The Primacy of Friendship OR putting friendship first

A lonely poppy in a field

This is an idea that has only really crystallised in my mind today.  On this blog I have spoken so many times about the importance of friendship in relationships, and “trying to get my head around”  what that actually means in practical terms.  This has been my main confusion:  that very true…thing that when you are attracted to someone (and trying to win them to your life), you are more likely to act in ways that mimic true friendship OR at least genuine care for that other person or even people in general.  You are also, naturally, more likely to try to portray yourself in a positive light as being full of the virtues which would make someone want to be your friend or consider you a great friend.  A big difficulty is that I’ve largely been speaking from theory, as I have been simply unable to truly visualise how exactly the friendship would work, without the romance/attraction factor. Now however, I feel that I understand a bit more, and can better talk about it.

Focusing on other parts of marriage:
I think that this following is an important consideration for anyone hoping for a relationship; that different marriages can focus on different things or can spring out from different things. What is more, different couples can choose what to base their marriages upon!  Perhaps it is true to say that everyone makes this choice whether they realise it or not. I’m sure that in many marriages, the two spouses will choose different things to base their marriage on.  This is such a cliche, but plausible all the same – in the same marriage the husband might base his marriage, that is, choose his wife, based on physical attraction – that is, the fact that she looks phenomenal; while the wife might simultaneously choose him based on hopes of financial security.  (I’m naturally such a feminist, so I would instinctively reject this example for myself – and yet for many people I have to concede that this is exactly how it works  🙁 )

When I talk about friendship, I mean deep, unyielding respect for one another’s character, and a deep, strong interaction that springs up from that. In this post I talk about the primacy of friendship, because recent experience has made it truly strike home that for me, for my vision of marriage, for my hopes of marriage, this is what I want to be central; this is what I want my marriage to spring out from.  While I have chosen this to be central in my own marriage, other things that people might choose to base their marriages on might include physical/sexual attraction, hopes of financial success, longing for social status/prestige, or even emotional intimacy.  Some people might even choose to base their marriages on mutual commitment to Christ!  (I’m only joking, of course it goes without saying that  “mutual commitment to Christ” is the true fundamental pillar of my marriage. I’ve also spoken about this countless times. Coming after this though, I believe, should be strong, genuine friendship.)

When I say “the primacy of friendship”, all I mean is that I believe that true friendship based on genuine respect for one another is the strongest foundation for a marriage, and should be put first, before everything else.  I believe that choosing friendship as the base of your marriage would give you a stronger marriage than any other possible base for marriage, assuming a strong and unyielding mutual commitment to Christ.

What about emotional intimacy?
This is where the challenge comes in for me personally.  I greatly prize emotional intimacy, hugs etc.  What I have discovered however is that it is apparently so possible to be drawn towards someone emotionally – at least at first – only to then discover that you don’t respect them.  For me, being unable to respect someone would instantly kill my desire for emotional intimacy with him.

The recommendation
From recent occurrences which can (finally!) be described as experience rather than theory (Hallelujah!)  the understanding I have been able to glean is this: to try my hardest to avoid attraction but to rather take my time to truly get to know someone.  If this person is genuinely excellent or friendship worthy, to build a solid friendship with them and only then to possibly introduce elements of romantic attraction.  Well at this point someone will say “But Tosin, that’s what you’ve always said!”  I know!  It feels so good to have real experience back up theory!  When in this post I talk about “recent occurrences”, please let no-one start to get excited on my behalf!  All I mean is that my life is now much fuller of people than it was for many years and I suddenly have more experiences in my life to base my thoughts and ponderings upon. 

