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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If men and women are to work, play and coexist in modern society, researchers believe men and women must learn to understand and communicate with each other.