I was speaking recently at a Theology on Tap and the subject of friendship with the opposite sex while dating came up.
This is an important subject that often gets downplayed. In general, I’m opposed to opposite-sex friendships while dating someone (or when married, for that matter). There is a danger here that must not be overlooked. And I hope people will not conclude that I am opposed to opposite-sex friendship across the board, because I am far from it. Let’s focus on what is a possible danger with these relationships specifically related to dating and marriage.
Friendship has to do with intimacy with another person. This intimacy has to do with two hearts that grow close to one another. A couple dating and a married couple naturally develop intimacy, thus close friendship. That is a very good thing, and should always be maintained. In fact, it should never stop growing, and should always desire to go deeper.
What we are concerned with in friendships (perhaps obviously) is the role of our bodies. It is doubtful that you will ever find two friends who can honestly say they have never touched each other in any way. It is a natural part of friendship to touch each other. There are plenty of appropriate and non-genital or sexually arousing ways to interact physically with a friend. A hug is probably the most popular one.
Same-sex friends are physical in these appropriate ways, just as opposite-sex friends are. It is safe to say that the body’s interaction in friendship is an important element of friendship, though it is not a necessary part of it (though, again, other than certain Saints who had successful and deep non-physical opposite-sex friendships, it would be hard to find two friends who don’t have physical exchanges within their friendships).
I’m always amazed how naive people can be sometimes. Does it not make sense? I think maybe people have forgotten about the effects of original sin and assume too much that man or woman can readily and always control what is fundamental about our sexuality as men and women and as God created us.
More than that, it seems there is a lack of understanding in the direction of friendship. Friendship desires intimacy. A man and woman who are close friends will naturally want to get closer. It is a cornerstone of marital love and inspires sexual desire, which is the only place for the continuation of their friendship. Children, of course, are the ultimate “continuation” of the friendship and intimacy in marriage, for they are the tangible incarnation of that mystery of love between a man and a woman. That is why the Sacrament of Matrimony is primarily an exchange of “rights” to each other’s body, and as a result of those “rights”, a deepening of love can happen and children may be conceived as a result.
But taking the physical component out of it, it is still just as dangerous for a man and a woman to have a friendship, even if there is mutually no desire for it to be physical. The connection made with their hearts, as special as it may seem, can still be a threat to the persons these friends will date or be married to.
Why? Because it is flat-out uncomfortable for the person you are dating or married to. A woman dating a man who has a female friend he is very close to will feel threatened by that woman; not necessarily threatened that she will lose this man, but threatened that she may not be getting “all” of him and has to share intimacy with someone else. You might say, “That’s a sign of an insecure person and is a red flag to me.” Well, hold on a moment. That’s not insecurity; that’s just a natural reaction. No woman, for example, wants to feel she has to “share” certain deeper levels of friendship she has with the man she is dating or married to with another woman.
So what’s the answer? You don’t want to lose this person you are friends with, but you also don’t want to lose the person you are dating (or cause your marriage to suffer). One answer is to turn this personal friend into a friend of both of you as a couple. But be ready to end the friendship, because the person you are dating or married to may not be open to that.
Marital love (whether the pursuit of it in dating, or when living it) seeks an exclusivity that fundamentally offers security to each person. That secure feeling produces peace and trust that set the tone for the marriage and keeps the marriage strong. Marital love desires no competition for intimacy with the one they love. Opposite-sex friendships that exclude the dating or married partner threaten that security, exclusivity, peace, and trust.
The last thing that needs to be said here is that, no matter what you say to the contrary, an opposite-sex friendship “always” has the possibility of developing into “something more” for either one or both persons. Way too many marriages have ended due to one of the persons developing an inappropriate friendship with someone that ended up with one or both having interest in something more happening (and that did happen).
Love can be very tricky, and whenever any level of love is with someone of the opposite sex, there is always a chance that desire for genital sexual expression will develop, the act of which is permitted only in marriage. This is precisely the “fear” that a person feels when the person they date or are married to has an opposite-sex close friend. That fear prevents trust from developing.
Why put any future people you date through this? Stick with finding a person of the same sex to develop the intimacy you desire (whether it is desire for deep conversation, or pursuing a common interest, etc.). And if you find a person of the opposite sex you are really hitting it off with and want to have a deeper friendship with, by all means make sure you are open to considering this person for marriage. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for problems with anyone you date in the future (or presently), as well as anyone that friend might date or be dating.
It’s hard when you are not dating anyone seriously to consider these things with your opposite-sex friends, but we need to. It will help us with our vocation, and I believe God blesses us for it. Certainly, it will give us a better pair of eyes to really notice our future spouse when he/she comes along. So let’s be realistic and not try to deceive ourselves. Determine if perhaps we have any unhealthy “attachment” to any friend of the opposite sex that might work against our vocation and our spiritual life.
Anthony Buono is married with seven children and is the founder of Ave Maria Singles (a Catholic dating service for marriage-minded Catholics) and Road To Cana (focusing on the formation of Catholics for the dating process, courtship, and marriage). This article is taken from Anthony’s blog, 6 Stone Jars.
by Anthony Buono