Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

There is family; whom you cannot choose and there is fraternity – the brothers and sisters you do choose.

Do I value friendship over all other things? Yes. Friendship – true, complete companionship outlasts all. Friendship is the root of love. You depend on your friend, but you are not dependent on him. It is in friendship that we learn to see someone fully as they are, we learn how to live with the differences between us and remain loyal regardless. We learn to see the truth of people rather than our ideal of them. Friendship will outlast romance, marriages, the birth and death of children, the death and decay of lovers, career changes. Friendship is a paradox – to hold another so close in your heart yet not be dependent entirely on them in the same way we need a spouse. Friendship spans continents and endures the years.

We live in a complex culture, hindered by lack of inhibition yet a proliferation of obstacles to true friendship between men and women.  But if we are to navigate this complex culture, we must do with the art of friendship high in our priority. Not just friendship between like of our like, but friendship between the genders (and transgender). More than ever, men and women need to understand one another and engage with each other in meaningful ways outside the limitations of potential partnership and sexual liaison.

Kahlil Gibran wrote frequently on the subject on friendship – often from a fraternal sense. He talked about need, knowing and unabashed sharing of desires, ambition, hope and thought. We understand the world best when we learn to see through the eyes of another.

In using this common understanding as a foundation, here’s just a few of the reasons why men and women must be friends:

  1. We must learn to see others as souls; to acknowledge the otherness of another personality as a gift, not a burden. Curiosity to understand our otherness should be drawing us closer together rather than pushing us apart as a chasm.
  2. In the aftermath of patriarchal dominance and the feminist movement, men and women need to learn to trust, love and communicate with one another outside the bedroom (and boardroom). We urgently need to make sure that we remove power and control from the way we engage with one another.
  3. We need more gender profiles than ‘working mom’, ‘abusive father’, ‘bad boyfriend’, ‘nagging wife’, ‘trophy wife’, ‘fag-hag’, ‘mean girls’. We need positive gender roles and relationships.
  4. Whether by nurture or by nature, there are differences between men and women that are best learned and expressed through friendship, a basis of mutual respect and love. If we consider also those of the LGBT community, there are even more differences to be considered and respected. Respect and understanding does not appear – it is learned, crafted and honed.
  5. I believe you see the best of people; their true selves – when you see them in friendship. How a man or woman treats others in their lives – are they patient, kind, true? Are they loyal? Men and women need to be friends so that the best of who we are is exposed and that we may be challenged. The proverb ‘Iron sharpens iron’ was not written about the relationship between lovers.
  6. We need physicality of each other. Sometimes we need the physical strength of one another expressed in touch. We cannot have that, truly, if we do not trust each other in the bonds of friendship. If the softness of my body in embrace offers warmth, so too, the hardness and strength of my friend. I want at times to take your hand, so as to say ‘I am with you, I am holding on to you’.
  7. You need the relationship advice of people who understand you, are invested in you, but also understand the gender you’re dating. There are differences, you know. People who are not invested in your best interests give terrible advice. Friends, true friends (especially women) make great filters.

I am lucky enough to be in possession of a number of close male friends. I mean it – they are my trusted advisors and dear friends. We challenge and push and encourage one another in lots of ways. We see each other. Our loyalty is high. Many are married, some are not. In learning to be friends with men, I have proven that I am trustworthy, both to these friends and to their wives. It’s a practical, important consideration. There is little need for stated boundaries or guidelines to ‘protect’ our friendship from inappropriateness.

We need friendship (this mutual compassion, concern and respect) in the boardroom, in the classroom, in the halls of theological debate. If we want to understand and express womanhood and manhood, parenting and identity in meaningful ways – we should do so by understanding what it is to hold the a person of the opposite gender in such high regard – not as family but as frater (brother).

Grinding My Gears
I strongly dislike that one of the stereotypical friendship between a man and a woman is portrayed as girl + gay man. There may be a range of reasons why this cliché is a truism, but it is a limited premise for friendship between men and women. I also dislike the stereotype that all men and women friendships are casually disguised romance, drawing towards an inevitable conclusion (love). These two stereotypes are not so far removed from each other – the belief being that men and women can only be friends when you remove sexual attraction from the relationship. The idea that friendship between the genders cannot be separated from sex is as unfounded as the assumption that a lesbian wants to sleep with all women they encounter. It’s simply not the case.

Sexuality expressed in relationship is complex enough, but to confuse sexual attraction as relating or knowing another person is deeply unhealthy.

That being said; I am ever more convinced that the strongest relationships have a deep foundation of friendship. But friendship and knowing is the fuel of passion in that instance, not a facade of it.

It also grinds my gears when a single man or woman assumes that overtures of friendship must actually indicate some other more pronounced feeling or intention. I’ve seen friends turn away constructive beautiful friendship because they don’t want to confuse the issue. When I am dating – I pay attention to the friendships a man has. It tells me much about him. When our pursuit of romantic fulfilment (sex) overtakes our ability to form  meaningful friendships with the opposite gender, something has gone wrong in our view of the world. The risk here, is that all our interactions with members of the opposite gender become driven by our romantic and sexual goals.

As A Woman.
As mentioned, I am lucky to have a number of close male friends. From time to time I have had moments of infatuation with some of them; it happens. When you get to seeing someone, their beauty and flaws, it’s hard not to find something about that intimacy inspiring. The trick is to recognize the normality of that – I find that same passion for my women friends. It’s the spark of recognition – that you love a person. Any person, man or woman. So in recognizing it, it becomes less intimidating. It’s no longer a threat to the relationship, when you can recognize it for what it is.

Perhaps it’s our sex-addled brains that need this truism more than anything else – that friendship between men and women, friendship itself is possibly the most vital human interaction in society today.

I am passed into the age where statistically speaking, I am unlikely to marry. The quality of the people I surround myself with matters now more than ever. These people will be my fraternity to the end of my life. Eventually my family will pass away and my body may be too frail to travel the distances that would bring those who remain together. But wherever I live, I will have friends. There may come a time, although I dread it and find it hard to think of – when my body is too old and stiff for sex or I have simply lost the desire for it.  In that coming age, I will need someone to sharpen my ideas against, to keep my mind sharp. To embrace me at the end of the day or in the morning. To sit against the tide with and watch the sea as it rolls in on its unerring beat. I will be lonely, as I am often lonely now. But it is my friend who quells my loneliness. That need of companionship is met in my friend.

On Friendship
 Kahlil Gibran

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.