16 August 2007

Boy-Girl Phobia or Friendship?

One of my young friends recently described herself as having "boy phobia." When questioned whether this had anything to do with being the older sister of five brothers, she initially said, "Yes," but later changed her mind and said, "No," she doesn't have any problem relating to her brothers. The "phobia," as her mother has perceived and explained to me, is over the fact that any conversation between a teenage boy and girl is often regarded as a blossoming romance. Why can't boys and girls simply be friends? That appears to be her question and concern.

The reality is that relationships between boys and girls are always going to be charged with a certain degree of "romantic" tension. This was the classic center of the movie, "When Harry Met Sally?" (with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan). That being said, it is possible for boys and girls to have good friendships, in which romantic overtones do not intrude upon or destroy the relationship. It would surely be a shame if boys and girls were kept apart and isolated from each other (a rather legalistic attempt to deal with sin, one that doesn't yet deal with the heart of the matter). On the other hand, it would be naive and foolish to suppose that teenage boys and girls can simply avoid the natural attraction of the sexes for each other. What is required is the discipline of repentant faith, which lives in the freedom of the Gospel but also honors the Word of God, considering one's place in life according to the Ten Commandments.

By the way, I have found the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books to be a realistic, healthy and endearing picture of both friendship and budding romance between boys and girls. The scene in The Deathly Hallows in which Harry assures Ron that he (Harry) and Hermione are like brother and sister to each other was quite touching. Being friends together in a group (including both boys and girls) is particularly helpful, in my opinion, although it does also include the potential threat of competition, envy and jealousy. Temptation and sin will always assail us, no matter what the particular circumstances, and these things are ultimately dealt with by the ways and the means of the Gospel. The reference to brothers and sisters is also enlightening. It hearkens to my young friend's comments concerning her brothers. It seems to me that boys and girls with siblings of the opposite sex, especially if they are close to the same age, have an advantage in learning how to relate to the opposite sex outside of the family, as well. I think that the benefits of normal sibling relationships have not been adequately considered or explored, at least not much in the literature that I have found on the whole broad topic of human relationships.

As I have been contemplating this topic, which has long been intriguing to me, it has occurred to me that boys and girls approach each other very differently, in ways that can rather dramatically effect this question of friendship vs. romance. I'm thinking in general terms, which obviously do not apply in every case. Boys are often more easily smitten and twitterpated by a girl's pretty face and attractive appearance, in such a way that they may initially be overwhelmed with this feminine beauty. They can "fall in love," in other words, before they've even gotten to know the girl who has become the object of affection. That kind of superficial attraction and infatuation presents a real obstacle to the development of a natural friendship, because it overloads the senses and glazes the eyes and fogs the brain. Girls, on the other hand, do not seem to be quite so easily swept off their feet by appearances or first impressions. They are more interested in getting to know a boy, in relating to him as a person, testing his thoughts and behaviors, especially in reaction to various things. This very process is tantamount to the development of a friendship, and less prone to falling "head over heals" in romantic love. I would suggest that this is the source of my young friend's frustration when any boy-girl conversation may automatically be interpreted as a sign of romance. Ironically, I would venture to guess that many a young boy engaged in such conversation with a pretty young girl is likely to be seeing stars and hearing bells and hoping with all his heart that love is in the air. He may not even be hearing the conversation, because he is captivated by the girl herself.

So, the general conclusion I have drawn is that a non-romantic friendship between a boy and a girl is much more difficult for a boy to begin with. But, as time goes by, and as the boy and girl get to know each other better, spending time doing ordinary, every-day sorts of things together, the boy is more and more likely to think of the girl as a friend, maybe like a sister. At the same time, however, the better the girl gets to know the boy, the more she relates to him and shares good times together with him, the more she may begin to feel a romantic attraction toward him. It seems a cruel sort of irony, but I really think this is generally the case. Of course, it can all be sorted out just fine, as it often is, but navigating the course is tricky and a bit of a challenge.

One of the reasons I am so intrigued by this whole question of boy-girl relationships, aside from my matchmaking hobby, is my observation and opinion that all human relationships are rooted in the original creation of Adam and Eve. They were most obviously husband and wife, but all other sorts of relationship are originally contained within that first man and first woman. I do believe there is a blessing to be found in healthy friendships between boys and girls, therefore, beginning with the natural friendship of brothers and sisters. At the same time, the curse and consequences of the fall into sin have to be taken seriously. Siblings are not simply friends, but adversaries who are frequently at odds with each other. Likewise, outside of the family, boys and girls do not relate to each other entirely apart from the temptation of lust. In this aspect of life, as in every other, it is necessary to be daily returned to the significance of Holy Baptism through contrition and repentance, unto faith in the forgiveness of sins, for Jesus' sake.

