When I was 17 my youth leader told me that I couldn’t have the same kind of friendship with my male friends as I could with my female friends. He told me that if I was trying to do that then I was being ungodly in my friendships with boys, that I was bound to end up hurting or being hurt by one of my male friends, and that I was naïve to think otherwise.
I vehemently disagreed with my youth leader, and I told him this in no uncertain terms – I was quite a headstrong 17 year old. But, because he was an authority figure, and I respected his request to make a conscious effort in defining my relationship with one particular male friend. The next day was the first time I had a DTR* chat. It took the grand total of about three and a half minutes, and didn’t really make a whole lot of difference. All we agreed was that we didn’t fancy each other, and that if our feelings changed we would be honest.
Seems pretty simple, right?
Except when it isn’t. Because, as so aptly demonstrated by my former youth leader, Christian culture has often been guilty of telling us that genuine, honest, and open cross-gender friendships are not possible. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be a thing. And they certainly cannot be like same-gender friendship, because someone observing the friendship might ‘get the wrong idea’, or you might become a ‘stumbling block’ to them.
But last time I checked, part of being in a friendship was being honest. No matter how awkward the conversation might be, if I was making a male friend uncomfortable with my actions, I would want him to tell me. In the same way that if one of my female friends was struggling with something I was doing, I would want her share this with me. Just because it might be a more sexual thing doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about. Shame grows where silence prevails. I would rather it was slightly awkward for a few weeks than for a friend to be silenced by shame.
Don’t get me wrong here, we should live with integrity and openness, and if there is ambiguity surrounding the nature of your friendship, you should have accountability. It is important, when ambiguity arises, to clearly define the relationship. From my experience, people start ‘getting the wrong idea’ when one, or both, of the people in the friendship do not themselves have clarity.
My general rule is that if you can’t honestly answer for the both of you when asked: “So what’s going on between you and x?”, then you probably need to sit down and work it out.
Most of the time, relationships define themselves. Of the many male friends I’ve had in my lifetime, I’ve only ever been forced to have a DTR chat with three of them. Two of these were because of rumours – or youth-leader prompting! – and the other was because of personal ambiguity. The conversations don’t tend to take long, and although they might be awkward, they save a lot of difficult conversations later down the line. In fact, the three guys I DTR-d with ended up being some of my closest friends.
Cross-gender friendships – for want of a better phrase – are fantastic. My male friends bring a whole host of insights, experiences, and advice that my female friends just can’t offer, and my male friends reliably inform me that female wisdom can be second-to-none, especially when it comes to deciphering texts and ambiguous emotional outbursts.
Yes, cross-gender friendships can be tricky and messy and sometimes downright frustrating. They take work and I am well aware that they are never as simple as this article suggests them to be. But that’s the case with all friendships. We’re all human, we all have emotions and feelings. Sometimes those feelings can get complicated. As long as we have friendships based on honesty, integrity and godly-practices, then I think we can probably manage to get through an awkward DTR chat.
God loves friendship. God loves same-gender friendship, and He loves cross-gender friendship. Even with all that potential for confusion. But just because there’s the possibility that it could get a little messy, and maybe slightly awkward, that doesn’t mean that we should avoid it all together. Doing that is what my mother would call cutting off your nose to spite your face.
*Define the Relationship