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Friends Without Benefits: Is It Worth It? (4th WaoW)

Can guys and gals be friends? Just friends? Real friends?

Short answer: Rarely.

Mid-length answer:

Casual, circumstantial friends? Absolutely.
Close, committed friends? I usually recommend against it, and I have far more disaster stories than I do "success" stories.
Best friends? No.

Long answer:

Casual friends:
I think that, in church circles at least, we don't do enough of this. These are the people you work with or the people you see on a regular basis at your church, or friends of friends that you're often in contact with. When group events happen, you can have genuine (but general) conversations with them. You don't avoid them, you like them, you enjoy your interactions with them. But you don't seek out time with them. In this context, I think men and women can do a much better job of being encouraging and caring than we often do. I think you can love someone without an intimate friendship. And we should do more of that.

Close friends:
The first thing I have to say about this is that sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't. If you're committed to having healthy and appropriate friendships, you have to walk into this type of friendship with a willingness to let the whole thing go. If you don't have that, I would challenge you that it is already an unhealthy friendship (I say "you" but ask myself this question in each of my guy-friendships).

Here are some other boundaries/opinions I have on this:
  • If dating has occurred or been on the table, it's unlikely that a close friendship will work. Certainly not without a break of some time.
  • Compliments and physical touch are best kept to a minimum.
  • Certain topics are left un-broached or broached hesitantly and lightly and with great generality. (For example, although I've just blogged that I wish it were less awkward to talk about girls' hormonal cycles, I can't say that I want men to bring it up with me. Just don't be weirded out if I need to mention it. Once in a blue moon.)
  • If either person begins to feel possessive, you need to reevaluate. If your relationship is in some capacity "exclusive," it is no longer a healthy platonic friendship.
  • Are either of you in a relationship? Make sure your friendships include significant others.
  • If the man is married, I need to be friends with the wife as well. The wife actually calls the shots on what the friendship looks like, even if that's not explicitly stated. I assume any and every thing I say to him is repeated to her. And if anything he says or does wouldn't be said or done in front of his wife, that is the end of the friendship. 

Best Friends:
I've never seen it work over the long haul. And I've seen enough train-wrecks that I don't want to put myself in the danger zone. (But I didn't believe there were women who've never struggled with body image, and apparently there are a few exceptions to that, so feel free to disagree with me!)


emily said…
really good post, Beth. I couldn't agree more on all of your points, but I really like how you worded it, because it can seem so dogmatic at times when you're just told "no! you can't be friends with boys!" with little explanation. (and indeed, you CAN.

Especially agree about the time between relationships for friendships. Theres a guy whose company I enjoy when I see him (which is rarely since I now live in Montreal!), and I'd considering him and his wife genuine friends, but we did date 7 years ago. Just reached that type of friendship around 2-3 years ago too, so yeah, time is required!

Horray for healthy friendships (:
MLW said…
Well and wisely stated!
Karen said…
I would add a category of guy friends who I treat like casual friends, but who I hope understand mean a lot to me and who I would run into a burning building to save*, if I could.

These friends include people I have known since grade school, who at one time were close platonic friends due to age (pre-pubescent), or friends whose wives or significant others count in my close or best friends, among others.
Karen said…
P.S. I love the thought you've given to the category of "Close Friends" and its boundaries. Thanks for thinking and writing out ideas that have flitted through my mind, but that I've never been able to codify.
Mindy said…
As with the others, I think this is a fantastic post. I like the close friends part especially as I'm going through one of those awkward times with a guy friend of mine. Sigh, friendships are awesome and necessary but so complicated sometimes.
Alasdair said…
I have at least 2 friends who-are-girls, who are pretty much like a sister to me, without the annoying bits (I love my sister really!).

I'd add this though, I think it's impossible (in that I haven't come across an example) for such a close relationship to exist without one or both parties at some point having a huge crush on the other (even if unspoken). But you get past it and then become besties.

And in answer to your question in the title, totally worth it.
Beth said…
emily - i totally agree. hooray, hooray!

mlw - thank you!

karen - yes. i think some of the "casual/close" lines are blurry, and there is shifting over time and with physical distance, etc... and you're so, so welcome.

mindy - awesome and complicated INDEED.

alasdair - oh yeah, i didn't answer the original question... (part 2 of this post is coming up shortly). as for your "bestie" girl friends, i've gotta admit, i have my doubts that they're not holding out for you to change your mind and date them (see upcoming post). but WHAT DO I KNOW!? not much.
Peter said…
I agree with everyone who praised the insight and quality of this post. Friendships with girls have always been easy-peasy in a group context cuz we're ALL friends. But when you start spending more time alone (which is the only way you'll be better friends) feelings eventually come up on both sides that I never know what to do with. To my shame, I've PERFECTED the art of acting like the least perceptive person on the planet when in fact I perceive with the best of them.

(I think) I know what a platonic r/ship SHOULD look like, so I just fake it until that is the reality. Or pull back until that season of "Man, it's been WEEKS - we should hang out again before summertime", approaching but never reaching that limit of forcing a definition on the r/ship (b/c that's awkward & I hate it). Sometimes I'm not convinced that it's worth it, but then I get to know somebody better and realize they're JUST like me (but a girl), then appreciate and respect them lots more. And I've come to value shared experience a lot. There was a pretty good rebuke in there for me about feeling possessive; I'll pray about that.

Cool blog, B-Fish.
Heather said…
This is a great post... I look back on my high school and university days of attempting to be friends with guys and wishing we'd had these thoughts back then.

From my experience with close/intimate friendships, they are usually pursued primarily by one person more than the other due to a crush, and they are really hoping it will lead to more than friendship. Not healthy.

But best friends is really only possible in a marriage, and is the only time it can be fully enjoyed by both people.
my thoughts said…
I am new to your blog and have read only a handful of your posts so far, but from what all i read so far i really like the way you put across your thoughts.


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