Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Girls, Guys, and Friendship

The past couple of days, I keep getting questions regarding whether or not guys and girls can be just friends. At first, I just ignored it as one of those questions that inevitably pops up from time to time. After all, I can't count how many times my mom and I have had this conversation since I was literally in junior high. So, when the first instance arose, I passed over it as just another occurrence in the line of occurrences of this question. But then the question came up again today. And I started thinking about how my answer to it has progressed over the years.

As I attempt to formulate my answer, I would like to be clear: when I say "relationship" I mean a committed relationship, not a casual dating relationship.

Originally, I thought that girls and guys could be friends without any problem. That train of thought lasted up until college. By that time I started realizing that they guy-girl friendship dynamic was way more complicated than I had imagined. At least, it is when one or both of the people in question are in a relationship. When a single guy and a single girl are friends, then there aren't any complicating factors, other than potential feelings that might develop...but then both of them are free to pursue those if they choose. And after all, the best relationships start out as friendships.

However, when a romantic relationship exists on the part of one or both outside of the friendship, there is the potential for problems. Some may ask, why? I mean, presumably if the individuals in question are in a relationship, then they are committed to that relationship and won't let a friendship interfere. That's what I used to think. Now I know it's nowhere near that simple.

What could I possibly mean? Well, let's set up a scenario. John and Mary are in a relationship. John has a friend, Marcy, with whom he hangs out fairly often. Now, to examine the potential problems. Mary and John are in a fight/rough spot/long distance relationship/whatever. John talks with Marcy about the situation. Marcy gives John advice. John leaves this exchange feeling better. Not a problem at first glance. However, it happens a second time. And then a third. Gradually, Marcy becomes John's sounding board...a position that should by Mary's. In a relationship, it is important for the people to communicate their frustrations and feelings to one another, to keep that connection there. What John has done is take that connection elsewhere...to Marcy. This makes him feel even more distant from Mary, and Mary probably senses this. If Mary is aware of Marcy, and knows that John is investing more time in their friendship than in Mary and his relationship, feelings of jealousy and hurt may surface. That can damage John and Mary's relationship more, and if left unresolved, can turn the whole thing into a downward spiral.

Another situation, same cast. John and Mary have a great relationship, but do not share many interests. Marcy and John share quite a few interests. So, Marcy and John pursue these interests together, leaving Mary to do her thing. The shared interests create a bond between Marcy and John that John and Mary do not have. They spend a great deal of time together pursuing these interests, and Mary spends more time alone. This can lead to John and starting to enjoy Marcy's company more than Mary's, and lead to him feeling more of a connection with Marcy. Mary can feel left out, hurt and resentful that John shares this bond with another girl instead of her. Either way, a sense of distance may once again enter into the relationship between Mary and John.

To be clear, John could easily be a Jill, Mary a Mark, and Marcy a Matt. I simply chose the cast I did because, in my experience with this question, it seems that it is more often the friendship between a girl and a guy that causes issues in the relationship between said guy and his girlfriend rather than vice versa.

Basically, the problem with having friends of the opposite sex when you're in a relationship is the potential for your significant other to take the back seat to those friends (not just once or twice, but repeatedly and often), both emotionally and in time spent. When you're in a relationship your significant other should be your relational priority when compared to your friendships (obviously, I'm not talking about familial relationships here...just friendships).

In a guy-girl friendship, the person in the relationship needs to be extremely careful not to cross the emotional intimacy line with the friend (or the physical...but that should go without saying) and to be very aware of the feelings of that friend. If you're in a relationship and your friend of the opposite sex starts developing feelings for you, you need to be paying attention in order to be aware of that. And then, for the sake of your relationship, you need to back off of that friendship. Also, if the person is a true friend, they will watch themselves as well, and give the advice of a true friend when asked about relationship issues: you should talk to your significant other about this.

If they don't give this advice, they are probably not as good a friend as they pretend to be. Members of both genders are sometimes only out for what they want, and have no issues with interfering with someone else's relationship in order to attain their desires. Personally, I think this character trait is much more common in girls than guys, and the guys I've talked to don't seem to realize that girls can be so devious.

All that said, issues of all kinds arise in relationships, both from the inside and the outside. Those arising from the inside can be just as dangerous--lack of communication, lack of listening, etc.--as outside factors. Issues are normal...every relationship deals with them. The big thing to remember is that issues need to be talked about in order to find resolution. Not every relationship is meant to last, but good issue resolution can help give relationships their best shot, and can help those relationships that are meant to be to stay healthy and happy.

Now, I don't intend for all of this to imply that I don't think guy-girl friendships can exist and be healthy. I have guy friends, and my husband has friends that are girls. The whole point of my thought-ramble is that these friendships can be more complicated than they first appear, and can endanger a couple's relationship if care is not taken.

Anyways, I was just thinking.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say it's definitely possible :-p after all, I've got almost as many close guy friends as I've got close girl friends. But there's also many ways it can go wrong, as we've seen a couple of times >_<


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