cross-gender friendships

cross gender friendshipsif you’ve been reading here for a while you know i am extremely passionate about cross-gender friendships and men and women learning how to be with each other, side by side, as friends– leading, loving, learning, growing, giving, practicing, sharing, connecting as equals.  we have terrible models for this, not only “in the church” but also in wider society.  sexualization & fear & power issues have really kept men and women from loving each other as friends.  we perpetuate the divide by keeping men in men’s groups and women in women’s groups, by assuming that if we’re married, we can never have a close and authentic relationship with a member of the opposite sex, and through buying into the false idea that “men and women just can’t be friends.”

Jesus’ call to love is a radical call. it’s not for the fainthearted.  it’s not for those who want the easy road.  it’s not for those who are satisfied with the status quo.  love hurts.  and love heals.  we need to figure out ways to cross this great divide between men & women and learn to be true friends.

through these relationships, i believe so much can heal for both sexes.  dignity can be restored, deep wounds can be healed, distorted images of God can be replaced with more balanced and whole ones.  i truly believe we need mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons and need to be those for other people as well.

my friend dan brennan has taken the topic of cross-gender friendship seriously.  engaged in these relationships on a personal level, he also writes extensively about it in his book, sacred unions, sacred passions, and does whatever he can to advocate for people to consider exploring the idea and hopefully the practice of cross-gender friendships as part of a deepened spiritual journey.  i am so thankful for his voice, his passion, his example.  he has been a good & faithful friend to me from afar & helps remind me that some of what i long to see infiltrated into the kingdom of God can indeed happen.

if i could interview him at my kitchen table on video, i would, but because he’s in chicago and i’m in denver, this will have to do.  enjoy!

 

 

  • when and how did you first begin exploring the whole idea of cross-gender friendships?

 

In some sense, I’ve always had cross-gender friendships throughout my adult life. But they were characteristic of typical friendships that were limited to group or couples-only interaction.  The ironic turn in my story is when I began to form friendships with women through an online theology discussion group back in 2002. They started out with me praying for them either on the phone or AOL IM chat (remember that?) over some issues they were struggling with. Originally they were prayer appointments, but over time they gradually began to evolve into deeper, mutual relationships. As they continued to deepen, I started to explore the subject with a growing resolve not to settle for simple cookie cutter answers.

  • the whole topic of cross-gender friendships is very rarely talked about by many church systems.  in fact, there is a great resistance to cross-gender mixing and much more emphasis placed on keeping the sexes segregated.  where do you think this resistance comes from?

 

There is a great sexual fear between men and women. There are two stories about men and women in many church systems: 1) the sexual romantic story, and 2) the danger story for all those who don’t have romantic trajectory possibilities. There is a huge shame-based culture embedded in our sexuality where we segregate men and women into particular roles, relationships, and groups.  When only these two stories are told, there is deep fear for men and women to be alone, unless they have a romantic path open. These stories profoundly shape the way communities view men and women. Even as communities recognize women as pastors/leaders, if these two stories are their most prominent communal narratives, men and women will not experience the fullness of what Jesus is calling us to.

I believe a much larger cultural issue shapes these two stories. I call it the romantic myth. This narrative soaked with on-the-street Freudianism weds romantic ideology with sexual compulsiveness. In popular versions of Freud amongst Christians, any desire to be close to someone of the opposite sex always has an unconscious undercurrent capable of springing up at any moment regardless of history. This obviously affects our views of men and women nurturing a growing friendship.

  • what are some of the typical push-back you get when you start stirring up the importance of cross-gender friendships?

“There’s no way this can work.”

“There is too much sexual brokenness in the world.”

“Our culture is too sexualized in order for men and women to be friends or get close to each other.”

“Marriages already have too much stress in them.”

“Adultery is a huge problem in the church.”

These are a few of the most typical responses.

  • what are you learning personally through the cross-gender friendships you are in?

Wow, much. Good, respectful, deep intimacy is possible with the opposite sex over a course of lengthy time even if one is married. It’s not only possible, it’s beautiful! We’ve nurtured a deep transparency between us. My closest cross-gender friendships have significant insight into my weaknesses, my vulnerabilities, my anxieties, my dreams, and my hopes.  Knowing theirs transforms me, too.  I’ve also learned the great beauty of resting in my wife’s love and support as well as my CGF’s love and support. They are not rivals but complimentary.

  • what are you learning about God through cross-gender friendships?

I’m not in control. I used to have God in a box (I would have never thought that) and I’ve had to give up a lot of culturally shaped spirituality. In so many church systems, friendship is the last place to experience God—especially cross-gender friendship. You are taught to experience God in your isolated “quiet times”, in private, isolated prayer, or in word-centered preaching and teaching with your notebooks in hand.

In the community of friends, God loves me deeply, lavishly, abundantly, and freely. My friends have forgiven me, freely, on more than one occasion when I’ve blown it or said something I shouldn’t have said. As friends of course, especially in our culture of superficiality, they could have walked out on me. But in freedom they have chosen to forgive me when I have needed to ask forgiveness.  They have extended it and generously love me. This is what God is like.

