Is it possible friendship between a man and a woman?
No, say some: you can not ignore the physical attraction. Of course, others are sure – those for whom a relationship without ambiguity is important. What is the place of sexuality in a relationship between friends of different sexes?
Are man and woman friends? A hundred years ago, that was hard to imagine. He and she lived in different worlds, not really knowing each other outside of a married couple. Then women started working, schools introduced coeducation, and everything changed. Our contemporaries are getting married much later than their ancestors (or not formally married at all), and we are devoting more and more time and space in our lives to friendship.
“Our need for friends is sharper than that of previous generations, and our opportunities to maintain friendships are greater because a person without a couple has time to do so,” writes Norwegian philosopher Helge Svare in her study. – For many of us, friends rather than family become the fulcrum of life.”
“Friendship between a man and a woman is now something to take for granted,” comments psychoanalyst Serge Efes on the changes that have taken place. – Boys and girls from early childhood understand each other well, they are close emotionally, and it often happens that the “best girlfriend” becomes a boy. But this is not about sexual attraction. It is born out of difference, whereas friendship is born out of likeness.
So with adult men and women in the friendship of the foreground similarity of characters and interests, and the attraction is put out of the brackets … although it does not disappear
“There is no eroticism in it,” the psychoanalyst continues, “and at the same time friendship cannot arise if he and she do not feel attraction to each other. A friend is someone who knows us inside out, to whom we can open our souls without embellishment and without concealment. Friendship is easily circumvented without the secrecy that is necessary for sexual desire to arise.
“To desire another is to feel that his physical structure has nothing in common with mine,” explains psychoanalyst and sexologist Catherine Blanc. – This difference creates a distance between me and the other person, which I seek to fill with sexuality. But with a friend is different: unconsciously we seek to re-experience the tenderness, the intimacy that we once experienced with parents, brothers and sisters. And we leave the field of sexuality so as not to provoke a situation of incest.”
“We’re looking in the same direction.”
Tatiana, 44, a makeup artist, and Ruslan, 43, a manager
Tatiana: I have been friends with boys since childhood. With them it is more interesting, comfortable, understandable. I also like men’s perfume, I can dress like a teenager, I used to wrestle, now – boxing. Men don’t depend on my mood and they always help me figure out what’s important and what’s secondary…
I’ve been friends with Ruslan for 25 years now. We are only friends! When I feel unwell, I call him, I go to him. What for? To calm down, to cry… To play backgammon, to talk about soccer. To laugh – for sure. We know each other very well, we’ve been through so much together. We literally look in the same direction.
A husband cannot become a woman’s friend in the full sense of the word: with a partner it is impossible to open up to the end, otherwise the mystery necessary for the relationship will be lost. And why be a mystery to a friend? My spouse is relatively relaxed about the fact that I am friends with Ruslan. But I understand how difficult it is to accept our relationship my friends’ wives.
When Ruslan was in a serious relationship, his wife asked why he had my picture in his apartment in a prominent place. He replied that I was like a sister to him. Then she asked me where my sister’s picture was. And she was right: no one knows how I would feel about my husband’s childhood friend if he had one. It’s probably not even jealousy or suspicion that we had or have something, just any woman would not want to share her man…
Ruslan: When I met Tanya we were 18 years old… We spent a lot of time together and were very close, but there could be no intimate relationship between us – because Tanya married my friend. We are united by our youth, by everything we experienced together – both good and tragic… The death of my friend, who was her first husband, my trauma – at 22 my leg was amputated…
But if our relationship had sexual overtones, our friendship would not have lasted so long. We are good old and very reliable friends. It’s easier for me, of course, because I have no family now, and she has a husband and three children… Although, when I have a long-term relationship, my girlfriends don’t really like Tanya’s presence in my life. They don’t understand, they are jealous, they are suspicious. Maybe it’s because Tanya is difficult, she is categorical, straightforward, and can say a lot of things to my eyes…
I am well aware that relationships like ours are rare. I like the fact that I can tell her everything, ask her advice, see some situation through her eyes. Tanya is a wise person, she thinks clearly, and she notices details. She is always there to help.
Of course, I can’t help but notice a woman in Tanya. She is bright and beautiful. She always has been, I don’t deny it. But I don’t even have the urge to turn the relationship into something else. She is a good, reliable friend to me, and I am grateful to her for what she is.
Friendship between a man and a woman: is it possible?
“Friendship between a man and a woman is impossible. It probably happens between saints…” – believed Ronald Tolkien. Arthur Conan Doyle put it even more harshly: “Friendship between a man and a woman does not honor the man and deprives the woman of honor.” The debate about this phenomenon is far from over. Why is it treated with suspicion, what is its insidiousness?
What is the basis of friendship? And should husband and wife be friends? We talk about this with a psychologist, Deputy General Director of Psychological Services “Family Good” Gleb Valerievich Slobin.
