DYC breakout talk: Can men, women be friends? Friends with an ex?
Dating questions through a Catholic lens


The title of Deacon Steven Cottam’s talk at the Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC) was a rhetorical question that has long been a source of debate: “Can you be friends with someone you used to date?”

On Feb. 10, dozens of high school students showed up to a conference room at the Richmond Marriott, perhaps hoping to hear the answer.

“The short answer is yes, you can. You’re allowed to,” said Deacon Cottam. “Friendship is a type of relationship … that is a gift from God.”

In the half-hour breakout session, Deacon Cottam and high school senior Matt Belcher, from Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, answered questions and shared their thoughts about dating. Another question Deacon Cottam answered with Scripture was whether men and women can be “just friends.”

“Jesus had a lot of close female friends. He did not have a romantic relationship, yet he was friends with Mary Magdalene, with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus,” Deacon Cottam noted. “On the week before he died, Mary anointed his feet and dried them with her hair (Jn 12:3). That was a really intimate, physical moment between them that wasn’t romantic. So, Jesus had female friends, with a level of physical affection – friendships that were godly and pure.”

Addressing the question of befriending past partners, Deacon Cottam appealed to Aristotle’s definition of friendship, affirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas in “Summa Theologica.” Aristotle listed three levels of friendship – “friendships of utility” (based on a shared task), “friendships of pleasure” (based on a shared interest) and “friendships of excellence” (based on genuine interpersonal love).

“The sort of friendship we truly want in life is this third level of friendship,” said Deacon Cottam. “These are the friends that care about us, and we care about them. These are the friends that push each other to be better, the kind of people in your life who are always in your corner.”

“So, if you ask if you can be friends with someone you used to date, ask yourself what level of friendship it is,” he continued. “If this is someone who is in your corner, maybe that’s a friendship you should strive to keep, though it may be difficult.”

“Everything you do in a relationship should glorify God,” Belcher said. “Our relationship with Jesus Christ is the best relationship that we’ll ever have.”


Read the full report from Summit and DYC.


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