Avoiding romantic attraction:  What I mean is this:  keeping things strictly on a friendship level.  If ever those feelings start to encroach – to cut them out!  What would be great would be if the two of you were “on the same page about it”, so you would both refrain from trying to make the other party fall in love with you! But then you would have to agree that the interaction between you was potentially romantic. So I guess then that this is how this could look in practice: Say you’re the girl! If/when the guy finally plucks up his courage to express his interest in you, then you could explain the “primacy of friendship” thing, and try to encourage him to join you in focusing on building a strong friendship (if you are potentially interested in him, obviously!) If you are the guy, then while expressing your interest you could tell her that you’d like to start off by building a strong friendship.
And then what could be humorous would be if you could get to the point of honestly discussing with one another:  “I’m starting to feel feelings grow within me for you, and it is making me uncomfortable…” or “I feel that you are trying to make me fall in love with you and I don’t like that!”
In that situation I guess you could take breaks from one another, physically remove yourself from one another…

I have to admit that I am struggling quite a lot with this post, so perhaps it would help if I described my vision about this idea, that is, what I can literally see in my mind.
I am seeing myself (naturally!) talking with someone, laughing, looking straight into their eyes, but without any deep connection of souls, sharing ideas, things not being complicated by the romance question. I’m thinking on a totally platonic level, not trying to see into one another’s soul, not touching, nothing! I relate this to my recent experience because this is exactly what I have been doing recently in various friendships.  Which is why suddenly I can see how it might work! Disclaimer:  I realised a few years back that my idea of “friendship” can be so deep that it might well correspond to many people’s ideas of “romance”.  So perhaps if some people were able to physically see my “friendship vision” that to them would correspond to an actual romance.  However for me “romance” is all about what is happening in my heart, and to me in my “friendship vision” there would be no exciting activity happening in my heart at all!  

Let’s then contrast this with my long-held and gradually developed view of actual romantic relationships, which are all about the exclusive emotional connection, the gazing deep into his eyes, and eventually, the “usness”, the intimate talking about our future as if we share the same future.  Lots of exciting things would be happening in my heart (oh yeah!!)

So just by extrapolating my recent experience into the future I can easily envisage what it would be like to be friends with a man and to deeply respect him without necessarily stirring up the romance thing.

Attractive but not too attractive!
Sigh!  How to explain this next bit?!  Perhaps like this: I am now going to talk about two ways of being physically attractive.  I think that what I am going to say here might be a little counter-intuitive – it certainly runs “counter” to all the advice that people are constantly giving me. 
So then:  two ways of being physically attractive (as a woman), and looking good: one way that stirs up physical attraction between you and the man, and one way that does not!  
Ironically, in my experience, this is not even about the man (unless you are half-dressed, never recommended until the privacy of your marital bedroom.)  Rather, it has been about me, and about being self-conscious about my femininity and how I look! Oh my goodness, this has been such a revelation!  In short, I have discovered that there are some ways that I can dress which do not make me feel self-conscious about myself or my femininity.  I can interact with men in a straight-forward and ordinary way. I can look at them, I can discuss with them, argue with them just as a person.  I hope that in those times I still look attractive, at least I know that I am still my usual smiling self. And then there are some times when I feel so self-conscious about looking good and even hot, that, to put it bluntly, I flirt! I go from being a rational person and team member who just happens to be a smiling female to being a sensual creature who is incapable of talking rationally about anything but rather plays with her hair, and smiles just a little too knowingly!  In these second times, the way I look and the way I behave can and will give off certain vibes that can only be designed to stir up romantic and physical attraction.  If you’ve never seen me like this, please consider yourself very fortunate.  If and when you do see it, trust me, you will know exactly what I am talking about! (It has actually taken me a very long time to work out how these forces work on me!)

