Distinguishing between romantic, sexual and friendly feelings, however, can be exceedingly difficult."People don't know what feelings are appropriate toward the opposite sex, unless they're what our culture defines as appropriate," said O'Meara.Males gather to play sports or travel or talk stock quotes; rarely do they share feelings or personal reflections.
A simple, platonic hug could instantaneously take on a more amorous meaning.
"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.
The number of cross-sex friendships continues to decline with age—not surprising, because most older adults grew up in an age where consorting with the opposite sex outside of wedlock was taboo.
The field of research is still in its infancy, but they are now beginning to understand some basic truths about male-female friendship: Not until high school does puberty really draw boys and girls together, which then continues into college.
But as people develop serious romantic relationships or get married, making and maintaining cross-sex friendships becomes harder."Boys and girls form their own gender groups in elementary school," explained Monsour.