies of men and women influence relationship experiences, both positively and negatively (Karandashev, 2015). The majority of studies focused on explaining the existence of attraction in cross-sex relationships, with theorists paying the most attention to the social underpinnings of attraction in relationships. Due to the gap in the literature, this research aims to examine the events that may either increase or decrease the closeness of individuals involved in cross-sex friendships during the first year of the relationship.


Bleske-Rechek et al. (2012) proposed that the evolving mating approaches of men and women impinge on their friendship experiences. The researchers conducted two different studies that offered specific conclusions. As a result of the first study, it was revealed that men had a greater physical-sexual attraction in cross-sex friendships compared to women, and they had the tendency to overestimate the attraction of their friends to them. The second study showed that experiences in cross-sex friendships corresponded to age differences in the likelihood of being actively involved in the search for a mate. Therefore, the mating strategies of the representatives of the opposite sex may shape their involvement in cross-sex friendships, beginning to unintentionally color feelings towards one another despite the initial platonic intent. In friendships, the attraction among cross-sex friends was found to be widespread and perceived more as a limitation rather than an advantage.

Gilchrist-Petty and Bennett (2019) studied cross-sex best friendships in both the experience and expression of jealous feelings within intimate relationships. Through a survey, it was revealed that for engaged individuals who would soon be married, compared to their single, dating, and married counterparts, cross-sex relationships led to the most negative attitudes. Furthermore, the results showed that the experiences of preventive jealously were predictors of rival-centered jealousy expression, while the relative jealousy experience predicting expressions of jealousy, both constructive and destructive. Importantly, the research findings revealed that the opinions about cross-sex friendships can help in mediating relationships between the way in which jealousy is experienced and expressed.

Turner (2016) suggested that heterosexual cross-sex friendships were non-familiar and non-normative relationships between men and women. Emerging adults that find themselves in such relationships usually deal with the need for navigating identity formation and establishing their own meaning of life, including personal spiritual beliefs. The uniqueness of the study is its focus on spirituality as related to its development within cross-sex friendships. The researcher explored the influence of faith-based higher education and faith development on the outcomes of cross-sex friendships. As related to the issues of spirituality, cross-sex friendships provided a highly important dynamic perspective to the understanding and personal application of faith-related ideas and practices.

The research by Corretti (2019) investigated the effects of cross-sex friendships on the dynamics in heterosexual romantic relationships. In the first study, the scholar aimed to examine the impact of individuals’ and their partners’ cross-sex friendships have on the romantic relationship outcomes. It was found that individuals’ and their partners’ cross-sex friendships were not directly related to romantic relationship outcomes. However, they were related indirectly through the increases in perceived availability of alternatives and the feelings of jealousy. In the second study, the researcher aimed to examine daily romantic relationship behaviors on both members of romantic relationships. It was found that cross-sex friendships posed unique challenges that may be associated with romantic functioning. Overall, the study demonstrated that the maintenance of friendships between men and women was indirectly related to poorer outcomes in heterosexual romantic relationships.

In their research, Weger, Cole, and Akbulut (2016) studied the maintenance of relationships among platonic and non-platonic cross-sex friendships in younger adults. The research involved either platonic opposite-sex friendships or friends with benefits in studying their behaviors related to the maintenance of relationships. The scholars found that the individuals involved in casual sex with their friends with benefits exhibited the least relationship maintenance as compared to platonic cross-sex friends and those friends who transitioned from benefit-based relationships to romantic ones.


The study took a qualitative approach toward data collection. With the help of yes/no and open-ended questions, it was determined to reveal information about participants’ nature of relationships with their cross-sex friends across the first year of their relationships. It was important that the information was gathered in regards to the most recent cross-sex friendships that have lasted for at least one year. The questions that the participants were asked included considerations of age, gender, and the terms of friendships. In addition, the questions were about how the participants met their cross-sex friends, whether there was any romantic interest, what were the most important turning points, the impact of gender on relationships, and the nature of relationships overall.

The interviews also asked to complete turning point graphs intended to illustrate the most important events of a cross-sex friendship across its first year of existence. A turning point referred to a memorable event or experience that influences the nature of the friendship and the feelings that participants had regarding the relationship. The first turning point of the relationship marked the time at which the participants felt a closeness to their friend when the relationship first started. The second point was about the level of closeness that participants felt six months into their relationship while the third represented the level of closeness at the end of one year of the relationship. Finally, the participants were asked to identify three more events beyond the ones mentioned previously during the first year of the relationship, the one that had some impact on the relationship overall. The level of closeness ranged from 0.00 to 10.00 points while the time was measured in months, from 1 to 12.

The study participants were 13 students from the COMM 2500 class from the previous year, of whom four were male, and nine were female. The median age of the surveyed participants was 19,8 years, with their ages ranging from 19 to 22. They were approached in the educational setting and asked to partake in research. To ensure anonymity, no participant names were included, and each survey was coded. The data provided by surveys was analyzed thematically for the bulk of the questions since they were open-ended and not structured the same way for all respondents. The results of the first part of the survey, which included general information on participants’ age, gender, and the length of their cross-sex friendship, were cross-tabulated and filtered.


