Don’t you hate emotional limbo? You know what I’m talking about. It’s that phase of a relationship where you don’t know if you’re just friends or if he’s feeling it too (you know, that there’s something more than just friendship going on). So you wait to see if he will initiate a DTR (define the relationship) talk. And you wait. And you wait. And you wait some more. “Will it ever happen? What is taking him so long? Will he just let me know where we stand? For the love!”
The waiting is agony. We mull over every conversation, every text message, every hangout. We dissect it all looking for “signs.” We read into everything (or we want to at least hope that there’s something to read into). We’ve invested so much time and mental energy and angst – and we don’t even know if we’re actually dating!
What is frating?
Are you familiar with the term “frating”? Are you just friends? Or are you dating? If you don’t know, then you’re frating. Prime example: Luke and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls. For the first couple of seasons, everyone could see there was chemistry between these two. They were great friends, which says something considering Luke didn’t really do friends. But it took five seasons for them to actually admit they liked each other and to finally term themselves as a couple.
Is that what you want – the real life equivalent of five seasons before you know where you stand with the guy you’re currently hanging out with? Think about it, if he decides he’s not into you, you’ve wasted all of that time and mental/emotional energy on a relationship that was headed nowhere.
Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves in pseudo-relationships with guys who are not willing to initiate, act, and commit? If you can identify with what I have described, why did you put so much stock in that friendship? Why did you invest so much? What were you hoping to get out of it? What desire were you attempting to fill – a desire for attention? Affection? Affirmation? Acceptance? Security? Significance? Satisfaction?
Go back through that list of seven core desires that I just rattled off. I wasn’t listing them just to list them. Which of these drives your interactions with men? It might be a combination of desires. But what are you seeking in a relationship with a man instead of seeking from God? And where is that getting you?
The Need for Emotional Purity
We commonly talk about physical purity in our youth groups, college ministries, and pulpits, but purity in our actions begins with purity in our thoughts and affections. We act the way we do because we think the way we do, and we feel the way we do because we think the way we do. What do we allow to fill our minds? What do we daydream about? What do we long for and desire? Does it line up with Philippians 4:8 (whatever is good, honest, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise)?
In relationships, we often set ourselves up for failure. Have you ever seen a horse race? The gates fly open at the start of the race, and the horses launch out galloping full speed, blazing down the field towards the finish line. All too often, we do this with our hearts. We meet someone and quickly become emotionally intimate with them. Please do not mistake me, I am not referring to the speed of a relationship in which there are communicated intentions as well as commitment (so if you’re in a relationship that’s on the fast track, which is becoming quite common at Brook Hills, you can ease off the defensive). What I am taking issue with is emotional closeness and attachment void of communication regarding the status of the relationship.
While roles can be reversed, let me present the stereotype we are all familiar with, and it's a stereotype for a reason. Girl meets boy. They hit it off and become fast friends, spending lots of time together. Everyone assumes they’re a couple. She assumes they are an item. They text frequently, talk often, and hang out. They click, and she feels that he gets her and cares about her. She shares with him things she’s never told anyone else – hopes, goals, prayer requests - and quickly considers him to be her best friend (in many cases, he has reciprocated with similar behavior). In her mind, she has already started planning their life together, their happily ever after. Then one day, he shows up and wants to introduce her to his new girlfriend. Or she finally can’t take it anymore, confronts him about the relationship, and point blanks ask him where they stand, and he awkwardly (and probably angrily) retorts that he only sees her as a friend (or a sister) and nothing more. When word gets around the friend group, everyone is shocked, and her girlfriends assign him the label of jerk, douchebag, etc. Both leave with frustration, bruised emotions, and deflated egos. “How did I miss this?” she wonders.
Better yet, how do we avoid this?
Which Comes First?
Answer me this. Which should come first in a relationship – intimacy or commitment?
