Answer to a question from a Facebook friend:
“What do you think differentiates two people who are going out from ordinary friendships?”
Following on from my blog post last week, where I stated that I believe that a relationship truly starts at marriage, rather than before this, I received a comment on from a friend on FB, asking the question above. He further elaborated:
“I’m interested in your opinion what is the difference between a couple and a friendship in the light of the belief that a relationship starts with the wedding ceremony…”
OK, so this is my opinion. Please note, it is my opinion – it is not the Bible, it does not carry the weight of the Bible, it is not even an interpretation of Bible doctrine. It is simply MY opinion. (I don’t think the Bible explicitly deals with this subject, and in the Bible couples would be betrothed, sometimes for many years, before actually consummating their marriages). Because this is my opinion, rather than the Bible, Christians are free to disagree with me, as long as they still act within clearly defined Biblical principles, and with common-sense.
In short, I believe that two people who are “going out”, (although I don’t love this phrase – see below) are two people who are deliberately and consciously working through the question of whether to get married to one another – and this is what distinguishes them from people who are friends.
Most of my views are derived from the excellent book by Joshua Harris, called “I kissed dating goodbye”, which thoroughly establishes the argument that as Christians our girl/guy interactions should be 100% marriage-oriented.
I simply think that this is the way it works. Let’s say you are at a marriageable age, and you decide that you would like to get married. So if you are a guy, you try to choose someone suitable, if you are a girl, you put yourself in a position of being chosen… either way the point is that this is done with a deliberate focus on marriage. I think a big issue with many Christian couples is that we copy the way others approach relationships, but just without the sex. Why would we do this, without a focus on marriage? Why would we hold hands? Why would we spend hours gazing into one anothers eyes or playing “footsie”? Why would we cultivate an intense emotional intimacy only to break it to start it all over again with the next person – are we playing?
To me, having a succession of relationships before actually deciding to get married or without being expressly marriage oriented is exactly like playing, a very dangerous game, with a succession of people. I think that in the same way that we as Christians should systematically order our interactions to avoid even the temptation of sex is the same way we should order our interactions to avoid even the temptation of premature emotional intimacy.
So when a guy approaches a girl, it is expressly with the idea that this could lead to marriage. IE when the guy asks a girl out, or expresses interest in her. And similarly, when a girl accepts to “go out” with a guy. Actually, I think the phrase “going out” is itself unhelpful, because it implies dating and going out together to have fun. This is part of the behaviour that I would avoid before marriage, as it prematurely encourages intimacy (again, this idea is totally lifted from I Kissed Dating Goodbye). (As Josh H says, there is nothing wrong with going out to have fun, but it can safely be done in groups, without necessarily splitting up into pairs.) I think that the point of the period between expressing interest and getting engaged is to find out whether you would be suitable for one another. To talk, to ask suitably probing questions, to pray – together, and separately. I’m not keen on the idea of going out to get to know one another, because frankly I believe you should already know someone very well before expressing interest in them, or accepting someone’s expression of interest.
These are the stages I would identify for the way I would approach this issue
- Get to know someone. It is recognised that it takes two full years before you can be sure that you know someone properly. (I think this is why character references always ask for someone you have known for at least 2 years). And obviously, this is 2 years of close association with someone – not someone that you first met two years ago who has been been in a different country than you for one and half years.
- FRIENDSHIP After thoroughly and fully getting to know someone (for at least two years), THEN add them to your list of friends. I think that this is where I have consistently been going wrong – I am always so quick to want to be friends with people (of either gender) before really getting to know them well – only for their true character to eventually display itself. Obviously regarding girl/guy things, you can have a number of different friends, with different degrees of closeness. You can also be friends with someone of the opposite gender without any marital hopes or expectations at all on either side.
- Express interest/Accept expression of interest
3.1 – Establish communication
I don’t think there is any boundary to how long you should have been friends before expressing/accepting interest. However, if you have not formed a close friendship within the “friendship” stage, then you will have to do it within this stage. Actually, I am secretly resolved that no matter how close I might be to someone before he expresses interest, that we should spend the first few months just deliberately learning how to communicate with one another, before moving on to asking big questions – how to talk, how to argue, how to disagree – but keeping it on a friendship level, not letting it wander into emotional intimacy. I know I would be so frustrated if I asked someone a question and they didn’t reply – I would be scratching my head – is it that he didn’t get the email/text/whatever, is it that he does not want to reply? And these issues can be so awkward anyway. So these few months would be about laying a few ground rules to avoid mutual frustration – If I ask you something, then please reply! If you don’t want to reply, then say you don’t want to reply – don’t leave me wondering whether you did not get the communication… I don’t have the time or mental energy to be running around someone trying to work out what he might think or what he might not like – and I have no desire to play this game within marriage either. If he cannot abide by these rules (that we have both established) – then he’s out.
3.2 Big questions
Now is the time to ask the big questions of life – how many children do you want, where do you see yourself where do you want to be – with lots of prayer, lots of counselling, lots of everything. All this time, the question we will keep asking – of God, of wise counsellors, and of ourselves in absolute honesty – are we right for one another? Is this the right time? Obviously the answer to these questions might be “No”, in which case we should be honest with ourselves and move on. If we have carefully built a foundation of communication, then we should be able to remain friends or friendly and wish one another the best as we consider other marital options.
- Get engaged: Assuming all is right and we would be good matches for one another, we can go ahead to get engaged. Yes, the guy proposes, but I don’t want anyone to keep me dangling about this. If this has been marriage-oriented from the beginning, and we have covered all the necessary ground, then why would this drag on for years? If you’re not sure, or you’re still praying, then please release me to get on with my life, and perhaps find someone else – when you’re sure, then you can come and let me know.Once you actually are engaged, then I think the time of engagement is all about preparing for the marriage, and also the wedding – thinking through legal issues, where are we going to live – getting everything ready. However, we still do not belong to one another, and I would argue that we should not behave as if we did. We are not one yet. Rather than behave this way, I think it would be better to bring forward the wedding, if we really can’t think straight!
So, these are my own thoughts! 😉
Song of Solomon 8v4:
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
Do not stir up nor awaken love
Until it pleases.
Photo of Mount Matterhorn by Simon on Pixabay