Guy/Girl Friendships: Untangled
Your mama could’ve called it from a mile away. That sweet boy who was “just a good friend” has gone and broken your heart. Or just as likely, you’ve broken his. And now you’re wondering where you went wrong. After all, last you checked everything was platonic, and now you’re suddenly in a sticky, complicated, awkward situation.
Let’s start by saying you’re not the first girl this has happened to. Have you ever read Les Miserables? That was written well before the term “friend zone” was coined, back in the days when “brother in Christ” simply referred to fellow Christians, and yet Eponine falls for her best friend and makes “broken-hearted” an understatement. Now “simple” is a distant state we merely long for, and “miserable” is precisely how we feel.
If you’re thinking, “Here comes a boatload of old fashioned etiquette lessons,” please keep reading. Appropriate boundaries aren’t just for tea with the queen and they might even end up saving your relationship with a guy. Maybe you were the girl who always played with the boys because “girls are so dramatic.” Maybe you were the shy girl with the one, faithful guy-friend. Maybe you don’t even know how to be “just friends” with a guy. Any way you cut it, there’s no simple formula to guy/girl friendships, but we can bust a few myths and talk some sense while we’re here.
1. People fall for their friends
It’s natural to develop strong feelings for our companions. Just like we attach to our girlfriends, we begin to attach to our guy-friends, but this often leads to “more than just a friend” type feelings. After all, men and women are designed to be attracted to one another and the more you have in common, the more you hang out, the closer you become, the more likely it is for those feelings to kick in. It is natural and perfectly okay to fall for your friend (after all, every good marriage is based on a strong friendship!) but it can complicate things. If you and a guy-friend start to have mutual romantic feelings for each other, talk it out and try to intentionally change the trajectory of your relationship. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a confusing “friendationship” (as one of my girlfriends calls it!).
2. He’s not your brother
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a girl say, “He’s like a brother to me”, I’d probably be able to open my wedding chapel. Maybe you think of him as a brother, but you must remember: he isn’t your brother. This has several implications, the first being that you could potentially end up in a romantic relationship. The second being, your intimacy with a guy cannot be blamed on your familiar feelings toward him. If you are spending time at each other’s home, keeping confidence in one another or being physically affectionate, you need to put on the brakes. He is not and will never be your sibling, so try to impose some social standards into the situation before either of you creates a relationship you’ll regret.
3. He’s not yours
It seems like the issues with guys and girls being friends is old-fashioned or even imaginary at times. You might have guy friends who you have a lot in common with or get along with even better than you get along with girls. You might really hit it off, love to be together and have a great friendship…until everything goes south. I’m not saying guys and girls can never-ever be “just friends”, but most people do eventually enter romantic relationships and marriage (statistics show) and when this happens, your friendship will not only weaken, but also become very complicated. For example, if your best friend (who happens to be a guy) is now dating or engaged or married, it is no longer appropriate for you to have an intimate or private relationship with him. Texting him late into the night, expecting long phone calls or one-on-one time together is unseemly. If this causes issues between your friend and his lady or causes her to be angry or jealous, you should not be surprised. She has been promised a special, intimate relationship with this man and you simply don’t have the right to expect something similar at this point. That may sound harsh, and certainly disappointing, but it is the way things work. Many affairs could be prevented with appropriate boundaries among friends.
4. He can’t replace your girlfriends
A good marriage, as I said earlier, should be founded on a great friendship. I don’t want to settle for anyone who doesn’t care deeply about me, have some overlapping interests, enjoy spending time with me and supporting me in all that I do. However, even the greatest husband makes a poor girlfriend. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true! Your man cannot replace the women in your life. Whether you are single, dating, engaged or wed, you should seek to hold onto the strong female friendships you’ve already created (or pray that you would find such friendships.) Women can relate to each other in a unique way. Scripture tells us that older women should be pouring into younger women (Titus 2:2-4.) Though we can learn from men (and men can learn from us!) there are certain things women must teach one another. If you hope to marry, you hope to find a man with whom you can have the most intimate kind of relationship known to humanity, but that doesn’t mean he becomes your one-and-only person for every area of your life.
Guy-girl relationships can be complicated, it is true. But there are some basic boundaries that, if established early on, can prevent much heartache and…well, stickiness! Heaven knows girls need good guys in their lives, but we could use a little old fashioned etiquette as well.
Thank you. It helps me. I’m in a situation where someone who loves me (and maybe I love him too) just being friends with me because I’m not ready to have a relationship now (since I haven’t graduated from college). Things can become complicated and sometimes I think I’m not being fair to him. May this guidance helps me to build a pure relationship with him 🙂
Pure friendship for now, I mean 😀
Here is my experience with guy/girl friendships:
Once upon a time I was friends with a guy. We were best friends. He was “like a brother” to me. I married him. The end.
Thanks Everly. I needed this advice. I have more friends that are male then female and I like to talk with them but I always wondered about this subject and had my views about it. I think it is possible to be friends but with the understanding that one day when one of us or both of us commit our lives to someone then that close friendship you talked about like texts and one on one conversations will end. On the bright side of that maybe all four together can enjoy each others company. What are your thoughts on this?
I really look forward to the day (Lord willing!) I am married and I can do “couple things” with my friends who are married. I think this is a great way to keep your friendships with guys alive, because it’s still respectful to their significant others. It will be wonderful if my friends and I are married and we can all look back on happy times we had together as singles, with no regrets or awkward memories!
