Episode 207: Can LDS Men and Women Be Friends?

Lindsay is joined by Kaimi, Zilpha, and Malia in discussing whether or not it is possible for men and women to be friends within the LDS culture and beyond.

Episode 207

22 comments on “Episode 207: Can LDS Men and Women Be Friends?”

  1. Megan von Ackermann Reply

    I wonder if it’s fair to say that that church implicitly teaches that men and women CANNOT be friends – not that they shouldn’t not that friendship is too dangerous because of the potential for emotional intimacy to turn to sexual intimacy – but that there simply is no such thing as a platonic inter-gender relationship. I think you guys hinted at that certainly by showing how the church limits male-female interactions to those that have romantic potential (within the strict boundaries necessary to maintain virginity), but maybe the message becomes more than ‘don’t do this’ and turns into ‘it’s impossible to do this.’

    Even though I heard a lot of rhetoric about spouses being ‘best friends,’ when that marriage happened after two weeks of dating and two months of being engaged, AND when the couple has spent their entire young adulthood in the really restrictive, artificial contexts provided within church culture, I wonder what that phrase actually means…

    Like Zilpha I was always much closer to boys than to girls as a teenager, but looking back I just realized that none of my close male friends were Mormon – the Mormon boys didn’t know HOW to be friends with me. My husband was the exception and I think we were able to develop a friend-intimacy as well as a romantic-intimacy partly because he was only raised peripherally in the church – he got some of the doctrine and culture but was never immersed in it.

    Hmmm… that makes me wonder whether there’s a gender bias? Are Mormon girls more likely to be able to form friendships with the opposite sex than Mormon boys?

    • Lindsay P Reply

      Megan, you always ask such great questions! That would be such an interesting dynamic to explore- if girls have it easier than boys. I have my suspicions that you might be right…. that it is easier. But I’ll have to give it some thought.

      • Megan von Ackermann Reply

        Here’s a thought. Weirdly, because the church puts the responsibility for male moral behaviour so firmly on girls, they also give them power. I wonder if that’s behind some of it maybe? I haven’t thought it through ’cause it just occurred to me but a girl approaching a friendship with a boy can maybe feel that if her intentions are pure there is no way the sexual/romantic thing will come up while the boy might have absorbed the message that all girls are dangerously desirable and there’s not much a male can do about that.

    • Meredith Hudson LeSueur Reply

      I think a lot of it is the underlying competition for a spouse that reduces female friendship to something that isn’t satisfying for some women. I am just now realizing how wonderful female friendship is, and I think a lot of my previous disinterest with female friends was rooted in strict gender roles. If you don’t fit the right gender role of a woman in the church, why would you want to be friends with women? Aren’t they all the same? If we taught that all people are multi-dimensional (right now we only teach that men are multi-dimensional) then we wouldn’t be turned off of a whole class of people just because of their gender…

  2. Richard of Norway Reply

    This was an interesting discussion and I enjoyed listening. You all did a terrific job. I would love to hear more from Kaimi, who I think I recognized from other podcasts but can’t remember which one(s) if any.

    I think one of the main reasons the church has a policy to never let men and women in leadership roles alone together is to simply protect themself against potential allegations of infidelity. I have heard of men whose wives have sued (or attempted to?) the church for placing their husbands in positions which required them to travel to meetings with RS pres or women in other leadership positions, which then lead to the couple “pairing up” romantically. I know in one specific case it lead to excommunication for the man (who held a very high calling, above Stake President, what ever that is) who then had to go 5 years or more (if I remember correctly) before he could rejoin the church and then another year or two before he could get back his priesthood and be allowed callings in the church.

    The same thing happens with Missionaries, as they are required to always be in the presence of their companion. It is (among other things) to protect them from sexual allegations. As long as there are two of them, they can “testify” for the other in court or what ever, as protection. Also to keep them from screwing around (literally).