It’s not a trick question, so I hope your response was commitment. We see this pattern with God’s design for marriage, for He allocated sex to occur after marriage. Because of the commitment a husband and wife makes “to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live,” sex becomes a beautiful expression of their love for each other as well as an act that draws them closer to each other. This is God’s design for physical intimacy, but I believe it is also His design with regards to emotional attachment between members of the opposite sex. God clearly warns us not to awaken love before it’s time (Song of Sol. 2:7; 3:5; 8:4), and Solomon's bride isn’t just talking about sex here.
Here are a few guiding questions for you with regards to gauging your emotional attachment:
- Have your emotions been stirred up more than what is appropriate for the current commitment level of the relationship? For example, are you mentally planning your future with him when y’all haven’t even had a DTR?
- Do you feel slighted if you learn that he has spent time with another girl? Do you feel that girl is encroaching on what is “yours”? Do you cling to him? Ladies, he is free to date someone (or hang out with another girl) if he is not dating you, and if y’all have not established that you are exclusively together, you are treating him as though he belongs to you and owes you fidelity when you are not engaged or married (or have even communicated that you are dating).
- Are you jealous for his time and attention?
- Is he your go-to person? When you are lonely? When you need advice? When you need a handyman? When you need someone to make you laugh, know about your day, fill time when you are bored? I am not saying that you must refrain from asking men for counsel or help, but is he consistently the one you go to?
And if you have to regularly explain the relationship to other people, that should be a red flag! Y’all need to have a DTR and figure that thing out. Either decide to date or pull back. If people cannot tell if you are free or dating, then the two of you need to figure out what is going on in the relationship.
When You Are the Perp
Until this point, I have focused on situations where we allow ourselves to be the victim, the back-pocket girl, and maybe you have been played like an Xbox. But as much as guys get the rap of being players, we can play the game too. We become the perpetrators when we make him our back-pocket guy.
I have a noticed a trend with Father’s Day and Mother’s Day sermons. Mother’s Day sermons tend to be so encouraging. Pastors elevate the Proverbs 31 ideal or give a thirty-minute (a little longer at Brook Hills) explanation of biblical womanhood preceded or followed by a standing ovation for all the wonderful ladies in the room. But Father’s Day? In that sermon, the men tend to get pounded about how they are not being men but little boys in grown bodies. Maybe it’s because the pastor is male and, thus, feels that he can be more direct and confrontational regarding his own gender. While I don’t want to beat you down, ladies, I do want to confront you regarding the relational sin we are all guilty of, for the guys aren’t the only ones to blame here. We need to own our share of the guilt.
We are all familiar with that verse in Proverbs 4:23 which states, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” But what does that mean? Ask yourself what are you setting your heart on. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 provides some additional insight on this subject. The context for verse six has to do with Paul’s warning about abstaining from sexual immorality and controlling our bodies “in holiness and honor…that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (4:4, 6-7).
That word “wrong” in verse six means “to take advantage of, outwit, defraud, cheat." It connotes the idea of defrauding a fellow believer and/or their future spouse. It is taking advantage of someone and robbing them (and their future spouse) in some way. Obviously, this refers to physical actions, but it can also include emotional involvement with someone who is not your spouse. While Paul does desire to protect believers physically and emotionally, he also aligns defrauding with impurity and is concerned about them living in a way that glorifies God and honors others. Defrauding another person does not line up with the holiness that God calls us to as His people.
Here are some ways we as Christian women defraud and take advantage of our brothers in relationships:
- The relationship is one-sided. Do you let him buy you meals or do things for you when you are not interested in him? Do you call or text him only when you are lonely or emotionally vulnerable? Basically, do you use him for how he makes you feel?
- Do regularly complement or “encourage” him? My roommate brought this one up when we were talking about this post, and it nailed me because I have been guilty of it! Men like affirmation. They like to know they are respected. And don’t we all like to be encouraged and to know that others think well of us? But do you do this regularly to the same man? Do you “encourage” in a manipulative way because you want him to recognize how awesome of a girlfriend you could be or to see that he needs you in his life?
