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Society has long singled out romance as the prototypical male-female relationship because it spawns babies and keeps the life cycle going; cross-sex friendship, as researchers call it, has been either ignored or trivialized.

We have rules for how to act in romantic relationships (flirt, date, get married, have kids) and even same-sex friendships (boys relate by doing activities together, girls by talking and sharing). "Almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance," Monsour noted. These cultural images are hard to overcome, he said. D., at the University of Cincinnati-Raymond Walters College, published a landmark study in the journal on the top impediments to cross-sex friendship.

Point to the jealousy that plagues many rational people when a significant other befriends someone of the opposite sex. "Now they work together and share sports interests and socialize together." This cultural shift has encouraged psychologists, sociologists and communications experts to put forth a new message: Though it may be tricky, men and women can successfully become close friends.

Boil it down to the inherent differences between the sexes. What's more, there are good reasons for them to do so.

A simple, platonic hug could instantaneously take on a more amorous meaning.

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"Even the most secure people in a strong marriage probably don't want a spouse to be establishing a new friendship, especially with someone who's very attractive," said Monsour.Society may not be entirely ready for friendships between men and women that have no sexual subtext.People with close friends of the opposite sex are often barraged with nudging, winking and skepticism: "Are you really just friends?In a study published in the , Sapadin asked more than 150 professional men and women what they liked and disliked about their cross-sex friendships. Men, on the other hand, more frequently replied that sexual attraction was a prime reason for initiating a friendship, and that it could even deepen a friendship.Either way, 62 percent of all subjects reported that sexual tension was present in their cross-sex friendships. But, O'Meara said, "in a culture where men have always been more equal than women, male dominance, prestige and power is baggage that both men and women are likely to bring to a relationship." Women are at risk of subconsciously adopting a more submissive role in cross-sex friendships, he said, although that is slowly changing as society begins to treat both genders more equally.

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