I appreciate the feedback I've been receiving about this ongoing new year's series about the goal of getting married. Though I am no longer able to moderate and publish comments on a regular basis (see the commenting policy for further information), I do read all the letters I receive and answer as many as I am able. With some letters, I ask the sender if I can answer it on the blog; that's the case with the letter that follows. I'm grateful for the visitors here and the letters I receive!
Q: How can I develop male friendships? I've been inspired by your blog to actually start having people over to my house. When I looked over this coming year as to the possible events (slumber party this month, possibly an Easter Tea), I realized that I don't have any guy friends I can invite over. Therefore, this is a void I'd like to fill, but don't know how. I abandoned the singles ministry at my church over a year ago. It was too meat-markety and as a Black woman at a predominantly white church, I wasn't on the menu. I've settled into a lovely women's class that has challenged me to grow in my Christian walk. It's also wonderful to see a taste of the other side, how women look after years of walking with Christ. I sing in the choir and have developed wonderful lady friends through that ministry. No guys, though. A problem is that it seems like single men and women can't talk to each other at my church without it signaling that you're together or that the guy is interested in you. I'm not the only woman who's noticed this. Still, even if it is true, it still doesn't solve my problem. I've begun praying about the matter. Any suggestions? Thoughts?
A: You've raised several good points in your letter, but I must start with the comical one first. Are you despondent because you are hosting a slumber party and a tea and you don't know any single men to invite!? I think I can confidently state that the former might raise some eyebrows and the latter would ensure many regrets from the guys! I'm sure that was just an unfortunate set of examples, but it amused me greatly!
Okay, to the heart of your letter. You want to know how to cultivate male friendships. I'm glad you said you were praying about this already. That's the first step. Whatever we want, we should confidently bring those requests to our heavenly Father in prayer. As we make our petitions and supplications known to the Father, with thanksgiving, the Holy Spirit searches our hearts and helps us to see things we may have been blind to. Is there anything God is revealing to you now?
Perhaps I can offer an observation. One part of your letter did leap out at me. You may want to consider and pray about your statement: "I abandoned the singles ministry at my church over a year ago. It was too meat-markety and as a Black woman at a predominantly white church, I wasn't on the menu." Captain Obvious says it's going to be hard to make friends with single Christian men if you have abandoned the singles ministry at your church.
Now I do understand that the tenor of singles ministries varies widely across the church at large, so you might be accurate in your label of "meat-markety." Or that might reveal something about your own perspective. Either way, doesn't it grieve you--even slightly--that this is part of a church you belong to and serve? The singles ministry has the potential to be so much more than a meat market! But not if everyone abandons it. Perhaps this is something to pray about. If it bothers you, it must bother God much, much more. Frankly, I don't know of anyone who actually enjoys that kind of superficiality. I hear from single adults all the time who are longing for intimacy. Marital intimacy, of course, but also just the intimacy of true fellowship with other Christians.
What if you were to effect some change? What if you were to bravely reach out to others and treat them as brothers and sisters, with no expectations? You might find that after making some effort to invest in other people that it's not so much of a meat-market after all. And you might inspire others to do the same thing. Each of us can be tempted to look at a crowd and judge the motives of everyone there. But when we make the plunge to meet the individuals who make up that crowd, we can always find many people who defy the stereotype we've had of that group.
I remember a few years ago when the college-age and career-age singles ministries at my church were merged into one group. We older singles were tempted to think the younger singles would judge us or not include us. I confess that I entertained those thoughts on occasion, too. Never would I have guessed then that a number of those younger singles would end up as some of my dearest friends today. As Christians, we have far more in common with believers of any age (or race or socioeconomic background) than we do with people of more similar demographics in the world. We are united because of what Christ has done for us and we will be united in heaven as we praise Him for all eternity.
Where to start? Each church is different, so I can't presume to give you an exact formula for how to make new friends. But I would recommend discarding speculations. When you are talking to a man, don't worry about what other people think--focus on the brother before you. He's not an object to be secured. He's a co-heir in Christ with you. He probably needs encouragement to keep running the race with perseverance. One reason the meat-market culture pops up is because we singles lose sight of the fact that this isn't one big game of musical chairs. We tend to position ourselves to ensure a seat when the music stops. We're so focused on obtaining something before the buzzer sounds that we can view people either as objects to acquire or obstacles to get around. That is the aroma of the meat market.
To break this trend and make new friends, I would recommend the following steps:
1) Pray about and for the local church you are in. If you are convinced this is the church that God has placed you in, then could it be possible that your husband might be there, too? Both marriage and the church are God's ideas, so you can be optimistic about them in equal measure. It appears you are being spiritually fed in your women's class and that you are serving in your church through singing in your choir. So it may be worth the effort to invest in the singles ministry, too.
2) Are there men singing in the choir? Why not start there with developing friendships? Common interests jump-start friendships. You could invite a mixture of fellow singers over for dinner and a concert on DVD. Or arrange a group to go hear another choral performance.
3) Let the women in your class know what you are praying about and struggling with. Then be bold and ask some of your closer friends if they can introduce you to any single men they know. In my experience, it doesn't often occur to others to network on behalf of singles. Married couples let their need for childcare be known. So why not reciprocate with your needs? Tell these women it's not easy to make new friends as a single adult, and ask if they can facilitate some events to connect you with the singles they know. Offer to host it at your home, if that's feasible, if they will issue the invitations. That's one way to make it simpler for busy women with families to pull off this idea.
4) This one is a little more sensitive to address, but I would be remiss if I didn't point it out. So I'll just be direct. Men like to be around women who encourage them, not judge them. Men have acute radar for women's sinful judgment. If you think it's just your private opinion that you are "not on the menu," I can assure you it's not. Because you harbor that idea in your heart, it will spill out in your words and actions. It may be true that some of the men may not be attracted to you, but that's the case for every woman. No one attracts everyone they meet. I don't know the particulars of your church and it may be true that there is an unaddressed element of racism there. But I also know that for every reason we think we are unattractive to men, there are women with those very same qualities getting married all around us. The Lord is not beholden to human reason and I think He loves to confound our logic in order to receive all the glory. Don't let that lie from the Enemy separate you from fellowship.
5) Be seen encouraging and talking to a wide circle of men. That way you will cultivate a reputation of someone who is genuinely interested in others, as opposed to genuinely interested in just one man.
6) Be interested in things men like to do, too. Or let a guy introduce you to one of his hobbies or interests. You could be surprised at how much you enjoy it. I now like kayaking, whitewater rafting, cycling, classical music, blues bands, opera tenors, and poetry because of the men I've befriended or dated. (Any attempts to make a camper out of this diva have fallen short, however!)
7) Be cheerful. All of us, but especially men, are attracted and refreshed by joyful, uncomplaining, undemanding, grateful women.
The old adage remains true: If you want a friend, be a friend. I hope these points help you! I suspect that married women and some of the men reading this entry may have a few ideas, too, so I'm opening the commenting function for a limited time to feature some of the most helpful feedback.