I wonder if Billy Crystal was right.

Harry and SallyThink back to the movie When Harry Met Sally. In case you haven’t seen it, the film came out in the late 80’s, and it co-starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The storyline spans a period of many years beginning with the couple’s initial meeting, and following them as their friendship blossoms into romance.

It’s a pretty cute movie and you should check it out if you haven’t, but there is one scene in particular that I’ve always remembered—Crystal’s very first conversation with Ryan. The two are discussing whether or not men and women can be friends, and Crystal firmly believes that it’s impossible.

Ryan is confused by this and argues that countless men and women are friends without blurring the lines, but Crystal still disagrees. Even if the couple never acts upon their romantic feelings, there will always be one person in the friendship who is interested in the other. It may not be a permanent state of pining, but at some point or another, one of them is bound to think about it.

(I would have pasted the convo here but it’s a little PG-13. Google it–you’ll laugh. Oh and for those of you who watched this movie in the theaters, I thought I’d add that this year’s college freshmen hadn’t been born yet!)

So I pose the same question to you–Was Billy Crystal right? Can men and women ever really be friends? When I look back on my closest guy friendships, men that I never even came close to dating, there was still a point in time in which he or I was interested. Nothing came of it, but it seems to confirm Crystal’s point.

On the other hand, I wonder if the act of being attracted to another person necessarily invalidates friendship. Like I said, I’ve been friends with guys who were interested in me, or vice versa, but we got over it and remained friends. I’ve also been friends with guys who were dating another person or were married, so it was never an issue to begin with. Is Crystal therefore wrong, or am I simply being naive?

The reason I bring this up today is that it highlights our complete misunderstanding of male-female friendships. From Crystal’s perspective, men and women can ONLY interact in a sexual way, and I think he is right to an extent. If we spend enough one-on-one time with anyone, the idea is bound to surface.

But does that mean ALL male-female friendships must be inherently sexual? Heck no! And this is where our culture’s understanding of friendship has gone horribly awry.

In order to understand why we’ve perverted male-female friendships we need to first look out our single years, because the way we understand male-female friendships after we get married is profoundly shaped by the way we treated male-female friendships BEFORE marriage. Let me explain….

When you’re single, almost anything goes. You’ll spend excessive amounts of time with guys you have no intention of dating (and guys do the same with girls), and we assume it’s all above board as long as we’re not hooking up. Pre-marriage friendship is therefore defined by unrestrained freedom.

Of course, this almost never works out. No one can spend that much time with another person without someone starting to wonder. Lines get crossed and feelings get hurt. Thus proving Crystal to be right.

As a result of these abuses, we carry our experiences into marriage, and it shapes the way we interact with people of the opposite sex. We remember the fallout from our male-female friendships as a single person, and therefore swing in the opposite direction. There is almost a kind of paranoia surrounding male-female friendships. The idea of grabbing lunch with a co-worker is next to adultery, and you certainly can’t call a man who isn’t your husband on the phone. Ever.

But I wonder if that is altogether healthy. In responding this way, we sexualize ALL male-female relationships, which is a foreign dynamic to the Body of Christ. Shouldn’t our primary paradigm of interaction be that of brothers and sisters? It worries me when we treat our sisters in Christ more like whores who are trying to destroy our marriages, rather than members of a community designed to build our marriages up.

Yet this perspective originates in our unhealthy single friendships. Before we get married we should already be drawing boundaries. That doesn’t mean we should NEVER be alone with another man, but it does mean being responsible and making sure we treat our male friends as brothers. I have plenty of male friends who I consider to be good friends, but with whom I haven’t spent much alone time. If I need to tell them something, I will call them, but I don’t call them all the time. I keep them at an appropriate distance that guards their hearts and mine, while still maintaining our friendship.

If we were to have boundaries for male-female friendships prior to marriage, I wonder if we would be a little less threatened by these friendships after marriage. We would continue to have boundaries, but only for the sake of being wise, not paranoid. We could also see one another primarily as brothers and sisters in Christ, which means we wouldn’t always have to feel threatened by our husband’s friendships with other women. That doesn’t mean he should be calling women to confide in them, or that he should be taking them out to candlelit dinners, but he should be free to love them as his sisters.

All of that to say, how do you single gals interact with your male friends? Are you engaging in a degree of friendship that is sustainable once you start dating someone, or will you have to pull back considerably? Platonic friendships with guys can create just as much baggage for a dating relationship as ex-boyfriends, so only foster those kinds of friendship that would honor your husband. Not only for the sake of your future husband, but for the sake of guarding your guy friends’ hearts. This doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with guys, but it does mean we need to change the way we relate to them. Remember, these men are your brothers, not your boyfriend place holders.

Be the appropriate friend to men that you’d want your own husband to have. Let that be your compass.

One Comment

  • Susan says:

    I agree it is hard for men and women to be friends if both parties are single because eventually someone will start to wonder “what if…” (even if it is just every now and then). And that can compromise the friendship.

    But I have never experienced this with someone who was “taken”. I think it is because my mind just won’t go there. I can still be really great friends with them and confide in them every now and then. I see them as a brother. And I am happy for them because they have found their “one”. And I have enough respect for them AND their significant other to not to even think about them any other way. You just have to respect the boundaries and that primary relationship.

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