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There is No Such Thing as "Just Friends"

In this challenging essay, Jennica directly confronts the idea that there can be close, merely platonic friendship between men and women (outside of family relations). Jennica draws on the work of Dave Carder to make her case that infatuation needs to be seen for what it is in order to protect marriages from infidelity.

Just Friends

Jane and Ben spend a fair amount of time together. They hang out for coffee a couple times a month, speak on the phone every once in a while and message each other on Facebook. When asked if they are dating, they both insist they are “just friends.” This term is quite common in today's culture, so much that one might actually believe there is such a thing as a friendship between a man and a woman. In fact, I was a believer in such friendships until I reached a point in my life at which I began to look more closely at the friendships I have had with men, and also the friendships of people I know. It occurred to me that in every case what appeared to be a friendship was really infatuation. Thus developed my personal theory that there is no such thing as “just friends.”

Male/Female Relationships

As I see it, there are three types of male/female relationships (not including familial relationships).

  1. Friendly Acquaintances: in which a man and woman see each other every so often due to circumstance, work, school, or other gatherings, enjoy each other's company during these encounters, and do not spend much time thinking about the other person or anticipating the next encounter while not with the other person. These types of relationships are sustainable. They are the class mates, friends' spouses, and church friends etc., who have a special place in your heart, but you would never think of spending more than occasional time together one on one just to get to know them better. These friendships can last a lifetime but do not progress on an intimate level.
  2. “Just Friends” or Infatuation in denial: in which a man and woman see each other occasionally or frequently due to circumstance or a planned meeting, enjoy the time they spend together, spend time thinking of the other while not together, and anticipate their next encounter.
  3. Acknowledged Relationships: in which a mutual interest in one another has been expressed and a closer more intimate relationship is being pursued. These relationships must continually develop or eventually come to an end.

So why is this important?

Before marriage, relationships based on infatuation happen all the time and are perfectly good, normal, and necessary. Human beings are made to be attracted to the opposite sex, and the “just friends” stage is a natural first step. However, attraction to the opposite sex does not cease immediately once a couple is married. Both married partners must know that at some point they will most likely be tempted by feelings of attraction to someone outside of their marriage and choose to reject them.

The idea that it is acceptable for either married partner to have a type '2' friend makes it more difficult to see attraction for what it is. Married partners who have no intention to harbor feelings of attraction, much less commit adulterous acts, may find themselves confused when trying to navigate the boundary between “friendship” and “infatuation.” This is because every friendship IS infatuation in various stages. Married partners very rarely intend to be unfaithful, but the chemicals released by our brain that are associated with infatuation are powerful things and make us feel energized, excited about life, and generally good. As long as we call what is really infatuation “just friends,” we do not see the red flag that intuitively should tell us that this relationship is dangerous for our marriage.

Pastor Dave Carder in his speech on “Close Calls” at the 2009 Smart Marriages Conference ( speaks about what he calls “surprise infidelities,” in reference to individuals who did not realize they were infatuated with a “friend” and described their ensuing affairs as “blindsides” not to their spouses, but to themselves. These relationships were masked as friendships. “Friendships” are acceptable so nobody knew anything was out of order until the “friends” committed adultery.

This highlights an underlying idea, associated with the “just friends” concept, common in our culture today that adultery, which is unacceptable, is only committed with our bodies. The Bible, on the other hand, tells us in Matthew 5:28 that adultery can be committed in our minds, and I think that it begins when we start telling ourselves that someone in our lives is “just a friend” and nothing else.

The longer the infatuation continues, the more difficult it is to let go of it once one comes to realize what it truly is. Even an individual who is very committed to their marriage will have a hard time letting go of an infatuation. I know this only because I have spoken with various people about it, but it makes a lot of sense to me and so I am stating it as fact. Once a person realizes their “friend” is actually an infatuation, and rejects the attraction as an evil that threatens their marriage, the desire to be with their “friend” does not cease immediately. It actually feels like a loss and they often go through a period of grieving that “friendship.” The longer the infatuation has been masked as a “friendship” the harder it is to let go of that relationship.

Sometimes it is hard to know exactly what we feel or what our feelings mean. In his research on infidelity, Carder noticed nineteen actions that were consistent indicators of when a “friendship” is really infatuation. These points provide tangible red flags for any married individual to use as an early warning system for potential situations that could threaten their marriage.

