Who Needs Friends?

Co-written by Justin Mulwee and Dan Rubio

This is part of a series starting here. It’s hard to peg a thesis for any part of the Guy’s Guide, but our summary of the “Don’t Stay Stuck in a Friendship” section is something like this: relationships with the opposite sex must lead directly to marriage, or else they must be deliberately superficial. Either you go all in and marry someone or else maintain only a marginal friendship, talk to them about weather and politics and whatnot, preferably in group settings only (for extra emotional safety), and deliberately keep the person at arm’s length because close friendships are dangerous and maybe even morally wrong.

To the Guide’s credit, some of its reasoning is undeniably true:

“Intimate friendships between men and women almost always produce confusion and frustration for at least one of the parties involved.”

The trouble here is the implication that things which are likely to involve confusion and frustration at some point are bad and should not be attempted. To see how absurd this is, let’s just replace “Intimate friendships between men and women” with less controversial undertakings.

“Calculus almost always produces confusion and frustration for at least one of the parties involved.””

Love almost always produces confusion and frustration for at least one of the parties involved.”

He goes on,

No matter how clearly one or both of you have defined what’s happening as “just friends,” your actions are constantly saying “I enjoy being with you and interacting with you in a way that suggests marriage (or at least romantic attraction).”

Again, a kernel of truth, but it’s laced with some really ambiguous assertions. What does “in a way that suggests marriage” mean? If it means that it resembles marriage in some way, that does not contribute much to his argument. The co-writers of this article live together, cook together, and talk every day. Yet no one would seriously say that it “suggests” marriage. If he means it makes one person think the other intends marriage, it seems that the problem is not closeness, but lack of clarity. Yet he keeps gunning for friendship itself.

Confusion and frustration are at least an occasional part of most worthwhile things. The Guide’s one-sided emphasis on avoiding trouble seems to assume that non-marriage-eligible deep relationships between the sexes hold  no intrinsic value that could possibly be worth any “confusion and frustration.” However, this is far from a sound assumption. Do women really offer nothing (other than potential wifehood) in a close relationship? The relationship between brother and sister would seem a fine counterexample to any principle of relationships that assigns intersex friendships a low value. Likewise that between cousins. So it seems that there are at least some deep relationships with women that are not marriage that are beneficial to a man. If this is the case, then it seems that the Guy’s Guide is in error when it claims that the only deep relationship one should have with a woman is marriage.

Of course, someone will say “family doesn’t count, obviously.” However, St. Paul encourages Timothy to use familial language in his thinking about women he’s not married to.  The Guide actually points this out:

“I Timothy 5 describes a relationship among Christian men and women not married to one another as that of brothers and sisters.”

But then the Guide immediately says that you should only spend time with opposite-sex friends in groups. Whenever someone trots out advice for opposite sex friends, they always rely on the groups-only maxim: sure, you can spend time together, but only in groups–a sure way to remain deliberately distant. But the word “sister” implies closeness; for some of us, our sisters are our best friends. The author finally quotes the bible, but only to shoot himself in the foot.

Yet the Guide maintains that close friendships between the sexes are “arguably questionable anyway.” If it’s arguable, he hasn’t given much of an argument (I dare someone to find more than paper-thin biblical support for this).  Like many Christian relationship “experts,” many of whom seem to work for Focus on the Family, he cannot resist the temptation to hammer out arbitrary rules along with some vague implication that they are moral laws from God.

As for these writers, we’ll maintain our cherished friendships with that other half of the human race.

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

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Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

23 thoughts on “Who Needs Friends?”

  1. A couple notes.
    There is a huuuuuge gap between intimacy and only talking about the weather. It seems that you are creating a false dichotomy.

    Also I would say like most rules, there are exceptions. However as a rule it seems that it would make sense to avoid close friendships as a loose rule in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.

  2. One thing they seem to have failed to consider is the fact that while, between singles, an intimate relationship with the opposite sex may either lead to frustration or marital fruition, few people know which it will lead to, if in fact it leads anywhere. It seems to me that a single guy who took this quaint booklet’s advice might break off a friendship which he didn’t think was leading to marriage, but which very well might have done so in the natural course of time.

    What exactly is the demand which this booklet hopes to fill, btw?