Thanks be to God that He has called His disciples, both male and female, to be His friends and, not only that, but members of His Bride, the Church. It is finally within the Church, in Christ Jesus, that men and women, boys and girls are catechized to live before God in righteousness and purity, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.


Anita said...

I suspect that what she might really be asking is why can't boys and girls converse without others whispering and supposing there be a romance?
Maybe not, but I remember being awfully shy at that age and anytime a boy called my house any sort of verse from my sisters (you know the tune: Anita's got a boyfriend!) would send me beet red and I would fluster and protest, occasionally even lie that he only called for help with homework just to relieve the pressure of their watchful eyes and sibling taunts.

BTW, Billy Crystal was in When Harry Met Sally. I think Tom Hanks first movie with Meg Ryan was Joe vs. the Volcano;)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for the correction on "When Harry Met Sally." Can't believe I messed that up (I should fix it now that I know better).

I'm sure you are at least partially correct in diagnosing the "problem" of "boy phobia." I remember being embarrassed in the extreme when my grandpa would tease me about girls.

Along with that, part of my point is also that a boy can easily be smitten and shot with cupid's arrow by the very same conversation that a girl regards as nothing more than friendly chatting. I was just struck by the realization that boys and girls often perceive such things, as well as each other, very differently.

Thanks for your insights and your anecdotal comments. Always good to hear from you.

Nat said...

I think for about everything you said which I can relate to, I agree with you, and for those that I don't, I'm willing to take your word for it.

However, I'd like to add that the flipside of some of this is a tendency for girls to treat any boy (or rather, any boy of reasonable eligibility) with an undue amount of suspicion and even avoidance, when his behavior might be motivated by something as excusable as good manners. It's an awful feeling to be restricted in normal etiquette by the fear that your actions my be construed as hitting on someone.

I imagine I'm not alone in this view...

Zaripest said...

I agree with Nat. It is rather annoying to be accused of hitting on a girl simply because you did her a favor. It doesn't seem like many guys do favors for girls simply out of common courtesy anymore though, so it is easy to see why such a misunderstanding could come up. As difficult as it may be sometimes though, I think that people need to remember that it's less important to worry about what other people might think of you than it is to pursue good and right courses of action. I would hate to see people stop having conversations with members of the opposite sex, and altogether give up chivalry, unless they happen to be experiencing a crush or something...

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments, Nat and Zach. You are making some good additional points. I have found the same frustration as an adult, although I have tried simply to be a gentleman and act courteously and leave it at that. It is more difficult, I think, at your age, for a host of factors. But for what it is worth, the two of you are great examples of Christian young men who treat others, including young ladies, with respect. That is not only a good thing in its own right, but helpful to the younger boys who observe your behavior. I think it is helpful to the girls, as well, in seeing how young men ought to act.

I surely do not want to suggest that boys and girls are incapable of behaving properly and relating to each other well. It is, however, a complex and often challenging maze to negotiate. My aim is to help avoid the pitfalls.

Anita said...

It's also easy to forget that in conversations such as this it's difficult to see the others side since we have no experience in that area.
FI, I was recently reading about how men go through their daily life with little to any thought about their personal safety where as women are drilled very early about the dangers lurking out there and often reminded of their weakness as the less muscular of the species;)
Walking to our cars we have our keys out and are constantly scanning the parking lot, noting bushes or other obstructions that could be hiding a potential attacker. It can be very difficult to let down that guard, so yes we can be highly skeptical but as the nightly news often affirms it's better to be safe then sorry.
I can see how frustrating it would be to only have pure intentions yet be suspected of ulterior motives.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that initially struck me about the Potter books is the way that Rowling dealt with the boy-girl dynamic. If for no other reason, I would recommend these books for this. The friendship between Ron, Harry, and Hermione is such a great model of friendship. They are loyal, sympathetic,etc. The boy-girl aspect of their relationship is also very refreshing. I wish that parents, pastors, and teachers and entertainment (books, movies, t.v.) would demonstrate, teach, and reinforce healthy platonic relationships between boys and girls.

Anan said...

