Who Knew: Relationships Hurt

[This post is inspired by the Bold Boundaries Conference going on yesterday and today in Chicago! Follow along on Twitter (@Sacred_Friends) and check out the hashtag (#BoldBoundaries) to experience it for yourself!]

I need to confess that recently I told a group of guys that I was facilitating a dialogue for around the issues of pornography, lust, and dating, that we shouldn’t be in close cross-gender friendships because one of the parties is bound to be attracted to the other and wind up getting hurt.

I said it without even thinking. That’s how deeply this mentality has been ingrained into some of us.

The guys looked at me and some of them started to nod their heads. My mind was racing. “I shouldn’t have said that! Why did I say that? Well they’re nodding so it must be true of their experiences. I’m not getting any push back. I guess I’ll let it go and move on.”

Ehhhh. WRONG decision.

In my silence I perpetuated a damaging yet pervasive myth that is running rampant in our society.

Men and women cannot be friends because…

one of them will be attracted to the other…

Well, yup, you’re probably right seeing as we were wired to be attracted to people.

To be attracted to someone else is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing! It is the way God designed us. Shoot, if you aren’t attracted to the people you’re friends with, what the heck are you doing being their friend! On some level you’re attracted to them. You’re attracted to their character, their personality, and even their physical appearance. Our definition of attraction needs to be broader than romantic attraction. That is certainly one kind, but absolutely not the only kind.

Also, rest assured, attraction does not equal lust. Attraction can certainly lead to lust, if you allow yourself to go there, but that is your choice. That is every man’s choice, every woman’s choice, and everyone in between’s choice. God equipped us with our will to be able to combat our thoughts and emotions. We were not created as slaves of either.

one of them (or perhaps both of them) will get hurt…

Welcome to life post the fall of mankind.

I think it’s fairly safe to say most of us are wired to ensure our own self-preservation. I will do anything to avoid getting hurt. Following this logic, I should just remove myself from all relationships because people hurt each other. Welcome to life post the fall of mankind. This is not a unique characteristic of cross-gender relationships. The hurt can appear in unique ways perhaps in those types of relationships, but it is pain all the same.

At some point you have to decide that the potential pain is worth it. At some point I have to decide that the potential pain is worth it. For those of us who are single, cross gender relationships are not only valuable because we could potentially gain a significant other or spouse from them.

They are worth it because they are beautiful, joyous, fun, and give us a more holistic picture of God in all of his fullness. For those of us who are single, cross gender relationships are not only valuable because we could potentially gain a significant other or spouse from them.

Pain is a very real part of being human- part that we are oft too quick to run from. Sitting in pain and walking with one another through pain is one of the experiences of being human.

AND their friendship will not be able to move forward after this happens.

Come again? One of our central characteristics as Christians should be our ability to forgive one another and show one another the love and grace of God.  Not that this will necessarily be a simple or easy process, and not that I’m good at it, but it should be our aim. It is what Christ is calling us to do. He does not call us to take the easy way out. It is certainly not impossible or a far-off notion. We are all human beings created in the image of God and we should seek to grow together on our journey with God and each other.


Last year I experienced this progression play out in one of my relationships. Myself and this guy were pretty good friends. I was attracted to his character, his personality, and his interests- both those that were similar to mine and those that differed. It became clear that one of us had developed feelings for the other- feelings that the other did not reciprocate. So like all mature, Spirit-led Christ followers, we talked through it, displaying Christ-like grace and love towards one another…please, who am I kidding? We booked it out of there so fast you would have thought a black bear had just awoken from hibernation and was coming after us! That’s right, we ran from the awkward, emotional mess. And I mean we ran fast.  It’s been a little over a year now and we’ve talked to each other maybe two times. Both times were at events where we simply exchanged greetings. Two years of friendship over.

That, my friends, is sad and not how God would have us live or relate to one another. Even though we ran, we didn’t escape the pain of a friendship abruptly ending. Tonight, as I sit here writing this, I feel the loss of that friendship and have the desire to reconcile that relationship.

So what about you? What’s your story involving cross-gender relationships?

How has your understanding or image of God been shaped as a result of your relationships with the opposite sex?


11 thoughts on “Who Knew: Relationships Hurt

  1. Rule of thumb: if the friendship would be unlikely to continue at the same capacity if one or the other entered a relationship, then the connection is at a level where one or the other may feel hurt, slighted, or unwanted in the event a committed romantic relationship is engaged with someone else.

    People do not know how to be temperant and balance the emotions you so clearly articulated. Soooo…staying away is the only viable option until they learn how to manage the connection without becoming too emotionally intimate.

