You're dating who?
I've said it—and thought it much more. It's been said to me and thought about me. After all, living among a group of primarily 20-something, evangelical women, we all have our opinions about each other's relationships.
With genuine motivations, these opinions lead to beneficial discussions, clarity over troubled relationships, and insight into loving better the men we date. But sometimes motivations aren't so pure, and our own opinions come out disguised as guidance and direction. You're dating who?
Recently, my husband told me about a mutual friend of ours who had another dating relationship end. His girlfriend's friends convinced her to break it off. While these women may have known something I didn't, I know that many of us judge the men our friends date hastily. Maybe he's not the kind of guy we pictured her with. Maybe he's not the kind of guy we'd choose for ourselves to date. Whatever the reason, I've unnecessarily spoken up against a friend's boyfriend before, and I've seen it happen countless times.
In Emma, Jane Austen's meddling heroine believes her friend, Harriet, makes a grave mistake by enjoying the courtship of a poor farmer and convinces her friend to look elsewhere. Emma shows how we have the ability to sway our friend's opinions, and we are often tempted to use it. Even when, like Emma, we are wrong.
Especially in a church setting, we see speaking into our friends' lives as a way of "iron sharpening iron" (Prov. 27:17). As Christians living within community, we recognize the need to keep our community healthy. We want to use our influence to help our friends make wise decisions concerning their relationships. We know that with dating comes the future hope of marriage and the weighty consideration of entering a lifelong, covenantal relationship with another person. We want our brothers and sisters to find the right people, especially when the divorce rates are high, even among Christians.
However, in our haste to protect our friends, we may speak out of personal preference, offer up an opinion for the sake of having an opinion, rather than actually sharing necessary counsel. Christians can hide behind a guise of protecting our friends even when our motivations for persuasion aren't always so just. The advice we give—or choose not to give—should be consciously motivated by a principle that looks for the good of both in a relationship. (In other words, that boyfriend you're harping on is a person, too.)
C.S. Lewis reminds us in his essay "Weight of Glory" that our everyday interactions are with eternal souls. He argues that our daily activities and words push souls either towards or away from God. Lewis says our capacity for affecting eternal relationships is "a load so heavy that only humility can carry it."
Accordingly, it seems humility needs to be applied to the advice we give our friends. In the case of dating relationships, particularly when the man a friend is dating is a professed Christian, we have the responsibility to love them both—as our brother and sister—and be mindful how our words affect both parties on their walk towards God.
However, this responsibility doesn't always mean silence—particularly in clear cases of emotional or physical abuse, or when a friend seeks out our advice. But before speaking up, prayerful consideration, along with thoughtful evaluation of our motivations, should be a must. Humility seems to make that demand.
We should be cautious over our unsolicited commentary and make sure we speak in charity. While there may be many motivations that are less than pure, I've found the following three easy to excuse in ourselves.
1. My Friend Needs a Man Who ________
Like Emma, we may have a list of traits we deem necessary for a friend's partner. While this may be a more prevalent among family members, friends also can be guilty. We think we know better than she what would make her happy.
2. I Dated a Man Like That, and I Couldn't Trust Him
Another motivation to critique our friends' boyfriends comes from personal experience. After all, if we have had painful relationships, we want to spare our friends that hurt. Unfortunately, projecting our experience onto friends relationships can sometimes prove unfair to both the friend and the man she is dating.
3. He's Not Good For You (Because He's Good For Me)
Sadly, we live in a fallen world and we have the tendency toward envy and comparison. I once told a friend that a guy interested in her was "not good for you." I said that because I secretly wanted to be with him. It led to a strain in our friendship, and I wish I'd wrestled before God with my feelings instead of trying to influence the relationship. The subtle sister of envy is comparison. Our insecurities in our own relationship or our own walk with God may prompt us to selfishly speak against a friend's healthy, happy relationship.
Ultimately, we are called, in humility, to love one another. When we bite our tongues and look at our motivations, before using our powers to persuade to influence our friend's relationships, we practice humble love for both the friend and the man she is dating.
In doing so, we will practice a charitable and humble love that seeks to rightly move our friends and the men they date to deeper relationships with God and others.
Leilani Mueller lives in Southern California with her husband Nathan. Six years ago, she graduated with a degree in humanities from Biola. Currently, she spends her time teaching for a classical high school program, writing both fiction and essays, investing in her community, and attempting to live and think well about her life as a Christian woman.
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