The power of suggestion! Aaah! :p *runs away*

artemis said...

emm..i think that it is reaaaaly hard to keep a relationship between a boy and a girl (especially teenagers) platonic - or however that word is xD (i am also a 14 years old teenage girl so i might do some silly mistakes!)
i think that the most possible thing to happen is that after a couple of months of reaally close friendship the boy and the girl start thinking about each other in a different way..(this happened some weeks ago between me and my friend) this will happen especially if you are too close...(this is more likely to happen if you dont have girlfriend/boyfriend ;D) and if other people/schoolmates/friends think you are a couple (exactly what happened with us ;D)
there are 3 possible ends:
a)ruin the friendship
b)become a couple
c) just wait..think about it very carefully coz you dont want to ruin that friendship you have but you feel something more..then you just behave like buddies in front of other people..but whem youre alone like couple..and you make that after 30 promise :P (for those that dont know:you promise to marry each other if you both are singles after thirty xD)-this is the best choise and it works(personal eperience ;D)
i am still very young i know but i really love my friend and i would never want to ruin that friendship even if it became a romance because in the age we are all romance-relationships end up some day...when friendships dont!but when you are mature you can decide if you want to live with that person for the rest of your life (although sometimes even mature people dont make the right choice :/)soo here we are now..happy and together! living a teen romace-friedship :)

Dávid Demeter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dávid Demeter said...

I'm so glad I've finally found something related to what I'm recently thinking about.

I'd like to ask your opinions about my case. And if you you could also give me some pieces of advice, that would be even better.

My best friend happened to be recently a girl, as I shared almost everything with her that was in me. I met her in the summer, we hung out a lot, but in a group. Since then we met again in an other conference and we talked a lot. I really needed that time someone to share my feelings with. And there was her, interested in me etc.. We really resemble to each other b, of course. I mean our way of thinking, similar opinions etc.
I'm worried because our relationship..or better say friendship is getting more and more serious.
I have to tell you, that I've not had a best friend, a very close friend before.
So I've told her about everything, including my interest towards an other girl I like, the sins I struggled with, my fears..so very very personal things.
Actually there wouldn't be anything to worry about if I didn't feel like she has romantic feelings towards me. I feel like..we're getting too closer to each other. I feel like I don't leave anything for my wife..any secrets about myself, that only she would know.
But what could I do? I like her very much, I consider her a good friend. I don't want to cause her bad feelings.
I've been feeling like I should talk to her about this, but I don't know what to say.
I wouldn't mind her being a close friend, but I shouldn't share everything with her. What I actually regret that I got her involved in is my romantic life.. I always felt a bit weird when I was expressing her how much I like that other girl and why etc.. I was usually raving about how good talks we have, how open and honest.. which is also true for us..and you know, she may get thinking about what prevents then me from falling in love with her.

Should I just abruptly stop talking with her about such things?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Dear Dave,

Thanks for your comments and questions. I also commend you for your conscientious concern in the matter you have asked about. I understand, I think, the situation you are describing, and you are right to be cautious.

Without knowing more of the larger context, and without knowing you and the girls that you mention, it is difficult for me to give you a specific answer. I'm unclear as to your age, but, in any case, I recommend that you speak to your parents and your pastor about your feelings, and seek their advice in the matter. I say that, not as a copout, but because they are the ones whom God has provided to guide you according to His will, especially in such matters.

From what you have described, you certainly have developed a great deal of intimacy with your friend; not physical intimacy, but emotional intimacy, which is as profound and powerful in its own way. That in itself is not a bad thing, but it requires discretion; not only that you would guard yourself against falling into sexual sins, but that you would not develop such an intimacy with someone who is not your spouse. Among other things, you do not want to "lead on" the young lady, who may have or be developing romantic feelings for you.

From the sounds of it, I'm not convinced that your own interests are really only those of simple friendship. It may be that you are imagining something else to be "romantic" inclination, when, in fact, the sort of emotional intimacy that you have developed with your friend is really more indicative of a prospective wife.

Anyway, I would advise you not to allow such emotional intimacy, unless it be within an appropriate engagement toward holy marriage.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Dávid Demeter said...

Dear Mr. Stuckwisch,

First of all, I'd like tothank you for your answering my letter. I really appreciate your help.

Sorry for forgetting to mention my age. I'm 19. And I should also let you know that English is only my second language. Because of this, what I mean might be sometimes ambiguous.

By the way, your letter was helpful. It convinced me about what I've already felt like I should do.
But I'd like to state that I really don't have romantic feeling towards her. I consider her just a friend, a good friend though. And what has frightened me was that I sometimes felt like we went too far... I'm only talking about acts like holding her hand, giving her a massage etc.. All was motivated by chivalry, but they can be easily misunderstood.. and it has happened. So others thought I have an affair with her. Actually, they have never asked me about it, only her.

I know I got to set boundaries. And in the future the closest girlfriend will be only my sister, and of course, when the time
comes: my spouse.