We Need Friendship as Well as Marriage

Scripture points to friendship as an important and different type of wellbeing for the soul.

By Published on May 5, 2024

Americans today are lonelier than ever. Relationships, from casual socializing to friendships to marriage, have been on a declining trajectory for some time. In fact, in 2023, the U.S. surgeon general published an advisory about “our epidemic of loneliness and isolation.”

Worst affected by America’s loneliness epidemic have been men. Compared to 20 years ago, the amount of time men socialize face-to-face has dropped by almost 30%. Today, only one in four men have six or more close friends, and 15% report having no close friendships at all. Single men are faring even worse, with one in five lacking any close friends.

The reasons are varied. In part, men are lonelier because women are more successful at emotionally connecting with others. In part, men are lonelier because they are more likely to live with and rely on their parents than their female counterparts. In part, men are lonelier because everyone — male, female, old, young, black, white, etc. — is spending less time socializing and more time on screens. Also, more young people are delaying marriage, the most intimate of relationships, later than ever before.

The Significance of Friendship

In fact, marriage seems like the most obvious solution to America’s loneliness epidemic. Christians maintain that marriage was created by God and intended from the beginning to enable a profound intimacy between one man and one woman who are joined together in body and soul. Marriage is, statistically speaking, a major source of emotional connection, friendship, and happiness.

In a world in which people have traded social lives for screens, we will need both marriage and friendships to mitigate loneliness.

Still, for all its goodness, marriage was never meant to be the cure-all for loneliness. As essential as marriage is, it is one of many, vital social ties created by God to enable human flourishing. Alongside marriage, Scripture also upholds the significance of friendship.

Among the stories of close friendships in Scripture is Job who, after losing everything he owned and everyone he loved, was joined by his friends who sat with him in the dust as he mourned. These friends were great comforts until they opened their mouths and offered advice that was ill-timed and inaccurate. In the face of Saul’s jealousy and violence, David found a loyal friend and brother in Jonathan. When Naomi lost both her husband and her sons, Ruth vowed to accompany her back to Israel and care for her. And, of course, Jesus had friends, too.

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To be clear, Scripture never presents friendship as a substitute for marriage or family, nor can it ever be (despite the extensive attempts of many ’90s sitcoms to portray life that way). At the same time, Scripture never presents marriage as a substitute for friendship, or family as a substitute for community. God created humans with a variety of human relationships, all of which have their place. As within marriage, though not in the same exact way, friendships offer opportunities to experience, grow in, and show Christlike love. As Jesus told His disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Marriage and Friendship Are Not Competing Solutions

In a world in which people have traded social lives for screens, we will need both marriage and friendships to mitigate loneliness. Especially now that marriage is happening much later in life for most, a trend that is unhealthy for the most part, single people will need friendships for mutual support, growth, and care. And those who marry still need friends for accountability, community, and to spur them on in faithfulness to their spouse and to Christ.

Ultimately, when it comes to the loneliness epidemic, marriage and friendship are not competing solutions. If our world is to become less lonely, it will be because Christians offer to it a better way, especially in our most intimate and important relationships, within our families and our friendships.

 

John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.

Jared Hayden (M.A., Religion) is a Breakpoint contributor at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Originally published on Breakpoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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