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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 1

Can Men and Women Be Just Friends?

Attraction plays a significant role in opposite-sex friendship, but that doesn't make the bond less beneficial

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Kate and Dan met on the job in Boston, when they were in their early 20s. He thought she was attractive; she thought he was an arrogant jerk. At a work party, it came out that both had lost a parent in recent years, and a mutual feeling of “you must really get me” washed over them. A few years later, when they both found themselves in New York and single, the friendship ramped way up, into multiple-phone-calls-per-day, soul-baring, belly-laughing territory.

It is that feeling that someone truly understands us that lends friendship its power to ward off existential loneliness. Kate and Dan share it, yet their brand of friendship is often seen as suspect—as less than pure and true. Friendships between people who could conceivably date come with built-in suspense for onlookers: Will they get together, or won't they?

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