By Vanessa Rasanen
My best friends in kindergarten were dudes. Twin boys, actually.
Sure, I went on to have girl friends, but throughout school I usually felt more comfortable with the guys. Being an engineer certainly made it easier – if not a necessity – to befriend guys, and even after my husband and I were married, I still remained friends with the guys at work. Now most of my friends are on social media – no judging, please – and I have a nice mix of men and women in my friend pool, most of whom are not mutual friends with my husband.
Many have warned me about this – especially as my blog garnered a few male readers – and I’ve received no shortage of advice from well-meaning friends and acquaintances insisting I’m gambling with my marriage by maintaining friendships with men.
There’s this notion that men and women can’t be “just friends”. It’s like we’ve watched When Harry Met Sally a few too many times and have forgotten it’s just a movie. *gasp* I know! But let me fill you in on a little secret. It is just a movie, and that “can’t be just friends” rule is a worldly one. Ahem. Don’t listen to it.
We can be married with friends of the opposite sex, and here’s why we should consider it and how to avoid opening a can of worms in the process.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
We are to serve our neighbors, and as far as I know, our list of neighbors isn’t limited to half the population. How can we serve our brothers in Christ if we don’t converse with them or acknowledge them? If we are to be full members of our community and church family, we cannot limit our connections to just those of the same sex. Whether we serve on boards, attend conventions, or partake in bible studies or fellowship events, we will likely have to interact with members of the opposite sex. We might even have to do so without our spouse present.
Our neighbors – whether brothers or sisters in Christ – have gifts we can benefit from, and vice versa. We can learn from each other if we’re willing to open the lines of communication.
Not The Answer
Sin is part of our nature as sinners. From the moment of our conception we are tainted by Adam’s curse. Everything we do – even our good acts – are still not pure, because of our sinful nature.
Yet there is this thought that one can eliminate the temptation to sin or prevent adultery by avoiding any relationships with the opposite sex. That’s fine and dandy, I suppose, if we want to delude ourselves. To put it simply, this isn’t possible. It’s a joke. It sets us up for a false sense of security and opens the door for us to too proudly pat ourselves on the back for doing so well at avoiding sin on our own.
Children learn more than just how to use the toilet or how to eat with a fork from their parents; they also learn how to treat others. They learn how husbands should treat wives, and vice versa. They learn how we serve our neighbors, how we talk to strangers, how we interact with people in general.
How we interact with friends of the opposite sex can teach our kids a great deal. It teaches that big point I made first – that our neighbors include both brothers and sisters, and that serving them does not require our spouse to be chaperone. This teaches them about trust, as they witness their parents trusting each other to have these friendships.
Please note, of course, I am in no way saying it is detrimental to children if their parents don’t have friends of the opposite sex, and I’m in no way encouraging you to go out and make some, if you don’t have them already. Simply making the point that kids benefit from seeing their parents interact with a range of people – including those of the opposite sex – whether it’s as friends, coworkers, or fellow congregants.
But, Caution is Necessary
The nature of our friendships matters, and not just if we have kids observing. If there’s anything I’ve learned by being in the military/defense community, it’s “perception is everything”. Yes, we can be friends with the opposite sex, but always and only within the bounds of propriety. (And these bounds should be set by both you and your spouse…)
So, Be Smart and Aware
Some topics should be taboo — for instance, ahem, probably shouldn’t be sharing any intimate details of your marriage with your friends… of either sex, really. And don’t ever ever ever ever bad-mouth your spouse. Really. With anyone. Just don’t, and especially not with someone of the opposite sex.
Track the conversation and watch your words — meaning, if the conversation starts to head out of the realm of safe talk and venture toward one of those off-limits subject matters, watch what you say, change topics, or cut the conversation short (politely, of course).
Know When to Let Go
There may come a time to ditch a friendship. Big warning signs might be if you ever find yourself wanting to talk more to this friend than to your spouse, you find that you want to keep your conversations a secret from your spouse, yada yada yada. Danger, Will Robinson! Any time the friendship starts to poke holes into the fabric of your marriage, back up.
Those Two Little Things: Communication and Trust
Marriages require a whole lot of two little things – communication and trust.
Talk to your spouse. Be open and honest. Determine boundaries for friendships together. And if your spouse ever has qualms, reservations, concerns, or a general wonky feeling regarding a friendship – regardless of gender – listen!!
Trust your spouse. Trust yourself. Trust your marriage. Trust God who blessed your marriage. And if ever the trust has diminished to the point that a friendship or mere conversation with the opposite sex damages the union, it may be time to seek counseling, guidance or help.
Bottom line – Friendships are good, even if you’re married. If a friendship threatens a marriage, ditch it. Just remember, not all friendships – even those with the opposite sex – are a threat.