How can a man and woman be 'just friends'?

advice header image

How can a man and woman be 'just friends'?

Apr 13, 2009 |Candice Watters
Question

Several years ago, I was dating a man who actively pursued me for marriage. Just around the time that I warmed up to the idea of marrying him, he changed his mind, and in my opinion was very insensitive about the whole situation. ... I've worked to forgive him, but when I let go of my anger toward him, my mind just drifts to wanting the dating relationship back.

This is all complicated by the fact that he has recently been trying to contact me. Usually after he contacts me, I end up daydreaming about marrying him — though he never mentions marriage and has said that he no longer has romantic feelings for me. My problem is that I don't know how to interact with him as a "friend" and keep my heart in the right place.

More recently, I've been spending time with a different man. For much of January and all of February we have gone out nearly every weekend, and he called me regularly. Then, he admitted to me that he is still somewhat involved with his ex-girlfriend — a woman he had considered marrying — and he is deliberating whether that relationship can/should be salvaged.

So — I severed the relationship with him as well. He would still like to go out and have a "friendly" relationship — but I don't want to do that — for two reasons. 1) I am looking/hoping/praying for a husband, and I don't think that hanging out with men who are not free for marriage is the way to get a husband — and 2) I honestly don't know how to keep my feelings at bay when interacting with a guy that I can seriously consider as husband material.

In the case of this most recent guy, we really did have a friendly relationship — it wasn't overtly romantic, but he is definitely someone I could consider as a husband. He wants to continue to spend time with me, and there is a part of me that would like to spend time with him. Moreover, it seems like a shame that I'm missing out on his friendship and companionship simply because I can't keep my feelings toward him in the appropriate space for "friends."

I feel as if I am right to limit my contact with these men considering my runaway emotions and lack of ability to interact well in that fuzzy space between "just friends" and "committed romantic relationship." Still, I just feel like my runaway emotions are keeping me from having two friends. What should I do?

Answer

My inbox is full this week of letters from women like you wondering how they can hold on to their good friendships with men who've recently let it be known that friendship is all they're looking for. I can understand your desire to still spend time with one or both of these friends because up till now, they've filled an important role in your life.

By the time I "pulled a Ruth" on Steve, our friendship was intense. We spent time together daily and talked about all the most important and interesting things in our lives. We shared dreams about the future, prayed together and encouraged one another. It would have seemed impossible to walk away from all that.

But if he had responded to my DTR with, "I don't want anything more; just friendship," I would have had to walk away. Why? Because what I wanted even more than friendship was marriage. And I knew that if I kept nurturing our relationship, in a situation where he didn't want it to move beyond friendship, I would have given my best to something that was, in the end, a dead end.

Friendship is great. It can be a strong foundation for a romantic relationship. I even talk in Get Married about how women often overlook men in the "just friends" category as potential husbands. But if a friendship has stopped progressing from "just friends" to something more — especially if that male friend has come right out and said he does not want anything more (read: romantic) — then at that point, the friendship can go from promising to poisoning.

What does it poison? Opportunities for marriage to someone else.

The temptation is to hold on to the friendship, agreeing that it won't ever become anything more, even when you secretly hope it will. Why? Because it's hard to let a relationship you've invested so much in go. Because it means you'll have to start from scratch with someone else. Because it may mean some lonely weekends without a pal to hang around with. But it's worth it if it means you're staying on track for getting married someday. A pal is nice. But if you're called to marriage, a husband's better.

And I know from my own experience that when you spend all your time with your best male friend, it's highly unlikely that any other man will pursue a date with you. Whether he intends to, your male friend is in effect taking you out of circulation in the market of eligible women. He's also likely putting wear and tear on your heart. Both lack integrity and amount to defrauding you.

Again, he may not be doing all this on purpose, but regardless of his motives, the outcomes are the same: You're not in a good position to marry well.

And for your part, you're likely relating to him as you hope to relate to your husband someday. Even if your interactions remain physically platonic, it's unlikely that as a relationally-wired woman, you'll be able to keep from some level of emotional intimacy. And that's not a good thing.

In "Just Friends" Scott Croft wrote,

No matter how clearly one or both of you have defined what's happening as "just friends," your actions are constantly saying "I enjoy being with you and interacting with you in a way that suggests marriage (or at least romantic attraction)." The simple reality (of which most people are aware, whether they admit it or not) is that in the vast majority of these types of relationships, one of the parties involved either began the "friendship" with romantic feelings for the other person or develops them along the way. Either way, that person is now hanging on to the "friendship" in the hope of getting something more despite the "clear words" from the other person that he or she wants nothing beyond friendship.

Maybe you are giving your emotions free reign. In that case, pray for stability and clear headedness. But keep in mind that none of us interacts well in that fuzzy space. And that fuzzy space in your situation exists largely because the men in question are asking you to give them what they have no right to seek: namely, intimate friendship. What they desire is best had in the context of a loving, serving, godly marriage. They are selfish and sinful to seek it anywhere else. As are you.

Stop settling for a counterfeit with men who've already said clearly that they're not interested in you for marriage. Let those "friendships" go lest they block your progress toward marriage even further.

I pray God will embolden you to do so.

Blessings,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

If you have a question you'd like us to consider for this column, please send it to editor@boundless.org. Please note that all questions we select for this column may be edited for clarity and privacy and become the property of Focus on the Family.

Donate

Like what you see?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, will you consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Boundless right now? We’re a donor-funded ministry, and we rely on friends like you to help keep us going! DONATE NOW »

References
  • .

THE BOUNDLESS BUZZ

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and see all our latest content every Thursday.