[Friendship Gone Wrong] The Trend of Romanticization
“When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.” –Tim Keller
The culture around us is like a current, gently pushing us along according to its philosophies. Unless we are regularly clinging to the Truth and taking our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:5), we will mindlessly drift along with this worldly current. This is why Paul encourages us to “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col 2:8)
There is a new trend that seems harmless on the surface, but it is anything but safe: the romanticizing of friendships. Though you may not have noticed this shift, it is very present. Just do a quick search of “best friends” or “BFF” on Pinterest or google and here are a few things you will find language like anniversaries, dates, soulmates, and "frouple."
A recent movie called “Life Partners" deals with this situation.
Here is the synopsis below:
“Straight Paige (Jacobs) and lesbian Sasha (Meester) are codependent best friends in their late 20s who have spent the last ten years acting more like wives than friends: they talk to each other on the toilet; they drive each other to the doctor. And as with any good marriage, they’re a perfect yin and yang. Until the night Paige meets TIM (Brody). Despite some superficial drawbacks (questionable facial hair, a penchant for quoting the movies everyone quotes), he’s the kind of guy you marry. As Paige and Tim’s relationship grows, the bond between Paige and Sasha inevitably shifts. Suddenly without a “partner,” Sasha is left to examine her own shortcomings and panic about her impending 30th birthday. Passive-aggressive conflict brews in their friendship until the girls must finally confront the question they’ve been avoiding: can their friendship survive growing up?”
The conclusion from all this: BFFs have become the new couple. Can’t find a boyfriend? Just get a best friend. Emotionally, a best friend can now fulfill all the same things a boyfriend can. It may feel like your best friend is the only person who truly gets you. She can make you feel loved, give you somewhere to belong, and make you feel needed. Your BFF can easily become a placeholder until you get that boyfriend or husband you’ve always wanted.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to find best friends using facebook to say they are married to each other, or are each other’s significant others.
In fact, with this trend has come a “covenantal” verbiage that is usually only given to marriages:
With a high divorce rate and many choosing to never marry and move from one sexual partner to another, our culture is still longing for a covenantal relationship, that one person who will always be there for you. It's just moved from marriage to friendship. This is no small thing.
The Bible tells us that marriages alone are to be exclusive, binding, and have a level of “you-belong-to-me” ownership. (Gen 2:24, 1 Cor 7:4, 39) No other relationship gets the title of “one-flesh.” We all need friends who will be there for us in good and bad times, but to treat a friendship with the weight, exclusivity, and ownership of a marriage has serious dangers.
Exclusive, romantic relationships that incorporate ownership (ex: “you belong to me, I belong to you”) tend to create physical intimacy. This is easily seen in dating relationships. So when two best friends have created an exclusive, romanticized friendship where they feel they belong to one another, it’s fairly natural to grow in physical intimacy together. Unnatural physical affection is primarily a product of misplaced worship which we discussed in earlier posts: worshipping a friend distorts their role into your life.
A second danger of treating a friendship like a marriage is that it endangers the institution of marriage. By creating friendships that imitate the covenant, weight, and longevity of a one-flesh union, it devalues the actual institution of marriage. It can also inhibit future healthy marriages from forming. How can a man and a wife become one flesh when the woman is already acting like one flesh with her BFF?
A new pose for wedding photos showcases this intrusion of friendship into marriage: the groom with his arm around his bride and the maid of honor holding hands with the bride behind the man’s back, often with the girls interlocking fingers. Doesn't this suggest that the bride has more intimacy, more commitment, and more security in the Maid of Honor than her husband? "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matt 19:6) This means best friends too.
Marriage is a representation of the covenantal love of God for His people and the primary picture of the relationship between Christ and the church! It is a very grave thing to distort this image, and in our culture where marriage is being “redefined,” it’s important we take this seriously.
Please hear me, there is nothing wrong with a lifelong friend who we are committed to. But in no way are two friends "one-flesh" in the way a marriage is nor should they operate like a single unit. (Read more about the purpose of friendship here.)
THE ONE-PERSON LIE
So why has this cultural shift in friendships been happening? I think it is rooted in the same lie that has created an abundance of romantic comedies and the myth of “the one.” I’ll call it the one-person lie. Here is the root message: to love and be loved in an exclusive relationship with one person is the greatest of all joys. Ultimately the message boils down to this: you need a person more than you need God.
Numerous movies, books, and TV shows have fleshed this out, whether it’s between a man and a woman, two friends, or a gay couple. No matter the scenario, the underlying message is if you haven’t found your person, the one who gets you, who is always there for you, with whom you belong, then you are missing out. To love and be loved by that one person will fulfill all your needs and longings, bringing deep soul satisfaction.
Many young Christian women have bought into this lie and have attempted to “Christianize” this idolatrous pursuit by seeking a godly husband to forever satisfy this ache. But marriage is not meant to satisfy the longings of a hungry heart. Only God fills the hungry soul with good things. I am thankful for the numerous messages, blogs, and books rightly dispelling this lie that a boyfriend or future husband can ultimately satisfy you. My first blog series dealt with this very thing.
Being able to spot this lie in dating and marriage is good, but it isn’t enough. A lie must be pulled out from its root. To merely severe some of its branches will only encourage it to grow in another direction. Similarly, if this one-person lie isn’t continuously rejected, it can grow into our friendships, producing this subconscious thought process: if I can’t have a husband yet, I’ll just find a best friend. The idolatry that we recognize in romantic relationships, we often fail to see in friendships.
Idolatry in friendships is very similar to and sometimes tied to idolizing a future-imaginary-spouse. If you become hopeless in waiting for the perfect man, and it is culturally acceptable to act like you’re a couple with a friend, then giving weight and value to your friend above God may happen without you even realizing it.
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2) and the whole world lies in his power. (1 John 5:19)
If we truly believe this, it should produce a healthy skepticism about the messages and trends of our culture. We should look around us with a sober mind, filtering the world around us through the Word of God.
When we look at this trend of romanticizing friendship, especially after spending 5 days discussing friendship Biblically, we should quickly see the following things:
1. Romanticizing friendship is an attempt to find satisfaction in a friend, not God. This is right in line with Satan’s original lie that God is not enough for us: “You’re missing out. God’s holding out on you.” (Gen 3:1-6)
2. Romanticizing friendship is normalizing codependency. Remember, D'Ann Davis called a codependent friendship "a super intense, one-on-one relationship with a best friend who will meet all of your needs and will make other relationships unnecessary."
3. Romanticizing friendship is normalizing idolatry. Since the world doesn't know God and doesn't know what it looks like to worship Him, it will always look to other things to worship. In this instance, the world is worshiping friendship. Giving more weight and importance to a friend than to God is idolatry. Anything we need more than God is an idol, even a good Christian friend.
4. Romanticizing friendship ignores the primary, Biblical function of friends: to point one another to Jesus for satisfaction, strength, comfort and hope. Instead, the world's model of friendship points to people as our place of satisfaction, strength, comfort and hope.
Be sober-minded and remember that friendship is FOR Jesus. These trends in our culture shouldn't scare us away from forming deep friendships. We were created for community and desperately need deep, intimate, godly friends. But we primarily need them to point us to God.
“Here we are again with our most common theme it seems: a radical God-centeredness in all we do, even in our human togetherness, our camaraderie, our friendship. It must be a friendship FOR Jesus. Every Christian group that exists ought to exist to strengthen each other's hands in God and not in man.” – John Piper
May our friendship FOR Jesus look radically different from the world’s version of friendship. Friendship with a much greater purpose and a much deeper source of joy. Friendship for the glory of God.