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Intersection of Life and Faith

The “Just Friends” Dilemma

  • Felicia Alvarez Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2011 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
The “Just Friends” Dilemma

Life can be perplexing at any age. I am a twenty-something writing a book about the complexity of my generation’s relationships, so I’m always on the lookout for creative illustrations of confusion.

My spirited ninety-year-old great-aunt, Tia Carmela, speaks only Spanish. Although she did attend English classes for many years, for some reason, she never got past “How are you?” This language barrier often leads to confusion when we take her places where people only speak English — like my church.

One Christmas Eve, we invited Tia Carmela, who’s never been a regular church attendee, to a beautiful, serene candlelight service. I passed the communion plate down the row towards my great-aunt, and I proceeded to reflect on the seriousness of the moment. When the communion plate reached her, Tia Carmela, seeing the ample supply of crackers, grabbed a handful. Cupping them in one hand, she used the time generally spent in silence to chow down on them. I guess she was in need of a snack. And I was in desperate need of a pillow to suppress my laughter as her crunching echoed through the church.

To Tia Carmela communion was confusing, and she managed it the best she could. Modern relationships sometimes present us with a similar dilemma.  The communion plate of opposite gender friendship is passed to us, and we don’t know how to handle it.

A Perplexed Generation

At one time, an exclusive friendship with a member of the opposite sex was significant; it indicated a relationship most likely heading towards marriage. But today, we’re confused. We make a jumble of it and often, in retrospect, look rather foolish. Let’s look at an example.

In addition to seeing Peter each Tuesday at the 20’s Bible study, Leila played tennis with Peter on Wednesdays and grabbed dinner with him after a jog around the lake on Fridays. She assumed, with all the time they spent together and the seemingly mutual attraction, that they were moving towards a serious relationship.

Peter, on the other hand, viewed Leila simply as a friend and he had no intentions of pursuing a romantic relationship. They both said they were “just friends,” but they each had a different definition of what that term meant.

Not In My Dictionary!

“Just Friends?” As you saw with Peter and Leila, two individuals of the opposite sex can have completely different perspectives on their camaraderie. That’s why it’s so important to have defined relationships, so you both know where you’re at. If you’re “just friends,” there’s often confusion, you’re never sure who’s going to do what when — if ever.

Are co-ed friendships even a good idea? Well, casual acquaintances are generally fine, but deep friendships with the opposite sex are not necessarily the smartest idea. By deep friendships, I mean those where you pass the casual friends line and delve deeper into a close bond, sharing many personal life details with each other.

What’s the problem with this? Spending regular one-on-one time with a member of the opposite sex promotes an intimacy that should be reserved for marriage. Remember, God designed us to have a deep friendship with only one person of the opposite sex: our spouse. God did not create a bunch of Eves for Adam to have intimate friendships with; he created Eve. Period. One woman for one man.

The Bigger Picture

Another thing to consider is that being too buddy-buddy with a person of the opposite gender can actually lower your chances of a romantic relationship with them or with another person. For example, why would a girl agree to enter a relationship with a guy who spends most of his evenings with his best friend, Melissa? Or consider Sally and her pal, Steve. If Sally is meeting Steve’s emotional needs, why would he bother to ask her out?

Young people today often become emotionally close with the opposite sex without considering any kind of commitment to protect that intimacy. And this undefined friendship trend—rooted in emotional promiscuity—yields negative effects. It’s actually a contributing factor to the escalating “living together” rate, which is now at 7 million[1].

One reason today’s couples drift into these pseudo-marriages is because they don’t take the time to clarify their relationships and futures. So the “living together” trend often begins as a small seed of an undefined friendship. If we don’t define our emotional boundaries with the opposite sex, it’s unrealistic to expect that we would define physical boundaries. Definition matters a lot more than we think.

“Friends” in the Bible

In Scripture, undefined relationships between men and women were virtually non-existent. For the most part, relationships had specific definition and purpose. Jacob didn’t ride up to Laban’s house on a camel and say, “Come on Rachel, my friend, we’re going to go hang out with some church people down at the river.”

Most “friend” situations in the Bible ended up with disastrous results. Samson defined his “friendship” with Delilah as love, while she regarded him as nothing more than another coin in her pocket. The result? She betrayed him, surrendering him to the Philistines as a prisoner.

How does this apply to our relationships?

Now, this doesn’t mean we should run from opposite-sex friendships. It just means that we should guard our hearts — and future marriages — by avoiding intimate one-on-one time with members of the opposite gender. Consider keeping your relationships with the opposite sex brotherly/sisterly, just like 1 Timothy 1 describes: “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters” (1 Timothy 5:2, NLT). A helpful way to do this is by asking ourselves three basic questions:

1.      Would I say this to her if I were married to someone else?

2.      Would I treat him like this if his wife were sitting here with us?

3.      Would I write/type/text this to another man if my husband were watching?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).


[1] Sharon Jayson, “Cohabitation numbers jump 13%, linked to job losses,” January 27, 2011, USA TODAY. Accessed at usatoday.com

Felicia Alvarez is a twenty-something author who is passionate about reaching her generation for Christ. She graduated summa cum laude from Liberty University and is currently working on her second book which addresses the intersection of worldview and Christian relationships. Her mentor, Pam Farrel says, “Felicia is a talented new voice bringing wisdom to her generation.” Actively involved in discipling youth in her community, Felicia speaks to youth and parents at church and homeschool events throughout the US .