I am learning that God is a God of deep beauty. I don’t know how else to describe the ongoing sense of relaxation, shalom, trust, and life-giving in my marriage and my friendships with other women.  In Christmas of 2005, my wife joyfully gave me a gift: 2 tickets to see U2 with my single friend, Jennifer. In Christmas of 2009, my adult son joyfully gave me a gift: 2 tickets to see U2 with Jennifer. There is a deep grace and beauty I continue to marvel at.

  • what are the most common concerns that get expressed to you about the potential dangers of cross-gender friendships?

When you’re married, concerns are emotional adultery, physical adultery, triangles, and then broader gender themes of dysfunction. Singles have a different challenge of navigating the “sex part,” and saving themselves for their “soul mate”.

  • how do you respond to these concerns?

These are all genuine and appropriate concerns.  There are potential dangers in all kinds of male-female relationships. Many Christians still encourage marriage even though domestic abuse, incest, emotional abuse, and dysfunctionality continue to occur in marriages and families. The stories are there. But there are also stories of fruitful, flourishing, healthy, enduring marriages.

Jesus has called us to love one another as He has loved us…not just love our spouses and then segregate deep love into male groups and female groups. Jesus doesn’t love anyone with a detached, platonic, kind of niceness that keeps us at an arm’s length distance.

This may sound counterintuitive to some in our romanticized culture, but it seems to me that nurturing and cultivating friendship with one’s spouse creates a healthy home (metaphorically and literally) to welcome cross-gender friends in a flourishing community of respect, reverence, and love for each other and their respective vocations (i.e. marriage or singleness). Marital friendship is a special, unique friendship. A healthy friendship between spouses avoids clinging (possessiveness) and an unhealthy, romanticized absorption which undermines so many contemporary marriages. As long as churches only offer to men and women sex-segregated paths of intimacy apart from marriage, we will reinforce stereotypes and avoidant, unhealthy attachments.

  • in your experience, what are the greatest fallacies about CGF’s that perpetuate the great divide between men and women?

First, deep reconciliation between sexes is not possible this side of heaven. Clearly, you cannot have reconciliation between sexes without cultivating and nurturing friendships between the sexes. You can’t have one without the other. As long as churches hold to this eschatological fallacy, churches will only go so far. Churches may embrace women leaders but they won’t allow them to nurture deep friendships with the opposite sex when they embrace that fallacy.

Second, that men and women don’t need each other in friendship for advancing equality, justice, and freedom for women. The radical feminist form of this is that women don’t need men and  need to bond together in political friendship alliances. In the popular media, there is this same message out there. In churches of course, this fallacy is advanced where supposedly women only need friendships with women but not with men, and the whole sex-segregated message is perpetuated. But, justice, freedom, and equality will flourish when friendship-love replaces abstract political agendas (even good ones). I think this is at the heart of the message of Jesus for men and women who long for shalom in their communities, cities, and nation.

  • what has surprised you the most about your cross-gender friendships?

They challenged me to change my views about women in ministry. This wasn’t a direct challenge from my friends. It came when I was learning to see them for who they are, their gifts, and possibilities for them. It challenged me to re-read Scripture and think more deeply about hermeneutics. I began these friendships as a complementarian and emerged into an egalitarian. Friendship summons us in marriage and community to an authentic process of a mutual give and take that recognizes the dignity, beauty, and freedom of one another.

Another huge surprise was that my cross-gender friendships made me a better husband—they helped deepen my love and friendship with Sheila. By learning to listen to my friends and seeing their unique beauty, I learned to listen to Sheila better and see her distinctive beauty. At the same time, my cross gender friends love me, my marriage, and Sheila. They’ve given me great support for my marriage.

  • one of the things i’ve experienced is that many people have a deep longing for these kinds of friendships but because don’t have very good models for them and because we only hear about the dangers, we don’t even know where to start.  where and how do you start?

In faith communities, perhaps start with some authentic group conversation about where men and women are in their views of sexuality, marriage, and friendship. If you are able to nurture the conversation rather than yield to the urge to fix it, this could open to some deep healing conversations of authenticity, fears, concerns, hopes, etc. Perhaps use my book as a starting point. I’ve heard from couples (unmarried and married) who have read my book together and it really opened up deep conversations. From there, men and women should explore more possibilities of social connecting with others who share the same likes, interests, etc. or possibly, yes, even pairs when there is freedom and understanding.

I think it’s important to keep aware of the pace at the start in paired relationships. There is no formula for friendship. Allow it to develop naturally. If the pacing develops rapidly, it is vulnerable to misunderstanding or a premature intensity that could destroy the relationship. That’s not to say healthy intensity can’t arise, it is just wise to be aware of the pace. Because of possible misunderstandings, it may be fruitful and wise to have a nonromantic “define the relationship” talk about the way the friendship is shaping and going and even step back if need be.

  • you are involved in a new project called “the sacred friendship project” in 2011.  what is this exactly and how can those who want to participate?

I am so excited about this! We’re taking a posture of listening and learning. Jim Henderson, John Armstrong, Elaine Jones Hansen, Jennifer Roach, Susan Matheson and I have come together to create what we are calling the sacred friendship project.” We want to create a space for stories of friendship, especially deep friendships. We think many church systems have virtually ignored friendships in their vision of spirituality and community. The romantic myth discourages deep friendship unions between genders or same gender.

