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« Where the seminary rubber meets the road | Main | Why Are You In Seminary? »
Saturday
Oct202018

It isn't a matter of "can" we be friends . . . 

Over the summer, I skimmed parts of Aimee Byrd's book Why Can't We Be Friends? I had other reading which was more pressing, so I didn't spend long on it. Sometime when I am able, I wouldn't mind re-visiting the book after I've had more time to think about the question. 

Of course men and women can be friends. But all friendships need boundaries, both with men and women. And sometimes, we tend to assume that female friendships don't need boundaries.

Many years ago, I was friends with a woman at my church who has since moved away. At the time, I did not see it, but it was one of the most toxic friendships I ever had the misfortune of being in. It started at a very vulnerable time for me. We had just moved here, and my husband mentioned to her in passing how much I was struggling with being away from my family and friends. Over the years, it was the source of more angst than it was worth. She was hot and cold. She simultaneously sought me out and pushed me away. I never knew what kind of reception I would get when I saw her at church. I thought I had done something wrong. I turned myself inside and out trying to be the perfect friend.

When I began to see what was happening, confronting her was not an option. Call display meant that if she didn't want to talk to me, she simply ignored my calls; and she did that frequently. When we began using email, that was even easier to ignore. She would avoid me at church, or worse, freeze me out when I spoke to her. After about six years, I'd had enough. She moved away, making it easier to simply end things. After she was gone, I discovered that I was not the only woman who had struggled with her.

This was not entirely her fault. I had not put up proper boundaries with her. In my desire to have friendship, I had allowed her to cross boundaries that other friends would never have been allowed to do. The Church sometimes puts so much pressure on us women to have these perfect, wonderful friendships with other women that we don't think about boundaries. If we are not out shopping with our friends, having coffee and chocolate (I prefer potato chips and I hate shopping) we're not doing it right. I have come to see that perfect friendships of any kind only exist on television.

It has been my experience that my friendships with men never unfold in such an acrimonious way because going into them, I know that because I am married, there are boundaries. This is not something my husband and I have sat down and outlined; it's just something that has developed over 32 years of marriage. I have many male friends at seminary, but they are not like the kind of friendships I have with women, and that's not a bad thing. Men and women frequently differ in the way they conduct their friendships, anyway, so it makes sense for them to look different. And that includes the ones with our siblings. I love my brothers, but there are things that I wouldn't confide to them, because frankly, they would be embarrassed, and I would rather spare them that. The only man in my life who is going to be on the receiving end of my intimate expressions is my husband. Even the relationships with my sons differ from that between me and my daughter. Boundaries with our adult children are necessary, too.

All friendships need boundaries. Boundaries represent a desire to respect the other person. When it comes to male friendships, of course we can be friends. But they do require boundaries. When it comes to women, with the tendency to ignore boundaries, I am thinking that the question is less "are we allowed" to be friends and more of "are we able." That's a book I'd read.

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