This one may cause some controversy, but I’m going to post it anyway. A subject that has been popping up a lot in the last while for me is relationships and the limits or lack of limits on friendships with the opposite sex. I’m not going to post a bunch of rules for anyone, but I do want to discuss some elements that I think should help one be more honest about things, and each can consult with their own spiritual guide on what is right for each to practice.
Naturally, I’m writing from the perspective of a guy…because I am a guy.
The word that I hope comes up a lot in this discussion is honesty. I want you to challenge yourself, to be totally and completely honest with yourself, and ask yourself what am I arguing and why am I arguing it?
Can guys and girls be “best friends”?
If by this the person asking means, ‘can I be at peace with the opposite sex?’, well, sure! But what does a person actually mean when he’s talking about being best friends? If I’m understanding correctly the social norms for friendships, then I think what’s really being put forward is, “I want someone to listen to me, joke with me, hear me out, be a shoulder to lean on, go out with etc…” To me, personally, this sounds an awful lot like a relationship, not just a friendship. I don’t think it’s possible for a guy and a girl to be “just friends”, and I’ve met atheists who think the same thing.
If by being a friend you mean that you can interact with girls in the exact same way that you interact with guys, then I think something is off. You cannot [innocently] go and wrestle with a girl the way that you would with another guy. You cannot [innocently] go and wrap your arms around a girl’s shoulder the way that you would with the guys. You cannot [innocently] go and talk about your problems with your personal struggles with a girl the way you would with a guy.
Here’s a simple test if you want to be very very honest with yourself: if you today, were in an ‘official’ relationship with someone, either courting, engaged or married, can you say with all honesty that you would have no emotional response if the woman with whom you are in a relationship constantly texts, calls and chats with a guy the way she would have done with another girl? I hope that you would be bothered by it, because you should be. Would you be alright with a guy calling your wife in the middle of the night for advice [when a girl could easily call her female best friend in the middle of the night and talk to her without any issues]? If you are at all uncomfortable, then you know that something just isn’t right.
Guys and girls are different. They are equal, and they are different. Five $20 bills is equal to two $50 bills is equal to a $100 bill. They are all equal but they are not the same. 25 pennies are not the same as a quarter even though they are equal. There are different characteristics of each. There are different prints on each. There are pros and cons to each. There are risks associated with each. None of that diminishes their absolute value, but we cannot pretend that they are the same.
Guys, you’re wired in a particular way. You were designed to have internal responses to the other sex. So unless a person is struggling with homosexuality, then it would actually be very difficult to convince me that you’re honestly not in any way affected by the person of the other gender. When you reach (if you have not already) an age in which you feel very overcome with desire, what may even have started off as a pure friendship may become tainted because you suddenly find yourself battling lust very strongly, and the whole context of your friendship has now changed! Now, you are actively putting yourself in the middle of a fire you may not have known was coming, but you find it too difficult to get out of it. Again, the context of your friendship is different.
Specifically on touching
Guys, you have heightened awareness and responses to physical stimulation. When a girl touches you, it affects you. There are studies about how if a waitress touches a guy’s hand it leads to more tips. Seriously, we’re wired. Girls apparently respond well to praise [and flattery], they are more cognitive. When a guy comments on how they look, it affects them deeply. Of course both genders have responses to all of the above, but there’s a different mechanism in each that ticks differently. I cannot think of any good reason why girls and guys should be touching each other, when all that you are doing is increasing warfare on one another. Someone will retort with sarcasm, okay, so I won’t even shake their hands, but I would suggest that you’re missing the real point. Be honest. It’s not about being nit-picky and legalistic, it’s about understanding who you are as a human being and how you affect other human beings. What have you lost by not being excessively touchy? What do you gain by helping each other in your fight for purity? If there’s absolutely nothing going on in the touching, then why is it difficult for a person to let go of it? It’s probably because you derive certain feelings out of it that you like, and you were designed to like, but that you might be taking from the wrong person at the wrong time.
But let’s not pretend we don’t have hormones. Let’s not pretend that we are totally pure. Let’s not pretend that we are motivated entirely by pursuing salvation and saving one another in this special guy/girl “friendship”. I don’t have legal statistics on hand to cite, but I can say that in my own experience I have not seen a single guy/girl “best friend” scenario that didn’t have or develop strong feelings for one another. Unfortunately, everyone believes himself to be an exception or they pretend the feelings don’t exist because of how badly they want one another. But you shouldn’t be trying to prove a point, you should be struggling for what is right.
Specifically about texting and other “not totally a relationship things”
One of the questions asked above is how you would feel if your spouse or significant other was constantly messaging someone of the opposite sex and how you would feel about that. The reason, if we are honest, that we would be concerned by this behaviour is because it means that that person is showing interest in another person. There is an internal acknowledgment of this special attention being given, and an understanding that it is something beyond the normal boundaries of a friendship. It’s the initial stages of a relationship where a person is not “official” but they are also definitely not “normal friends”. These behaviours lead to intense emotions. A person is on ‘cloud 9’, and possibly also feeling frustrated at the same time. Frustration comes from not knowing what to do about these feelings. They feel wonderful but there’s nothing clearly showing to where one should go as they take root. Consequently, a person just does whatever “feels right”.
