Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boyfriends and Girl Friends

(Below is a written dialogue between myself and blogger/friend, Bryn Clark...he's a he, in case there's any confusion. Check out his blog when you get a moment!) 

So I just started writing for this blog run by a girl named Debbie. She's pretty cool. Furthermore, it's been great to discuss topics with her, swap insight and generally work together. Throughout this process she's become what you might call... a friend. At least to me. She might still want to keep me on the outskirts of her social circles. But to me she's a friend.

The thing is, I have a girlfriend, a very, very, awesome girlfriend. This presents itself with a number of questions: what is the appropriate manner in which I pursue friendships with other girls? Can we hang out one-one? What about doing homework together? Is that inappropriate? Are there rules across the board or is it specific to each person? 

My primary concern in this situation must be honoring, preserving and strengthening my relationship with my girlfriend. Especially if we end up getting married; my relationship with her is the most important I have. This does not, however, require that all other relationships end. Furthermore, while our relationships with significant others/spouses are the most important, there is still importance in friendships with those of the opposite gender; they are, in fact, a necessity. I mean, I could work out of my house in my pajamas, become a recluse, read old novels, and watch sitcoms for the rest of my life  but my girlfriend told me that wasn't really an option. So then I must realize that I will always be dealing with girls other than my girlfriend/spouse, and I must know how to do so in a healthy and honoring manner.

I don't know... Sean Connery in Finding Forrester seemed to manage the 'ol hermit approach pretty well. I felt inspired. 

It's a weird topic, and honestly, I find it much easier at times to befriend guys who have girlfriends/wives than I do single guys. Why? Because they're 'safe'. If a guy in a relationship is friendly and appears interested in communicating with me (you'd be surprised at the number of Christians guys I encounter who are in relationships where it seems like they are not allowed to communicate with the other gender), I usually thoroughly enjoy my friendships with them. I enjoy them because they aren't complicated. I know they don't think I'm trying to hit on them and I clearly know they aren't trying to hit on me. But, there also needs to be some sort of boundary. 

I'd venture to say that boundaries need to be specific to each person. Each girlfriend/wife is probably going to have different things that she feels comfortable with her significant other doing with other females. I actually had a girl present in our class the other day about the cultural complexities she encountered in America when it came to gender issues. A guy had been helping transport an international student to church, but when he started dating someone else, he felt like he could not spend that one on one time alone with the girl and so she was no longer able to go to church. It seemed ridiculous...but, on some level, I get it. I just don't know if I agree with it. Or maybe I'm just ticked that that's how it has to be sometimes. Maybe I just wish we lived in a world where we could trust each other so much, where we could be trusted so much... that boundaries wouldn't be necessary. 

So I guess I think there's got to be a lot of open communication in a relationship about what each party feels comfortable with. And then, you have to be willing to see things from each other's perspectives...and even if you can't always understand, you have to recognize that if someone feels a certain way, there's validity to it. There's also just a need for trust. I've discovered the hard way that a relationship without trust isn't going to work. 

Be friends with girls, but do it in a way that's honoring to your girlfriend. Do it in a way that still makes her feel valued, cherished, cared for and that she is your priority. But, she'll also have to understand (and be okay with the fact) that you will have other friendships with other girls. I think the moment you start confiding in another girl about things you are unwilling to talk to your significant other about, that's when the trouble starts. Open communication. I think it's key.

To echo what Debbie said, communication is key but it's not nearly as easy as it sounds, especially in these kinds of situations. It goes way beyond just words. Complications, hurt feelings, and, often times, great pain arise when more attention and energy is dedicated to a relationship with someone else. As a general rule, you shouldn't regularly spend more time with someone of the opposite sex than you do with your significant other. Thus, if my girlfriend and I haven't had a chance to talk all day, especially if I'm "too busy", I shouldn't turn around and invest an hour in talking with another girl; that doesn't communicate respect or priority to my girlfriend. These are important habits that must be built early on, otherwise, I would imagine, marriage will be a difficult adjustment. 

Furthermore, if you think your girlfriend/boyfriend is being overly jealous or restrictive, the first question you should ask yourself is "what might she think I'm seeking in this relationship with soandso that she wishes I was finding with her?". In other words, from their perspective, am I seeking some sort of fulfillment somewhere else that I should be finding in my relationship? Am I hanging out with this person because we share a common interest that my girlfriend would like us to share? Is it because she thinks I'm funny and I don't think my girlfriend does? Is it because she compliments me? Often times, addressing these kinds of question can lead to better communication and result in less jealousy and or hurt. 

And from the single perspective, I think we have to be willing to see things from the other side. I've often gotten frustrated when I've feel like I've 'lost' my male friendships once they started dating/getting married. It made me not want to invest in guys anymore because everything felt so temporary. 

In reality, there's just been a shift. Things had to change, and that's okay. I think the more we can accept that and honor the need for a romantic relationship to take priority over our friendship, the more our friendship has room to flourish and not be so complicated. I think we also need to recognize that we would probably have to do the same if we were the ones in a relationship or starting a new relationship. 

So, single folk. Be understanding. Be gracious. Relationships are messy and communication is challenging enough as it is. We don't need to be an added burden for them to have to sort through. Have discernment on when it's time to step back, be respectful of boundaries, don't bring up inside jokes with old friends in front of their new significant other. Be a friend who encourages and supports the relationships your friend is in.... not the 'Debbie Downer' of all relationships because you're still single. 

I'm thankful for my guy friends, both single and in relationships. I think it's what the Body of Believers is all about. There aren't really tons of boundaries there...and I don't want to live in such a way that we take away the fruit, the goodness, the insight that those friendships can provide us with. 

Let's be a people who are trusting, trustworthy, open, communicative, gracious... and brimming with love... whether we are single, boyfriends, girlfriends of boyfriends who have friends that are girls... or any other combination of things you can think of. 

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