You like her company. You have a lot in common. You talk a lot on chat or via text message or via Whatsapp. You would be dead worried if she got hurt. You would punch the guy who breaks her heart. You are fond of her. You know her very well. She refers to you as a close friend. You probably call her your best friend, if not you consider her to be one. Many people have asked you if you are dating. You have fantasized about them severally. You know their phone number by heart. You have a girlfriend. She’s not your girlfriend.
Young man, you’re courting fire.
Substitute all the above hers to his and feminize all relevant masculine nouns and pronouns. Yes, this blog is talking to women too.
When my wife and I were in campus, we had a rule concerning our dating relationship. It was simple: the relationship is exclusive. While it sounds obvious, the lines of exclusivity become really blurry when a member of the opposite sex fits herself/himself into the equation. It is as if they are squeezing in-between a two-seater couch where you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are seated. The seat can only accommodate two but there’s an “invited” friend who has wedged himself or herself to participate in your lives. I say invited because one of the partners in the relationship allowed the stranger to sit or rather, they watched them sit and did nothing. A crowded couch is no fun. So, most likely, one original member of the relationship left because their partner won’t speak up to protect their intimacy in the relationship.
Relationships work best when they are exclusive. And for exclusivity to happen, those boundaries need to be drawn clearly and intentionally by both women and men.
Don’t make her number one; make her the only one
My wife and I have counselled a few of our dating friends concerning setting boundaries. When the ladies complain that the men are not giving them attention, the men get surprised when I ask them if there is another girl in their life, not to claim infidelity but just to inquire of a close friendship with the opposite sex other than the girlfriend. The answer most of the times is a yes. They then respond that they still don’t understand because even with this other friend of the opposite sex, they haven’t stopped calling, visiting, texting and complimenting their girlfriends. I congratulate them for not stopping doing those things but I reprimand them for doing those very things to the other girl who is “just a friend” or a “best friend.” You cannot have a smooth relationship with your girlfriend and still claim that the other girl seated on the relationship couch is just your best friend. It is often hard for the girlfriend to declare that she isn’t comfortable with your “best friend” because in the recent past you treat the best friend like she’s your girlfriend. You run to her rescue and it drives your girl mad if she hasn’t told you. She won’t, by the way; no one wants to be accused of being jealous. You compliment your “best friend” on how cute she looks in that dress or on her newly made hair and it drives your girl insane. Fear not though, nobody accuses you for there is no relationship school. However, Beloved, allow me to accuse you of being irresponsible for your partner’s heart and feelings. You need no school to know you’re guilty of that. She’s hurting because your relationship is not exclusive. The man needs to lead the relationship and declare exclusivity. However, no amount of declaration will save the day if it is not practiced. Pardon me for using the male side in explaining. Just note that the same applies to women too.
For a very long time, I did not know that I was hurting Turi. I didn’t necessarily have a best friend of the opposite sex but I entertained a lot of people on the relationship couch. I was a student leader in campus in charge of student clubs and social activities. Because of that, I was compelled to work very closely with students, especially those interested in student activities- most notably the freshmen. I worked late on reports with them. I sat down with them to design club projects. I personally showed them around school when they wanted to join clubs. Needless to say, majority of these were ladies. I developed friendships with some of them but I did not draw clear boundaries. So, it would come off as a shock to my girlfriend when these ladies kissed me on the cheek to say thank you or asked to meet them for lunch after a long morning of work. To me, I was oblivious to the issue. It persisted and I did nothing to stop the pecks, the long hugs, the random lunch meetings and hang out times after class. I was breaching the very rule I created. The relationship was not exclusive.
Let me give you a tip Beloved. Your girlfriend wants to be the only one to kiss your cheek. The lipstick on the shirt is not romantic; it’s immature. Make your relationship exclusive. Beloved sister, your man wants to be the one to take you for a lunch date. He sees death when you’re deciding between his lunch date and your “best friend” who just flew in from Chicago. Make your relationship exclusive if you want to set a great foundation for your future, hopefully a marriage.
Lack of exclusiveness creates lack of respect
When you fail to define your exclusivity, intruders will fail to respect you and your relationship. Once, while we were dating, Turi and I attended a concert in school. The auditorium was crowded, noisy with blasting music and there were no empty seats. One pretty girl who was my friend walked up to where I was. She was looking for a seat. She saw me. She was clad in a fitting short dress. She held the hem of her dress, pulled it down a little, walked up to me and sat on my laps. She did it so naturally and casually; I could hardly believe her audacity. Turi, who was seated next to me, was the object of everyone’s vision; they wanted to see her reaction. Everyone there, including the girl seated on my lap, knew that Turi was my girlfriend. I arose from my seat and asked the girl to have my seat instead. I stood during the concert. As I stood, I tried to process what had just happened. Later, Turi told me that she was proud of me for not letting that girl sit on my laps, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Doesn’t this girl respect my relationship?” “Does she not respect me?” In retrospect I saw the kind of friendship I entertained with this girl. I had developed a fondness for her and she had done the same because I called her a special name. It wasn’t anything to be ashamed of but it created an avenue to have internal jokes and games with her yet she wasn’t my girl. When you playfully call that girl “doll-face”, “your twin,” “your muffin,” etc, and she is not your girlfriend or he is not your boyfriend, you will hurt your partner eventually. And don’t be surprised if Doll-face kisses you openly in the presence of your girlfriend. Don’t be surprised when “muffin” asks to take you for dinner and your boyfriend is watching. You asked for the disrespect when you did not make the relationship exclusive. And when it happens, don’t blame the intruder. You can’t stop birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from building a nest on you.
