The Myth of “Just Friends”

Dear female readers,

It is rare that I step into the murky world of dating and singleness. I just don’t like the flak that comes the way of married people who dare to raise their heads on the issue. But we were all single once… and I’m a guy, and I have single male friends and single female friends, and I realise this is a murky issue and a real struggle for many people – but the problem is compounded by a bunch of myths and misconceptions that are rarely discussed. This post isn’t for you if you’re the kind of girl just waiting for a guy to man up – and it isn’t a post urging guys to man up. I wrote one of them before somewhere (or two). If you’re a guy bemoaning your singleness and you haven’t asked a girl out – man up. Grow some balls. Take a risk. If you’re a guy who is sick of having your heart mercilessly crushed then you should read this letter to a frustrated single man (from elsewhere). And take heart, most married guys have been there too (I know I have). Lets face it. Girls are complicated.

Ladies,

If a man in your life, an acquaintance or friend, asks you to spend some time in his company you can be almost certain that he is interested in you and that he’s actually asking you out on a date (even if it’s not specified) – that he doesn’t want to be “just friends” – it takes enormous courage to ask a girl to do stuff, because when they say no, after you’ve mustered up whatever nerve you have, it feels like you have been belted in the stomach with a baseball bat. It’s crushing and often leads to periods of deep reflection on the question of “what is wrong with me?”

Guys can’t be just friends with girls they are interested in. The same baseball bat like experience hits over and over again every time you observe other guys getting a yes where you got a no. It’s incredibly unlikely that a guy is asking to spend time with you exclusively because he wants to be your mate. If he asks you to dinner, to a movie, to go for a run, to have coffee, to do anything where it’s just the two of you – and you aren’t related – then he’s interested. In his mind one-on-one time is basically a date, and asking you to spend such time is essentially a case of asking you out. And if you’re not, you should say no straight out. Don’t let him down gently. Don’t string him along looking for an opportunity to ease him into it. Rejection hurts, but the longer you drag it out, the more it hurts. And the crueler it becomes.

The worst situation is to be “the brother I never had” – because then you get all the emotional baggage of a relationship with none of the payoff. Hollywood writers know this. They play on that tension with the poor geeky guy all the time. It’s the tension the TV show Bones is built on. And if it frustrates you watching Bones destroy Booth’s heart over and over again then take that lesson and apply it to your life. It seems girls in Christian circles don’t watch enough of these movies and TV shows. Because they seem to sail into these murky waters in negligent or reckless oblivion. I’m sick of sitting by watching guys hearts get messed with by girls who don’t understand this one, foundational idea, guys, 95% of the time, aren’t really interested in being your “mate” – they’ve got all the mates they need, and they don’t want to pile that list up with people who have rejected them.

Relationships are hard work. Love doesn’t happen overnight. You’re not committing to marrying the first guy you go out with. Give a guy a break. If you enjoy hanging out with him in groups, or in one on one settings, don’t hang out for Mr Right – hang out with the guy Mr Right in Front of You. A bird in the hand and all that proverbial jazz.

Most Christian guys have problems – part of becoming a Christian means you recognise you have failings. The ones who don’t appear to have problems are probably arrogant or harbouring some sort of deep seeded emotional issues anyway, scratch the surface of most guys and they’re probably incredibly insecure when it comes to relationships or entirely too scared of commitment to be worth pursuing (that’s why they’ve dated all of your friends and none of the relationships have lasted). If a guy seems to have it together, can hold down a job, and is passable at conversation then he’s probably a winner. It helps if you find him moderately attractive.

Stop hurting my friends. It’s harder being a guy than you realise and you’re just compounding the singleness problem by making the risk of asking a girl out too great and the dating process too serious. If you’re thinking about marriage on or before the first date you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re making it worse for all of your single friends who are dying to have a guy ask them out because you’re making relationships seem out of the reach of mere mortals. You’re also blurring the lines between friendship and guy/girl relationships so that nobody really knows what’s going on. And I’m sick of trying to pick up the pieces on both sides.

That is all.

22 Comments The Myth of “Just Friends”

  1. David

    Because I scan the first couple of paragraphs before I decide to read something, I read “Dear female readers” followed by “grow some balls”.

    Boy that was confusing.

