Three weeks after my wife and I met, we were on the phone (like we had been every night since our first date), and I was getting frustrated. Throughout the conversation, Raquel kept talking about us as if we were just getting to know each other, but I felt things were more serious. Either way, we certainly weren’t on the same page.
At the end of our first date, Raquel had asked if I was attracted to her. Things got a little weird on our second date when I awkwardly kissed her hand, to which she responded, “Awww,” like I was a puppy licking her ankles for attention. On our third date, I took it to the next level and kissed her forehead, but that didn’t go well, either. I went in too aggressively and it knocked her head back a little. Again, I got an “Awww.”
You can see why, as we were on the phone and Raquel was talking about us like we were just friends, I felt insecure. Was I just a nice (but awkward) guy she was hanging out with? I didn’t have the guts to openly declare my intentions, so I put the ball in her court.
“So, um, what do you think this relationship is?” I asked.
“A friendship?” she said.
What? How could she think that? Do friends forcefully kiss their friends’ foreheads?
It was now or never. I cast off my sheepishness and put it out there: “Raquel, let me be clear. I’m interested in more than being your friend. You are physically, intellectually, and spiritually attractive to me. I’m spending time with you because I’m hoping this relationship will turn into much more than a friendship.”
We were engaged three months later.
When the signs are hard to read
Raquel and I plunged into a serious relationship quickly. It worked out for us, but I generally don’t recommend it. It’s pretty hard to know someone for who they are with only four months of infatuation under your belt. Something I think we got right, though, is the fact that we clarified why we were spending time together. This, I wholeheartedly recommend.
The fact is, when a single man and woman spend time alone together, there’s a solid chance somebody’s going to start wanting something more — something physical, emotional, or both. If things get physical, there’s usually a presumption of a romantic relationship. After all, you don’t hold hands with or kiss every girl at church. Physical affection almost always conveys the assumption of romantic intent. But when things are only emotionally intimate, it’s more ambiguous.
Vulnerability is easy to come by these days. People will share personal stuff on social media that our parents have only told their very closest friends — if at all. (As one who shared about his sex life in a book, I’m not judging.) What’s confusing is that emotional intimacy doesn’t, on its face, mean as much as it used to. Today, a woman and man can sit on a couch until 2:00 a.m. sharing personal information and it might only be a good conversation between friends.
In emotionally intimate relationships in particular, women and men owe it to each other to be clear (and continually seek clarity) about what a relationship means. Are you sharing deeply personal information because you need to process with someone, or is this something you’re sharing because you want to be close to me in particular? Are you seriously attracted to me? Did we just kiss because this relationship is going to the next level, or because we are both sitting here — so why not?
The answers to clarifying questions might be disappointing and painful, but if the relationship isn’t what you thought it was, it’s better to figure that out now. There needs to be more than shared history, connection, or vulnerability that binds you to the other person. A lasting relationship (romantic or otherwise) requires authenticity about intentions.
Where do we stand?
A few years ago, I wrote a popular post for Boundless titled, “Your Friendgirl Deserves Better.” I realize now it was loaded with assumptions that aren’t necessarily true.
For example, I basically said women have vulnerable hearts that need to be protected from predator-men who just want some cheap emotional intimacy. It was this idea that ambiguous, opposite-sex friendships undoubtedly involve a desperate woman who has been duped into thinking she’s got a chance at marriage with a guy who probably isn’t interested.
Sure, some men use women to meet needs that should be met in a committed relationship. But women use men, too. The article’s big gap (beyond the way I talk about women) is a failure to state that both parties are responsible for defining the relationship. And both parties are capable of initiating such a conversation and enforcing the boundaries.
A relationship involves more than one person, and it takes more than one person to define its parameters — what the relationship means to each person, where it could go, and whether it’s worth moving forward.
Scripture has a solid principle that applies here: “not to awaken love until the time is right.” People in undefined opposite-sex relationships need to know if love has been awakened and whether the time is right for that (if ever). And if ambiguity needs to be cleared up in the process, the burden is on both people to do it.
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