I’m going to start out with: this is my opinion (and my blog). If you disagree with me, you can tell me and we can discuss via comment-section 4-ever.
Here’s an age-old question for the masses: Can men and women be friends? Like, really-friends? Not where, secretly, they just want to “take it to the next level” and the “friendship” stage is just a clever guise?
If you use your internets to research this topic, any number of popular opinion/ recent study posts will come up like, “Nahhhh, they can’t.”
Maybe, maybe. What do I know? I have, over the course of my life, conducted approximately zero studies.
But, I have read a few stories about the lives of the saints.
Maybe, if someone was to ask me if men and women could be friends, I would say something like: “Probably not, but also definitely, yes.”
Because, on the one hand, we live in a fallen world, sure. And it’s super easy for any of us to hurt anyone else/ abuse anyone else/ gossip about anyone else. It’s super easy to take other people for granted and to use them for what we most want. Sure, it’s easy.
In that way, I can see where people say: “No, friendship isn’t an option. People just get confused and hurt.”
Oh, really? Welcome to life in general.
But, in my mind, there is hope for opposite-gender friendship. And do you want to know what makes me think that? Mostly, the lives of the saints.
Have you ever heard about St. Francis of Assisi and his friend, St. Clare? St. Clare was a young woman who heard Francis be like, “Yo bros, let’s live the words of the Gospel in a radical way.”
And she was like, “Listen, how about we also have an option for women?”
And, with the mentorship of St. Francis, she started the girls-only version of Francis-inspired living in this here world.
Now, I was once reading a St. Francis biography, and it was like, “And it’s said that St. Francis and St. Clare never developed a sexually intimate relationship” and, by my word of honor, it was like the author was giving you one of those stupid winks that means, “But, you and I know better.”
And I stopped reading that biography.
Have you ever read any of the words of St. Francis? Words like:
“And all of us must keep close watch over ourselves and keep all parts of our body pure, since the Lord says ‘Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt. 5:28)’; and the Apostle says: ‘Do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit?’; therefore, whoever violates God’s temple, God will destroy him (1 Cor. 3:17).”
You know what? Maybe these two people who made life-long vows of chastity did break that vow, I don’t know. But, I kind of doubt it. Also, literally in the next line, St. Francis says that if the devil tempts any of the brothers to (in his words) “fornication,” then they should be removed from the order.
So take that, saucy biography-writer. Research again.
St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, two of the greatest theologians in church history, were deeply close friends.
Have you ever read the book Maurice and Therese: A Love Story? I have. It’s precious. Basically this seminarian wrote to the Carmelite nuns where Therese was living and was like, “Help a brother out, I need all the prayers I can get, and I’m even going to boldly ask for a specific one of you nuns to pray for me all of the time.”
And, for some reason, the head-nun (using non-church terms for you) was like, “Oh, Therese, why don’t you write to this guy?”
Even though Therese was young and he was young, and that’s kind of like a recipe for more-than-friendship, if you know what I mean.
Want to know what happened? Well, he wrote to her a bit, and she wrote to him and basically just said, “Hang in there, yo, God is good.”
And then she died of tuberculosis at 24 and became a Doctor of the Church, NBD. Oh, wait, that is a BD, it’s incredible.
This is my framework. My framework is: the world says, “Meh. Men and women can’t be friends. Also, it’s impossible for a man to be raised from the dead and to walk on water and five loaves and two fish to feed thousands.”
And I get it.
But then I’m like, “But, wait. Isn’t Christianity about the miraculous, though? Doesn’t God give us the grace to walk through fires and split water and any number of things that we’re told are impossible? Aren’t we encouraged to be saints?”
I think so, readers, I think so.
Last week I started reading about St. John Paul II. Apparently some letters have come to the forefront between him and this married-lady from the U.S.
You bet your boots I clicked a few articles. I was like, “Wow! Recent examples of holy friendship COME AT ME.”
Media, media, media, Y U gotta make sex everything and nothing all at once?
