Can men and women be friends?

A few years ago I started up a website called Friend Zone, looking at the question of whether men and women could be friends. Unfortunately I had to pull the plug on the website earlier this year. It never really got off the ground, and it didn’t feel right having a separate website about it. However, I think there is still a need for it and I have decided to make the content available here. I’ve created a separate Friend Zone feature especially for friendship content.

I used to blog regularly on Friend Zone, so to celebrate getting the content available here I’m going to re-post one of the more popular blog posts.

Can men and women overcome attraction to be friends?

Someone asked me a very good question after watching my story yesterday:

what happens when you do find a friend of the opposite sex attractive/they find you attractive, but you’re married – do you think friendship is still possible in such a case? Has it been so in your experience? Or do you think it’s best to distance yourself?

Now this is a key question, and one which lies close to the heart of Friend Zone. Is it possible to tame the beast of sexual attraction? Is it possible to have a ‘platonic’ friendship?

My answer to these questions is ‘yes’ – although you have to proceed with caution! I’m going to build on what I’ve already written elsewhere about Sexual Immorality and Practical Steps.

Attraction is not one-dimensional

Have you ever had the experience where you first met someone and didn’t really think that much of them –  but once you started to get to know them, they became more attractive to you? Attraction is a funny thing, and it’s complicated. I’ve come to believe that often there’s more going on with attraction than meets the eye. It’s easy to get things confused. Let me try and explain. I think attraction has a good and a bad side. You could call them love and lust.

Love says, “I like you, I want to spend time with you and be your friend, I desire what is good for you”. By contrast, Lust says “I want you only for your body and what you can do for me”.

The problem is, they usually come together and it’s easy to confuse one for the other. In my Practical Steps piece, I talk about sin being a distortion – and I think this is what’s going on here. Lust is distorted love. It recognises goodness and beauty – but it wants that beauty for itself.

Men, women and friendship: there is a third way!

Anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than about five minutes will know that you can’t spend your life ignoring people you’re attracted to (or, indeed, who find you attractive). I think most people deal with by keeping those people at arms length. That is, if they don’t cave into temptation! And people think these are the only two options: either stay away from someone, or give in to temptation. What the Bible says, however, is that there is a third way.

I believe the Bible says we can move toward the other person in love. Instead of backing away in fear, or moving forward in lust, we can move forward in love. This is what I believe God wants us to do. Love is what we should be about as human beings. We shouldn’t cut someone off in fear as much as we shouldn’t treat them badly with lust. But – it is difficult to do. The sexualisation of our culture makes it very hard to experience attraction as anything other than sexual. But with God, all things are possible.

God is the only one who can really change our hearts. He can take away lust and put love in its place. He can enable us to conquer feelings of sexual attraction and form genuine friendships.

In fact, on a personal note, I think it’s often those who I struggle with most who God wants me to befriend. God does this so that it is clear friendship only happens because of his grace, not because of my own strength. God doesn’t want us to be independent, self-sufficient people, living without him – he wants us to live our lives in relationship with him. Sometimes he calls us to do things which we would never otherwise be able to do so that we will be forced to rely on him and deepen that most important relationship.

A note (or two) of caution

To finish with, just in case I sound overly positive, I think it’s important to sound a note of caution. We live in a world where sin exists – people do have affairs, relationships do break up, etc. That’s why I needed to create Friend Zone!

Firstly, it’s important to remember what Jeremiah said about our hearts:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

Our hearts are deceitful and ‘beyond cure’ – from a human perspective. God gives us new hearts – this is absolutely and gloriously true – but we need to be sure that we are dealing with sin on God’s terms and in God’s ways, not ours. God’s ways are repentance (turning away from sin and to Christ), and then turning to him in faith. We must constantly be coming to God in prayer and asking him for the power to live in his ways. If we start to think we have the strength to do it without God, we will almost certainly fall. “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Secondly, it’s important to remember that relationships always take two: just because you have a particular idea about what’s going on, it doesn’t mean the other person does. The other person might have a very different idea. I think it’s important to be open, and important to be up front – if it is unclear – that friendship is all you want. Misunderstanding is easy – we need wisdom to ensure that we don’t mislead anyone. This is something I’m still working on – maybe another blog post to come?…

In Summary

Yes – I do believe that attraction can conquered, lust can be dealt with, and friendship can happen despite these difficulties.

I do apologise if all of this has felt a little bit cold and theoretical: I’d love to hear from you about how this works out in your life. Do comment below or get in touch to share your story.

You can read more about this in the Friend Zone section. There are lots of good resources, one I could particularly recommend as an introduction is Why Can’t We be Friends? by Aimee Byrd.

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