With the big “30” just around the corner, I’ve had over a decade to learn a few things about dating, relationships and handling one-on-one time with the opposite sex. Most of the lessons have been learned the hard way: Keep communication lines open. Don’t get too involved too quickly. Learn how to pace. Share activities. Have fun together. Make sure he really is a Christian.

I’ve also learned that it’s much easier to guard my body, in the form of sexual purity, than it is to guard my heart. It’s easier to draw lines early in the physical realm — to say “here and no further” — than to draw them in the emotional realm where things are less black-and-white. It’s simpler to say “no” to a kiss than to caring, and it’s easier to avoid holding someone’s hand than to avoid getting hurt.

Relationships are precarious because they involve two souls colliding. A man and a woman may share common traits, activities, values, and faith, but whether they are both willing to share a lifetime together is an enormous decision. All the trial runs can add up to a lot of excess baggage, as hearts are broken, hopes are deferred and individuals give themselves away to those who reject them.

Recently, an old friend from college popped back into my life. Though he lived on the other side of the country, he began calling three times a week, and sometimes more often. He repeatedly asked to visit, and after putting him off for several months, I finally agreed. The visit went extremely well. He met my family, and we had a fabulous time.

He continued calling three to four times a week, and purchased expensive gifts for holidays. When I planned to run a marathon, he asked if he could fly out to watch and support me. When we went on a long snowshoe adventure, he asked to hold my hand. When I talked about vacation plans, he hinted that he’d like to come along. When we talked about the future, he asked if I’d consider moving to his city.

After eight months of this type of behavior, I finally confessed that I was having feelings for him, and he seemed shocked. He just wanted to be friends. I felt so dumb. Somewhere between the gourmet dinners and flying back and forth across the country, I had interpreted it as something more. His behavior was tugging on my heartstrings, and because I didn’t breach the subject early on, I allowed my emotions to get involved and I got hurt.

The whole situation could have been avoided if I would have done a better job guarding my heart. It’s a discipline single women need to practice as they engage in the process of developing relationships.

Examine his intentions and yours — communicate clearly

It’s been said that in every relationship involving a single man and woman there comes a moment when one or both individuals raise the question, “Could we be more than friends?”
How you handle this question may determine if you can even survive as friends. If you’re developing feelings for one of your male friends, begin to look for clues about how he feels for you. Does he treat you differently than other women? Does he talk to you about his interest in other women? What is his history with women? Does he tend to ask women out on dates or is he more shy and reserved? Also, ask a trustworthy friend about her thoughts. Then, pray. At some point you may want to confess your feelings for him, but don’t place your entire heart before him. You may want to suggest your feelings in a guarded way such as, “Sometimes when I’m with you, I can’t help but feel attracted to you, but I really appreciate our friendship and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that. What do you think?” Place the ball in his court.

On the flip side, if you sense he is the one having feelings, be intentional about guarding his heart if you’re not interested in him. Don’t string him along. While the attention, adoration, and compliments are enjoyable, you’re not being fair to him. You may want to try the “clue in” method. Talk about how much his friendship means to you. Talk to him about other men you’re interested in. Don’t make yourself readily available 24/7. You may need to make emotional distance, by scheduling fewer activities or spending less time with him overall.

Set limitations

It’s great to get to know someone new, but avoid making the person the center of your life. You have no idea whether this person is in your life for a short season or the long haul, so know your boundaries. You may want to set limitations on the amount of time and activities you do together. These don’t have to be spoken; they can simply be a conscious decision on your part.

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If there isn’t a romantic interest on his part, you may want to consider avoiding too many one-on-one activities. Try to avoid romantic situations that will tug on your heartstrings even more. Watching sunsets over the mountains, staring at the stars under a blanket at night or viewing a movie when all his roommates are gone may feel good at the time, but they may not be the best activities for your heart. Only you can determine what you can handle, but use wisdom! Proverbs 4:6 says, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.”

Remember to guard your mind

Don’t let your mind run free and play the big “what if” game. Don’t begin rearranging your life around a feeling or hunch. Don’t plan the wedding and honeymoon before he’s even asked you on the second date. Keep your thought life balanced. If you find yourself thinking about him too much, turn the thoughts into prayers. Pray for him, and continue to seek God’s best for both of you. Don’t let your heart or mind go much further than his.

Honor your future spouse when weighing actions and behavior

This applies to the physical and emotional realm. When considering how far you should go with a person of the opposite sex emotionally or physically, keep your future spouse in mind. What would dishonor him? What do you want to reserve just for him? In your body, soul and being? This will help you draw lines early and avoid compromise. I Timothy 4: 12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

Remember that your life choices are creating a living testimony. Live a story that you can tell your children without having to edit. You may want to ask a friend to hold you accountable to your actions and decisions.

Be wary of unhealthy relationships

Women often have deep compassion and caring wells. They have an innate ability to nurture others and a desire not just to be loved, but to love. I often fall into the trap of helping the bird with the broken wing. Most of us have experienced it. A bird flies into your glass window and is knocked unconscious. You find it still breathing and take it in your home. You prepare an old cardboard box with rags and linens. You keep it safe and warm and try to feed it until it is well. When you release it back into the wild, seeing it fly away brings joy and pain. Joy, because you’ve accomplished your mission. Pain, because your heart has become involved. Recognize that everyone who comes into your life isn’t your responsibility to help or nurture.

Take some time to reflect on the men that attract you. Are there any unhealthy patterns? Do you fall for controlling, manipulating or unmotivated men? Have you been involved in emotionally or physically abusive relationships? If so, it’s time to break the cycle and begin guarding your heart. Make a conscious decision to pursue healthy relationships.

Look for love in all the right places

Recently, I enjoyed a fabulous dinner date with a Christian man. The conversation was fun, interesting and enjoyable. After being dropped off, I went on a walk to spend time with the Lord. I heard the quietest voice inside my being whisper, He will never love you as much as I will. No man will ever fill the void in my heart. No man will ever be able to love me as much as God does — it’s humanly impossible. Ephesians 3:17-18 says, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Your true value and identity are found only in God.

Copyright © 2002 Margaret Feinberg. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author.

Margaret Feinberg is a freelance writer and author based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has written God Whispers: Learning to Hear His Voice and co-authored Enjoying God: Embracing Intimacy With The Heavenly Father, both published by Relevant Books. She can be reached at mafeinberg@juno.com.