The articles were like (really, you can read them), “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, one time he wrote that he considered their friendship a ‘great gift’. ALSO, he gave her a scapular!!11!”
Guys, get over yourselves. How are you even trying to make that scandalous? How? The fact that a man would consider a friendship a ‘great gift’??? That’s the scandal?
But, I guess, what do I expect from a peoples who have no other script? If men and women can’t be friends, all they want to do is have secret affairs and stuff, then, of course, the Pope must be in on similar ideas. What else could he mean by giving away a scapular?? Eye-roll. Oh, I don’t know, maybe just: “Hey, I’m thankful for your presence and insight in my life, and here’s a small gift worth literally ninety-five cents, because you’re Catholic and I’m Catholic, and this is a Catholic-thing that Catholic-people have?”
But, what do I know. Le sigh.
It wears on you, though. Today I was thinking about grabbing some lunch, so I was going to text a friend to be like, “Thai?”…said-friend who happens to be a guy.
But then I put my phone down like, “Wait. What will he think? What will people think? What will I think? Is it just lunch? Is it more than lunch? Am I distracting him from a woman who could be his wife one day, and now he’s wasting an hour with me when he could be finding her instead, somehow?”
So, instead, I ate my lunch alone. At my desk. I live a charmed existence.
I read some Tolkien a few weeks ago (sauce) where he wrote to his son and he was like, “Men and women can’t be friends. That’s something only reserved for the saints.”
Actually, if you like reading quotes, here it is (why not, emphasis mine)…
“In this fallen world the ‘friendship’ that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This ‘friendship’ has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a ‘friendship’ quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by ‘falling in love’. But a young man does not really (as a rule) want ‘friendship’, even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps….”
And I’m over here like, “Tolkien, you rascal, saintliness is, one of the very goals of everything/ Baptism/ following Christ/ life eternal.”
Just so you know, when before saints were saints (i.e. in heaven), they walked around on earth. They made decisions and ate food and, apparently, choose to be friends with people outside of their gender-pool. *gasp*
But, it is a fine line to walk, no doubt. I might be thinking, “Hey, you know what sounds like fun? Eating Thai food and talking about art with a friend of mine.”
But the guy on the other end of the table could be thinking, “Hey, you know what sounds like fun? Taking this to the next level. She OBVIOUSLY loves me–why else would we be eating Thai and talking about art?”
Therein lies the confusion, methinks.
The path to holiness is sometimes a foggy one. It’s hard to navigate. And people can get confused and hurt.
But, I don’t know that the answer is: so let’s avoid this at all costs.
Maintaining opposite-gender friendship could be tough and confusing at times.
So is literally anything worth doing.
College is tough and confusing at times. But, it makes you a better person (sometimes).
Cooking is tough and confusing at times. But, eating keeps you alive.
Having any relationship with any person is tough and confusing at times. But, you grow through your experiences.
I should probably have just used a Juli-yeah quote to start us off, because Juli-yeah and I were talking about opposite-gender friendship a few weeks ago. She was like (paraphrased), “Sure, you might get to a point where you need to address ‘is there something more here or not,’ but, then you just work through it and keep going.”
Obviously, I can’t speak to every situation ever. What if one of the friends is married, for instance? Then what? What about one million specific, funky situations? How much should you even be sharing about your hopes/ dreams/ dietary restrictions with an opposite-gender friend? Sure, relationships are made up of individual, unique people. I can’t speak to every situation, here.
But, I can look to the saints.
Maybe male-female friendship is impossible, but we just so happen to serve a God of impossibility. Which is why I would answer with a “Probably not, but also definitely, yes.”
And so I say: Well, world, you might not believe it…but I do. I think that St. John Paul II and his friend were friends.
And, what’s more: maybe they were even excellent friends who spurred each other on in study, intellect, recreation, new thoughts…and even, even holiness.
I don’t doubt you, JPII. I don’t doubt you, Francis and Clare. I don’t doubt you, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese and Maurice, etc. etc. etc. I think you achieved holy friendship.
And I applaud you.