Sunday, August 10, 2014

perk #13 – deep friendships with the opposite sex

As I start to write this post, I’m not even entirely sure what I want to say or what title to even give this perk, but it has been the single post idea that has been rolling around in my mind for the last month. It is a realization that I’ve always known, and have had to deal with in the past, but for whatever reason it has resurfaced, and it has made me truly thankful I don’t have to deal with it at this current chapter of my life. So let’s see if you singles can empathize with this…

Have you ever been in a relationship and your friendships with the opposite sex have been forced to change or in extreme cases cut out entirely? I have, and to be honest, I understand why. I truly do. But that doesn't make it easy. I’ve always gotten along better with guys than with girls.

Don’t get me wrong, I have many amazing female friends, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. But even the female friends that are closest to me I can safely say are similar to me in that respect. We think alike and tend to gravitate toward relationships that are more straightforward, honest, and less dramatic. I’ve been told by guy friends before that I’m low maintenance and blunt, and it’s true. I’m not saying I never get worked up, and I’m not saying I’ve never found myself in the midst of drama. What I’m trying to say is that I appreciate that guys tend to be less “let me sugar coat the truth” and more “this is what I’m thinking.” I appreciate honesty. Tactful honesty…truth spoken in love…but honesty, nonetheless. I know this is probably an over-generalization, but it’s how men and women are hardwired, that’s no secret. There is a reason I seek the counsel of both men and women when I need advice. I want a well-rounded response, and men tend to be more realistic and pragmatic. When I’m seeking counsel, I want pragmatic. I am the type of personality that can see a chain reaction of events and adjust what I’m doing knowing what will happen if I stay on a specific course. So all of that to say, I appreciate my female friends and I couldn’t be without them. However, I rely on my male friends as well, and I need them in my life. So back to why I am telling you all of that. Being single means I can keep all of my guy friendships exactly as they are. That is, until one or the other begins a new relationship.

One thing I’ve always done ever since I was a kid was to wonder what life was like for other people. I’d see people out at stores, at work, school, wherever, and I’d wonder who they were, what hurts they had, what kind of home they were going back to, what they wanted to do in life, etc. I’m just interested in people and getting to know them. I want to know what makes them tick, I want to know what they love and what they can’t stand. I’m just fascinated by all different types, and I want to hear their stories and try to slip on their shoes so I can see the world from their point of view for just a little while. Why do I think like this? I don’t really know, but it’s something I like about myself. I love getting to know people. I have my close friends, yes, but I like to make new friends and get to know new people all the time. Some of those questions may come across as personal, and I suppose they are, but who doesn’t like it when someone sits down and asks “Who are you? Who do you want to be? What do you want in life?” If someone is that interested in your life and just wants to get to know you, who would turn those questions down? Not many. Except perhaps….people in relationships.

When you’re in a relationship or married, I completely agree that you have to have boundaries, be careful and above reproach, and respect the feelings of the person you are with, and I have no qualms with that at all. But here I am, single, and it’s hard for me to imagine having to essentially give up or drastically change that innate curiosity, at least with guys. My guy friends are just that…friends…and those friendships mean as much to me as my female friends. I truly believe that God did not create us to only build meaningful relationships with our same gender. But what an interesting conundrum that follows when we find the one person with whom we are going to spend the rest of our lives. The closeness and intimacy of those relationships with the opposite sex are now pulled away, and we are trapped in this state of wishing those relationships would never change, but also understanding why they need to. I’ve been in the position of being the friend who has to be pulled away from, and also the one who has to pull away. Necessary as it may be, I’m happy I don’t have to deal with that right now. I can get to know anyone at any depth that naturally forms in the friendship.

On the other hand, I am not a fool to think that feelings will never form on one side or the other. I’ve been in both positions on that as well. But does that mean we should never try to develop friendships with the opposite gender for fear of what could happen? Honestly, I used to think the answer to that question should be “yes,” without exception. In the Christian world, they use the phrase “guard your heart” to discourage this, but I don’t think that’s what this verse is really referring to (a whole other discussion). But now, I don’t believe this to be true. For us single folks, how can we possibly know when getting to know someone if that is going to happen and the friendship will fizzle out? What if that person becomes a great friend and it is 100% platonic? I certainly don’t want to miss out on great friends, and I certainly don’t want all my friends to be female. Personally, I don’t think that makes a well-rounded person. But that’s just my opinion. I have a lot of great guy friends that have and always will be just friends. And I’m thankful for them.

If you knew ahead of time that a friendship would end because of  feelings not reciprocated, would you choose to miss out on the opportunity to get to know someone new, and probably someone really awesome? Would you decide that it was not worth forging what would ultimately be a temporary friendship? I don’t know that I would. I enjoy getting to know people regardless of whether or not they will be in my life forever. But honestly, not many people will be in our lives forever. Forever is a long time, and will probably be reserved for family and our future spouses. And that’s ok. But I don’t want to look back and think of all the people I didn’t get to know out of fear that it would not end up being the one person I end up marrying. Besides, we don’t have the foreknowledge to know if that friendship will last or if it will become something more or less, so how else are we singles supposed to determine who we truly connect with if we aren't getting to know people as friends? And if feelings do happen on one side and not the other, chances are it’ll be obvious early on if you are the one not interested. So then what? How about tell the truth. (Perish the thought!) Be honest, say why, and if the friendship has to change, then that’s ok. Are you sorry you got to know a new person? I doubt it.

Forging these friendships with the opposite sex is much more difficult when you are in a relationship. Not impossible, but it’s definitely not going to be the same. You could truly have no feelings whatsoever, and neither does the other person, but it can still be tricky when you have to be sensitive of the feelings and wishes of your significant other. As a person who truly loves to get to know people below the surface level, it’s going to be really hard for me one day to realize that I can’t just ask whatever I want to whomever I want with the purpose of getting to know who they truly are.

We were created to have relationships with people, not cower away from the opposite sex because we’re afraid our intentions will be misunderstood, or because we don’t think it’s worth it because there’s no gain for ourselves. Who says it’s about us? Maybe getting to know someone, male or female, is something that other person needs. Maybe you've been through a similar situation that person is dealing with and you can offer the same comfort God has given you (this happened to me the other day with a guy I barely knew). You just don’t know. You have no idea what your presence in someone’s life will mean, even if it is just 5 minutes.

Everyone has a story and I want to know as many as I can. It’s just how I’m wired. I want to know who a person really is, the good and the bad. I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about how that comes across right now. I don’t have to be sensitive to the feelings of a significant other just yet, and I can just talk to people and get to know them without feeling guilty or self-conscious. Don’t be afraid to get to know someone because you’re afraid you might have to have the “I’m just not into you like that” conversation. You may never have to have that conversation because it’s understood on both sides where you stand. Or hey, better yet, you meet the person that is going to be your significant other. If the friendship passes, that’s ok. You met a unique person walking this earth who matters, and the connections and relationships we form in this world matter, regardless of the length of time you knew someone. 

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