  2. simone r

    Okay. So if a guy is hanging around a bit (pretend I’m single for the sake of this argument) and eventually asks me to … go jogging … what do I say? Options:
    -Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    -Yes. I’d like to go jogging but feel nothing romantic towards you at this point.
    -Yes, I’d like to go jogging.
    -No. Hate jogging.
    -No. I suspect you’re romantically interested in me and I can’t see myself ever going for you. I’ve got a huge crush on your friend who will never ask me out…

    This is all pretty tough for girls too.

  3. Nathan Campbell

    Yeah I know it’s tough on girls too. But I’m not writing in response to a girl I know having her heart smashed into little bits by a naive, reckless or ruthless boy who claimed oblivion when the other party sought clarification on the relationship.

    And I’m not a female. If you want to write a post from that perspective then by all means.

    The fact is, if a boy asks you to do something with him by yourselves you should assume he’s asking you out unless otherwise stated. It’s simple.

    The only times I can think of when it’s not the case are guys who have inappropriate relationships with girls because they lack a strong father figure, guys who struggle with same sex attraction, or guys who you are related to (or possibly someone you have known since you were a child where the relationship feels filial and is completely platonic (but Hollywood rightly gets mileage out of showing how those relationships are capable of turning around in a guy’s head anyway).

    If a guy wants to spend one on one time with a girl chances are (I’d say somewhere around the 90% mark) he is either interested in that girl or her best friend (and that’d be the other 10%, and it’ll only normally happen once). If a guy then wants to spend a second bit of one on one time with you a day later you can be sure he’s interested.

  4. Nathan Campbell

    Even the non-Christians I worked with last year acknowledged that guys can’t be “just friends” with girls. Who wants girls as mates anyway? Unless you’re a hopeless case and desperately need advice about attracting girls, guys are actually more fun to hang out with if you’re a guy. They’re much more emotionally stable and more likely to be interested in doing guy stuff. Like blowing stuff up. Or talking about blowing stuff up. Or talking about anything remotely abstract and pointless.

  5. Nathan Campbell

    Oh, and the answer to your question depends largely on how you feel about the guy. And I’d say the last one is where the real trouble with the women of today is. What’s the point of a crush on some guy who doesn’t even know you exist when some guy does, and wants you to have a crush on him? Why not take a risk and try dating the guy you hadn’t thought about. Dating isn’t marriage. Girls are dumb.

  6. Gary Ware

    My feedreader seems to have stumbled upon an alternate dimension version of St. Eutychus.
    This reads as a very odd post.
    Is this the scenario?
    Guy has invited girl out one on one.
    This means guy has particular interest beyond ‘just friends’.
    Girl has accepted this/these invitations.
    Girl should know that acceptance implies knowledge of particular interest and is prepared to see where it goes.
    Girl has instead participated accepted invitations, and has somehow now indicated that she did not know or never had interest.
    Girl has concluded relationship.
    Guy feels abandoned and confused.

    I appreciate the desire to see young people avoid the pain which accompanies recreational romantic entangelments. I’m struggling to see the point you’re consistently working toward here.

  7. simone r

    Yeah, so I go have coffee with the guy who asks me out. I have no particular interest in him, but I would like to be married and Mr Darcy won’t ask me… So, after 2 meet ups and his annoying annoying habit of winking after every sentence has just about driven me insane, I tell him we have no future. He is heartbroken. He goes and spills his guts to you. You’re mad at me. But what should I have done? There was no way to avoid hurt.

  8. simone r

    And Nathan….

    “guys are actu ally more fun to hang out with if you’re a guy. They’re much more emotionally stable and more likely to be inter ested in doing guy stuff. Like blow­ing stuff up. Or talk ing about blow ing stuff up. Or talk ing about any thing remotely abstract and pointless.”

    Call me overconfident or naive, but I think my male friends sometimes prefer my company to that of their male friends. In a non-sexual way. I think I do conversation okay. I think my ideas have some interest to people outside my gender. And sometimes I talk about blowing stuff up too.

    Careful. You are sounding like someone who thinks women have nothing to offer men apart from romantic attachment.

  9. Nathan Campbell

    Gary,

    You’ve just about got the situation, but without going into details there should have been almost no doubt whatsoever about the guy’s intentions – we’re talking drinking champagne on a mountain by themselves at sunset, and long walks on beaches. Not just coffee.

    This post was both something that will doubtless be helpful for my friend, and perhaps be something that people can be directed to in the future. There seems to be an incredible volume of similar relationship type stuff happening in my circle of single male friends. Every one of them who I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks has experienced something quite similar.

