Holler if you've ever had a conversation with someone about whether men and women can really be just friends or not. Yep, I can hear you hollering through the screen right now.
It's a pretty popular subject especially among young adults. We all have friends who say "Heck, yes! I mean, look at Saint Francis and Saint Claire! Friendship goals!" And we also all have friends who say "No way. Someone will always end up falling for the other person and then it'll just be awkward."
There is something to be said about the beauty of friendship and complimentary. Without knowing those of the opposite sex, we miss out on what a masculine or feminine perspective can bring to life. All of us probably have at least one friend of the opposite sex that we can point to as major influences and companions through life.
In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes: "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
Friendship is an incredible gift. But if you're questioning whether you can be friends with someone of the opposite sex, here's the secret to navigating the choppy seas of men and women friendships:
If you're in a friendship with someone of the opposite sex, it requires a different level of intentionality than your friendships with members of the same sex. If we're willing the other's good in the friendship, we owe it to them and to ourselves to be honest about our intentions.
And guys, this one is going to fall to you as a leader in a relationship (romantic or not). If you're friends with a woman, you need to state the intentions of the relationship. If you're looking to develop the friendship into a romantic relationship, say so. If you desire an authentic friendship and are not interested in discerning marriage with her, let her know.
Without intentionality, though, things can quickly slide downhill. Because the friendship isn't defined, each person can begin to wonder where to plant their heart. Is there an assumption that the friendship will transition into a relationship? Will the friendship have to be re-evaluated when one of the friends starts dating someone else? What is your definition of the friendship?
But at the heart of intentional friendships between men and women is realizing that the friendship will eventually change. Cultivating a deep, heart-to-heart platonic friendship between yourself and someone of the opposite sex is building something that eventually you will have to either demolish sections of or tear down completely.
After all, most of us will find our vocations in the sacrament of marriage or in religious life. If you are called to the vocation of marriage, you'll have a relationship between your spouse and yourself. If you discern that God is calling you to the religious life, you'll transition into a community of just men or just women.
This doesn't mean that, in the vocational discernment process, you ditch your friends of the opposite sex because they suddenly now have cooties. But it does mean you'll have to begin the transition away from a heart-to-heart level friendship you once had.
In his book, Love and Responsibility, Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person's good." So an authentic friendship requires willing the good of your friend - even if their good means that you have to take a step back from your friendship.
Can men and women be friends? Yes, I think they absolutely can. But the friendship must be tempered by intentionality and built with the realization that one day, the friendship will reach a limit. For the sake of your friend, yourself, or your vocation, the friendship will evolve into something different as life goes on.
What do you think? Can men and women be friends? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!