The Boundaries of a Wise Heart


“You have to demand respect!”

These words, uttered passionately into my cellphone earlier this week, have driven me from blog-hiding to write about a topic that is near and dear to my heart these days (quite largely because of that passionate conversation): boundaries and respect in male/female relationships.

Respect may seem an odd topic for me to cover on a web journal originally called Ladies Against Feminism, because it is usually assumed that women who do not embrace feminism to not demand respect from the men in their lives. And, while it’s true that my advice to my friend (who I shall call “Annie,” because that’s the name of one of my favorite songs, and Annie is one of my favorite people) was not to call up the young man who had wronged her and read him his rights… I do believe that women who embrace femininity can demand respect without emasculating the men in their lives; in fact, on the contrary, I believe that the way the we can command respect will affirm their masculinity.

Rejecting the fruits of the sexual revolution makes me an old-fashioned girl… but old-fashioned doesn’t equal doormat.

You see, Annie had this friend… this male friend. And this male friend would call Annie at odd hours to talk to her about what was on his heart. He treated her differently than he treated other girls. Usually guarded, he was open to her. Though, if you would have asked both of them what their relationship status was, they would have told you emphatically that they were only friends, this young man’s behavior gave Annie reason to hope for more. And then, he stopped calling her and started calling someone else. And why shouldn’t he? They were “just friends” after all.

Annie was crushed.

Perhaps Annie and I are both naive (in fact, there’s no “perhaps” about my naivety -the older I get, the more proof of it I see), I definitely understood where she was coming from: young, single men, perhaps, aren’t aware of what they have the ability to do to the hearts of young, single women when they invest large amounts of time into cultivating relationships with them. We’re not talking girls who over-estimate cordiality (“He said hello! He loves me!”), but particular attention.

Since this article is directed at women, I can not preach at young men. I cannot say, for instance, Listen: if you are giving preferred attention to any young woman in your acquaintance -if you would, perhaps, call her your “best friend,” and if she is a woman to whom you can talk about “anything that’s on your heart”… either marry the girl or leave her alone, because what you have in this relationship is a great deal of the benefits of commitment without the actual ring.

Since I cannot say something like that (and because it takes two to tango: it’s not entirely the man’s fault), instead, I talked to Annie about boundaries and clearly-defined relationships. To do so, I took a page from Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity:

The custom of ‘going steady’ is another form that impatience takes. The couple are not ready for marriage or even for the public commitment that engagement ought to entail, but neither are they ready to leave each other in God’s hands, “in the sublime keeping of the general and unspecific belief that God is answering our prayers in His own time and way.” Each clutches the other, fearful lest he “get away.”

Unless a man is prepared to ask a woman to be his wife, what right has he to claim her exclusive attention? Unless she has been asked to marry him, why would a sensible woman promise any man her exclusive attention? If, when the time has come for a commitment, he is not man enough to ask her to marry him, she should give him no reason to presume she belongs to him.

My friend had fallen prey to a young man who, though not ready for long-term commitment, wanted the benefit of having a loving, affirming relationship with a young woman. While I do not think that his intent was at all malicious, his actions were: Annie saw the makings of a long-term relationship; he saw the meeting of a temporary need. Young women, are, of course, just as capable of doing this to young men if they are not careful.

So, what could Annie have done differently?

  1. She could have set up boundaries.
  2. She could have kept things in perspective.
  3. She could have embraced accountability.

1) Annie could have set up boundaries by not answering the phone. I’m a girl, too, so I know -I know! -how tempting it is to let a young man take advantage. No, he hasn’t given you any sign of commitment, but he just needs some good advice from a sister in Christ! He needs a shoulder to cry on! He needs affirmation!

He needs a Titus 2 relationship with an older man, not to strengthen emotional bonds with a girl that he has no intention of marrying. A book that has helped me learn about emotional boundaries is Heather Paulsen’s Emotional Purity. I saw myself in more than one of the main characters of her anecdotes, and it stung, but it has helped me to grasp the dangers of premature emotional intimacy.

2) Annie could have kept things in perspective. If this young man had not gone through the proper channels to make his interest known, she had no reason to believe that he was going to move beyond friendship. In Annie’s home, if a young man wants to go out on a date, he has to ask her dad first. Unless this young man had asked, she had no reason to believe he was serious. She let his words fool her instead of waiting for his actions to confirm them. In Girls Gone Wise, Mary Kassian talks about waiting for young men to lead in relationships; in her words, “Let him drive.”

3) Annie could have embraced accountability. I mean, if she would have called me, I would have told her to tell that guy to hit the road! ‘Nough said. 😉

All right, but, really: Annie could have discussed her standards frankly and openly with her parents: was she truly guarding her heart? Was she setting herself up for disappointment? Was she allowing this young man too much freedom with her?

The kind of young man we want won’t be trying to get in through the back door: he will be willing to go through the proper channels to claim a heart, and his primary focus will not be his selfish desire to be near us, but a selfless desire to protect us, even at the risk of his own whims. How do I know? Because if I want a husband who is willing to lay down his life for me (Ephesians 5:22ff), then I need to look for a beau who is willing to lay aside his own immediate desires.

