This post is adapted from the boundaries seminar we planned and taught together for a teen camp this past month.
I hope by now you all feel like you know me a little bit, but let me preface this series with a bit of a different sort of introduction.
Stephen and I have been dating since I was in Grade 12, we just got engaged and we want to honour and obey God above all else. Because of this, we chose to place physical boundaries in our relationship. However, we’ve come to realize that boundaries are about so much more than abstaining from premarital sex, and they are not just for those in relationships with the opposite gender.
We have both had great leaders and examples to follow, as well as personal experiences to learn from as well. We are so grateful for the way God has taught us and protected us, even when we have put ourselves in difficult situations. We mess up, I’ll be honest with you about that! But, boundaries are really important to us, and we are excited to share about them!
I’m going to start this series with a discussion about boundaries between friends of the opposite gender.
Why Do We Have Boundaries?
Has anyone really ever thought about these?
I hadn’t! It definitely led to some interesting situations that I wished I could have avoided. People were hurt, drama happened, and I had to learn the hard way that inter-gender friendships are way more complicated than I gave them credit for. It should go without saying that these type of boundaries are especially important if you or your friend are in committed relationships.
Setting boundaries for the way we behave with our opposite gender friends is not about preventing those around us from judging our behaviour, it’s about having integrity in our relationships-the way we maintain the standards we set for ourselves.
It’s also about trying to honour those around you. What setting are you in? What is your purpose there, or that of your friend? How will your behaviour help or hinder that? If you are at church, the purpose is to meet with God and worship Him, and enjoy His community. Is that what you are promoting? (This ties back to what I said about modesty)
Ephesians 5 reminds us that we are trying to present our friends to God, as well as to their future spouse as holy and blameless.
So, we should have boundaries within our friendships. Great, but what are we talking about, practically?
I read the book Every Young Woman’s Battle, by Shannon Etheridge in high school, and the illustration that has stayed with me is that purity can be thought of as a table top. It is one big idea, held up by four legs: spiritual, emotional, mental and physical purity. You need all four to keep the table in place. If purity is made up of these different aspects, this means that we must also consider boundaries in all these areas as well. What does this look like in a guy/girl friendship?
Physical boundaries are fairly easy to think of. There are certain behaviours that clearly separate friendship from something more romantic-kissing, holding hands etc. We also need to consider things like hugs and massages carefully. These are much more intimate behaviours. They can give those around us mixed ideas, as well as confuse ourselves and our friend.
For girls, friendships tend to be much more touchy feely, so we may just not think about changing our actions with our guy friends, but it is not hard for our intentions to be misread.
For guys, we can generally say that touch is not given or received with only friendship in mind. What are your intentions?
In high school, one of my closest friends was a boy. My family adopted him, his adopted me, and I still consider him my brother. What I didn’t consider was our boundaries. We’d established early on that dating would not end well, but decided that a sort of sibling-ship suited us well. We encouraged each other, had fun, and physical touch was (naturally) confined to him sitting on my frozen toes in the winter. On our grad trip, I ended up with an awful cold, and was sore and exhausted. If I’d been home, I would’ve cuddled up to talk with my Mama or Dad would’ve massaged my shoulders. Because I wasn’t at home, my “brother” was my go-to guy. Unfortunately, me choosing to ignore the boundaries that should have been there led to several months of drama. I was still trying to convince people that we were just friends when Stephen and I started dating. I felt awful about the whole situation.
Mental and Emotional Boundaries
Mental and emotional boundaries are harder to set than the physical ones. They are much more subtle, but cannot be ignored! When you are sharing with a person, without the pressure of impressing them (as you might try to in a romantic relationship) you can be more willing to be open and vulnerable. Friendship feels safe, but you need to be careful in these relationships where there is no real level of commitment. It is not difficult to hurt one or both of you.
Like my “brother” and I, you may have had reasons for not dating this person in the first place, but you need to keep in mind that when you open yourself up to another person, you cannot help but feel committed to them in some way. What does your friendship look like now? It is difficult to maintain a simple guy/girl friendship without the occasional thought of “what if…” This can lead to a lot of hurt and unspoken expectations, so just be aware of where you let your thoughts dwell.
This becomes further complicated if you find someone you are romantically interested in. If you’ve established an intimate friendship with someone of the opposite gender but then try to commit and open up to another person, you cannot juggle both relationships healthily. Someone will lose.
We need close, intimate friendships, but it is nearly impossible to maintain a healthy, deep friendship with a member of the opposite gender.
Spiritual boundaries are the final type we need to address. It comes back again to the idea of misplaced commitment and intimacy. It is good to encourage our peers spiritually. Spiritual friendships are powerful, and are necessary as we build each other up and hold each other accountable. The difficulty comes when this moves into a one-on-one friendship between a guy and a girl.
Spirituality is a very intimate part of ourselves. When we pray together, we nourish bonds that may or may not be healthy. We grow a closeness with one another through transparency and vulnerability that is really powerful.
If you let these relationships develop, you can easily begin to view this person through rose-coloured glasses. It is our job to see our friends for the potential they have in Christ, and to help them pursue that, but falling in love with that potential can be easy and dangerous-not everyone is in a personal state that would make a healthy romantic relationship. You also need more in common than a love for Jesus to make a relationship work long term.
It is important to have spiritually focused and challenging friendships, but guys need these with other guys, and girls need this with other girls. These are relationships that are sustainable and necessary if we want to pursue God with our whole hearts.
The last point (I promise! This has been a long one…) we’d like to make about guy/girl friendships and their boundaries, is to remind you that romantic relationships are not for everyone! We may sound crazy, especially having just gotten engaged, but people enter relationships and marriages for the wrong reasons all the time.
You need to know who you are, what your goals are, what your purpose is, and what your responsibilities are before you can commit to another person. Who knows what your future looks like, maybe your goals and purpose/calling are meant to be achieved as a single. God has adventures and plans for everyone, and you cannot assume that your story will look anything like those you compare yourself too.
Paul talks about singleness in the end of 1 Corinthians 7, but there are a lot of great posts on the subject popping up these days. Check out Relevant Magazine for a few I’ve noticed.
My one caution is to remember that being single is not to become synonymous with living selfishly, as so many secular posts against marriage want it to be. Our primary concern should be the pursuit of God and His Kingdom!!
Part 2 now up! Find it here.