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.
HYMN: Father, Behold My Shield
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