I was divorced two years ago from a devastating relationship. I'm now at a state of recovery where I find myself being friends with both men and women. My problem comes when I find myself not knowing how to "be a friend" with a woman. As a result, I seem to desire to be too emotionally close. I think that this is due to the past marriage. I know that I'm not emotionally ready for a committed relationship, just a developing friendship.
How do you stay friends, but not lead or tempt other people or yourself? Do you have any thoughts?
Good question. Let me start by saying that I am very sorry for the pain you feel from your divorce, and I will pray that the Lord would give you peace and comfort through what is obviously a terribly difficult situation.
I know your question isn't really about this, but for what it's worth, I would encourage you to get others involved whom you trust theologically and personally (like a pastor/elder at your church or another strong Christian brother you trust) to help you think through biblically and practically how to recover and how to think through the possibility of remarriage. Part of the function of the body of Christ is to bear one another's burdens and sorrows and to give counsel for our good and God's glory. No one needs to go through a situation like yours alone.
Now to the heart of your question: How can single men and women be close friends without misleading or tempting one another? My short answer is that 1) it is so difficult that I have very rarely (if ever) seen it done well; and 2) for that and other reasons, I would not advise men and women to pursue close, intimate, one-on-one friendships. Probably not the answer you were expecting.
I know close "friendships" between single men and women are widely accepted as perfectly good and right these days, but I (and others whose views I trust) hold a slightly different view. I wrote a Boundless article a few years ago called "Biblical Dating: Just Friends" that explains my fuller point of view much better than I have space to do here, but let me try to offer you some thoughts that I hope will be helpful.
The main idea is that close friendships between single men and women almost always lead to confusion and hurt for the man or the woman or both. That desire for emotional closeness and intimacy with a woman that you mentioned in your question is perfectly right and natural. Many close male-female friendships arise because one party or the other initially feels a very normal desire for more than friendship and, for one reason or another, has settled for friendship. It's also true that even where romantic attraction did not give rise to such a friendship, it very often develops in one person or the other along the way.
Why is that? It's because men and women in close friendships tend to behave toward one another in ways that look and feel more like a dating relationship or even marriage. They're probably spending a lot of one-on-one time together and communicating by text or phone or whatever, treating each other as emotional confidantes, telling one another things they don't tell any (or many) other people, and generally getting to know one another extremely well and treating their "friendship" as a special priority in their lives. It's an intimate way to relate that in most people tends to lead to exactly the kind of emotional desire — and often frustration — that you described. You are not alone in this. I have talked to and heard from many, many people who have come out of such friendships confused and hurt, no matter how clearly the "just friends" arrangement was communicated verbally by one or both people.
There are other reasons intimate male-female friendships are problematic, but I'll refer you to the earlier column for those.
So what kinds of friendships should you pursue? I would encourage you to pursue close personal friendships with brothers in Christ from whom you can receive emotional and spiritual support, counsel, fellowship, and accountability. As for friendships with women, I would suggest pursuing fellowship with women in the context of your church community, most often in group settings rather than one-on-one. Serve in ministry together. Get a group together to make dinner. Organize other group activities.
I know that sounds less intimate (because it is), but there are a lot of satisfying and edifying ways single Christian men can serve, care for and have fellowship with single Christian women in the context of the church that don't set either person up for the confusion and frustration that so often accompanies the "romantic relationships in all but name" that are so common these days. I will pray that the Lord will give you wisdom in all this and that with respect to your divorce, He will give you the comfort that can come only from knowing Him.
Copyright 2012 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.