Developing healthy relationships with the opposite sex is beneficial whether you're dating or waiting.
I knew it was something I didn't want to be.
It was the label my mom used for my teenaged peers who "liked" every boy they met. Regardless of who the guy was, these girls would gush about how cute he was and how they were sure he had glanced their direction.
My mom reminded me often that those girls wasted much time and energy on things that didn't matter. And I saw her point. If I developed a crush, I kept it under control and didn't talk about it too much. And over time, I began to take pride in my ability to ignore those silly emotions that welled up when a cute guy smiled at me or initiated a conversation.
My level-headed approach served me well. By college, I had it down to a science. My demeanor toward the opposite sex was aloof and demure. I made sure not to show too much emotion or interest if someone of the opposite gender struck up a conversation with me. If I liked someone, I might try to "show up" at a place where I thought he might be, but then I would make no effort to talk to him for fear of being too forward.
Conveniently, the principle of "guarding your heart" appeared at the time. Never mind that in context the verse is talking about guarding your heart from sin not protecting your heart from romantic feelings, I adopted it as my life verse. As you may have guessed, I didn't go on a single date in college. (Unless you count the banquet I attended with a friend of a friend who promptly got back together with his longtime girlfriend after the event and married her a short time later.)
I didn't go on a date during the five years that followed graduation either. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. My mom's admonition not to be boy crazy was good advice. God had other things He wanted me to concentrate on. It wasn't His will that my mind be consumed with thoughts of the opposite sex. He wanted me to develop the mind of Christ.
No Boys Allowed
My first inkling that I had maybe taken the whole anti-boy crazy campaign a little far came as I approached my mid-20s. It was then that I noticed something interesting: Many of my formerly boy-crazy friends were now happily married.
I began to wonder if what I had considered their flaw might have actually contributed to their journey to marriage. Perhaps there were some positives to be found in boy-craziness. For example, these women had a passion for getting to know the opposite sex. They definitely gave off an air of availability. And they were more transparent with their feelings than I was.
While the version of boy-craziness I had observed as a teen was unproductive and lacked self-control, I began to wonder if too little emotion toward guys was actually hindering me from developing the types of relationships that could lead to marriage. By guarding my emotions too carefully and avoiding any interaction with the opposite sex that could be considered flirtatious or forward, I essentially cut myself off from the benefits men could bring to my life.
My approach was well-intentioned and based on biblical principles, but over time I became legalistic about the ways in which I interacted with men. I embraced an identity that kept them at arm's length. I was so concerned about not being "one of those girls" that I missed out on some friendships with really quality guys.
I learned to stuff my feelings, because I felt silly or frivolous when I felt an attraction to someone. Instead of acknowledging my feelings, wrestling with them and praying about them, I automatically shut them out and put them away. I was still open to guys pursuing me, but I gave them no indication of my interest. In fact, I sometimes found myself being even more closed off around guys I was interested in.
Then I began to notice something interesting about some of the noble women mentioned in Scripture: They were a little boy crazy. Take the Shulammite woman in Song of Solomon, for example. She is over-the-top enamored with her man. Even her friends encourage her passion and desire for him. And then there's Ruth. She puts it all on the line to invite a romantic (and righteous) gesture from Boaz. These women didn't mask their feelings — even when they were unsure of the future of their relationships.
These women did not live in some self-imposed state of legalistic restraint when it came to the men in their lives. They allowed their emotions to play an appropriate role in their relationships.
Friend or Buddy?
Six years ago I wrote an article called "Not Your Buddy," in which I outlined how intimate friendships between men and women can tread some unstable ground. While I still advise people to avoid these uncommitted, romantically-charged relationships, I've come to believe that healthy opposite-sex friendships are important and beneficial. Through these friendships, you receive a different perspective, gain practice in relating to someone of the opposite sex (if you're going to be married to one someday, it's helpful to know what they're like), and may even develop a friendship that grows into more.
As I look around the Christian dating scene now, I think the inability to develop and sustain healthy friendships with members of the opposite sex is a big problem. Like me, many Christian females have been trained to not throw themselves at men. Christian guys have been trained not to be too forceful. This is a bad combination.
For much of my life, I didn't know how to achieve the balance between propriety and community when it came to guys. I experienced a breakthrough when I became part of a coed improv comedy troupe several years ago. Suddenly I was interacting with some quality guys several times each week, learning to cooperate and communicate. We spent hours talking, laughing and goofing around. I came to appreciate these men and the specific things each brought to my life.
Were the dynamics always simple? No way. As with any group of singles, there were plenty of crushes and complicated feelings along the way. But there were also good conversations and community. We challenged one another and engaged in real relationship.
None of those guys was the one for me, but those friendships paved the way for me to learn how to be myself around the opposite sex. I quit being so defined by my anti-boy crazy ways and opened myself up to friendship.
How did these friendships happen? I gave myself permission to "make friends" with men. I incorporated the same principles I use in making female friends. If we had a common interest and an opportunity to enjoy that interest together, I would participate. Usually that happened in a group setting, but occasionally one-on-one time was warranted, such as joining a guy friend for a run or going to a play we both wanted to see.
These non-romantic (and non-buddy) relationships allowed me to get to know men as individuals instead of potential spouses. I was able to practice showing respect to guys I knew, and they reciprocated with caring.
Paul exhorted his young mentee Timothy to "Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity" (1 Timothy 5:1-2). I've used this verse often to promote pure interactions between the sexes, but I never gave much thought to the brother-sister relationship Paul is talking about. He doesn't say, "Treat younger women as strangers, with absolute purity." There is intended to be a warm, familial relationship, albeit pure, between men and women.
Once I allowed myself to explore friendship with the opposite sex, my single life became much brighter. Whether it was an impromptu game of tennis on the weekend or getting together with a few friends (boys allowed) for video games and McRib sandwiches, the times I shared with guy friends was affirming, not to mention a lot of fun. These interactions also prepared me for my future courtship with Kevin.
He and I were recently discussing what made our early relationship take off. "I think it was that we were able to just be good friends at first," he said. Our times together progressed naturally from planning meetings for our Bible study, to doing things together outside of group, to going on dates. Neither of us attempted to hide the fact that we enjoyed spending time together — something I would have done a few years earlier.
The beauty of these friendships is that I did not feel sheepish telling my husband about a single one. In fact, Kevin and I still occasionally get together with some of the guys I spent time with before we knew each other. I'm thankful I reformed my anti-boy crazy ways and let friendships with the opposite sex grow. Sometimes it's OK to be a little boy crazy.
Copyright 2011 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.