I write this with a heavy heart and conflicted mind. For the past year, I’ve been wrestling with my feelings towards women in the church. Dismantling the systems that have created barriers between me and the opposite gender. As I navigate through different circles of church community, this one rule has always been a thorn in my side. If you’re a guy, don’t get close to girls. And I assume the reverse applies to girls.
Why? Well, prying looks and well-meaning but ultimately pointless advice follows. You’re supposed to remain pure before the Lord. You’ll end up having sex before marriage. Rather, just pray more and hope that your future spouse comes in the form of a miracle. Or that one person you serve with in ministry. If nothing ever happens, then find contentment in singleness. There’s some value in it, I promise.
Reluctantly, I followed the status quo out of respect for the church and devotion to God. I repressed my desire for relationship and marriage and struggled to find contentment in platonic female friendships that I had. Some never progressed past side hugs and short conversations. Others gave me a sense of true fellowship and compassion. Regardless of how each friendship developed, I appreciated the moments where real growth occurred. But deep down, I was lacking the central component needed in any relationship: trust.
Last year, I came to grips with this reality when I had to go through a certain situation with a close female friend of mine. Despite our closeness, she decided to push me aside in order to focus more on a guy she was interested in being with. And she did this through Facebook Messenger, which didn’t make it any better. At first, I tried to not let it get to me. I’ve been through this before and it wasn’t like we’re dating, to begin with. I wouldn’t mind taking a back seat and supporting her from afar.
But in this situation, my initial reaction was hostility. She didn’t trust me enough to tell me this in person. Instead, I had to read through long messages where she dumped everything on me at once and expected me to just accept it with grace. I knew what was coming and I figured that she wouldn’t be direct enough to say it. I attempted to mitigate the awkwardness by responding in a courteous manner and pretending it wasn’t a big deal, but it was clear that I couldn’t view her the same way anymore. Our friendship suffered a quiet collapse as a result.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I started developing feelings for her around this time. She was encouraging, trustworthy, and always willing to help. As my other female friendships began to wither, she remained. To me, it seemed like it was a sign from God to continue investing in her. I was somewhat hopeful that she would reciprocate at some point and I didn’t have to worry about losing her.
So the pain only magnified as we grew apart. We didn’t talk for months and I purposely avoided meeting her in person. I unfollowed her on Facebook and deleted her message thread. In retrospect, I know I overreacted. She isn’t completely in the wrong and I shouldn’t have created unrealistic expectations for her. Maybe I could have been more upfront with my feelings for her and risk rejection for peace of mind. Maybe I could have shown brotherly love by supporting her new relationship. But honestly, all of my trust for her was gone and I just wanted her out of my life for good.
For most of 2017 and part of 2018, I had this mindset that women (especially Christian women) couldn’t be trusted. I respected them enough to not be jerks to them. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to be best friends with them. As far as I knew, they all hated me and so I hated them back in return. I rarely texted the few female friends I had. Dating apps came and went. None of them deserved my trust, so I convinced myself to not open up to them and to remain cordial at best.
Idolatry and Insecurities
As a Christian, all of this seems hypocritical. I’m supposed to love my sisters, yet here I am doing everything in my power to push them away. This very conflict led me to reflect on my previous female friendships and ask some difficult questions.
Is it possible that my trust issues are a result of failed relationships and unmet expectations? Do I project my negative experiences on women to expect and avoid disappointment? Does my view of women stem from toxic masculinity that permeates within secular society and the church? The #metoo (and #churchtoo) movement has brought this and many more questions to the forefront of my mind. Scrolling through stories on Twitter was a sobering and uncomfortable experience. My heart ached as I read each tweet. I had to wrestle with the uncomfortable notion that perhaps I‘m not as nice as I think I am and that given the opportunity and platform, I would do the same heinous actions as some of these men.
I have a tendency to idolize women. I can either see them as trophies to gain or obstacles to avoid. I think my Christian upbringing plays a part in why I tend to place women into these two categories. Growing up, I was discouraged from spending too much time alone with girls. It was a rule that I followed imperfectly. In middle school, I had plenty of female friends and I got my first girlfriend in 10th grade. Even though I wasn’t the most charming guy (I’m still not), I didn’t have a problem being around girls. Every chance I got, I tried talking to a girl, even if it was just to say hi. I desired their attention and affection more than anything.
Maybe it was a way of battling my insecurities. If a girl was willing to pay attention to me, then I didn’t feel so alone or worthless. I was nice to every girl I met and expected the same in return. If not, then I simply put her to the side and focused on someone else. After all, my pride was the only thing that mattered. Underneath my supposed niceness was a desire for control. I didn’t want to come off as weak or needy, so I had to convince girls to be comfortable around me. That way, that’s one less person that probably hates me and one more potential relationship that I can work on. It’s a subtle form of misogyny that I unknowingly perpetuated in my female relationships. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m more cautious with how I approach and interact with women.
Tear down the veil
There’s a passage in the Bible that refers to “the veil of the temple being torn in two.”(Matthew 27:51) For context, the high priest at the time was the only one would be able to interact with God in the Holy of Holies. I look to this verse as a symbol of mankind being able to approach God uninhibited. I also see it as the barrier between men and women being broken in the church.
Idolatry comes from an idle mind that doesn’t work hard on distinguishing fantasy from reality. So the line gets blurred and you pursue a mirage. In the church, I see this in our pursuit of marriage. A reality for some, yet a fantasy for others. And we continually push the narrative of marriages being one of the greatest pleasures in life. So as a single Christian, I’m constantly looking for that one woman to be my wife, rather than my friend. And I’m not supposed to be her friend, because men and women can only grow and mature within their respective genders.
It’s rules like these that make me want to withdraw from church life altogether. We love in words, but not in deeds. This hypocrisy is worthy of investigation, even if we want to deny it. But I know the church isn’t perfect. And we still have a long way to go as a community of redeemed sinners. Because I am a Christian that is involved with the church, I feel it is my responsibility to love the church by recognizing and on its flaws.
I know I’m not perfect. Women, I apologize for my misogyny. For my insistence on molding you in my image, rather than appreciating the masterpiece that you already are. For my bitterness and reluctance to adore you as an image-bearer of God. I know I still need to grow as a man, but I’m making an effort to not diminish your worth and perspective. You are more than my expectations. Whether wife, friend, or stranger, I will strive to love you as a person and not a possession.