There has been a recent uproar about Vice President Mike Pence following what many have dubbed “the Billy Graham rule.” Basically it boils down to the idea that a man should never, under any circumstances, be alone with a woman.
There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. Those who are opposed see it as dehumanizing women. Women are seen as temptations or as liabilities; they’ll either make you want to cheat or falsely accuse you of sexual misconduct. These strict boundaries create narratives that place women as non-humans who can only serve to hurt a man’s reputation and men as non-humans who are incapable of carrying on rational conversations if boobs are present.
On the other hand, those who support the rule have their own reasons. These husbands look at it as a way to show that they place their marriage above other relationships, and they respect their wives enough to let her know that she’s the only woman for them. It’s meant to show honor to the woman they made promises and to show that they intend to be men of their word. It protects women from assaults that are far too common.
For those who may not know my story, I spent years as a proponent of cross-sex friendships. For five years, Rich was my best friend. We went to church together, we played music together, we hung out together, we went to dinner together, we texted one another, primarily without our spouses. And yes, for a brief time before we left our exes and became a couple, our relationship was unquestionably more than “just friends.”
But obviously we didn’t just decide one day, “Hey, we should turn have an affair that turns our lives upside-down and leave our spouses and make life hard for our kids!” Of course there was a slow creep toward that eventuality. And for the most part, that’s why the Billy Graham rule exists. Not because men automatically assume that they’re going to lust uncontrollably after a woman just because they share a meal together or women assume that a man is just scheming to get into their skirt, but because they want to avoid that slow creep.
So what’s my perspective now, on the other side? After all, I’ve not only seen, but participated in the worst-case scenario for not following the Billy Graham rule. Would I tell my younger self to renege all of those words I wrote and spoke about close friendships between men and women?
Perhaps some of them.
- If someone was looking at a cross-sex friendship and they were already married, I would ask them to take a real, hard, honest look at their marriage. I didn’t do that. I was deeply lonely for years, but I ignored how that loneliness affected how I viewed my marriage. We didn’t fight. We had regular enough sex. We had kids together. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t enough. Don’t assume that it’s enough. If you’re filling a void in your marriage with someone else, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re attracted to them or not, it’s bad. The consequences might be worse if you’re attracted to them, but using friends to avoid your marriage is always a negative.
- Know that yes, divorce is an option. I was fully in the “divorce isn’t an option” club, which in my case translated to, “marital discord isn’t an option.” When things were hard in my marriage, I had friends to make me forget. I don’t think I ignored things in those relationships because I knew that friendships could come and go – we hadn’t made any vows, so if I wanted to keep the friendship, it was worth working on it. I’ve been divorced now. So yeah, I know that divorce is out there. Not as a scary thing. Not as an escape hatch. But marriage often isn’t forever, and if I want mine to last, I need to be invested in it and working on it.
- Be a lot more honest with that friend, and if you don’t want to, do it even more. I am absolutely certain that both Rich and I could see the cracks in the other’s marriage, and we were both pretty quiet about them. There were definitely times when one or the other of us should have said, “You need to put time in with your wife/husband.” We didn’t, and in those times, we weren’t being good friends to each other. Of course we all fudge a little with those closest to us, because we want to see them in the best light, but some things call for brutal honesty, and the state of other close relationships should be one of them.
I still stand strong against the idea of keeping sexes separated in their friendships. I believe that we have ways that we see the world that benefit one another and can only be truly shared by friends who are close. I believe that our interests and values should influence our relationships far more than what is going on in our bathing suit areas. I believe that we show a high regard for people when we are willing to engage with them as people, rather than seeing them as potential pitfalls. I believe that we reflect the truth of the gospel when we actually behave in a way that reflects Galatians 3:28 that declares that our oneness in Christ should far outweigh the differences in our sexes.
There are ways for me to honor my marriage. Ignoring half of the population won’t be one of them.