  1. Save topics of conversation for friend instead of spouse.
  2. Share spousal difficulties with friend.
  3. Friend shares relationship difficulties.
  4. Anticipate seeing friend more than spouse.
  5. Compare spouse to friend.
  6. Provide special treats for friend.
  7. Concerned more about friend than spouse.
  8. Fantasize about marriage with friend.
  9. More alone time with friend than with spouse.
  10. No spousal access to conversations.
  11. Spend money on friend without spouses awareness.
  12. Conflict with spouse over relationship.
  13. Lie to spend time with friend - even white lies.
  14. Hide interactions with friend from spouse.
  15. Accuse spouse of jealousy when friendship is brought up.
  16. Develop special rituals with friend: any regular experience anticipated by two parties, if doesn't happen there is disappointment. Ex: coffee dates, lunch, regular emails...
  17. Friend shares feelings or touches to which you inwardly respond.
  18. Sexual content in conversations.
  19. Participate in business travel, meals, alcohol, entertainment with friend and/or stay in the same hotel with friend.

Call a Spade a Spade

When we get rid of the concept of friendships with members of the opposite sex outside of marriage it becomes much easier to see attraction and infatuation for what they really are. When evils can be seen clearly for what they are it is much easier to reject them.

Now I don't want to leave anybody with the impression that I am saying that married people should not associate in a friendly manner with persons of the opposite sex. I am simply trying to point out that the road to adultery can be cloaked by cultural norms. When one is attentive to their true feelings and on the lookout for “red flag” behavior it is possible to shun adultery of the mind in the early stages.

I would argue that Jane and Ben are indeed infatuated with one another. They hang out regularly and must be thinking of one another or they wouldn't message on Facebook. But how can I prove my theory that there is no such thing as “just friends”? Well, I would like to leave that to you. Think of any friendship you have had with someone of the opposite sex. Was it truly purely platonic or did some level of infatuation exist for one or both of you? Look through the list above and think if any of those apply to your friendship. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who thinks they are an exception to the theory.

Jennica Nobre

Jennica Nobre grew up in Glenview, IL, and currently lives in Bryn Athyn, PA with her husband, Calebe and two children, Zion and Solomon. In addition to mothering, she teaches Biology classes part time and leads naturalist programs at the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust. Her parents divorced when she was young, and Jennica feels she has been on a life long search and discovery as to what marriage is, why people divorce, and how they stay together. This article is part of that process.

Reader Comments (20)

Great article. Thanks for the reminder. I wish more single people would take a more practical approach to dating.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterP

This is not my experience at all. I have several close male friends with which I've had important shared experiences, like being in the Peace Corps together, or leading backpacking trips together, and even other artist friends. They are like family to me, and we keep in touch in various ways. These relationships were developed after I was already engaged/married to my wonderful husband. It might have been exactly because I was already in a committed, loving relationship that allowed me to support, work with and develop a platonic male friendship because the possibility of "something happening" between us was completely taken off the table. I admit that these kinds of relationships are unusual, but I believe in particular circumstances some individuals are able to walk that line.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNormandy Alden

I think that the thesis of this essay would be more palatable if the author had spoken exclusively from her own experience and had refrained from pressing a theory that categorized all other male/female relationships. The insight into the subtle line between friend and infatuation is compelling and useful for personal examination, but speaking for the internal states of all other male/female relationships is beyond the purview of the individual. Even if every individual examined themselves and found that this theory held true for them personally, I still think that speaking of other peoples' affections and thoughts crosses a micro-boundary.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna Rose

Thanks for the article, Jennica. Really thought-provoking. I think the question of WHERE that line is between friendship and attraction is is something that varies from person to person - what's important is that each person really takes a step back and looks at themselves honestly.

The Writings talk about "chaste love for the opposite sex" as being a non-sexual friendship between the sexes, and speak of it as a good thing - although something that few people are able to reach. I wrote a longer response to your article with this in mind on my blog:

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterColeman

I would respectfully differ--and have written a book on the subject:

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan Brennan

Thanks for all of your comments! The statement I have made in the article is surely broad and perhaps there are exceptions-especially when the individuals are particularly committed to marriage. I am glad I have reached a few people who think there are.
In a culture largely not strongly committed to marriage I think the guise of "friendship" can just be rationalization.

I would be happy to exchange emails with anyone who would like to discuss this further (Alanna, I'd be happy to share more personal experience if you'd like).

Your comments may help me refine my theory...

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennica Nobre

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennica Nobre

Dear Jennica,

Thanks for your great article. It makes me remind a book called "Me and My House" in which the author, Rev. Walter Wangerin, Jr., explains this same subject and exposes several red flag signals too important to be ignored.


April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCleia

This is an interesting essay with valid points. I agree with Alanna, though, about finding it a bit difficult to read, because these kinds of judgments about the inner states of relationships could very easily be a boundary violation when applied too broadly to people outside of your personal experience.

