Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"We're Just Friends": Myth Construction as a Communication Strategy in Maintaining Cross-Sex Friendships

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"We're Just Friends": Myth Construction as a Communication Strategy in Maintaining Cross-Sex Friendships

Article excerpt

The main goal of this research is to present a narrative description and identify categorical myths of cross-sex friendship in order to more fully understand the romance challenge confronting women and men in friendship. Closer examination into the challenges confronting cross-sex friends through narratives generate insight into the process of communication and interpretation of how friends construct, change and sustain their reality of their friendship. Current research suggests that cross-sex friendships differ from same-sex friendships (Werking, 1997). Respondents were 120 college students from a Midwest college and a West Coast college attending communication classes between 2000-2002. Respondents kept a journal discussing developmental and current issues of one cross-sex friendship. Key words: Cross-Sex Friendship, Romantic Challenge of Friendship, and Narrative Inquiry.


I completed my graduate education, all five years of it, with the support and companionship of two male friends. Randy was my rival and friend for two years during the master's program and Bob was my confidante, mentor and closest friend for the three grueling years of the doctorate program. As a graduate student, having a trusted colleague meant having the support of someone who was enduring the same hectic schedule that I was. It meant someone to share the workload, someone to vent with and someone to check and recheck the constant deadlines that had to be met. The support was invaluable. However, it also meant having to manage these friendships as just that, platonic friendships, which was not always easy. Sometimes the romantic tension became greater than the friendship we had entrusted with each other. As a result of this tension, I grew interested in how other women and men constructed and maintained their cross-sex friendships.

The following narrative approach highlights the construction of myths that friends create for cross-sex friendship development and the complexity involved in the communication process. Opportunities for interaction between women and men are increasing in the workplace, educational settings and the community. These individuals have the opportunity to meet, interact and development a friendship with one another. As the individuals encounter each other, they find they share mutual interests, enjoy the same types of activities, and experience similar life experiences and shared values and beliefs with the opposite sex.

Adult cross-sex friendships provide men and women with distinctive advantages that are hard to obtain in same-sex friendships (Bell, 1981; Monsour, 1992). For example, cross-sex friends provide insighter perspectives on how members of the opposite sex think, feel and behave (Sapadin, 1988), they are nurturing and supportive for men and fill a void in same sex friendships, they are an emotional outlet where men can express feelings that they tend to keep hidden from same sex friends (Kulander, 1991), they are less demanding for women in that they have lower levels of disclosure and are less threatening (Kulander, 1991), and they improve communication between the sexes (Monsour, 1992).

Rawlins (1982) initiated one of the more sensitive areas of investigation into adult cross-sex friendships and this has been more fully developed by O'Meara (1989). Their research focuses on the unique "challenges" that women and men must overcome in maintaining cross-sex friendships. O'Meara (1989) contends that cross-sex friends face an "emotional bond" challenge, a "sexual" challenge, an "equality" challenge, and an "audience" challenge. These challenges have been studied by Monsour, Beard, Harris, and Kurwil (1994) and found to exist and have powerful effects on individuals in cross-sex friendships although for the majority of participants in cross-sex friendships the challenges were not perceived as salient. Although the study by Monsour and his associates initiated the clarification of challenges that confront adult cross-sex friends, the challenges were not examined in-depth. …

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