    • I do agree that most people don’t know how to balance their emotions in a healthy way. I don’t know if staying away is the only option though. How are they supposed to learn if no one is walking through it with them? I think that appropriate boundaries need to be set up in that type of situation, and if you assess that you’re not healthy enough to walk through this with them that’s a different story, but generally I think we need to be able to walk with one another through the messiness of trying to figure out how to appropriately handle our emotions. Yes it’s going to affect us as we do (both negatively and positively), but isn’t that what life’s about? Being in relationship with one another- even in the messy, hard, painful, and negative times.

  2. Good points, Keila.

    And yet, I have occasionally been jealous when friends who I am NOT the least bit romantically attracted to have begun a romantic relationship. Example: when my sister started dating her current husband, I definitely felt a little slighted. I mean, her attention was diverted. I’ve felt the same way with roommates and other good friends when they started dating. Less quality time (let’s face it, romantic relationships, like any other, take up quality time) = less intimacy in a friendship. It works the same, whether you’re potentially romantically attracted to that friend or not. Does that mean I was too close to those friends? Perhaps. Perhaps I need to put more of my emotional energy / quality time into my relationship with God than with friends. But that’s my own imbalance I’m working through. I still need community. (I just read an article on solitary confinement. Being alone too long = torture).

    So… I think the friendship is worth the risk. If people talk it out, and a one-sided attraction is just not bearable for one or both of them, then it might be time to disengage a little more. Otherwise – be brave!

    • Amy! Love your first paragraph. Very honest and totally relatable =) Whenever you have an intimate relationship with someone and you seem to lose some of that it hurts and can cause jealousy. The jealousy I think is definitely a reflection of our fallen nature. And even though you recognize the hardships and potential pain that can come from this, I’m glad you concluded that friendship is worth it. I concur! I hope to be brave with you!

  3. My husband and I met not through being friends in one on one situations, but through hanging out in groups of people. I liked him a lot, and had no idea if he liked me back or not. When I discovered my husband liked me, I then began to date him and at that point, we obviously hung out one on one.

    I had liked a few people before him, but again I never hung out with guys one on one. I am still friends with those guys and would consider them to be good friends. Our relationship was never ruined because, although I liked them, I never got so close that it would be obvious to them that I had feelings. Therefore, they never had a reason to feel weird or awkward or unsure. So our friendship is still intact and stronger than ever. It just isn’t the kind of friendship that many women want with a guy. I personally believe that kind of friendship is unhealthy.

    If I were to have hung out and continued to hang out with these friends in such an intimate way (even without the feelings) my husband would be hurt, and I am positive trust issues would build, and even the potential for affairs would be greater. There is no reason to build relationships with guys or girls that would not or should not be sustainable once you are married. It becomes painful for everyone involved.

    These are just my thoughts and I understand if you don’t agree. Please keep writing! I have missed hearing from you!

    • Hi Tori =) It’s been waaaayyyy to long and I’ve missed all of these conversations too! It’s always fun to hear snippets of how people met! Everyone’s story is so different.

      It’s interesting to me when you say that your cross-sex relationships never got ruined because you never expressed your feelings to the guys (or got close enough for them to notice). I find that to be something that females can hide behind more than males when we follow the traditional gender roles set out for us that say we shouldn’t pursue a guy, we should wait to be pursued. You say that your relationships with these guys are “stronger than ever.” What does that mean to you? Especially since you then say, “It just isn’t the kind of friendship that many women want with a guy. I personally believe that kind of friendship is unhealthy.” What kind of friendship do you believe is unhealthy?

      Also, I don’t think that trust issues or hurt feelings have to result from spouses having opposite sex friendships outside of the marriage. I know some couples who have vibrant cross-sex relationships outside of their marriage and their marriages exhibit more trust and freedom then those that don’t. I think we need to be asking what we’re afraid of with regards to these types of relationships and if those fears are of God or not.

      PS~ if we agreed on everything we would have really boring conversations 😉

  4. My relationships with them are strong because they are not based on my feelings, they are based on how I am perfectly at ease with the relationships they have with other women now, how there is no awkward history between us, how they know that I would never cross any lines (because it never happened).

    As to what I view as unhealthy: Any relationship with the opposite sex that involves a lot of one-on-one time. My advice to anyone would be just don’t go there. It isn’t necessary to have a friendship. Some people may be able to handle it, and that is fine, but it is a lot easier to lie to yourself about your own capability and desires than to admit that you probably shouldn’t have close male friendships.

