We’d like to share with you another excerpt from our new book. This one is pulled from Chapter Eleven: “Will You Be My It’s Complicated? How to Just Say No to the Wrong Kind of Relationships.”
Let’s Play Romance
There are plenty of people who have technically kissed recreational dating goodbye, but are still looking for romantic flings outside of marriage. They want the fun of being in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships without purpose or commitment. Enter flirtship, the popular new alternative to dating and courtship. It’s like dating, only you don’t go out – you use email, chat, or phone, or just pair off whenever you’re in the same vicinity. Either way, you’re definitely – though not officially – well, apparently, anyway – boyfriend and girlfriend.
These are classic “It’s Complicateds” because they’re not defined at any point, and no one, including the involved parties, knows exactly where they’re going.
Let’s use Deanna and Gabe as an example. How did Deanna let herself get so entangled with Gabe? Answer: deliberate romantic encounters and emotional fire-stoking. The reality is, our hearts crave to be in a relationship, starting long before we’re ready to get married. Deanna was enjoying her “romance fix” and the warm fuzzies of being loved with no strings attached. It wasn’t until she became dependent on Gabe’s interest that she realized this kind of romantic free-for-all meant that there would be no strings attached to Gabe either. And because Gabe was also only in it for a good time, he was free to move on once the relationship wasn’t meeting his needs and a better time appeared on the horizon.
Sometimes people justify taking each other for a romantic spin by saying, “We have to try a lot of people out to see which one would be the best match,” or “I thought it would be a good idea to secure him just in case.” But test-driving someone romantically, whether for kicks, for science, or for strategy, is not how we keep romance in the context of marriage, where it belongs. We can invent a thousand excuses, but at the end of the day, we don’t do it because it’s wise. We don’t do it because it’s loving. We don’t do it because we’re pursuing purity. We do it because it’s just so much fun.
Proverbs 9:17 tells us that “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” It’s natural for us to want things that we’re not supposed to have (yet). And we have a natural desire for somebody to be the prince so we can be the princess so we can have a love story. But the correct response to this desire running out of its proper context (whatever Taylor Swift may say) is to Just Say No.
Why Do Bad Boys Happen to Good People?
Ashley’s situation was an easy one to unravel because it was entirely one-sided. But often it takes two to tangle, and there are times when it’s the young man who’s leading the girl into it. There are such things as scoundrels and rakes; there are young men who genuinely don’t know the right channels; there are good boys who aren’t ready to get married yet; there are guys who are more interested in fun than commitment; and there are nice guys who are just way too friendly with girls. How do we handle them?
Girls often come to us distraught over problems like, “He keeps telling me he really cares about me, but I know he hasn’t talked to my dad…” “He’s too friendly and I don’t know what to do about it…” “He asked me for a date, but I’m committed to courtship!” “He keeps sending me gushy Facebook messages!” “He’s not marriage material yet but I hate to push away someone who likes me so much…” “He stopped me in the store and asked me for my name and phone number…” “He follows me everywhere and asks me really personal questions!” “He is just so sensitive and sweet and affectionate toward me – I know he’s pushing his boundaries, but I’m starting to fall for him anyway…”
These sorts of situations can be uncomfortable to deal with, but they don’t have to get truly sticky unless we let them. We often have more power to direct this sort of situation than we realize. Young men have told us time and time again: Girls really are the ones who set the tone for the interaction. Young men tend to unconsciously defer to what the young lady seems comfortable with (e.g. if she seems to be enjoying his attentions, he’ll ramp it up; if she thought his coarse joke was funny, well, he’s got more where that came from…). Most often, they let us set the terms; they let us establish the boundaries. The kind of young man above usually tests the waters to see what kind of girl he’s dealing with and what he can get away with. You don’t have to play his game.
You need to talk to your parents about how they would like you to handle situations like the ones below, but here are some general principles our parents gave us.
If Don Juan accosts you in the dentist’s office waiting room and tries to charm you out of your phone number, a firm “I don’t give out my personal details to people I don’t know” is usually sufficient.
If Lancelot might be a possibility someday, but is acting like he wants to be married now – pushing the boundaries of your friendship and letting it get a little too emotionally intense way too early – it’s usually possible to remind him of what’s appropriate in your own respectfully reserved conduct. If he doesn’t take the hint, you can ask your father to talk to him about it.
If Romeo seems smitten with you and showers you with attention and compliments (and is exactly the sort of Montague your parents do not approve of), you can make it very clear in your cool but respectful manner that you are not interested in sharing a balcony scene with him.
If your friend Han Solo asks if he can take you for a ride in the Millennium Falcon and you are affronted because it is a bucket of bolts and you’ve already kissed romantic intergalactic joyrides goodbye (and you’d rather kiss a wookiee anyway) – you don’t have to tell him so rudely; there is a polite way to say, for example, “No, thank you.”
If Captain America thinks you seem like a very nice young lady and has offered to take you out for an ice cream soda, you don’t have to respond with, “You sinner! – don’t you know about courtship?!? Don’t you know it’s a sin to initiate a relationship with a girl before you’ve talked to her dad? If your intentions were remotely honorable, you heel, you would have kissed dating goodbye!” (He won’t understand that reference.) There are pure-hearted men who are still operating within the only paradigm they’re familiar with, and it could be helpful for them to be introduced to a more biblical paradigm (and maybe also your dad) – even if nothing ever comes of this relationship.
If Edward Cullen is stalking you in a creepy manner, always staring at you across the room and trying to corner you so he can ask you creepy questions about yourself – you can respond so honestly (“Yes, I believe in Total Depravity”), seriously (“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God judges sin”), and confidently (“What is your position on supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism?”) that he will probably never come ask you questions again. If something firmer is needed, your father or brothers should be able to do the job.
If Willoughby wants to take you on a solitary ramble to read Shakespeare’s sonnets and then have you stay home from church so he can ask you a Very Particular Question, and you know that W. is not playing by the rules, you can either shut him down yourself and alert your parents to the situation, or ask your father to talk to him.
If girls would realize that they don’t have to go on romantic rambles, tolerate creepy questions, welcome inappropriate flattery, laugh at crude jokes, accept dates, allow over-friendliness, or give away their phone numbers just to be nice, everything would be a lot simpler for them.
Complicated things will happen to us – but “It’s Complicateds” will only happen if we’re playing along. We will make things a whole lot more difficult if we enjoy the attention, become emotionally entangled, lose our level-headedness, relish the drama, or encourage the misdemeanors.
When a ball of this kind is hurled into our court, this is a test. What will we do with it? No matter how outrageously a young man is behaving (and trying to get us to behave), we still have to stand our ground and do what is right. The standard is still to act like Christ, Who knew when to be firm and forceful, but Who never sinned. This means that cruel or haughty comebacks are not ok, but neither is going along with a young man when he’s pushing the limits. Remember, the most truly loving thing we can do for him is to point him to what’s right – even if it means saying, “You’re talking to the wrong person,” or “No, I’m not interested in going out with you.”
In the case of Lauren and Marshall, Lauren is feeling overwhelmed with confusion over how to handle Marshall’s clear interest, knowing that he’s not marriage material yet, and hasn’t approached her father. The solution, however, is very simple. Lauren simply needs to do three things:
Talk with her parents about the situation, and let them know her true thoughts and feelings regarding Marshall. Our parents can help keep us accountable if our own hearts are swaying. Our fathers are also our secret weapons in the area of dealing with guys. They are the strength that we don’t have – they are the ones that can force the issues for us, the ones who can find out what a young man’s intentions are towards us, the ones who can make sure no one leads us along. What if Marshall was only playing with her while he waited for something better to come along?
Interact with Marshall as a sister and not a girlfriend, as though nothing is going on… because nothing is, right? Our pure and sisterly conduct can remind young men what their own should be.
Resist the urge to keep a candle burning for him in her heart just in case. We don’t know who God intends for us to marry; we don’t know who God intends for them to marry. What’s important is that we keep our hearts open to what God wants… and that’s going to be a lot harder if we’ve already filled that spot with a certain someone.