So this is where it gets counter-intuitive!  Most people, including most Christian people, seem to advise for single Christian ladies who are looking to find husbands, that they should pull out all the stops for the sake of being attractive to men. They seem to encourage this idea of stirring up romantic/physical attraction so that the man will fall for you, and he will want to marry you. This seems to be sheer common-sense, right?  And yet this does not make sense for me. Because you then run the risk of stirring up romantic interest with someone before you fully know who he is.  The thing about romantic/sexual attraction is that it can be all-consuming. If your “vibing” at him has worked and he has started thinking those thoughts about you, and if you are cultivating deep passionate “feelings” for him as well, then it can be so hard to simultaneously assess his character or even to acknowledge the things that you can see staring you in the face. And yet this is what people suggest!  Pull out all the stops to look phenomenal so that a man would want you. This to me sounds like sheer lunacy. I honestly think that this is part of the reason why so many marriages experience tremendous difficulties almost right from the beginning. Because you have gone ahead to marry one another based on deliberately cultivating physical attraction without taking any account of character – or enough account of character.  And then you start having issues with one another’s character failings as soon as they start being revealed. Here is the thing.  When I talk about “character”, this is not just theory, or rhetoric. These are the real day to day issues that will frustrate you, or infuriate you, or eventually make you decide that you don’t love them any more. When I say character, I mean day to day issues like telling the truth. Doing what you say you will do.   Being financially responsible. Pulling your weight around the home.  Being considerate. So it is as if people are saying “Don’t worry about those things, Tosin, that will eventually make you feel as if you are banging your head against a brick wall in marriage!  Just get him to want you and to marry you, and then you can have the joy of discovering that your life is one endless brick wall when you find out what he is truly like and then you will have all the time in the world to bang your head in frustration!”  Seriously?!  No, clearly I am not going to do that! 

And then some women seem to have this flirtatious side of them permanently turned on.  I have met women who seem incapable of discussing with guys without a flirtatious edge to their words or their behaviour. This to me sounds like a recipe for finding yourself in a negative relationship – or even jumping from negative relationship to negative relationship, for reasons which I will try to describe below.  Here is the thing with which I myself have struggled to a certain extent. There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with having a flirtatious and sexual aspect to a marriage.  In fact, it is good, right and necessary.  However, if your interaction with a man has been dominated by this from the outset, firstly, in that blinding mist of sexual attraction it will be difficult for you to sincerely evaluate one another’s character; secondly I think that this is the way guys work – once they start feeling “that way”, they don’t want to be hanging around, but rather want to take quick action!  Apologies if I am completely misrepresenting guys here!   So what I’m saying is this:  it’s not that it is wrong to look hot and to know that you look hot and to enjoy that aspect of your relationship with your boyfriend or fiance, as long as Biblical standards of purity are maintained. The big danger though is that it is a big distraction.  Even where you manage to obey the strictest Biblical standards of sexual purity, riding this wave of physical attraction might very predictably lead you into an ill-advised or premature marriage.  Going back to my point above, this is why I think those women who can only interact with men flirtatiously stand the risk of finding themselves in negative relationships, because the nature of relationships founded on physical/sexual attraction seems to be so fast-paced that it simply does not give time for the serious character evaluation that will help you see who someone is before you enter into relationship with him. 

So this is what occurred to me.  This has occurred to me before. (In fact the various points of this argument have all occurred to me before, possibly at different times.) Very simply, first wear your rational, smiling but unflirtatious side for the sake of getting to know the man, being able to talk reasonably with him, see what he is made of.  Then when you get to know him really well, like 2 years well, when you are sure that this man would truly represent outstanding character for a spouse, then you can pull out all the stops and send him all the vibes in the world and let him see a very different side to you!  But friendship first.  That is, character first.  Respect for one another first. 

So to summarise then, other people seem to be saying “win him first, using your physical appeal!”  And then the unspoken consequence of this is that you might get to know him later, often within marriage, when it is too late for you to easily walk away from what you discover about him.  I however am saying “Get to know him first!” And then you can unleash the full force of your physical appeal, if, and only if you are happy and confident about who he has demonstrated himself to be, and winning that into your life.

As a final gentle note I’d like to remind everyone reading this that this is not the Bible!  These guidelines are not rigid strictures but ideas into which you could and should infuse your own God-given creativity to create something achingly beautiful and totally tailored to you and your own relationship.

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