Is friendship important in a relationship?
I met a guy online, and we have been getting to know each other better for the last two months. I visited him where he lives two weeks ago, and things went really well between us. It seems we both like each other, and we are a good match.
However, he doesn’t see a friendship between us. He is looking for a close friendship with the woman he is dating, and he has been struggling to see that between us. He doesn’t think we relate or connect well. I haven’t seen this, and it seems to be a new revelation for him. Do all relationships start with the two people being really good friends? Can that develop over time? Why do I feel like I connect and relate well with him even though he doesn’t feel that way?
Thank you for your questions. Though you can’t know what will cause this man to turn toward you with affection and though you can’t control how he perceives you or your friendship, you can do your part to invest in him with kindness. Regardless of the romantic outcome of your relationship, be a friend to him.
I took this approach with my husband, Steve. When we first met, I made note of the book he said he was reading, and I went out that day and bought a copy to read. I wanted to enter into his world enough to be able to ask good questions, to be able to have natural conversations with him. Those conversations initially built on my asking him questions about his interests, beliefs and hopes, revealed a lot of commonality. Discovering we both liked talking about ideas, had a shared interest in politics and its effects on culture, and loved the Lord fed our friendship.
What do you and this man have in common? Do you have shared interests, hobbies, concerns, convictions? If not, or you haven’t discussed them, that may be why he doesn’t feel a connection with you. If you don’t know, ask more questions. How he responds to these questions will hopefully tell you if he’s genuine about wanting to build a friendship or merely trying to back out of the relationship without hurting your feelings. It’s time for you to do some discerning. Is he wanting to correct something he perceives to be a problem? What, if anything, is he doing to cultivate friendship? Is he trying to develop your relationship, or is he simply giving the reason he wants to move on?
I’ll never forget the time Steve and I were out to dinner and he said, “What if we run out of conversation?” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“What do you mean?” I said, worried that he was giving me a reason we wouldn’t be good together.
“You know, you look around restaurants and see old couples who eat without talking, without even looking at each other,” he said. “If we get married, what if we run out of conversation?”
By this time I knew how central our animated conversations were to our friendship and now budding romantic relationship. We had so much to talk about I couldn’t imagine a day in the future when we’d run out of words. I assured him that while I didn’t think it was possible we would ever run out of conversation, the ability to be quiet together on occasion is a sign of a healthy relationship, too.
His concern grew from past dating relationships where the conversation didn’t flow naturally, where the romantic connection outpaced the relational one. He wanted to marry a friend. This is a good goal. Friendship is not always the starting point for romantic relationships, but friendship is the best building block for marriage.
Hopefully this man’s concerns stem from his desire for such a foundation and not just a way to back out of a relationship that he isn’t into. But even if the relationship ends, you can learn from it and use what you learn going forward. As you do, keep these things in mind:
Being friendly doesn’t guarantee you will become friends.
I’ve met many interesting, kind, godly people over the years who at first seemed would become close friends. Sometimes they do. But not always. Some reasons are logistical: not having enough time, living too far apart, or merely not having the occasion to meet regularly. Some are relational: we don’t connect as well as we thought we would, we don’t share much in common, or we don’t get along. Some promising friendships never blossom.
Good friends are a blessing, but not the norm. That’s true in part because we live in a fallen world marred by sin where relationships are hard to cultivate. Like the thorns and thistles foretold in Genesis 3, our relationships naturally produce strife, tension and turmoil. It takes great care and effort to nurture healthy, whole, God-honoring, life-affirming friendships.
Friendship is rich soil for romance.
Not all relationships grow from close friendships, though it’s nice when they do. The companionate nature of friendship, especially friendship in Christ, can be rich soil for marriage. Many romantic relationships, however, start out on the basis of attraction. The ones that mature into friendship have the makings of a good marriage. For this reason, it’s worth working at developing your friendship with whomever you are dating. And conversely, if you decide to date a friend, it’s worth cultivating attraction.
Solomon captures the best of both worlds: “His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 5:16).
Your question is a reminder of the added challenge that meeting someone online can bring. You can think you know someone well after revealing yourself through email correspondence and Skype conversations, but relating in person always turns out differently than you expect. It’s simply not possible to fully represent yourself or fully comprehend someone else in a two-dimensional digital world. Now that you’ve had some time together, you’re better able to invest in him as a friend, praying that if it’s meant to be, God will enable your friendship to grow.
As with a garden, you can plant seeds of kindness, interest and conversation. You should work to cultivate the soil of Christian friendship and pull the weeds of misunderstanding. No crop grows without the work of the farmer. But in the end, the farmer is dependent on God for rain and sunshine, just as you are dependent on God for the mystery that leads to flourishing friendship.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, co-founder with her husband, Steve, of Boundless.org and co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They have four children and blog at FamilyMaking.com.