Ask any male college student if guys and girls can be “just friends” and he will laugh and shake his head no. Why? Because men typically only invest time and energy into a relationship they believe can go further. The guy might keep his intentions covert, but if you scratch under the surface, his heart is engaged. Women often believe the opposite sex can be “just friends” until a relationship goes sour, at which point they look back and ponder what went wrong.

A Lesson Learned

I learned the “just friends” lesson the hard way. As a relatively young (32) and single divorced mama, I fell into the habit of keeping a little group of male admirers around who I considered to be just friends. I had the older mentor friend who I let take me to dinner, concerts and even a Christian Single Parents Retreat (he footed the bill for my kids and me to go). I also had a gym buddy who was my backup for Friday nights if I didn’t have a date, and then there was my work friend who I went to weekly Christian events with. Now, I kept my male friendships purely non-physical, but I clearly had no shame in letting them spend lots of money on me – certainly just as rotten a motive as a guy using a girl for sex.

But one day, my illusion of having all these guys around who were “just friends” shattered when one of my male buddies revealed he was head over heels in love with me and had been seeing a counselor for six months to reconcile his emotions with reality. What had I done to this poor man?

Hanging Out vs. Intentional Dating

Was it a crime to go to an event once a week with someone for nine months and simply sit together?  Not by a long shot, but I knew on a deeper level that by spending time with him each week and approaching him with a big smile and a hug, I had encouraged him for far longer than a woman who claims to follow God should do.

We girls like to think only men are guilty of playing the “hanging out” card, but I was certainly responsible for the same game by justifying the relationship as a non-romantic one. The same girl who defiantly states, “I have plenty of male friends” would be shocked to discover that most of the guys they hang out with will almost always fess up to wanting the relationship to go to the next level. “Just friends” is a misnomer in the dating realm because most women enjoy male attention and will hang out with guys even if they aren’t interested in them romantically to feed that void. Women can justify the relationship because it isn’t physical; therefore, they believe they aren’t leading a guy on.

Unfortunately, that’s not how real people’s hearts work. Humans are emotional beings designed for relationships, and we crave intimacy. Anytime we draw close to another person and connect, we attach on some level. While some guys are guilty of “hanging out” and spending time with a girl, using her to meet his physical or emotional needs with no intention of ever taking the relationship further, women are just as capable of doing the same thing (whether they realize they’re doing it or not).

The Illusion Of More

When I reflected on my part of the relational debacle, I realized I hadn’t respected this man’s heart. I knew he desired me on some level, and I liked the attention. I never sat down with him and told him he had no hope and no future with me. I may have alluded he wasn’t my type, but simply by reconnecting every week and spending time with him, I gave him the hope of something more.

This very nice man could have been out pursuing a woman he had a real chance with. By tying him to my little entourage, I wasted his time and relational energy. I took advantage of his heart and used it for selfish motives. That might sound harsh, but if we truly care about treating our neighbors with love and kindness, then we must take ownership of how we treat our romantic interests and dates as well. We don’t get a pass to treat people badly in the dating realm if we follow Christ.

Reality Check

That evening, I had to look him in the eye and tell him I wasn’t interested in him romantically, and then apologize for leading him on.  It was a wake-up call, and I knew it was time to fix my broken thinking when it came to having multiple backup guys who were “just friends.” I needed to ask the tough questions. What were my real motives? Why did I need attention from men I had no desire to pursue relationally? What areas did I need to turn over to God and seek healing in?

I stopped dating for a time and worked with a Christian therapist to make sure I was ready before I started dating again. If you have relational wounds like I did, seek healing and health. An emotionally healthy person will attract another emotionally healthy person, so do the work beforehand to find the relationship you truly desire.

Heart Renovation

It may be time for you to assess the “just friends” relationships in your life. Is it possible that surrounding yourself with friends of the opposite sex is actually precluding you from moving towards the meaningful relationship God intended from the start? Think about whether you have been fully truthful with each other; if not, it might be time for a heart-to-heart to decide whether it’s a good idea to maintain a close friendship.

In some cases, your time and energy would better be spent finding the best romantic match – instead of wasting your and your friend’s effort on a dead-end relationship. I believe when we begin to treat our dates and relationships with dignity and respect, doors open that were previously closed.

You may also be interested in How To Be Humble In An All-About-Me Culture

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