    Simone,

    “Yeah, so I go have cof­fee with the guy who asks me out. I have no par­tic­u­lar inter­est in him, but I would like to be mar­ried and Mr Darcy won’t ask me… So, after 2 meet ups and his annoy­ing annoy­ing habit of wink­ing after every sen­tence has just about dri­ven me insane, I tell him we have no future. He is heart­bro­ken. He goes and spills his guts to you. You’re mad at me. But what should I have done? There was no way to avoid hurt.”

    Not really what happened. At all. We’re not talking coffee and it wasn’t “we have no future” it was “I had no idea you are interested and I am not over the boy I went out with over a year ago having enjoyed your company immensely and given you the impression that I think you’re a top guy.”

    The way to avoid hurt, in my opinion, is either to be honest up front with a guy (realising that guys don’t really do “just friends”), or to lower the bar guys have to clear before you’ll date them from “Jesus” to “Fallible Christian.” These are the problems I’m addressing in this post. Or trying to. There is something wrong with modern Christian dating. I blame Josh Harris and the “you should only date the person you aim to marry” brigade.

    I think my male friends some­times pre­fer my com­pany to that of their male friends.

    One on one? I doubt that. In group settings, sure. But interesting conversation will only take you so far with guys whose primary method of interaction is a shared task with almost no talking (team sport), shooting each other on computer games, or talking about things that are absolutely and completely without a purpose.

    The stuff guys like to do and talk about as guys, secret mens’ business if you will, is usually either of no interest to women or stuff guys don’t want to do with women.

    Care­ful. You are sound­ing like some­one who thinks women have noth­ing to offer men apart from roman­tic attachment.

    Pretty much nothing they can’t find from male friends who come without the hormonal complications.

    And if a guy’s closest mates are girls – like the people he spends one on one time with and when he’s married his second best friend, circle of friends etc – then I think that’s a pastoral land mine. Do you encourage guys to have incredibly intimate friendships with girls they’re not married to? I doubt it. Maybe I’m wrong.

  10. Gary Ware

    Thanks for the clarifying comments. I think I’m back the in the right dimension now.
    You’ve identified another factor in that some of these relationships take place with people carrying the experiences of past relationships.
    Different individuals can carry even the same experiences differently on emotional levels as they enter new relationships.
    I think it could be asserted that the two genders process these things differently, at least in general terms.
    It is possible that one individual could be so deeply affected by the loss of their last relationship that they just don’t notice that someone else thinks they’re starting a relationship with them.
    Unless this is how all their relationships end.

  11. Marshall the Mediocre

    man, the “older brother” zone is the worst, stopped making that mistake well and truly before high-school’s end. Their emotional baggage – with no relationship, it’s like invading Russia, but not taking Stalingrad

  12. simone r

    “Do you encour age guys to have incred i bly inti mate friend ships with girls they’re not mar ried to?”

    Of course not. That way disaster lies. But I think your statement that men don’t actually want female friends not quite true.

  13. Ben McLaughlin

    For what it’s worth, before I got married I seemed to be the serial ‘great friend’ to any girl I liked. Sure it hurt and frustrated me, but that’s all part of growing up.

    I kind of wince a bit at posts like this, which put guys on one side of a fence and girls on the other. And one or the other is either this brave lil’ soldier or the terrible heartless ogre.

    There are man-ogres and lady-ogres, and there are man lil’ soldiers and lady lil’ soldiers (don’t worry, I’m not sure where this is headed either), and we have all probably been both at some point.

  14. Tim

    The tension seems to be that:

    1. You should only ‘date’ if you are thinking about marriage in general

    2. But no particular date should have the pressure of marriage attached to it.

    It’s oversimplified but you might say the the ‘courting’ folk have noticed the first truth, and the ‘just friends’ mob have noticed the second.

    Our difficulty is that we have no agreed protocol to know how to navigate both these realities (which is why dating sites, even Christian dating sites will grow in popularity – they provide clarity ‘we both know we are having a coffee to find out if we would like to have more coffee’)

    Apart from recommending dating sites, I think it would be good if we could foster a culture which allowed more initial ‘dates’ without meaning. Something like a ‘three date rule’. That is, you may ask, or accept an invitation to do something without worrying about what message it will send. But by the time you get to the third date you need a conversation to clarify.

