Women are not from Venus and men are not from Mars. We are human beings, brothers and sisters, associates, neighbors, and yes, friends from the same planet.
As a pastor in the eighties and nineties, I was taught to follow Billy Graham’s advice and never be alone with a woman who was not my wife. I followed that advice… sometimes.
When I was in training to be a pastor, I was a security officer at the same hospital where my wife was a nurse. One day the word got out that I was having dinner with a beautiful young blond in the hospital snack shop and the two of us were obviously having a great time together. The news quickly spread through the hospital soap-opera-like grapevine and got back to my wife. She replied that she knew about and approved of the liaison I was having… with my cousin from out of town.
My best friend at my second church was a woman just a few years older than me. I relied on her perspective, encouragement, and comfort. We thought of each other as brother and sister and never anything beyond than that.
At my last church, the same thing happened with a woman slightly younger than me who also became my administrative assistant. We shared a lot of life together and would do most anything for one another. I always regarded her as a great friend. Period.
But I also have some cautionary tales. A pastor friend really did have an affair with his best friend’s wife that left a lot of lives in turmoil. Fortunately, area pastors gathered around him and his wife and their marriage was restored.
There was a woman who admitted she was sexually attracted to me. We told our life partners and that was that.
At the other extreme, two women in the church and I were considering going to a nearby conference. One of the women informed me she would not go because it would be “improper.” I was hurt by that, especially since there were two women going and not just one.
Those who warn us about the dangers of cross-gender friendships have certain presumptions.
- They imply that the paramount thing about human beings is our sexuality, like we are mostly raging hormones and gender-specific body parts overcome by uncontrollable primordial impulses.
- They seem to think we cannot control ourselves and that those of the opposite sex will try to seduce us as though everyone is either a slut or a horndog.
- We can’t trust ourselves or others to have normal adult friendships. It will turn into something sexual.
- Unfortunately, they seem to believe that a true cross-gender friendship is impossible.
These presuppositions are wrong on every point.
Buying into avoiding cross gender relationships has some very negative effects.
- It is demoralizing to think of ourselves and others as animals who cannot control our impulses.
- It deprives us of 50% of our potential relationships and all of the richness that can result from these friendships.
- It keeps us from a deeper understanding of some the general perspectives of the other gender.
Are we sluts and horndogs? Do we have inappropriate sexual impulses sometimes? Let’s just be honest and stop playing around with pretension or the other extreme, falling into shame; of course we do. We are sexual creatures; but that is not all we are. Sometime these “impulses” are thoughts, but they can become obsessions and even work their way into the reality of our life and relationships. So, there are some potential hazards with cross gender friendships.
But then there are potential hazards with same gender relationships, too. You could get drunk with your buddies or girlfriends and do something stupid. Or you could talk about people of the other gender of whom we know precious little and reinforce inaccurate stereotypes.
Bottom line: We can maintain appropriate boundaries in cross cultural relationships without depriving ourselves of deep and meaningful connections with 50% of humanity, and be a better person for it.
Other writers take on the same topic:
- Chris Jefferies – Best of both
- Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
- Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
- Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
- Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
- Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
- Alise Wright – What I get from my cross-gender friend
- Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
- Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
- Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships
- Bram Cools – Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
- Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
- Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
- Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship