Ok, so you like each other. Cool! Let’s ditch the dating terminology for a minute, and talk about how to build genuine friendship with this person instead. So, can we carefully pursue friendship with someone we have feelings for - and protect our heart from heartbreak at the same time?
I’m glad you asked.
One word: BOUNDARIES.
I want you to liken your friendship with this person to journeying into a cave. Ok, that sounds kind of creepy but here’s the point: the deeper you go, the more dangerous (and exciting) it gets. Why dangerous? Because the further you journey into the heart of the cave, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to find your way out again should you need to abandon mission. The darkness thickens and it can be a little disorientating - and easy to lose track of where the exit point is…
Romance can be equally as disorientating - and thrilling! As you journey into a relationship with someone, the feelings you have deepen in complexity and it becomes more complicated to navigate. However - think of having good “boundaries” like leaving a trail of glow sticks on the ground to clearly mark your journey in:
No matter how deep you go, you’ll emerge from the cave in one piece
Boundaries glow in the dark - because the Word of God is a light to our path! (Check out Psalm 119:105) Should things not work out, you can still turn around and find your way out again without getting lost, losing direction, and stumbling to the ground in exhaustion.
Likewise, if you’re building relationship with someone, be aware that you’re dealing with the HEART. (Yours and theirs!) The deeper you go, the more complex it gets. Complexity isn’t bad, but it requires commitment. So stop at every turn, pause, pray, put a glow stick on the ground. You’ll need it in order to honour the other party, and yourself, should things go EITHER way.
The purpose of boundaries is not for restriction - it's for protection
What are they protecting you from? Intimacy! One of the biggest mistakes we can make is getting too intimate, too soon. Intimacy is not purely a sexual thing. It's about closeness. If you get too close too soon - you could entrust your heart to someone who hasn't yet earned that trust. See,
sex isn't the only thing reserved for marriage.
There’s a certain level of intimacy between two people that is also reserved for marriage - sex is simply a physical outworking of that.
You might not cross sexual boundaries before you get married but you sure can cross emotional boundaries. I get it - it’s natural to be drawn to each other and want to be close when we have a crush on someone. (See SEX! THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHY YOU SHOULD WAIT for more on this.)
Before Husband and I were married, we liked each other (obviously!) But instead of diving head first into a relationship, we simply got to know each other and built a healthy friendship first. Over that time I learnt that I could trust him with my heart because I saw how he had boundaries with not only me, but other people. And you know what? It made me feel safe. I knew where I stood, and I felt honoured. Even as we became closer, we kept healthy boundaries within the closeness - so that if at any point one of us backed out, we honestly could have remained friends because we didn't divulge too much too soon. Of course I would've been disappointed - but not in pieces - because I hadn't let him into to places in my heart that are reserved for someone I’m married to.
The truth is, whether it's romantic or not - you'll always feel heart broken if a friend isn't in your life anymore.
Heartbreak isn't something restricted to romantic relationships. It’s simply the risk of loving people well.
So here’s some “glow sticks” to help you navigate your way through the cave of friendship - so you can guard not only your heart, but his:
1. Have physical boundaries - Including, but not limited to, sexual boundaries. Most of us already know that crossing sexual boundaries are an obvious no-no before marriage - but remember that certain levels of physical touch is but a stone’s throw away. Tread this water carefully and know where to draw the line!
2. Have emotional boundaries - tread carefully on conversation subjects. Don't go too deep too quickly. Keep it lighthearted and fun until trust is built. Remember, intimacy is emotional, not just sexual. You can become very intimate with someone on an emotional level - which is fine until you marry someone else! There are details about me that only my husband knows - and it makes him special and set apart from everyone else! You want your future spouse to be the one who knows the innermost parts of your heart, rather than a bunch of people you had D & M’s with in the past. For now, keep the most intimate details for chats with appropriate people, like family, mentors, and trustworthy long-time friends who have your best intentions.
3. Have social boundaries - boundaries are always crossed when you're hidden from the sight of others. Hanging out in groups frees us from the pressure of getting to know someone in a romantically charged environment. It’s also handy to see how they interact with others, because how they treat others is a better reflection of their character than how they treat you. (If he’s rude to his mum and nice to you - he’ll be rude to you one day too! If she's not nice to the waiter - she’s not nice!) If you do hang out exclusively - think the beach, a cafe, the shopping mall - you know, where's there's people around and a good distance from the backseat of the car.
4. Have mental boundaries - Boundaries aren’t restricted to your actions - don’t let your feelings rule your thought life. Of course you can think about people you’re interested in - it’s fun! But guard your thoughts like you guard your bank PIN. If you invest a lot of fantasy and thoughts into someone, you’ll definitely feel the ramifications if it’s over. And remember: your thoughts eventually make their way into your actions - so be careful what you think! (Phil 4:8)
Intimacy is an incredible thing - you were designed for it. And you’re drawn to it for a reason. It reflects the relationship you need to have with God - up close, personal, intimate, and authentic. Don’t be afraid of your desire for it - it’s a good thing and a God thing.
But think of it like fire - it’s captivating & it can pull us in to its enamouring flames.
Fire is powerful and anything that is powerful has the potential to be dangerous. If we let it run wild, it’ll spread through the forest and cause heartbreaking destruction. Don’t let that fire spread through your friendships and leave a trail of broken hearts in its wake.
Fire needs to stay within the safe confines of a fire place so we can enjoy it and not get burnt by it
/// PSALM 16:6 ///
"THE BOUNDARY LINES HAVE FALLEN FOR ME IN PLEASANT PLACES;
SURELY I HAVE A DELIGHTFUL INHERITANCE.
I WILL PRAISE THE LORD WHO COUNSELS ME
EVEN AT NIGHT MY HEART INSTRUCTS ME"
Keep your friendships within the safety of healthy boundaries so you can truly enjoy them, and not be burnt by them - that way, whether you get the green light to move forwards, or either of you need to press the eject button - both hearts should still be in tact by the end.
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