Amen to that! I am still single too. To be honest a relationship is not the biggest priority in my life at the moment. Finding my calling, niche, reason in life is number one. Undoubtedly if God has it planned for me to meet that perfect match for me man then I would be very happy as it is Gods’ will. Until that day I am grateful for the time I have to experience life and think it through as a single young lady and grateful for the friendships I make with those I meet. Everyone that comes into our lives is there for a reason. Thanks for getting back and sharing your thoughts with us. =0) God bless
Everly, I think you write some of my favorite articles!
Always challenging and relatable. Thanks!
Very sweet, Victoria. You bless me.
Good advice, Everly! It’s sooo important to have boundaries in our relationships with guys. and remember that they don’t belong to us. I know of an instance where a girl liked a guy and then the guy got married…. and that created problems later on because she was still attached to him. She should have never been that attached to him and should have been able to let go. I think unless one is pursuing a courtship/dating a guy, they need to really be careful how far they let their feelings go.
My guy friends are very few and far between and VERY casual.
YES! It’s so easy to let our feelings get ahead of our heads. Thank you!
Amen! This is so good…. I like the part were you said that a guy friend is never your brother. I got myself involved in a complicated situation where I used to call a guy friend a brother from another mother. We would spend a lot of time together and share our secrets. He later expressed his feelings for me and was shocked. I agreed to enter into courtship with him because I was afraid to lose my best friend. I ended the courtship in less than a month when I did not love him in that way. He was very hurt and I am still feeling guilty for what happened…
Oh, how I relate!
Please don’t feel guilty, though. Perhaps you were very much in the wrong, and so was your friend, but that’s in the past now and you have a lot of life ahead of you. You have relationships in your future that need you to be unbound from your previous ties. Try to forgive yourself and move on, because, even though you probably really broke this guy’s heart, God has big plans for Him too. Trust God with your friend as I had to do and see Him move. He will do things for this guy and offer to give him satisfaction you could never have offered even with the greatest human love. We all get hurt and-ugh-how. it. stings. But God is healer and He’s waiting for you around the next bend of the journey. 🙂
Everly, I think many of us could write a book on this topic! I think if we all took your words to heart, it would be very helpful.
I was completely oblivious that guy/girl friendships could go wrong, until it happened to me! Total trainwreck. I can honestly say that we had pure intentions, just chatted regularly, and then suddenly there was a crush and then confusion and eventually no more friendship.
Then when I was on the receiving end of an unrequited crush and realized that it could go either way as to who wants to go further. So I was a lot more careful after that because I was more aware that even if I didn’t ever see myself being attracted to a certain person, he could fall for ME. This is ESPECIALLY important in a friendship with a non-Christian guy.
I also encouraged myself to think about whether or not the friendship could exist the same way if one of us or both of us were married. Would our spouses be comfortable with it? (your third point)
I put a lot of restrictions on myself, and I am glad in some ways, but it didn’t completely shelter me from the confusion of single/dating life.
I am curious about a similar but slightly reversed scenario involving something I might term “pre-dating intentional friendship.” I think this article mainly had to do with pre-existent friendships and what to do with them, but I would love to hear some thoughts on how to navigate friendship that is intended to determine if a more intimate relationship might be the next step. In this case, it is important to develop some kind of a friendship. So should we altogether abandon the friendship at the moment we decide not to pursue a romantic relationship? That thought doesn’t sit very well with me, for reasons which I won’t try to get into now…
Along those lines, I am also wondering about what is stated in #1 of the article — that “it’s natural to develop strong feelings for our companions.” I feel like I will inevitably want to be with someone with whom I spend time in this sort of “intentional friendship,” and I am wondering whether this might cloud my good judgment of whether or not this person is the best fit for me. However, I am not sure how else to get to know them to find out. Any thoughts or suggestions on what a good, healthy, pre-dating friendship might look like and how to keep good boundaries while also being vulnerable enough to engage authentically with this person and learn how well I connect with them? [Pardon the run-on!] 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to read and discuss!
I can understand pre-dating intentional friendship for a very, very finite amount of time. After that, I’d really recommend you either start dating, or decide to just be casual friends. Don’t be afraid to date someone you might not marry. The purpose of dating is to get to know someone as a potential spouse, so think of it as “pre-marriage intentional friendship.” 😀
I really think that most dating relationships should start off fairly casual-after all, if we knew we could commit completely to this person, we’d just marry them on the spot! This should look a lot like just being good friends. Hang out, talk, meet the family and see what comes of it. I really am not the person to be giving dating advice, seeing as my experience is very limited, but I DO know that you don’t want to wind up in an “are we dating, or..?” situation.
In general, try to relax about dating and see it as intentional friendship. Then, if you and this guy decide that marriage is in your future together, you can get engaged. At this point, there is some commitment, lots more intentionality and seriousness to the relationship. Of course, the friendship will still be there! 🙂
I appreciate your thoughts, here, Everly.
Elizabeth: I am stuck on your query, “Could this friendship exist in this way if we were married?” That is so wise! Of course, dynamics will be very different when we really are married, but do you even want this relationship in your past? Great thoughts!
Ditto, Everly. Those are such good questions. Thank you, Elizabeth!