Why does friendship matter so much? And is there even a problem? Maybe you’re not convinced that we have much of a problem with the way we do things today. Let me try to convince you – thinking especially of the relationships between men and women.
Statistics compiled by the Marriage Foundation paint a depressing picture.
- If current trends remain as they are, any child born today in the UK has more than a one in three chance of not living with both birth parents by the age of 15.
- Cohabiting parents make up 19 per cent of all couples with dependent children, but account for half of all family breakdown.
- Children are now more likely to have a smartphone than a father at home. Children need father figures, especially boys.
Why does this matter?
It’s clear that men and women are finding it more and more difficult to relate. Sex is relatively common – but long-term relationships are becoming rarer. And increasingly, boys and girls are growing up in homes where their parents have been unable to keep the relationship going. It’s disturbingly common for children to grow up without a father at home, and this is bad for both boys and girls. Patterns of behaviour emerge when the father is absent – for example, early sexual activity in girls.
It hasn’t always been like this – what is different about our society in the 21st Century?
One thing which has changed massively is pornography. Pornography usage has soared over the past few years. The Fight the New Drug website has some statistics which will shock you if you haven’t read them. Pornography affects the brain, the heart, and the world. Pornography is changing the way that teenagers view sex – for example, many young girls are feeling pressured by boys to look a certain way or do certain things during sex – because the boys have seen these things in porn. (Porn is easily accessible for many teenagers and is changing their behaviour. Girls are now dealing with porn-obsessed boys).
There is clearly a problem, and it is growing. And it is having an effect on wider society – but disproportionately on younger people. What kind of thing does this ‘pornification’ of society lead to?
The #MeToo movement
The #MeToo movement started off to highlight times when women had been sexually abused or harassed by men. However, it seems to have opened something of a Pandora’s box of abuse – it has revealed how extensive the problem of harassment is. At the same time, it seems to be increasingly driving a wedge between men and women – in business, for example, there are ever-larger numbers of men who are uncomfortable mentoring women.
The #MeToo movement has highlighted a problem – a big problem – but it seems to be lacking in any real solutions, other than simply telling men to “just stop it”.
If all this is a bit depressing – here’s some light relief: why “stop it” doesn’t work as a solution to complex problems!
We also live in days when there are more and more issues about the reality of being male or female. The number of children being referred to gender identity clinics has quadrupled in five years. In fact, some even want to eliminate gender entirely – e.g. a programme shown on the BBC ‘No more boys and girls’. It has become so contentious to say that there are any innate differences between men and women that people have even been fired for pointing out what is fairly basic and uncontroversial science. Sex differences are real, and they matter.
The Root Problem
As the video above highlights, saying “Stop it!” doesn’t really cut it with our issues. We need to dig through to the root issue.
Recently I found a helpful quote which puts things into perspective:
Sex is like fire. In the fireplace it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace it burns down the house.
Sex, when kept within the proper confines of marriage, is a wonderful thing. When it is ‘let loose’ – when people start to look for sexual fulfilment in other places – it starts to burn the house down.
In this light, it’s not hard to see what the root of all these problems is. As a society, when it comes to relationships, we have placed all our hopes for fulfilment into sexual gratification – and correspondingly diminished our view of non-sexual relationships (i.e. friendships). The world has become so sexualised that it’s almost impossible now for men and women to see each other as just friends. And it’s hardly surprising that this is the fruit of seeing men and women as basically interchangeable – when men and women are the same, all that’s left is sexual attraction. The focus has shifted not to how you treat women or men, but who you are attracted to.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine friendships between men and women – of course these still exist. But my experience is these are the exception rather than the rule.
Back in 1989, in the film When Harry Met Sally (watch the clip), Harry said: “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” If that was true in the late 80s, how much more true is it 30 years later? And now we have the added complication that fewer and fewer men and women have good family relationships with the opposite sex.
So – what do we do about it? My belief is that it is only when men and women can learn to see each other in a non-sexual way and appreciate the beauty of friendship can genuine romantic relationships begin to flourish. The two things are linked together. But how does that work? – That’s what Friend Zone is about.