Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

September 14, 2009

Can Men and Women Be Friends: The Agatha Take

(This is continuing the discussion first posted by Julian about friendship between men and women. Here are the other posts: 1, 2, 3)

When Harry Met by far my favorite romantic comedy. I love Billy Crystal; I love Meg Ryan; and I love the idea that romance blossoms out of friendship. (Emma is my favorite Jane Austen, too. Again: friendship rules.) Should I ever fall in love and get married, I hope I fall in love with my best friend.

You might be surprised then to hear my answer to the question "Can men and women be friends (without "sex" getting in the way)?". Yes. Absolutely.

I saw this from personal experience, but also from an understanding of virtue and chastity specifically. I am very blessed to have a very old very dear friendship with a guy who is as dear to me as a brother. But that's the key: in highschool I remember consciously thinking: "I could have a crush on him. But I don't. And I won't--because I want to stay friends with him." From that point on our friendship took on a fraternal character. It is a deep and intimate friendship, and there is nothing that I wouldn't tell him, but it is a chaste and brotherly friendship. We even talked about relationships--when he was courting his wife he asked my advice about long distance stuff. And when I was in a serious relationship, he wanted to make sure A. passed his test. His marriage hasn't changed anything, either, since I was lucky enough to gain a dear friend in his bride.

He is, perhaps, the exception that proves the rule. But since his friendship is the first I ever had with a boy (we were still kids when we met), it formed me deeply. From that point on, I think I accepted men as friends first and potential spouses second (if at all). I don't want to preach here, but this really seems to me to be the only sensible way. I hate being considered as potential dating material, and then, when found wanting, thought of as a possible friend. And in approaching men as potential friends I have been lucky enough to foster some deep friendships with single and married men alike--and I would be incredibly surprised if they ever turn out to be anything more.

In the hook-up culture, sex really does always "get in the way" because the sex makes you skip all the steps in between. Suddenly you are physically united to someone you hardly know. Or, if you do know them, it will dramatically change the nature of the friendship. (For Harry and Sally--because its a comedy and comedies always end in weddings--sex violated the friendship, but then made Harry realize that he loved her too much not to marry her--and reminded him that sometimes sex does mean something--and then ended up married and happy.)

C. S. Lewis talks about friendship as the one type of human love that is completely a gift, meaning that man doesn't need friendship to survive. We need familial love so that we may survive our childhood. We need erotic love so that we may procreate--these are animal loves (only not, of course, since we are rational and therefore not simply animals, but you know what I mean). But we don't need friendship (or caritas for that matter). If caritas is the theological love, then friendship is the human love: it is natural, it fulfills a deep need for companionship, and it has a hand in every good relationship we have--be it with your colleagues, your classmates, your spouse, your family. Familial love without friendship becomes a distant and lifeless obligation. Erotic love without friendship quickly burns out.

So, can men and women be friends? Yes, absolutely. At some point that friendship will probably change, and take on a new character. For Edith and Peter it is took on a romantic character, and now they are getting married. But that doesn't mean you have to be bothered by the question: what if? Take him as he is, love him as he is, and don't be afraid of who you are, and live chastely. Then the friendship will grow into whatever God wants it to be.

1 comment:

Angela Miceli said...

This is an awesome post...looking forward to the replies to it!

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