Young People Ask . . .
‘Can’t We Just Be Friends?’
“THERE’S nothing going on between us.” claims Marie.* “We just chat. What’s the world coming to if you’ve got to be leery of everyone? You might as well live like a shut-in!” Marie’s rather strong assertions came after someone warned her of the dangers of spending time in a car alone with a boy her age. Obviously, she did not appreciate the warning. She thinks: ‘What possible harm is there in just being friends?’
Michel holds a somewhat more sober view, especially since his experience with his pretty next-door neighbor Louise. The young man explains: “We had a very close relationship but with no thoughts of marriage. However, I rapidly found myself in a terrible turmoil—I just could not get Louise off my mind. My feelings were getting out of control! So one evening I told my problems to a friend who offered to put me up that very evening.” Removed from the ‘danger zone,’ Michel was able to think a bit more clearly about where his friendship was heading.
It is just as Dr. Marion Hilliard stated years ago in The Ladies’ Home Journal: “An easy companionship traveling at about ten miles an hour can shift without warning to a blinding passion going a hundred miles an hour.”
The Bible urges young men to treat “younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:2) Many have successfully applied this principle and as a result enjoy clean, wholesome friendships with members of the opposite sex. They are careful to keep their relationships within reasonable bounds. But what happens when such a friendship goes out of control? A previous article warned of moral consequences that can result.* Fortunately, most Christian youths would not allow matters to go that far. There can, however, also be emotional consequences.
Sixteen-year-old Mike learned this when he developed a relationship with a 14-year-old girl: “At first, we just wanted to be friends. But as I quickly found out, two people cannot stay just friends when they keep seeing each other exclusively. Our relationship kept growing and growing. We soon had special feelings for each other, and we still do.” Since neither is in a position to pursue marriage, those feelings are a source of much frustration. No wonder that Mike asks: “Should I try to break it off?”
‘But I just don’t feel that way about my friend,’ someone might object. ‘I’m not attracted to him [or her] and would never get romantically involved with him.’ Perhaps. However, the proverb warns: “He that is trusting in his own heart is stupid.” (Proverbs 28:26) Our hearts can be treacherous, deceptive, blinding us to our true motives.
Through his prophet Jeremiah, God warns us of this: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it? I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, examining the kidneys, even to give to each one according to his ways, according to the fruitage of his dealings.”—Jeremiah 17:9, 10.
One young Christian girl, for example, became quite friendly with a young boy at school. She reasoned that this was fine because she would share thoughts from the Bible with him. But it soon became apparent that the boy was interested in more than talking about the Bible. “Through no fault of my own,” she claims, “he has become more and more close to me.” As far as she is concerned, though, the feeling isn’t mutual.
Interestingly, though, the girl admits: “My mother insists on believing I’ve fallen for him.” Mothers are a discerning lot. And doubtless this mother sees that her daughter is pulling the wool over her own eyes. After all, is it reasonable to think that the girl would be so adamant about maintaining the relationship if she wasn’t emotionally involved? And even granting a sincere interest in helping her young friend, can she say that his strong feelings for her are ‘no fault of her own’? The book The Family, Society, and the Individual observes “that it is the male who is attracted more readily.” Even innocently turning on the charm can easily arouse a male—emotionally and sexually.
The same thing happens when a young man pays particular attention to a young woman. Women may respond to attention from the opposite sex a bit more slowly than do men, but when they finally do respond, the feelings aroused are often very deep. Therefore, whoever allows a friendship with the opposite sex to get too close is fooling himself. For even where one person’s feelings are not stirred, the other person’s feelings may be.
Saying, ‘Let’s be friends’ can and often does prolong the agony of unrequited affection. As the publication Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It explains: “Generally, it is the man who initiates courtship, by expressing interest in the woman. If he is honest and serious about it, she has the right to believe that he is at least contemplating marriage.”* Continued association can thus easily be misunderstood to mean courtship, with marriage in view.
True, informing a lovesick friend that his or her feelings are unshared can cause a devastating emotional blow. But continuing the relationship delays the day of reckoning. Says the Bible: “Just like someone mad that is shooting fiery missiles, arrows and death, so is the man that has tricked his fellowman and has said: ‘Was I not having fun?’” (Proverbs 26:18, 19) The original Hebrew word translated “trick” can also mean to “deceive, mislead.” If a friendship is a mere expedient for having a good time without commitment or responsibility, is this not misleading? When someone lavishes attention on someone of the opposite sex with no thoughts of marriage in mind, is this not deceptive? True, no malicious motive may be involved. But does it not betray a measure of selfishness and a lack of concern for another person’s feelings? Trying to sidestep the issue by saying, ‘But we were just friends’ or, ‘I never made any promises,’ will likely not sit well with the rejected one.
Proverbs 2:7 advises young people to “treasure up practical wisdom.” Wise youths therefore avoid letting friendships with the opposite sex get too close—until they are ready for marriage. Group activities can be a wholesome way to avoid the problem of a romance developing. Even then, why confine yourself to a small circle of friends? After all, romantic feelings can develop even in a group. Another safeguard is to include an older person or two in group activities.
What, though, if in spite of safeguards, it appears that someone has developed unshared romantic feelings toward you? Clarify matters as quickly as possible so that both of you know where you stand. “Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor,” recommends the Bible. (Ephesians 4:25) If openly expressing your feelings does not curtail matters, it might be best to keep your distance from this person. Do not reason: ‘Well, things are quite clear now, so we can consider the matter closed. But there’s nothing to prevent us from remaining good friends.’ Romantic fires often continue to smolder, one person hoping the other will change his or her mind.
Following these suggestions may not be easy. But remember: The Creator has decreed that real intimacy with the opposite sex is reserved for marriage. “Jehovah God went on to say: ‘It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.’ That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” Jesus quoted those words and stressed the seriousness of marriage: “Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Genesis 2:18, 24; Matthew 19:5, 6.
Keep friendships with the opposite sex within reasonable limits, therefore, and avoid much pain and heartache.
Some of the names have been changed.
Please see the article “What’s Wrong With Being ‘Just Friends’?” appearing in the June 22, 1985, issue of Awake!
Published in 1976 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 19]
Learning that one’s feelings are not shared can be a devastating emotional blow
[Picture on page 18]
Two people cannot stay just friends when they keep seeing each other exclusively