Can a person keep his opposite-sex friendships while dating someone else?

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Candice Watters

Can a person keep his opposite-sex friendships while dating someone else?

Nov 13, 2015 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm in a new relationship, around four months old. While we both approve of one another's close opposite-sex friends who came into our lives before we came into each other’s, I am not able to accept his new female friends whom he informed me he would most probably get close to.

My boyfriend has been texting many different girls after entering his university, and I am not totally fine with it. He says it isn't very healthy to limit possible friendships (whether it's of the same gender or the opposite gender). This clash has caused slight tension because he thinks that I don't trust him. For my part, I would not get close to guys who are already attached because I do not want their girlfriends to get the wrong idea and do not want them to feel uncomfortable.

How should I approach this issue? Are there boundaries that should be drawn with opposite-sex friends once you're attached?

Answer

Yes, there are necessary boundaries for opposite-sex friendships in dating. But I think you may be surprised to learn when and where they should exist. Before I get to that, let’s begin with who should have boundaries and why.

1 Timothy 5:2 says, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” Paul is writing here to the young pastor, Timothy, giving him instructions for how the members of his church are to conduct themselves. These are rules for all believers in every church in that day, and they remain in effect for all believers in every age.

Paul uses familial relationships to provide a standard we all understand. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, are commanded to love one another with agape love that is self-sacrificing. They are also commanded to love one another with phileo love — that’s the companionate love marked by kindness. What is not permitted is eros, or sexual feelings and actions.

You have not said if you or your boyfriend are Christians. Are you trusting in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins? Is Jesus your all-sufficient savior? If so, and if this is also true for your boyfriend, then these rules of conduct apply to both of you in any new friendships you form. But that’s not all. They also apply to friendships you already had when you started dating. But even that doesn’t go far enough.

These verses provide the standard for how you are to relate with one another. Until and unless you are married, you are a brother and sister in Christ.For more on this, see the excellent book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper. Although in a dating relationship you will be singling out one man, and he, one woman, for special, focused attention, you should not be doing anything with each other you would not do with your own biological brother or sister.

For believers, all of our relationships with the opposite sex, whether we are single or married, should be marked by utmost propriety. It is only within the marital relationship between husband and wife that the standards change as outlined in passages like 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Ephesians 5:31-33, Song of Solomon, Matthew 19:4-6. Once married, the relationship between husband and wife is protected by the highest boundaries. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

God’s gift of sexual union is very good and very powerful. Reserving the power of sex for marriage, and restraining it within marriage, is necessary for its goodness. Every indulgence of sexual desire outside of marriage dissipates its power and goodness. Indeed, every such indulgence, even if it’s only mild flirtations in your own imagination, is sin (Psalm 19:14, Matthew 5:28). Ephesians 5:3 is all-encompassing,

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

“Not even a hint of sexual immorality,” means that not having sexual intercourse isn’t all that’s required of dating Christians. Our entire mode of relating between boyfriends and girlfriends, as well as with friends, must be above reproach; not open to mis-interpretation or suspicions of sexual misconduct.

You are right to desire boundaries. But Scripture shows that often what we desire is born of selfishness. In 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul rebukes the believers in Corinth for being “still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” Jealously and envy tempt us all and they are sinful reasons for setting up boundaries.

Regarding the practicalities of your question, what do biblical friendship boundaries in dating looking like? They should look like they will when you’re married because the boundaries that should exist are not tied to your status as a couple but to your status as brothers and sisters in Christ. For example, it would be inappropriate for my husband, Steve, to be meeting one of our female friends for coffee, calling to share a funny story, or even texting something substantive. He uses Facebook rarely (I’m not on FB) and is careful not to single out women for private messages on social media. He or I may send an informational text or email to an opposite-sex friend of ours regarding a planned event, or to let them know we’re running late, the way I did when we were delayed getting to a dinner party. But almost always, he texts the husbands among our friends, and I text the wives.

We don’t have rules written down, rather we strive to be above reproach and to honor one another in the way we interact with our friends. Did you notice how often I said “our friends”? Neither of us has any opposite-sex friends that aren’t friends of both of us. We pursue friendships as a couple with other couples and with singles. What we don’t do is pursue opposite sex friendships apart from each other, or spend time alone with opposite-sex friends.

This may be something you want to bring up with your boyfriend. Yes, a person can keep opposite-sex friendships while dating, and should, if those friendships are biblically faithful. Friendships between believers are an essential part of walking faithfully as Christians (2 Timothy 2:22) and persevering in the faith (Hebrews 10:25). That if is essential, however. If his friendships, or yours, with others or with each other, are disobedient to the brother/sister standard God has revealed to us in Scripture, then they are not appropriate at any time, single, dating, married, or otherwise.

Philippians 2:1-5 urges us, saying,

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The ability to do any of this comes only through faith in Christ. I pray you will trust in Him alone, and that having been filled with the Holy Spirit, you will make every effort to obey Him (2 Peter 1:5).

By Grace Alone,
Candice Watters

Copyright Candice Watters 2015. All rights reserved.

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