Recently I posted an article on Facebook regarding the over-sexualization of life permeating our culture today. Part of this sex-saturated culture influences friendships and how our culture views relationships. Before I found this article, I had been out to dinner with friends and discussing extramarital friendships. I’m not sure how the conversation led to this, but we wound up discussing physical intimacy and boundaries.
I said I would be perfectly fine with Frank holding hands with another woman or holding the hand of a man.
[Aside: I do find it wildly amusing that this has been such a vehement discussion among my friends. Frank has a hard time talking to other people besides me and Willow, let alone touching them. Thus, all this talk is merely hypothetical. The chances of him actually holding hands with another individual is rare, if not downright improbable. If he was affectionate with another, it might be a cause for concern because that is not his normal demeanor. I, however, am extremely extroverted, passionate, and playful. So for the purposes going forward let us assume I’d be holding hands, not Frank.]
Frank said he’d be curious as to why I would be holding hands with an individual that wasn’t him. I told him to just imagine the scenario (because while I don’t see this as contrary to my personality, I haven’t been physically friendly (not erotic or sexual, just touching in an innocent manner, with individuals that weren’t Frank, at least to date). Frank hates what-if scenarios. I am a scientist. I guess it makes sense that I hypothesize situations. Anyways, he reluctantly agreed and said that if it happened, he’d be baffled. He would simply ask me why I was holding a friend’s hand (male or female). Upon receiving an answer, he said he’d be fine and move on. Frank trusts me and I trust him. We talk openly about struggles, joys, and our opinions.
I can say, without a doubt, that Frank is the most compatible male for me that I know. I don’t know anyone else where the conversation never feels forced, we can talk with ease (which is redundant because I just said this, but let us just say I’m using this as an emphasizing follow statement), understands me emotionally, physically (both sexually and non-sexually), and most importantly, spiritually. Frank manages my crazy quite well. He’s grown with me. He didn’t marry an attachment-parenting feminist. He grew with me and I don’t know of many who would have been willing to journey with me as I underwent that transformation. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve done it together. He is an amazing man. Yes, he’s extremely reserved. I adore him. Since he is so reserved, sometimes I notice I gravitate towards friends that are more outgoing and social, friends both male and female.
My friendship with males and females does not alter my deepest affections for and to Frank.
[Another aside: Frank is supposed to die before me because he is such a likable individual. We agreed that if one of us passed away at a young age, we would want the other to remarry rather than wallow in singleness, struggle with single parenting, or dwell in sadness over the loss. He’d have a much easier time coping with my loss than I would with his and he could find another great woman because he is flexible and loving. (Most would think this an odd and dangerous conversation for a couple to have, but Frank and I are very open and honest with each other.)
We have a strong, loving, and real marriage. I’m so glad he’s willing to have such a relationship with me. So, like I said, there wouldn’t be others I’d want to entertain the idea of erotic intimacy with because no one else satisfies my other needs the way Frank does. I don’t want to give my body to just anybody. I like yielding my vulnerabilities, especially my naked body (and I, in turn, believe soul) to my husband alone, the only one who has been able to satisfy me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I had lots of boyfriends before Frank so I can assure you that he alone satisfies all aspects of my most desired needs. ]
As you can see, I love my husband dearly. At times though, I enjoy a lively scientific discussion with my engineering, chemist, or biology friends. I like deep, pensive, theological discussions with my friends in church ministry. I am creative and like sharing abstract thoughts with my artist friends. Sometimes, it means I might get really excited and hug a friend, I might hold their hand in prayer, or playfully skip down a lane linking arms. Can I do these things with Frank? Absolutely, but as I said, he is very reserved. He doesn’t have the same allure to science I do. He dislikes art and isn’t really into abstract thinking. Frank does like theological discussions, but understands that my ministry friends can offer a different perspective. Thankfully, Frank is not threatened by me having friends outside our marriage. In fact, he understands that these friendships shape me into a better wife for and to him.
As such, I think extra-martial friendships are important, even with the opposite gender. I don’t think holding their hand, hugging them, or linking arms indicates erotic or sexual desire. Touching can be innocent or it can be inappropriate. We need to differentiate between the two. Context also matters.
If I was holding the hand of another while staring deep into their eyes and maybe caressing their arm, Frank should stop this immediately. If I am being silly and taking a friend’s hand as I twirl in a circle, I am being my extroverted, friendly, and playful self. In this case, he has no cause for concern and can let me be silly.
Do we need to use discernment and be on guard? Absolutely. With everything in life, we need to assess the risk. We should live above reproach, to a point, too. (I say to a point, because someone, somewhere, will always question your motives. You can live in a way, with all your might, that keeps the peace in so far as it depends on you, but you aren’t responsible for their wrongful interpretation of an innocent gesture. Example: You have lunch with a friend (could be male or female). In another case, you are walking into a hotel room with a friend (male or female). These two scenarios are very different. Some conservative Christians would think you should never have a meal with someone of the opposite gender. (I argue that same-sex relationships are increasingly acceptable in our society and non-believers might think you are in a relationship with that female even when you are not.)
If you are having a meal in public and having a normal, innocent discourse, (perhaps even occasionally reaching out and touching their hand) then other people’s interpretation of the situation is their issue. I’ll just point out that you can be walking down a street with someone, not holding hands, and be having an affair with this person. You could also be strolling along a road with your spouse and not hold hands. (Frank sweats so we hold hands briefly at times, but usually will stop holding hands in mid-summer days.)
Life isn’t always clear, so black and white. Oftentimes, life is complex and gray. We are often wrong about peoples’ motives and actions. Frequently, we have to apologize for our inaccurate assessments or affronts. Yes, we our products of our culture. However, the only way to change our culture sometimes is to be or do something that society thinks is a vice. (Think of slavery ending and women being able to vote. These were major points of contention in the past. People used Scripture to argue for and against these issues. Hand-holding and extra-marital friendships aren’t any different.) Sometimes America is too independent, too stodgy, too closed-off. What better remedy to correcting our apathetic and isolated culture is there than to greet each other with a holy kiss and have meaningful, authentic relationships (including friendships) in community rather than cold, calculated interactions?