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Healthy Boundaries

Gone are the days when we simply followed the rules in EU such as the triple 3 when it comes to the opposite sex – you may not speak beyond 3 minutes, maintain a 3 feet distance and ensure you speak only in the presence of a third person. And about time too! Rather than ensuring boys and girls don’t mingle, teaching them to value one another and interact in a healthy manner, is the need of hour. In fact, this is a substantial facet of our personality. Youngsters spend considerable time with the opposite sex more and more than ever before. Be it in the college campus, the work place or the church youth group, youngsters are thrown in together and friendships often blossom. And well-defined friendships that are out there in the open, bring out the best in us, that challenge our thinking, draw us closer to God and enable us to grow and develop in new areas are meant to be cherished. But of course, most such peer friendships are same sex ones. In fact, if we can’t maintain, leave alone initiate, same sex friendships at all and life only revolves around friendships with the opposite sex, we’ll have to ask ourselves some honest questions. Healthy friendships – maintained over time, reflect who we are and mould us to be better individuals.

Owing to the constant evolving of the social scene, every generation has its own trends – which may at times baffle or annoy seniors merely because it’s different from the latter’s acceptable standards, however we cannot afford to brush aside the fact that some values and truths about our own human nature remain pretty much constant. So, a word of caution in developing friendships with the opposite sex is in order. An Eu student leader once said he can be best friends with a girl, can spend hours alone with her, comfort her when she’s down, offer every emotional support when required and never stray even in his thoughts about entertaining a relationship with her. He said I wouldn’t know of this because I belonged to another generation. Even if I were to give him the benefit of doubt, this would have to be an exception rather than the norm. Why? Because the principles of psychology say so. Firstly, there’s the rule of proximity – the more you intentionally spend alone time with a person, you are bound to, over time, build a close and intimate relationship. (Any happily married couple should be able to confirm this : ) ) And where might it eventually head?

Slowly the relationship can get confusing…vague. It may not remain platonic like when it began, the boundaries can get ambiguous and by then it also gets tough to wriggle out of it. Whereas, the more clarity we have of what we want out our friendships, how we want to maintain them and by what age we’d like to deliberately look out for a partner for marriage, the less likely we are to get into this awkward spot! A friend of ours visiting from Sydney said the social mores are fairly straight forward out there – if you are seen alone with a boy in public, it is understood you are dating and are exploring the possibilities of a future relationship. And regardless of whether it’s out in the open or not, the other person takes it that you are keen in pursuing a romantic relationship with them if you are spending alone time. Hence, if that is not your intention, you hang out in a group.

So, while there are no set rules laid out like earlier, here are some vital questions for one to consider. If you are a child of God, is every relationship you are in, pleasing to God? If God is our Father then holiness should be our paternity test. Are you certain that you can handle opposite sex friendships in a healthy manner? We know ourselves better than anyone else and we are the best judge of that. There’s no ‘one rule fits all’ when it comes to this, each of us is different and so are our backgrounds. Are you treating yourself and the other person with the respect deserved as image bearers of the Creator? A student in his final year recently said to me that through his friendships (especially since he doesn’t have sisters), he has come to see women as people deserving of respect, with real emotions and not as objects to be toyed with. How wonderful to see each other as God does! Are you preserving exclusivity for your marriage or are your friendships costing you that which is to be cherished with your future spouse? Another aspect – it’s quite a trend these days to declare on social media about how this certain person of the opposite sex is your most special friend or that your life would never be the same without him etc. But how would you be perceived by your future spouse or family when they read it? Also, are you willing to tone down or let go of that friendship if your fiancé is unhappy or feels threatened even if you feel that his/her feelings are groundless – feelings need to be backed by sound logic every time and yet its only right that we prioritize our fiancé/spouse’s feelings over such friendships.

More important than what others might think or say, is what God thinks and has to teach. How blessed it would be to earnestly seek the guidance of His excellent, all wise Spirit who resides within us. He’d teach us to distinguish and beautifully nurture the relationships that truly count.

Deborah Joel, based in Bengaluru, is a special educator and a former EU staff.

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