We are launching a sacred friendship project blog at the beginning of March. We would love to hear stories of friendships. We would like to hear about cross-gender friendships, same gender friendships, friendships in the gay community, friendships among Catholics, Orthodox, friendships among minority groups, etc. There is a sense in which the contemporary church has blown it when it comes to friendship-love and we want to say, “Yes, we have blown it, but we want to see friendships flourish in communities.” We want to begin developing a culture of friendship. Interested people can participate by sharing their own stories on the blog and participating. We hope the interest goes beyond the blog but it will start there.

  • what’s your hope for “the church” as in the wider body of Christ when it comes to cross-gender friendships?

 

My hope is Jesus’ prayer for all men and women (not just those who are married to each other): “That they may be one”.

* * * * *

thank you, dan, for your heart and time.  we look forward to hearing more about the sacred friendship project as it unfolds & i hope some readers here will submit some of their stories.  i am personally so grateful for all i continue to learn through my friendships with men.  it has strengthened my faith, my sense-of-self, my marriage, and brought a healing and balance to my life that was long lacking and so desperately needed.

i do hope this discussion will linger.  that those who are afraid will consider what a step toward this might look like.  for those of you who want to talk more about it, you will gather a few people and take the time to listen to each other.  for those of you who are learning a lot through your relationships with the opposite sex, that you’d share your stories out loud and remind others it’s possible. may God give us continued courage in this important aspect of life together.

i’d love to hear some of your thoughts…

* * * * *

ps:  a great organization dedicated to biblical equality worth checking out if you haven’t already is christians for biblical equality.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

37 Comments

  • amen and amen. i always felt growing up in church that men held me at a distance because of my sex, and all i wanted was friendship. we all need each other. we are one big community, and their action was frustrating and made me resent being a woman at times. it was hard and eventually was part of my leaving the “institutional church”.

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    Thank you so much for taking on this vitally important subject and for allowing Dan to contribute so positively to more readers. We need a veritable sacred friendship revolution if we are to ever comprehend the meaning of John 13:34-35 and 17:20-23. I fear that we fear this too much but I see glimmers of hope and this interview is one such glimmer, indeed in itself a shining light to others.

    I wrote on this subject, and Dan’s book (December 21-14), and the response was more than interesting. Most of the negative response I got was in private by way of appeals for my future and the danger I was causing to younger Christians by putting temptation in their path. And I wrote a book on sexual misconduct in ministry that is pretty hard on offenders, a response not common to the very people who scream against opposite sex friendship. This underscores the complexity and strangeness of our time, a time more influenced by Freud than Jesus. Thanks for taking us back to Jesus in this interview and by your willingness to stand strong in faith and love and encourage your readers.

    Reply
  • LOVE. IT.
    Kathy, you’ve done it again… I’m definitely going to participate in your Sacred Friend Project! Thank you for your boldness and, per your amazing usual, dauntless crossing. :0)

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    Thank you so much for posting this.

    I spent years in churches where men and women were afraid of each other. It’s so refreshing to see finally get this topic out in the open.

    I love Dan’s book too…I think everyone in the Christian community should be reading it.

    Reply
  • Great interview Kathy.

    They challenged me to change my views about women in ministry. This wasn’t a direct challenge from my friends. It came when I was learning to see them for who they are, their gifts, and possibilities for them. It challenged me to re-read Scripture and think more deeply about hermeneutics. I began these friendships as a complementarian and emerged into an egalitarian. Friendship summons us in marriage and community to an authentic process of a mutual give and take that recognizes the dignity, beauty, and freedom of one another.

    So good to hear this. So good.

    I have been one of those xtians who has bought into the keep-men-and-women-safely-apart so everybody stays pure emotionally and physically. I’d totally bought into it. But then a couple of years ago some folks I know began talking about how much women have been sexualized in church culture that this creates another barrier for women to reaching past the so-called stained-glass ceiling. It was a sort of a-ha moment for me.

    One person who opened that conversation to me is a man I know. I invited him to my home for coffee and he said no meeting in a home, just in public. I didn’t feel secure enough to ask him about this…but IMMEDIATELY I translated it to mean that he would not meet with me in my home alone because it was improper. I felt the burn of shame that I had even suggested it, as if I had done something dirty. I never brought it up to him, and the truth is, I have no idea if his “no homes” policy is strictly towards women or if it’s another kind of scale he uses to measure whether or not to enter the home. But here’s the thing: to be friends with a woman often means to enter her home for this is where women meet. It is actually an invitation to take the friendship a bit deeper, to come inside my most intimate space. I am opening the door to you. So when he said, “I don’t do homes,” I took it as code as, “I don’t do women’s homes.”

    Just my POV. The post here reminded me of that little incident, and that little incident is a great example in my life of how shame and fear act as bouncers to keep me from developing autonomous relationships with men, for I cannot be trusted and apparently they know it.

    Reply
  • Great interview! (Nice job, Dan)

    Kathy, I think this quote from you really captures a piece of the idea behind Dan’s words about becoming “one”.

    “through these relationships, i believe so much can heal for both sexes. dignity can be restored, deep wounds can be healed, distorted images of God can be replaced with more balanced and whole ones. i truly believe we need mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons and need to be those for other people as well.”

