Raise your hand if you have had some form of a conversation based around the topic of whether or not men and women can simply be friends. Yep, I can’t even see you, but I know your hand is raised. We’ve all wondered about it, discussed it with our friends and drawn our own conclusions. Some say, “Yes, of course it is possible, I have lots of great friends of the opposite gender and while sometimes attraction exists, we are mature enough to handle it and not let it get in the way.” Others say “No, you are crazy, when the relationship gets too personal eventually one party will develop romantic feelings for the other, and if their desire to be more than ‘just friends’ is one-sided it will ruin everything.”
I think this complicated question deserves a complicated answer. In short, it depends, which puts me in the yes and no camp at the same time.
We’ve seen through experience that it is possible for men and women to just be friends, and God often delights in these friendships as He made us to live in relationship. I venture to say that we all have friends of the opposite sex who have helped make us better people and we are grateful for their presence in our life.
When it comes to the question of if men and women can be friends I think the key is in our definition of friendship. This definition could range from “friends” on Facebook to your BFF who you can hardly find a picture of yourself without them in it on Facebook. It is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum that my “yes, men and women can just be friends” turns into a “okay, now you’re entering a danger zone.”
I know that those of you who have a best male friend as a female or a best female friend as a male are already formulating your rebuttal: Look at St. Francis and St. Clare who shared the common bond of founding religious orders. They had a completely platonic relationship and mutually grew in holiness through it. True: But they also rarely saw each other, which made it easier for them to safeguard their hearts, and as saints-in-the-making they were extremely receptive to the graces that God showered down on them and thus possessed a great amount of virtue.
The danger zone hits when the friendship gets so emotionally personal, that you are not free to change your single status to dating without it affecting your current friendship with your close cross-gender friend. Perhaps this change comes as a shock or disappointment to your friend who wanted to be the one to bear the title of your boyfriend or girlfriend. Or perhaps this change creates a negative impact on your friendship because you no longer have enough time for them and the close bond you two have raises some questions from your new significant other. Either way, building a deep platonic friendship like this with the opposite gender is like laboring to build an elaborate building that you intend to one day tear down in part or whole.
Why must it eventually be torn down, you ask? Look ahead to the future; the majority of us will one day live the Vocation of married life or religious life. This means that the majority of us will either live in community with only men or only women, or enter into a marriage with one man or one woman. In both of these situations it is completely inappropriate for us to have a weekly coffee date with our best cross-gender friend. I can guarantee that the seminary rector or mother superior will not let you go on this said coffee date because it can and will make it difficult to discern if Jesus is calling you to be the spouse of His Church or His bride. And your spouse won’t be too keen the idea either. Not because they are possessive, but because they married you because they wanted to be so united with you that they would be your uncontested best friend.
Marriage can be tough and if you want a deep, lasting relationship you have to safeguard it in ways that may call for sacrifice. When things get tough you have to learn to run to your spouse for help. You have to lean on them and give your heart to them, not someone else. Our world is full of temptations and the devil will find any way to break up a marriage, even under the auspice of friendship if he thinks he can pull it off. I don’t say this to instill fear in your heart of interactions with the opposite sex, but rather to remind you to keep your eyes open and consider the nature of your friendships with the opposite sex now because the habits you are building now will matter later.
So yes, men and women can be friends, but there eventually comes a point where unless if they are in a committed relationship, the depth of that friendship reaches a limit – for your sake, for their sake, and for the sake of your future or current Vocation.