- Do you flirt and give avid attention to someone whom you are not actually interested in? Maybe you like how it feels to turn a guy’s head. Or maybe seeing their interest or having them pursue you makes you feel better about yourself. You bait the hook, and every now and again, you reel him in just a little and just enough to keep him around. If you are a Downton Abbey fan, this is what Mary does with Tony Gillingham and her other suitors in season five. Bottom line, you are not being fair to the poor chap. Don’t toy with his heart. Be careful about showing consistent attention to a particular guy if you are not interested in him, and avoid singling him out and making a beeline for him when you see him. You are not treating him with the respect that he deserves as a human being and as your brother in Christ. Side note, if you see a sister doing this, lovingly call her out on it. Encourage her to stop flirting with the guy if she does not care for him.
- Are you hanging out with him to fill up time until (if) someone better comes along? This is not a good reason to hang out with anyone! If you are always looking for the next best thing, you are being inconsiderate and unloving to that person.
Bottom line: be honest with yourself and with God about why you interact with men the way you do. If you are a female player, the actions I have described above are symptoms of heart issues, and you need to spend time with God and evaluate your own heart. Identify and confess sin. If you need to seek forgiveness from someone you have hurt in the past, take the steps to do so. And ask your girlfriends to help you gauge your interactions with men and to ask you questions about your motivations.
I don’t want to make you paranoid about your friendships with guys. Wait - can guys and girls even be “just friends”? If you treat him as though he is your surrogate boyfriend, then no. If it appears to the rest of the world that the two of you are in an exclusive relationship, then no. Can you honestly say that you are treating him like a brother, or do you have competing motivations for the time you spend with him and how you interact with him? Are you emotionally teasing and flirting with one another?
You can be friends with men, but you need to be careful with your own heart and be respectful of them. Do not be afraid of having a clarifying conversation if you are not sure about how he might be feeling. “I just want you to know that I think of you as just a friend” is okay to express – just make sure that your actions align with what you are verbalizing and that you are not giving mixed signals. Honestly, I’m a big fan of hanging out as a group of friends. It provides a neutral, safe environment to get to know folks. But if you spending one-on-one time, particularly lots of one-on-one time, with someone of the opposite sex, then y’all need to either pursue dating or pull back. The exclusivity communicates to everyone around you that you are a couple, and it hinders others from thinking of you as “available.”
Can I just say that arranged marriages in the Bible sure made all of this a whole lot easier! Relationships are messy. Add our sinful natures to the mix, and they can be downright frustrating and dramatic. As a single twentysomething, this article contains things I have felt and watched, and just because I am writing on the subject of frating and emotional purity, I am not exactly the love doctor or an emotional guru who has everything figured out. Writing this article has exposed sin in my own heart. But I do desire to serve my brothers well in my friendships with them. I don’t want to defraud them, and for most of the single men in our church, I would give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they desire to do this whole friendship, dating, and relationship thing right, even if they do not always know what right looks like. We should have grace with one another, assume the best about each other, and be quick to forgive one another.
In conclusion, I offer a few questions to consider regarding your friendships with other single males:
- Do your conversations and interactions with each other glorify God?
- Do your words, actions, and heart line up with regards to how you talk with, speak to, and think about that male friend? Do they accurately reflect how you feel about him? Do you treat him as the brother in Christ that he is (see 1 Tim. 5:1-2)?
- If the friendship were to end today, could you exit the relationship with a clear conscience, without shame, and without being devastated?
- Could you tell the person’s future spouse that you honored both of them in how you treated him? Or would you be embarrassed by the way you treated him?
If you would like some additional resources on this topic, check out Emotional Purity by Heather Arnel Paulsen, The Mingling of Souls video clips by Matt & Lauren Chandler (Chandler also has a book by that title), and The Song of Songs sermon series by Breakaway Ministries. In fact, there's one Mingling of Souls video that I just have to include because it jives so well with the subject of this post!