Waiting for this kind of guy can be hard, and we might be tempted to make allowances for lesser men… but we have to trust God to write our story in his time.

Annie was sweet to let me use her story as a catalyst for this article, but I would be grossly dishonest if I said that I hadn’t made the same mistakes. It was all too easy to empathize with my friend’s confusion: even though neither of us “date around,” we can still leave ourselves open for heartache when we allow the lines in our relationships to become blurred and try to rush things. We wouldn’t trade the peace and simplicity that comes from having well-defined standards in relationships… but we sometimes forget how hard we have to work for that peace.

Neither Annie nor I are going to start avoiding friendships with young men altogether -we simply need to learn to keep boundaries in our friendships. We need to love our brothers in Christ enough not to take advantage of them… or to allow them to take advantage of us.

Biblical femininity elevates the importance of protecting a young woman’s heart, and the importance of behaving around young men in a way that demands respect… as well as a way that respects him and his future spouse.

8 thoughts on “The Boundaries of a Wise Heart

  1. Well said as always! I also, have allowed the lines of distinction to blur without intention and when the caller attempted to advance ‘through the back door’ I let him know it was not to be. Sometimes the friendship was dissolved, and sometimes it was injured, simply due to lack of boundaries in the first place. I actually created a written pledge and set my own boundaries because when a girl is paid attentions by a young man, it is flattering to her and principles are known to be forgotten temporarily and calls or visits are allowed to be made, which is a sign to the caller that advancement is welcomed, whether the girl intended it or not as such. It causes pain on both sides so it is better if lines are drawn up front.
    I appreciate the encouragement in this post and the reminder that we girls do have to take accountability for our actions, glances, and words.


  2. “even though neither of us “date around,” we can still leave ourselves open for heartache when we allow the lines in our relationships to become blurred and try to rush things”….oh yes, so true!

    Jasmine! 🙂 I’m glad you wrote about this, I think I came across it just in time ;)… the LORD is gracious, and good, I’ve seen how beautifully He writes love stories when His children trust Him and let Him do all the work.
    Thanks for sharing such clear insights on this subject.


  3. “The kind of young man we want won’t be trying to get in through the back door: he will be willing to go through the proper channels to claim a heart”

    That is so incredibly true! My husband (when he was my boyfriend) announced his interest in me, then asked my father’s permission. My brothers were both taught to announce their intentions and seek parental permission. My sister’s fiance, a wonderful young man, expressed to my father his desire to “do it once and do it right”.

    You know what, though, more young men need to be taught how to go through the proper channels. I fear that too many of them simply don’t know how to do it anymore.


  4. Yyyyyyes.

    This is very ideal. And I love it. I am an idealist. Who didn’t marry until 34. Who recommends not waiting until 34 if you want to marry and can help it.

    I think about my mostly dateless teen years – because I didn’t want to have a boyfriend I was 99% likely to break up with before we got to an age when we could marry. My dad, however, pushed me out the door on a date with a man who did not meet my standards and whom he knew zip about. In my case, the appropriate channels had no infrastructure. I was on my own and did protect myself.

    What am I getting at…. Let’s see….

    Yes, yes, at Bible college, I had some friendships with male classmates, in my striving to be a little more available. I was of the age and ready for marriage then, and I think rightly had the idea I shouldn’t sit in a closet expecting God to arrange everything for me. I Corinthians 7 hints not at passivity. We are instructed to evaluate with our own minds and to ACT within God’s laws to get this marriage thing going if we have the need for it.

    Of course, some will observe those instructions are to males, which leaves single women where, exactly? If their fathers and/or potential suitors are not really on the same page of Biblical culture, I think young women do have Biblical recourse which is once again not passive: the book of Ruth, where there was no father in the case at all, and the suitor wasn’t suiting.

    How that translates into any one modern culture will take a whole lot of thought and prayer, but surely there is at least a place for allowing a man to know what kind of character and personality he might be selecting if he were to pursue. A certain level of friendship toward that end might not be unwise.

    One of my college friends was particularly close – wrote long e-mails to me daily during his year in another country – and I began to really need the relationship to be more than that of friends. But he made no move, made no move, made no move. This went on for three years (!!) before I told him not to communicate with me anymore.

    THAT was unwise.

    A year or a few months would have been more reasonable.

    My heart might still have been broken, but perhaps our days on earth aren’t to be pain free, even if we do everything right.


  5. SnapHappy, I think you hit on something here:

    “…perhaps our days on earth aren’t to be pain free…”

    Perfection in relationships is so illusive because the people in those relationships… well, they aren’t perfect. It is definitely good to know that we serve a God who can heal our wounds and put us back on track whenever we falter -because we will falter.

    But he is very good to give us principals in his Word that guide us, and to aid us in walking in his ways.

    Thank you, all, for your comments!

    Oh, and, Mrs. Joy, excellent book about how to go through the proper channels? “What He Must Be… If He Wants to Marry my Daughter” by Voddie Baucham. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, though. 😉



  6. Jasmine, I appreciate your heart in what you’ve written. I also appreciate your father’s work including his book that you mentioned. I feel that many are blessed as a result. A friend who loves what you said sent me your article, so I registered so I could respond.

