When I was a kid, my best friend was a boy named Phil whose backyard was kiddy-corner from mine. This wasn’t a friendship of convenience, though – he wasn’t my best friend because there was no one else in the neighborhood. In fact, there were three or four girls around in the same few block radius. But for some reason, I never got along with them – it may have had something to do with them making me pay them a dime in order to go on a walk.
As a little girl, I did not conform to gender roles. I was much more interested in climbing a tree than playing with dolls. My hair was cut short because I refused to comb it. And, most obviously, my best friends were boys.
I never understood why my friendship with boys was a reason for teasing, but there was teasing nonetheless. My two best friends in fourth and fifth grade were Curtis and Tyler, and every day when walking home, my classmates would tease me, “Hey Dianna, do you liiiiiiike Curtis? Are you guys going to do iiiit?” (In fourth grade, we barely knew what “it” was, other than that it was something people who liked each other in that way did).
Now, as a 26 year old adult, I have some sympathy for those kids who teased me throughout elementary school. It’s pretty clear that they were just parroting the belief that men and women can’t be just friends – that there will always be some kind of sexual tension or problems there. And you especially cannot be friends with a married man if you are a single woman. Because so many others before us have made mistakes, have committed “emotional adultery,” cross gender friendships are problematic. This is a fact that has always been a reality in my life, from seven years old all the way into adulthood. I’ve always gotten along better with the males of our species, and I’ve always had to defend that choice of friendship.
But when I hit college, something changed. Girls, instead of thinking me weird or odd for being friends with boys, were jealous. Because of a lifetime of being best friends with guys, talking to them was easy for me. It wasn’t hard for me to sit down in the lunchroom and start a conversation with a man I didn’t know, and it wasn’t hard for me to develop close friendships that weren’t plagued by “does she like me in that way? What if she does? Oh no!”
Of course, there were boundaries and sometimes confusion – as any cross gender friendships will have. But in my choice to defy norms and develop friendships with boys at an early age, I set myself up for easier friendships as an adult.
In the church, we do a major disservice to both men and women when we discourage cross-gender friendships, when we warn people off of getting “too close” with a member of the opposite sex, when we instill fear instead of grace into our relationships. I truly believe that my cross gender friendships throughout my life have helped me to understand grace, mercy, and love on a deeper level. Because I am not afraid of the what-if and what-would-people-think, each of my friends fills their role as David, as Josiah, as Jim, as Sam, as Chase, and James. Rather than being just “men,” they are each, uniquely, my brothers. And that is grace indeed.
This post is a part of a series of guest posts about cross-gender friendships in preparation for the Sacred Friendship Gathering in April. For more information about the gathering, check out the website. I hope to see you there!