I recently had a discussion in an online group with a guy who had read ‘Spiritual Friendship’ by Wesley Hill, and had many questions about Side B friendships. This blog post is an excerpt of our discussion, as I thought that some of the points would be relevant to most Side B Christians.
Question: Is it better if at least one is not attracted to the other? And do these boundaries help concentrate a friendship’s growth, or do they constrict it?
Answer: Personally, for me it’s a lot easier if one or both people are not attracted to each other. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of having a friendship where both people are attracted each other, especially if they are mature, careful and wise in the way they go about it. I think that the right, appropriate boundaries can actually concentrate and enhance the growth and depth of a friendship – however, the wrong boundaries (especially if they are overly legalistic or rule based) could constrict it.
The way I see it, is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to boundaries in friendships – whether they are between two LGBTQ people, or between men and women who happen to become attracted to one another. I think each person will have different things and situations that will tempt them, and people have to be honest with themselves about their level of self-control and discipline in this area. Some people may have a very low sex drive and have little problem with this, while others may find their hormones overpowering and really need to be more strict about boundaries. Some people may find touch very erotic, while others may be more tempted visually. It’s important to know what affects you personally.
This is why I would recommend talking to a trusted friend, mentor or pastor who understands your situation very well. They will be able to help you decide on and establish boundaries that are right for you – not what’s right for someone else.
Question: Is it easier for women to have close friendships?
It seems to me that it’s more socially acceptable in our culture for women to have close, intimate and committed friendships, especially on a one-to-one basis. However, I do think that slowly attitudes are shifting away from stifling gender stereotypes that prevent men from being vulnerable with one another.
I would also add that I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with opposite sex friendships, so if you connect well with people of the opposite gender then it could be a great opportunity for a deep friendship. I know that some churches and Christian groups have a stigma against close opposite sex friendships, but I think it’s a positive and enriching thing – especially if it is purely platonic, there is less room for confusion and hurt feelings.
Question: Are we expecting too much from friends who are married and/or have kids to also invest in the type of deep friendships we are advocating for?
My closest friend at the moment is a married woman with an incredibly busy lifestyle, including three adult children, but she still is happy to phone or Skype me for about 1-3 hours on a daily basis. I realise this is quite unusual, but I share this to show that there are exceptions to the rule.
I think that in general, it’s unusual for people who are married or have young children to have a great deal of time and energy to invest in deep friendships, so it’s wise to have realistic expectations. However, it’s not impossible. Several years ago I had an older friend and mentor in the pastor’s wife, and she was married with a young child but was still very supportive and included me in their life. I even went on a family holiday with their extended family one time!
So while it is certainly possible for single people to have close married friends, I think that it depends on a number of factors such as the individual’s personality type, whether they have children, how old their children are, and what capacity they have to form close, lasting friendships.
Single people who want to form close friendships with married couples who have young children may need to put in some extra effort to help out and make accommodations for their friends – e.g. meeting at a park where the children can play, being willing to hang out without demanding their friend’s undivided attention at all times, etc.
Question: What do people mean by “deep” friendships?
I guess this might depend on the person, as there are different kinds of depth – emotional depth, intellectual depth, spiritual depth, or even just the kind of depth that comes from shared experiences and knowing someone for a long time. Personally, when I think of depth in a friendship, I tend to think of emotional intimacy and vulnerability. The more openly I can share with someone, and the more safe and accepted I feel, the deeper the friendship is for me.
Question: Why does it seem easier to form friendships as a child?
A significant part of it is time constraints and the fact that people aren’t forced to socialize together as much as adults. It’s more of a choice, rather than just being stuck in the same class at school and seeing the same people on the playground every day. I’ve read that consistency and proximity are important factors in building friendships, so being consistent and showing up can help deepen connections over time.
I’ve found this to be true, especially in the workplace, as people I never would have chosen to socialise with soon start to feel more like friends – because we spend so many hours together on a consistent basis, have to help each other out at work, and go through difficult situations together.
Question: What do we do when we are in long distance friendships? Do we simply make new friends and let time and distance mellow out those bonds of previous friendships?
Some of my closest friends are long-distance, and we keep in touch on a daily or weekly basis – so I think that if you enjoy that sort of thing, there is no reason to let go of long-distance friendships. This also includes friendships I’ve met online, which always have been long-distance friendships.
Even so, I think that both people have to be committed and willing to make an effort. I find that a lot of people aren’t very good at staying in touch when they move away, so I’ve had to accept that, move on and make new friends instead.
Question: How can the church cultivate an atmosphere that values friendship?
It would be good to have more sermons and Bible studies on the topic of friendship, just as there are sermons and Bible studies about dating, marriage and parenting. It seems to me that friendship is not really honoured or esteemed as a valuable and important relationship for many Christians.
It would also help if churches could provide more of a sense of community and include people in their life outside church services or organised programmes. Church groups that have a majority of people from communal cultures (e.g. Africa, Asia, Latin America) are often better at creating a sense of community as this is more typical in the broader culture as well.
I’ve also found that people from other cultures tend to be more open about physical affection – for instance, I went to a church for a while that was mostly African and Sri Lankan, and in the middle of the service there was a time where everyone would hug each other! I can’t imagine many Anglo-Saxon groups doing this. I’ve also found my South American friends are far more physically affectionate than most Western people.
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