I'm not single and I have no business butting into this conversation...but Jen invited me! Not Alone Series is a linkup to discuss issues facing single Catholics. There is a topic each week, hosted either by Morgan or Jen. I am putting in my two cents on several fronts!
Can Catholic men and women be friends?
Obviously, yes. But at the same time, absolutely not.
Let me explain.
Friendship between Single People
When two people of the opposite sex are single and befriend one another, it can be very beautiful and fulfilling. As John and Stasi Eldredge say in their lovely book Captivating "The way femininity can awaken masculine strength - the way a good man's strength allows a woman to be beautiful- these can be offered in all sorts of holy ways between men and women who are not married to one another." This is so true! A good holy male friend can be so good for a woman, and vice versa. In my opinion, these friendships should consist largely in group atmospheres, with one-on-one time geared towards an activity rather than just 'hanging out' and minimal one-on-one electronic contact (texting, email, etc.). But if these relationships are so different, we have to wonder - what do we mean by friendship?
Many of us think about being alone together, sharing secrets and unburdening our hearts. This type of friendship - the same type we have with our female friends - cannot exist between the opposite sexes. Female friendships remain static because there is no where else for them to go - the height of female love is friendship. But this isn't so with opposite sex friendships; there is a far deeper place yet beckoning. CS Lewis wisely remarks:"When two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easy pass - may pass within the first half hour - into erotic love. Indeed unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do sooner or later." (The Four Loves)
When there are not very careful limits on male/female friendships, we end up using each other to satisfy the desires of our hearts. As St. Francis de Sales writes, "some [fond friendships] have the sole purpose of satisfying their hearts with loving and being loved, and in this way give into their amorous inclinations." Even if you say you are just friends, it is easy to enjoy the attention, the phone calls, texts, emails - easy to enjoy it because it flatters, eases an ache, feeds a desire to be wanted. This is not holy and not helpful to either party. Someone usually ends up being hurt and wounded, leaving them with greater pain to take forward into their vocation.
Friendship between a Single and a Taken Person
The observations above are why friendships between a single person and a 'taken' person tend to get odd rather quickly. You realize that you cannot offer so much to this opposite sex friend anymore, it feels awkward and inappropriate, because it feels adulterous. This is a good check to see how much you were offering to that other person in the first place, and it is easy to discover you were offering far far too much.
However, 'taken' in the above category doesn't have to mean dating or being married - it can mean the fulfillment of a religious or priestly vocation. I will say that when a male friend becomes a priest, the opportunities to deepen that relationship are numerous and can be a great blessing. Your friend is married to the Church...and that is, in a way, you.
In friendships between a single woman and a seminarian, I have a unique perspective. My husband used to be a seminarian, and was one when we met and became friends. So in this regard, I think another St. Francis de Sales quote is appropriate "Holy friendship has eyes that are clear and modest, caresses pure and sincere, sighs that are meant solely for Heaven, familiarities that are wholly spiritual, complaints only that God is not loved - all infallible marks of purity." My friendship with Mr. Oram when he was in seminary was...incredible. It blew the doors off what I thought friendship with guys could be. I became friends with him through classes, where we discovered we were one another's intellectual equal. That led to long lunchtime conversations with a group of seminarians, including Mr. Oram and Zuzu's godfather, now Father Joseph. That blossomed into long walks with in-depth discussions of texts we were reading, thoughts about the Church, the realities of sin and grace. We very rarely spoke of one another, our personal lives or ourselves - it wasn't the point. We were, together, eagerly bent on racing up the path to sainthood - and in our competitive spirit, we were laughingly racing each other!
Many of my friends (Jen included!!) say they saw that we were in love. But in all honesty, we were not. I believe that time was the most important time in all our relationship, because we built a solid friendship not on self-interest, but only on mutual love for God. We were able to do so only because I truly saw him as married (the fact that he wore clerics was very helpful) and he saw himself that way as well. We did not see one another as 'fair game' - there was no potential for romance.
And yet, when God did awaken in my husband feelings of romance, the extrication from seminary and entrance into lay life was very difficult - for him and me. It was at times confusing and hurtful for both of us, and we were often filled with feelings of doubt. I am sure we could have handled it better; we did the best we could. Love burst upon us unexpected and wholly-formed; I was suddenly overwhelmed by the intensity of my love for him. I wonder, in retrospect, if I should have protected my heart more until he had either been free to care for me or become my spiritual Father. I certainly have never had that kind of a friendship with a man before - or since.
Friendships between Two People who are Taken
Now that I am married, I have male friends - but none of them are single. I am friends with our old gang from Mr. O's seminary days, most of them now beloved priests, and with my married friend's husbands. I am also friends with my husband's single male friends, around whom I mostly act like an Italian grandmother; I seem to always be clucking at them about finding the right girl, or else telling them they're too thin and feeding them my cooking.
I have had good deep conversations with men since being married, but never without my husband present. There are many reasons for this, most of them situational - when would I have the opportunity to be alone for a long period of time with a man that wasn't my husband? If he is my friend, then he is surely my husband's friend too, and we all get together to catch up and talk. There is no reason why we can't all be together, so we always are. If Mr. Oram can't attend an event, I usually don't go (but that's just my nature) and if I do go, my longer chats are with women (mostly because I find women more interesting). I keep it light with guys - football trash talking, inquiries about families, talk of our spouses.
The fact is, as a married woman, I have a very good male best friend - my husband. He is the one to whom I rush with news, because he knows what it means more than anyone else. The idea that I would share parts of myself with other men first, or with them and not with my husband, is inconceivable. Who else knows me as he does? After you have shared a bed, been through illness, fought and made up, endured pregnancy, experienced childbirth, the joy and peace of newborn days...who else can know you like your husband? I have lost any lingering interest or desire in other men; there is no man that I look at with anything but polite disinterest in terms of emotional intimacy.
I am so grateful that my husband and I have together experienced joys that we never experienced with anyone else. Although we were never especially judicious in guarding our hearts, it happened naturally because we are both snobby by nature and have always felt isolated from others in general. Because of this, we are not replacements of another, are never compared to another, we have no shoes to fill - and I mean this in an emotional capacity. We were never so intimate with another opposite sex friend, and that has served us well. We do not trade on stereotypes of the opposite sex; we allow one another to be who we fully are, without the baggage of gendered expectations. There is no other person, lurking in the wings, with whom we miss an easy camaraderie, or to whom we compare our relationship when we are in a rough patch. We are free from pain and fear, knee-jerk responses and voices in our heads.
Men are wonderful creatures, and they offer much to women. I can see how I have been enriched throughout my life by their friendships and aid. But they were always far different than what we usually mean by friendship - that deep abiding love that comes from knowing another person very intimately. Such knowing between the opposite sexes can only lead to love, or heartache.
I encourage unmarried persons to look very harshly at their opposite sex friendships and do not be gentle with yourself. Make sure you are not using your friends for your own desires, that you are not being careless with the intimacy that deserves to be veiled from all but your husband (or Christ himself! if that is your vocation).
Thanks for letting me butt-in. :)