This is a post that I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. However, even though this is a blog that gets quite personal at times, I’ve often thought that the details of this particular issue might be a little too personal, and might leave me feeling a little vulnerable. So the way I have thought of dealing with this is to talk about the issue in broad outline, without going into specific details.
This is the gist of the idea – that as a single woman (or as a woman full stop) I have certain rules that govern the way I interact with guys. This has not always been the case; I developed these rules and put them into place after a period of reflection, and they have largely been inspired by Joshua Harris’s famous book on Christian relationships, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (link to my own post on the book). This book is written for a relatively young audience (teens-early twenties), and I first read it over a decade ago. However I continue to refer to it as it has inspired much of my own thinking about relationships.
In a way, these rules are very relevant to me as a single woman. However if (and hopefully when) I get married, I still expect to use these rules to govern the way I interact with other guys who are not my husband. It is not just about being a woman – I think that it is wise for men to also have these kinds of boundaries in place – after all Joshua Harris is a man and it was from him that I got the idea!
I really want to make it clear that this is not the Bible. I am not going to say that “the Bible says this”, because it does not. Similarly “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is not the Bible either, and Joshua Harris is not God. These rules of mine are guidelines which I find useful, but they are not necessarily set in stone, and breaking them is not a punishable crime or anything – that is, I do not in any way imagine that God would frown down on me (although I often berate myself for carelessness). I find that in our world boundaries get more and more blurred and interaction with “the opposite sex” can sometimes be a little confusing because no-one really knows what to expect, especially if we are all coming from different cultural backgrounds. In a way, that is the reason why I am writing this blog in the first place, so (male) people can at least know what to expect from me! Because daily life does not actually offer me any set boundaries, I have to impose my own, especially as the potential for embarrassing or regrettable misunderstanding just grows larger and larger, as boundaries become more fluid.
OK, so without going into the specific details of what the “rules” actually are, the main point is that I try my hardest to not put myself into situations where I can grow too close to any guy and I also try to avoid any unnecessary physical proximity as well as avoiding any private interactions altogether – that is, behind closed doors, alone, “just the two of us”, that kind of thing. As I’m writing this, I am laughing to myself and thinking “Wow, these probably sound so old-fashioned!” It is not just about avoiding any private interactions, it is also about thinking through wise boundaries when it comes to talking on the phone late at night, for instance, or Facebook chatting late at night or for extended periods. It is also about avoiding physical contact altogether – in a way, it is quite ironic that this blog is called “Finding Mr Huggie-Wuggie”!
I personally think that it is wise to have some kind of boundary in place that you follow. Once again, I am not saying that you are going to go to hell if you don’t have such a system, or if you break any of your own self-imposed rules. I myself have broken many of my own rules on many occasions, and by the grace of God, have still managed not to do anything stupid. In fact, when it comes to sexual purity, it was really brought home to me that it is your heart that matters more than anything else, as I had already been carefully following these rules for a number of years and I still went ahead and danced in a manner that was
not exactly Christ-like extremely provocative for the benefit of a certain non-Christian guy (fully clothed, and in a very public place with many other people present, thankfully!)
All the same, I have been grateful for having this kind of framework in place. Because of this framework certain things always feel weird, because they are so unusual, and I always notice whenever I am doing them. I can tell you almost to the day and time the last three times that male friends hugged me, and who these friends were (one of these was within the last year, a gay guy, the remaining two times were more than a year ago each). I can also tell you the last time that I spoke to someone male on the phone at an unwisely late hour (over two years), or the last time I was caught on a Facebook chat with a male friend (Approx 1 and a half years ago)
Why do these things matter?
When it comes to avoiding sexual mistakes, I think it is worth remembering that most people who make these mistakes never intended to sleep with their friend – or even worse, their married friend. I sometimes think that these things happen because people were not careful enough to make sure that they did not happen. However, it is not just “full sex” that we are talking about – that is, actual intercourse. What if you do something a lot “tamer” like kissing someone (and what if they don’t kiss you back? I think I would dissolve) – or touching them intimately? These would equally be mistakes, and could make life between you and your friend so awkward. For me, all(!) I did was public, fully-clothed dancing with very seductive and suggestive looks – there was no touching or anything else, AND I danced at him – it was not as if we danced together! – and the apology I felt compelled to make afterwards was excruciating. (Tosin shakes her head). I definitely don’t want to find myself in that position again! Obviously when it comes to speaking on the phone late at night, or getting involved in computer chatting, there is zero risk that you are actually going to kiss the guy or do anything further at that particular point (although you could say something stupid). However, with these kinds of situations you could be unwittingly building a kind of intimacy with these people. A name for this has just occurred to me right this minute: a “late-night intimacy”. Even if you are not physically in the same place with these people I would personally avoid this, as the special intimacy created in these situations might so easily spill over into situations where you are physically present with one another.