  3. @ Ben

    “There is a huuuuuge gap between intimacy and only talking about the weather. It seems that you are creating a false dichotomy.”

    Where is your middle option? A friendship is either close or it isn’t. Yes, there are varying degrees of closeness, and a fine grained approach will probably run into Sorietes Pardox; be that as it may, a relationship that involves little to no one on one time or conversation has no depth. I don’t think Justin and I have made a false dichotomy; I think the above sentence has by strawmanning the argument.

    “Also I would say like most rules, there are exceptions. However as a rule it seems that it would make sense to avoid close friendships as a loose rule in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.”

    Here we have (1) a contradiction of the above contention (avoiding close friendships would seem to yield only shallow ones) and (2) a vague assertion along the lines of the Guy’s Guide. What precisely constitutes unnecessary conflict? Justin and I are both admitting that close friendships with women that don’t end romantically can and often do produce conflict. What we contend is that those relationships are worth the conflict. You haven’t addressed that contention.

  4. I can understand the difficulty in remaining close friends with a woman. In fact, I’ve even had conflict precisely about dating with one woman in particular. And yet, here we are, some years later and still very good, and very close, friends. My experience denies their naked assertions. Good work Justin and Daniel.

    I would also second Travis’s question on the demand with which this booklet hopes to fulfill. The target audience here is obviously men of our own age (perhaps wider) but I think right out of the blocks we could all use a little less of this booklet.

    Guys guide to marrying well = Guy’s guide to killing worthwhile friendships with the opposite sex

    /begin sarc

    That’s right Katherine (not her real name), we can’t be friends because Focus on the Family says so.

    /end sarc


  5. To Travis’ question:
    According to the book itself, it seems to be aimed at giving single guys in their 20s and 30s “a path that is as Biblical as possible in order to help you marry well.” It’s aimed at people like Dan and I, who are Christians out of college and single for some strange reason unfathomable to the authors.

    This is a case where the word “Biblical” is used to lend support to the arguments which in fact don’t use much of the bible. It’s okay not to always quote the bible (most of the best writers rarely do) but one should not just say “what I’m saying is biblical” as a marketing technique.

    “My experience denies their naked assertions.” I’m glad someone else said that. It was one of my primary motivations for writing this article. I know Dan feels the same way.

  6. Also, @Ben:

    I think the one creating a false dichotomy here is the author of the Guy’s Guide himself. His suggestions for what we’re allowed to do with friends we’re not going to marry are: guys can lift heavy things for women. Women can cook for men (seriously, that’s what he said). Dan and I are the ones saying it’s okay to have relationships that are less than marriage but greater than light acquaintances from the 1950s.

  7. @Justin and Dan
    Amazing article and thanks for writing it.

    I’m glad you can manage to be friends with girls even though Focus on the Family disagrees…I’d be one sad chica if we couldn’t.

  8. In addition to Travis:

    From a purely female perspective, it seems a bit mercenary that I may only have a conversation that surpasses surface material with a man if I have my eye on him. Should I evaluate all my male relationships based on whether or not they may get me up the aisle? This seems remarkably selfish and self-centered.
    Also should I then be worried that every conversation I have with a man has an ulterior motive? Is just wanting “a ring” from a girl anymore than a sterilized version of just wanting “sex?”
    On both sides it seems like you are not thinking of the other person as a “person” but as a means to an end- your own security in marriage land.
    That’s just depressing.

  9. @Faith

    As much as I dislike the mentality that all close relationships should be severed or end in marriage, I think your view of marriage and of those who prioritize it is a bit bleak. I think just wanting to get married–wanting total companionship and lifelong commitment–is miles away from just wanting sex.

    I also don’t think being eager to get married is selfish. There are many people who just want to get married to an acceptable person sooner rather than later, and I say more power to them. We shouldn’t assume such poor motives on their part.

  10. Nice article. I agree with you guys for the most part. I think men and women can be close friends, but there is a degree of emotional intimacy that should be reserved for marriage, and that line is easy to cross. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what that line is, but I have trouble finding that line myself. I can respect what this guide is trying to do in guarding marriage as something sacred, even if I don’t agree with it entirely. Sometimes I think we can take it too lightly.

