“He’s Like a Brother”: The Social Construction of Satisfying Cross-Sex Friendship Roles

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Unlike most forms of relating, cross-sex friendships do not inherit pre-established social roles that influence norms and form expectations. Instead, members of cross-sex friendships must construct an understanding of their relationship and find the language with which to explain it to others. This study identifies the role(s) commonly created or adopted for cross-sex friendship and determines which constructs of cross-sex friendship are correlated with relational satisfaction. Study 1 used in-depth interviews (N = 40) and qualitative analysis to discover roles with which cross-sex friends identify. Study 2 utilized a close-ended questionnaire (N = 206) to assess the relative frequency of the role types, whether men and women differed in their role selection, and whether role type is related to relational satisfaction. Both samples consisted of college students in the western United States. Results indicate that women most commonly construct their male–female friendship as a sibling relationship, and men most frequently label their relationship “just friends,” and both of these ways of constructing the relationship are related to a high level of friendship satisfaction. Participants who described their friendship as a romantic relationship had a significantly lower level of friendship satisfaction. The implication of these results for understanding the social construction of cross-sex friendship is discussed.