    Amen. God calls us to be “one” in marriage, we all know this, but He also calls us to be “one” in community -this we gloss over or trivialize. Why are we called to be this? Because God is One, God is echad, (the hebrew word used in all of these places). This reality is considered probably *the* most important in the hebrew text, (Hear oh Israel, the LORD is one). It would do us all well to give it more thought, give it more weight and not brush it off because it causes cognitive dissonance when up against what our culture says about relationships.

    I’ve been playing with the concept of Integrity lately and I think it ties right into this idea of “one”. One (in the sense of echad) doesn’t mean all the same. It is somehow a whole representation of the parts. Integrity also represents this. Shadow or light, integrity nonetheless is a whole of the parts. It’s a mystery, but it’s a reality all the same. I’m not sure we can be truly be moving towards communities of integrity if we don’t believe we can be truly integrated. We can’t be “one” in the sense of “echad” anyway.

    Perhaps by moving towards echad in relationship, we move towards echad in community and in the process become whole ourselves. People of integrity. Communities of integrity. I think that quote I took of yours is a good picture of that. I just love that picture.

    Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  • Pam,

    So thankful you commented on this. It does pain me now to see stories of fear and formula about meeting the opposite sex alone. Yes, the dreaded danger story looms large with sexualization when it comes to possibilities of trust and meeting alone. In the romantic sexual story of course, men and women are wired to want to have sex together if they meet alone, even if they weren’t thinking about it moments ago. We all know this from romantic comedies, love stories, pop songs, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. This is what happens all the time when only two large narratives shape our sexuality: the romantic and the danger.

    Since I participated in evangelical communities where only those two stories were present the first 25 years of my spiritual/sexual journey, I distinctly recall weird and strange feelings I encountered when for the initial purposes of help and convenience, I decided to meet with a woman I was not married to, *alone.* First, we already had known each other for a while (and my wife knew her, too). Then, I checked it out with my wife, Sheila.

    Okay, this was like going into unknown territory and I encountered all kinds of weird feelings (and some iconoclastic, pressing thru, “prophetic” feelings so to speak). You know, the message taught in many church systems because of the 2 stories, is that all kinds of irresistible things happen when you are alone with the opposite sex–especially if you like them–or really deeply love them. I distinctly remember the first occasion. I distinctly remember the second one, too. Coming home after each one, saying, “Gosh, that was pleasant, enjoyable, I never experienced any irresistible urges or for that matter any immoral urges.”

    That was a few years ago. I have been transparent with Sheila (of course) as well as some others trusted friends, about occasions when I meet alone. And, now that I am a veteran of it, having done it far too numerous times to count now, its a beautiful place of trust and I really do believe advances steps out of sexualization and objectification.

    Reply
  • Great interview, Kathy! Thanks to you and Dan for making it available.

    I grew up in the segregate-the-sexes evangelical school, but was often a bit oblivious. It wasn’t until later that I realized how strong the woman=inherently dangerous message was. There were many messages about loving our brothers in Christ well by not doing (wearing) things that might tempt them, but few messages we sent about how our brothers could love us well (outside a romantic context) or how we could love one another in more positive and affirming ways.

    So much more is possible in these areas than we too often imagine!

    Reply
  • Kathy, thanks for being so passionate about cross-gender friendships. I have read Dan Brennan’s ground breaking book. Your interview with him was very insightful in helping us know more of Dan’s own thoughts and experiences. I believe it takes a lot of spiritual and emotional courage for most of us to examine this topic but even more so in challenging others to take a hard look as well. Keep talking and don’t ever give up on this topic! We need more emotional and spiritual honesty as well as more role models!

    Reply
  • I even love the word “cross-gender friendships.” Thank you for a thoughtful interview and taking some of the fear and shame off this.

    Reply
  • great post! My wife and I read through Dan’s book together on New Year’s weekend (first book of 2011 for us!) and it really opened up some deep and meaningful discussions that we’re still carrying on today.

    Reply
  • Hmm… wow, there is so much here. Pam’s story is familiar.
    Of course, then there is the whole issue of abuse that causes women to distrust men (or vice versa). As much as I hate it, I am still afraid of men, especially in a one-on-one setting.

    There was a time, when I walked away from church the first time (30 years ago) and entered into the end of high school/starting college part of life, when I had mostly male friends. And there was no sexual undertone because I had so shut that down that it never even occurred to me that a man would be interested in me that way. That lasted for a while, but the buried pain and fear would come up. That evolved into my closest friends being gay men, who were safe….

    Then I got involved in a cultish church and the segregation was alive and well – don’t even be alone in the church, the parking lot, your car with someone of the opposite sex who is not your husband. Even within that, there were a couple of married men that I clicked with and there was never a sexual issue. I remember one time, the pastor’s 16 year old nephew needed a ride home. There was a logistic issue that was causing a problem and I said I could give him a ride. They said okay. About half way to his house, I was hit with panic. “Oh no, I am alone in my car with the pastor’s nephew. This is inappropriate.” I don’t think he felt that – not sure. And I just took him home and left, but it scared me. Sigh.

    Now, I have no close male friends. I am friends by default with the husbands / boyfriend’s of my female friends. But there is a real fear there…and I find that I still have that panic rise in my throat when I am alone with a man, even if he has done nothing to justify that. I would love to have a discussion with men about what the emotional dynamics are for women that have been sexually abused, especially as children. There is much room for learning and understanding that could accelerate healing. Often, I find men don’t know how to listen without wanting to ‘fix’ it. And it’s not really something that they can ‘fix’.

