Messenger For years, friendships between straight women and gay men have been a subject of pop culture fascination. Books , television shows and feature length films have all highlighted this unique relationship, noted for its closeness and depth. Why are straight women so drawn to having gay men as friends? And when do these relationships typically form? Specifically, I believe evolutionary psychology and human mating can help explain why relationships between straight women and gay men tend to flourish.
A safe bet At first glance, this explanation may seem quite counterintuitive. However, this is precisely the reasoning behind my approach. With heterosexual men who, by definition, are sexually attracted to women , the process is longer — and potentially more fraught — because men may be grappling with their own sexual impulses.
About three years ago, I initially tested this theory in a series of experiments that have served as the foundation of my research program on gay-straight relationships. In these experiments, straight female participants were shown fictitious Facebook profiles depicting either a straight woman, straight man or gay man.
I also recruited gay male participants, and had them complete the same task with the gay men viewing Facebook profiles depicting a straight female, gay male or lesbian female.
The experiments, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, demonstrated that straight women and gay men perceived one another to be trustworthy sources of relationship and dating advice. In other words, when it came to dating-related matters, there was an almost instantaneous level of implicit trust. Still, more needed to be done to support the hypothesis. Cracking the why and when Recently, my colleagues and I at the University of Texas at Arlington developed a series of four related studies.
For the first study, I wanted to replicate the finding that women trust gay men more than straight men or straight women. It really only had to do with one thing: To further examine why this might be the case, we had women imagine receiving information from either a straight woman, straight man, or a gay man about their physical appearance and the dateability of potential boyfriends.
We then asked the women how sincere they felt the responses were. For the final two studies, we wanted to figure out when women were most likely to befriend and place their trust in gay men. We predicted that this would most often occur in highly competitive dating environments, where a trustworthy source like a gay friend would be valued by women jockeying with one another for a boyfriend.
In a highly competitive dating environment, women may seek trustworthy allies. We had women read this news article and then indicate how much they would trust a straight woman or a gay man in various dating-related scenarios.
When women read the news article about the increased competition, their trust in gay men was amplified. Not only were women more apt to trust gay men under this condition, but we also found that they became more willing to make gay male friends.
However, the strong trust that women initially form with gay men can serve as a primer; eventually, this trust could extend to other areas, with the friendship blossoming over time.
Other findings — combined with our own — show that there seems to be an extremely strong psychological underpinning for why women are so drawn to gay men. For instance, a recent study in the Journal of Business and Psychology revealed that straight women tend to hire gay men over other heterosexual individuals because they perceive gay men to be more competent and warmer. Furthermore, marketing researchers have suggested that straight women prefer to work with gay male sales associates over others in consumer retail settings.
These two findings alone could have many positive implications for gay men in the workplace. Although much of this research focuses on why women are drawn to friendships with gay men, another obvious avenue of exploration is whether or not gay men are similarly keen to form friendships with straight women. For example, in a study I conducted in , I found that gay men also look to women for trustworthy dating advice or tips for finding a prospective boyfriend. Other researchers have suggested that gay men value the positive attitudes towards homosexuality that women tend to have relative to straight men.
In this case, the implicit trust seems to be a two-way street.