Monday, June 25, 2012

Can Men & Women Be Friends?

When Harry Met Sally? - Harry explains his philosophy on the genders being friends

If you have been reading for any amount of time, you know that I grew up in the mid-West where things tend to be more conservative, more traditional in most of everything in life.  At least they were 20+ years ago.  I wasn't raised in any type of church or religion...however I still was influenced by the culture around me in regards to gender roles and the place of women in the world.  The lack of any strong positive male role models in my life didn't add a different view to my young thought life.  

No, I would say my early interactions with males - from the lack of my father, to the fights with my big brother to those boys who carried "coodies" (why does Urban Dictionary say it is the girls that carry this disease?) and who seemed to always have to prove themselves better than me on the playground or in the classroom - only cemented in my subconscious that men were of the "do not trust, do not are in competition with them" category in the world.  It is interesting actually to look back and see that girls/women also did their fair share of damage in my young world...however, my psyche jumped to blaming men for that - I am sure I am not alone.

Harry's philosophy from the scene above was one I saw played out around me time and again - and only served to ingrain this belief even deeper into my mind...that men in the end only wanted one thing from women  - and it wasn't friendship.  Even though Harry goes on to have a deep friendship with Sally and eventually ends up marrying her - my mind grabbed onto this philosophy and would carry it with me throughout the next couple of decades.  

Combine all the above with the Conservative Christian Circle (CCC) I was "raised in" and add the book that took a good portion of the CCC by force -"I Kissed Dating Good-bye" - and you got...well for me it I got the perfect storm.  As I entered my 20s, I brought with me:

one serving of deep-seeded distrust of men (even though I was not aware of this force) 
one serving of a Romance Addict (always dreamt that some man would defy the odds of my mistrust)
one serving of the battle of the sexes
one serving of "Complementarism" mixed with "men and women can't be friends"
a recipe for disaster.

Why would this be a disaster?  Good question -- and that is what I want to see if I can try to unpack - at least a little - here.

First, I think it would be pretty obvious that not trusting men could lend itself to never developing healthy relationships with men.  It led me to see men as the enemy, as something to be held at bay...that while I desired for that "Happily Ever After" beginning that my addiction craved for - in reality my distrust and my belief that men and women couldn't be friends would actually keep me from ever forming a healthy basis, a healthy foundation for a long-term relationship. 

If friendship isn't the basis for an intimate male/female relationship, then what is? Well, it could be one of many things:

* lust/desire/physical attraction
* allure of traits the other possesses that we desire in ourselves but don't have the courage to develop
* idolizing the other to the point that they become our "savior" - the one that can fulfill our dreams for our lives
* political, power or security

I throw that last one in there - for while these seem like old fashion reasons to get married - I firmly believe they still happen today even in our culture.  In fact, as I look at this list, I would say all of these applied to me - well not the political one - but the rest for sure.  None of these were able to form the basis for a good, pure, healthy relationship.  While some couples might be able to marry for these reasons and eventually move beyond these reasons to form a healthy friendship - I gamble that many do not...and as the years tick by... the lust wears off, as the allure of the traits turns into disdain, as the "savior" theme begins to fail and the draw of security and power turns into a prison...

...well, I bet this is the point where many marriages fail to recover.  This is where disenchanted dreamers divorce and go looking for another Prince/Princess Charming...never realizing it is their dream that is flawed more than the person.

Any who....all of that is for another post.  Back to my original observations about men and women and friendships.

Going a step further - if men were untrustworthy, then it seems there is an inborn competition.  That, unbeknownst to me, I was thrusted right into the age old "battle of the sexes" trying to prove that females were the better sex ...and that in order to make myself and my sex be on top, that means someone must be one-down...the men. 

This philosophy has been playing out through all of time, over all the centuries even into our present day. In watching Dangerous Beauty, I was reminded that for a great part of the last...well of all time until recently and only in some countries - women have been viewed as property, as vessels devoid of feelings/thoughts/emotions that are only good for sexual pleasure and breeding.  In this movie - based on a true story - when trouble came to the Venetians, there were some (men and women) who looked to blame this trouble on the easiest target - the women whom they had gone to for pleasure.

What ensures in this movie continues to play out even in our modern day - find a scape goat in the opposite sex and blame them for the troubles of the world.  The blame game.  How many pointed jokes are tossed around a locker room full of men about how their women are the source of all their sorrows?  That if she would just stop doing this and start doing that - then life would be hunky dory?  That if she would just let him be a man, then the world would right itself?

