“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?
- She could have set up boundaries.
- She could have kept things in perspective.
- 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.