Friendship Is Replacing Marriage

In my last post, we merely scratched the surface on our culture’s infatuation with romance, and how marriage is often viewed as the pinnacle of all relationships, often to the detriment of cultivating any friendships outside of it. Marriage is the most important relationship, but it shouldn’t be one’s only relationship. But alas, people still tend to put all their relational eggs in one romantic basket. Thus, loneliness still seeps in.

While this is still largely the case in much of dominant society, we’re starting to see a shift in  how our culture views romance, intimacy, and friendships. I was blown away when I read about this in Kelly Needham’s new book, Friendish: Reclaiming Real Friendship In a Culture of Confusion (I highly recommend this one, folks).

As we’ve been exploring, people are getting lonelier and lonelier than ever before. Coincidentally, people are putting off marriage longer and longer than ever before. The average marrying age is between the late 20s to mid 30s (that is, if they ever do decide to marry). We currently have the largest population of singles in United States history. So when we throw all these things into a boiling pot, we get a stew of lonely young adults who aren’t settling down, putting marriage way off to the margins, but yet still longing for community and intimacy. Therefore, young adults are increasingly placing their intimacy in their…

Friendships.

Friendship is perhaps more important than ever before for people’s intimacy and belonging. It’s why holidays like Galentines Day and Friendsgiving are so popular these days, as Needham notes. And for the purposes of this blog, this sounds like an amazing win! Loneliness is being remedied through friendship! 

But there’s still an issue at bay here: People are searching for intimacy in the wrong places.

For starters, our culture’s younger generations have been growing up with a disfigured view of what marriage is suppose to be, let alone what a healthy marriage free of divorce looks like. The average child is raised by a single parent in this country. That’s insane. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a growing wariness of how truly good a lifetime commitment to someone in marriage could be if it just ends up in divorce, heartache, and broken families. 

Furthermore, with people’s fear of commitment and selfish indulgences, romantic relationships have become more about practicing sexual freedom than committing to a spouse for a lifetime. So if deep intimacy is no longer found in a spouse, and romantic relationships are merely for fulfilling sexual desires, then friendship is the relationship where true intimacy is being found. Needham sums this up perfectly when she writes:

“To a world that doesn’t want limitations or hindrances from sexual encounters, friendships now function as the stable family unit people still hunger for, while allowing them the sexual freedom they desire.”

– Kelly Needham, Friendish

Again, the initial thought of a group of friends functioning like a family isn’t inherently bad. It’s a great metaphor for the type of belonging that takes place within that community., But the issue is it’s becoming less of a metaphor and more literally people’s reality. 

This shift in relationships is revealing that friendship is trumping marriage, not just in priority, but in practice. Needham quotes several articles that reveal women are viewing their close girlfriends as legitimate replacements for a husband, and that men view their “bromances” as more emotionally stable and intimate than a girlfriend or wife could provide. If their friends can provide this sort of marriage-like intimacy, why find it in a relationship that will only lead to heartache and destruction from their points of view?

Our culture has begun mimicking marriage in its friendships. Needham describes 5 symptoms that may reveal if we’re treating a friendship like a marriage:

  1. Exclusivity: You shut yourselves off from others and don’t let anyone else into your friendship. You’ve DTR’ed, essentially, calling your friendship “exclusive” from including anyone else in your intimate friendship. Just like marriage.
  2. Jealousy: You get exceptionally frustrated and distraught if your friend starts hanging out with other friends. They’re suppose to belong to you and you alone. Just like marriage.
  3. Romantic Language: You start professing things like, “You’re so hot,” “I love your body,” “You’re my soulmate,” “What would I do without you?”, and “You complete me.” Just like marriage
  4. A Lack of Boundaries: You have to do everything together, and know what the other is always thinking and what he or she is up to. You can’t just be your own person because you’re so actively involved in each others’ lives. You don’t know when your independence ends and the other’s begins. You’re functioning as “one flesh.” Just like marriage.
  5. Craving Physical Connection. This is a big one. Giving each other a hug or holding hands or patting each other on the back as a sign of appreciation for your friend is one thing. But it becomes a red flag when you begin to crave this sort of physical connection with your friend, and it becomes a primary way of you feeling loved and cherished… Just… like… marriage.

And perhaps the most startling thing for me from Needham’s discussion on this topic—and science is starting to reveal this to be true, as well—that the more people treat a friendship like an intimate marriage relationship, the more likely they will grow in legitimate physical attraction towards the other person. Now, this begins to tiptoe into the same-sex attraction conversation, which is way beyond the scope of this blog. But this fact reveals how confusing this whole conversation becomes, especially with misconceptions of marriage and the celebration of same-sex relationships in nearly every source of media we consume nowadays. People may legitimately be questioning their sexual orientation because they’re desperate for intimacy and culture is telling them to find it in a same-sex friendship rather than a committed marriage.

What does all of this reveal?

It shows our priorities are way, way off.

We are designed for community. We long for intimacy. We are at our best when we have significant friendships with others. But Needham asserts that friendships will never fully satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. The healthiest of marriages can’t even do that. The only person that can truly satisfy our deepest needs is Christ alone. Jesus should be our chiefest friend, and it is our spiritual friendship with the Triune God that acts as our true north for all other friendships, marriages, and relationships. If we are not growing in intimacy with Christ, then we will seek for it in others, and we will still come out empty and lonely.

We must continue to learn what it means to befriend the Lord above all else.

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