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Can Men and Women Just Be Friends?

Dear Dr. Warren,
As I date and search for a relationship partner I’m confronted with a recurring problem, opposite sex friendships. Before I move forward with anyone I need to clearly establish how I feel on this matter.

What is your belief about opposite sex friendship when a person is married or dating someone?
-Kelly, KS

I have always been an enthusiastic proponent of deep rooted friendships with a variety of people. I believe that in most of our lives there will be one or two (or maybe more) episodes where your good and loving friends will, almost literally, save your life. The unconditional support these close friends provide will carry you though you darkest hours, when the rest of the world has seemingly turned against you. So, at the beginning I wanted to establish my complete support for the general concept of friendship, regardless of the gender of the friends.

The question you ask Kelly is really about the sort of friendship in question and the feelings of your spouse or boyfriend.

I believe when you make a commitment to a special person you are promising, among other things, to invest most of your emotional energy in them. You are standing up before your friends and loved ones and announcing, “You and I are now one person. You will be the focus of my “verbal intimacy.” The phrase verbal intimacy may be new to you, but it just my term for the way two people share their deepest feelings, thoughts, dreams, fears and yearnings. This verbal intimacy is what bounds two people together for a lifetime.

I do believe that a man and a woman can be friends, go to lunch, work together and discuss the issues of the day, without crossing the limits of propriety. I also think that both people need to be aware that there are boundaries to that relationship, and not just the fidelity boundary. There are much more subtle boundaries that must be observed if you are going to honor your vow to invest your emotional being in your spouse.

I also believe that healthy opposite-gender friendships can happen in the presence of the respective spouses. There’s no reason that you can’t catch up with your males friends while your husband is around. I can assure you that including your husband in friendship activities will most likely completely diffuse any fear he has about the interaction. Your willingness to include him will honor your commitment and probably make him less nervous about the times that you see your friends on your own.