In the study, the surveys and turning point graphs were used to discover types of events that were turning points in a cross-sex friendship, most important turning points, trajectories of changes, as well as other unique and essential insights associated with cross-sex friendships as reported by study participants. First, the types of events that are turning points were analyzed. By looking across data, it was determined that closeness was significantly influenced by the events occurring in a relationship. The types of turning points could be classified roughly into two categories, such as the ones that led to the increased closeness and the ones that led to decreased closeness. The increase of closeness indicated the strengthening of interpersonal relationships between friends as they realized that their mutual support and the time spent together was meaningful and beneficial. As reported by a participant, a turning point was “when we both decided that we wanted to be best friends and really get to know one another past the just fun and friendly friendship we had. This time was critical for both of us because we were struggling with mental health problems, and a lot of the time we sought each other to make one another feel better.”

The answer shows that cross-sex friendships can be helpful to people to overcome inner struggles and offer great levels of support as in same-sex friendships. One of the participants indicated that a significant turning point was spending more time together and realizing that they had much in common: “the first most important turning point was hanging out with mutual friends at the bonfire because I had no idea we had so much in common.” The same participant said that the time spent together opened a new side to her friend, and she developed a genuine connection with him. Therefore, essential turning points in cross-sex friendships are associated with socializing with the potential friend, getting to know him or her, and deciding to proceed as friends.

While turning points have represented increased closeness, they have also shown to illustrated changes in relationships associated with decreased closeness. From these turning points, the relationship would strengthen or fall apart, depending on the course of actions that the friends chose to take. A participant indicated, “that was the moment she randomly ghosted me while I was working in Europe. At the time, I didn’t notice, but that was the first sign of her showing signs of being too indecisive for a more serious relationship.” This response helps trace a theme of distancing in a relationship that may be connected with unrequited feelings of doubts as to whether the relationship could work as a friendship. A participant said that he “had met someone, and I didn’t feel comfortable telling her [his friend] about it for some reason. I kept the secret from her for a time, and she learned that I was lying, and it made our friendship very uncomfortable, and there was a time when we both avoided each other.” Another participant mentioned that “the fifth turning point was also important because I established that we wouldn’t be more than friends despite our recent romantic behaviors by “friend-zoning” him.” These reports indicate that cross-sex friendships are associated with an increased degree of tension among friends because due to the potential for a romantic connection. If there is no such potential and either of the friends gets a boyfriend or a girlfriend, the tension between the platonic friends increases due to the lack of transparency or the absence of a desire to pursue a romantic connection.

The closeness was also associated with the beginning of romantic feelings toward the friend in a cross-sex friendship. A participant said that a significant turning point was when “we kissed the first time, and when he came to stay with me for a week over the summer.” Another participant mentioned, “this was the first time we kissed outside of a party, it changed the entire course of our friendship.” One more mentioned that “I was too flirty the last time I chilled with this person and after a nice dinner and a few drinks we ended up kissing, and the next day I realized that was a mistake because I like him best as a friend.” Therefore, some of the turning points represented by kissing between cross-sex friends would determine the future of the friendship. After being intimate with each other, the friends realized whether they wanted to pursue a romantic relationship or remain friends. Both outcomes were reported by survey participants, indicating that kissing could serve as a defining moment of moving a friendship between the individuals of a different sex to a new stage. Such a stage is either becoming official boyfriend or girlfriend or deciding that they would work best as friends.

The most crucial turning points were illustrated in the graphs that the participants were asked to complete. As an overall trend in the graphs, the level of closeness between the two friends grew from the beginning of the friendship to the point of six months into the friendship. Examples of the beginning point included having mutual friends that introduced the participant to their future friend and them starting to talk on a regular basis, playing the same sports and seeing each other regularly, becoming friends over the summer, or being in the same class at college. These points marked the beginning of a relationship throughout which the levels of closeness would range depending on the turning points.

Examples of turning points that led to a decrease in closeness and the overall deterioration of a friendship. For example, the participants mentioned large fights after which they could not see their friends, losing touch after breaking up with a relative of their friend, not communicating over the summer break, not speaking after kissing, or finding out about a romantic relationship of their friend. These turning points characterize the nature of cross-sex relationships as related to the possible lack of transparency and the understanding of the objectives of the friendship overall. The loss of connection was the most common type of turning point indicated on the graphs. Such a loss was associated either with the physical distance between friends due to summer holidays or other reasons.

