We have a question about godly relationships between men and women — outside the realm of courtship or marriage. Amongst our group of friends we have all grown up with the wise instruction that courtship is a more biblical ideal than dating. Our friend group includes a fluctuating amount of males and females, and we spend a lot of good quality time together — in Bible study and prayer, on road trips, hanging out, sharing common interests, discussing life, working in service together, etc. We work hard at having godly relationships with each other, and I know that we all value both our male and female friends and the things we have learned and shared with each other.
Every so often — within this friend group — it will happen that someone is interested in another person from the opposite sex. Half the time this will lead to a courtship taking place, as people slowly pair off into marriages, and this is a beautiful thing to witness and support. The other half the time, this will cause awkward moments, because suddenly someone (either a male or female) develops feelings for a member of the opposite sex that are not reciprocated, and a courtship does not take place. It will mean that good friendships are lost, and our group is thrown into disarray for a few weeks or sometimes even months before it slowly settles into a new norm (usually with some people obviously missing and new people having joined).
In a discussion I recently had with a male friend, he expressed his frustration with this. Both of us have lost good friends of the opposite sex and have seen our friend groups altered so much because of these situations. I suppose this is an inevitable situation as we all are in the phase of our lives where we are looking for godly marriage partners. Of course this will affect our friendships and social groups. Yet it seems wrong and somehow un-Christian that suddenly all this pain and mess is happening to our fellowship of friends just because of these situations.
So our questions are:
How do we protect ourselves and our friends (both male and female) within our friend groups? How should we pursue godly friendships with members of the opposite sex? Should we even have friendships — outside of a courtship — with guys and girls? Is it perhaps the case that these friendships will never be totally platonic and therefore it is not wise to even have these friendships? Yet, within our culture, we are allowed and encouraged to share a lot of time together as single males and females.
Personally, I know how much I value my good guy friends. They have given me such good biblical advice and support in different times and areas of my life. And when these situations come up again, how do we deal with them in a godly way? Is there a way to deal with them that will lead to less pain and mess? We'd very much appreciate some wise, biblical advice on this issue.
Oh, as a side note, thank you so much for the wise counsel we receive each week through Boundless. We really appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into making this ministry. May God bless you!
Thanks for the kind words about Boundless. I'm glad you trust us as a source of sound advice. I hope I can keep that record going with my answer to your excellent questions.
Let me state the obvious right from the beginning (and you make this point yourself): If single guys and girls who are in the "mate-searching" season of life are "hanging out" together the way you and your friends are, attraction will happen, as you have testified. I don't care how strongly you set your mind to that not happening; it will. You might as well tell the sun not to rise.
So my first piece of advice is: If you are going to spend time together with a group of singles of the opposite sex, especially the kind of time you guys are spending together, you must say "amen" to the fact that attraction might happen and be OK with all that brings with it.
When I say "kind of time you guys are spending together," I mean both quantity and quality. When you are passively spending time together, like say in a college classroom with 100 students who never really interact, then the likelihood of developing emotional bonds is much lower (until you get your lab-partner assignment).
But when that time together is not passive, but active (e.g., service projects, recreational activities, Bible studies, discussions, prayer) you really are placing yourself in an environment of potential attraction, because life is being "shared" — emotional bonds are being developed — which is merely a part of getting to know someone.
You see, by having set out to do things "right" in terms of having godly relationships outside courtship and dating, you and your friends have created exactly the environment which leads to interest and affection, because with emotional bonds come emotional affection and soon the heart is off and running, despite all the efforts to the contrary. This is not a bad thing at all, unless individuals naively believe this won't happen or don't want it to happen.
Here's what I really want you to understand: A "group" made up of marriage-minded singles of the opposite sex is by its very nature fluid, and whatever its current form is, it is temporary. God put a longing in us for couple-hood, and we will keep moving toward that no matter the disruption of our other associations. That is quite literally part of the cross you bear as a group of opposite sex singles: You will fluctuate as a group. You just can't "hang out" forever. If sustaining "the group" unaltered is a high priority, you are going to be frustrated and disappointed.
You need a paradigm shift of your view of the purpose of "the group." Don't view the group as a glassy pond of water where things should stay pretty much calm and the view should remain the same. View the group as a stream, where water is coming in and going out and currents and shores and landscapes change. People grow out of one season and into another. This is right and good.
The group dynamic will be altered when couples successfully pair off, and it will be altered when it doesn't work out. Sustaining the group "dynamic" is not the important thing. In fact, sustaining the group itself is not the most important thing. What matters most is the hearts of individuals. God doesn't see things in terms of small groups of friends, per se, but in terms of individual hearts. So the "group" gets wobbled. That's all right. What is most important is that individual people are still treated with respect and love and reached out to. That's what matters. This will take intentional effort on the part of other members of the group.
When it doesn't work out, you might lessen the pain and mess a little bit by remaining warm and welcoming to both parties, not allow any "bashing" of either person by anyone, don't take sides, and be intentional about reaching out to them. That's really all you can do. If someone remains bitter, angry, hurt, or un-forgiving, then healing needs to be sought after. But if individuals choose on their own to quit "hanging out" with the group merely because it feels awkward, that's not a huge deal in my opinion. Just make sure that he or she knows "the group" wants and will welcome them back whenever they feel comfortable being there again.
Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.