“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” ~Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally
I was a senior in high school when that movie came out and I knew Harry was full of shit. And so is the Vice President.
In Kindergarten, Phil and I would run around the playground at recess pretending to be The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, making the “nun-nuh-nuh” sounds as we ran. Other days, we’d tie our hoods around our necks (back when coats had those strangle-your-child cords in the hoods), arms out, our coats flying behind us like capes and be Superman and Wonder Woman.
In Second Grade, I played Princess Leia at school, at the park, with my cousins…we never played anything but Star Wars for two years straight (yes, it was in theaters that long), and being the only girl, I was rather type-cast. I wish I’d had the prequels cause I’m *totally* Jyn Erso.
In third and fourth grade, my BFF was Jamie. We played at every recess. We made up stories, we played in the woods behind our school, we talked about our horrible little sisters (I love you now, sis! I swear!)…but that’s also the first year I learned that something about this was seen as wrong.
“Jamie and Jeny, sitting in a tree…” the taunts would start. It was very clear that we were not *supposed* to be friends. At the end of fourth grade he moved to Canada. We’d talk on the phone. He invited me to come visit, but I wasn’t allowed to go. Our friendship fizzled over time and distance.
In middle school, it got worse. There were guys at church I was friends with, but it was always about who liked who. I’d still go hang out with a few of the boys, watching dumb comedies (my devotion to 12 year-old humor lasts to this day), and playing video games (I sucked, but didn’t care). They would tell me all about their crushes, and I’d give them advice on girls (like I was an expert). It got harder and harder to do that though, ’cause girls would get jealous and boys would feel awkward.
In high schoool, I was a football and wrestling trainer and they told me EVERYTHING. I became a go-to-gal for dating and sex advice. I think in part because having a nurse for a mom, I knew actual facts about sex and birth control and they trusted me with their questions and fears. I’ve also never been particularly embarrassed about talking about sex, so that made me a safe person to talk to. But a lot of the time, their girlfriends didn’t like it. Or my boyfriends wouldn’t. Those boyfriends didn’t last.
As an adult, I continued to foster male friendships, yes, even after I got married. Since I married a man I’d been friends with in high school, he knew this aspect of me from the get-go, but I wouldn’t have married him if he told me I couldn’t maintain those relationships or tried to control new ones.
I met a man through my daughter’s swim team who was hilarious and full of energy. I quickly discovered he’d lived a most incredibly diverse life, so I asked him to go to dinner with me and tell me his life story. Over a long evening of beer and pizza at one of my favorite bars, he shared tales of adventure, sadness, perseverance, and integrity. He is one of my favorite people ever and when he sees me, he calls out, “My Jeny!” as he greets me with a smile and a big bear hug. The richness of his life and experience would have been lost to me if either of us (or our spouses) were so narrow as to prevent us from going to dinner together just because we are the opposite sex.
There’s the man I’ve known since high school. He’s *my* friend, not my husband’s. They weren’t really friends back then, though they are friends now. When he hit a very rough patch of life, we would talk on the phone, go out for lunch or dinner, text and email, all to help him process grief and pain. I’d call him out when he was acting like a tool and held his hand when he was hurting. He sent me flowers in gratitude. At a time when he needed me, I could be there for him, and it never occocured to either me or my husband that I wouldn’t be.
And there’s my Emergency Back-up Husband. My family has lived next door to his family for eleven years now. We travel together, we stay up late playing cards, or talking by the campfire. Yeah, most of the time, the four of us do things together, but there are times it’s just him and I. I’ve argued with him, seen him cry, and we flirt ’cause it’s fun. He is one of my best friends, a second dad to my kids, the guy I turn to when I need computer help, and whom I can *always* count on to have his mind right down in the gutter with my own. We have the same tastes (not so much music, but pretty much everything else) and we both love his wife very much.
My life has been far more fabulous because I never allowed my friendships to be limited by genitalia. Fully half of the people you know are of the opposite sex and could be giving you perspective, history, insight, experience, beauty, humor, and above all, LOVE. Why on earth would you deny yourself that?
Not only can men and women be friends, they *should* be friends. The world is broken in part because somewhere along the way we decided to see one another as sex objects first and people second. We only come together for courting, marriage, and mating, otherwise keeping to our spheres. At one church I worked for, the kids were separated by gender in Sunday School starting in third grade. Bible studies stayed separate until high school and college, y’know, when you need to find your mate. Adult bible studies were once again segregated in order to “avoid temptation”. There’s also the diabolical heteronormativity of all of that which is even more disturbing.
Intimacy isn’t sex. And intimacy isn’t wrong; it’s actually the goal. We are called to live in community. Jesus did, with men and with women. We are called to love each other fully, which means knowing our stories, sharing our pain and our triumphs and that only comes from talking one-on-one, building trust, sharing a meal. Believe it or not, even if sexual urges do develop, they don’t have to be acted on. You can be close friends with someone you are attracted to by choosing to see them as more than their sexuality and managing your own urges.
Today I read on Facebook someone saying that social rules about men and women for Christians are important because we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I agree. My standard is that my intimate friendships are built on the beauty of one soul connecting with another, regardless of the body that soul is housed in. I don’t mind being held to a higher standard. I mind being held to a lower one.