Just Friends?

Towards the end of 2018, I wrote a post about friendships in the context of relationships.

One of our regular readers – Miss Kizza – asked this question in the comment section:

What is to be given in a friendship and in romance in the dating phase? How do men and women be friends without crossing over to the romance phase or friends with benefits?

This is my response. 🙂 (For better context of this post, I encourage you to read that and my other post on friendships in general first.)

I want to start off by saying that this is not a how-to template. Anyone who’s been around here for a decent amount of time knows I don’t advocate for templates. I do, however, believe in principles and that’s what I’ll be sharing.

While principles may remain constant, how they’re expressed differs depending on a person and the season they’re in. So how you apply these principles in your life could look completely different from the next person and you’re both within the will of God for you.

Lastly, two cannot walk together unless they agree. These principles only work if both parties are truly intent in honouring them (and not just saying they are to get what they want). Please don’t waste time trying to implement them if one or both of you is half-hearted about it. It’s all or nothing.

Principle #1 & #2: Truth & Love

What is the truth of your relationship with person X of the opposite sex? (The presumption of this post is that we’re talking about people who you’re not related to)

By truth, I’m talking about purpose.

Why are they in your life and you in theirs?

What would God have you give them in a particular season and them you? This includes mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, etc. depending on the nature of the relationship (whether it’s a friendship or budding romance). I can’t answer these questions for you; that’s between you, them and God.

Getting answers from God matters because it’s starting point of defining whether a relationship will remain purely a friendship or if it will eventually evolve into a romance at some point. It also answers the question of when – when is the season that our friendship should grow into a romance (if at all)?

Purpose is expressed in time and season. This means that how purpose is expressed in this season will be different from the next season. So remaining in touch with the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide you will help you stay on course with the season you’re in.

There are plenty of people who go through these motions with varying degrees of success without even realizing it. But I’m an advocate for using any knowledge and revelation we’re privileged to have to be intentional in how do life.

If you read up on The Four Loves i.e. storge (family), philia (friend), eros (sexual) and agape (God’s unconditional love) (as written about by C.S. Lewis), you’ll realize that the difference between them isn’t the presence of intimacy of one and absence in the other. It’s the presence of different kinds of intimacy in all four.

It’s unfortunate that the way the romance/relationship discussion has been handled in Christian circles over the years makes intimacy out to be the bad guy we all need to stay away from. It’s not.

Intimacy doesn’t equate to sex. Sex is only one form of physical intimacy. You can have mental/intellectual intimacy, emotional intimacy and even other types of physical intimacy that are more “innocent” like hugs.

So when we talk about what we’re giving and receiving from someone, we’re looking at what kind of intimacy we’re allowing to grow between us and the impact of the same on one or both of us.

How do you judge whether you’re in the intimacy safe zone?

  1. The Holy Spirit – He will warn you even before you slip so don’t ignore His counsel. If something starts to feel off, don’t brush it off, whether or not you can explain it.
  2. The fruit of your relationship –  whether romantic or friendship, if it leads you astray from God in any way, that’s a big, giant, red flag.

Principle #3: Boundaries

Pop culture largely makes reference to friends with benefits as regards to sexual intimacy. But it’s possible have a friendship with mental or emotional benefits that is completely unhealthy. If anything, this is how many of the friends with benefits arrangements start.

As we grow in maturity as believers, one of the dangers we face is getting a bit too confident in ourselves. We get cocky and become less careful in how we handle ourselves and other people. This leads us into very unnecessary situations that can end up messy fast.

Cultivating a relationship of dependency on the Holy Spirit is crucial in ensuring you maintain the necessary boundaries for your life and relationships.

Mental Boundaries

Your mind is the gateway to your spirit and soul (mind, body and will).

The first breach of one’s boundaries is always in the mind because it’s your first line of defence. To illustrate this, no one just hops into a bed (or vertical/horizontal space really *shrugs*) and has sex with someone. Sex will start as a thought, maybe even a fleeting one. As the thought is meditated on, it will grow into a desire. The more one dwells on the thought and the growing desire, the more one starts leaning towards acting on it. If they keep going down that same path, they eventually do (which could take hours, days, weeks, months or even years).  The weaker your mental boundaries (if at all they exist), the less time it takes to get from thought to action.

Having an improper thought is not the end of the world. You won’t be the first one to have one and you’re hardly the last one either.

What matters is what you do with that thought. Do you continue to entertain it and allow it to grow into something more? Or do you turn the page to a new thought – one that is in accordance to God’s truth concerning that matter?