  3. Hermes Reply

    I was one of those people who did not kiss until marriage (though I was eventually comfortable with my fiancee kissing me before we made our union official). My teenage experience interacting with girls was horrible. I could not be around them. I was so afraid of thinking or doing something wrong (requiring godly sorrow, and multiple confessions to priesthood authority, which I took very seriously and dreaded). To this day, I have issues talking with women of my age (women that I might marry) in informal settings. I catch myself avoiding eye contact, avoiding conversations, saying things that sound rude (not because I want to be rude, but because subsconsciously I know that we cannot “be friends”). I am getting over this, I like to think, but it is not easy. I confess I still feel ashamed when I think of the girls I “knew” (from a distance: I could not even attend joint activities with young women, and I hated church dances so much that I only went once, and did not dance! I brought my seminary manual, and did stupid busywork assignments instead of dancing, which I hated more than the busywork!).

    Going to college was nice for me: I finally met women who talked about stuff I was interested in, and the “script” for our interactions was provided by the class. When I did get married, it was to a woman who was my peer (in class, and outside of it: instinctively, I did not want to marry someone who didn’t know or care anything about what I like, what I do, what I think about all the time). I did not really date. My wife and I met studying together for class. We liked it so much that we ended up studying outside of class. Then we decided to get married. The LDS scripted narrative (date, attend singles’ wards) emphatically did not (and would not) work for me. Today, I am glad it didn’t: if it had, then I might not still be married today (since the only common interest between me and my wife might have been the LDS church).

    • Lindsay P Reply

      That’s one of the tragedies of system we have set up- it makes some people so deathly afraid of one another and really prevents meaningful interactions and relationships. I think it also limits are experiences and dating pool to a degree too. Hopefully, as time progresses we can move away from scripted narratives that promote shame and fear and instead encourage healthy interactions.

  4. Katie Millett Reply

    I was thinking about your question at the end “Is there enough of a net gain to risk friendships between men and women?” I think that for men and women in the workforce, the costs and benefits are different. Men who stay distant from their female colleagues, may not be missing out on that much. But women who stay distant from their male colleagues are probably facing a big cost in their professional development. Similarly in the church, men probably don’t face many costs to not interacting that much with women, but women are missing out on leadership opportunities, having their voice heard, etc by being kept separate from men. Because men are the the leaders in the church and proscribing the interactions that should happen between men and women, it is easier for them to underestimate the losses that women face at being kept separate from men.

    • Lindsay P Reply

      Katie- I agree and thought Kaimi brought those good points to the discussion as well. For some reason, in the work force- this is a part of gender inequity that is seldom recognized or discussed. Like in church, men hardly need men to administrate and do their job, but women need men. 🙁

    • Rude Dog Reply

      Excellent point. Hadn’t thought that direction. Makes perfect sense.

  5. Meredith Hudson LeSueur Reply

    Two comments. I think if it were more acceptable for men and women to be friends, female friendships might be better. I am someone who relates more with men, but I hear that a lot. And I wonder if some of the underlying issues in female friendship is this subconcious competition for male attention.
    Also, I think a big part of the church discouraging male/female friendship is the church’s teaching that any righteous man and woman can have a great marriage. If you really believe that, then there is no stretch to think that any man and woman can be attracted to each other. There is no room for individuality. If we encouraged better marriages in the first place, ones that were based on deep connection, good communication and real trust, instead of post-adolescent hormones, then interacting in “mixed company” wouldn’t be as scary because people would understand that attractions are just attractions and not any better than their good relationship with their spouse.
    Great Podcast!

  6. E_Menno Reply

    I am passionate about this subject because it affects me every day in both my personal and professional life.

    On the personal side, I believe the way in which Mormons frame male/female relationships has done damage to my husband. He is suspicious of most of my interactions with men. Not because he distrusts me, but because he distrusts men. There have been several times in which he has actually said he fears my male counterparts would try to force themselves on me despite the fact that he has met and enjoyed the frindships of those same men. He doesn’t have the same fears about himself with women.