    Of course, in the church culture I have left, there is a problem with real friendship, regardless of gender. The dearest friend I have was one I met in this church, and the co-leaders warned us both, separately, that we needed to be careful not to get too close as that would be dangerous. How? Well, since we have left, I have been told that the accusation was made that we were gay. Sigh. In some churches, the sexual factor is not just cross-gendered.

    Anyway, enough for now. 🙂

    Reply
  • Katherine,

    I think the abuse issue can be huge. And you’re right, there really is nothing anyone can fix. And I know it can be very hard to be in intimate relationships with people who have been abused – the damage just shows up so many ways.

    But I’d also want to say to any men who might be reading along: When you become friends (real, actual friends) with a woman who has been abused, and you dont sexualize her, or take advantage of her (or dont do the opposite and pretend she has no gender at all, or is ‘one of the guys’) you are doing such a healing thing. You dont have to fix her problems, you dont even have to fully understand them (though reading a book or two on the topic, like Allander’s “The Wounded Heart” would probably help you get some categories for what’s going on with her…), the healing power of friendship is a very great gift in itself. The act of consistent, safe friendsip requires a strong and brave man. I would love to see more men take up the challange.

    Reply
  • Kathy, Thank you, for inviting here, and asking these great questions.

    I do think as Pam observed, that as long we are are stuck in only two stories, romantic/danger, our sexualized culture in church communities (mainline or evangelical) will have a limit–the unwritten boundaries of a glass ceiling for women. If men passively assume the only way to relate to women in deep “positive” ways is the romantic story, then there is no alternative but to view women as objects to be seduced or avoided (even if they support egalitarianism as a philosophical concept). Men are taught to be the aggressors/initiators while women are taught to be passive/receivers in the great romantic myth–this is especially true in church systems.

    A culture of niceness and etiquette on navigating power struggles is not the same as nurturing deep friendships of love, freedom, and authentic discernment towards the individual (s) who are leading or who desire to lead.

    Amy, great thoughts, thank you your thoughts on the beauty and integrity on oneness.

    Katherine, so sorry to hear the pain and the present distrust. I pray that you will rest in the peace that you do have with men, and that there will be unhurried, unpressured, acts of beauty and goodness to come your way that nurtures trust even if they are small acts.

    Reply
  • As someone who grew up in government care, who’s family is not one I was biologically born into I have never understood the problem of cross gendered friendships. When I became a Christ follower I was gobsmacked at how many times I was told men & women cannot be friends and all the ways in which I needed to “conduct” myself and make sure I payed attention to how things could be perceived by others ie; no men spending the night at my place (when I have a spare room) when in from out of town and so on.
    When I told people not one of my 6 brothers was biologically related to me and some I did not meet some until my late teens it made for interesting conversation. Can they not spend the night at my house when in town?
    As long as any spouses involved are honoured and comfortable, I think it is unhealthy to NOT have friends of the other gender.
    Thanks so much for this, and for opening this conversation.

    Reply
  • It has just occurred to me that the phrase ‘cross-gender’ has some implications of seeing gender issues through the cross (as opposed to the all-too-common approach of preferring to crucify one gender!)

    These are terribly important issues for the future health of the church, because until we can start learning to love without fear, we have nothing that the world is going to take a second look at. Also, I would repeat what others have said about the absolute importance of safe friendships across gender lines as one of the most potent ingredients in healing from abuse. I recently had one of the young women at our church (who had been through a nasty divorce — her “perfect” young christian husband turned out to be addicted to prostitutes) come and tell me that she was really encouraged by my example of forming genuine friendships with guys to believe that she could do the same and get past some of her hurts to just relate to men as people.

    Reply
  • As a man who considers himself something of a feminist, who works with some incredible women, and who has some close female friends, I applaud. This is a big, big issue that needs to be discussed.

    Reply
  • I am sure this is very transformative when done well. There is a crying need for it. I also want to point out the hazards in it. In a large anonymous survey of Christian men, 82% said that they looked at porn, and 73% of Christian men self-identified as addicted to it. Underneath the bad behaviour itself is a host of other problems (general sexualization of women, control issues, selfishness, and relational problems) which take time and serious work to turn around. Till that is really done such men remain a hazard to women in relationships. I would not trust myself in a deep CGF yet.
    If CROSS+ gender friendships are to be healthy and healing, I think that it is really important to figure out a way to keep each other safe, honest, and accountable.

    Reply
    • Oh, I hear you. I also think though, that cgfs (with appropriate boundaries) are one of the ways to help fight the porn problem. Distance males and females from each other, create in males a fear of authentic femininity, and you’ve got the perfect set up for the objectification of women and porn as the ready, available easy way of soothing the pain of that disconnection.

      Healthy CGFs, like all real friendships, are formed slowly, over time, as people learn the trustworthiness of the other — not everybody, male or female, is trustworthy or capable of deep friendship. If someone makes you feel intuitively uncomfortable, they’re obviously not going to be a candidate for close friendship .. that’s ok. We’re called to show love (as appropriate) to all, we’re not commanded to trust everyone — Jesus didn’t, for he knew what was in men.

