How can I back off a friendship?

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Scott Croft

How can I back off a friendship?

Aug 04, 2015 |Scott Croft
Question

I've recently started looking at Boundless, and it's really been changing how I look at relationships. One of the main themes that has affected me is the idea that guys and girls shouldn't become too emotionally intertwined unless they're pursuing and getting closer to marriage.

I hadn't thought too much of it before, but I can see how using a girl for emotional intimacy without any commitment steals from my desire — and therefore, courage — to actually pursue a woman for marriage.

I'm a guy, and one of my closest friends is a girl, but she isn't someone I would consider for marriage. We do share plenty of common interests, but she doesn't live out her faith — a major source of tension in our friendship and a deal breaker for me as far as wife-potential goes.

I've known her and been good friends with her for years, but the only reason why we're still really close is because I'm just too nice to leave her hanging. This would be less of an issue to me if she had other godly women speaking into her life, but she doesn't.

Another problem thrown into the mix is that I'm also close to the rest of her family (mother plus a younger brother and sister). I'm over at their house at least two or three times a week, and the whole family absolutely loves me.

How can I back off of the emotional intimacy we have without causing unnecessary hurt to her and her family, especially considering that she sees having an emotionally intimate relationship without commitment as a positive thing rather than something stealing from her future joy?

Answer

Thanks for writing — this is a tough question, and it seems to me there are a number of possible steps to take here.

As a first principle, I agree with your assessment (implied in your question) that you should significantly dial back your friendship with this woman. To quote the concept I've written here on several occasions,

I believe it is extremely difficult and rare — as a practical matter — to [maintain godly] close, intimate friendship between two single Christians of the opposite sex. That's true because intimate friendships between men and women almost always produce confusion and frustration for at least one of the parties involved. The extensive time talking and hanging out one-on-one; the close knowledge of the other person's hopes, desires and personality; the sharing of many aspects of each other's daily lives and routines; these all tend to involve means of relating that are appropriate for marriage — but not for relationships with (non-family) members of the opposite sex.

Based on your question, I would also add to the normal array of concerns about such a friendship (the likelihood of confusion and hurt mentioned above, discouraging one or both people from pursuing godly marriage, etc.) the possibility that your friend is not a believer. Obviously, I don't know your friend personally, so I don't want to speak too strongly on this, but your broad comment that she "doesn't live out her faith" gives me serious pause.

Sometimes when people come to me with the dilemma of a friendship that has gotten "too close" but that is not headed for marriage, one of the possible solutions is to actually try and head for marriage rather than to go the other way and back away from the friendship. But given your comment about your friend and the Bible's clear instructions that believers are only to marry other believers (1 Corinthians 7:39), I wouldn't advise moving that direction at this point (as your question rightly recognizes).

Bottom line, it appears (at least for now) that the wise way to proceed — though certainly a difficult one — is to end your current level of contact with this woman and significantly back away from the friendship. To me, that means not regularly hanging out (especially one-on-one); not texting and talking daily; and generally ending the type of conversations and other interactions that reflect emotional dependence on one another, that would not happen if either of you were married or dating someone else and that tend to cause confusion and "steal the desire," as you put it, for marriage.

Your question seems to share that larger conclusion (if not the specifics), though you are rightly concerned about how to do it without deeply hurting this woman and her family. So what to do?

While there's no getting around the difficulty of the situation and the coming conversation(s), I think there are ways you might proceed that could lessen the hurt and (possibly) maintain part of the good collateral relationship you seem to have with your friend's family.

1. Pray.

Do not underestimate the effectiveness of prayer. Pray about all your actions and conversations in this situation before you have them. Ask the Lord to help you be faithful and wise; ask Him to bless your conversations and to bring good in the lives of all involved. Pray that your friend would be saved and/or would start living faithfully as a Christian. The Lord answers prayer and blesses faithfulness in the face of difficulty.

2. Care for your friend's soul.

Your friend might not respond well to your efforts, but have the courage and kindness to prioritize her spiritual good in all this anyway. Remember, if you are truly of the conviction — as your question suggests — that a close emotional friendship between the two of you is ultimately not good for either of you, then dialing it back (not keeping it going) is actually the kinder option. Explain your view of faithfulness in matters of dating and friendship and why you have come to the position you have. Make sure you are clear that your decision regarding the friendship is not because of any deficiency in her, but because you care for her and honestly believe this will be better for both of you.

Depending on how the conversation goes, you might also take the opportunity (either in that same conversation or a later one) to lovingly challenge your friend about the disconnect between her claimed faith and her life. This is tough and takes finesse, but your conversation might present an opportunity.

If you know the Gospel, then you know that no one is ever saved by works, but the Bible does have a category for "faith" that is superficially claimed but not lived out in any meaningful way. The Bible regards such "faith" as false (Matthew 7:21-23; Galatians 5:16-24, 6:7-8; James 2:14-17). Again, these conversations are tricky, and you may decide against going there. But if you are truly concerned about your friend's spiritual state, you might pray about how to serve her in that way.

And take heart: I know of at least two guys who challenged a woman friend in this way and ended up married to her. Remember, your friend's immediate response may not be positive, but that doesn't mean you weren't faithful.

3. Consider ways to care for your friend's family.

Finally, think about whether and how you might continue to love and serve your friend's family. You might consider having a separate conversation with your friend's mom if you think that would be fruitful (that might be more likely if the mom is a believer). I don't know what ages her siblings are, so I don't know exactly what would be appropriate, but you might think about appropriate ways to continue spending time with them.

I suggest you seek specific counsel from a mature believer who knows you well and might know the situation to figure out what might work. The answer, especially in the short term, may be "nothing," but it's worth thinking through.

I praise God for your efforts to be faithful in a difficult situation, and I will pray for you to have wisdom.

Blessings,
SCOTT CROFT

Copyright 2015 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.

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