    I work in the primarily male field of law enforcement and have done so for more than a decade. Most of my coworkers are men. I have primarily trained physically with men. Most of those I consider friends at work are men. I am not sexually attracted to any of them. In fact, I am of the opinion that romantic relationships in the workplace are inappropriate. In my line of work, each team member must trust the others implicitly that they will have each other’s back and not have romances getting in the way. That is how I do my job and my coworkers have similar philosophies. It is a known fact that females are very effective in law enforcement and I am a huge proponent of more females in the profession. Most of my male counterparts also appreciate female contributions, not because there would be more sex partners but because women bring a different viewpoint that is valuable.

    I realize office romances are relatively common, but I wonder if that is because of how we teach interpersonal relationships to our youth. They see TV and movies in which characters have all kinds of sexual tension. Male and female roles are defined often as romantic, not necessarily as equals or completely platonic. In the church the genders are segregated and women seldom have leadership when there is a man in the room. It seems to be expected that any male and any female left alone will automatically be attracted sexually. I don’t buy that and I never have, despite my conditioning. Unfortunately, my husband can’t shake it even though he understands my thinking.

  7. Gail_F_Bartholomew Reply

    All the boundaries they put up only sexualize every interaction with a member of the opposite sex. Which only increases the likelihood that these interactions will cause problems in a marriage. What would decrease the likelihood of dysfunction in a marriage would be helping partners talk about their sexuality, attractions, and fantasy life. But the church makes it very difficult for couples to become more intimacy in this area. Even they way our courtships work set us up for a married relationship that we must hide our sexual part of our nature.

  8. Carrie Reply

    Great podcast- loved the discussion from all of you! One comment is that I think instead of listing “boundaries we set for ourselves” I think I prefer the terminology, “healthy strategies for building relationships with other adults outside of marriage.” Boundaries reminds me of fences and walls which kind of brings me back to the fear based behavioral motives. “Healthy strategies” seems more positive 🙂

  9. TNOrange Reply

    I am at 15 minutes in, you guys are talking about the issue with
    youth and homosexuality being totally foreign within the current guidelines.
    This is kind of off-topic, but here goes….

    At least in my stake, they did take the issue on. They gathered
    all the YW on the 1st day of girls camp for an one-long
    instructional session. This was 2009.

    They banned all physical touching between the girls outside of
    three things:

    #1 – “less than 3 second half-hug” where you specifically avoid
    contact below the shoulders

    #2 – high-fives or hand shaking

    #3 – “noggin” bumping heads — like from Finding Nemo

    Specifically banned were – lap sitting, wrapping arms around
    each other – even side to side, all extended hugging (“extended” was defined as
    more than 3 seconds)

    The reason for this was not overtly addressed (of course). But
    the informal reason circulated well was that there was one girl (everyone knew
    who) that was suspected of being gay. The leaders did not want to ban her from
    camp, so instead, they lovingly made a pariah out of her.

    So, they are finding ways of dealing with homosexuality, but it
    will not be sane and logical.

  10. Teyana Reply

    Loved this podcast and it gave me a lot to think about. This really comes down to knowing who we are, our strengths and weaknesses. I was always overweight so my Mormon guy friends never saw me as “eternal worthy” but very cool and like “one of the guys”. They enjoyed being around me. The non-Mormon guys, however, did find me attractive and desireable. I kept blindfolds on so that I could remain clean and pure for my temple wedding. Finally, one Mormon friend chose me. 🙂 My husband and I stopped going to church 11 years ago. I firmly believe that every moral choice we make has to be made from an internal perspective, truly knowing who you are. I’m a very passionate Aries who loves people and I enjoy helping people feel good, happy and confident. I like to have fun. I know I have to be very careful about my actions when I’m around other men that I volunteer with for various functions. My husband and I have a great relationship and I’ve always been truthful and honest with him. Being outside of the church gives us an opportunity to turn inward more. What do we really believe now? What do we need? What do we like? Where will we fit in? What is our purpose? It’s easy to become sidetracked and head down a dangerous path if we don’t educate ourselves about who we are. That’s not always an easy task, either.