    And there are no trust issues in our marriage, because there is no reason for there to be. I don’t know how many affairs I have seen started based on a “friendship.” I don’t know how many women I have heard tell me how hurt they are by the way that their husbands spend time with other women after they told them they struggle with porn or lust (most men and women do). It is a lust saturated world unfortunately. And I personally don’t want to give myself any room to do something I will regret. Every person will have “feelings” for someone when they are single, dating, or married. It happens regardless of what you want. It is much more difficult to act on those feelings when I don’t have one-on-one relationships with male friends. Perhaps there are people that are strong enough to resist the new feelings that are bound to occur, but I for one am not going to put myself into that sort of temptation.

    It hasn’t been my experience that couples with one-on-one cross-sex relationships have better trust built than couples who don’t. There will always be those people who have unhealthy trust issues e.g. The husband who is always suspicious of every male his wife encounters. But I don’t think that being concerned about a relationship that your husband or wife is spending a lot of alone time would be an unhealthy trust issue. I should have clarified that.

    I don’t think it wrong to go against the trends of this world in relationships with the opposite sex. And I am not telling people to be afraid of them, just to use caution.

    “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

    Thanks for discussing!

    • This post is right on the nose for some of the talk that’s been happening in my social circle lately. Good stuff, Sydney! As always you get my wheels turning!

      As for what you and Tori are discussing, I can see where both sides are coming from. I think that things definitely should look different once you are in a committed relationship. I think that if I were seriously dating someone then I shouldn’t be confiding in or spending one-on-one time with another guy. But I’m not sure if that should still be the case while I’m single.

      Right now I have a grand total of 1 guy friend (I’ll call him Sparky) who I spend any one-on-one time with. We aren’t close, we just hang out from time to time and catch up. Neither of us is remotely interested in the other. Most of the time we hang out in a group setting. We’re buddies. I’m okay with it because if I were to start dating someone our friendship wouldn’t need to change much. I wouldn’t hang out with him one-on-one like we do occasionally, but it’s so occasional I don’t think either of us would feel any pain over it.

      Sparky used to be REALLY close to Bushbaby. He confided in her and they texted and hung out all the time. Now that she’s dating Captain Adorable things have been difficult for all of them. Sparky has obviously felt a great loss because their friendship basically had to stop. Captain Adorable is dealing with jealousy issues, and bushbaby misses her friend but understands why she can’t be that close anymore. It’s just a mess. Sparky is just learning the concept of boundaries, and Bushbaby the concept of saying no to people when she needs to, so I’d say they were too close for people who weren’t going to be romantically involved.

      So, yes. Good boundaries are necessary.

      But on the other hand, if I am to be single for this long does that mean that I simply will not be close to any guys? I can never have any sort of personal conversation with a guy unless it is with a group? That sucks! I don’t think it is necessary to avoid having good friendships with guys as long as good boundaries are in place.

      Like I said before, those boundaries change if someone is in a relationship. I’m not going to seek out a one-on-one conversation/hangout time with a guy who has a girlfriend. But if we are both single? I think it is okay. There is also a difference between friendship and romantic involvement that has to do with frequency and content of your communication. This is where each situation and friendship needs to be evaluated with wisdom.

      Sorry this is so long! Like I said, you guys got my wheels turning!

      • Awesome stuff! I guess it is true…people in different stages of life always have different sets of boundaries and different views on things. I like how you sort of combined the two. Nicely done. 🙂

      • Ace! Yes! I love what both of you are saying. I especially love the discussion about what boundaries are appropriate for which types of relationships. I think that’s the key and that they’ll vary in everyone’s relationships. I also think they can depend on one’s personality type. I very much need one-on-one time with a person- male or female- to feel like I have any kind of real friendship with them. My main boundary with the guys is that we aways meet in a public place and of course there are physical boundaries 🙂 We also aren’t hanging out everyday. But we’re still vulnerable with each other and I love and respect them as men and as my friends and the things I’ve learned from them and how they’ve affected my life I would never want to give up. I can’t imagine those relationships changing if I were to start dating someone. He would know up front that they were my friends and that I really treasure them and I wouldn’t want him to give up his cross-gender friends either.

        Honestly, this whole issue of cross-gender friendship was one of the reasons I didn’t necessarily want to get married for a while. I just never saw why I would need to give up having close relationships with all my guy friends once I married one. I’d prefer to just keep the variety and wonderfully diverse perspectives and personalities of all my friends and not have to distance myself from some of them because they were guys. When I realized that not everyone does that (distance themselves from their cross-gender friends) once they get married it made me so happy! And obviously spouses would need to be on board.

        What a wonderful discussion!

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