As I write about women friendships – as a dude – the expression “where angels fear to tread” leaps into mind unbidden. It seems a cautionary warning to proceed carefully. Indeed, my writing is sidetracked when I decide to discover where the phrase comes from. The blog entry in front of me is one I feel needs to be written, but I fear writing it.
So.. a sidetrack it is:
The phrase comes from a line in a poem. The full line is “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Am I fool for attempting this blog entry? 🙋🏼♂️ Amazingly, the poem is over 300 years old. It’s by Alexander Pope and first appeared in 1711. The poem is called An Essay on Criticism, and you’ll recognize a couple of other lines from the poem:
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
“A little learning is a dang’rous thing.”
I make a mental note to read Pope’s poem in full later, and I turn my thoughts back to this long-considered blog entry. Perhaps my lady readers will remember the line about forgiveness if this entry offends.
My observation is that women have trouble making friends. Especially Christian women. It can’t be just me that has observed this. Karen Prior wrote The Female Friendship Crisis in Christianity Today.
Anecdotally, our church staff hears – just often enough for it to cause concern – that women in our church have trouble connecting with other women. That is in spite of most everyone in our church consistently saying that our church is warm and friend-ly. That’s in spite of small groups, discipleship groups, and women’s ministry events.
A friend and former member – Dr. Jamie Sanchez wrote about friendships and said:
“…we have lost the art of building relationships. Somewhere along the line, we were told that friendships just happen. Perhaps this perspective is a result of our “instant” culture in which we click our way through life without having to put in much effort. But, the types of friendships that [C.S.] Lewis wrote about, and that I’m convinced we all long for, have a deeper spiritual component than the “BFF” flavor that has inundated modern society.”
Because we live in a click-and-buy digital world, it’s easy to see who we’ve all been rewired in our expectations for relationships. Yet there are differences in expectations of conversational depth between men and women.
Guys connect with other guys over a multitude of things. Guys can talk trivia, small talk, sports, hunting, stories, etc. to the point that when it’s time to leave a conversation, nothing of significance has been covered. That doesn’t bother most guys.
Women, on the other hand, are deeply self-aware and always thinking beyond the mundane in every conversation. They don’t appreciate consistent shallowness in their friendships or acquaintances.
Here are five observations for why Christian women struggle with friendships:
- Women generally dislike confrontation and conflict. Because intimate friendships must contain those realities for growth, women find it easier to avoid deep friendship.
- Friendships require vulnerability. Being forthcoming and sharing one’s heart (and dirt) with another in this age of frequent relocations, fickleness and easy offense is alarming to women. They cannot imagine sharing their heart only to discover that the woman they’ve shared with has moved on to another “friend” in six months.
- Women are more likely to have a lot of acquaintances that they’ll do coffee or go shopping with more than they have friendships that they invest in life with.
- Our culture is busy and fast-paced. Ladies in all walks of life can barely take a breath, and the demands on them are enormous. While they may want friends, when they have time, they want to nap or veg. Because it takes energy to be an intentional friend, it becomes far easier to just stay at home and flip through the lives of “friends” on Instagram.
- Insecurity. There. I said it. Not that this needs explanation, but because women are beautifully sensitive, it’s very hard for women to “put themselves out there.” They are willing to open up when someone is intentional with them, but because so few are intentional, it winds up that most hold back and feel disconnected.
Ladies, what do you think?
I certainly cannot speak for women and their friendships. I can read about them and research and observe, but I’d love to hear from women in the comments about whether they agree with the five observations above. I would be humbled if you took a moment and added your thinking to the list.
Thoughts for Christian women on growing forward in friendship
If it’s true – not just anecdotal – that Christian women (and perhaps all women) struggle with friendship, what are some steps forward to grow? I don’t want to offer some generic list of “how to get a friend,” nor do I want to be trite and say “to have a friend, you must be a friend.”
No, I’d rather look at the big picture for Christian women. As a follower of Jesus, we all know that relationships are not just important, they are ultimate. Relationships are the why, glue and path of life.
In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. He responded, and I summarize:
- Love God with your identity, your memory and your energy. Really. Love the Lord deeply. Love precedes and then inspires obedience.
- Love people more than you think of yourself. This command is equally stirring because we all think of ourselves – a lot – whether you’re a woman or a man.
So the why is because we are told to. We are designed to be in loving relationship with God and with others. Women must release their lives in trust and embrace relationships with others.
Relationships -and here we are talking about friendships – are more than checking the mail for a neighbor when they are out of town. They are the glue that holds families, societies and nations together. They require work or they lose their “stickiness” and adhesive power. Women must see that life is lived best connected to others.
The path of life
it sounds a bit melodramatic (but I’m talking to women, so it’s ok, right? 😜) to say that friendships are the “path of life.” I mean that in order to get form point A to point B, you will need to have a friend. You truly cannot exist by yourself. Your spouse was not created to meet all your needs, nor were your parents – and certainly not your kids. You need friends. Friendships must be built on genuine consideration how to help and bless another rather than on what you “get out of it.”
One last thought: intergenerational friendships
Your best friend may wind up being 40 years older than you are. Full of life, wisdom, joy and perspective, older women can help younger women to get a grip, get perspective and follow Jesus even while they’re career path or kids carpool is overwhelming. Such an intergenerational friendship can also bring fresh insight, passion, fun and great activity to the life of an older lady. This intergenerational match is not just a great idea, but a divine design:
“They [older women] are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered.” (Titus 2.3-5)
I close now, and I ask for grace and patience from my women readers in this attempt to delve below the surface of Christian women friendships. It’s been so tempting to just counsel you to “put yourself out there,” but I know it’s far more complex than that. I do know that you simply don’t have permission as a follower of Jesus to “turtle” all your life.
I’ll leave it for wiser women writers to offer better thoughts on the how-to’s and the struggles. I have truly tread on ground that I’m not worthy to walk. So I return to Pope’s poem and would adapt one line a bit – “a little lady blogging is a dang’rous thing.” I pray for your forgiveness where I’ve erred or spoken ingraciously. I also pray with all my heart for your future friendships of faith. May they be golden, girls.