friendship: men & women can be friends, here’s a place to start

kathyescobar friendship, relationships, the refuge 4 Comments

friendship blog men and women can be friends* this is the final post in this series related to cultivating healthy friendship. the other posts are: mind-reading, assumptions, and saying our crazy stuff out loud, safety & boundaries aren’t dumb psychology words, conflict is good (even though most of us hate it), and learning to let go.  it’s been fun for me to re-cap some of what we practiced together and remember how worth it is to keep growing in loving friendship with others.  

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i am so thankful to be part of a community that is dedicated to healing and transformation in really tangible ways.  the refuge is a very brave place, even though many might not see it on the outside; i can’t tell you the number of days where I’m blown away by my friends’ courage to do things differently—to give up painful addictions, to stay in instead of isolate, to work toward restoring relationships, to break insane patterns that have tried to ruin.

it’s so encouraging.  and motivating.  it causes me to want to keep growing and healing, too.

one way we are also extra-brave is a willingness to engage in cross-gender friendships and break down walls of inequality and weirdness that have caused damage to not only our own souls but also the wider world.  mutuality, equality, and brothers & sisters alongside each other in intimate healthy friendship is a beautiful and far-too-rare thing in the body of Christ.

this summer’s experience was not about cross-gender friendships.  it was about friendship across the board and each person evaluating what that looked like for them; however we did spend some time specifically on cross-gender friendships.

one night we split up into 3 groups depending on how we felt about cross-gender friendships:  1. “cross-gender friendships are not really possible”, 2. “cross-gender friendships are tricky and require some extra intention but are totally worth learning” and 3. “i’m not sure yet.”  I thought we’d have a chunk of people in each group, but it turned out there wasn’t one person in the first one!  95% were in the second group, and 2 people weren’t quite sure yet. yeah, there’s no need to convince in our community but there’s a great need to learn skills and have a safe place to practice.

because we are a learning and practicing community, we try to talk about skills & an openness to God’s spirit to show us the way.

when it comes to cross-gender friendships,there are 3 major elements we need to consider:

1.   integrity.  this means wholeness, being in touch with what’s going on inside of us, and ensuring we are really being honest with what’s going on inside.  psalm 139:24-25 says, “search me, God, and know my heart.  test me and know my anxious thoughts.  see if there is anything offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” just because we have ‘anxious thoughts’ doesn’t mean that these relationships aren’t possible, but it means we have to be in touch with them and ensure they are not in hiding.  we often need God’s help with this and the accountability and input of loving community (#3 below).

2.  communication.  the bottom line on this is that we have to get better and better at communication, being open to others’ input and being able to share ours as well.  we have to be able to say what our boundaries are, what’s working, what’s not.

3.  community.  solid community around us makes cross-gender friendships possible.  the most important element of these relationships is openness.  things hidden are always dangerous, and so it’s important that we have safe, connected friends who are seeing and experiencing our friendships in the open and can provide input and wisdom.

these three areas aren’t all-inclusive, but they are critical elements of healthy cross-gender friendships.

it’s important to remember that one person’s boundaries aren’t necessarily ours.  each of us has to discern that for ourselves.  at the same time, it’s very important that we think through them to avoid causing possible harm to someone–or to ourselves.

there are also a few practical, clear guidelines that seem to be wise when it comes to beginning to pursue cross-gender friendships:

1. start in groups.  begin to feel comfortable in your skin.  it’s okay, too, if it stays this way for a long time! you’ve got to start somewhere and we can really grow in this area by practicing in open community together.

2. start slow.  “too hot” or “too cold” are the primary defaults for much of us.  we can go too fast, too soon in all kinds of friendships or close ourselves off to them completely.  learning how to be more “medium” is so much wiser.  this means slowly, no need for intensity, thinking over the long-haul, trusting that God will keep guiding us if we slow down and listen.

3. practice.  yes, it’s one of my favorite words for a reason!  we’re going to make mistakes. we’re going to say and do stupid things.  we need grace and humility in all our friendships.  i’s so good to have a language of “practicing” so that we can all honor the learning together.

4.  re-evaluate. this is important!  how’s it going? what’s working? what’s not?  what does deepening the friendship look like?  is it safe enough to deepen or does it need to stay here for a while?

5.  ask others for input.  we need each other’s wisdom and feedback to do relationship in a healthy way.  we need to ask safe friends, “what do you think?  what are you seeing?  help!” these are all things that we do openly in community together.

what do you think of these?   are there others that you would add?   what are you learning about cross-gender friendships these days?  

i have experienced so much healing in my life through my male friends over the past chunk of years.  they’ve been a gift in more ways than i can count and i continue to learn what it means to live in freedom, not fear.

thanks for being part of this series this week and for all the ways you are practicing brave friendship, too.

also, in case you are new here, here are some other posts i’ve written about friendship between men & women over the past several years:

have a great weekend! peace, kathy