Being a married woman with a lot of experience with male friendships (before and after my marriage), there are a few points I'd add. The qualities of Jennica's #2 designation of relationships actively apply to many of my female friendships: looking forward to our get-togethers, enjoying them, and thinking of the other person when we're not together. To suspend these friendly feelings merely because the friend is male would be impossible for me. Why is it ok to enjoy female friends while I should sternly prevent myself from the same friendly enjoyment with male friends, always guarding against the danger that I am "infatuated" with him simply because he's male and I find him a nice person?

Another aspect of this which is only alluded to in Jennica's piece looms large in my life. I work in a field where women are outnumbered by men, and if I did not allow myself to cultivate cordial, long-term friendships with male colleagues, I would miss out on some very important mentors and career growth. I make a point of keeping all former pertinent educational and professional connections in a sort of social orbit, whether they're male or female. This often takes the form of lunch or coffee dates with former professors and bosses a few times a year w/ each person. I would feel so bizarre about it if I were to cut off half of my lunch dates because they're with men and I'm a married woman. Call me a mercenary networker but that's how I am, and that's how I've gotten many of the professional opportunities I relish.

These stark delineations of the appropriateness of male/female relationships after marriage echo other problems in New Church culture when it comes to relating to the opposite sex. Growing up in the New Church, we're often raised with strange black-and-white views of male/female differences and what romantic/emotional associations are and are not proper before marriage - no matter who you are or what your experience is. This is an attempt to place external dictates on private, sensitive internal states, and it shouldn't be done. (If you want to read more about this, get my book, "The Conjugial Culture". Read an excerpt on my blog at Likewise about judgmental dictates on what friendships are and aren't appropriate based on whether you're married and whether your friend is of the opposite sex. It seems like we in the New Church are always trying to police our internal selves (and others' internal selves!) in impossible ways, and this is never more true than when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. I used to think the worst extrinsic emotional policing in this regard was in pre-marital relationships, but I'm finding that we still find endless ways to beat ourselves up in this regard even after we're safely married!

Jennica's points about male/female friendships also remind me of another emotional pitfall that is most commonly applied to premarital relationships/betrothals, and this is the idea that the external and internal progression of a human relationship can and should be ordered and controlled according to some kind of prescription that applies to everyone
(we're always bombarded by lessons on what's "orderly" and what's not). A couple's journey to marriage should not be according to predetermined recipe of sentiments, actions, or gifts. Likewise, I don't think you should categorize friendships (deeming some appropriate and criticizing others) according to a typed list of qualities/habits/inclinations.

Maybe I am lucky, beset less with problems of supposed "infatuation" with male friends, because none of my male friends measures up to my husband (I can't even think of anyone who's handsomer than he is). I've got a very full life, personally, socially and professionally, and it just would not be feasible for me to stress over the appropriateness of friendship with men. Maybe this means I'm not confronting the real issues Jennica writes about it, or maybe these issues will plague my marriage later on, because right now I am just more interested in picking a colleague's brain on a mutually fascinating career topic than analyzing the appropriateness of our emotional relationship. I usually just boil it down to one mental rule. Would I be uncomfortable fully disclosing the nature/events of the meeting to my husband? If so, forget it. I don't need that meeting.

A lot of my friends/colleagues, male and female, are homosexual. Is it safe to assume that Jennica's 1,2,3 guidelines would give me leave to have that active connection to a gay male friend? Not spending time w/ (straight) male friends because of the danger that I'm secretly inappropriately attracted to them (because they happen to be friendly and male) would, I think, be like refusing to hang out w/ my lesbian friends because I'm afraid they'd be attracted to me (because I happen to be friendly and female). Perhaps not an appropriate analogy, but that's just how it seems to me. Just because someone is of the opposite sex (or likes people of my sex) does not mean infatuation is right around the corner. The world is full of so many interesting opportunities for friendship and professional development. Fortunately, friendship and work can often go together. I'm not about to stunt the connections I can make just because I'm married. I don't think these connections impinge on the health of my marriage. The nature of my work has me out at night downtown a few nights a week. My number one choice date is always my husband, but if he can't come (as he often can't), I'll bring a friend - man or woman! (Sorry this reply is so long1)

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlaina Mabaso

Great discussion.
Something I think this is really missing is the idea of seeing your friends of the opposite sex through your spouses eyes, and also that it's going to be different for men and women how they view friendships, and also very different from person to person.