Addressing men now: A few months ago a couple of Facebook friends posted a few posts about respecting sexual boundaries and I thought to myself that the kind of boundaries I cultivate would also be so helpful for guys. I suspect many times that no matter how holy or honourable your intentions may have been to start with, if you as a guy find yourself with the right person but in the wrong place with enough alcohol in your system – you might end up doing something stupid or much worse – even illegal. What if every Christian guy made up his mind that he was not going to sleep with anyone, or have any sexual interaction with anyone before marrying her (and I also include kissing etc in that) – and what if then every Christian guy studiously avoided any temptation to get drunk and any compromising situation – maybe always going to parties with a small group of reliable friends, carefully looking out for one another, staying for a predefined time then leaving and going straight home to bed – then that would help to prevent the possibility of their doing anything stupid themselves, or incurring false accusations.
It is not just about parties, it is also about being careful and watchful about day-to-day life, and carefully monitoring “friendships”. Sometimes I read about sexual harassment cases in the media, and even as a woman, reading between the lines, I suspect that in some (not all) of these situations, there was sexually suggestive banter or casual talk which was fully and happily enjoyed by both parties – until relations turned sour, in which case the woman might then have turned around and used against the man what she had actually been actively encouraging.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying that this happens in all sexual harassment cases, or even necessarily in most cases. I know that in many cases women are genuinely victimised. What I am saying is that, because women have sinful natures just as surely as men do, they are also capable of trying to destroy people to get what they want. The laws of probability suggest that this happens in at least some cases.
All of this is not just about avoiding sexual temptation. There is also a strong element of reputation management in this. As a Christian woman who professes a strong level of faith in and pursuit of God, I like people to know that I am not careless or casual about my interactions with guys. Part of this is about not putting myself into situations that might give people cause to talk or to start spreading “interesting” rumours about me. So the flip side of this is that if ever people do try to make oh-so-unsubtle insinuations about me – invariably these insinuations are utterly groundless. By the grace of God I know that there is no action or activity that I undertake that would in any way justify people in talking about me – although of course, that will not stop people from talking. It is with a view to reputation management that for instance I do not take lifts from men (although, (Tosin scratches her head) – I did take a few lifts within the last couple of months). Regarding married men I am SO careful. One of the people I admire most in the whole wide world is male and is married and I am careful to the point that I would rather break off the friendship than do anything that would give cause for anyone to think or say anything.
I will finish this post by relating a funny story about something that caused me to quickly add an extra entry to my existing rules. This is about one of my friends, and it would be a little embarrassing if he recognised himself in this, if he does read this blog – we have not had that discussion!
So I was walking through the Edinburgh streets one day a few years ago when I happened to bump into someone I had known a little from uni. At uni I had known him well enough to have had a few arguments with him about faith and religion (surprise surprise) but I did not know him so well, at least not then. I recognised him, I remembered his name, and thankfully he also remembered me, and we got chatting. It went really well, and we agreed to meet up to have a chat. I think we initially agreed to meet up at around 6pm. (I can’t help laughing as I write this – in retrospect this is so funny!) So we met up as agreed, and first we went to a branch of a cafe chain, sat there, and chatted for ages and then we went to an actual restaurant and had a meal, even to the point of sharing…
The point of this is that we were only supposed to have met up for the sake of catching up, but it turned out to all intents and purposes to be a date. And even though we started off at a reasonably early hour we spent so long talking and chatting that by the time we had finished it was at least 9pm, if not knocking 10pm. And if you don’t know Edinburgh, let me assure you this, that Edinburgh is an extremely romantic city. And he is a romantic guy. So not only was it a date, but it was also an extremely romantic date. Afterwards he complimented me on how I had looked. Well I was not going to turn up looking like a scarecrow, was I?! So there we were, walking back through this romantic city, after a romantic date, kinda late at night, and I knew him quite well, but still not very well…I was almost hyperventilating.
Thankfully our friendship survived that, even survived a slightly embarrassing exchange of emails, and we even met up for a quite a few further non-dates, and we are still reasonably good friends today, although not in great contact….and…..he is not a Christian, as if that could be any kind of surprise in my life! (Tosin rolls her eyes! )
2 Timothy 2:22
22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Photo of match bursting into flame by Christoph on Pixabay