Can guys and gals be friends? Just friends? Real friends?
Short answer: Rarely.
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.
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.
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.
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!)