Women are not blameless in this "battle" either...not even in the slightest.  As women began to have more rights and privileges over the centuries, women of course have flaunted their brains, their wits and their bodies to get what they want.  No, women are not immune to wanting the exhilarating feeling of being "on top" that power and control brings.  I - among many women - would be the first to admit that the well meaning feminist movement in many ways went too far.  Instead of seeking status of "equality" with men (please note, I DO NOT MEAN "sameness" when I say equality)...many women saw that the millenniums of being treated inhumanly were over and of finally having a chance to be on top -- they have taken it.  

For me personally, I do not see this as an avenue I want to take.  Being on top seems like a lonely and desperate life and not one where true intimacy would or could develop.  It does not seem like a route where God's kingdom can truly flourish...but only add to the fighting and despair that is already going on.

This last ingredient in my perfect storm is where I have really been spending time in these last few months...wrestling with my own personal feelings and thoughts and desires.  It has been one revelation after another of why - for me personally - I feel the complementarism line of thinking is detrimental and damaging to our marriages.  I realize what I am about to say is tainted by my own experiences or lack of experiences...and that many women and men have fulfilling, wonderful marriages that follow this philosophy.  

Yet, for me - and for many - complementarism is a limiting, stereotyping, antiquated way of relating to the opposite sex.  For me, it forces me to think that ALL MEN fit into this category over there...while ALL WOMEN fit into this category over here.  As I am desperately trying to get past stereotypes and past judging people based on anything I am desperately trying to learn to get know people as individuals - to get to know their stories....I continue to try to lose the beliefs that have kept me in bondage.

This includes the thought I keep returning to: men and women cannot be friends.

This line of thought is obviously not just from the Harry makes this evident in the scene above.  There are many tricky aspects and barriers to men and women being friends.  However, I think when we prescribe to this thought that men and women can't be friends...when there is no room for us to safely explore the opposite sex in friendships...then we make room for misinterpreting our own feelings.

Let me try to explain myself.

See, in my old world of "men and women can't be friends cause the sex thing always gets in the way" - whenever I felt attracted to a guy...then I took that attraction as sexual attraction.  That I MUST like the guy if I found him interesting and found myself wanting to get to know him.  In that old world, if I felt that attraction - there was no where else to put it except in the "intimate" category because - you got it - "men and women can't be friends."

However, as I have challenged this thought - as I have learned to rephrase this thought and look at the world through a different lens - I have begun to understand that attraction to a guy doesn't automatically mean I want an intimate relationship with him.  For there are many different levels people can be attracted to each other.  For heaven's sake - I'm attracted to other women based on their personalities/characters/souls/etc....but it doesn't mean I want anything more than a friendship with them.

Can't it be the same with guys?  If so, is there another place to put attraction than in the sexual/intimate category?

I say yes...a big resounding yes!

Instead of fearing the attraction I feel towards men now...well I recognize the attraction as God given and perhaps there is very good reason for me to be friends with that guy.  Perhaps I have something to learn from him (okay - I probably have A LOT I could stand to learn from men).  Perhaps we would be a good team in some way.  Perhaps he has something to learn from me.

Having another place to put this attraction has FREED me from the bondage of thinking all men are evil and not to be trusted.  It has FREED me to realize that I DON'T want to compete with guys, but that I want to learn about them, to learn from them, to see them as an individual just as I want them to see me...that I want to see what God is doing in their lives and to encourage them along their journey and path in life.  That I am FREED to do just this and that I am FREED from worrying about what others will think of me if I desire to do this.  

I answer yes again.  I believe that boundaries - if it is to be a real friendship where souls are shared - need to be talked about and set.  I believe that 2 parties who are seeking to grow into emotional adulthood can learn how to develop a male/female friendship - that they can learn to appropriately deal with their attraction for the opposite sex - learn how to put it into a healthy place.   I believe it is never too late or too early to set those boundaries...and I believe that as long as both parties continue to be honest about their motives and thoughts on the friendship (i.e - if something changes for either one, that person should address the change with their friend) - thriving friendships between the sexes can occur.  I believe this only adds to the world, frees us all from so much of the bondage that the gender roles often brings to us.

In closing, when I look back at my list of what often times leads to marriage...I have to honestly say that having tried those other things - that if I ever go that route again - I would want him to have been a tried and trusted friend first.  I would want to know that our union was based on something as real and tangible as a friendship that happened to continue to grow into something  more - and not something fleeting like sexual attraction.  For if I can't see myself becoming friends with him first...then why would I bother with anything more than that.  Learning how to be a friend to the opposite sex might actually be the healthiest thing I can do to ensure that I will eventually be in a relationship that will last.


  1. "as the "savior" theme begins to fail and the draw of security and power turns into a prison..." One of the most insightful lines, you've writtten! A great post overall... Well done!

  2. And one of the ones I honestly had a harm time putting out there...glad I have at least one fan!


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