    The purpose of course is to reduce the barrier to the first couple of interactions, without creating a thousand mixed messages. If someone says yes to an invitation to the first two dates – it means nothing. If they say yes a third time, they are interested, if they decline without offering an alternate date, they’re not. Simple :)

    (and btw any ‘people should just be honest’ strategy will not succeed, because that kind of honesty isn’t possible with a relationship at that stage – which is why agreed external protocols are so useful)

    Tim A

  15. Nathan Campbell

    Say what you will about the quality or blogworthiness of this post – but at the very least its generated some comments (unlike most of the posts I write these days).

    Simone,

    But I think your state­ment that men don’t actu­ally want female friends not quite true.

    In my experience men don’t want the kind of friendship females are offering when they say “we’re just friends” or “I just want to be friends”… if you’re “just friends” that should be obvious because the guy will almost never seek out your company for the purpose of spending time with just you. He may be comfortable in your company. But the idea that guys will want to just “hang out” with just one girl and just be friends is pretty naive.

    Ben,

    I kind of wince a bit at posts like this, which put guys on one side of a fence and girls on the other. And one or the other is either this brave lil’ sol­dier or the ter­ri­ble heart­less ogre.

    I rarely see posts like this. I probably never have. I see plenty of posts about singleness from a female perspective, and a few posts about how guys should man up and ask girls out. And both are fine. But there are very few that acknowledge the perilous waters that modern Christian dating have become thanks to the books foisted on Christian girls, and whatever ideal culture is building up that leaves girls looking for the perfect guy. I know no perfect guys.

    Tim,

    Thanks. Helpful pointer to the underlying tension. I reckon online dating for Christians is going to be a big deal – and most of the guys I’m talking to in this boat are considering that as the only option (they’ve almost given up on talking to girls they go to church with – even with churches where there are a relatively large ratio of single girls to single guys).

    I think we need to lower the bar on relationships, and even on marriage, a little bit. Expectations just aren’t meshing with reality. Marriage is a commitment to hard work and foibles, not a commitment to a fairytale. Maybe we’re not modelling marriage very well if we present it as some sort of holy grail of happiness where you’re with the guy or girl of your dreams. I love the Driscoll concept of the woman you marry becoming your standard of beauty – I think there’s something in that, where the woman you marry becomes the woman you’re meant to be married to at that point.

    The honesty strategy is difficult – I wonder if part of it is a requirement for guys to be upfront right from the start (though I think most guys just assume that girls the guy is interested when he asks her to do something that most would consider romantic).

    I think the solution is that girls should just understand the male psyche a little bit better – and be aware of what they’re committing too, and guys should be better at putting forward what it is they’re actually asking for. Right from the start.

  16. Peter Kutuzov

    With respect to the original post, I mostly agree.

    @Tim: I don’t think that there needs to be any agreed upon code except honesty. Sometimes it can be difficult to know your own motives, I’m aware, but genuine honest communication about the status of the relationship ought to suffice.

    Given this, I guess I also have to say that however I feel about my mate who guy kicked in the guts, if he wasn’t open about the fact that he was interested then he should have been. So that part could possibly have been avoided.

  17. Marshall the Mediocre

    Open communication can usually also result in making the girl feel awkward and destroy whatever chance you may have had at being with them. It’s important to remember to take that lumpen grain of salt with you when trying to hit it off with a girl, this infinitely reduces possible fallout on the behalf of both parties involved if things don’t turn out and also allows for an increase in clarity of perspective when analyzing where the relationship is headed. It’s like a tomato/tomacco tree when it grows, you let it grow organically as possible, but still have the stake in the ground next to it to make sure it grows the way you want – the cheesiness of the aforementioned analogy should also be noted

  18. Marshall the Mediocre

    note: previous post was in reference to opencommunication of intentions pre-relationship

  19. Amanda

    I’ve already ranted on Joel’s blog post that referenced this one, but now I’m going to rant some more :).

    This is kind of a crazy idea, but if a guy is interested in dating a girl, why not just ask her out on a date? (I.e. use the word “date”.) If a guy is allowing his feelings to get involved with a girl without KNOWING her feelings for him, then it’s just a simple case of unrequited love- she’s not doing him wrong. I don’t care if they’re having coffee or champagne- if it’s not explicit, it’s not legitimate.

    Re: guys enjoying guys’ company more than girls- generally but not universally. Maybe it’s my fault for growing up in the city but I know a lot of guys who are gender-neutral in the company they prefer (including singles, married, etc.) Maybe there’s just a higher rate of metrosexuality in the city :P. Oh and I know a bunch of (straight) chicks who can do and enjoy doing “butch man things”.

