Friendship and Attraction (Part 3)

Friendship & Attraction

I hadn’t really anticipated writing a part 3 to this series, but I was asked a really common question in part 2 that I felt like deserved its own post. Jessica asked:

When, in your opinion, should cross-gender friendship be avoided?

This tends to be a question that comes up regularly in this discussion.

Before I get to answering it, I want to say that this question tends to be rooted in the danger and fear narrative. We would probably not ask when a same-gender friendship should be avoided. Our tendency is to assume that those should be taken on a case by case basis. So I would suggest that the question itself reveals a little bit of our thoughts regarding cross-gender friendships. That’s not a bad thing, but I think we need to be aware of that.

With that out of the way, the main rule that I would have would that you have to be respectful of your spouse. If your spouse is dead set against you having an opposite-sex friend, I would really encourage you to avoid that. But I would say that about any friend. (Of course if you’re dealing with an abusive spouse who questions all friends, that is a whole other situation and I would encourage you to seek counseling and keep yourself safe. Anyone who refuses to allow you relationships outside of your relationship with them is asking you to do something that is unhealthy and is setting you up for failure.)

If your spouse is merely unsure about a cross-gender friend, I don’t think that’s automatically a deal breaker. What that does require is a lot of honesty, both with your spouse and your friend. Secrets are relationship killers. When we hide thing, we are saying that we don’t trust the other person and that is going to have negative repercussions. But I do think that if there is uncertainty, it is possible to figure out how to navigate those questions and find a way toward friendship, provided openness is a huge part of the process.

A common concern is that you shouldn’t pursue a cross-gender friendship if you are having trouble in your marriage. Again, I think this misses the larger picture. If you are in a difficult place in your marriage, any friendship has the potential to eclipse intimacy with your spouse. This is not unique to a cross-gender friendship. The only other problem is sex, but this assumes that all cross-gender friendships much have a sexual element to them. If your marriage is struggling, any new friendship could cause further harm.

This brings me to my main thought which is that you have to know you. What are you looking for in a friendship? What hurt are you bringing to the relationship? What fears do you have? What do you hope to invest into the friendship?

I don’t like to give lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to friendships, but I would suggest that before you’re able to fully pour yourself into a cross-gender friendship, you need to be able to honestly answer those questions. Intimacy requires honesty and one of the most difficult people to be honest with is ourselves. As you work toward honesty in yourself, you will be a better friend.

  • kt_writes

    You are absolutely right about this: “If you are in a difficult place in your marriage, any friendship has the potential to eclipse intimacy with your spouse.”

    During my first marriage (yes, clearly that was a difficult marriage!), every close friendship I had felt sort of wrong, in part because I craved those connections too intensely (I wasn’t getting intimacy from my spouse). Now, having been in a really healthy marriage for 5 years, with lots of intimacy and honesty and trust, other friendships—same or opposite gender—really don’t seem like issues.

    • Alise Wright

      I think trust is pretty massive. I don’t think my friendship with Rich would work without trust from all four of us.

      • Caris Adel

        This is one topic that is really hard for me to get on board with, but I’ve been reading and listening to you and Kathy, since I respect what you guys have to say. I’m at the point where I can see how it isn’t something that should just be dismissed. But it’s something that I know is still not right for our marriage, yet, anyway. We’ve had pretty big trust issues since we started dating, but when you’re 18 and in love, you don’t really think about it. We’ve been together 12.5 years, and only the past 2 have been the mostly honest ones.

        Before this post I would have limited the issue to sex and attraction, but you’re right. During the hard years there was a same sex friendship that caused problems, and even hobbies turned into problems, because they were all just symptoms of what was going on underneath.

        I think that’s where I’m starting to turn on the issue – and all marital issues, really – what we do just reveals what’s going on inside of us. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other person. But getting to that point where you completely trust the other person, and know yourself well enough to know that you are secure enough in your marriage that you aren’t vulnerable or insecure, takes a lot of time.

        And of course adding in that even if we were at that place, most evangelical culture tells you to avoid the opposite sex like the plague, so the odds of finding other people to connect with and develop friendships with in that kind of way is pretty slim.

        I do have to say that this is where FB and twitter come in handy. I do have a couple of people that if they lived near me, I would be drawn to have rich friendships with, that would probably cause issues in our marriage, but because it’s just on fb and we post back and forth, it’s all out in the open and it’s not as threatening.

  • Me

    What if you are not married? Then is there ever a time to avoid cross-gender relationships?

    • Alise Wright

      That’s a good question! I think the questions are probably still a good thing to ask yourself with regard to any new friend, including a cross-gender friendship. If you’re going in looking for a potential mate, that’s not the same thing as looking for a friend. Certainly relationships can evolve, but I think we are all better off if we’re honest about our expectations going in.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    secrets are definitely relationship killers. i know marriages that are imploding because someone went and found a cross gender “best friend”…but it was all cloaked in secrecy, delusion, and disrespect. emotional affairs can give friendship a bad name, but real friendship is honest, inclusive, and honors the individuals and their partners. good discussion here.

  • Dan Brennan

    Great post, Alise. You know, I think intimacy is the path forward in this. Of course, intimacy, like love, is really hard to nail down with an abstract definition. But it’s much more robust and fuller than just disclosure. I totally concur that the friendship question is the same for both gendered friends. Good intimacy frees us, empowers us, and connects us in marriage and beyond. Intimacy doesn’t mean we (spouses) have it all worked out. Spouses we can still have issues to work on and still navigate friendships with other friends (doesn’t matter which gender). I mean, spouses can have (and do have) close adult siblings and usually no matter where they are in their marital journey, for example. But observations like the ones you make in this post are beginning guides to steer the journey outside of a one-size-fits-all for all scenarios.

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