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He Said-She Said: What's Up with "Just Friends"?

  • Cliff Young & Laura MacCorkle Contributing Writer & Senior Editor
  • Updated Dec 15, 2010
He Said-She Said:  What's Up with "Just Friends"?
EDITOR'S NOTE:  Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a reader with responses from a male and female point of view.  If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please click here to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).

QUESTION:  I meet a lot of women in particular who are fixated it seems on having "just friends" relationships. What's that all about? Is there reluctance on the part of Christians to embrace any notions of romance? I don't get it. Maybe we've all been burned too often by others. I see a world of relational ills—here-not-here behavior, failure to honor others by returning phone calls/e-mails, saying one thing and doing another, and the list goes on.  I am close to giving up on male/female relationships.  Am I alone in this?  I wonder.

HE SAID:  First of all, you are not alone with your sense that many people want to be "just friends," with your desire of giving up on relationships or with your experiences of impolite behavior.  Many singles, Christian or not, often entertain these thoughts or have received these responses in their social interaction.

In your case (and for many of us, male or female), there could be a number of reasons why others have responded in this way.

  • They have been hurt and are overcoming a difficult relationship.
  • They want to concentrate on their career, ministry or developing friendships.
  • They don't feel they are in a place emotionally to get involved with you.
  • They are afraid (possibly of being rejected later).
  • They are waiting for the right person.
  • They don't feel a romantic attraction.
  • They aren't interested.

Many of us have been on both sides of this exchange and have had additional motives for not wanting to get involved with someone at the time. 

Right or wrong, let's "just be friends" has become the universal "softer" approach of opting out of a relationship without disclosing the "real" reason for not wanting to get involved.

Rejection is difficult no matter what side of the conversation you are on and none of us necessarily want to hear (or state) the latter responses; however, whatever the basis a person doesn't respond to your romantic advances, don't take it personal. 

I have found it is better to discover early where the friendship is leading rather than carry on a long-term relationship to find out later the other person was thinking you were "just friends." 

For many relationships ending in this way, the bottom line is one person didn't see the other as their "life partner."  And that's okay.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't think you should have to "convince someone" into going out with you.

If we are truly seeking God's best for our life, why aren't we doing the same for ourselves and helping others to do so as well? 

As many of us grow older, we can't help but find ourselves "backed up" against the age clock or challenged by what "everyone else" is doing; however, it should not dictate or cause us to take an action other than what God wants us to do and created us for.

Sometimes I find myself, and see others, (almost) settling for somebody (or something) other than God's bestThis doesn't mean anything negative against the other person or thing.  It means I didn't have the patience to wait for God's timing in this matter.

Oftentimes we see happy successful couples who we would have never put together ourselves, yet they are perfect for one another.  At other times we see failed marriages and can't understand how it could have happened between two wonderful people.

There is nothing wrong with developing friendships before entering into a dating or romantic relationship.  You can do a great deal of learning about and courting a woman prior to a first "date."

We have all met someone of the opposite sex who may not have immediately "intrigued" us romantically or been someone who fit "our idea" of who we are looking for, but over time and getting to know the person we have grown to find depth, heart and connection.

Don't allow anyone or anything to dictate the type of person you pursue.  We may miss a person who God chose for us because they didn't "look like" what we had envisioned or didn't "come from" where we had expected.

Instead of viewing "friendships" with the opposite sex as a runner-up award, treasure the friendship and seek ways to honor her and God through the relationship.

Whatever the reason a person may "just want to be friends" is their reason.  You can only control your own actions and reactions.  Don't give up on friendships or the desire for a relationship.  Treat others in a way that honors God, not in spite or malice.  Care for your sisters in Christ in every relationship.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Psalms 31:24).

SHE SAID:  I love/hate the "just friends" qualifier.  Love, because it's something that is such a sign of our times and worth some commentary.  And hate, because it can be easily misused and misinterpreted.

Boiling it down, why do women respond by saying they want to be "just friends" with you?  As a woman, I know why I have said this before.  Because I have been approached by someone with whom I'm not interested in anything more than friendship and feel like I must define the relationship and make this clear upfront, so that the other party will know that I do not have romantic feelings toward him.

