Friday, January 19, 2007

On Male-Female Friendships

While this post is general and it is my hope that everyone who reads it will be blessed and encouraged, there are a few people I have had in mind as I was writing it, hoping and above all praying that it would be encouraging to you and provoke you to think again about this question of friendships between guys and girls. You each know who you are. If you disagree with me, and I expect that some of you may, that's fine. Too, I know it's long. But I hope that you'll take the time to read this through and really think and pray about it; and if the Lord so leads you, I'd love to talk to you about it.

Thanks to yet another provocative discussion going on at the Boundless Line, a conversation I had Monday night, and a set of ongoing circumstances with someone who is now an acquaintance of mine, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the topic of friendships between guys and girls. There's obviously a great deal of feeling caught up in discussions like the one going on over at Boundless, and I'm sure the same is true almost any time the topic comes up, for the simple reason that guy-girl relationships are among the most complicated and confusing areas in our lives, particularly (though by no means solely) as young adults. Given all of the above, I'm taking a little time to present some of my thoughts on the topic, hoping they'll be at least a little edifying to some of you. [Certainly, there are plenty of times when the same issues come up later. However, they tend to be most frequent as young adults, roughly from the onset of adolescence to whatever point someone gets married. While that period can extend well into one's life, that is rare. Furthermore, I've yet to experience that particular circumstance, and as such I will not comment except where I do have personal experience, except insofar as I'm referencing the comments and thoughts of others older, more experienced, and wiser than me.] I have to preface this by saying that I'm really re-evaluating much of this in light of this theory, which I was first introduced to today. It's certainly not complete - and the blogger describing it makes this very clear - but it does have a certain amount of accuracy to it, even from my own personal experiences.

Men and women are different; of that there is little doubt. (Those few who do doubt it have clearly never met a member of the opposite sex; if one has, there is no doubt!) That simple fact, stated in just a few words, shapes a great deal of human history. Indeed, beyond man's relationship with God and his inherent fallen state, it is the relationship between man and woman that has almost singularly defined the tale of our past, and that continues to define our present. The great romances remain, defying every change brought about by culture and history, from those in ancient times, through Shakespeare, right up through the modern romance and romantic comedy films. Whole nations have legendarily risen and fallen on these interactions. We should not then be surprised that every interaction between the sexes from puberty on is fraught with complications. Some of these are natural, and some of them are needless. The moment that any hint of attraction enters the arena, simple friendships become increasingly difficult to maintain, and for that matter to first construct. This does not change - not from the early teens through early adulthood (and, by accounts of those older than me, not even after that).

There are two separate but related issues that arise here. One is the issue of attraction, and with it pursuit, rejection, marriage, and so forth. The other is friendship between people of opposite sex where romantic intentions are not present. The former is exceedingly complicated. I have little experience with it, and that all full of so-called failure (though I have little doubt that God had His purpose even in that), so I will not in any way attempt to discuss an area in which my expertise is non-existent. Rather, I will look to the second area, where I do have a good deal of experience. For as long as I can remember, I have had good, close, female friends in addition to my close male friends. I also have two younger sisters, with whom I am becoming increasingly good friends (and it is to my chagrin that I have not made a greater effort to do so previously). It is from this experience and from Scripture that I will draw my arguments in the following discussion of the topic. Any true wisdom here is from God. All the mistakes are mine alone, and I am sure there are some, though I have tried to avoid them. I pray the former greatly outweighs the latter and that any who read this are kept from being mislead by any of the latter.

There are a few schools of thought regarding friendships between men and women percolating about in Christian circles at this time. I will attempt to address them each in turn, insofar as I am able to do so. One is that men and women should avoid all close friendships with people of the opposite sex except in the context of pursuit and then marriage. Friendships between men and women who are not romantically involved, in this view, should never include any time spent alone; nor should they spend large amounts of time together. Instead, their contact should be limited to interactions in groups at church, Bible studies throughout the week. Another view is that any male female relationship that is not crossing sexual boundaries is allowable. In this perspective, as long as both parties are comfortable with the relationship and it is well-defined, there is no problem, regardless of the degree of intimacy involved. The final view is somewhere in the middle, and harder to define for the simple reason that there is no commonly held version of this view: it varies person to person, and even circumstance to circumstance for individual people. Generally, people holding to this view value the notion of "guarded intimacy" but do not fully reject close friendships between people of the opposite sex. I will clearly state my bias here and now by stating that it is into this last group that I place myself, for what I hope will become clear are good reasons.

