Some days I feel like I’m still in primary school, when I see the boys and girls are still so separate. But you can’t be a man who avoids women or a woman who avoids men and expect to have a whole and healthy life.
I gotta say, I find myself thinking on this topic quite a lot recently. Maybe it’s because of a lot of the conversations and experiences people have shared with me recently. Maybe I’ve just been so filled with the frustrations of others that this is me about to pop. In fact I was talking to someone last night about how this one is actually one of my pet annoyances in life.
And it’s been a while since I’ve done more of a rant than a post, but on this one, I really need to go there. Maybe I should explain myself and provide some context first.
In primary schools around our country or even throughout the history of multiple countries, there are times where children are separated into boys and girls for cultural learnings and responsibilities, or gender specific topics such as dealing with puberty or bodily changes. Generally we see that boys and girls tend to congregate together for their earlier years. We like similar. It can help whilst forming some of our basic experiences and understandings of our world. The friendships seem to occur quite quickly and naturally.
You might see a group of boys go off with an older man to teach them a particular life skill. You may see the older women teaching the younger girls another life skill. You would see all the boys play on the same sporting team and hang out together, and a lot of the girls would always sit together for lunch or at after school events. I remember even in my younger years, whilst I did have female friends, I definitely found myself spending more of my time with the boys.
At this point it’s probably worth noting that all my education experiences occurred in co-ed environments before I continue.
Then as high school came around, there was a marked change at lunchtime and in the classrooms. The groups started to mix. In fact even though guys would still have their guy friends and girls their girl friends, lunch time catchups would have a much more even split. Sure, the teenage boys may run off to do something stupid or make juvenile jokes together, and the girls might organise a rom-com movie night or get together to talk about what some boy had done to them, but they’d find their way back together again.
I remember in youth group we’d mix as well. Of course, when it was time for a school or a church camp, you’d see the guys and girls break off into their own dorm rooms. There’d always be some sexually frustrated teenagers who’d sneak off and be caught kissing in the corner after lights out or some young gents trying to sneak into the girls room at change time, but there would be that separation at least. But bed time would usually be the only time where the separation would occur – all other activities, meals, conversations and life in general would be together.
And I remember in high school thinking, man, women think differently. But also, they have some really great perspectives and approaches on things. I found myself growing into a young man being framed by not just the young and older men in my life, but finding myself of more and more benefit because of the great young women and older women in my life as well.
University and career life continued much the same. Moving from youth group into young adults in church reflected the same experience I had in the rest of my life. Some of my greatest conversations, some of my strongest supports, and indeed many of the people I learned from the most weren’t just the men in my life, but the women as well. Everyone’s parties, celebrations, outings, holidays and discussions were greatly enriched by being entirely mixed affairs. Sure, sometimes you’d have a gender specific one, but the majority of interactions had everyone there.
There’s something about us growing together that gives one a more rounded perspective in life. I think we’re all aware of the impacts of toxic masculinity and rape culture that can really breed in an ugly way when multiple unhealthy views of women stew together in a “gentlemen’s club”. To be fair, there are a lot of cutting and sexist remarks about men that can also occur in some all female events if the slant is that way inclined without the support of male relationships external to the group.
That’s not to say that men hanging out with men and women hanging out with women is toxic or destructive. Far from it. I’ve had many male mentors in life, my male friends (besides my wife) have definitely tended to be closer and a bit more aware of the inner workings of my life, and a night out with the boys sure can be a lot of fun. I believe the same to be true for women in similar levels of benefit. Gender exclusive support groups, conferences, health awareness months, seminars and even serving initiatives can really do powerful things for our community and our society.
So all that to say, I don’t think it’s a problem when men hang out with men and women hang out with women.
But I gotta say, I have a grave concern when men only hang out with men or women only hang out with women. Coming into a room full of “adults” and seeing all the guys on one side and the girls on the other. For the whole freaking night. Seeing the boys always organising events where only guys can come, or the girls posting yet another round of photos from another 6 month period of women only events. Watching people trying to talk to someone about dating them knowing that’s the first woman or man they’ve even tried to have a conversation with all year.
It feels like some people are still acting they’re in primary school and wondering why they have as much success as you would in primary school with these older decisions. No friends, can’t get a date, no support for your marriage or kids, emotionally frustrated, feeling misunderstood and directionless in life, can’t understand what your significant other is trying to say, and refusing the primary mechanism and opportunity life has given all of us to actually see great health in those areas of our lives.
Okay, I’ll be more logical in approach or this’ll turn into an unhelpful whinefest. There’s quite a few reasons why seeing this happen drives me nuts (read: breaks my heart) and I think is actually a really destructive way to live.
Here are some of them.
It’s a primary school attitude. It really reflects an unwillingness to grow. For better or worse, educational institutions, parents and childminding groups may have had a variety of reasons to keep boys and girls separate during certain activities. But once you’ve grown to a suitable level of development, there is really nothing left keeping you away from growing your friendship circles.
Besides this and pain. More on that later.
It really makes dating and marriage impossible. Ugh. Alright, here we go.
I cannot even count the number of men and women who’ve complained to me that they can’t find a date or they struggle to meet anyone, and yet these same people will then go out that night or during the week and only ever catch up with the boys and spend nights out with the girls.
And even when you’re at a mixed event, you snub the girls trying to talk to you (or the guys) and pick the same single people to always hang out with.
