Unless you live in an isolated cabin in the mountains with your significant other, you’re bound to have some contact with members of the opposite sex. Here in America, we’ve developed a variety of rules of engagement for interacting with them to reduce the chance of, or the appearance of, illicit hanky-panky or any other inappropriate relationships. However, different situations and different couples seem to need different rules. Here are some that I’ve observed in others or applied myself.
One-on-one outings with the opposite sex are generally frowned upon. Even if the two people are as “just friends” as two people can be, such outings could give the wrong impression to anyone who sees them or create unpleasant questions in the mind of one or both spouses. Even though Jenny trusts me, this is one rule that I follow for three reasons:
- There’s already way too much gossip in the world.
- I don’t want to give Jenny any reason to doubt me.
- I generally feel more comfortable around women and connect with them better. I don’t want to set up a situation in which I start to develop a bond that is too close with a female friend.
However, I wouldn’t mind if Jenny wanted to do something with one of our mutual male friends. For instance, she and our friend MadBomber are both sci-fi and comic book fans, much more than I am. If they wanted to go see the latest X-Men movie or something similar, I’d be OK with that. I trust both of them. But I would understand if MadBomber or his wife found that weird.
Some people avoid other mixed-gender situations as well. Some refuse to ride alone in a car or meet behind closed doors with anyone of the opposite sex. My pastor at Fellowship Church held himself and the rest of the staff to this standard, understandably so. I don’t hold myself to that standard strictly, though. I’ve carpooled to work with two different girls with no problems. Most people avoid being alone in a home with someone, which seems wise to me for a number of reasons.
When I’m meeting someone new, especially a woman around my age who might have been interesting in another life, I try to mention Jenny and/or our boys to make sure the woman knows I’m taken.
I covered hugging in a previous post.
At church we sit with the same people in the same row every week. Someone, usually a couple, sits down first. Some of our friends, when they arrive next, intentionally arrange themselves so that girls sit by girls and guys sit by guys. If I’m seated and the couple starts walking down the row toward us, the girl might wait until the guy passes through so he’ll sit by me. The same thing happens sometimes in restaurants, movies, or other venues. But other couples don’t seem to care. So it’s either a personal preference or a differing understanding of the “rule”. Personally, I have no problem sitting next to a girl, and Jenny has no problem sitting next to a guy.
I’ll bet this one depends largely on the nature of the call for most people. I know lots of people who have short conversations with an opposite-sex friend for some specific purpose – where is our group meeting for dinner, where do we park, what does your spouse want for her birthday, etc. But lengthy conversations between the two of you seem to be much less acceptable and something I avoid.
The explosion of the Internet, particularly Facebook, has presented couples with a new set of situations and potential dilemmas. The ease of connecting and interacting with people of both genders is both a blessing and a threat. It’s so easy to look up old friends from the past, but what if that friend is also an old flame? Is it OK to friend your ex or email with him/her? Jenny and I have done both. Naturally, we keep the interaction someone limited and make it clear that we are happily married and have no intention of rekindling the flame. However, from what little I’ve read, many relationships have ended in recent years because of Facebook reconnections with former lovers.
What about connecting with opposite-sex friends? I doubt many people have a problem with such semi-public interaction on Facebook or Twitter, but what about email or private Facebook messages? Are those OK? If so, how much interaction is acceptable? A joke or random question? A longer email? A multi-message conversation about more personal issues? Where is the line, and how do you know when you’ve crossed it? I’m not sure where people stand on this one.
For us, we don’t have a problem with private messages as long as the content remains appropriate and we don’t get too emotionally involved with anyone. One way that Jenny and I protect ourselves is by giving each other our passwords. At any time, Jenny can check my email or Facebook account and see what I’m up to, and vice versa. So if I’m writing a private message to a woman, I keep in mind that Jenny could read it and try hard not to say anything that might bother her. I also consider the possibility that my female friend’s husband or boyfriend might do the same.
Some of our friends handle this threat differently: by sharing an email address and/or Facebook account. The shared account makes interacting with them a bit more complicated since you never know who’s going to read your message first and sometimes don’t know who is replying. But a shared account does add an extra level of transparency.
The Biggest Threat
A strong emotional connection, to me at least, is probably the biggest threat in a mixed-gender friendship. Especially as a guy who feels more comfortable around women, I shouldn’t allow myself to get anywhere near as close emotionally to any woman besides Jenny. If I’m telling a female friend things that I wouldn’t reveal to Jenny, I’ve crossed the line and need to back off quick. Some friends of ours ended their marriage over such a situation. The guy found himself developing a too-close friendship with another woman. His wife didn’t like it, but the guy refused to end or scale back the friendship, so they finally divorced. I want to make sure that never happens to us, so I keep this principle in mind for all my interactions with female friends.
What are your thoughts? What rules of engagement do you follow when dealing with people of the opposite sex?