Sacred Friendship Gathering

What I get from my cross-gender friend

This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  See the full list of participants at the bottom of this post.

friends

I write about cross-gender friendship with some regularity, but I don’t often write about why I have a male best friend.

Here’s the deal – I have a male best friend because that’s just how it worked out. We drove together to a couple of gigs, found out that we’re basically the same person, and decided that we wanted to be best friends. I wish it was more dramatic than that, but honestly, that’s how close friendship often works. You find someone who “clicks” and you become friends with them. I think most of the time when we enter friendship with some kind of motive, we will be disappointed.

But now that I have a cross-gender friend, what does that mean? What do I gain from this relationship?

  1. A better sense of self. Because I know that our relationship is often under scrutiny, this friendship has forced me to be more honest. And the person from whom it has required the most honesty is me. Because I want to honor my husband, as well as Rich and Misty, I have to be honest about how I am feeling. While I do not love the suspicious underpinnings for much of this self-reflection, I do appreciate that it is an outcome of this friendship.
  2. A better marriage. I know that the narrative is that cross-gender friendships destroy marriages, or at least have the capacity to do so. I in no way want to deny that friendships can evolve into something that is unhealthy for a marriage. But I have found that as I have developed relationships apart from my marriage, my marriage thrives. This takes work and commitment to honesty, but I think it’s well worth the effort.
  3. A better appreciation for my single friends. In the Church, we do a really, really poor job caring for (or about) singles. I have friends who write about this far better than I possibly could, but my friendship with Rich reminds me that if friendship is important to me as a married person, it matters just as much to my single friends. When we magnanimously allow cross-gender friendships before marriage, but then ban them after marriage, we steal a friend away from someone who may want to be a part of the new relationship. This friendship makes me want to reach out and be more inclusive of those who are single.
  4. A better perspective on gender issues. Being married and having sons helps me have a better understanding of how men view the world. But friends shape our worldview in a unique manner, and having a close friend of the opposite gender can allow me to get feedback on ways that I present ideas that a female friend might not be able to notice or that my husband might overlook because he’s married to me. My approach to gender issues is more nuanced because of my friendship with a man.

As much as I appreciate all of those things, what I really get with my friendship with Rich is a close friend. Someone to get a coffee with when we have a break from teaching lessons at the same time. Someone who will go with me to Mountain Stage. Someone who will eat a bowl of guacamole with extra cilantro with me.

These things don’t have anything to do with our genders. It just took us being open to friendship in the first place. 

++++++

Don’t forget about the upcoming Sacred Friendship Gathering on April 26 & 27! You can still register for only $85 through the end of this month. You’ll get to hear me speak along with a lot of other fantastic speakers. I’d love to see you there!

++++++

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

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

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

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

Friendship and Attraction (Part 5)

Friendship & Attraction

On Friday, I wrote about why I hate the phrase “emotional affair” and discussed what emotional infidelity is not. But as much as I think we overuse the phrase, emotional infidelity can absolutely occur in marriages, and it can be very damaging to the marriage relationship. 

As I mentioned in the last post, fidelity is, “faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.” I’d like to break it down to its most basic parts, which I think could be “continuing faithfulness.” Attachments that interrupt that continuing faithfulness are what I would like to discuss here.

I don’t believe that any one person can meet all of our emotional needs. Early in our marriage, I thought that Jason was supposed to meet all of my needs. As a result, I felt emptiness for the needs he was unable to fulfill, which led to guilt about needing more than he could provide, which made me look harder for him to meet those needs, and it turned into one big, ugly cycle of guilt and sadness. I believe if I had developed a friendship with another man at that point, we would have been treading on very dangerous ground, because I could have seen a filling of legitimate needs as being a lack in my relationship with my husband, rather than understanding that different people bring different things into my life and I need all of them.

There will be emotional needs that your spouse is unable to meet and I believe it is absolutely acceptable and beneficial to find friends who can fill those needs. However, if having those needs met by someone else causes you to resent your spouse, this could be an area of concern. Resentment can be one of the most profound hindrances to continuing faithfulness and that is something that does require your attention. In an area like writing, I have a bottomless pit of need for affirmation and that can be filled by others with no damage whatsoever to my relationship with my husband, and can actually enhance it. But when it comes to feeling alone in my faith, I need to be careful who is allowed to fill that need, lest it cause negative feelings toward my husband. These needs will be different for each person and require self-examination.

Another area where continuing faithfulness can be challenged is when secrecy is a part of the friendship. If I were to find myself hiding any parts of my friendship with Rich from Jason, I would know that I’m not giving my full self to my marriage, and that would need to be addressed. Faithfulness thrives in the light. Some outside of your marriage and/or friendship may not appreciate your candor, but those relationships that matter will be so much healthier when they can be conducted without any secrecy.

We can also hinder continuing faithfulness when we fail to address attraction felt toward a friend. As I have written already, attraction toward a close friend is inevitable. If we choose to open ourselves up to another person in a vulnerable way, there will be some level of attraction. However, choosing to ignore that can allow it to build into something more than the natural outcome of a devoted friendship. This can cause us to ignore our spouse in favor of the friend, which damages the marriage relationship.

So how do we avoid emotional infidelity? I think it all boils down to honesty.

Be honest with your spouse. Let partner know that they can’t meet all of your emotional needs and that you don’t expect that of them. Pretending that they can fill everything isn’t fair to them. But don’t cut them off from that friendship. There may be areas where they can grow as your partner by seeing how a friendship builds you up and when you deny them that opportunity to participate in that friendship, even just by keeping them apprised of conversations, you can hinder that continuing faithfulness. A friend of mine recently said that his close cross-gender friendship was forcing him to be more honest with his wife about other things as well. This friendship has enhanced his marriage relationship because he is choosing honesty.

Be honest with your friend. If we notice that something is feeling “off” in our relationship, we need to address it. It can be profoundly awkward to say to your friend that you feel an attraction toward them, but less awkward than allowing those emotions to go unchecked and becoming something more than they are. Honesty can defuse emotions that might otherwise grow into something harmful. And be honest about where you need boundaries. This will be an individual thing and will likely require some trial and error, but by keeping communication open and forthright, you can navigate that without abandoning the friendship. Knowing that your friend wants the best for you and the relationship can allow for grace in situations where there could be discomfort.

Be honest with yourself. This is perhaps the most difficult thing, because we’re really, really good at lying to ourselves. But before we can be honest with anyone else, we must be honest with ourselves. We need to be honest about what causes resentment toward our spouse. We need to be honest about attractions that we experience. We need to be honest about how we communicate with our spouse and our friend. Any discomfort that we feel about honesty up front will be multiplied by a lot if we choose to lie to ourselves. We can avoid so much pain by being willing to give ourselves an honest appraisal. Whatever it takes to be honest with yourself, do it. It is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself and your relationships.

Anything that is ongoing will require effort, and continuing faithfulness is no exception. But it is an effort that will yield beauty and love. And love for one another is where God is found.