The first view is predicated on the notion that any relationship other than the marriage relationship that involves strong degrees of emotional and/or spiritual intimacy are inappropriate. There are several reasons why people hold to this. First, there is the view that anything not allowed when in a marriage relationship should likewise be not allowed when outside of a marriage relationship, for the reason that the people in question most likely will be married at some point in the future. (I have, in order to make a point, temporarily assumed even this extreme position myself in the past, as some of you may recall.) This extends from physical contact to all emotional and spiritual openness between people. While rarely put in such stark terms, this view is relatively common in the Christian circles today. A friend recently explained to me that she had observed her parents and noted that they had close friends of the opposite sex besides each other. This is a fair observation, and I believe her parents are setting a Godly example. From their example, she extrapolated the notion that she should have no close male friends (and, in general, that people should have no close friends of the opposite sex) other than a person with whom she would be considering marriage or to whom she were actually marriage. Inherent in this view is an extremely high regard for the sanctity of marriage, and with it for the purity of that relationship. People who, like my friend, hold to this view, so highly value that future relationship that they want to save all their emotional and spiritual intimacy for that one person. As well, people holding this view typically see themselves as seeking to guard both their own and others' hearts from unnecessary heartache and difficulties that God did not have in store for either party, by avoiding the seemingly inevitable entanglements of attraction - attraction that often goes unreciprocated.

This is not only understandable but in many ways admirable, and honestly I find it a tempting view at times. I find, however, that I ultimately cannot hold to it for a number of reasons, some of them Biblical and others purely experiential. I will begin with the latter, as they are the less important of the two. I know from having had many close female friends that it is quite possible to have close friendships without falling into the difficult straits brought on by attraction. It can be difficult, but it is possible. Furthermore, as I look back even at relationships that did have a great deal of pain in them from unreciprocated attractions, I find that I do not regret them in the least. They helped shape me into the man I am today. I gained valuable insights into humanity's spiritual condition, into the character of God, and into the nature of both men and women in specific, from those relationships, and I would not trade even those insights for having had less pain. More importantly, though, I would not trade the impacts that we had on each other's lives by being friends; I would not for anything in this world give up the ways I got to be a help to them and they to me simply because of the possible (and in many past cases, very much actualized) pain present therein. Rather, I count that cost as insignificant compared to the value of what we gained in knowing each other.

There is furthermore a logical flaw in this argumentation, for in taking the position that because married people should have no intimate opposite-sex friends, neither should those who are not married, a crucial point is missed. Specifically, that the married persons do have a close friend of the opposite sex. And that is meeting a need in their hearts. While we are clearly not meant to have the same degree of intimacy before marriage, we do need the insights and giftings of those members of the body who are different from us, and God created men and women different for precisely that reason among others. We compliment one another. When we ignore that gifting in our own pious desire to be holy without seeking what God Himself says about it, we are grave danger of holding ourselves to a higher standard than God does, and being "holier than thou" to God - of raising ourselves in pride to say our ways are higher than His - is a dangerous place indeed. I doubt most people who hold to that position consciously embrace this mentality (quite the opposite, I am sure!) yet, based on Scripture, that is precisely what they are doing, from what I can see.

Why do I say that? Quite simply, it is because as I look at this argument from a Biblical standpoint, I find myself disagreeing unable to hold to it. First and foremost, there is no passage in the Bible that explicitly deals with the topic. We must work from inference from other passages, both prescriptive and descriptive. We know that we are not to defraud one another sexually. We know that Timothy, as a young pastor, was told to treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. It is from these passages and a few others like them that proponents of this view often draw their support. These are compelling arguments at some level - at least, they are if one takes the view that no close friendship between men and women can be pure unless it be in marriage.

Most people that I have seen that hold these views come to the Bible with it and then seek justification for their view. This manner of examining the Bible - eisegetically, rather than exegetically (letting the text speak for itself) - is dangerous, and indeed is the foundation of heresies many and varied throughout history. By no means am I suggesting those holding to this view are heretics; rather I am pointing out that it is unwise to do. And certainly I am not innocent from having done so in the past. On this topic I have done my best to examine the whole picture presented by Scripture with prayer, aware of my own biases and fallibility, and I can stand only on what I have found, hoping that I have not been deceived by my own fallen nature. Why do I think these views are flawed? For the simple reason that the record of the rest of Scripture first does not explicitly address the issue, and secondly does not confirm this thesis in its presentation of descriptive verses, even about Jesus Himself. First, in the Timothy passage, we see that younger women are to be treated as sisters, with purity. In fact, the analogy of the members of the church as being our brothers is used throughout the New Testament. The notion of "brothers" or "brethren" has the connotation of being immediate family in this usage, because all have become adopted children of God. Yet, nowhere are we given instruction not to be close friends with our siblings. To the contrary, they are given to us as great gifts, and likewise our brothers and sisters in Christ are given to us as gifts. Indeed, we are given to each other for mutual edification and sanctification. To this end, we should not scorn the gifts that God has given us in each other, but rather guard them carefully and wisely. Furthermore, from the example of Jesus Himself we have considerable evidence that close friendships with women were a significant part of His life and His ministry. We see Paul establishing strong spiritual relationships with women along the way in his ministry. We see John addressing a beloved woman in one of the letters that is divinely inspired. Clearly, the notion that close friendships are inappropriate doesn't hold up, then.