  11. Tia, I’m inclined to agree with you that there is a degree of emotional intimacy that should be reserved for marriage. I also confess that I don’t know just where that line is. I know it causes a lot of people to get hurt and many of them never see it coming. That’s something worth thinking about in a friendship.

    The trouble with the Guy’s Guide is that it tries to pin it down and create some sort of rulebook about what’s “allowed”. Any such rules–meant not for a specific relationship but for all relationships–are bound to go wrong at some point, especially when those rules seem rather arbitrary and ridiculous, e.g. women can serve men vegetables in exchange for help moving their furniture… That’s not really friendship at all. But obeying rules is easier than having good personal judgement.

  12. @ Justin and Daniel

    I enjoyed reading your post – well thought out and written. I have always assumed that Elisha and the Shunemite woman were friends,(excuse me quoting the Bible on this one Justin),

    2Ki 4:8- 11 And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.


    Luk 4:25 – 26 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.

    Though only a little is said on your topic, the ‘Friendship’ chapter of C.S. Lewis’s ‘The four loves’ is well worth a read.

  13. Thanks John. Your examples make me want to read 2 Kings. Sadly, I’m not very familiar with that portion of the Old Testament.

  14. I’m curious about this emotional-intimacy-reserved for marriage bit.

    I have the same intuition. However, the following would seem a problem:

    1) Is it a true human need or is it not?

    I think we would want to say that it is. However, if that is the case, then what of the never-married? Are they doomed to have this need unmet? And what of the unmarried, what are they to do about this need prior to marriage? It would seem rather odd if it were a true human need but only appeared in the context of marriage

    So, perhaps it is not a true human need. Perhaps it is only a treat for the married. But if that’s the case, why is it only for the married? Presumably it’s not an issue of morality, because I suspect some kind of Sorietes Paradox/vagueness objection would be insurmountable. So maybe commitment is the real question: only the committed can be in this sort of relationship because of its depth. That seems plausible, but that would also not reserve it for the married only; perhaps a monk and a nun might share this level of intimacy, with Abelard and Heloise (look them up) as a prime example.

    This might still exclude it from the unlikely to marry each other but hoping to marry someone else crowd, although it might not.

    I’m not really offering an argument or articulating a position here so much as I am thinking out loud. Thoughts, anyone?

  15. I think intimacy is a true human need, but that this intimacy can be found in different ways. Both the never-married and the unmarried are meant for intimacy with God and other people, just as much as the married. I believe this can be found in a degree between men and women, but especially with friends of the same gender, and ultimately with God. Men and women who are married will experience intimacy in ways non-married people will not– perhaps in deeper ways. If physical intimacy is reserved for married people, and the never-married will never (or should never) experience that kind of intimacy, I don’t find it hard to believe that a certain degree of emotional intimacy is reserved for marriage as well, off-limits to the never married. In that case, I think it comes down to having faith that God will not leave His never-married people hanging, but supply them with what they need in their relationship with Him and others. Just my thoughts.

  16. @ Daniel
    Am I right to use the term ‘false dichotomy’ of the two options you offer for emotional intimacy as either a true human need or a treat for the married? I think I can see two errors here, firstly not all the married have this need met. Secondly the two options do not allow for the possibility of it being a true human need that can be met by intimacy with God.

    @ Justin
    The second reference is to Elijah and can be found in 1 Kings 17

    @ Justin and Tia,
    You are assuming that intimacy lies on a linear scale with the fine line somewhere along its length. I doubt you can have a more intimate dialogue than Jesus and the Samaritan woman but they did not end up holding hands.

    To clarify my earlier comment, I should have said that what little there is on this topic in the friendship chapter of the C.S. Lewis book ‘The Four Loves’ is, (I think) sufficient to address the fine line question. Briefly, some friendships can be more intimate than some marriages but it is a different type of intimacy.

  17. @ Tia

    “I don’t find it hard to believe that a certain degree of emotional intimacy is reserved for marriage as well, off-limits to the never married.”

    As I said, I find the above statement highly intuitive, but trying to analyze it brings up the problems I’ve raised: If it’s a true need, it will necessarily be unmet; if it is not a true need, we still need an explanation of why it is only for the married.

