A recent ad campaign for a men’s body wash had some people shocked and offended. It made a not-so-subtle play on words by demonstrating its ability to clean sporting equipment, namely, balls. Adult humor rarely shocks or offends me (usually because I’m too busy snickering at it) but I understand people’s objections to the needless sexualization of a toiletry item. I get that it can be offensive to assign sexual meaning where none exists. People do it to each others’ friendships all the time.
The question of whether heterosexual male-female friendships can remain platonic is one that comes up among my married female friends a lot. I think we ask it often because we recognize that these friendships can be so valuable yet the answer can feel so uncertain.
I’ve heard answers ranging from “It’s too dangerous” to “Maybe if you’re moral enough” to “Yes, without question.” Some answers just seem ridiculous: Stuff Christians Like author Jonathan Acuff likes to joke about the side hug, employed to avoid the “risk of two crotches touching” during a heathenly “full-frontal” hug. He’s also written, “When you get married, you’re suddenly thrown into all these awkward opposite sex friendship moments.” Of course, everyone who offers an answer brings with it his or her own experiences. In my experience, marriage hasn’t made opposite-sex friendships awkward; it’s made them better.
Before I was married, my friendships with guys often had a silent question mark hanging above them. Sometimes the question mark was mine; many times it was theirs. But since I’ve been married, there has been no room for iffy punctuation. The ring on my finger has made the firm impression of a period above any mixed-gender friendship. And I think that brings a wonderful freedom to simply be friends.
I became friends with Chris after I got married and before he did. We aren’t friends within a couple; we’re friends in our own right. Our friendship is built on common interests and commitments, some which our spouses share and some which they don’t. We have conversations that our spouses are not part of, and these conversations never border on topics or tones that would be inappropriate. And although we are not couple-friends, we both sincerely like each other’s spouse and desire to become friends with them as well. This desire is not to bring some missing sense of propriety to the friendship but, rather, it is borne out of appreciating each other to the extent that we find value and enjoyment in getting to know the spouse he or she has chosen.
So when people inappropriately sexualize male-female friendships like ours by suggesting that it could be dangerous, I’m taken aback– shocked and offended, even. The idea that men and women can’t enjoy a friendship without fear of becoming lustful is akin to suggesting a person ought not be friends with someone wealthier for fear of becoming envious. Just because there is one required factor present does not mean there’s a full equation.
I’m not naive. I know that some male-female friendships can lead to romantic feelings. But to insist that all are dangerous is to slander the ones that are pure.
When Chris and his wife, Amber, came to visit from New York after five months, the first thing I did when I saw him was give him a great big, full-frontal hug. A side hug would have been an inappropriate welcoming. I was just so happy to see my good friend– sporting equipment was the farthest thing from my mind.