Nature or a masquerade?
Gleb Valerievich, in your opinion, is friendship between a man and a woman possible in principle?
If you put the question so impersonally, “in principle”, then you can say: “Yes, it is possible. But friendship is a personal relationship between specific people. And, as it seems to me, not every person is capable of it. I recall the words of St. Paisius of Svyatogorsk, who tried to treat any woman as a mother or sister. Such was his ascetic experience. But not everyone is ready to accept this experience.
The gospel teaches us that man has three parts: body, soul, and spirit. After the Fall, the harmony and subordination of these levels of human existence was lost. Today, therefore, the content of one’s experiences in friendship depends on which of these components one’s aspirations, dreams, notions, to which one’s heart is directed in the first place: the coarse, egoistic, carnal or more refined, soulful, or his experiences are predominantly spiritual in nature. As a rule, they are all mixed up in our souls, and in order to preserve friendship we must treat this mishmash very carefully and soberly.
So the danger, then, is that a relationship may cross the line of friendship against some moral obligation or against the wishes of one of the friends?
Yes. Say, if I, as a man, value a woman as a friend, if I am already married, or have given my word to my fiancée to start a family, it is a matter of moral obligation to resist the bodily attraction in my soul to a friend of the opposite sex. It seems to me that this is a matter of ordinary, human morality and certainly a matter of Christian duty.
Let’s define the concepts: what is friendship and what is the romantic side or carnal attraction, how do we distinguish them?
Yes, let’s try to draw the line. I perceive friendship as a special relationship in which the main thing – openness, trust, naturalness and equality of people.
In what sense is equality?
In the sense that in friendship there is no hierarchical relationship, which is present, for example, between parents and children or (but of a different nature) between spouses. I do not mean that hierarchy is a hindrance to good relationships, no, of course. But there is no hierarchy in friendship.
Naturalness means that friends don’t play any roles in front of each other, they don’t need to pretend, to make themselves out to seem better. We know what our friend is like, and we accept him as he is. Moreover, it is the friend who can tell us directly about our shortcomings, and from this, strangely enough, friendship can only become stronger.
In addition, friendship has such a feature as respect for personal freedom. If a friend does not want to communicate with you now, he does not have to do so. But, of course, if you are in trouble, a friend, on the contrary, by the very essence of the friendship relationship must support you.
If the signs listed above are present, then it is friendship. And here, in general, it does not matter whether the friend is a man or a woman.
Right. And where does friendship end and romance begin?
Romantic relationships are different. First of all, in my opinion, their motive is exactly eros, the sphere of sensuality. And, accordingly, the goals are different: the creation of a family, the development of close relationships. Secondly, there is an essential idealization of the other person. In contrast to the friend, the person in love tends to see the other through rose-colored glasses, not noticing some obvious moments in his behavior, in his personality. Third, in a romantic relationship, the young man and girl almost involuntarily put on masks, trying to look as good as possible. The man can – if he is brought up classically – play the role of the protector. The girl can play the part of a courtesan or a weak, even exquisite, girl, depending on how she presents herself. In general, there is a “theatricalization” of the relationship. This is the qualitative difference from friendship.
Finally, if a friend can freely tell the truth, even unflattering, then in a romantic relationship it is typical for people to emphasize the side of the other: agree with the other in almost everything, say compliments, emphasize the rightness of the one who likes, show that you certainly understand and support him (her).
Would you say that these are two different needs, friendship and romance?
I’m not sure they are diametrically opposed. The attraction to one another that God put in the soul of Adam and Eve after the fall into sin exists in every human being and is manifested apart from our will. But friendship, and even more so love, is something that cannot arise without conscious and sometimes very difficult efforts on the part of man himself.
I would say that attraction is the initial impulse, which a person can transform either into friendship, with the help of certain efforts, even with the help of asceticism; or into love, but again through friendship, because, in my opinion, marriage without friendship is a very strange relationship, if it is possible at all.
You talk, on the one hand, about the possibility of ascetic efforts, and on the other hand, about the fact that attraction between a man and a woman exists by default. So are these things controllable or impossible?
Attraction manifests itself apart from our will – in the form of thoughts, images, experiences. Another thing is that having noticed them, it is important for a person to decide how to deal with these experiences: either to let them go on their own, or somehow to stop or modify them. Everyone has the ability to monitor the harmful movements of the soul and fight them, at least not to give them the full will.
Where to begin?
For example, the first question that you can ask yourself is: “What interests me in this person? What attracts me to him? What do I like about him?”
But we all tend to be deceived!