    @ John

    If I have posed a false dichotomy, you haven’t shown it. You’ve simply stated that there is a sort of deep human need that can be met by either God or a spouse. That is not the same statement as the one I was examining.

    And I still would like to know, if there is this sort of intimacy reserved for marriage, why it is that it is reserved for marriage.

  18. @ Dan

    I thought my previous comment addressed these concerns, but maybe I wasn’t clear. Intimacy in general, being a true human need, can be met in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. That is not to say that the degree of intimacy experienced in marriage is a true human need. I believe marriage is an extraordinary gift, not a right/need, and that God chooses to bless some with it. That does not mean that the unmarried will necessarily have the need for intimacy unmet. Those that do not experience intimacy in that way or to that level can still experience intimacy with others and find that need satisfied. And ultimately, God is the only one who can truly satisfy the human craving/need for intimacy (and on a much deeper level than the most intimate of marriages), and He is available for both the married and the unmarried. I think that addresses your concerns, or else I’m missing something and apologize for being redundant.

    As for why God would reserve a deeper level of physical and emotional intimacy for marriage, I would say that the union between and man and a woman is something exceptionally holy and sacred in the eyes of God. A godly marriage, I believe, should be deeper than any other relationship– friend to friend (regardless of gender), parent to child, brother to sister, etc. But that is just my opinion, and I could be wrong.

  19. @ Tia

    Basically the question I am asking is: what is it about marriage that gives it exclusive rights to a certain level of intimacy? I certainly agree that marriage is holy and special to God, but there is still logical space between that and the claim we are examining (that marriage has exclusive right to a special sort of intimacy).

    Basically I’m asking for an analysis of marriage that shows why it is that the married couple has the exclusive right to a certain level of emotional intimacy. That’s a different question than the ones that people have so far attempted to answer.

  20. Tia, your original answer was clear (and insightful), and Dan already agrees with you. But Dan is asking something else, as he said above.

    Dan, a philosophical conundrum of the depth you pose here will probably not be solved in a comment thread.

    But, for the sake of it, an easier way to get closer to Dan’s question is to ask: What intrinsically makes sexual immorality immoral? Yes, God said so, but why? Yes, it hurts people, but why?

  21. Gah, I wish I’d been paying better attention to this site. I could have been involved in this discussion from the get-go.

    I think what’s most frustrating here is the underlying assumption behind avoiding these sorts of friendships because they cause confusion and frustration: the avoidance of pain. We should avoid these sorts of intimate relationships that don’t lead to marriage (read: eternal blissful happiness!) because we might get hurt.

    I wish I could say it more eloquently, but really, that’s the stupidest way to run your life. Avoid something just because it might cause you pain? Alright, sure, it’s good to avoid putting your hand in the meat grinder. It’s good to avoid jumping out of an airplane without checking your parachute. Those are good types of pain to avoid – the stuff that would kill you.

    Avoiding a relationship/cutting off a friendship because it might cause you pain is one of THE most selfish ways of going through life. Do I have “intimate” friendships with guys who have hurt me in the past? Yes, yes I do. Would I be the person I am without those relationships? No, no I wouldn’t. If all I was about when it came to friendships with the opposite sex was looking at marriage potential and trying to avoid frustration and confusion, then I am refusing growth as a person. That frustration and confusion has helped shape me into who I am today, and I wouldn’t change it.

    That said: There also seems to be the underlying assumption that relationships that lead to marriage don’t have frustration and confusion in them? I mean, really? All the marriages I know that work are the ones where frustration and confusion happens, and the people DEAL WITH IT. Marriage is not a free pass to avoid hurt in a relationship.

    Sheesh. I have a lot more to say about how these things reinforce archaic gender roles and are just generally old-fashioned and out of touch, but that’s another argument for another day.

  22. @Dianna

    On this site, “old-fashioned” and “archaic” are never pejorative, nor do they weigh negatively against the things of which they are predicated. It may be that some aspects of traditional gender roles are correct and some aspects of modern gender roles are dead wrong (and vice versa). The question is not whether something is old or new but whether it is right or wrong, true or false (and how we know); anything more comes from the evil one.


  23. I have a lot of friends of the opposite sex, and we get along in a totally non-sexual way. Who needs friends, you ask? I do, and so do most sociologically normal people on our planet.

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