  11. narvana Reply

    This was interesting to listen to! This needs to be a discussion in Sunday school. I am 100% dedicated to my husband and he to me – he is not Mormon. We maintain an open honest relationship with total monogamy to one another.

    I understand the teachings on this matter in Mormondom and have had to engage with men in my work. I sometimes wonder if they might misinterpret my intentions; whereas I feel less paranoia regarding this matter with non-Mormon men. I think the solution is as you discussed in this episode.
    In fact, I think this episode should be broadcasted as part of the annual conference session.

  12. Daryl Sturgess Reply

    Wow, I’d love to have been in on this discussion.

    Your exploration of this issue overlooked a few major obvious factors in my opinion. I am a 61 year old ex-member, who left over 25 years ago. I discovered men’s work in that period and heavily immersed myself in it.

    First of all, there was no exploration of the concept derived from psycho-therapy, mainly Jung, that each gender has a need to develop the other gender energy within self to mature.

    So a man needs to develop his Inner Feminine, and a woman her Inner Masculine. In the absence of an awareness of this concept, and the related ‘personal work’, a man is at risk of confusing his attraction to the young female he works or mixes with, with his hunger and urgent need to get to know his own seriously under-developed Inner Feminine. This is widely reagrded as the fuel for mid-life affairs.

    Of course a reciprocal process applies for women.

    These are really basic concepts in gender work, and it really surprised me none of your panel was aware of these concepts. But then, when I first attended ExMo Conference in SLC in 2009, and spoke of men’s work, very few had any concept of what I was raising. The exception was a gay man a little older than me, who argued it likely saved his life.

    The other standout omission from this discussion was any concept of the huge Shadow issue that overhangs Mormon sexuality, compliments of Joseph Smith.

    Beyond Mormon culture being ‘merely’ unskilled and ultra-conservative about inter-gender relations, it has this deep cultural negative charge around sexuality; a charge made far more potent by the extent to which the issue is denied and largely not to be discussed. That makes sexuality the Elephant in the Room in Mormon culture.

    You partly addressed that Western societies only started to move away from homo-sociality in the late 1700s. We too easily overlook this in the West. It is the transition that most of the Muslim world has not had. By homo-sociality, I mean that the genders spent the vast majority of their time with their own, and inter-gender mixing was highly regulated.

    In summing up, I’d suggest the topic of the apparent complete ignorance of these gender concepts in Mormonism, might make good topics to explore in a future episodes.

  13. Daryl Sturgess Reply

    To what I wrote below I’d add, that from my observation Mormon males are more emotionally isolated from other men, than males in the broader community are, and that’s already high.

    As Mormon culture is so shame-based, deep down, few males will really open up about their inner world, for fear of being judged. That emotional impoverishment leaves men very vulnerable, and for so many, results in expecting their only emotional connection to come from women.

    Mormon culture dictates that need should be fulfilled by a spouse, but what happens when the marriage goes through a difficult stage, as most do at some time? He will then feel emotionally isolated.

    That can proceed in a few ways:

    1) He can compromise on some issue where he needed to actually stand his ground. Such behaviour makes a good basis for depression and periodic anger outbursts.

    2) He can be at elevated vulnerability to sharing intimacies/troubles with other women in his orbit. Many affairs start in that territory.

  14. Nick Hansen Reply

    Lindsay and Malia! Two of my favorte people. Great podcast ladies, and Kaimi! I do think it is possibe to be and remain friends. BUT I do not think it is likely long term. There is usually an agenda on one of the parties whether it be sex, friendship, emotional ties, money, etc. I have seen it with relief society presidents and bishops, down to Sun Beam Teachers. (Not that I am knocking any calling, but just a broad spectrum of offices within the LDS church.) For men it is usually sex. For women it is usually an emotional attachment. But i do agree that it is possible, I just do not see it remaining long term.

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