Friendship and Attraction (Part 2)

Friendship & Attraction

Yesterday I wrote about a recent Scientific American article that made the claim that men and women couldn’t be “just friends.” The study that it was based on did indicate some differences between how men and women view their cross-gender friends, but the results weren’t nearly as dire as the article painted them.

Regardless, the study does make the point that there is often attraction between opposite gender friends. Even if it’s faint, it exists, and this is usually cited as the primary reason to avoid cross-sex friendships.

I believe we need to re-evaluate this idea.

I am not keen on immediately dismissing friendships due to attraction, because in my experience, attraction is a part of every close relationship. If we open ourselves up that much to another person, there will be a level of attraction, regardless of the person’s gender. We don’t generally evaluate that attraction between people of the same gender, partly because we simply assume that people are straight, which is a whole other problem. But often we don’t look at those attractions because we expect that same-gender friends are able to address them in non-sexual ways.

For some reason, however, we assume that if different genitals are involved, the only way that attraction can be expressed is sexually. Because honestly, that’s the only way that we’ve been taught to deal with attraction between men and women.  The attraction may be the same for two men, two women, or a man and a woman, but through social conditioning, we don’t have the tools that we should have to work through those feelings in a non-sexual manner.

We have learned to recognize attraction, but not to appreciate beauty. We have been taught about sex, but not intimacy.

Sadly, rather than working through some of the difficult, messy parts of close relationships, we simply recommend against them. We focus on the potential for danger and ignore the potential merit that can spring from these friendships. We choose fear over love.

We don’t call it fear. We call it good sense. We call it boundaries. We call it guarding our hearts. 

But at its root, it’s fear.

If we choose to eliminate friendships where there is attraction, we will ultimately deprive ourselves of any close, intimate friends. Intimacy will always include an element of attraction, and that’s okay. Our lives are meant to intertwine with those around us. As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus prayed that we would be one. We understand that spouses are to be one, but as soon as we apply that to relationships outside of marriage, we balk. We begin to look upon those friendships as suspect. Even very close same-sex friendships are sometimes given the side-eye because we have so conflated attraction and sex.

So how do we change this mindset?

Because we see “one flesh” in the Bible when referring to husbands and wives, we have cordoned off oneness into strictly a sexual relationship. But most happily married couples are one in ways outside of the bedroom, and generally it is that friendship apart from sex that allows them to weather the storms of life.

One way we can change the idea that attraction must result in sex is to begin to look for non-sexual ways to strengthen that oneness in our friendships. One of the benefits cited in the study about cross-gender friendships was looking for shared interests. Developing those areas can place that attraction in a healthier light. What does this person bring out in you that can enhance your relationship with them and the other relationships in your life? Discovering that can help you appreciate the reason why you were drawn to that person in the first place and allow you to develop a connection that is pure in its intentions. It can also strengthen other relationships, because no one person can ever meet all of our emotional needs, and the more whole we are, the better we can relate to everyone.

Another change we can make is that when there is attraction, we acknowledge it and rather than shutting it down, we look for ways to apply it in a healthy manner to the friendship. When I love someone, the last thing that I want to do is to hurt them, and viewing them as something simply for my use does not honor them as a person made in the likeness of God nor as my friend. When I choose to go further than attraction and allow myself to love the person, I want the best for them and for the relationship. So rather than pulling away from the other person, perhaps we should instead press in past attraction and choose love. 

True intimacy can be a frightening thing. Because we have been taught that attraction and intimacy are synonymous with sex, I believe we have done friendship in general and cross-gender friendship specifically, a huge disservice. We have chosen to frame friendship in terms of “When Harry Met Sally” rather than in terms of biblical oneness. But I believe this can change.

I’ve seen it change in my own life and in the lives of others who have chosen to embrace friendship rather than to hold it at arm’s length. By finding ways to strengthen oneness and by embracing a deeper love for our friends, we can begin to fulfill the desire that Jesus had for each of us in our relationships with one another.

  • Kim Waggoner

    This is brilliant, Alise!

  • rich_chaffins

    You make fantastic points here, Alise. Particularly that there are quite a few other ways than sexually to express attraction. The word ‘attraction’ has been saddled with a sexual implication in every circumstance, which is not the case. I am attracted to good musicians, for instance, for the link we share, the conversations we can have because we’re both passionate about the same thing, etc.,

    I think you should’ve bolded this: ” It can also strengthen other relationships, because no one person can ever meet all of our emotional needs, and the more whole we are, the better we can relate to everyone.” If we can get past the idea that this whole “my spouse is all I need” is accurate, we can stop kidding ourselves. We are made for community, and community is not one person.
    Well written response!

    • Alise Wright

      Thanks, bestie! I personally think I should have bolded EVERYTHING. ;-D

      But I do agree – we have to get past the narrative that says our spouse is everything. It’s not true, and it also leaves our single friends completely in a lurch.

