Have you ever noticed how loosely the word ‘friend’ is used. All too often, the friendship that’s referred to is actually a close acquaintanceship. Nothing wrong with that, of course, because we all have acquaintances of various types. They range all the way from neighbors who exchange a few words when they see each other outside in the yard to very close acquaintances that border on true friendship.
If you’re a regular church goer, then you can develop quite a number of church friends. These are people who you really do care about and who care about you, but normally never see or associate with beyond meeting them at church or maybe going out to eat or have coffee with after church in order to spend a little time fellowshipping with them. Other than that, it’s basically out of sight out of mind.
There are business friends, golf buddies, friends who are interested in the same hobbies you are and on and on. Even though you call them friends, they’re really not. No matter how close you feel to them, they’re acquaintances, one and all. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Without all those acquaintances, where would we be?
Real friendship is a whole other thing. A true friend is someone who knows everything about you (and you about them) and is your friend anyway. Do you have a dark side? Behavioral traits that drive most people crazy? We all do and more, but true friends rise above that and like you for who you are, regardless of how warped, twisted or screwed up you are. Real friends help you thru the hard times. They don’t judge you when you do things that they think (or know) are totally wrong. Instead, they’re just there for you, lending an ear when you need to talk, crying with you when you’re hurting and so on. A true friend is someone who knows everything about you (and you about them) and is your friend anyway. This is partly because so few (relatively speaking) know how to be real friends. And partly because of societal attitudes.
Most of the time, friendships occur between members of the same gender, man-to-man or woman-to-woman. This is a perfectly normal type of friendship, of course, and if you have such a friendship it is to be cherished and nurtured.
There is another type of friendship that is much rarer. I speak, of course, of opposite gender friendships. True platonic friendship between a man and a woman. If you think that it doesn’t happen or that it can’t be done, think again. It can most certainly be done, but it takes strong people to pull it off.
Close opposite gender friendships would occur far more than they do, if it weren’t for the twin demons of human nature and societal pressure.
Societal pressure is what you run into when people find out that you have a close woman (if you’re a man) friend. If they don’t say anything directly, you can sense a raised eyebrow and the silent comment that says “Oh, sure, he’s just saying that but I know what’s really going on!” Some will tell you to your face that they think it’s wonderful, but privately they’re thinking “Uh-huh. I’ll bet that friendship’s got benefits.”
Human nature and societal pressure are pretty much the same, as long as you’re dealing with opposite gender friendships of singles, whether divorced, widowed or never married. It’s even worse when one of the friends is dating or married.
Let’s assume you have a close opposite gender friendship (I have two. They’re both the baby sisters I never had and we’re all single.). If you start dating someone, I’ll guarantee you that, 99.9% of the time, the green-eyed monster is going to pop up (on the part of the person you’re dating, not your friend). That person you’re dating (or engaged to, or married to) is going to do their dead level best to break up the friendship. Why? Because it’s next to impossible for someone you’re involved with romantically to accept that opposite gender friend. They’re perceived as a threat or competition and simply can’t believe it when their partner says that it’s strictly friendship and nothing more. In fact, you can talk til you’re blue in the face and most will still not believe it. And why won’t they believe it? Well, you can name every reason in the book, but what it all boils down to is that they simply don’t trust you. At least not totally.
What can you do if you’re fortunate enough to have a true opposite gender friendship and someone (or maybe several someones) is wearing themselves out trying to break it up? Basically, you and your friend need to be strong, muleheaded, stubborn, and determined enough to simply ignore all of the attempts.
It so happens that I have three true friends, and two of them are women. Does that prevent me from having a romantic relationship with another woman who would also become a true friend? Not at all. But neither does it mean that the close relationship with my other true friends would end. They’re two different things.
There is a line a song that I believe sums up the entire friendship philosophy very neatly. In the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown, there’s a song being sung by the main character, Molly Brown, called He’s My Friend. The line goes as follows: “He’s my friend and he’ll stay my friend. Doesn’t matter what the other people say. He’s my friend to the bitter end. Even though the bitter end’s a million years away!”
How many real friends do you have? If you have even one, you’re blessed beyond measure.