Yes, true. Still, everyone has the skill of self-observation, and you can give yourself a minimal test. For example, imagine your friend/girlfriend comes to you and says, “You know, I’m in love/have a crush!” How would you feel about that? If you treat this person in a friendly way, then most likely – joy for him/her, curiosity. And if there is some carnal attraction in the relationship, then the experience will be different: either jealousy or anger…
Yes. Another question you can ask yourself: if, God forbid, the health, beauty, attractiveness of my friend or my girlfriend faded – how would I feel? Would I still be interested in communicating with him or her? Would I feel a chill in my heart? If our goal is to learn the truth about ourselves, to better understand ourselves, such questions can open our hearts to ourselves.
Photo by Vladimir Eshtokin
A little bit about distance and the Geneva Bible
Let’s say we’ve dealt with ourselves. But what about a friend or girlfriend if the change is on his or her side?
We really can, without noticing it, provoke a friend of the opposite sex into falling in love. With what eyes he looks at us, we most often do not know. We can only guess. There are signals which, taken together, may give us a clue. For example, a friend begins to play a role unusual for him, to embellish himself. Or shows more initiative than usual to meet more often. Or from him / her more often you can hear compliments, or some jokes with a hint of romantic relationships. Maybe the person starts looking for reasons to touch you more often, and does it when appropriate and inappropriate . All this could mean that the friendship is mixed relationship, it is not inherent.
How best to act in such a case?
The question is really not an easy one. Because if you “cut to the quick,” that is immediately severing the relationship, it will hurt everyone. Pretend like nothing is happening? Slowly, unhurriedly, increase the distance between you and your friend? In my opinion, if we call ourselves friends, then we must, as far as possible, and remain friends, that is, maintain equality and not decide for the other that is best for both of you. Friendship is, after all, trust and mutual responsibility of two people. It is best to choose a moment and talk openly. Say, “Look, what’s going on? Maybe it just seems to me, but I notice that you somehow behave differently than usual in relation to me. Tell me straight out – maybe I’m wrong.” It seems to me that openness and honesty, these essential qualities of friendship, will help here either to restore the friendship or, sad as it may be, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. It may happen that after the conversation, the previous relationship will no longer exist.
But there is no need to tear the friendship forever! You can agree, for example, to communicate only in company, so that besides the two of you someone else will be present. This attraction to a friend can be situational and will pass in time. But it is possible that your relationship will never be the same: such losses, unfortunately, part of our lives.
Is there a “safety technique” to avoid getting into such a story?
It is, for example, to initially keep a certain internal and external distance. How much distance? This is something a person decides for himself. Let’s say, the optimum distance to show friendly feelings, but not to seduce the other and not to be seduced himself. If we are talking about distance, I have noticed how in the last 15-20 years the form of greeting teenagers, boys and girls has changed. In my childhood and adolescence, I don’t remember a boy and a girl kissing each other on the cheek when they met. Now it is a common practice.
There is a saying among Protestants: the minimum distance between a girl and a boy should be equal to the thickness of the Geneva Bible. By the way, a very thick book! Don’t we risk going to the extreme, becoming Puritans?
No, bodily contact in friendship does exist, there is nothing wrong with it. But, in my opinion, it should be very accurate, limited, or something like that. It is important to maintain inner sobriety. For example, holding hands – this gesture can be present in both romantic and friendly relationships. Nowadays, the tradition of kissing the hand of ladies has practically disappeared. I think it was a wonderful sign of respect and friendship, acceptance, nevertheless leaving a certain distance. Again, internal and external distance is necessary in a friendship between a man and a woman, if we want to keep it pure, without false expectations and worries on one side or the other.
But I want to note that if there are no moral and other obstacles, the friendship can be a very good ground for creating a family. It is wonderful when young people have the experience of perceiving each other not through the “rose-colored glasses” of falling in love, but it is in friendship, that is, they learn many of the advantages and disadvantages of each other.
Husband and wife as friends
Is friendship in marriage a necessity or a nice bonus?
Marriage without friendship, in my opinion, is incomplete. Without friendship, without openness, without being able to share my experiences with my husband/wife, I find it hard to imagine a happy family!
I remember one lady who came to my appointment, not because of family problems, but during the conversation it was clear that her relationship with her husband was purely functional: everyone does his job, and they do it well – they have no claims against each other. But there was no desire for spiritual and mental unity. This woman did not even tell her husband about her worries, fears, depressions, with which she came to see a psychologist. People can live this way for many years. And then one of them wakes up from his emotional slumber and he wants understanding, care, affection, just even a warm glance. But he is not there! And a feeling of loneliness and loneliness grows in a person.
And he begins to look for affection and understanding somewhere away from home, right?
Exactly. This can provoke a person to seek sympathy from other people. And the experience of, “Oh, how my friend/friend understands me!” – can really be a big temptation for both the man and the woman in that situation.
What’s wrong with that? Friends are just for understanding. A woman in a friendly way can advise a man on something.
