Protect your marriage by watching how you talk with the opposite sex, even in jest.
By Jerry B. Jenkins
Editor’s Note: In his book, Hedges, Jerry Jenkins writes of the need to protect a marriage relationship by establishing boundaries (“hedges”) that help you maintain purity and avoid temptation. Hedges are rules “intended to protect my eyes, my heart, my hands, and therefore my marriage.” He writes, “I’ve found that if I take care of how things look, I take care of how they are. In other words, if I am never alone with an unrelated female because it might not look appropriate, I have eliminated the possibility that anything inappropriate will take place.” In his book, Jenkins tells about five hedges, the fourth of which is below. It is our prayer that this hedge, and the others, will serve you well as you pursue complete faithfulness and covenantal love with your spouse.
My late father, a police chief, firearms expert, and marksman, once told me that prayer is like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. “You’re likely to get what you’re asking for.”
I put flirtation and suggestive conversation in the same category as a loaded gun. Maybe that’s because I believe in the power of words, written and spoken. Have you ever noticed that compliments and flattery are always heard? People have reminded me of compliments I have given years before and almost forgotten. They remember criticism too, but flattery all the more.
Idle flirting gets people in trouble because the other person needs and wants attention so badly. Not many years ago I slipped from behind this hedge, not intending to flirt but rather to be funny. It didn’t get me in serious trouble, but I was certainly reminded of the reason for my hedge.
On a business trip a woman colleague and I were going to go out to dinner with a male associate of ours. When she came to pick me up, she was dressed and made up in flashy coordinated colors that demanded comment. I should have just said something about her clothes, but instead—since she is always a good audience for my humor—I said the first funny thing that popped into my mind: “My, don’t you look delicious.”
She laughed, and I hoped she knew I meant that her colors reminded me of fruit, and not that I wished to devour her. As soon as our third party arrived, she told him what I had said. He gave me a look that would have put a wart on a gravestone, but what could I say? I couldn’t deny it, and it was too late to explain.
Men, of course, are just as susceptible to flattery as women. Most people think that the man in Proverbs heading down the road of destruction to the harlot’s bed had followed his lust for sex. Surely that was part of it, but the text indicates that he also was seduced by her words. Proverbs 7:4-5 says, “Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister’ and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words.” And Proverbs 7:10, 21 says, “There a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. … With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him.”
Keep humor in its place
Everyone knows that funny people speak the truth through humor. They may exaggerate how upset they are that someone is late by looking at their watch and saying, “Oh, glad you could make it!” But beneath the joke is a barb of truth. The jokester has slipped in a little lecture without having had to embarrass anyone by saying, “Hey, pal, we agreed on 6 o’clock, and now here you come at 6:30! What’s the deal? Get your act together!”
But the same thing happens when someone tries to be funny in a flirtatious manner. A man tells a woman, “Why don’t we run off together? Tell that good-for-nothing husband of yours you got a better offer, huh?”
How’s a woman supposed to react to that? The first time she may think it’s funny because it’s so far out of the realm of possibility. Each succeeding time Mr. Comedian says something like that, it gets more irritating. That is, unless the woman has always been attracted to him and has problems at home. Then she might hope there’s truth behind the humor.
Often there is. The only time a funny flirter is totally putting someone on is when he throws his arm around a particularly old or homely woman and tries to give her a thrill by saying something she’s probably never heard before. “Hey, gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?”
Women like that know better than to believe such drivel, but they may long to hear it anyway. A colleague of mine once toyed with just such a woman by caressing her cheek. “I’m melting,” she said, and I sensed she meant it.
The real danger comes when the man is pretending to be teasing, but he’d really love to flirt. A woman may not suspect the truth behind his humor, and if she responds in kind, there is the opportunity for misunderstanding. Or worse, she may indeed suspect that he means it, and then there is the opportunity for real understanding.
Such a tragedy occurred at a church in Michigan where a couple flirted humorously for almost ten years. They did this in front of everybody, including their spouses, who laughed right along with them. The flirters were never seen alone together, because they never were alone together.
Then came the day when the woman’s husband was sick and in the hospital. She needed rides back and forth, and her friend and his wife provided them. No one suspected anything, but on one of those rare occasions when it was just the man doing the driving, the wife of the sick man told him how difficult and cold her husband had been for years.
The flirters began to see each other on the sly until the day came when she told him she had always hoped he’d meant what he said when he had teased her about how wonderful she was, how good she looked, and how he wished he’d met her before she was married. Whether he really meant it was irrelevant now that she had declared herself. The fact was, he admitted later, that this was what he had wanted all along. He would never have made the first move, however. He had hidden his true desires behind a cloak of humor. A little crisis, a little honesty, and suddenly years of innocent flirting had blossomed into an affair.
I worked at a camp one summer during high school. One week, one of the women counselors, about a year older than I, shared my last name. We were not related and had never seen each other before. When we were introduced, we had not even made much of the name. While Jenkins is not as common as Smith or Jones, neither is it as unique as Higginbottham or Szczepanik.
One night after the campers were in bed a bunch of us staffers, Miss Jenkins included, were watching a football game on television. A couple of the guys started kidding her and me about being married. We were both so young and naive and insecure that we just blushed.
For some reason I had to leave before the game was over, and as I headed for the door someone said, “Hey, Jenkins, aren’t you takin’ your wife with you?”
To prove I could be just as funny as they, I turned and pointed at her. “No, but I want you home in bed in fifteen minutes.”
I was out the door when I heard the hooting and hollering. I had not intended even to imply anything risqué. I had merely been trying to go along with the joke, and I meant to speak to her as father to daughter, not husband to wife. Of course, everyone took my wanting her home in bed the wrong way, and I knew I would never live it down. In fact, if I tried to go back and explain, no one would even believe me.
The girl was sweet and chaste, and the last thing I wanted her to think was that I had been inappropriate and had gotten a laugh at her expense. A hundred feet from the cabin, still hearing the laughter, I knew I had to go back.
When I opened the door, no one even noticed me. Something had happened on the game that had everyone’s attention. I was glad to see that Miss Jenkins wasn’t sitting there weeping with her head in her hands. When I called her name and she looked up, so did everyone else, and the snickering began again.
“Could I see you for a minute?” I said, and the room fell silent.
I’ll never forget her response. “I’m not too sure,” she said. It was the funniest comeback I could imagine, and I wish I’d anticipated it. Even if my original line had been intentional hers was better.
The place erupted again. I was grateful when she bounced to her feet and followed me out into the darkness. I had the impression she knew what I was going to say.
“You need to know that I didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” I said.
“I know,” she said.
“I don’t think anyone else understands that.”
“Maybe not, but I do. I’ve seen you around, heard you be funny. That’s not your style.”
“Your comeback was priceless,” I said.
“I couldn’t pass it up.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“Accepted,” she said. “And I’m sorry too, though I did mean to embarrass you.”
I laughed, and she added, “We Jenkinses have to stick together, you know.”
I learned to be more careful about teasing in a flirting manner. I also learned how wonderful and forgiving and insightful some women can be. Funny, too.
Excerpted from Hedges by Jerry B. Jenkins, copyright 2005, pages 117-122. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crossway.com. Download for personal use only.