One of the ways the media industry has greatly shaped society’s views when it comes to love, romance and sex is by throwing into question who decides what’s right and wrong and blurring the definition of right and wrong. If you’re not sure about where your line is drawn or if it should even exist, then your conviction to stay on one side weakens.

What are you feeding your mind when it comes to relating with the opposite sex and romance/sex? That is what will either clearly define and strengthen your boundary lines or erase them into non-existence.

Emotional Boundaries

We usually think of thoughts and emotions as being on very different spectrums but they’re intertwined much more than we realize. Logic is also not the sole preserve of men, and emotions, women. God gave men and women both; we just use them differently.

If you interrogate what you chalk up to your emotions, you’ll find that it’s rooted in a thought(s) – whether positive, negative or both.

With your mind as your first line of defence, your heart is your second line. Something that has gotten past your mind can still be handled at emotional level before it causes harm to you or someone else.

One of the fallacies of the age we live in is that we are slaves to our emotions and have no control over how we feel and what we do with our feelings.

This isn’t to say that we ignore how we feel. No. Feelings are critical indicators of what’s going on in us. How you feel about someone or something can tell you a lot about what you think of the same.

If you notice that your emotions are gravitating towards liking someone romantically when you’ve just been friends, that needs to be addressed. How this is done depends on the purpose, nature and season of your relationship.

Physical Boundaries

God wasn’t crazy when He designed sex for marriage. Marriage is the boundary within which sex should happen.

Now what often follows is the question – how far is too far? Here’s my problem with this question – by the time you ask it, you’re declaring that you intend to push your boundaries as far as you can to the point of almost no return.

If you’re pushing your boundaries, it means you don’t understand and/or value their existence in the first place. No one crashes into a security fence repeatedly with varying degrees of force just because they can. We understand the fence is there for a reason so we value its presence and do our best to ensure it is kept in the best condition possible for it to be effective.

Real talk: most of us ask this question because we don’t want to wait (for marriage) or we’re tired of waiting. We want our desires fulfilled now not later. So we’re looking for a way out and permission to compromise in any way we can.

So my response to that question is this: what’s your understanding of why God wants you (as an individual) to wait till marriage before you engage in sexual activity? If you’re waiting for marriage because someone told you you’re supposed to but have no personal revelation of it, you’ll be hard pressed to follow through with that wait. Especially if that someone is nowhere near you and you’re in a room alone with the person you desire.

The nitty gritty details of how Christian values are expressed also differs in various parts of the world because of cultural preferences and differences. There are places where something like kissing is generally accepted as okay for unmarried Christian couples and others where it’s greatly frowned upon. I will not bury my head in the sand and pretend this isn’t the case. But I also won’t get into a debate about who’s right and who’s wrong. I think the better, more productive question is – what has the Holy Spirit set as the right standard for you as an individual?

Physical boundaries are simple by nature and perhaps that’s why they’re so easily disregarded. They could look like – not being alone in a room/car together (because you know one or both of you will be tempted to cross a line); hanging out in the company of others; not staying out too late together; etc. Like I said, this isn’t a template. Your physical boundaries need to work for your specific needs.

While I’ve discussed it under physical intimacy and boundaries, sex is not just a physical act. It’s a mental, emotional and spiritual one too. That’s not the trendy way to think but it doesn’t make it less true.

By the time you have sex with someone, you’ve engaged every single part of your being. Saying that you can pick and choose what part of yourself to give away is like saying you’ll drive a car and remove whichever tyre(s) you don’t want to use as you continue to move forward with the remaining one(s).

You may not think you’re affected by your choices but all the consequences will catch up with you sooner or later. I don’t say that as a threat but as a warning and a plea. If you can trust God with your salvation, how is it you can’t trust Him with your sex life?

Principle #4: Self-Control

Self-control is the difference between sticking to a boundary and crossing it. The way to develop is to exercise it. It’s not inbuilt for anyone; we all have to work at it.

In different areas and seasons of life, your self-control will either be tested by God or tempted by the devil. God tests you to reveal areas of weakness that you need to address for your wellbeing and so that you can grow in love and relationship with Him. The devil tempts you to capitalize your weaknesses and use them against you to separate you from God.

Compromised self-control is an indicator that one or a number of your boundaries have been weakened or breached in some way. It could also signal lack of boundaries where there should be some or the wrong ones (e.g. trying to enforce a mental boundary where a physical boundary is required).

As you deal with a test or temptation (or both), it’s important to know if, how and when your self-control may be compromised.

Consuming things like alcohol and drugs alters our frame of mind and affects our decision making. Internal factors such as mental and emotional turmoil and even physical exhaustion can also be pitfalls.

