Why can't we be friends?
This is a hard one for me, it’s something that has really really annoyed me since, oh, about the middle of college. Before then it just never seemed to be an issue, or at least it was only a small issue every once in a while. So what’s the question? Can men and women be “just friends”?
SIDE NOTE: This thought was spurred on by a video that was posted on FB and the ensuing comments, the video will be posted below as a point of reference.
My gut feeling (and what I’ve found from my own experience) is no, with a lot of exceptions. Here’s why:
It all comes down to what draws us into friendships to begin with: attraction. (This may start out sticky but stay with me.) With all of our friends, regardless of gender, there is something that attracts us to them (if there was absolutely no attraction there would be no relationship). It could be physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or another reason. If there isn’t anything attractive on some level we probably won’t be very willing to begin a relationship. That’s part of the reason “first impressions” are so important. If your first impression of me leaves you with absolutely no attraction to anything in me, there really isn’t any reason for you to continue putting effort into a relationship with me, be it friendship, romantic, or other.
When we are young, it seems like there is less focus on romantic relationships and we are able to maintain friendships with the opposite gender rather effortlessly. However, I’ve found both personally and through observation that this becomes increasingly difficult as we get older. One reason is most likely the fact that as we age our priorities change. Most people do intend on getting married and as such begin to more seriously view the “options” around them. The question, “Could I marry this person?” is either consciously or subconsciously playing on our minds. This leads us to “test the waters” with those of the opposite gender around us. The thing I believe we often forget is that other single people are doing the same to us. While we may have quickly come to the conclusion that “so and so” isn’t marriage material for us, and they may not have reached the same conclusion as us. This is where misunderstandings and hurt feelings come in.
While YOU may be able to be comfortable being just friends and interact with a person in a totally relaxed and friendly manner, the other person my be getting super confused with your “mixed signals”. You say you want to be just friends but you act as though you want to be more. Being overly touchy, confiding deep emotional thoughts, spending lots of time together… whether you like it or not, these are things that deepen relationships, sometimes deeper than simple friendships should go. Then, when the friend finally finds someone they actually do like, the other is left with a huge void no longer being filled = hurt feelings.
Now there are exceptions to this. One commenter brought up Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene and sisters Mary and Martha. And it’s true, I don’t think Jesus was contemplating marriage to any of them, but also the situations were probably a bit more complex than Jesus and the Mary’s going bowling on a Saturday night. Jesus interacted with these women in mostly ministry settings. Jesus’ relationship with Mary and Martha is always in the context of their brother Lazarus’ home and there always seems to be a group present. As far as Mary Magdalene goes, what pop culture tells us aside, she was most likely the age of Jesus’ mother or older (Check out the book MAD Mary for more thoughts about this), making a platonic friendship much more easily accomplished. Other examples were “Mother” Mary and John after Jesus’ death, again here is an example of an older woman whose care was being passed on to John, definitely establishing a mother/son type relationship. The final example cited was Priscilla and Paul’s relationship. Here we see a married woman being friends with Paul, but again, that friendship was always in context of working alongside her husband which is totally kosher.
What we don’t see in the Bible are two single or married people of opposite gender developing deep emotional connections alone with each other under the guise of friendship with no intention of marriage. It’s just not there, and it’s just not a good idea.
But, as I said earlier, I do believe there are exceptions, some of which I’ve already mentioned. I believe that in many cases men and women can be friends when in the context of mixed groups, ministry settings, or work. I believe that married people can be friends with their spouses’ friends or even other’s of the opposite gender when kept in appropriate context. In any relationship, clear boundaries must be established and adhered to.
I guess what it comes down to is that we were made to be attracted to one another and once that attraction is there it is difficult (though not impossible) to control. The biggest danger I see is the feelings of the other person. Just because you are able to control your attraction doesn’t mean the other person can. As brothers and sisters in Christ we should be concerned for the feelings of others and not selfishly imply that just because you’re fine with being just friends that automatically applies to the other person.
Opposite gender friendships can carry with them great value, new perspective, and a balance to our lives. But they can also bring with them a lot of hurt if not treated very carefully. I wouldn’t say they should never be attempted, but we need to take into consideration that the result may not be worth the danger.
I’m having trouble getting the video on here today, but here’s the link if you want to watch it