      Reply
    • Sage H

      Another way to look at it is to say that when a man is friends – real, actual friends – with a woman he will come to know her as a real human being. Even if he is somewhat sexually attracted to her, he can learn in friendship what it means to know another beyond sexual categories. If they are not available to each other romantically, he will learn what it means to set aside his sexual needs for both of their good. Over the long run, he will see the depths of her brokeness, and of his own, and wouldnt want to do things to cause more damage. And he will see the glory in her soul, and in his own, and will aspire to live in the reality of relationship, not the fake world of porn.

      I think that friendsip, honestly pursued, is one of the perfect perscriptions for the kind of man you describe. Just like we’ve talked about how a man can have a role of bringing much healing to a woman who has been sexually abuse, a woman can have a role in helping a man heal from pornography. She doenst even have to address the wrongness of it, or act as the accountability police. She just has to be a real woman (with all her beauty and imprefections) instead of a pornographic fake-woman and be willing to put his good ahead of her own neediness (to fix him, or to make him a sexual object, or for him to fix her, or whatever)

      Reply
    • Sage H. I think it’s good to be aware of yourself, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. I deeply respect that.

      I would say the romantic-danger stories actually feed the thirst for pornography. If we teach, model, and live a third way, a way of healing, trust, delight, towards women as friends, it actually paves the way to do a profound thing in the heart: experience intimacy with women as women not as sexual objects. The experience of authentic intimacy with women takes away the hunger for false intimacy–that is, pornography. I think our focus on two stories increases the likelihood of pornography.

      Reply
    • Sage – Where can we find the survey that came up with the 82% and 73 % figures? Thanks.

      Reply
      • Sam, I heard that from a friend but I can’t find those numbers myself- sorry. I should always check my own facts. The best I found was published in a 2006 ChristiaNet poll, a survey that said that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women identified themselves as porn addicts. I do think that much healing is possible and likely in CG friendships, and perhaps just being honest and facing the fear is the best way in, along with the understanding, knowledge and support of others- which is all indicated in the interview with Dan.

        Reply
  • Thank you for posting on this topic, Kathy. Your posts almost always hit where we live, as opposed to many of the arcane, insipid posts I have seen on some Christian blogs (such as “The seven major errors of dispensationalism”).

    Since I was a small child, I have had female friends. Most of my best friends as a teenager were adult women. My best female friend was a high school teacher (not from the high school I attended). I occasionally spent a few days in the summer at her and her husband’s home. We all thought this was normal behavior. I still do.

    I grew up in the Bible belt in one of those fundygelical churches. We weren’t supposed to smoke, drink, dance or play cards. In that church and in our lives, however, a woman could do anything a man could do. Anyone who taught differently was misinterpreting the Bible.

    Only in recent years have I run across religionists who have made a theology out of making women subservient to men. A natural outgrowth of that wackyology is the idea of separating the sexes, including the belief that most anytime men and women become more than casually acquainted, sex will be the outcome.

    That assumes I am attracted to all or most women, that most women are attracted to most men and that attraction=sex. That assumes that if a woman gets to know a man, he will want sex, and she is obliged to comply. This scenario assumes all kinds of things, including that women are stupid.

    For most people I know, this is a non issue. However, when some zealous religious type (always male) takes it upon themselves to set me straight on this, my response always includes at least one of the following:
    -”You’re telling me a lot about yourself in what you’re saying and nothing about me. Why can’t you trust yourself around women?”
    -”You’re projecting your own attitudes and beliefs on me. Do you often find yourself projecting your thoughts, opinions and problems in other areas of life on other people?”

    Women can make great friends. The only friendships with women that I usually avoid are the situations where the woman has a bad marriage and is very needy. Sometimes they are looking for someone to rescue them from their situation. That’s not me.

    Reply
    • A natural outgrowth of that wackyology is the idea of separating the sexes, including the belief that most anytime men and women become more than casually acquainted, sex will be the outcome.

      i.e. the justification in Extreme Islam for FGM, the burqa, the locked harem, honor killings, and Death to All Jezebels (“with small stones, so that they die slowly” — Ayatollah Khomeini)

      Reply
  • Sage H,

    Another way to look at it is to say that when a man is friends – real, actual friends – with a woman he will come to know her as a real human being. Even if he is somewhat sexually attracted to her, he can learn in friendship what it means to know another beyond sexual categories. If they are not available to each other romantically, he will learn what it means to set aside his sexual needs for both of their good. Over the long run, he will see the depths of her brokeness, and of his own, and wouldnt want to do things to cause more damage. And he will see the glory in her soul, and in his own, and will aspire to live in the reality of relationship, not the fake world of porn.

    I think that friendsip, honestly pursued, is one of the perfect perscriptions for the kind of man you describe. Just like we’ve talked about how a man can have a role of bringing much healing to a woman who has been sexually abuse, a woman can have a role in helping a man heal from pornography. She doenst even have to address the wrongness of it, or act as the accountability police. She just has to be a real woman (with all her beauty and imprefections) instead of a pornographic fake-woman and be willing to put his good ahead of her own neediness (to fix him, or to make him a sexual object, or for him to fix her, or whatever)

    Reply
  • Thanks for your kindness and comments. I think you are right, and I will try it more when the time is right with pastor Kathy’s guidance.