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

I really appreciate this discussion, and there's another point that I think is important to add. All this talk about calibrating your friendships with the opposite sex sort of misses a larger underlying issue, which is the health of your marriage. If you find yourself infatuated with a friend, and you focus your energy on eliminating that person from your life, or on keeping your contact with him/her within strict emotional or physical bounds, you're missing what you really should be working on: why you aren't feeling attracted to your spouse, or why you don't want to confide in him/her. Taking up inappropriate friendships probably has more to do with problems in your own marriage than it does with anything you can fix between yourself and a person who's not your spouse, and you can't fix the underlying problem by remedying your relationship with this or that particular person outside your marriage. If you can work successfully on improving your relationship with your spouse (and this can be hard work!), this is probably the most effective, long-term solution to the problem of outside "infatuations".

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlaina Mabaso

This strikes me as a very important topic to consider. As Coleman points out, each person can consider these lines personally...perhaps this is the most important work to do.

Can these questions also be considered, discussed and debated publically?

Alanna asked that the author stick to speaking from her own experiences rather than generalizing. This tends to be sound and safe advice.

On the other hand, it is my impression from this (and other discussions) around male-female relationships and sexuality tend to be extremely charged issues, very likely to prompt very personal responses. This fact makes me wonder, if the discussion could be had in such a way where participants offered their arguments and perspectives with no appeal or reference to personal experience.

I don't intend to criticize or correct this discussion. Rather, I'm just drawing attention to the how personal these issues are. Yet, obviously, matters of infidelity, divorce, appropriate and inappropriate relationships between the sexes have vast and far reaching impact on society.

Personally, I feel grateful to Jennica for raising this issue - whether she is all right, all wrong or somewhere in between. I enjoy debate and I think we are served by bringing direct attention to the relationships outside of our marriages with an eye to loving, supporting and promoting fidelity and commitment to marriage.


April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Smith

I've found that - at least, outside of networked associations like school, work, Church or other professional arena - that few inter-gender relationships continue for long unless either man or woman has been, currently is, or may become interested in the other party. I speak this out of experience, moreso than theory. (I can't think of one time in the past that I actively spent time with or even really WANTED to spend time with a girl that I didn't "like" - who had no ties with me in relation to work or school.)

Granted, my experience to the fullest extent of this conversation is somewhat limited - as a dating man, not yet married - however, I do believe that it's very important to indeed "call a spade a spade;" for one to pay attention to thoughts and investigate real and deep intentions before the wrong ones manifest themselves as building dangers.

There are plenty of examples and situations one could toss around, but the ultimate point is that any male-female relationship that detracts or takes attention/affection away from your significant other can have potential to be a "spade" between the 2 of you - and that's the friendship that matters most.

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRhys

One idea that really jumped out at me in this essay is the value of periodically taking stock of our relationships to see if they are developing as we would wish. I think this is actually a good idea for any relationship, not just the ones that could involve romantic attraction. As an unmarried woman, for instance, I can still consider how my current friendships help or hinder my receptiveness to marriage.

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I will attempt to synthesize what I see as a "conservative" and a "liberal" view of the situation. Hopefully I will perfectly satisfy everyone and resolve the entire problem. It would be even better if I can manage to irritate everyone and prompt more debate on the subject. :)

I tend to interpret the situation of male-female relationships mostly as Jennica does in her article, however, I think that a more liberal view offers and important change in an overly fearful conclusion, or response to this way of viewing male female relationships.

In my experience, every non-family male-female relationship in which their is mutual interest to spend time together involves some degree of romantic attraction. If one of the parties is married to another person, this type of romantic attraction has no appropriate expression.

I don't know that this applies for everyone else, but I will assume that it does, based on my experience.

So, as a married man, I will experience attraction to other women. In my experience, if there is any interest, it has the potential to grow and will try to grow.

But, I think there are several fearful conclusions which may be wrong.
A) this extra-marital relationship is bad.
B) all of the attraction in this extra-marital relationship is bad.
C) I can not spend time with this person under any circumstances.

Regarding A). I think this is a fear-based mistake that my conservative inclination can sometimes produce. It is unfair and unuseful for me to shrink and shun a co-working who I happen to feel affection for.

Regarding B): As Coleman points out, there are good, appropriate and heavenly types of affection between men and women who are married to other people. Since these exist, I think it inaccurate to dismiss wholesale the attraction which arises between these men and women as bad.

Regarding C): If I had to avoid all contact with a woman who I liked it could be quite problematic. I would have to quit jobs, move neighborhoods etc, just to avoid women who I found attractive.

Instead, I see the the solution lying in a combination of boundaries and awareness.

