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Boil it down to the inherent differences between the sexes. What's more, there are good reasons for them to do so.

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In Sapadin's study, men rated cross-sex friendships as being much higher in overall quality, enjoyment and nurturance than their same-sex friendships.

What they reported liking most was talking and relating to women—something they can't do with their buddies.

So when they do get together, inspired by puberty, they see each other as dating partners because they've never really known each other as friends." A surprisingly major factor in this phenomenon is the kids' own innate interest in children who act like they do.

Called "voluntary gender segregation," it continues into adulthood. "Men go off to one corner, and women go to another." These obstacles may seem numerous and formidable, but male-female friendship is becoming not only a possibility but also a necessity.

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If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, it may explain at least one of their shared beliefs: Men and women can't be real friends.

We have rules for how to act in romantic relationships (flirt, date, get married, have kids) and even same-sex friendships (boys relate by doing activities together, girls by talking and sharing). "Almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance," Monsour noted. These cultural images are hard to overcome, he said. D., at the University of Cincinnati-Raymond Walters College, published a landmark study in the journal on the top impediments to cross-sex friendship.

But there are so few platonic male-female friendships on display that we're at a loss to even define these relationships. A certain classic film starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal convinced a nation of moviegoers that sex always comes between men and women, making true friendship impossible. It's no wonder we expect that men and women are always on the road to romance. "I started my research because one of my best friends is a woman," said O'Meara.

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

" This is especially true, said O'Meara, of older adults, who grew up when men and women were off-limits to each other until marriage.

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

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