    Reply
  • thanks everyone for your comments so far. i’ve had a busy week and am just now having a chance to respond, although i’ve really enjoyed reading them as they’ve come in. i really appreciate everyone’s contributions, so good.

    maventheavenger
    – yup, it’s a cruddy feeling and so messed up. i was so sad to not be down there for voca and then for bigtent, too. hopefully sometime this year. thanks for reading, i am glad so many cool relationships have formed between denver and phx over the past few years. wild and fun, really.

    john – thanks for reading and i am glad to finally “meet” you. i agree, i see glimmers of hope like this and am thankful for dan’s voice, and your voice, too. your examples and heart will influence others to consider walking wisely in freedom and not fear.

    tami – yes, you need to tell your stories. they are so good, so beautiful, so healing. i am so thankful we have such brave and loving and safe friends. it’s awesome.

    jennifer
    – i agree with you that this material needs to be considered and processed together in communities that really are wanting to bridge the great divide and nurture a culture of healing, love, and transformation.

    pam – thanks for sharing your experience. there are so many of us who have these stories where because of fear and distrust and all kinds of other weird barriers, we ended up experiencing shame. it’s going to take a lot of work to build these kinds of bridges but i am seeing up close and personal how possible it is. it does take emotional maturity, practice, and lots and lots of in-the-trenches-learning-the-real-ways-of-love community together, that’s for sure, and i’m pretty sure that was what “church” was supposed to be about teaching us…

    amyecotarian
    – thanks for your thoughts. i love that word integrity, too, and wrote a bit about it on the 4th beatitude recently. i think that is such a beautiful word for this conversation because it implies a wholeness…thanks for sharing.

    dan – thanks for offering your heart, time and passion on behalf of others. i am thankful for your courage and example. i really like that you mentioned that, like anything new, it takes practice. it doesn’t come in a rush and these relationships won’t be without weird feelings, etc. but i was thinking how those are so common in any relationship when they are new. we have to find our way through them, learn to be more comfortable in our own skin, share our insecurities, resolve conflict, and learn to find ways to love each other well with kindness and respect. these elements have to be practiced in all relationships and are ways that we learn and grow and practice.

    jennifer 2
    – thanks for reading and taking time to comment. i have loved all of the perspectives. oh i have some stories about what things were told to my daughter when she was in christian school as opposed to my son. it is so sad and i look back and think how early on in christian culture we set up the divide and inspire fear. i am glad that there is this good work being done to encourage others that there is another way, a way of freedom, trust, hope and courage instead of fear.

    pearl – thanks for sharing. i agree with you that we need more and more brave role models for this so it becomes more the norm and not so rare.

    idelette – thanks for reading and RT’ing, too. i appreciate it and hope, too, we can continue to talk about these important topics openly and honestly and release some of the shame and move toward healing. peace to you!

    katherine
    – i always appreciate your thoughts and oh your story is so familiar. in our community, with so much abuse and pain shared by so many women–and men–it makes it even more tricky. what i love about it, though, is when you get enough people who are living honestly and openly and working on their $*!^!% then it makes them safer. as we are safer people, more of this kind of connection is possible, and even more so when there’s a community around that says “we will work together to do everything we can to practice safety and love.” there’s a lot of stumbling and bumbling in there and a fair share of mistakes and we always have more to keep learning, but i have seen the beauty and healing that can indeed emerge. i agree with jennifer, too, that so much healing from abuse can happen through these friendships but boy is it scary, it take the right people who are safe and patient, and it takes a community of friends around it (whatever shape or form) who can help guide and love and provide another layer of protection and safety, too.

    jennifer – btw, i love dan allender’s wounded heart material. bummed i have had to work through it so many times but very thankful for its power and healing that i have experienced in my life and the lives of others i’ve journeyed through it with.

    trisha
    – thanks for writing & sharing a bit of your story, too. it can all get so twisted and i completely agree with you, it’s unhealthy *not* to talk about this!

    lynne
    – oh that is pretty. when we see them through the cross we see sacrificial love, the kind that really does lay down its own life for a friend. thanks for sharing

    mike – thanks for reading and taking time to comment. yep, it’s possible. and it’s always great to hear stories of people really living it out.

    sage – thanks for your honesty. i think you bring up such a good point that needs to be acknowledged and that is healing looks different for all people. the key seems to be an honest awareness, accountability, and authentic, safe community speaking into it so everyone’s not out there all alone. i do agree completely with dan that all of the nasty sexualization stuff that gets in the way is perpetuated by the divide we’ve created and our lack of living out true brotherly and sisterly love. i think so much can be redeemed, despite past damage, but it does make it trickier. i also so agree with jennifer that healthy and safe cgf’s can help with the healing process, too, they can go hand in hand and don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    sam – wackyology – i love that word. nice one. i am so glad you hit this important point and brought it up here–equality matters here. we can’t have these kinds of relationships if we have all kinds of power-up stuff going on all the time. it makes it impossible unless we can see other human beings as true equals, with all the dignity and value that comes from that. as always, love your 2 cents.

    Reply
  • we can’t have these kinds of relationships if we have all kinds of power-up stuff going on all the time.

