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.
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.”
As I see it, there are three types of male/female relationships (not including familial relationships).
- 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.
- “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.
- 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 (www.smartmarriages.com) 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.
- Save topics of conversation for friend instead of spouse.
- Share spousal difficulties with friend.
- Friend shares relationship difficulties.
- Anticipate seeing friend more than spouse.
- Compare spouse to friend.
- Provide special treats for friend.
- Concerned more about friend than spouse.
- Fantasize about marriage with friend.
- More alone time with friend than with spouse.
- No spousal access to conversations.
- Spend money on friend without spouses awareness.
- Conflict with spouse over relationship.
- Lie to spend time with friend - even white lies.
- Hide interactions with friend from spouse.
- Accuse spouse of jealousy when friendship is brought up.
- 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...
- Friend shares feelings or touches to which you inwardly respond.
- Sexual content in conversations.
- 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.