Last week, I started a series on building hedges to protect your marriage. Installment #1 dealt with building hedges at work (if you missed it, you can read it here). For installment #2, I thought I'd talk about building hedges with friends of the opposite sex. But before I go there, let's revisit my disclaimer for this series...
While I think that all Christian married couples should work to protect their marriages based on these passages and others, not every couple will go about it in the same way. The "hedges" that Dan and I have set up are good for us. They may not be good for you, and that's okay. The hedges you and your spouse put up are between you and God. Period. No judgment here.
Now back to our scheduled programming... :)
For as long as I can remember, I've had a lot of "boy friends."
As a toddler, I had tea parties with Lance and indoor picnics with Charles.
In kindergarten, we played a recess game called Cats and Dogs. The boys were the dogs and the girls were the cats...with one exception. The boys got to choose one girl to be the Queen Dog and the girls got to choose one boy to be the King Cat. Poor little Bruce was chosen to be the King Cat. Me, on the other hand...I had the honor of being the Queen Dog.
If you look at pictures of my Sweet 16 Birthday Party, you'll find my best friend Bethany...and about a dozen guys surrounding us.
And when I got to college, I made a few close girlfriends, but spent a lot of time being "one of the guys."
Needless to say, building hedges with my male friends is still an adjustment for me.
When I married Dan, I had to change my friend habits. I'm no longer "one of the guys" but a wife to one man and one man only. I didn't have to change because Dan is some sort of crazy controlling husband. I wanted to change because I love him dearly and want to protect what we have together.
So what has this looked like for me? Before you continue, remember my disclaimer;)
1) I don't do one-on-ones with my guy friends. Ever.
There are two kinds of guy friends: married and single. Most of my single guy friends have moved away, so I don't have to worry too much about it. But when and if they come back in town and want to get together, they can either come over to my house and spend time with Dan and I, or we (Dan + me + guy friend) can meet somewhere. Honestly, if they care about me, and I love Dan and enjoy spending time with him, then I'm sure they'll enjoy spending time with him too. Plus...and I'm being completely honest here...I don't think I've ever been really good friends with a guy who at some point in time I didn't find myself remotely interested in. Even if I was just interested for a moment during a long-term friendship, I wouldn't want that moment to creep back up on me. So, I'm protecting Dan, yes, but I'm also protecting myself.
Married friends are a bit easier. Dan and I only hang out with friends of the same sex or our married COUPLE friends, and I don't think either of us feels like we're somehow "missing out." It's just double the fun!
2) When we do have "couple friends," I remain guarded.
Sadly, I have known a few people whose marriages have fallen apart when a spouse from Couple A and a spouse from Couple B end up having an inappropriate relationship. To avoid that fate, all communications between me and another person's spouse are done out in the open. Very, and I mean very, rarely do I text or email one of my friend's spouses in the private sphere. They might get a text from me on their birthday or Christmas, but that's about it. No long conversations back and forth, no private facebook messages, etc. If I do happen to send or receive a message to/from a male friend, I try to share with Dan so he's in the loop and not taken off guard by anything, and if I'm the one sending, I might "cc" my guy friend's wife on the text so that she's not taken off guard.
I also try to be very sensitive to my surroundings when I'm with other couples. Either boy, girl, girl, boy or girl, boy, boy, girl at the movie theatre (I'd rather share my armrest with my hubby!), and I try not to sit right next to another married man on a couch or at a table if I can avoid it. Obviously you could take this to the extreme, but as a general rule of thumb, I try to sit next to my husband or another woman.
These are hedges of protection for me and Dan, but I also think that they're hedges of protection for our friends. I would hate for one of my girlfriends to for some reason see my name in her husband's inbox and have that rush of panic come over her. Even if my intentions were completely pure, I wouldn't want her to feel any sort of fear or anxiety. Romans 14 says to never "put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother," and I never want to be that stumbling block. Yes, hedges protect my own marriage, but they also protect the marriages of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
3) I don't touch.
To be honest, I'm not a huge "toucher" in general. In normal conversation, I wouldn't lean over and touch someone's knee or shoulder to make a point, so for me, not touching isn't that hard. But I do try to keep a decent circle of space. I do high fives and side hugs (if you want a good laugh, read Jon Acuff's post on side hugs over at Stuff Christians Like) with my oldest and truest guy friends, but that's about it. Ha...how corny do I sound right now--high fives and side hugs? Pffft.
4) I do touch.
I'm all about appropriate marital PDA. I hold my husband's hand, rub his back, and kiss him on the head when I walk behind him. These are all little reminders to him that HE is my husband and that I chose HIM over everyone else. Plus, like I said in installment #1, when people see you interact with your husband, they are more likely to respect your marriage.
5) I play taboo.
As I discussed in installment #1, I try not to get all "emo" on my guy friends. No deep, emotional talks without my husband present and no discussing my husband's flaws, our marital issues, or our sex life. I also don't discuss things that I haven't discussed with my husband yet. In other words, no secrets that my husband isn't aware of.
If there's ever a question in my mind as to whether or not I should be discussing something with another man, I try to think, Would Dan feel comfortable if he were sitting here with me right now? Or better yet, Would I feel comfortable if Dan was talking to another woman like I'm talking to this man right now? Do unto others...
5) Center my friendships around the gospel.
If my friendships with men are centered around the fellowship and furtherance of the gospel, then I have nothing to fear. (I totally stole that phrase from Warren Wiersbe, so no, I'm not that amazingly smart all by myself!)
Think about it...
I have non-Christian male friends. If I am constantly keeping the gospel at the center of my heart and mind, then I will not act inappropriately with them. God designed marriage to be a beautiful representation of Christ and his church. If am continually trying to further the gospel, then I will not want to distort this representation. I won't act inappropriately because I will want to show proper respect for my husband to demonstrate the respect I have for Christ. If the furtherance of the gospel is at the forefront of my mind, then I will want to be the best testimony possible so that God might use me as the salt and light in my friend's life.
But there are also my Christian friends who already believe in the gospel. Often times we describe the time that we spend with our Christian friends as fellowship. "Come on over for some fun and fellowship." "Thank you, Lord, for food and fellowship." "Would you like to come fellowship with us as we watch the Bears destroy the Packers?" Good ole' fellowship. :)
But what exactly does fellowship mean? Literally, it means "in common."
As Christians, we have one thing in common: the gospel.
Warren Wiersbe says that salvation is a threefold work: 1) the work God does for us--salvation, 2) the work God does in us--sanctification, 3) the work God does through us--service. We are a saved people who are being sanctified by God in order to best serve and glorify him. If we keep the gospel in mind, then we will never want to do anything to hinder the work that God is doing in and through our brothers and sisters in Christ.
"...Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10: 19-25
As a "girl friend," and more importantly as a sister in Christ, I must only act as to stir up my brothers to love and good works, encouraging them, as the Day of the Lord draws nearer.