    Re: Mr Right In Front Of You- aren’t you just delaying the ambiguity/rejection? So if I meet a guy who is decent/passable and whose company I enjoy but I’m not sure I’m “into” him, but I agree to start dating him, sooner or later I’m going to realise that I’m still just not that into him. It’s not because I’m waiting for Mr Right. It’s because I don’t have any romantic chemistry for him. So now he’s going to be even more crushed because I led him to think I was interested by agreeing to let something start.

    Girls can like guys just as friends- that should be our right. If guys are pretending to be our friends but really they’re only interested in a relationship or nothing it’s them who are doing us wrong, not vice-versa.

    “Why not take a risk and try dat­ing the guy you hadn’t thought about. Dat­ing isn’t mar­riage. Girls are dumb.”

    Because usually the reason we haven’t thought about them is that we’re just not that into them.

    Oh and btw, I think men have this very pragmatic way of looking at getting a wife. “These are females A, B and C. They are all of sufficiently good quality. Therefore, I will consider any of them I actually have a shot with.”

    Whereas girls are more like “These are males A, B and C. I think they are all awesome, and definitely sufficient quality to marry. However, I’m just not into A and B. I like C but he doesn’t like me. Oh well. Hopefully one day I’ll meet male D who is a good catch and I’ll like him and he’ll like me.”

    I.e. for a man to reject a woman, he’s doing so both romantically, and as a judgment on her. When a woman rejects a man, she’s just doing it romantically. She might still think the world of him. I don’t think guys understand that. That is why we won’t just date you if there’s nothing majorly wrong with you. We can like you, but not *like* you. It’s not our fault if you can’t separate the two.

    “Apart from rec­om­mend­ing dat­ing sites, I think it would be good if we could fos­ter a cul­ture which allowed more ini­tial ‘dates’ with­out mean­ing. Some­thing like a ‘three date rule’. That is, you may ask, or accept an invi­ta­tion to do some­thing with­out wor­ry­ing about what mes­sage it will send. But by the time you get to the third date you need a con­ver­sa­tion to clarify.”
    I like that. But then, I like things to be ordered and structured. There’s a bunch of spontaneous, romantic types that would really struggle with that system (or any system for that matter).

    And as a final comment, I find it really interesting that this post is all about men expecting women to be able to read between the lines. Isn’t that what we do that frustrates you- expect you to be able to read between the lines? It’s kind of like “well if you don’t know [that we’re dating] I’m not going to tell you!”

    1. Nathan Campbell

      Hi Amanda,

      For some reason your comment made it to my spam folder. Sorry.

      I guess this is a bit of a Public Service Announcement for female readers – if you don’t know that a guy thinks he’s asking you out when you’re sitting on a mountain, drinking champagne and watching the sun set, and it’s just the two of you… then please be aware – the guy is interested, and he thinks it’s a date. Or at least a signal that you’re interested too. If you don’t want to send that signal don’t climb a mountain with a guy (just the two of you) or do anything that couples do as “romantic” time.

      I would have thought that was pretty simple.

      Maybe it’s my fault for grow­ing up in the city but I know a lot of guys who are gender-neutral in the com­pany they pre­fer (includ­ing sin­gles, mar­ried, etc.) Maybe there’s just a higher rate of met­ro­sex­u­al­ity in the city :P. Oh and I know a bunch of (straight) chicks who can do and enjoy doing “butch man things”.

      The event that prompted this, and indeed, all the events of its ilk that I am aware of are in the city amidst city people. I have lived in the city for the majority of my dating/being interested in girls life. It doesn’t matter what those straight chicks enjoy doing – most of my male friends, from the city, would much rather hang out with other males. It’s not about activities – it’s like all girl gyms – you’re just more comfortable when the expectations are crystal clear. I don’t know many married men who hang out with girls (without their wife present). And I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with my wife hanging out with a bunch of guys without me. I suspect being on the married side of the coin changes things somewhat. When I was single I would happily hang out with a bunch of girls. More than happily. But I would always be interested in at least one of them, or there’d be no point.

      I pretty much disagree with the rest of what you’ve written because it sounds like it comes from a Disney movie. I was almost completely pragmatic about my choice of wife – and I love my wife dearly. Love comes from shared experience and shared dependency and intimacy. It’s not some squishy feeling you get when a guy looks at you and you think you might melt on the inside. That’s just the female version of lust.

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