No wonder you can’t meet people. No wonder you don’t know how to talk to men. Or to women. No wonder dating apps are the only way you even get to kick off a conversation with the opposite sex. No wonder they can’t get through that wall of guys or girls that you’re always surrounded with and ask you out. You’re acting as an island and treating the opposite sex as the ocean – something you’re surrounded by, but only ever make limited contact with.
The people who seem to have the most success and relative ease in their relationships tend to be those who have regular, active relationships with men and women. Sure, your relationships with the opposite sex may look a bit different and you might not discuss everything with them (and certain topics can be quite emotionally or sexually risky if you want to preserve your current or future marriage), but you can only stand to benefit from having multiple friends.
So many people say they want to marry their best friend. And yet they don’t actually have any male or female friends even close to that category. It seems them that increasing the number and the health of your relationships with the opposite sex can only boost your chances of a successful love connection.
And once you are dating someone long term or married, good luck trying to keep it up if your only perspective on men or women comes from your partner. It’s really become unpopular to say this in the 21st century, but it still remains true that men and women have different brain structures, different giftings, different ways they need their needs met, and different perspectives they use when interacting with the world. There is great power in learning through the wisdom of multiple female sources the way your wife may be approaching the world, or seeing that in fact your husband isn’t the only man who acts a certain way or has certain needs.
As an addendum on this topic, I remain convinced that the most abusive, Peter Pan syndrome, and dangerous husbands and boyfriends are the ones who have no real friends who they are truly open with or are keeping them accountable. You show me a man who has no one encouraging him to be a better man, to make better decisions, to lift his dreams and move forward in his life, and I’ll show you a man who is destroying his wife and family. More on that in Why Men Need Purpose, Direction, and Income.
And I’ve come to learn that women are the same. Without the support of wise counsel or even just to have good times with, her man becomes the obstacle. I read a great quote from Tanja Taaljard to this end – that “Women instinctually know how to nourish each other, and just being with each other is restorative”. I’m a big believer in women and I have loved seeing over many decades how powerful it can be when women put this powerful gift to work for each other. It truly makes the whole world a better place.
So you can see I am arguing we need both here. I’m not saying to go completely the other way. But I just can’t see any healthy dating or marriage relationships to ever come out of a man who avoids women or a woman who avoids men.
You endanger your children and future children. TD Jakes in He-Motions (which is also a fantastic book for learning to be a better man or to understand men better) called special attention to the many women out there who have been hurt by men, unfortunately to the point where they can’t stand men. He boldly pointed out, “I hear you, I feel you, I’m here to represent you… but what about your sons?”. If you’re a woman who hates men, you’re dangerous to boys. Same if you’re a man who hates women trying to raise girls.
Inevitably your toxic attitude will affect the development and treatment of your own children. Whatever is in us always comes out of us. As Jesus pointed out, a good and healthy tree produces good fruit, but the unhealthy tree produces bad fruit. Out of the abundance of our heart, the mouth speaks. These and so many reasons caution us not to carry an ugly attitude towards the opposite sex and expect to raise healthy kids.
I’ve found as a parent that it’s what overflows out of us that our kids actually pick up. They pick up our joy and they pick up our poison. So what truly matters is what we have filled ourselves with.
You miss out on the great friendship and the great contributions the opposite sex bring. I once heard someone say that when we only focus on a male or a female perspective, we only ever have half the picture. I’ve always found this to be the case. If I try to make a decision without getting a male and a female perspective on it, I usually make the wrong one, or an incomplete one.
Because unresolved pain will destroy the rest of your life. I have seen time and time again how a root of bitterness grows and grows and eventually does nothing but destroy. And often at the heart of a resistance to pursue healthy relationships with the opposite sex is a great deal of pain usually inflicted by only one or two men or women in a person’s life, but usually significant ones – a father, a mother, a sister, an ex.
And we can frame our whole lives off the opinion or words or actions of a single person. But in doing so, we allow them to win, we allow them to be right about us, and we continually give them the keys to rob us from what could be a successful, healthy, and thoroughly holistic life.
It’s not easy to forgive someone and journey towards wholeness. It can take tears and reopening wounds and the need for professional help. But the reward is so worth it. Imagine if you were able to relate healthily to men again. Or to women again. Imagine if you could work towards a marriage you could be proud of. Imagine if your kids could have a father or a mother who treats women and men with equal amounts of value and respect. What a standard and a legacy you could leave if you would put in the starting work to heal.
We can stay broken and become the ones who pass on our problems to everyone else, or we can become whole and bring life to others.
In his writings to Timothy and Titus, the apostle Paul calls on men to treat the women in their lives as sisters, mothers and aunties, and calls on women to treat the men in their lives as brothers, fathers, and uncles. Now obviously everyone treats members of their families differently, but the spirit behind it is respect and unity. In an ideal situation, you would get along with your father, mother, brother and sister. There would be a healthy respect between you, and a familial connection of openness and closeness.
The corporate family, the church family, the community family and indeed the global family can be such a better place if men treated women with the love and respect they deserve, and vice versa. We can’t be a man who avoids women or a woman who avoids men and expect to live a healthy, whole, and fulfilled life – we must embrace and instil the value on each one as they deserve.
When the people dwell in unity, that’s where God commands a blessing.
How about you? What do you think about a man who avoids women or a woman who avoids men?