Be exclusive; don’t act married
When I say exclusive, Beloved, don’t get me wrong. Some couples act married when they are not and call it exclusive. That is not exclusivity. Acting married when you are not can ruin great positive respectful friendships with the opposite sex because you constantly feel threatened. A mature mark of a relationship is a healthy relationship with other members of the opposite sex within respectful boundaries. There’s a fine line between exclusivity and acting married; that line is called insecurity. You cannot track down every member of the opposite sex and tell them to keep off your man. You will scare everyone off and eventually scare your partner out of the relationship. To avoid the insecurity that manifests itself by acting married when we were not, Turi and I simply agreed that we would not subscribe to marriage behaviour before we got married. Here are a few of the things we avoided to stop acting married:
- We avoided getting involved sexually in any way before marriage.
- We did not sleep over at each other’s places.
- We did not hang out in each other’s rooms alone.
- We did not handle each other’s personal money (except during dates. She handled mine) 🙂
- We did not access each other’s personal forms of communication i.e. mobile phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- We avoided exposing our nudity to each other e.g. swimming when alone. We had friends tag along always.
These may seem as trivial things but when unmarried folk engage in them they create a recipe for disaster. When your relationship couch is intruded while you act married, you most likely will end up looking like the guilty party when you speak up. Why? Some of the things I mentioned, e.g. sexual involvement, create infinitely deep bonds between people. When an intruder comes into the couch, there will be no confronting them without first dealing with your own insecurities. You will panic when he receives a call from that girl. You will be depressed when you see him talking to her. You cannot respond to the exclusivity without addressing your insecurity of losing a bond you should have reserved for a marriage. If you’ve breached some of those lines, don’t be downcast. There is no rulebook that says you cannot have a brand new start in life!
Exclusivity creates respect
I am forever grateful for a wife like Turi. She gathered courage, bit the bullet, and confronted me squarely about how she felt. When you are exclusive without acting married, you retain a mind of your own concerning things that affect you and you earn the respect of your partner. I respected Turi for the confrontation. I respected her even more when she declared that her sexual expression was for her marital bed and her husband. I respected her more when she chose not to answer my phone even when I wasn’t around.
Dealing with Insecurity
Turi and I also drew our security deeply from having a personal relationship with Christ Jesus. She and I knew that even if you don’t do all the things I mentioned in the list, you could still act married and be insecure if your identity is in your relationship. We got insecure severally and we chose to deal with it permanently. We chose NOT to have our relationship define us. Instead Christ’s love for us defined us. We would choose Christ over each other on any day, even today. We cultivated our personal relationships with Christ so that by living for Him, we pleased each other consequently. Because Christ was first in our priorities, He enabled us to relate well in our other areas. It wasn’t perfect though. I grew jealous once in a while. She grew envious too at times, but Christ was the north-point we defaulted to every time our insecurity threatened to rise and consume us.
Confront threats to exclusivity!
If your exclusivity in your relationship is threatened, confront it! Don’t assume it will go away. Don’t pretend it does not exist. Don’t simmer in anger and silence. Don’t assume your partner knows. You have a will power; exercise it; confront it. Turi’s confrontation was clear as day; she wasn’t going to share my heart. If the girls on the overcrowded couch did not leave, she wasn’t going to stay. Respect your partner for that courage. There are few things that hurt a human heart when love is not reciprocated, especially after you agree mutually on a standard. Before you call him/her jealous, hear their heart out. I foresaw the possibility of a break-up because I loved the egotistical sound of ladies saying they wished they had a boyfriend like me, because in lust I did not protest the several kisses on the cheek, because in folly I forgot that I loved Turi, because in the pride of life, I wanted to be “the man.” I bit the dust because all these things I was pursuing and putting up a false front of “we’re just friends” were not giving me the satisfaction I hoped they would. It was time to live up to my words. It was time to make the relationship exclusive. I prayed to God to grant me the strength to do so and He did. Making the promise did not make me capable; it made me accountable.
Make the wrongs right
- I apologised to Turi.
- I asked the girls not to peck me.
- I stopped them pecking me if they didn’t listen even if it meant embarrassing them.
- I avoided sensual hugs.
- I stopped late-night/intimate chats with the opposite sex.
- I took Turi out on more dates.
- I deleted some of the girls’ phone numbers.
- I began to notice Turi’s beauty…again.
No relationship is disrespect-proof
Turi and I experienced a renewal in the relationship. I noticed that the girls respected me when I drew the boundaries. They respected Turi more. Even still, no relationship is disrespect-proof. Someone somewhere doesn’t care about what you have. Someone somewhere still has the audacity to try flirt with your significant other even in your presence. When that happened, Turi and I wouldn’t not let the offense separate us. We stood together. I wouldn’t get angry and ask why the intruder was calling her on our honeymoon (and he was by the way). Instead, I became her partner and helped fight the intruder. We fought it together. I picked up her phone on our honeymoon and the not-so-gentleman on the receiving end was surprised that the husband picked up. Once you say “I do!”, you can act married. Those who noticed you didn’t act married while you were dating may be shocked that your phone can be picked by your partner. Marriage made our relationship more exclusive but it didn’t stop intruders from trying to squeeze for a place on the two-seater couch. It didn’t stop a few girls from getting excited over our special memories more than we did. It didn’t stop a few guys from thinking they would get exclusive time with my wife even after we were married. But it stopped them from doing it a second time when we put up a united front and declared the relationship exclusive in speech, conduct and action. The couch in now a two-seater with only two seated and there is room to stretch; I advise you to make yours the same.