Why Can’t We Be Friends?
“Mom, you HAVE to call the school counselor and switch me out of Astronomy class! I don’t think I can stand seeing him every day.” This was her plea amidst the tears after he broke her heart the first time. I was as surprised as she was when he broke up with her. After all he wrote, “I love you” in her yearbook. They were still dating when they signed up for classes but by the time the next school year rolled around, they had broken up. For a while, she didn’t think it would be possible to be in the same class with him, and she certainly couldn’t imagine being friends with him. But, they had quite a few mutual friends and I encouraged her to at least try to not hate him – after all, hatred is not a popular Christian virtue. We prayed and cried through the pain of rejection together. Then, he made a pass at her at a party and begged her to take him back. She opened her heart again – but a bit more slowly. They tried to focus on developing a healthy friendship and taking things a bit slower this time, but it didn’t last. She cried the second time around, but by then she knew she could survive being in the same class – and while odds are they won’t be close friends, she has learned some valuable lessons about romance and friendship through this experience.
Time and again we hear the story of those who’s marriages have lasted the test of time, “I married my best friend.” We hear stories and tell our teens that romantic relationships are about so much more than sex and physical attraction. We tell them that friendship is the foundation of all lasting romantic relationships and that when they are dating they should avoid getting physical and focus on developing a friendship with their romantic partner. Other popular Christian dating (or NOT dating) books advise young people to avoid romance all together and focus on developing healthy cross-gender friendships (in group settings, of course) until they are ready to commit to a courting relationship. On the one hand, we tell them to “just be friends” and that friendship is the most important aspect of a life-long, committed love relationship. Then, we turn around and tell them that, honestly, they can’t be “just friends” because all adolescent guys ever really think about is sex. Sometimes we tell them, if a guy says he wants to be “just friends” it either means he’s not at all attracted to you and senses your interest in him, or he wants to have sex with you and senses the feelings are not mutual. But everybody knows, it’s impossible for young men and women to be “just friends.” And, women see this differently than men, according to some college students.
Are we giving mixed messages here? Friendship is the most important thing, but cross-gender friendships are impossible? Dan Brennan, in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women, argues it is not only possible, it is important to have friendships between men and women that are ‘non-sexual’, but still intimate and deep. He goes on to imagine that when we locate cross-gender friendship among Christians within the context of spiritual siblings we mitigate much of the danger of sexual sin. I’m really interested in this idea, especially for my daughters and will be reviewing Brennan’s book here soon. There is also an upcoming gathering on this topic and my friends Jim Henderson and Kathy Escobar are on the speaker list, though I hear it is more of a conversational event than a presentational event. Check out the Sacred Friendship Gathering and tell your friends – both kinds!
What do you think?