Ever since the middle of the last decade when I could say a couple of my female friends were some of my best friends, I have hungered for friendship wisdom about opposite-sex best friends. That might be only a surprise to you if are a new to this blog.
I finished reading John Townsend's 2011 book, How to be a Best Friend Forever last week. Although I have a voracious appetite for friendship books, I haven't had an urgency to read it because I was pretty sure he would not delve into opposite-sex best friends. After all, Townsend has a solid evangelical following and there are no books in New Life bookstores that address BFFs between the sexes. Popular evangelical authors who want their books to sell at New Life don't write about nonromantic BFFs. Power and opposite-sex best friends do not mix in the evangelical sub-culture.
My low interest in reading the book also stemmed from my ambivalence toward how-to books on best friendships. How is it possible to write a how-to book on a complex subject like best friends forever? The subject of best friends by itself is a complex subject that defies formualic approaches. But deep friends with no expiration date?
I have read some great books on friendship over the past fifteen years. None of them are how-to books.
If you are already a fan of John Townsend's books, you will probably see a lot of strengths in this book. Even though I respect Townsend, I came to the book with low expectations. Perhaps because my bar was so low, he surprised me at some points. Although it would not make my top ten books on best friendships, I came away with an appreciation toward how he approaches the subject.
Since I still claim some female friends as some of my best friends years later, I thought I would share a few reactions that bubbled out while I was reading this popular psychologist make a case for best friends forever.
The Gospel Invites Women and Men to be Friends with God
This is the foundation for all opposite-sex best friends. It is the foundation for all best friends forever. I was disappointed that Townsend didn't develop this point to the theological richness that is there (for all BFFs--not just cross-sex). But then again, there is so little theological reflection among evangelical theologians on the divine-human relationships through the lens of divine friendship. You too, may have noticed that evangelical theologians-pastors have no theology--and therefore no deep friendship wisdom--of two opposite-sex best friends.
I was an evangelical for twenty-something years before I discovered a community (not officially organized) of theologians, therapists, spiritual directors, and pastors who see friendship with God as the center or foundation of Christian life. Moses was called God's friend. The Bible itself points us to language identifying God as a friend. All the attributes that we assign to the best of friendships--kindness, generosity, loyalty, patience, tenderness, pleasure, delight, reverence, joy, creativity, compassion, and everlasting love we experience in God's friendship. We taste in God's friendship. We discover in friendship with God.
Not only that, but if we contemplatively walk through many features of the Gospel story via the lens of God's friendship presence, two friends--yes, a female friend and a male friend--may mutually become attentive to those features in the course of their special friendship bond: new life, ongoing and deeper revelations of God's unfathomable love, freedom, forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit, eternal life, tenderness of God, God's beauty, reconciliation, and justice, and so much more. The Story includes the richness of knowing God as friend who has prepared "what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard."
The Gospel story offers an unending Fountain of friendship wisdom for opposite-sex best friends.
The Unplumbed Depths of Friendship Wisdom
I was delighted to discover that Townsend opened the door wide open to two friends enjoying what I call the unplumbed depths of friendship wisdom: we can know and enjoy more than one BFF simultaneously. Let that soak in. This insight flies into the face of so many sacred cows floating around concerning "best friends."
First and foremost, it's almost impossible for many Christians to be open to opposite-sex best friends because of the narrow assumption/expectation that God has only one best opposite-sex best friend for us and that's called marriage. This is a huge psychological hurdle for us to unlearn as married individuals or singles. Perhaps this is the biggest hurdle for why evangelical egalitarians have no theology for platonic cross-gender BFFs.
A second sacred cow expectation/assumption we have to unlearn is that a best friend is a psychological "perfect match" for us. As we all know or have heard, this is sacred in popular assumptions about best friends pop psychology. You know, stories about meeting one's BFF where there was "instant connection." Or, where two friends instant "click." Or your perfect match friend "gets me" in ways others haven't. There is this magical, beyond words connection.
What makes this assumption so popular is because we do meet best friends like this. No doubt about it. There are a number of stories reinforcing this perfect match scenario portraying best friend soulmate connection. It is totally healthy and good for us to enjoy these kinds of perfect match connections.
But friendship wisdom suggests this is too narrow and too limiting for BFFs. For those of us who are married and those of us who are single. What I have loved about hungering after opposite-sex friendship wisdom after fifteen years is discovering psychological-theological wisdom beyond pop psychology! Townsend's book, points in the direction of not settling for pop psychology in best friends forever.
Friendship wisdom directs us toward a liberating psychological maturity--unplumbed depths of best friend connections. Are all meaningful, deep best friend connections exclusively contained within a perfect match connection? For many healthy psychological reasons, it is good for us to move on from this sacred cow.
Therapist F. Diane Barth in her book on female friendship posits that many deep connections in friendship "come not from a single kind of relationship" (I Know How You Feel). Not only that, but there is the whole thing about stages of life and psychological development. Friendship wisdom points to the fact that two people can mature into sharing deep connection even though they are not a perfect match as friends.
What if we don't start out defining BFFs as this psychological twin-like, perfect match description or experience? Watch this, a best friend, suggests Townsend, "is someone who ideally has become a high-priority relationship for you that you will invest in personally. You will find yourself wanting to know her even at deeper levels. You'll find a growing and great well of love for her inside you, and become fiercely loyal to and protective of your time together, for it is vital to you both." What about that word, "forever?" Best friends, forever?
Again, friendship wisdom points us not too unhealthy clinging, manipulation to stay stuck-together, but toward a maturing, deep liking and knowing of one another as friends of the heart. As we mature in sharing our joys, sorrows, celebrations, significant events, and the insignificant details of our lives, we discover that we don't want this friendship to end.
We don't want the shared intimacy to have an expiration date. Townsend, "This is someone who is so important and special to me that they are in my Hall of Fame. This is a person who I want to be a permanent part of my life." The criteria for this importance is not necessarily a perfect match spiritual frequency. Instead, it is a learning a spiritual frequency-wisdom of a different kind toward a different kind of friend.
The pop psychology of perfect match scenario only offers this radio where all the buttons are tuned into one spiritual frequency only. It's just my two cents, but I think there is an unexpected beauty awaiting for all of us who are hungering for friendship wisdom; the shared beauty of diverse spiritual frequencies defining opposite-sex best friends.
Pop psychology for both married and single has been to steer us toward opposite-sex best friends scenarios as either perfect match or psychologically inferior, second-best relationships or connections. Too often pop psychology presents to us immature or shallow either-ors: either you encounter or find your perfect match best friend or settle for isolation, loneliness, and alienation.
We are going to meet sincere, well-meaning friends who are so tuned into that either-or frequency they either are stuck in that narrow script with their one and only best friend or they are stuck trying to find a perfect match. It feels impossible for them to grow and mature in deep, vulnerable, beautiful closeness with friends who are different from them.
But the power of opposite-sex best friends calls us to unplumbed depths of friendship wisdom.