Originally Published February 14, 2013
Special occasions such as Valentine’s Day usually inspire me to write impromptu articles, and today hasn’t been an exception. I have often conflicted with my fellow Christians over the nature of marriage and dating relationships, and one of those areas of conflict is concerning the “start out as just friends” thing that is so popular. I disagree with that “thing.”
I’ve been seeing a YouTube clip from young Christian rapper Jefferson Bethke and his new lyric “Sex, Marriage, & Fairytales” going around the social networks with massive applause from young Christians. I understand that Bethke was raised in a less-than-average home situation, and I know that his outlook on life is influenced by it. That being said, he seems to know a lot about how to obtain a healthy marriage relationship for someone who is no more married than I am, but I want in this post to address the topic of “friends first, then lovers.”
So for the singles, become friends first before you ever become lovers
Pursue Jesus as your foundation before you get under the covers
Because, believe me, a strong friendship before marriage will make a good marriage after
Marriage isn’t just sex, it’s conversation and laughter
I mean some spouses barely even like each other, and the marriage seems like a dead end
You might share a checkbook and a house, but are you actually friends?
I mean, if marriage isn’t a commitment, then what’s the point of the vows we say? – from Jefferson Bethke, “Sex, Marriage, & Fairytales”
I’ve had some serious clashes with young Christians over this idea of “friends first,” and I’ve broken relationships with girls who meant a lot to me simply because they refused to allow me to be anything to them outside the friend box. It seems that the mentality of today’s Christian youth is that a relationship is either purely friendship or purely sex with no happy medium. It’s a case of viewing only the extremes, only the black and white.
I am an active social ballroom dancer, and I often attend dances where I teach and interact with girls/women of all ages in dance. I have often commented to my friends and colleagues how sad it is when first teaching young guys and girls to dance together. It is invariably awkward because guys don’t know how to touch and interact with girls beyond sexual encounters, and girls likewise don’t know how to be touched. These first dance experiences are often accompanied by attempts to laugh at the awkwardness and/or comments of how “weird it feels to touch like this.” After seeing years of these types of encounters, I’ve come to realize that today’s young guys and girls (not just Christians) have no idea how to interact with one another apart from the extremes of just “hangin’ out” or having sex. I believe that this is the origin of today’s Christian youth applauding the idea of “just friends” because they see that anything else is sexual immorality.
So what is my take on this? Why do I consistently clash with young Christians who promote this idea? Admittedly, I am still single, so my views on the topic reflect only my own experiences as a single man interacting with girls. But I do interact with a lot of girls. I have learned that guys (at least guys like me) can never be buddies with a girl. Even with girls who will never be on my marriage radar, there is still the ever-present, subconscious recognition that there is a sexuality between us. Guys and girls who claim to be “just buddies” often find themselves in “Oops” or “Ok, that was just weird” situations with each other. On the other hand, romantic partners find that they cannot restrict each other to merely sex partners without having friendship interactions. This suggests the happy medium that I mentioned earlier, where a guy-girl relationship inherently defaults to a sort of hybrid between the two extremes.
Why is this a problem? One simple reason: guilt. Young Christians who find themselves in relationships with the opposite sex often realize that there is an attraction beyond mere friendship, sometimes even a physically sexual attraction. They find themselves thinking about their “friend” many hours of the day when they are told they should be thinking about Jesus. Then they start feeling guilty about feelings that are perfectly natural, and potential true-love relationships are broken because of the guilt of “idolatry,” or placing a person where God should be in their lives. I’ve had Christian guys tell me that they can’t understand how I can possibly dance with girls without having “impure thoughts” about them, often followed by a statement such as, “I could never do that sort of thing.”
I believe this is where the part about not knowing how to interact comes into play. Guys and girls are sexually attracted to each other. The “birds and the bees,” it’s just the way things are. The question is how we will respond to it. Will we try to ignore our sexuality and deny that it has a place in our relationships? Will we attempt to control our nature by eliminating temptation or by practicing willpower? Righteousness is a choice of will in the face of temptation rather than a result of a censored environment. My response to the guys who question my interactions with girls is usually something along the line of this: If you cannot interact with a girl without the ability to control yourself, shouldn’t you think about whether or not you are even ready for a relationship?
I think the “just friends” approach is a relational shortcut that allows relationships to be easily formed without the need for guys and girls to learn to interact with each other in that happy medium. That can be dangerous. It certainly is stressful, unhealthy, and confusing.
What do you think?