Can single men and single women be “just friends?” It’s an age-old question that generates a vibrant debate, especially in the church. Every day men and women are placed in situations that allow them to form strong platonic relationships, specifically within settings such as work, ministry auxiliaries, civic organizations, and social groups. Yet the subject of friendship with the opposite sex still remains taboo. Is it that our cultural images and expectations dictate that male-female relationships should only exist for the purpose of finding a mate?
I believe we’re at a loss to define platonic male-female friendships because so few of them are on display in our culture. This is unfortunate because platonic friendships can be healthy; the two sexes can learn a lot about relational challenges through one another. For instance, men and women experience friendship very differently. Men are action oriented. They build relationships by doing things with their friends: watching a ball game, fishing, or building something. Women are process oriented. They build friendships by talking and sharing
A key benefit of male-female friendships is that they offer fresh perspectives on different issues; perspectives that aren’t typically present in same-sex friendships. An even greater benefit (reported by men in numerous studies on relationships) is that these relationships offer a refreshing emotional outlet, because friendships with women allow men to be more expressive in a non-threatening way.
There’s no denying that opposite sex friendships are beneficial, but they can be tricky to maintain. The primary challenge is that one person may develop romantic feelings while the other views the friendship as platonic. Here are four strategies that will help singles involved in male-female friendships avoid potential stumbling blocks:
- Focus on God’s Design for Friendship
Friendships are an important part of our lives; they influence us in many ways. Therefore, it’s vital that we focus on God’s purpose for our friendship, so that we can gain a healthy sense of fulfillment and a positive self-regard. We can then also learn how to love one another with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other in our respective roles.
Scriptures that reveals God’s design for friendship include: Proverbs 27:9, I Thessalonians 5:22, Romans 12:10, & Ephesians 5:8.
- Establish Clear Boundaries
Establishing boundaries within a relationship can help protect a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. They should be established early in the relationship and openly communicated between the two friends. For instance, discuss the amount of time you will spend together and identify what is appropriate versus inappropriate touching like friendly hugs, or touching the shoulder. Also decide general topics of discussion that should remain off-limits. Steps like these can help alleviate false expectations for a more intimate relationship, and they can prevent potential stumbling blocks.
- Clarify Expectations for the Friendship
When we form friendships we tend to base our expectations on our own ideals, standards, and perspectives instead of taking into consideration that our friend might have a very different set of expectations. It is vitally important in the beginning to express and clarify your expectations. If this doesn’t happen someone may feel that their needs are unmet, which might cause them to be angry, hurt, or disappointed. For example, take time to discuss what you hope to gain through the friendship—a casual confidante, a workplace alliance, or a hobby-specific friendship—and remain focused and dedicated toward that goal.
- Be Honest
Build your relationship on honesty. If there is no hope for the friendship to transition into something more, say so in the beginning to avoid building false hope. You know yourself and your feelings. If you feel your emotions turning in a romantic direction, be honest with yourself and your friend. The relationship may change, but be prepared to make a decision about the continuation of the friendship.
We have rules for how to act in romantic relationships: we express interest, we date, we get married, and we have kids. We even have rules for how to act in same-sex friendships: boys relate by doing activities together; girls by talking and sharing. But it’s not so black and white in platonic friendships between men and women. There are no clear rules for creating healthy cross-sex relationships, but it is possible to have and enjoy these relationships. God created us to be in relationships with one another. The key to maintaining healthy male-female relationships is to walk in integrity and maintain honest and pure motives.
Written By: Dr. Gabriella Caldwell-Miller
Dr. Gabriella Caldwell-Miller, affectionately known as “Dr. Gabby”, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, empowerment coach, college instructor and speaker who shares powerful strategies geared toward equipping people to live their best life. In addition to counseling, Dr. Gabby is a licensed minister and she shares an uncompromising message of love, healing and reconciliation the corporate and church worlds alike. Dr. Gabby currently resides in Virginia with her loving husband and daughter. For more information about Dr. Gabriella Caldwell-Miller visit: www.gcmlifesolutions.com or connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook/chance.miller.7796