Specifically about timing
Why am I bringing this up? Because so many people do this regularly, and it is the beginning of most relationships. What I am trying to get at, is if the timing for you to have a relationship is not right, then what are you doing taking the steps of a relationship that you cannot follow up on, or that could lead to your ruin? You are like someone lined up for the water slide at the amusement park that has a height restriction for safety reasons, only there’s nobody guarding the slide. You don’t seem to understand the restriction is there for safety, and not because the ride is evil.
So, you keep climbing up to the top, sitting at the slide, and then turning around to go downstairs. There’s going to be a day when you’re either going to slip and go down, or you are going to just rebel and go down. Why bother playing with danger at the slide, when you could be enjoying the hundreds of other rides in the park that have no safety precautions?
This climbing up the stairs and sitting there, is like the person constantly texting a person. Showing interest that cannot actually lead anywhere good at the time, but could work later. It’s like the person who constantly shows special affection or attention that is not equal to everyone else of the opposite sex.
In relationships, however, you are not only risking harm and damage to yourself, but to another human being. If you respect yourself, the other person, and God, then until it’s the right time, please buckle your seatbelt and stand in the right line. Recklessness might give you a thrill, but it’s irresponsible with little merit. If you have no care for God, His plan for you or His creation, then this point is obviously a moot one, but if you do, then we cannot take things so rashly.
The good news is three-fold:
a) You’re going to eventually go down the slide, so relax.
b) There’s lots of other slides that you can play with.
c) The wait makes things worth more – God has promised blessing to be who they were called to be.
Back to the question about being best friends, bffs, and besties:
What is a best friend or a friend? Why am I suddenly asking this again? Because the point is that it’s a special kind of relationship. You’re having a relationship with someone that is unique from your relationships with “everyone else”. You have a “friend” category and an “other” category and a “best friend” category (some have more categories, they like them). You are giving something to someone that is different than with everyone else. So if by being “friends” with someone of the opposite sex you are simply treating them the exact same as you would everyone else in the world by social customs and standards, then … terrific. I don’t think, however, that a normal social custom and practice would allow you to greet the cashier at the Dunkin’ Donuts with a hug. So a ‘special relationship’ needs to be watched because not all friendships are good for you even if they feel good. The Samson and Delilah saga didn’t go down really well, eh?
Guy time: another important waterslide
I wonder what it is that makes guys feel the need to cultivate strong relationships with girls, when really there should be time given to “guy time”. Really, how lovely it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! You need guy time. Guy time helps you understand who you are as a guy. It helps you find support from likeminded people when things are not going well. It becomes a haven for you when you are struggling with purity, lust, and other life issues that come at you. It can help you stay out of trouble when the people you are with are not doing what you’re craving to do. It helps you deal with loneliness. It helps you deal with grief. It helps you. It helps you. It helps you. Everyone needs a community. Even monks are not allowed to become hermits until they’ve lived in community. A new novice in a monastery is thrown right into a group because it is understood and acknowledged that he can’t do it alone, he needs support. So be honest. You’re not above all the guys who have needs. We all have them, so a good way to support one another is with quality guy time. I mean just the guys – having time with one another that doesn’t have a backdrop of relationships, giggling, showing off, trying to match up – good, clean, guy time – a haven for brothers to be real brothers to one another.
So, a few things that I am not saying:
– Guys and girls can never speak to one another
– Guys and girls should be physically divided and segregated from one another at all times
– Guys and girls need to be Stoic about everything they do with one another
– Guys are evil
– Girls are evil
– Everyone sucks
I am saying, that I don’t believe that it is
- normally possible
to carry a special relationship with the opposite sex, and that you should not believe yourself to be the exception, even when exceptions may exist. Once again, guys and girls are equal, and they are different.
So then, how do guys and girls interact?
Until you’re actually ready for a ‘special relationship’, probably it’s best to do things in a group environment, and to do that in a healthy, balanced way. What does that mean? Having events that are mixed are fine as long as in a safe environment (e.g. there’s a difference between a group trip to the club and a group trip to Denny’s). It also shouldn’t be done all the time – you need to make sure that there’s a sufficient amount of ‘guy time’ as well. Having a healthy mix of solo time and group time is awesome, it lets you get to know everyone, it’s still a kind of friendship (in that it is still a different relationship than that you have with random people), and it’s more pure. Everyone is responsible for answering his own conscience with honesty as to what each is looking for when he does anything. Spiritual guidance in this department is imperative, because sometimes we override our conscience, and sometimes we are blinded to potential danger.
A person should ask himself:
– Am I guarding myself?
– Am I guarding the other person?
– Am I motivated entirely by the right things?
– Am I doing something to prove a point?
– Am I okay with this being public?
– Am I entering an environment that I know isn’t the purest of things?
– Do I secretly want something that isn’t either right or the right time?
I know this post may bother some people, but that’s okay. I repeat that I’m not trying to make a rule on anyone, but I want to challenge people to be real about life, about emotion, about attraction. It’s not something to be ashamed of, because those impulses are not intrinsically wrong. How we deal with them, however, could lead to unhealthy relationships and all sorts of problems.
What this all leads us back to is the concept mentioned up top – of limits – which is a concept requiring its own discussion for another time: voluntarily limiting myself for the sake of a good thing, is not such a bad thing.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.
– Saint Paul
Feel free to disagree – but before you do so, ask yourself if you are disagreeing with honesty, or because you want something. 🙂