Perhaps some of your female friends feel the same way.  And even at that, saying you want to be "just friends" with someone certainly does not mean that romantic feelings could never develop over time.  But sometimes a man already has strong feelings for a woman, and she is just not there yet.  Or maybe she never will get there.  Only time will tell.  Thus, a woman may feel that she is being courteous by telling a man upfront how she feels.  Maybe in her mind it's like putting a sticky note you both can see on your relationship ("Don't forget!  We're just friends.").

That is how I have felt every time I have shared the "just friends" message with someone who I thought was interested in me (beyond friendship).  I knew I wasn't interested (romantically), and I indicated that spending time together as "just friends" was only what I would agree to doing.  But that was all.  Capice?

Some of the "ills" you refer to can be quite annoying.  However, I also think it would be unfair to say every unreturned phone call or every time someone's words don't seem to match up with their actions that there is something wrong or that the other party (you, in this case) has a right to be offended.  I would argue that these "ills" must be examined on a case-by-case basis, and that we also must factor in a margin for error and misinterpretation on your part (‘cause we've all read some situations wrong before, right?).

For example, perhaps a woman has not returned an e-mail or a phone call, because she is trying not to lead someone on.  Or perhaps an interested party keeps e-mailing and e-mailing and e-mailing.  Or calling and calling and calling.  By not answering, then a message (albeit a firm one) is sent.  She does not want to encourage an interested party's pursuit.  If you need further proof or need to do more recon work, take note of how a woman you are interested in (but who may not be interested romantically in you) acts around you in person.  Does she keep a distance from you and does not seek to engage with you in conversation?  That could be a clue as to how she feels about you.  (Yes, she could also be shy, and that's where friends will come in to play—if she likes you, they will know and it won't be long before they'll let you know.).

I agree with you that it is frustrating to run up against the "just friends" barrier—especially when you are interested in someone.  First, we must acknowledge that there just might not be any chemistry there, and if so then we must take the uninterested party at his or her word and respect that decision and that boundary. 

Also, I believe it's possible that women are just as commitment-phobic as men.  Men seem to always get tagged with this label, but I believe there are plenty of women who are also afraid of relationships and emotional intimacy with someone else (even though they may not be conscious of this in themselves).  Yes, many of us have been burned by romantic relationships and even by familial relationships or by divorce.  We have some residual trust issues to continually work through, and we aren't so quick to hand over our hearts as others.  But then, some of us are too over-protective of our hearts—which means we are walking a fine line between living in fear and trusting the Lord as he leads and shows us who he is guiding us toward (if he is).

Finally, it's possible that you just haven't met the right person.  Perhaps God is protecting you from unhealthy or unbenefical relationships right now and is blocking these potential opportunities by surrounding you with women who want to be "just friends" with you.  I think it's possible.  He may want you to not be in a relationship right now and to be less distracted and more available to work on yourself or your relationship with him.  I know for me, in seasons of singleness (when I have not been dating someone), I have been more attuned to God and what he is saying to me in my life.  Yes, it can be lonely and frustrating at times, but I can see how I have grown spiritually and how my relationship with the Father has deepened and enriched my walk when my time and devotion are freed up to focus solely on him. 

My advice to you is to stay out there and continue being friends with the "just friends" women.  Why not?  You never know when the blinders will come off and someone's "just friends" feelings could change.  If God wants someone to see you in a different light, then he will make it so.  Also, you can learn a lot about the opposite sex when you're in "friends" mode.  You are more relaxed and so is your "friend."  No one is trying to impress anyone, and you are more likely to be yourself (which enables your "friend" to really see you as you are and vice versa).  Being "just friends" can only help you in further defining the type of spouse you may be looking for and, if God wills, also in preparing you (relationship dynamics) for a healthy and hopefully successful future marriage.

HE is … Cliff Young, a contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades.  He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.

SHE is …
Laura MacCorkle, Senior Editor at  She loves God, her family and her friends.  Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one. 

DISCLAIMER:  We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals.  We're just average folk who understand what it's like to live the solo life in the 21st century.  We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life's questions, and it's where we'll go for guidance when responding to your questions.  Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!). 

GOT A QUESTION?  If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, PLEASE SUBMIT HERE (selected questions will be posted anonymously).  While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that He Said-She Said will be an encouragement to you.

**This column first published on November 25, 2010