We're Just Friends. Really!

What Harry told Sally was wrong. Platonic friendships are not only possible; they're flourishing

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Such tales are becoming increasingly common, says Kathy Werking, author of We're Just Good Friends: Women and Men in Nonromantic Relationships (Guilford, 1997). When Werking, a professor of communication at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., began studying cross-sex friendship in the late 1980s, it was hard to find people who had long-standing friendships with members of the opposite sex, especially if one or both were married. But social barriers to such enduring friendships have collapsed. "The idea that once you're part of a couple, you really shouldn't be friends with people of the opposite sex, just doesn't apply anymore," she observes.

Amanda Williams, 28, an artist and gallery owner from Oakland, Calif., says the 1997 marriage of her childhood friend O'Darie Weathers actually strengthened their friendship. When Weathers announced his engagement, Williams made a point of telling him that although she would always be his best buddy, his wife would now be the "main lady" in his life. "I wasn't telling him something he didn't already know," says Williams, "but I just wanted to be clear." Expecting their friendship to trail off somewhat following the wedding (in which she served as best woman), Williams was surprised by Weathers' efforts to maintain the friendship. He called every week and made sure they had time together when she visited him in their hometown of Chicago. "He's the only friend I have, male or female, who recognizes that after you get married, it's still important to nurture other relationships in your life," Williams says.

Researchers who have examined cross-sex friendship say that any initial sexual tension tends to fade over time or become irrelevant. "If a friendship is going to become romantic, studies show it usually does so in the beginning," says Heidi Reeder, a professor of communication at Idaho's Boise State University. "The longer the friendship lasts, the more likely each person is to see the other as a friend." (One study, however, suggests that at around the two-year mark, platonic friends often reconsider their romantic options.) Moreover, Augenblick's friend-spark idea has a basis in academic theory. According to Reeder, three types of attraction can exist between men and women: sexual, romantic and friendly. Often, Reeder says, people will feel one or two forms of attraction without the third. For example, a woman might feel drawn to a man as a friend and theoretically think he would make a great boyfriend--if only she were physically attracted to him. Or a man might like his best female friend and even find her sexually attractive but believe they would make a terrible couple. The solution? Just friends.

Some pairs manage to navigate the transition from platonic to romantic and back again. Tracy Livingston, 30, a teacher from Ridgefield, Conn., dated Keith Lawrence on and off in junior high and high school. "By college we realized we were better friends than lovers," she says. These days Livingston, who got married on July 19 (with Lawrence as her "bride dude"), tries to set Lawrence up on dates. Her husband Elliot "is great about our friendship," she says. "I wouldn't have married him if he weren't." The threesome often goes out at night together or plays golf on weekends.

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