  • Ellen Painter Dollar

    When I read yesterday’s post, I was thinking about how I find ALL of my close friends “attractive,” whether they are male or female. I admire my female friends in many ways, from when their hair looks especially great and they’re wearing an awesome new sweater that complements their coloring perfectly, to their way with words or ability to make other people feel at home or whatever their gifts are in relationships and daily life. I find them attractive, I am attracted to them, I want to spend time with them, I want to honor them by being a good friend—and none of this is sexual. So why can’t I admire and find male friends attractive in the same way?

    So I was thinking all that, and then you came back today and said, “Attraction is part of every close friendship,” and I’m like, yup. That. There. Right there.


    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Yes! And I was thinking too that my friends get better looking the longer I know them. When I meet them, we are simply attractive ;) but when we have intimacy, good golly, we are drop dead gorgeous!

      • Connie

        Yeah, I think many of us have experienced people getting more–or less!–attractive the more we know them; what I found fascinating was when I heard once (source forgotten, sorry) that when we look at someone we love, our brains in effect “airbrush” them. So literally, they are more attractive to us! Pretty cool, huh.

    • Alise Wright

      Exactly! The closer I am to someone, the more attracted to them I am. We have to decouple attraction from sex. It just keeps us from so much beauty in relationships. I don’t want that.

  • John Stonecypher (Shack Bible)

    My relationships with gay male friends has helped me here, bc it’s a context in which same-gender attraction CAN arise WITH a sexual component (as it sometimes does for me with a female friend), and it has forced me to think it through in a whole new light. I think of all the ways I enjoy closeness and intimacy with male friends, and I realize the ways those ways can be enjoyed with female friends too. It really is a whole new world. And that’s when we start singing the Aladdin “Whole New World” song together, with either gay or straight friends. But let’s be honest, if I’m singing showtunes, it’s probably with the gay ones.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Ah yes. I was thinking the same thing. I have plenty of lesbian friends. Should I exclude them from my circle because they might become “attracted?” And dadgum it, now I have Disney music in my head!

    • Alise Wright


      Seriously though, I think this conversation is incomplete if we don’t include our LGBTQ friends. It ignores so much of what they have to deal with all the time – having friends where there might be attraction (even sexual attraction) and figuring out how to focus on the friendship aspect.

  • Heidi

    Thanks for this Alise. It’s particularly relevant in my life right now, and these are words of truth for me to hold on to.

  • Jennifer Luitwieler

    I can think of at least 2 guys with whom I have a great friendship. There might be attraction, but it is not sexual. It is: I like the way you think, or you make me laugh, and we see things so differently but can somehow manage to have good conversation without vitriol, or sexy times. I like the idea that attraction is part of every relationship, and I like the idea that it doesn’t have to have its root on some kind of sexual desire. Good job, chickie.

    • Alise Wright

      Yup – to assume that attraction has to be sexual is very short-sighted. We just need to shut that stuff down.

  • Bethany Suckrow

    “Because we see “one flesh” in the Bible when referring to husbands and wives, we have cordoned off oneness into strictly a sexual relationship. But most happily married couples are one in ways outside of the bedroom, and generally it is that friendship apart from sex that allows them to weather the storms of life.”

    This is such a fascinating and key part of your post, Alise. I love that you tie two really vital parts of a healthy marriage together and relate them to friendship. It’s crazy how you can hear things your whole life and never make a connection until you hear it from someone else. I really value your boldness in what you write, Alise. Keep it up, girl!

  • Katie Axelson

    Hey, Alise, I have a hard time with people who say males and females can’t have relationships/friendships. I have several male friends that I am intimate with but not sexually. Honestly, I think that kind of intimacy is important. These intimate friendships are more brotherly than romantic and I need know how guys work because I grew up with two sisters and no brothers. Without male friendships, I’d be lost when I got to marriage. Great post!

  • Dan Brennan

    Alise, you already know I thought you hit one out of the park on this one! Love your boldness here to speak out against the status quo. I’m so proud of you. I still remember the moment at April’s Gathering where I argued that we have to understand attraction is a part of friendship and is a healthy thing. I am happy you are not only coming to the next Gathering but will be speaking.

  • Jessica

    Loving what you have to say. Is there going to be a Part 3? Here’s the question I want answered: When, in your opinion, should cross-gender friendship be avoided?

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  • A Good Wife

    I believe I can see the point you are making here it’s just that it is so different from my experience. I met my husband as a friend. Our friendship developed into a strong bond that lead us to dump our existing relationships (in college) and start our own that landed us in marriage. We didn’t cross a sexual line during that attraction but emotionally, he had me. Now it is extremely difficult to see him develop a good close relationship with another woman. I’ve become an emotional wreck trying to convince myself that this friendship won’t unintentionally become something it shouldn’t. I think I’m finally on the right track to finding peace with it but it’s been a battle than included therapy. I just wanted to contribute that sex isn’t the only problem when attraction sets in.
    I’ve been blogging about my experience but I’ve just started what I’ll call my recovery path. Maybe within the next couple of months I’ll have a great testimony to share

    • Alise Wright

      Just read some of your blog and I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I definitely think that when one spouse says “no,” that’s the end of it. Stuff like deleting texts and just ignoring your concerns may not indicate an affair, but it definitely isn’t respectful toward your marriage.

      Praying for you today.