Despite what people think, being an introvert does not mean I’m antisocial. I love a good, rich, deep conversation with one or two people. The other night, I got that with an old friend I’ll call E. We talked about literature, media’s impact on society, relationships, and our personal items in a two-hour Skype chat.
E is one of the dearest people in the world to me. She and I have been friends half our lives, and despite distance, struggles, and our history, we’ve remained a close friendship that–and you think we’re screwing, don’t you?
In our world, if two people have a close relationship, the common man assumes romance or sex.
Just looking up pics for this article earned me a trillion results on how guys and girls will only be friends is one is gay or ugly. Because heartthrobs and boinking take precedence over real friendships. We’re a culture obsessed with shipping.
How limiting! How reductive! I’m currently living the antithesis to that idea, so here’s how two people of any sexual orientation can have a close, intimate friendship without romance or sex getting in the way.
1. Love Them For Who They Are, Not What They Do For You
Almost as soon as I met E, I had a major crush on her. For years I nursed these feelings, but in the end she clearly didn’t feel the same, so I made up my mind to quit crushing and just be her friend.
And POW! Our relationship took off.
You can’t help attraction, if that’s a factor, but you can choose how to react. If you only see other people as marriage-trainees or bedpost notches, of course you’ll never have friends of your attracted gender. Which, of course, means you’re cutting out the wisdom, character, and personality of half the globe.
Learn to love and respect platonically. To do that, see who they are and love who they are, not just what they make you feel.
I don’t think E and I could have worked out as a couple, and E agrees. But now that I can admire, respect, and care about her, we’ve lasted fifteen years, and she’s honestly one of the best friends I have.
Romance and sex are not always the highest goal. In fact, that’s rarely the case. With most people, friendship is the most you should reasonably expect, and you’d be surprised to find out how many people are lousy lovers, but incredible friends.
2. Do Life With Them, Not Just Thrills
Sex is easy. Well, not to make it happen, but we gravitate towards it because it feels good. But friendship? Holy crap is it a slog!
You have to live alongside them. That means mundane routine, arguments, humility, vulnerability, and a hundred other scary words. You have to get way outside your comfort zone to be good friends with someone because friendship is about giving.
It also means risk. Good friends don’t sit back and watch friends destroy themselves for the sake of peace or a good time. To keep friends, you have to risk losing them for their benefit.
E and I have had to call each other to task many times. E showed me how much of a self-righteous prick I can be. And I’ve had to tell her to break up with a guy she really liked because he wasn’t good for her. If either of us had chosen to scoff and walk away, we wouldn’t have the riches we do now.
But when you do life with someone, you create shared experiences, the foundation of good friendship. The times you fought together, bled together, laughed together, and helped each other up.
E and I have memories of bad teachers, low-paying jobs, spelunking frustrations, shoddy film-making, stressful concerts, and poverty woes. But we did them together. We’re not just people who share fun times; we’re also partners.
3. Care More About Them Than What People Think
Explaining my relationship with E is hard sometimes. I fear people will suspect I’m cheating on my wife. But lately I’ve realized something: anyone who says those things about me clearly doesn’t know me, and if they don’t know me, their judgment means nothing.
The Bible says a good reputation is better than silver or gold (Prov 22:1) but it’s not even in the same ballpark as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) The only person I have to convince is my wife, and she understands, so I have no incentive to stop being great friends with a woman just because some outsider doesn’t get it.
I love my wife more than pizza, video games, and sleep combined. When I say E and I have a relationship that my wife and I never will, that’s not a bad thing because my wife and I have a relationship that E and I never will. Unique does not mean better or more powerful. It’s just different.
Why are we so threatened by good friendships? Yes, people have abused the “friend” line to get some booty on the side, but abuse of a concept does not vilify a concept. Friendship can work and does work, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
When you love someone, you’re secure in your friendship. If people whisper, you just shrug and move along. You’re not here to impress people; you’re here to love them.
The word Friendzoned is tossed around too much. I got Friendzoned by a girl in high school and I’m glad I did. Sex and romance would have crashed, but our friendship has lasted to this day.
Friendship isn’t the bronze metal to sex and love’s silver and gold (in whatever order you place them). It’s not just a stepping stone to something better. And the way to understand that is to stop thinking of other people as side characters in your story and to see them as fellow inhabitants of his world.
When you think less of your own interests, it’s easier to see a guy or girl as a person, it’s easier to do life with them, and it’s easy to shrug off the social stigmas of shippers.
In short, learn to love having a friend and learn to love being one. Take it from a guy who’s nurtured an opposite-sex friendship for fifteen years, it’s one of the most underrated joys you’ll ever find.