Pretty Girls Need Hugs Too

By September 25, 20107 Comments

I recently heard a story about some seminary professors who were discussing whether it is appropriate to hug students. One male professor felt it was perfectly fine for the faculty to hug their adult students, in response to which another professor asked, “What if it’s a pretty girl?” The first professor promptly replied, “Pretty girls need hugs too!”

I share this story today because it raises an important issue that I have occasionally discussed on this blog: How should married people relate to others of the opposite sex? As I have said before, I completely agree with married couples who place boundaries on their marriages. There is wisdom in that decision, and my husband and I make a practice of it ourselves. In a culture where lasting marriages are becoming the exception, we need to fight back. Boundaries are a strategy to that end.

I do not, however, see this as a plainly black and white issue. There are some men, for instance, who take a DEFCON approach to women, assuming a constant state of readiness and defense.  As a result of this posture, men sometimes respond to other women with a surprising callousness. In fact, I’ve met numerous female seminary students who, upon trying to engage a male classmate in friendly conversation, were quickly cut off with the words, “I’m married.”

That is not wisdom. That is fear. Stories like that raise a red flag that we have strayed from the realm of godly discernment into a realm defined by fear. When men are so terrified of the “threat” posed by single women that they cannot even engage them as colleagues in a professional environment or public place, then our relationships are no longer marked by the confidence, peace or trust we are meant to have in Christ.

In addition to the fact that these rules are often fear-based (and thus dangerously close to legalism), this behavior also fails to serve wounded women the way the church should. Evangelicalism frequently bemoans the number of broken marriages and absent fathers in the American family, but how are we caring for the wounded daughters that this epidemic has produced? How are Christian men filling this gap by caring for their sisters in Christ? Sadly, these questions sometimes go unanswered. Rather than contributing to healing, Christian men and women can create even greater woundedness by treating single women as if they have the plague.

Let me conclude with one final caution. In addition to being unfair, one might also consider it a little naive to see single women as the greatest threat to your marriage. Married men may assume that if a woman is married, she is somehow “safer” than a single woman, but my personal experience is quite the opposite. I know a good number of married women who have strayed outside their marriages, but I don’t know any Christian singles who would ever consider a married man. They are only interested in other single men. Instead, couples that are friends with other couples can pose the greatest temptations to a marriage, perhaps because their guard is down. It  therefore saddens me that single women, who already feel vulnerable and somewhat isolated, receive the brunt of this over-compensation.

Again, I am not advocating for a complete and total absence of boundaries. My husband and I have our own boundaries, beginning with open, honest, and constant communication. But it is also important that we have a hospitable marriage, that our marriage is a source of healing and life for those around us, not greater brokenness.

So as we think through what it means to guard our marriages in an age of rampant infidelity and divorce, yet also foster communities of healing and whole relationships in which women are not feared as threats but are instead treated as sisters in Christ, I thought I would close with some insightful verses from 1 John. In particular, I encourage men (especially those seeking to pastor churches that will be populated by women) to bear these verses in mind as you seek to love the women in your life. This also places a burden on those of us who are wives to encourage our husbands toward gentleness and a hospitable spirit, which not only requires the same practices of us, but a degree of trust and confidence in Christ  as well.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.

– John 4:18-19


  • Sarah says:

    Your blog, once again, touches on a subject that I have been struggling with as a “pretty” single woman. I’ve found recently that I’m either being talked to by men in a way that feels like I’m being pursued by motives that are icky and totally not Christ-like, or being blown off as a threat to their commitment to their wife. It’s very frustrating and lonely. Thank you for writing this. Keep up the beautiful insights, they are reaching me, and I’m sure others as well. 🙂

  • Shena says:

    I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m a “pretty” girl, but I find that I want to be friends more with married men because I don’t have the pressure of wondering if they or I am interested. Boundaries are already set in place and I can be myself without worrying what he or anyone else is thinking. At the same time, I am not friends with them, but the couple, because I know when I’m married, I do not want any single women having close friendships with my husband.

    I’m working on it though. I’m finding a few guys who may be good potential platonic friends. You just have to take it really slow so that no one gets the wrong idea.

  • Sharon says:

    Shena, you make a really good point! Friendships with single guys can be touchy sometimes, but friendships with married couples can be a much safer environment. I appreciate you adding the importance of being friends with the husband AND the wife. If my husband was friends with a female co-worker, classmate, etc., I would want to know her also.

  • Jenni Catron says:

    Sharon, you articulated this tension so well! Thank you for engaging the subject. I loved this post!

  • Jennifer says:

    Have you come across Dan Brennan’s new book on male-female freindship yet? He looks at Jesus’ interaction with women, church history, theology, and psychology to take a fresh (and much needed look) at the issue. I think you’d really enjoy it

  • Tammy says:

    Sharon, thank you so much for this. As I single woman, I face this so often at church or church-connected activities. I don’t have children, either (neither situation is by choice). When I hang out with the other women at a gathering, the discussion usually turns to mommy matters which I can appreciate but can’t authentically contribute to. If I wander off to where the guys have gathered, I might get the stink eye from a wife or two; even if I don’t, it feels somehow inappropriate, and the guys seem to feel awkward about it, too. It’s hard to make myself go to church-related activities as a result. It’s gotten to where I just go to Sunday morning worship and cut out as quickly as I can. I wish more married women like you were members of my church!

  • Ali says:

    I was desperately looking for some sort of answer to this problem that seems to find its way to beautiful young single women in the church. There is a man at my church who is semi-inappropriate with me at church. I can tell it’s affecting his marriage and hurting his wife. Women, however, fail to see how this affects the random bystander at church that is the pretty single girl. When women feel fear because of your beauty they often loop you in with the behavior of their husband. This is a mistake and a tragedy really. I can’t tell you how your article helped me feel like I’m not alone in the isolation of women feeling constantly threatened by you, men afraid they may get in trouble for even speaking to you, no one stops to think of how this leaves and potentially damages a beautiful woman. It takes a strong woman to look at a woman who is more beautiful, younger and see her for the child of God she is and to be happy for her. I wish we had more women like this in the Church.

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