Why Men and Women Are Always 'Friends with Benefits', Part 2

Cristen Conger

On Monday, I discussed the male half of the opposite-sex-friend (OSF) equation. Namely, while sex isn't the top priority for men forging friendships with women, it's still on their minds especially when both parties are single. That same OSF study I referenced asserts that women derive a particular benefit from platonic guy pals as well.

Now, before we go any farther, it's important to remember that the purpose of the study was to determine whether an "evolved opposite-sex friendship psychology" exists. In other words, whether there's an innate, evolutionary basis for OSFs since they aren't really practical in terms of propagation of the species (which is humans' ultimate goal, right? sex + babies.)

From that perspective, the psychologists concluded that women value the physical protection that OSFs offer. Like men and sex, protection wasn't the driving force behind the friendships, but women perceived it as a more significant ROI, if you will.

That theory surprised me, but the researchers actually weren't coming out of left field. Turns out that our baboon cousins also develop platonic friendships. Males will hang out with new mothers and even help chaperone her infants without ever trying to put the moves on. Primatologists haven't pinpointed what motivates the males, but it's clear that the OSFs function like bodyguards for the lady baboons. The BBC reported that the more time baboon mothers spend with their OSFs, the less they're harassed and the calmer their infants behave.

Needless to say, the protective aspect of male OSFs operates differently within human relationships. According to the study, a sense of protection from guy friends is more of an added bonus, the cherry on top, for women. And there was no indication that women would break off an OSF due to his physical weakness. However, the researchers hypothesized women living in more dangerous environments would place greater value on their OSF's strength.

So if men supposedly want to bed their female friends and women just want private bouncers, do OSFs share any common ground? The study says yes. Its data indicates that men and women are always 'friends with benefits' because while each reaps gender-specific rewards from the platonic arrangements, at the end of the day "both sexes use (OSFs) to acquire potential romantic partners."

Hate to say, but it looks like Harry was right.

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