We’re mentally made vulnerable when we’re exposed to a lie – and more so, when we don’t recognize it as a lie. The way to handle this is to replace the lie with the truth. Ignoring it isn’t enough because it leaves a vacuum for it to circle back around and find you even more vulnerable. When you embrace truth, you allow God to renew your mind and ground you.

We’re emotionally made vulnerable when we’re hurt – regardless of the circumstances that have led to our pain, heartache has a way of hampering our ability to evaluate things objectively. The root cause of the hurt needs to be addressed with finality not just the hurt itself.

We’re also emotionally vulnerable to our needs. Having healthy needs is not wrong, but how and when you choose to meet them is where the boundaries and self-control come into play. Needs are a key danger zone because we often mess up when we’re trying to have our needs meet either by the wrong person or at the wrong time. You need to know who God has positioned in your life to meet specific needs.

For instance, office wives and husbands, however, innocent the terms may be at the onset, are a recipe for disaster. They create a gap in your mental and emotional boundaries to give to and receive from someone who isn’t your spouse (current or future) as though they were your spouse. What will happen in the long run is divided affection and attention where different people are getting bits and pieces of you.

Another example is when you have a fight with your romantic partner (or friend with intent to start dating) but run to a friend of the opposite sex to console you. You have a need to be heard and understood. That’s fine. But the person who needs to hear and understand you is your partner not your friend. If you keep running to the wrong person, you will never build the foundation you need with the right one. The reason it seems easier to go to your friend is because you’re watering that friendship more than the relationship.

We’re physically made vulnerable by our mental and emotional vulnerabilities. You will physically seek out that which you are longing for mentally and emotionally. That’s why we’re warned in Scripture to be careful of what we entertain in our minds and hearts. All issues of life – including relationships with the opposite sex – are a product of them.

If you notice that your self-control is lacking either mentally, emotionally or physically, you need to identify what has caused there to be a compromise. Is it the media you’re indulging in or company you’re keeping? Is it a slackened relationship with God? Are there ongoing issues you’re dealing with that are taking a toll on you mentally and emotionally?

Next, you need to take action to address the compromise. So many believers know the truth in and out, but they still end up in unfortunate situations because they don’t act on it. It’s not enough to know what’s right and wrong. You need to back up your knowledge with decisive actions.

Action may mean changing what you’re reading/watching; changing who you’re hanging out with (you know what they say about bad company); being more diligent in your relationship with God; changing the way you interact with a person until you’re in a better mental and emotional space; etc.

Principle #5: Communication

My husband likes to say that communication is the lifeblood of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. How well you communicate with one another or not will make or break your relationship.

Let’s be real here. Many people end up in situationships (thinking they’re in a serious relationship with someone or headed towards one, while the other person is only in it for friendship/sex/etc) because of poor communication or lack of communication.

Words and actions are misinterpreted. Assumptions are made. Feelings are invested. And you have a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

No one automatically knows what another person is thinking or feeling. Even if you know a person really well and can make an educated guess or divinely revealed response sometimes, it doesn’t work every time.

Feelings/thoughts/desires cannot be assumed to be clear. They need to be clearly communicated. 

Expectations cannot be assumed to be clear. They need to be clearly communicated.

Intentions cannot be assumed to be clear. They need to be clearly communicated.

Boundaries cannot be assumed to be clear. They need to be clearly communicated.

Internal/external changes cannot be assumed to be clear. They need to be clearly communicated.

Just because you’re both believers and can both hear God, doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit will run back and forth between the two of you playing messenger. He won’t. Communication is your responsibility. He’s only there to help you get it done effectively.

It’s also fundamental to always remember that how you think/feel or not doesn’t automatically apply to the other person. We tend to easily project what’s going on with us to the people close to us especially when it comes something we feel strongly about.

My rule of thumb for communication: Ask. Never assume.  

As I close off this post, I need to say this loud and clear. I don’t believe for a second that men are somehow incapable of self-control when it comes to sex while women are automatic paragons of physical virtue. How we respond to love and sex as men and women may differ because of how God wired us but it does not render us (both men and women) incapable of self-control and proper stewardship of each other’s thoughts, emotions, bodies and lives.

We need to stop settling for the measly standards the world has set for us for manhood and womanhood and start pursuing God’s original design for us. This world is in dire need His light shining through our lives and relationships.

And ladies, setting boundaries and expecting clarity in a relationship is not being too difficult. There are men out here who will honour and cherish you for keeping to the standards God has set for you. I’m blessed to be married to one and to know a good number more.

Here’s to more positive examples and testimonies of divine masculinity, divine femininity, divine friendships and divine relationships.

P,S. Thanks for your question, Miss Kizza! Hope this helps.

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