“Oh, we aren’t dating, just hanging out. He says he isn’t emotionally ready for a girlfriend right now. So we just hangout most nights and do fun things on the weekend. When he is ready to date, I’m sure he will ask me.” – Hana
A month later Hana was sobbing on my couch, devastated because the guy she had invested so much time and emotion into had started dating…someone else.
“We are just friends – its completely innocent. We don’t need relationship accountability because we aren’t in a relationship. No worries!” – Rebekah
Two months later I got a phone call from Rebekah, one late night hanging out alone had gone too far and now she was pregnant.
“Sure, we spend a lot of time together and talk about our future and the possibility of dating… but he isn’t ready for anything serious right now. So we are just friends – with the possibility of more in the future – but we don’t need to label it yet.” – Kristen
A week later Kristen and her guy had a huge disagreement, he started dating someone and she cried herself to sleep every night for three months.
A Dangerous Lack of Labels
“Just friends.” “Talking.” “Exploring things.” “Hanging out.” “Getting to know each other.” All terms girls use to try to explain what they are doing with a boy they like. We live in a label-shy culture, where guys and girls alike have issues with putting a label on things. We are a generation of commitment-phobes. We respond “maybe” to all our Facebook event invites – preferring to wait until the night of to see what we feel like doing. We don’t want to limit our potential relationship options by dating just one person. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to everything else. But saying no is so definite, so our entire generation prefers the ‘maybe’ option.
But the ‘maybe’ attitude in relationships leads to confusion, opportunity for sin and heartbreak. The lack of a label creates an environment where our flesh can run rampant. While not having a label doesn’t automatically doom your relationship or make it sinful, it does create an environment that lacks accountability. Usually, the only thing lacking in the relationship is the label. Diane once told me, “If at the end of the relationship/friendship you have a breakup, then you were in a relationship – even if it didn’t have a label.”
When it comes to Christ-honoring male/female relationships, labels allow us to live in integrity toward our brothers in Christ and as a transparent witness to the world. We’ve all heard the expression about sex, “Why would a man buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” But the same applies to emotions. You don’t have to be physical with a guy to have an emotional relationship. Far too often, girls are willing to take what they can get from a guy, rather than waiting for the Lord’s best – a man of integrity. And let me tell you, men of integrity don’t usually date girls who are emotionally involved with other guys. Don’t give away the emotional ‘milk’ for free! Save yourself for someone who is worthy, a man of integrity.
Why Dating Labels Matter
- For Communication
So that you are both on the same page as to where you are in your relationship (or lack of relationship). A boy’s actions aren’t enough. His words aren’t enough either. A boy who acts like a boyfriend without expressing his desire to date you is a player. A boy who says he likes you but never follows through with his actions isn’t ready to commit. Integrity from the guy who is interested in you requires that his words and actions match and are communicated to you and his accountability. Wait for a man of integrity, who will communicate his interest with words AND actions (Ruth 3-4).
Communication is scary because you run the risk of hearing that they don’t feel as strongly toward you as you feel for them. As females, we often prefer fantasy over reality. In daydream world, he likes us back, we aren’t playing with fire and everything ends happily ever after. But reality is usually much harsher. You can tell yourself that he will date you when he is finally ready, but it doesn’t make it true. As Christians, we’re called to truth (1 John 3:18), to live lives of honesty and integrity toward all people (Lev. 19). Which, in murky label-less relationships, can mean admitting to yourself that if he wants to date you he will and until that becomes a reality, your emotions are better engaged elsewhere.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
- For Accountability
So that your close friends/accountability people know where your heart is at and how to encourage you in your life with Christ. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accountability in all male/female interactions. I’ve already written about the importance of being accountable even in your friendships with guys, but guarding your heart means being accountable throughout all phases of your relationship. Our girls can see things that we don’t; his less than stellar behavior, our overly-engaged emotions, the reality of our relationship. Scripture tells us that a wise person will listen to the counsel of others (Prov. 12:15) and will confess their struggles and sins to trustworthy believers (James 5:16) – that is accountability.
Saying “Oh no, nothing is going on – we are just friends” to your girls, while hanging out with said guy every night of the week is not honest to them or t to yourself. Keeping late night conversations with your crush a secret from your closest godly girls is dishonest to them and dangerous for you. It means admitting your feelings, owning up to where your heart is and making changes if that is necessary. Accountability is one of the ways God protects us and guard our hearts.
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:9-10
- For Integrity
So that you are both truthfully living within the label of your relationship, because the world is watching. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or at the local Starbucks, people are observing your life and watching to see if it matches up with the Gospel you proclaim. Living in integrity as a follower of Christ means going out of your way to make sure that God’s reputation isn’t tainted because of thoughtless or irresponsible behavior with the opposite sex. It means viewing your love life as just another way to proclaim Jesus to the world. It means choosing a life of integrity over every other option, because our relationships reflect on our Lord.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners on this earth to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the lost honorable, so that when they speak against you, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12
Labels are really about relationship honesty. If you are just friends, then think, feel and act like he is a friend – and no more. If you are dating, then enjoy getting to know a brother in Christ, don’t waste the time daydreaming of your wedding or manipulating him into the next label. If you are ready to label it boyfriend/girlfriend, then have your accountability partners keep you in check for where you are. Whatever your label – whether it is friend, date or girlfriend – be honest with yourself, your accountability partners and the world about living within that label. Communication, accountability and integrity will guard your heart from less-than-worthy or not-quite-ready guys. It also protects your witness from slander when the world sees your actions with boys.
The danger of the label-less zone … is that it is still dating, but with less accountability, minimal communication and questionable integrity. God has a plan for your love life that will guard your heart and glorify Himself – wait for it. Don’t settle for whatever label-less thing you can get, trust the Lord and wait for a man of integrity!