Friendship, not marriage
During a workshop at Torrey Conference 2012, Jonalyn Fincher speaks to a packed out gym on how to have healthy cross-gender friendships. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES
At Torrey Conference during my freshman year, Jonalyn Fincher spoke on the importance of cross-sex friendships. It remains the most helpful and intelligent session I have attended at a conference, ever. She argued for the importance of cross-gender friendships because they allow us to see reflections of God’s person that we could not otherwise see.
Friendship, according to her definition, should increase delight. It allows us to make a thoughtful effort to better see and know a particular person. By doing so, we practice the part of us that sees and knows others so we can better delight in all of our relationships.
She also offers a series of warnings and qualifications. Relationships have become sexualized to such a degree that any form of cross-gender friendship is automatically assumed to be romantic and honestly scandalous. But, as Fincher puts it, you can only marry one person. If your only interaction with the opposite sex manifests in searching for a potential spouse, your opportunity to develop the skills necessary to have healthy cross-sex relationships becomes limited to that particular context.
But her talk happened two years ago, why bring it back up? Well, I think our campus has not yet learned how to have healthy cross-gender friendships. But they remain just as necessary. I think a large part of the overpowering push for serial dating and early marriages comes from a deep brokenness we all feel and sadly misappropriate. Maybe, instead of looking for spouses, we need to have someone of the opposite sex who sees us and knows us.
I think those two things follow actually different processes. Dating, as far as I understand it, seems like a fundamentally romantic and exclusive form of friendship. Dating relationships exist under particular circumstances and carry particular kinds of weight.
At Biola, most of us date to get married. We run the risk of letting all of our meaningful interactions with the opposite sex occur only in preparation for a particular life-long covenantal commitment.
Now, I am about as pro-marriage as they come. But what do I say to my guy friend who wants to cultivate female friendships but does not feel ready to get married — I mean date? Honestly, he may have very few options.
Cross-sex friendships offer us an opportunity to subvert false cultural pressure. Men and women ought to be, and in fact are, more than sexual objects. And we need each other. We need to have people in our lives who choose us, see us and know us, and we need them to come from the opposite sex as well as from our own. We need to be able to grow close to people without having to marry them.
The longings I feel to develop intimacy with people, to live in community and to love those around me are all so common in our Christian discourse they are almost clichés. And yet, my need to have close female friends, who are not my girlfriend — and who will not become my girlfriend — feels deeply inappropriate and even controversial.
It should not be so. As a community, we should endeavor to increase our love for the family of Christ around us. Yes, our family has weird quirks, and yes some people are not ready for cross-gender relationships but we cannot continue to artificially block off an entire area of potential loving relationships because we are scared or because we feel awkward about it.