At the same time, we are not each other's, and in view of honoring each other's future spouses, guarding each other's purity, and seeking above all to bring glory to God, it is clear that there ought to boundaries on non-romantic relationships. There are topics that ought not be discussed, emotional lines that ought not be crossed, spiritual intimacies that ought not be shared, and physical boundaries that ought not be stepped over. We cannot guard each other's hearts if we have laid them bare before each other; we cannot keep safe each other's hearts for the future if we have given them away in friendships here in the now. I have yet to find any Biblical support for this theory of guy-girl interactions. At the same time, there is plenty (most of it above) to suggest that we need to be careful to honor and guard each other's hearts. We have a responsibility to keep our relationships from crossing lines of intimacy that would be better reserved for the context of marriage. Certainly we should never find ourselves being mentored by or mentoring a person of the opposite sex. There are too many opportunities for relationships of that sort to cross the line between what is appropriate and what is not. Nor should we be baring our souls to friends of the opposite sex, no matter how close. There are parts of ourselves that ought to be kept special for the person we marry. Even in that context, there are issues that are better left dealt with in same-sex relationships than together. There is also an inherent danger that we can let a friend of the opposite sex act as a substitute, a fill-in relationship, instead of having the courage to step out in pursuit (or in being pursued) by someone to whom we might be married. Using a person is never permissible, and we always need to guard against it. That is not to say that any comforting or intimacy between people of the opposite sex is inappropriate, of course, but rather than we are not to substitute friendships for romantic relationships leading to the ultimate romance of marriage. Though friendship should be the basis and foundation of a marriage, there are different kinds of friendship involved in these relationships. As Lewis put it, one kind of friendship has the two people walking side by side toward a common goal; the other has the people facing each other, even as they pursue a common goal together. So we must always be mindful of how we are approaching these relationships.

There are friendships that model brotherhood and sisterhood to one another, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that redeemed relationships do not have to be centered on sexuality and emotional fulfillment, but rather can be subsumed to the obedience of Christ and the goal of mutual service and edification. Those friendships - those siblings that God has blessed us with - are some of the greatest gifts we can ever have, and to deny them in an attempt to make ourselves holy in ways that God has not called holy is quite simply to deny God the opportunity to bless us beyond what we can ask or imagine. I know that my own close female friends have blessed, encouraged, and taught me a great deal. To those of you who have sought to honor God by cutting yourself off from these friendships, I hope you'll stop and look at it again and spend some time praying about it. To those of you who may have tried to honor God but have ignored the ways we need to guard each other's hearts in guy-girl relationships, I hope you as well will seek our Father's wisdom in this area of considerable vulnerability. And to those of you who, like me, have found yourself seeking God somewhere in the middle, I encourage you to continue looking for greater wisdom in what that means and where the lines ought to be drawn, because - like those on either extreme - we are sinners in need of all of God's help so that we don't cause each other to stumble. Above all, let us seek to honor and glorify God in all of our deeds, in our words, and especially in the thoughts and intentions of our hearts as we approach these relationships which, redeemed, are a great gift, but left enslaved to the curse, are tragedies waiting to happen.

- Chris


  1. Aha! I found you. I typed in "liferenewed" in the address bar on accident at first and got to someone else's blog by accident.

    At any rate, I did enjoy reading the post. I have heard the first opinion shared before, and though I see where they're coming from, it neither makes sense nor appeals to me as a viable option. The second is also one that I've heard, but that's a dangerous path to walk and it's too easy for it to very quickly lead to temptation and possibly sin between the guy and girl. I know that I at least mostly agree with you on the third option. I agreed with what you said in the blog, though in application there are probably some areas where we have slightly differing opinions. That's not unexpected, though. :-) Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Hi Chris, I'm Leah whose comments you may have come across on the Boundless Line... ;)

    I recently did a post on my own blog ( involving the Ladder Theory too. Was it you who posted the link on Boundless Line? If it was, thanks heaps. It's great. It's so exciting to ask my male friends "is it true that..." and to find out it is... and it's like "Wow ^_^ ...another insight into the male mind" ;)

  3. it's me again. hehe. I just found this post. This is a deep, detail analysis. The dating scene soo much of a headache especially with some of "horror" stories I heard about including the ones told on Boundless (I have been a longtime reader so I seen a lot of their artcles on dating). Though I didn't date yet,I'm extremely familiar with the territory of unrequited love sadly to say. :P anyway, hope everything is well


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