The upward-reaching graph illustrates the common trend in the trajectories of change. Starting at the zero point, the turning points of the relationships generally go upwards throughout the time as the friendship takes place. The upward trajectory of the graph is illustrated by the step-by-step strengthening of the relationship between friends, even though there were some “ups and downs,” as shown below:

ups and downs

As seen above, the level of closeness between friends ranged from 1.00 to 10.00 between the beginning of the relationship till the time until the first year. Such an increase signifies a strengthening of the connection and the overall improvement in the levels of trust, understanding, support, as well as other positive factors in a friendship. In the example provided, the respondent and her friend became close because she was dating his brother, and the level of closeness dropped between turning points #1 and #2 when she ended the relationship with his brother. The spike in closeness was between points #2 and #3 when the two friends began talking again, and their friend groups merged. However, at point #5, the connection decreased because the male friend got back with his ex-girlfriend, which brought the level of closeness to the point of #3. The relationship rekindled once again when the two friends got back to school and began being romantically involved. Therefore, despite the ups and downs in the friendship, the upward trajectory was reached with the help of ongoing communication as well as the development of romantic feelings at the end point of the graph.

There are only a few examples of the graphs having a downward trend, thus marking the possible end of the relationship altogether, as illustrated below:


In the above graph, closeness levels were higher than average at the beginning of the relationship but plummeted from the turning point #4. The turning point #5, as reported by the participant, indicated a summer break during which the friends did not communicate much and lost touch. The lowest turning point by the level of closeness is #6, with the participant mentioning that the event was characterized by his female friend beginning to date his male friend, which had a detrimental impact on their relationship overall. As the level of closeness at turning point #6 was lower than 2.00, it was important to determine whether the relationship was still going at the time of the survey. However, the participant mentioned that his friendship was “next to nothing because of her boyfriend feeling threatened by me.” In such an example, the friendship deteriorated significantly due to the loss of touch over prolonged time, as well as one of the friends developing a new romantic relationship.

Considering the fact that there were only three males and nine female respondents, it may be beneficial to look at the different ways in which individuals of different genders approached the topic of cross-sex friendships. Male respondents showed more doubt regarding the way in which they were perceived by their friends of the opposite sex. They mentioned that their female friends gave mixed signals, which led to them being unsure of how they should proceed with the relationship. Besides, they noted that there was some information they were uncomfortable sharing with their female friends. In addition, male respondents had fewer doubts about their romantic feelings toward their friends compared to females who doubted whether a true relationship is worthwhile. Female respondents said that they got closer to their male friends romantically because they were friends in the beginning. Getting to know men as friends made it possible for women to be more open in their relationships and pursue them romantically.


The findings of the research suggest that cross-sex relationships are complicated and vary based on people’s experiences and attitudes. The overall trend traced in the interviews and the turning point graphs was that no relationship went smoothly, and there were up and down points that shifted the trajectory of the friendship. The most detrimental negative points were associated with the loss of touch, which created distance between two friends. The most detrimental positive points were linked to friends spending a lot of time together and getting to know each other as individuals. An important turning point at the beginning of the friendship was associated with having a mutual interest that initiated the beginning of a friendship. The steps toward a romantic relationship between friends increased their level of closeness as indicated by the participants, while them finding partners outside the friendship increased the distance between them and thus possibly leading to the end of a friendship. In most instances, the friendships began as platonic and non-romantic; however, as they progressed, the friends began developing some feelings toward each other. Both males and females agreed that the nature of cross-sex friendships was already an important factor in shaping the relationship, especially in terms of openness and transparency. In the majority of the cases, the friendships had a romantic undertone at some points in the relationships, ranging from an innocent kiss at a party to an emergence of a strong connection.


To conclude, the turning points of cross-sex friendships marked the occurrences that defined the quality of the connections between people of opposing sexes. The two types of relationship trajectories, either upward or downward, showed that the turning points led to either a strengthening or a weakening of connections between friends. The fact that the friendship was between males and females presented some challenges from the very beginning, mainly due to transparency issues as well as the appearance of romantic interest on the part of either friend. The implications for future research are vast since cross-sex friendships remain understudied. However, this research revealed that the turning points in a friendship define its trajectory, ranging from the complete end of a friendship to the development of a romantic connection.


Bleske-Rechek, A., Somers, E., Micke, C., Erickson, L., Matteson, L., Stocco, C., … Ritchie, L. (2012). Benefit or burden? Attraction in cross-sex friendship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(5), 569-596.

Corretti, C. (2019). . Web.

Gilchrist-Petty, E., Bennett, L. (2019). Cross-sex best friendships and the experience and expression of jealousy within romantic relationships. Journal of Relationships Research, 10, e18.

Karandashev, V. (2015). A cultural perspective on romantic love. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 5(4). Web.

Turner, B. (2016). Can we be friends? An examination of the role of cross-sex friendship on emerging adults’ spiritual development. Master of Arts in Higher Education Thesis Collection. Web.

Weger, H., Cole, M., & Akbulut, V. (2016). Relationship maintenance across platonic and non-platonic cross-sex friendships in emerging adults. The Journal of Social Psychology, 159(1), 15-29.

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