Defining the Relationship… As Friends
When I was in college I lived in a Catholic guy’s house for the men of my campus ministry. We lived not just as roommates who shared the faith, but truly strived to live in an intentional community. We had a rule of life for our house which involved prayer, service, and fellowship. Our campus ministry didn’t have a Newman Center so the house effectively operated as such. After my first year in the house, and after two and a half years of the household existing, our landlady was generous enough to build a new house next door for the women of our campus ministry.
With these two households side by side, and a small chapel in between connected to the guy’s basement, we had a real community going among the men and women in the two houses. We would see each other every day, have dinners together, and share hosting duties of all our campus ministry social events. Over the next few years, a lot of the women who lived in the house became really great friends of mine and really good friends with the men I was roommates with. We had a lot of adventures together and we were all able to thrive in our individual personalities. This freedom came about because we were all secure and confident in the nature of our friendships.
Our culture today has a crisis of friendship. We are often led to believe that men and women can’t be friends, or that in order for us to maintain a friendship we have to also accept the gray area that often comes with it. You see, sometimes our attractions just get in the way. Who would ever guess that when a man and a woman get along, have common interests, and desire to get to know each other better, they might just find themselves attracted to each other? However in our culture today, we believe that we need to act on these attractions as soon as we get them. We value the other person, and we definitely value their friendship; yet we are probably afraid of ruining it if we find ourselves becoming attracted to them. Sometimes we fear the other person is going through this, and we don’t know how to navigate it. Attractions may not even be involved, but we might just be wary and afraid of vulnerability with another person. How can all of these things happen in friendship? This is natural. It is normal for us to have these attractions. But having attractions does not mean we are compelled to act on them. This is another pitfall that so many of us can fall into. There can seemingly be so many gray areas in our friendships. In order for us to find freedom in friendships with the opposite sex, we need to first reestablish our understanding of friendship.
In his book “Love and Responsibility”, Pope John Paul II defines friendship as consisting of two people committed to the good of each other. It is as simple as that! Within this though, there is a certain level of commitment to this good. Both persons need to be committed to this good, and that means that friendship is a two-way street. We must equally be committed to doing what is best for the other and being proactive in it. Getting along with somebody, enjoying their presence, and sympathizing with them are necessary, but these don’t necessarily equate to friendship. We need to see that a true friendship looks to do what is best for the other and is committed to that, even if we have to sacrifice our own desires and attractions. Pope John Paul also teaches that friendship is a good in itself. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that friendship is where the virtue of chastity, and in fact where a school of love, is nurtured and cultivated. Friendship seeks to protect the other from use and seeks out their ultimate good.
So what do we do when we truly desire friendship but are maybe lost and confused in the gray area of miscommunications? Here are a few steps for us to take to ensure that we and our friends can live in freedom of who we are.
- Decide what we want the relationship to be
It is very easy for attraction to develop quickly when beginning a friendship with somebody of the opposite sex. Just because we are attracted to somebody does not mean we have to shoot for a romantic relationship with them. We need to figure out what we want to do. If entering into a romantic relationship is an open door and uninhibited, well that’s a different story. Guys, ask her out on a date. Ladies, be encouraged in showing signs and dropping hints, and even tell him you are interested if he needs an extra push. Like we said, friendship is a two-way street which means intentionality goes both ways, and if both men and women act in this way it shows the other person we value them and their friendship. But if we recognize our attraction but really desire the level of friendship we are cultivating, that takes us to our next step.
- Have a conversation establishing the relationship as a friendship
This step is the key to experiencing freedom in our friendships with the opposite sex. Whether it is a super in depth conversation or a short clarifying one, communicating to each other the desire of friendship sets the relationship. This casts away the pressures of dating and attraction and all the gray area that can come if we allow our attractions to overcome us. It allows us to trust that the other person is truly searching for our good and that we are on the same page as to the nature of the relationship.
- Communicate any boundaries and expectations
Friendship is not dating, and because the level of responsibility and commitment to the other person is not on the same level, that should be reflected in our friendship. Sharing ourselves and our heart with another naturally creates an emotional closeness. However, when we share the deepest parts of our heart in depth, especially with our particular struggles as men and women, it can lead to a slippery slope of chasing after that emotional bond and seeing the other person for what they can give us in that. By creating boundaries in what we share, we can love the other by ensuring we aren’t using them, and it gives us the freedom to discover that balance. Expectations are also important, especially because we all have different ways we love others and receive love. Having conversations as to how to better effectively be friends is necessary to maintain a good friendship.
- Let your friendship overflow
Any good relationship bears great fruit, and that fruit overflows outside of it. Don’t let your friendships remain in solitude. When we create a community around our friendships, we are able to experience the true flourishing of the heart of a relationship. They become the foundation of this greater community where every individual can experience freedom in who they are. It requires a dedication to fighting for this all the time, but it brings about a joy that we all are searching for.
When we rediscover the power of authentic friendship, especially between men and women, we will begin to transform the way we experience relationships. For friendship truly is the foundation for the rest of our life.