Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships
This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”. The other contributions to this Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post, and some of them are amazing! I invite you to read through the whole list!
I find that my posts over time have mostly served the purpose of allowing ME to process my analysis of whatever I was working through at the time, and then find I don't have a lot to say about the subject once I have worked through my own cognitive dissonance to a place where I can live. Then the issue is a non-issue to me, and I am content to listen and love as others do the same processing. So I didn't plan to post in this month's Synchroblog, but here I am, because I found myself preaching in my head this morning to all those who were finishing up their own posts.
To quote from one of my favorite movies My Cousin Vinny: "It's a bullshit question!"
A few years ago I put a lot of energy into this question, because -- like most of you -- I was coming from the perspective of a deeply patriarchal culture, and from the perspective of a culture that sees sexual purity as the primary evidence of a faith that works.
Today I understand this question to reflect a culture and not the deeper realities. So I will answer the question first, and then I will speak to the deeper realities.
Answer 1: Are cross-gender friendships possible for adults when one or both are married and when one or both are part of the old cultural paradigms of evangelicalism? No, not without deep problems.
Answer 2: Are cross-gender friendships possible for adults when one or both are married and when both have adopted a worldview that explicitly rejects patriarchy and explicitly accepts as its primary evidence of faith that works the commands of Jesus? Yes, most definitely.
I guess here is the place that it will show up that I have already internalized my own resolution: I am not going to try to walk you through this step by step. You'll have to do that work yourself.
But I am here to testify that it does not matter if two friends are mutually attracted if they are also mutually committed to agape toward each other and toward their spouses and if they are mutually committed to living lives that are wrapped around chasing Jesus, as long as they have both truly gotten over the myth that women exist to please men and men exist to care for women, as we were taught in our patriarchal upbringing.
The spouse who clings jealously to his/her spouse is not really that different from the "homewrecker" who seeks to enter into a committed relationship with someone who already made those commitments to another. Both have missed the point about where their security comes from, and both have believed cultural myths that don't hold the weight of real life.
So what does this mean for me?
1) I can be friends with men who treat me like their equal, and not like a potential sexual partner or like a maiden in distress who needs saving or like a "helpmeet" who will potentially be the wife who helps them or some other man achieve all he was called to achieve.
2) I cannot be friends with men who say that they believe I am their equal and not a potential sexual partner or "helpmeet" but then give out all kinds of clues that show that their true underlying belief is different than what is healthy and true. Whether that comes across as "sexual vibes" or "sweet condescension", both are sad indicators that that man isn't friendship material for me. (In the past I tried to "convert" some of those "friends" to friendship material, but I have since then accepted that only life can do that; I must wait until they reapproach me and share that that has happened.)
3) I cannot actively be friends with men who could otherwise be my friends but who have wives who are threatened by the friendship of their husband with me. This is part of real friendship, by the way: We honor the ethical responsibilities and real situations of those we love.
And what does this mean for some of my female friends who are processing this question?
1) If your husband is friends with other women and you think it isn't healthy, try to discipline yourself to let it be whatever it IS and to let your own emotional energy go toward your own healthy community of many healthy friendships of your own (of all ages and genders and roles in your life) and toward your own walk with God in pursuing all God is calling YOU to be. Your husband will bear the consequences of his own choices, and you will wean yourself from your own dependency that is unhealthy. (You will find yourself more satisfied with life than if you were able control his actions, because what you are really after won't be found in his faithfulness to you and won't be lost in his lack thereof.)
2) If your friend that you thought was platonic gives you vibes that you don't think are healthy, respond appropriately to the relationship and situation. Sometimes that means anger and boundaries as you realize that you are being manipulated or used; sometimes it means an affirming reassurance that they don't need to be embarrassed or worried that they hurt your friendship because you love them as a friend and you understand that you both can just "forget he ever said that" and be fine; and sometimes it means detachment and space that is fueled by wisdom rather than anger.
3) If you find that you are "falling in love" when it isn't appropriate for you to do so, you need to do the interior and exterior work on your person and your life to know your deep desires and to know how to chase them in a way that will actually get them met. It is a myth that any single relationship can do that for you or for anyone else, but there is much that you can learn as you examine your own emotions and conflicts. They can be the key to the life you want, but not through getting the unhealthy relationship you crave. They can point you toward the traits you need to develop, the lifestyle that you need to cultivate, the career that you may be satisfied in doing, and the kind of friendships you need to build into a healthy network of friends.
That's all a lot of answer to a "bullshit question", isn't it?
The deeper answer to the deeper question is this:
We do have gender identities and sexual identities, and they matter. They are part of the fabric of the life we each must build, for ourselves and our families and our communities and our world. The ethical questions we ask "on top" of a culture that has deeply embedded flaws in its ways of assigning identities and establishing security for individuals and groups can often only have answers that miss the point.
The bottom-line point that we need to get at is this: If we acknowledge that security and love and righteousness come from building a culture together that works in the context of reality lived out, and not just in theory, then we can't discuss cross-gender friendships without working out a better understanding of gender and a better understanding of sexuality and a better understanding of friendships than we currently possess . . . and that all requires diving down even deeper and working out a better understanding of security and a better understanding of identity and a better understanding of health/purity/righteousness/the goal. (For those of us that love the Bible, we actually have a lot of help in that already, if we will apply a consistent method of exegesis and hermeneutics there rather than worshipping recent early-20th-century evangelicalism.)
Who's in for that ride?!!
Chris Jefferies – Best of both
Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend
Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church
Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women
Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship
Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight
Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians
Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I
Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship
i really like the way you frame this and the secondary questions that surround it... thank you!
Wow!! What a great post! I love all of what you have written here. It's so insightful, thorough and practical. I will definitely be saving this post on my Evernote so I can have it to refer to if I run across people who are processing how to approach cross-gender friendships.
Maria, I've read plenty of articles and blog posts on the subject for the past 7 years. This ranks within my top ten. I mean it. So glad you wrote it. Good, good, stuff!
what a great post, maria. thank you. so practical and honest and real and challenging. this is something worth "sorting out together" as you say because the bottom line of it all is living in freedom, not fear, and learning what it means to love and be loved. i think that was always the big idea of Jesus' radical message.
Very, very insightful and clearly the result of much self-knowing as well as awareness of others. I love this post.
Who's in for the ride of thinking it all through properly and deeply?
Well, I am (although I'm not confident I have sufficient wit, insight or staying power to achieve it!)
I learned a lot in reading this - so thanks again.
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