    Because when you reduce anything — ANYTHING — to Power Struggle, there are only two end states possible (imagery courtesy of one George Orwell):
    1) Your boot stamping on my face.
    2) My boot stamping on your face.
    And the only way to avoid (1) is to make sure of (2).

    And THAT’s the dynamic that’s coming into play.

    Reply
  • Hi,
    I’m not part of your church… But I have an experience I’d like to share. More later.

    Reply
  • I found this blog by chance. I’m an older guy, married 30+ years and have had some experiences in this area…

    I would like very much to be buddies with women. I enjoy talking to them, hanging out with them, etc. It’s not due to sexual attraction (although that sometimes has happened too.) – but I just enjoy women.

    In my younger years, I was a lot more open to CGFs and mostly they worked out ok and no significant issues arose. But I had one CGF that turned into very difficult feelings for me, upset for my wife (and her and her husband too) and nearly turned into a divorce for us. That’s been nearly 10 years ago and I even now still have some residual pain from it.

    Maybe the kind of problem I had that time would never happen again but I’m not willing to risk my integrity, marriage and causing of pain to others. So, I just don’t go there anymore.

    Although I agree, in principle, that it would be a good thing if we could all be good friends regardless of gender. I would like that situation very much. But I have found there are difficulties in it and I haven’t found any good suggestions on how to avoid (or fix) them when they occur. And I don’t see any solutions to them in this article either.

    First, I find it difficult to determine when my feelings are ‘crossing the line’ from genuine friendly affection to feelings that are getting out of bounds. I don’t find that friendly affection is much different than romantic attraction — it’s more a matter of strength of feeling rather than type of feeling. Friendly, flirting, romatic interest all seem similar to me. There are no real clear boundaries there and in the case of my problem CGF, I kept rationalizing that ‘this is just friendliness’ until my feelings were so strong that I couldn’t continue to deny they were out of bounds. And at that point, my feelings were so strong that they were difficult & painful to deal with.

    The second problem is that it is difficult to bring the problem up and resolve it with the other person when feelings are starting to get too strong and/or there is some confusion about the other persons intent. At some times in my problem CGF, I felt like she was flirting and/or romantically interested. And whether she was or not, my perception of her being that way was definitely feeding my feelings towards her. But I didn’t know for sure and couldn’t figure her out.

    I wanted to talk to her about it and almost did a time or two (I did bring it up with her much later..). And I think a frank discussion of it would have helped — if she was flirting, I needed her to stop (or maybe break off our friendship) and if she wasn’t, me just knowing that would have helped me defuse my own feelings. But it just seems out of bounds to bring any thing like that up for discussion. And my pastor at the time said that she must never know of it and I followed his advice initially.

    I later did try to talk to her (via email) about it. I had disconnected from our common social circles for about a year and I thought it would be safe to talk about it by then. So I did but it really hit the fan. Her husband thought I was hitting on her and sent me a knock it off email. He was fairly decent in his words but between the lines there was a lot of anger. And she was offended too. So, I guess my pastor’s advice was best after all. Logically, I think discussing it when a problem arises should work but people just don’t work that way I guess.

    So, I find the two problems in CGFs are that it can be difficult to know when a CGF is spawning “more than friendly” feelings and it is difficult to defuse it once it becomes a problem. And I’ve never seen good practical solutions suggested for either of those.

    Reply
  • headless unicorn guy – sorry for the late response. i apologize for that. yeah, the whole power issue thing never goes down well, especially when it’s all hidden and covert, crazy dynamics at play.

    tom – thank you for your honest & for sharing your experience. i have seen this happen several different times, too, where the lines get blurry and then there’s not a good way to navigate through it, especially if you’re alone. this is why i think “in community” is so helpful because some other friends can come alongside and help journey through it vs. trying to sort it all out on our own. it’s a little like stopping in a grief group during the anger stage because it gets really scary instead of staying in to make it to the other side. i really resonate with what you’re saying, though, just how tricky it can be. again, thanks for taking time to share.

    Reply
  • Kathy, I know this is an old post, but I just found it today. This is something I’m trying to navigate right now, and I’m finding myself incredibly clumsy at it. It seems like in a real genuine friendship, nothing should be off-limits. But perhaps in a CGF, some topics should be? Here’s what I’m working through now. My girlfriends and I talk about sex a lot. We find it very helpful to be able to share what we’ve learned, laugh about the awkwardness and fear of trying new things and being terrible, and encourage one another as we try to be good lovers with our husbands. I’d like to be able to have those conversations with guys too, but it seems nearly impossible to do that without lines being crossed that make someone uncomfortable, whether me, the guy friend, or my husband. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • thanks for reading and taking time to comment. i don’t think there are any easy answers on this and every situation/combination of people/dynamics of certain relationships need to be factored in, but i am wondering if it might look a little like “practicing what it might feel like” and just saying that out loud in advance in the conversation. “i’m scared to talk about this but how about we try and then maybe even check in on what it felt like, etc.” i am really into the idea of practicing & re-evaluating and seeing how it goes. i know have had some pretty heavy convos with male friends who struggle with sexual addiction & it has been really healing and helpful and we can kind of check in on it. just tossing that out there as a start…

      Reply
  • Pingback: 13 Nov. 12 // Non-sexual Gendered Relationships, pt. III | Theology & the City
  • Pingback: The Absurdity of Love: Part II | Colby Martin

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *