friendship is one of the most precious and amazing gifts that we have in life
As Charlie writes, friendship is one of the most precious and amazing gifts that we have in life. Finding people who love you well, who sacrifice things for you, who make the effort to understand your peculiarities, and find ways to express their friendship for you creatively are some of the things that make life worth living. Life without friendship would be so much less vivid – which also means at times it would be so much less painful.
For a little while, I’ve been thinking about what makes a friendship work, and here are some of my thoughts...
Firstly, chemistry, with friends, as with relationships, there has to be that ‘spark’, that recognition of something about the other person that excites, challenges, or inspires you, or that you simply cannot help but love. We don’t talk about it a lot, particularly when we talk about friends of the same sex, but a healthy dose of chemistry is essential for the best of friendships – we have to understand one another.
Secondly, respect. Moltmann writes that “friendship combines respect with affection”. The best friendships are where both parties acknowledge there are things to be honoured, and therefore act accordingly. Respect allows people to be different and for different views, even wildly different views, to be held, and for love still to flourish.
all friendships worth having will require faithfulness
Thirdly, faithfulness. Friendships may not last a lifetime, although some will, but all friendships worth having will require faithfulness. I have people whom I consider my closest friends that have been part of my life for nearly twenty years (and I’m not yet thirty!). Their love and respect for me isn’t whimsical, and the security of knowing that no matter how often we forget each others’ birthdays, don’t call, forget to send presents, forget anniversaries, argue, or miss one another, they are constant and reliable, allows both of us to flourish.
So what about when we find these qualities in someone of the opposite sex, what then?
I’m going to be honest, and I’m going to give some personal examples. I’m also going to start off by saying that friendship with someone you find attractive, or could potentially find attractive, isn’t easy to do well, and on the whole, those friendships that are life sustaining, intimate, vulnerable, and equal are on the whole best confined to those whom you are either dating, or with people you stand no risk of being sexually attracted too.
a deep friendship with someone of the opposite sex requires a different kind of honesty, stacks of integrity, and self awareness
I’m not saying don’t have friends of the opposite sex; I’m really not. I am saying go into it with your eyes open and be aware that it can be difficult, that the rules are different, and that if you want to have a deep friendship with someone of the opposite sex then to do it well will requires a different kind of honesty, stacks of integrity, and a self awareness of your motivations for being in that relationship in the first place.
Much of this is to do with living the life you say you live. Paul tells us “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3). You claim to be a Christian, you claim to subscribe to this way of life. When we read in Timothy “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” we should realise the magnitude of the challenge.
That’s hard. That’s not just about our actions, that’s about our thoughts too.
Think carefully about why you’re in those relationships.
Ladies. Take a moment here to think about those guys that you’re really close friends with. Think carefully about why you’re in those relationships. Is it in any way because you’re hopeful a relationship might happen eventually? Is it because you like the way they interact with you? Is it because the physical contact is great? Is it because you simply like the fact they are interested in you? Is it because they’re hot or popular, and you consider that to reflect well on you? What do your interactions say to the people you’re with? Are you inadvertently leading people on?
Men. You too. Why are you surrounded constantly by a gaggle of girls? Why do you spend loads of time one on one with a girl you claim to not be interested in? How does her company make you feel? Why is it different? Why is it necessary?
Here’s a few helpful starting points for having God honouring friendships with the opposite sex:
- Be sure to ask yourself why you do it. Make sure it isn’t because you want the perks of a girlfriend or boyfriend without the commitment of that (I’ve been on the giving, and receiving end of that decision, and it’s not good from either place).
- Be aware of the time. If you regularly text each other last thing at night, call late, chat to each other on the phone in bed, you’re probably crossing a line. A rule of thumb is calling after nine and texting after ten is generally inappropriate.
- Define your boundaries. It’s not only romantic relationships that need to be clearly defined, friendships need boundaries too. Be sure to be clear about your intentions from the word go to avoid misunderstanding. Don’t assume because one or both of you are in a relationship that this isn’t a conversation you should have.
- Be honest. If you like them, tell them. It’ll either work out or it won’t. Even if it feels like a huge deal at the time, no-one dies as the result of a little honesty, and it will help you to protect one another. The best friendships require honesty, and this is part of building a solid and honest foundation for your friendship.
- Don’t exploit their time and affection. If you know they like you, don’t exploit that. Be gentle, honest, and when necessary you may need to be the one that draws some new lines for the other person’s protection, against your own desires and needs. Be the bigger person, and show some genuine, self sacrificial love.
- Be loyal. As a friend of the opposite gender you hold the keys to some incredible parts of the other person’s life. Guard their secrets as if they were your own, regardless of peer pressure to do otherwise, and the kudos it may give you to share it.
Men and women need each other to function at their very best
Men and women need each other to function at their very best. Since the beginning of creation, God has told us that it will be that way. So when dating, at work, on projects, in school, in life, we each have something unique to offer, and working as a team of two, or many more, is an important skill to master.
Friendships between men and women are different. They do require more careful thought. You need to learn to protect and honour one another, and you need to learn that there is something particular about men and women working together that can create a very different dynamic. Done badly, it can be really quite damaging for you, for your friendship, and for your wider circle of friends. However done well, it can make you a force to be reckoned with and be one of the most rewarding and brilliant friendships you have.