I think the awareness raised by Jennica's article is indispensible. Marriage is too valuable, Affairs too easy. I don't think it is worth falsely believing that I can have a good and valuable friendship with another woman without acknowledging that it WILL place a pressure of attraction on me.

And so appropriate boundaries must be intentionally set up, knowing the way I will naturally feel drawn toward these women.

If I can avoid the mistake of quickly condemning these relationships and the attraction in them, then I will be much better to clearly think about the relationships and communicate about them with my wife so that I can establish these clear and reasonable boundaries.

Perhaps sugar offers a useful analogy. Is sugar bad?

I don't believe sugar is bad, however it is often abused and over-consumed because many people respond to it with addictive behavior and over-indulgance. I don't think that the solution is to condemn the substance and every situation which involves consuming it. However, I do think appropriate boundaries are necessary. AND I think a realistic attitude is needed. This attitude acknowledges the harm of over-consuming sugar and it acknowledges the compelling draw of sugar and it also acknowledges the types of situations which make a person much more suseptible to over-consumption.


April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Smith

There is indeed much to bewilder us in this current state of the world. Somethings are just silly. Take for example, the grocery store boy politely calling you miss as you balance three kids, your list, and cart full of supplies. Maybe he is just practicing how to talk to the girl of his dreams. The typical sales ploy of having males telemarket the women and females talk to the men is fine for the general state of things. (Well, maybe there is more annoyance to these calls than just the product and the interruption.) All who sift and sort and strive to measure up to the conjugial are to be congratulated. We truly do need the Lord to help separate and spurn Rasputin behavior because I think grievous evil does not like to be seen as such. I suppose there is some feminine name of that as well. Sorry, I don't know how to make paragraph breaks here and I would like to thank Andy for forwarding this. Hope you are successful in your endeavors, Carrie

May 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Heilman

The other day I was having a conversation with someone who knew close to nothing about the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, but who cared deeply for peoples spiritual development as well as embracing a moral life through religion. She asked me very forwardly if I had ever cheated on my wife. In the moment I was feeling very close to the Lord's Truth as I had just been passionately sharing my perspective of it, so I answered the woman as truthfully as I could. "Yes!!!" I said... "but only in my mind". As an enlightened woman aware of most human-male tendencies she responded "Wow, how very Truthful of you to say, well put". Needless to say she knew exactly what I was talking about: adultery is both of the flesh and of the mind.

I commend Mrs. Nobre for her article which I believe not only boldly address the reality of adultery... but also offers us useful tools for avoiding the destruction of heaven as we know it.

That said, I do believe that angels exist who are so committed to the Lord's Word as well as their spouses that they experience no appeal in the temptation to commit the heinous crime of adultery. Such angels may experience friendship with people of the opposite sex and never indulge the "infatuation" for the opposite sex but instead remain at all times focused on the other person's goodness. As long as we exist on earth and have a mind suspended in the world of spirits between heaven and hell the evil spirits will always be persistent and trying to establish hell in our minds - we must never underestimate the persistence of these dark spirits and our own powerlessness in the situation. This is why I pray constantly that "the Lord will give His Angels charge over me to keep me in all His ways".

Blessings on Marriage.

May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJared Alden

Thank you Jared. So glad to have you in my life.

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLori Odhner

For the first 10 years of our marriage John kept saying he was working on shunning adultery. I did not get it. He was JOHN after all and no more likely to have an affair than grow antlers.
But one day, when I was ready, the clouds opened. I realized that this was a very real and present danger to our marriage. I remember when he went to Africa, and all the precautions he took to not contract malaria... If he had just said " I will not get malaria" he would have been even more in peril than he was, (he did get malaria) After another ten years I realized I, Lori Odhner was also susceptible to an affair.
Now I have a lot going for parents were faithful, I would be ostracized if I slept around, we would be out of a job and probably homeless, I stay away from R movies like the plague,( much less Superbowl commercials) and generally lead a pretty monogamy friendly existence. But when I heard Dave speak at the conference Jennica referenced.... I knew he was talking to me.

The funny thing is, I have MORE compassion for people who are unfaithful than I did 25 years ago. We set them up, like hiring semi recovering alcoholics to run the bar and expecting them to stay sober. Our entire culture is a set up for infidelity, in fact many professions all but require it, ( as a professional ballerina friend told me... want the part? Sleep with the choreographer)

I appreciate your willingness to talk about it, Jennica, and your humility in seeing that fidelity takes as much FEROCITY to protect as your physical health does in a world that hands you heavy metals, toxic waste and genetically modified food without ever asking you if you would like to get cancer now, or later.

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLori Odhner

Wow, Lori, I love what you wrote in your comment! Thanks!

June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea Odhner
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