On friendship between the sexes
Recently I wrote a blog post called “On Treating Men.” In it, I spoke about how in the past, it’s been easy for me to judge all men by the sins of a few (one in particular), but that now I am practicing something new. Which is this–instead of skirting past men that I encounter as I’m out and about, either ignoring them outright, eyeing them with suspicion, or trying to be invisible, I now practice looking them in the face. Sometimes I smile, or I nod my head. Occasionally I offer a friendly “hi” as I trot by.
I know how much the coldness of women has been hurtful to someone I love. I know how this distrust of men has hurt me, and I’m working on that.
It brings me to the point of this piece. The other day a gentleman told me how much he appreciated that post. Then he said something that’s had me thinking ever since. “I just like having conversations that aren’t awkward with women.”
In recent years, I’ve begun to discover the delight of real friendship with men. Growing up as a conservative Christian, the danger of interactions between the sexes was pounded into me like a tent stake. This, I now know, occurred in a culture that, like the outside world, sexualized people. It sexualized women and told us that our bodies were dangerous, ergo our femininity was dangerous, that men would be tempted and nearly all of them would lust.
It sexualized men, too, and told them that they WOULD lust. That it was a battle that could never be fully won, but could only be managed. In other words, femininity would be the source of their greatest temptation, and we were dangerous. It pitted men and women against each other, instilling hearts with fear.
How sad. How diabolical.
The truth is that men hurt women, and women hurt men. The longer I live, though, and pursue my own inner healing and freedom, the more I understand that women can’t heal entirely without men, and men cannot heal entirely without women. We need each other.
Those of us who have been greatly wounded by men need positive, healthy interactions with men to counteract the damage that was done. We need to experience the opposite of what hurt us so that, as I said, we can heal.
The same is true for men who’ve been hurt by women. They, too, need positive, healthy interactions with women to counteract the damage they’ve sustained. They need to experience the opposite of what’s hurt them so they can heal.
It is possible for men and women to be friends in a way that is healthy, wholly platonic, nurturing, and beneficial to both. I have found that I can offer my tender feminine heart to men who are not my husband. It takes real wisdom and maturity to find this balance, but it is utterly possible. I do nothing outside of his knowledge and blessing, and the men I call my friends have greatly benefited my healing journey. I thoroughly enjoy picking a male brain, getting a peek into the masculine psyche and heart, receiving the godly wisdom and strength they have to give.
Occasionally, when I feel safe and I believe it is needed, I will say to a man, “May I give you a hug?” Or, “May I kiss you on the cheek?” And invariably, he will melt and allow my maternal/friendly/sisterly touch. This can be very healthy and healing in its own right.
It is possible for a man to offer his strength and wisdom to women who are not his wife. Again, it takes wisdom and maturity, but it is possible. My husband does nothing outside of my knowledge and blessing, and the women he’s learned to trust and befriend have greatly benefited him. He thoroughly enjoys picking the female brain, getting a peek into the feminine psyche and heart, receiving the godly wisdom and life they have to give.
Occasionally, when he knows it is safe and needed, he will offer a hug to a woman in a brotherly/friendly/protector fashion, and it is received. Again, this can be very healthy and healing with that sexual component completely removed (not all men are predators, remember) and such masculine affection demonstrated with safety.
If this sets off a klaxon horn for you, then it bears some examination. Yes, we must be mindful. Of course we must be careful, but the old ways of doing things are not working. It’s time to find a better way. It’s time to come back to the middle, to find some balance.
For me, right now, this is helping.
I have read all your blogs, but this is the first time I have commented on one.
Your views on platonic relationships with people of the opposite sex is something I have never thought about. There are hundreds of people I know that would think it would be strange if I did not greet each other with a hug. Those people are both male and female. Some are friends I have known since I was a kid and a lot of those people are from the fire service.
The old friends are just that, old friends. I think that my relationships with them would be very awkward if there was any sexual feelings at all. I go out to meals with friends, both male and female, just to catch up on our lives. Sometimes our spouses join us and sometimes they do not.
My fire family is just is something that is hard to explain to people who are not associated with the fire service. The men and women I served with put their lives in my hands and I put mine in their hands on several occasions. They know I would have rescued them in a bad situation or died trying. They would have done the same for me. We give each other BIG hugs when we are lucky enough to get together. We share experiences both good and bad that we know only someone in the fire service would understand.
I think relationships with others comes down to your spouse trusting you. My wife knows that she is the love of my life. She knows nothing will ever come between us. She trusts me because I have never given her a reason not to trust me. She hugs a lot of people she has relationships with, but I see that as a perfectly normal behavior because I trust her.
I will stop writing now and go on enjoying your blogs. Your writing style is truly a gift and I enjoy reading what you write. Also, if we see each other on the island again this year, don’t be surprised if I greet you and your husband with a hug.
Chris, I truly love you. Your heart for your brotherhood is just lovely. So is your relationship with your dear S.
As I said in the post, the difficulty that some of us have had with this comes from how we were raised. It left us with a lot of junk to sort through. I could almost be envious of people like you who didn’t struggle like this, but I can’t be. It’s wonderful that you grew up with a much healthier, more balanced worldview in this regard.
Adding sexual abuse on top of strict religious training was another inhibiting factor. It did make men feel unsafe to me, which is why I value those who I know are safe.
Next time you see us, we will both absolutely take a giant fire-fightin’ hug!
This is straight fire.
Thank you so much. I believe you may know the difficulty of this struggle. I also know you are working and fighting so hard for your own healing and freedom! Gives me joy to see your journey.
I grew up in “purity culture.” At a short term Bible School I attended, we had segregated chapel for girls about subjects like modesty and not being a temptation. Now I’m a mom of young sons and really want to teach them that they are in control of their choices and that they are responsible to take their thoughts captive, without making them feel like they are doomed to struggle with lust. I want them to see women as *people*, not objects. I’d love if you’d write more about this topic, especially since we are still in the conservative Mennonite culture (although I think there is a growing awareness of the problems with the strict purity culture mindset). If you know of resources that would be helpful to parents of young kids, I’d be grateful for those recommendations as well.
I have done some writing on this in the past. If you have time, you can do some digging here as I can’t recall each blog post specifically.
I went to a Bible School like that, too. We would have a lot in common. Besides, we are mothers of boys! 😀
Hmmm. Such truth. In the past I’ve had a hard time with this too, especially if the man happens to be a minister. Change is slowly coming, thankfully!
It has taken me a long time to learn these things. There are two ditches to nearly everything. Finding the middle is a good goal. I’m so glad for the things I’ve been learning.
Much needed perspective Rhonda. Thanks so much for tackling this subject. I grew up in a conservative the Amish/Mennonite circles. What you’re suggesting and teaching in this blog is unthinkable among many people I was once close to. Because of my broken marriage many years ago, I am still viewed at least as a potential predator to many people I was close to at one time. (I do believe that both my ex-wife and I have honestly repented from the heart for what both of us contributed to the broken marriage. But for many, it will never be enough. To be friends with me would be a dark stain on their public image.) It still hurts deeply after 10 years.
We were wired for connection. When that is denied, it is terribly painful. That’s actually probably what drove me to look at this topic (and some other really important ones).
If it brought this kind of change and new life to me, along with the ability to teach it to others, then I have to say it was worth it. It is God who puts that holy discontent into a human heart, along with the courage to pursue Truth.