Yes, that’s true. And, by the way, talking to other people, including friends of the other sex, can give a man more and to understand his spouse. Sincere friendship can enrich family life, a woman friend can tell a man something that will make him see new facets of his wife – as a woman and as a friend.
But this is all with the correction of the need to remember distance. Because it’s not uncommon in these situations for the kind of friendship, empathy, and sympathy to grow into the attraction we’ve been talking about. The person may be enchanted: “Finally, the one I’ve been waiting for all these years has arrived! He understands everything, and supports me, and won’t say a word against me! It is clear that this can lead to the collapse of the family. And then disappointment in your new soulmate. After all, relations of “friendship and love” is not the same as marriage: the latter must work very hard. For some reason, people often believe that marital happiness should take shape by itself. It happens that each of the spouses is expecting understanding from her husband or his wife, but it does not make any effort. But it takes a lot of work on both sides, and it takes serious work.
So in order to really get rid of the experience of loneliness and misunderstanding, it is necessary to do everything possible to build this relationship in the family.
And what if a person in twenty years of marriage is so used to his spouse that he knows him like a peel and he is just not interesting?
When we feel like we know our spouse through and through and only habit is left in the relationship, it doesn’t mean that we’ve gotten to know our significant other to the core. Rather, it speaks to our blindness. That we look at our spouse through the narrow slit of our perceptions and have lost the living feeling that this person is a whole special world, a whole universe, that he or she is still able to surprise us with something.
Everyone feels a certain potential in his soul, a liveliness, and very few people can say about themselves: “You can know me to the last line, to the last comma. And the same experience is in any other person! It is important to want to see it!
Does the desire to regain friendship in a marital relationship have to be mutual?
No, not necessarily . One can certainly start to act, and that’s probably what usually happens. This is not a diplomatic relationship, you don’t have to look for parity and act on the principle of “as you treat me, so I treat you.” The first thing to do is to tell your husband or wife honestly: “I miss you as a friend.” I think if a true friendship has existed, it is so important that sooner or later the person will want to restore it.
The husband and wife are not just the master and mistress of the house, not just the father and mother of their children, they are still the people who once loved each other. They are also friends still. And that variety of relationship is important to maintain. Plan family affairs so that there is an opportunity just to look into each other’s eyes, laugh at a joke, remember interesting events of common life, go somewhere together. This is an important part of any family’s life. And friendship.
God’s unappreciated gift.
Well, to summarize: the friendship of a man and a woman is possible. But you have to be careful not to lose or lose it.
I think the word “sobriety” is more appropriate. Sobriety in relation, first of all, to yourself, secondly, to your friend. Understanding that our heart is not free from the passionate drives that can harm friendship.
We are indeed different, men and women. But that’s the beauty of it! Because friendship between us has a different quality, a different connotation than friendship between only men or only women.
In our conversation, I had an idea – maybe it’s debatable. The very possibility of friendship between a man and a woman, the very fact that we are discussing this question at all, is one of God’s gifts to men. Because Christianity places man and woman as persons on an equal footing. And it seems to me that it is the spiritual life as an opportunity to rise above carnal impulses that reveals the prospects for friendship between a man and a woman.
What do you mean by that? We are not saints to rise above carnal urges, are we?
Yes, we are not saints. But we believe and see that the ability to “soar” is not an illusion, but a reality. We can “soar” by leaning on Christ’s love and respect for the other sex. What we need to do is work on our friendships, cleansing them of all the extraneous, unnecessary things (which can be not only carnal interest, but also self-interest – communicating with a person for the sake of the circle in which he or she lives, for his or her connections, money, etc.).
I think we underestimate friendship as a phenomenon. Sometimes we tear up friendships over nothing, or we try to mix them up with other relationships. But many poets, writers, and thinkers have thought about and appreciated friendship! One can recall the spiritual friendship between St. John Chrysostom and Deaconess Olympias. Nowadays there is little talk about this in society, more about love relationships, and more of a dubious nature. But it seems to me that everyone should think about friendship. Ask yourself the questions: do I have a true friend? Do I need it or not? How would my life be different if I had a friend? Or, conversely, how would it have changed if I did not have a friend?
In that case, different social situations, gender, age and beliefs are no obstacle to friendship.
Yes. There are examples where the age difference between friends is very great – an older person befriends a younger one. Or friendship is “inherited” – for example, I have a very warm relationship with a friend of my father’s, his age. Probably every believer has at least one unbelieving friend. This seems to me to be not a question of age or outlook, but of interest in life and in the personality of the other person, of a desire to learn about the world and to see it as fundamentally unknowable. In fact, it is a whole adventure – the risk of opening one’s life and entering one’s life yourself!
So friendship, in my opinion, is really a gift in our lives that has an independent value and does not dissolve in any other relationship. If we have it, it is important to nurture and protect it.