    I prayed before typing these words because I know that it is only through God’s Spirit that any good can come of what we say. I can understand how frustrating it may be for a young woman to spend time talking with a young man over the phone only to discover at some point along the way that he had no serious intention of developing a relationship leading to marriage. Defining a relationship is important at some point, but there are a few aspects of this I want to broach for the sake of thoughtful consideration. And all I ask is that you and others prayerfully and humbly consider a few issues. I encourage you to ask your parents to read what I’m about to say.

    Seeing many courtship scenarios play out in my church and among people I know, I am noticing some disturbing trends. I am seeing a double standard in the way the young men and the young ladies are treated. I think we can agree that both sexes are sinners in need of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and no one sex is better than the other. We are all equal in God’s sight.

    I have discussed my observations with others (parents with daughters and with sons) around the country and all are making similar observations, so it’s not just in my area. Here are just a few stories I have been told. Keep in mind that I’m talking about godly young men (not boys) who have been reared in Christian home schooling homes with good education and jobs and who take time for service both in their church and in their community at large. Some even travel overseas to places like Kosovo to spread the Gospel. They are moral men filled with God’s Spirit.

    Yet, when young men like these make effort to get to know a young woman in the courtship community, their motivations are suspect and their integrity is in doubt. A friend of mine told me she is seeing more and more young women grow older and older without marrying simply because the standards set by the family are higher than they set for their own daughters.

    I see young women in the home school community who are not being prepared for marriage by learning the art of home making, the rearing of young ones, and most importantly learning the importance of godly humility in respecting a future husband. Many young women appear to be coddled as though they are special princesses.

    In some cases, the courtship model has become more centered around the daughters than it has around honoring God. What is happening is not the Biblical model I observe in the scriptural text. The Bible speaks of women with servant’s hearts and humility before the man they hope to marry. Yet, in many courtship circles today the attitude appears to be, “Is this young man good enough for me?”

    That just doesn’t seem to be the approach God would want us to take. We women are not the center; God is.

    I ask those reading my words to pray and just carefully consider their own hearts in this. The question should not be whether a man is worthy of me, but it should be whether a man walks with the Lord with all his heart. Each person is imperfect as they enter marriage; there will be opportunities for spiritual growth together but only if humility before the Cross of Christ is present.

    I believe the courtship movement is beginning to run aground due to human pride. Dating as society dates is not the answer, but neither is parental control and denigration of young men.

    It is sad that so many fine godly young people are marrying late in life or in some cases not marrying at all. It is a shame in the home school community that this is happening in large part because we parents have difficulty trusting our children and most importantly, trusting God. My husband believes that more dads need to begin looking at the hearts of young men and throw away their questionaires and rigid man-made rules. God chose David because of his heart. I am thankful that God does not deal with all of us rigidly, or none of us would likely be here.

    Anyway, Jasmine I appreciate your sweet heart in helping your friend and again, your father’s work is invaluable. But I seriously pray that the feelings and the hearts of young men who hope to be married just as badly as the young women can be more tenderly considered by all concerned. I cannot know because I don’t know the exact situation, but it is possible that the young man who called your friend simply was trying to get to know her before initiating a serious connection. Yes, I understand that he should have gone through the girl’s father first. The father could have intervened, but any father refusing to allow a young man to talk with his daughter unless he “commits” to a serious relationship is doing his daughter a serious injustice.

    We women are the more sensitive weaker vessel, but God equipped us to do the hard work of delivering babies and we can handle an occasional disappointment. Any young woman who can’t handle the sadness of having hopes dashed for a young man is not ready for marriage – for in marriage there will be even greater hurdles to overcome.

    I sometimes think that we home school parents place burdens on the shoulders of our young people that we would thank God were never placed on ourselves as we tried to get to know the person we eventually married. I know people who go into courtships far too quickly all for the sake of avoiding giving the wrong impression to others. I know people who are marrying who hardly know each other because they’re trying so hard to follow someone’s courtship rules. It just seems sad to me, and I pray that at some point along the way someone will recognize the issues and speak to them in a way that shows respect for both the young men and the young women.

    We parents need to prayerfully seek God’s will and guidance and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us.


  7. I agree with mentormom; and as a single man can I add:

    * There are some quite ‘vulnerable’ single men out there as well, who won’t be helped if the young lady concerned shreds them for crossing a boundary they (the single men) didn’t know was there. This happened to me once, when I got rather coldly put in my place by one young woman who thought I was interested in her. I wasn’t, and tried to make that clear – I hadn’t wanted anything more than to get to know her socially (sorry, thought that was allowed), but that was that.

    * There is a role for straight friendship between unmarried men and women. If marriage is delayed for any reason, those friendships will matter, a lot. More often than not it is quite obvious that something romantic is not intended. As St Paul remarks, “greet my dear friend Persis – she is a woman who has worked very hard for the Lord”. The NIV is paraphrasing somewhat at this point, admittedly, but the term ‘agapetos’ is used three other times in the chapter for men, so the paraphrase may be a fair one.

    * Agree with the views of courtship, as too often it is working against its stated intentions.


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