Who are you to tell me what friends I can and can’t have?

I was on Facebook the other day, casually scrolling along, and as Facebook does, it offered me a glimpse into what my friends were liking and commenting on. That day, this post happened to pop up as something one of my friends had liked:

nope

[texts reading: Bro, you busy?

Nah, what’s up?

Be real, would you be cool with your girl having guys as friends?

If I had a girlfriend, she’s allowed a maximum of three male friends… The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.]

I’m aware this is supposed to be a joke. It’s a “clever” reply designed to make Christians chuckle and nod along. (Upon trying to find the screencap of this text conversation for this post, I came across three or four graphics that had basically the same joke, so I’m not sure of the origin.) But I don’t find it funny. Let me explain why.

1. If I’m dating someone, they don’t get to tell me who I can be friends with.

I’m aware that in modern culture, and especially some segments of Christian culture, it’s assumed that when you start seriously dating someone and head down the “marriage road,” they basically have a say in all your major decisions. If you suddenly find yourself faced with the option of moving cross-country, for example, most people would be shocked if you didn’t involve your long-term significant other in that decision-making process, or at least ask them for their opinion. But this sort of assumption that the boyfriend (it’s most often the boyfriend in Christian culture, but I do know of jealous women who refuse to let their boyfriends have female friends too) controls his girlfriend’s social life to the extent that she can’t have any male friends is ridiculous.

In fact, it’s downright impractical. What if she already has male friends? Is she supposed to never talk to them again while she’s dating you? That’s rude. And what if she happens to meet a guy she wants to be friends with – is she supposed to say “oh, sorry, I can’t talk to you anymore, my boyfriend wouldn’t like it”? That sounds creepy. It sounds like the boyfriend has more of a say in her life than she does – and in this case, he would. It would be different if the boyfriend were discouraging her from, say, excessive drinking or reckless behavior, but it is literally him forbidding her from having male friends.

On top of everything else, the way this joke is presented comes off as sexist. It’s a man saying “What I want is more important than what the woman I’m dating wants. And I’m the man in this relationship, so I get to decide.” His opinion matters more than hers because he’s a man, and for no other reason. Christian culture in particular has long held with the belief that the man’s word is law in a relationship, which is just not how good relationships should work. It would be different if, for example, this boyfriend expressed discomfort in the idea but said, “I would talk to my girlfriend about it and see if maybe she’d be okay with only hanging around her guy friends in groups.” Still kind of a weird request, and it would make me pause, but not nearly as controlling as the above statement. The writer of that text gives the hypothetical girlfriend no say in a matter that very much concerns her.

You know who gets to decide who I’m friends with? Me. Not my parents, not my other friends, and certainly not my hypothetical boyfriend.

2. I’m tired of the assumption that guys and girls can’t have platonic friendships without an undercurrent of sexual tension.

Western culture in general has a huge problem with this, but it’s exaggerated to the point of parody in Christian subcultures. (I went to a private Christian university and they literally had to create an extracurricular plan for students to be exposed to the opposite sex* in a non-dating context, because they were discovering that students were graduating without knowing the slightest thing about how to interact with someone of a gender other than their own.) Everyone knows guys and girls can’t be friends! There will always be an underlying attraction! Even if you’re both happily taken, sooner or later that attraction will come out!

This is presumptive for a lot of reasons, but the silliest one is that every heterosexual man will be attracted to every heterosexual woman, and vice versa. That assumption only works if you figure there is no difference between individual men and women, and that each person’s not going to have preferences about their preferred gender. For example, some guys don’t like blondes. Some girls don’t like men with beards. Some girls only like men with beards. And so forth. It’s entirely possible to just not be attracted to someone of your preferred gender (and, I would think, preferable to ogling every single person you see throughout your day). Most heterosexual men are not going to be attracted to every woman. Most heterosexual women are not going to be attracted to every single man.

But suppose they are? Let’s just suppose a guy and a girl are friends and one or both of them finds the other attractive. That does happen sometimes. Well, there’s this handy little thing called self-control. A lot of people don’t understand this because they either don’t think about it or no one tells them about it, but it is possible to be attracted to someone and not act on it in any way. In some cases (i.e. crushing on a taken/married friend or coworker) this may be preferable to confessing one’s feelings and making it awkward for everyone involved. And even if the object of your attractions isn’t taken, there may be reasons you don’t want to act on those feelings – risking losing their friendship, perhaps. That’s okay! Having a crush/attraction can be really fun, especially in the butterflies-in-stomach stage where everything is rosy and you get excited every time you see them. You don’t have to do anything with it, you can just let it happen and not get swept up in grand romantic gestures and thoughts. Maybe make yourself a blog where you write short posts about your feelings. Maybe write them a letter. Just let yourself feel the feelings but don’t put yourself under pressure to confess. It’s possible, I promise. I’ve done it.

3. I’m tired of the assumption that if a guy and a girl hang out, it will lead to sexy things.

This is piggybacking off of the last point, but the guy making this joke is making it because on some level, he feels insecure about his girlfriend’s ability to be around other guys without cheating on him in some way. And I’m sure that if I asked him about that, he would say “Oh it’s not her I’m worried about, it’s the guys!” But the thing is, that’s not really fair to her or to the guys. It’s assuming that she’s a helpless pawn to male sexual advances and it’s assuming that the guys are mindless horndogs (and yes, I know Christian culture teaches this, basically, but they assume that you can go from being casual friends to making out with someone just based on one hangout).

This is also a terrible assumption because it sexualizes all male-female relationships, when that’s just not the case. Over my twenty-three years of living, I’ve had at least half-a-dozen guy friends, some closer than others, but all of whom I spent at least a few minutes with alone at some point during our friendship. And you know what? Never at any point did I feel like we were going to jump each other. One of my best friends is a guy, and we’ve repeatedly had talks about how we’re so not attracted to each other, ew, the very idea is gross, because we’re friends. It’s not denial or rudeness, it’s being honest. But my mother told me recently that she doesn’t feel comfortable with me having him stay the night in an entirely different floor of the house, and it’s because of those stupid assumptions.

5. It’s bad theology.

This point is more of a joke, but I was always under the impression that the three branches of the Trinity were meant to be the personhood of God, in three forms. So technically wouldn’t they only count as one person? I’m the furthest thing from a theology scholar so please enlighten me if I’m misunderstanding that.

When I was looking up the original image for this post, I saw that a great deal of commenters had responded negatively to it, from making pithy jokes (“That still only counts as one!”) to actually attempting to explain why it’s a bad joke. The people behind the page posted a comment saying something like “A Christian meme page posting a joke, how unheard of!” But the problem is that it’s not a funny joke, and it relies on harmful assumptions to work.

See, the thing is that when one person says “That’s not funny,” you can assume that you and they don’t share the same sense of humor. When two people say “That’s not funny,” you can shrug it off as a bad audience. When multiple people tell you your joke’s not funny, maybe you should listen to their reasons why.

*I use the term “opposite sex” here as it is the one most readers of this post will be familiar with, but you may notice that I have tried to use gender-inclusive language in the rest of the post.

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