Defining Relationships… As Friends
When I was in college, I lived in a Catholic man’s house for the men of my campus ministry. We lived not just as roommates of faith, but truly strived to live in an intentional community. We have a life rule for our house that involves prayer, service, and fellowship. Our campus ministry does not have a Newman Center so the house functions effectively. 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 houses side by side, and a small chapel in between connected to the men’s basement, we had a real community among the men and women of the two houses. We meet daily, have dinner together, and share hosting duties for all campus ministry social events. In the years that followed, many of the women who lived in the house became my real best friends and really good friends with the men I roomed with. We had many adventures together and we all excelled in our individual personalities. This freedom occurs because we are all secure and confident in the nature of our friendships.
Our culture today has a friendship crisis. We are often led to believe that men and women cannot be friends, or that in order for us to maintain a friendship we must also accept the gray area that often comes with it. You see, sometimes our attractions just get in the way. Who would have thought that when a man and a woman get along, have common interests, and a desire to get to know each other better, they could just be attracted to each other? However in our culture today, we believe we have to act on these attractions as soon as we get them. We value other people, and we certainly value their friendship; however, we tend to be afraid of breaking it if we find ourselves drawn to them. Sometimes we fear that other people are going through it, and we don’t know how to navigate it. Attractions may not be involved, but we can only be cautious and afraid of vulnerability in other people. How does all this happen in friendship? It is natural. It is normal for us to have such attractions. But having attractions doesn’t mean we’re compelled to act on them. This is another pitfall that so many of us can fall into. There can be so many gray areas in our friendship. In order for us to have freedom in friendship with the opposite sex, we must first establish our understanding of friendship.
In his book “Love and Responsibility”, Pope John Paul II defined friendship as consisting of two people committed to each other’s good. It’s as simple as that! However, within this, there is a certain level of commitment to this good. Both people have to be committed to this good, and that means friendship is a two-way street. We must be equally committed to doing what is best for others and being active in it. Being with someone, enjoying their presence, and feeling sympathy for them are necessary, but they do not necessarily equate to friendship. We need to see that a true friendship seeks to do what is best for others and is committed to it, even if we have to sacrifice our own desires and attractions. Pope John Paul also taught that friendship is good in itself. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that friendship is where the virtue of chastity, and where a school of love, is nurtured and cultivated. Friendship seeks to protect others from exploitation and seeks their true good.
So what do we do when we truly desire friendship but are perhaps lost and confused in the gray area of miscommunications? Here are some steps we must take to ensure that we and our friends live in freedom in who we are.
- Decide what we want the relationship to be
It’s very easy for attraction to develop quickly when starting a friendship with someone of the opposite sex. Just because we’re attracted to someone doesn’t mean we have to shoot for a romantic relationship with them. We need to know what we want to do. If entering a romantic relationship is an open door and not held back, well, that’s a different story. Guys, ask her out. Girls, be diligent about showing signs and dropping hints, and even tell him you’re interested if he needs an extra push. As we said, friendship is a two-way street which means intentionality goes both ways, and if both men and women behave this way, it shows the other person that we value them and their friendship. But if we recognize our attraction but really desire the level of friendship we cultivate, that brings us to our next step.
- Have a conversation that establishes the relationship as a friendship
This step is the key to experiencing freedom in our friendship with the opposite. Whether it’s an in-depth conversation or a brief clarification, communicating with each other the desire of friendship defines the relationship. It throws out the pressures of dating and attraction and all the gray areas that can come if we let our attractions get the best of us. It allows us to trust that the other person is truly looking out for our best interests and that we are on the same page about the nature of the relationship.
- Communicate any boundaries and expectations
Friendship is not dating, and since the level of responsibility and commitment to the other person is not at the same level, that should be reflected in our friendship. Sharing ourselves and our hearts with others naturally creates emotional closeness. However, when we share the deepest parts of our hearts deeply, especially our particular struggles as men and women, it can lead to a slippery slope of chasing emotional bonds and seeing the other person for what they can give us there. . By creating boundaries around what we share, we can love others by making sure we don’t use them, and it gives us the freedom to discover that balance. Expectations are also important, especially since we all have different ways of loving others and receiving love. Having conversations about how to be friends more effectively 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 friendship stand alone. When we create a community around our friendships, we experience the true heart of a relationship. They become the foundation of this larger community where each individual can experience freedom in who they are. It requires dedication to fighting for it all the time, but it brings the joy we all seek.
When we rediscover the power of true friendship, especially between men and women, we begin to change the way we experience relationships. Because friendship is truly the foundation for the rest of our lives.