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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.

People with close friends of the opposite sex are often barraged with nudging, winking and skepticism: "Are you really just friends?

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As the workplace and other social arenas become increasingly open to women, the sexes are mingling more and more.

Still, men and women continue to have surprisingly few opportunities to interact.

"Boys and girls form their own gender groups in elementary school," explained Monsour.

"They learn their own ways of relating to each other.

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.

Society may not be entirely ready for friendships between men and women that have no sexual subtext.According to Rosemary Blieszner, at Virginia Tech and author of There are proven—and apparent—distinct differences between female friendship and male friendship.Women spend the majority of their time together discussing their thoughts and feelings, while men tend to be far more group-oriented.Blame the sexual tension that almost inevitably exists between any red-blooded, heterosexual man and woman. "The belief that men and women can't be friends comes from another era in which women were at home and men were in the workplace, and the only way they could get together was for romance," explained Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in Valley Stream, New York.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."You know you love someone and enjoy them as a person, but not enough to date or marry them. " The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background.

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