Can Men and Women Be “Just Friends?” The Risks and Rewards of Platonic Relationships

Ask this questions and you’re sure to be met with some hard yes’ and some hard nos, each side offering hard-to-argue points to support their stance. With so many arguments for either side, it’s hard know which side to pick.

“No. Maybe sometimes it could work but why would you give Satan a helping hand?

“Nope! There has to be a lot of trust and CLEAR boundaries in place.”

“Depends. In some cases, absolutely. Boundaries are extremely necessary.”

“Depends on the history and how the other spouse feels.”

So, what’s the answer?

To start, I want to point you to an article by The Attraction Doctor himself, Jeremy Nicholson. In it, he breaks down what men look for in female friendships and what females look for in male friendships. Here’s the gist:

Males look for:

  • Sex
  • Romantic potential

Women look for:

  • Physical protection
  • Fun outings
  • Networking

They mutually look for:

  • Dinner companions
  • Conversation partners
  • Self-esteem boosts
  • Information about the opposite sex
  • Social status
  • Respect
  • Sharing resources

Even more, scientists have found that this kind of relationship is a myth – it’s been debunked. They concluded from their findings that this type of relationship doesn’t align with out natural human tendencies.

With this research, it’s easy to see how one can easily search for friendships outside of their marriage to satisfy areas that their spouse hasn’t been able to. However, this doesn’t automatically make the answer to the question “no.”

What’s my intent behind this friendship? Are we being obviously inappropriate? Should this friendship exist? Is this friendship vital to furthering the kingdom of God? These questions are just examples of what we should be doing when we encounter the possibility of any new relationship – it needs to be tested and validated. Paul Maxwell details a subconscious process that we undergo with every new relationship:

  1. Weighing the risk of the relationship.
  2. Implementing loving and necessary boundaries to the relationship.
  3. Reaping unique Christ-exalting benefits from the relationship.

Whether we know we’re doing it or not, we measure every new relationship we get into – we determine what they are to us, what the dynamic of the relationship looks like, if it’s beneficial for either party, and you should be analyzing it’s effectiveness and purpose as far as its fruits are concerned.

I’ve come up with just one point to keep me in check regarding who I spend time with: If they’re not pouring into me or I into them, there doesn’t need to be a relationship.

This isn’t to say that ever relationship needs to be strictly discipleship or strictly business. Fun can and should be a part of every relationship. In fact, making great memories with others can be an awesome way to build faith-based communities and lifelong friends. Did you know there are people that God puts in our lives simply to teach us to laugh, have fun, and just relax? Yes, these things further His kingdom tremendously. Isn’t it great?

When deciding whether a male-female relationship should be pursued, there are a a number of unavoidable risks you’d need to take into account.

What are the risks?

  1. Feelings don’t agree.

One of Jeremy Nicholson’s points was that there was a measure of stress on both males and females when it came to these types of relationships due to them wanting different things from the other. Among these was that their love wasn’t reciprocated. Men are left feeling rejected on unattractive when their female friends don’t share the same sexual attraction. Women are left feeling like men don’t share the same level of commitment than they have for them.

It’s extremely possible for one person to have strictly friendly intentions and the other to fall in love. Sound like the “friend zone?” That’s because it is. In the context of friendship outside of marriage, if this happens, there can’t be a friend zone. The friendship must end.

Always, always make sure that you both want the same thing out of the relationship. Keep it innocent. Keep it kingdom-minded.

2. Sexual temptation.

Never lose sight of the glaring fact that male-female friendships are not the same things as same-sex friendships. There exists the possibility of sexual attraction for both parties when it’s male-female.

There have been countless accounts of innocent friendships that turned into emotional affairs that ultimately ended in infidelity – emotional or physical. It’s important to recognize the warning signs so that you can quickly react before it’s too late:

  • Sharing personal thoughts or stories.
  • Feeling greater emotional intimacy with them than you do with your spouse.
  • Comparing them to your spouse (deadly!).
  • Longing forward to your next interaction with them.
  • Changing your normal routines to fit them in.
  • Feeling like you should keep the friendship a secret from your spouse.
  • Fantasizing about a life with them.
  • Spending a significant amount of time with them.

The cataclysm of emotional and psychical infidelity almost always happen suddenly. If you find that you’re having to defend yourself and saying, “There’s nothing to worry about. It’s not like that,” check yourself. There’s a dynamic that others are picking up on.

Can there be any rewards?

Absolutely. God is a God of relationships. He loves community. Relationships have the ability to catapult us into what God has prepared for us. He designed us to desire relationships and gave us the wisdom to use them correctly.

  1. God rewards community.

Community is God’s desire for us; relationships were designed to get us closer to Him! The Bibles says that community gives us encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25), fun (Psalm 133:1), attracts Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:20), and fosters love (Colossians 3:13–14).

No measure of legalistic Christianity should keep us from outlawing male-female friendships among God’s people. It’s too valuable of a gift! However, there has to be appropriate boundaries in place and a community involved to keep them both in check and protected.

2. God rewards boundaries.

” Good boundaries help you to care for others because you have a stable foundation to operate from and are not distracted or depleted by personal insecurities or blind spots.”

Bill Gaultiere

Boundaries are okay. In fact, they’re necessary and even appropriate. Boundaries are to relationships what water is to plants – a source of nourishment that produce fruit.

Male-female boundaries can come in many forms. Here are just a few:

  • No private meetings. Someone should always know where you guys are and that you’re out together.
  • No intimate discussions of love lives.
  • No private emails of text messages.
  • Make sure all your friends support your marriage and have no desire to compete against it.

Protect your boundaries! Make sure to communicate whenever necessary.

So, can we be friends?

“You say, “Under grace there are no rules and we’re free to do anything we please.” Not exactly. Because not everything promotes growth in others. Your slogan, “We’re allowed to do anything we choose,” may be true—but not everything causes the spiritual advancement of others.”

1 Corinthians 10:23

You may not like my answer but the answer is yes… And no. What is right and profitable for me may not be right and profitable for you. I’d have a hard time giving you a hard yes or a hard no because it simply wouldn’t be safe or even wise to do so. There isn’t an absolute answer.

“Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). Gender shouldn’t get in the way of such a rewarding command. God desires for relationships to preach to the world about His goodness and love for them – He wants the same out of male-female relationships.

When we’re not sneaking around, comparing others to our spouse, and naively – or better yet, recklessly – walking to male-female relationships lack of boundaries, these very relationships have the power to attract others to Christ. That’s His design. He can bless these relationships. Just ask Him. Be wise. Be of noble and decent character. Stay above reproach. And be relentless about cultivating friendships that are on fire for God.

What experience have you or someone you know had with platonic relationships? Did it work? What precautions were taken?

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