I always hesitate a little when I talk about one of my best friends because I adopted the habit of introducing him, not by his name, but as one whole word: “mybestfriendryan.” My hesitation with that introduction isn’t due to the fact that I talk about him like a fangirl and wonder if people will think that I’m a little too obsessed; my hesitation is due to the fact that Ryan’s a guy and I’m a girl, and there have been more than one occasion when I was taught, told, or it was suggested that guys and girls simply couldn’t be close friends.
The reasoning behind this thought was usually something along the lines of, “When guys and girls become close friends, it’s inevitable that one or the other will develop romantic feelings for one another and, at that point, the friendship either evolves into a romantic relationship or it’s doomed to end.” While I believe there is sincere charity behind this suggestion, it proposes a view of friendship that is much narrower than what God has in mind for us.
Christian writer, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves that “friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” This suggests that friendship, as it was created by God, is created for its own sake — it’s not like air, water, or food, which keep us alive; but is a sheer gift, meant to reflect something true of God.
Knowing that God is a communion of persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — eternally participating in a divine exchange of love, we can understand friendship as a reflection of that eternal exchange. And knowing that God created human beings male and female but did not create men and women to relate to one another exclusively romantically or sexually, it would be silly to think that God didn’t create men and women to be friends with one another — and yes, even close friends or best friends.
The suggestion that guys and girls can’t be friends because they’ll inevitably end up falling for each other stems from the idea that humans’ sexual desire can be so intense that, no matter what, when a man and woman spend extensive amounts of time together, they will eventually desire physical intimacy. This, however, does not account for the reality that all human beings have been called to live the virtue of chastity, which is the “successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (CCC 2337). Chastity is often misunderstood as the rules placed on couples in dating relationships but, in reality, it’s much much more. Chastity is the call for all of us to recognize that we are not ruled by our sexual impulses or desires but are whole, integrated, reasonable, and spiritual human beings.
With that call in mind, the Catechism also teaches that “chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion” (CCC 2347). Did ya catch that? Chastity is not expressed notably in romantically involved couples who remain chaste; it’s expressed most notably in friendship. That’s because, again, God did not expect all men and women to be in romantic relationships with one another. He does expect men and women to share in spiritual communion, which is why friendships between men and women can be very good.
However, mastering the virtue of chastity and, therefore, entering into that spiritual communion does not take place without a conscious effort. If you’re in a friendship with someone of the opposite sex, there are helpful practices and key boundaries that need to exist in order to arrive at spiritual communion. Here’s some of what mybestfriendryan and I have found to be most helpful:
Pray. Pray individually to cultivate a healthy relationship with the Lord, which will equip you to live virtue and holiness in all of your relationships. Additionally, pray for each other — this is the best way to be a friend to anyone.
Set conversation boundaries. Have conversations about topics that might not be helpful to talk about with each other. If you share endless vulnerable details of your life with someone, it can be easy to start to think that vulnerability should lead to romance. Mybestfriendryan and I determined that there are certain details of our lives that aren’t best to share with one another. Once we vocalized this, we were disciplined about not over-sharing.
Set physical and time boundaries. Like setting healthy conversation boundaries, you should have boundaries in the space and time you spend with your best friend. You shouldn’t be sharing bedrooms, cuddling, or spending time together into the wee hours of the morning with a friend — not because those things are inherently bad, but because friendship is about a communion that transcends all of these things, and many of those activities can confuse friendship realities with romantic feelings.
Be painfully honest with yourself first and each other second. If feelings begin to develop, don’t wait to bring it up. Address the reality honestly by asking yourself if you think the feelings are real or if they might be coming from a place of confusion due to broken boundaries. Afterward, talk to your friend about it to identify what you might need to do to protect the spiritual communion you can share in as friends.
Ultimately, the spiritual communion bred by authentic friendship — between friends of any sex — is not about the friendship itself; it’s about the eternal Kingdom of God. The spiritual communion we get to participate in as friends reflects the reality of who God is as love, and when lived out properly, it can make manifest the Kingdom of God on Earth. If you’ve ever been told guys and girls can’t be friends, I encourage you to look at friendship with a Kingdom-centered lens. If you’re close to someone of the opposite sex, there are healthy ways you’ll have to integrate that friendship, but it is absolutely possible to receive the absolutely unnecessary gift of authentic friendship the Lord has given us.