If You're in a Serious Relationship, What Are Appropriate Friendships With the Opposite Sex?

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

As you experience the gravity and commitment of engagement and new marriage--the weight of love, in the best way--have you wondered how your friendships with the opposite sex could, or should, change?

Throughout our relationship, my husband and I have learned the value of clear boundaries in friendships only through our error and blindness. There was the time his female study partner began sharing deep emotional scars with him, appreciating his sympathetic ear, only to develop romantic feelings for him. It made me wish they spent less time together. 

There was the period where I felt out of place at my first corporate job, as one of the youngest employees and as someone just beginning to navigate the social politics of office life. When I met a male technical writer who was also a recent hire, one who shared my sense of humor and had similar tastes in music and literature, we became fast friends.

My husband was hurt when he learned my friend spent significant time chatting one-on-one at my desk and that we shared inside jokes and instant-messaged throughout the workday, sometimes more frequently than I communicated with my husband himself. 

There have been the times of hesitancy when we have made plans with another couple and struggled with the awkwardness at being alone with the opposite-sex partner while waiting for the other to come home or meet up, not wanting the other person to feel uncomfortable.

What’s at the root of these experiences? My husband and I have been blessed with the grace to be honest and forthright with one another and have never wrestled with distrust or jealousy.

Perhaps, though, in the past we took our deep mutual trust for granted: in knowing our level of fidelity and commitment to each other, maybe it became too easy to be overly open with friends and to drift into conversations of an overly personal, intimate nature. 

If you’ve experienced something similar--that is, the challenge of establishing boundaries with your friends of the opposite sex while in a healthy relationship with your beloved--I encourage you to have a conversation with your fiancé or spouse about each of your expectations and opinions on the matter. The answers will look different for every couple; so long as a spirit of good will is present and your expectations are not rooted in envy, control, or fear, talking about your friendships will help you navigate them in a prudent way as you enter into marriage. 

Consider matters like not spending individual time with opposite-sex friends outside of professional or public settings, eschewing terms like “work husband” and “work wife” out of respect for your spouse, and avoiding keeping texts and emails private if your beloved inquires about them. Ask yourself: how can I honor my beloved?

I truly believe it’s possible to have authentically virtuous friendships with those of the opposite sex. Keep respect for your beloved at the forefront, cultivate an awareness of and sensitivity to any development of romantic or emotional attachment and establish boundaries accordingly (either by confronting the issue or limiting time together, particularly if your friend is single), and invite your friends into your life as a couple, not as individuals, when possible.  

What about your female friendships? Read 3 Tips for maintaining quality time with your girlfriends after your wedding day.

Writer and Christian convert Sheldon Vanauken describes falling in love with his wife Davy in his memoir A Severe Mercy. As they grew in trust and tenderness, Sheldon and Davy expressed a desire to nurture their relationship by means of a boundary that would protect their hopes to serve one another over themselves and to let love flourish; they called it “The Shining Barrier.” 

What The Shining Barrier signified, he says, “was simply this question: what will be best for our love? Should one of us change a pattern of behavior that bothered the other, or should the other learn to accept? Well, which would be better for our love? Which way would be better, in any choice or decision, in the light of our single goal: to be in love as long as life might last?”

As you and your beloved develop your own shining barrier, your own ways to prioritize your vocation, may clarity, freedom, confidence, and peace be poured out over your relationships.

We’d love to hear your own experiences of how your opposite-sex friendships have changed throughout serious dating, engagement, and marriage. Share your stories in the comments and on Spoken Bride’s social media.    


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Cultivating a Heart for Your Single Friends

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

I remember the first time I felt it. I’d just helped send my sister off to prom--nine years later, her date would become her husband--giddy with admiration for her beaded dress and lack of preoccupation with her looks. Three years before, I’d reluctantly attended my own senior prom, feeling the weight of expectation that it was what you were supposed to do, supposed to feel emotional about, at the end of high school. No one asked me. My dad dropped me off.

Photography: Kelli Seeley Photography

Photography: Kelli Seeley Photography

I felt it again the day an old friend called, breathlessly sharing the story of how she’d gotten engaged hours earlier on a snow-covered bench. At the time, I was navigating the waters of serious dating for the first time, aware my current relationship was diminishing my spiritual life and sense of who I was, yet too fearful and passive to do much about it. Where, I wondered, was the man I’d marry, and when would it be my turn?

Those stirrings in my heart had a name: an ache. My heart was beating; I was alive; and it hurt.

Sometimes, it was physically painful to sit on the floor of the chapel, eyes glazed before the tabernacle and desperate for the road to my vocation to present itself. I shared in the joy of my sister and my friends as they experienced the wonder and recognition of meeting the men they’d say yes to, forever. I was sincerely glad for them; not envious, just...sad. Something was missing. I struggled not to idolize marriage, knowing my ultimate fulfillment and truest home for my longings lay not in a spouse, but in the Father’s love. Yet all the same, I longed.

Then I found myself engaged, scarcely believing a man as sacrificial, tender, and endlessly fascinating as my fiancée was even a reality, let alone someone who would choose me. Those whispers of the ache came back, in the form of empathy for several close friends enduring recent, and very raw, breakups.

I remembered the feeling that my dating life had existed in an entirely different world than that of my engaged friends, and feared I’d now be the one inflicting pain on women I loved who were currently single.

As a result, I stayed close-lipped for a while about my excitement and planning experiences with certain friends, concerned oversharing would be hurtful. Until my best friend looked in my eyes and told me not to be worried. She was happy for me, she insisted, and my sharing the details of wedding plans didn’t lessen that happiness.

It takes a woman of great strength and selflessness to say something like my friend told me; someone of pure good will and an ability to enter into the joy of another as if it were her own. My friend gave me such a gift that evening, not only in her other-focused love for me, but in her honesty.

For weeks, I’d wondered what she was feeling as she ordered a dress, planned my bridal shower, and listened to my minimally detailed stories about registry scanners and accessory shopping, all while weathering a storm of uncertainty after what seemed like a promising relationship suddenly ended. I was anxious, constantly wondering if it was too self-important of me to even have the worries I did. As it turned out, directness was so much clearer--so obvious; so much simpler--than speculation and anxiety.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, unsure of how much of your engagement or newlywed life to share with your single friends, I recommend a heart-to-heart. The only way to be sure is to communicate. Ask your friend what sort of involvement in your plans is helpful, what’s difficult, and how she’d like to participate. Chances are, she’ll feel honored you asked, free to be honest with you, and ultimately, sincerely excited about your forthcoming marriage.

Conversations like these can be mutually uncomfortable. But on the other side lies greater comfort than ever, each of you more in tune with the other’s heart and feeling the unspoken freedom and permission to share your thornier emotions. Additionally, the practices of taking time during your engagement to spend quality time with friends who are single and interceding for them, placing your trust in the Lord’s timing with regard to their own vocations, bear only good fruit.

“...love always communicates itself, that is, love listens and responds, love is found in dialogue and communion.” - Pope Francis


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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