Volume 5

The "Harry Met Sally" Phenomenon: Friends Becoming Lovers

Maureen S. Shaw

The purpose of this study was to examine young adult perceptions of cross-sex friendships and to determine which elements of a platonic friendship may lead to development of an intimate, sexual affair between friends. A convenience sample of 149 college students (11% men, 89% women) from a New England college completed a survey assessing demographic information, intimacy between friends, relationship satisfaction, sexual attitudes, and perceptions of cross-sex friendships. The mean age of the participants was 24 years; approximately 54% were single; 7% were married; 40% were currently involved in a committed relationship. Participants were asked to read one of six scenarios depicting a relationship between cross-sex friends. After reading the scenario, they rated the likelihood of the characters crossing the platonic barrier and engaging in a sexual encounter. Data revealed that level of attraction was a factor in whether or not participants viewed the cross-sex friends as engaging in a sexual affair. Results also indicated that marital status did not play a part in whether participants believed cross-sex friends would engage in a sexual affair. The results further indicated that neither participants’ sexual attitudes nor their levels of intimacy and satisfaction in current relationships were related to their perceptions of the cross-sex friends and whether they would engage in a sexual affair. However, it was found that high satisfaction in relationships is positively associated with high reported intimacy in relationships. Additional self-report measures were also analyzed and results are discussed.

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