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My doors were opened, and dinner was paid for. Anecdote-prompted laughter, a dive into the Colorado River, and an accepted challenge to run the last bit of a hike back to the car are the other details that stand out. That night, I walked through my door on cloud nine, grateful for the full day. The funny part is, it really sounds like I’m describing a date. Not exactly. The door-opener happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend, and before you think I’m a horrible person, I need to mention that she was there as well.

My best friend and I have always wondered what it would look like for one of us to start dating someone. In a long season of singleness and God’s gentle and loving “no’s” for a status change, our friendship has been the one area of our lives where God hasn’t withheld anything. It’s this beautiful mixture of deep, Jesus-loving conversations as we sit on kitchen counters and spontaneous bouts of silliness that leave us with stomach aches from laughing so hard. Free time, adventure, weekends and humorous meme texts have been spent on each other for almost a decade, and so it seemed like a step toward marriage for either one of us might throw off the bond we’ve been blessed to build.

About six months ago, my pal met someone, and I find myself in the midst of figuring out what it looks like to share. It’s honestly not as difficult as I thought it would be. They invite me to hang out with them on dates and they’re really gracious to periodically check up on me to ask if anything about their interaction makes me uncomfortable. More than just surviving this new era, I find myself enjoying it. And it’s got me asking a question: What is the difference between the friendships that disappear with a new relationship and those that are actually enhanced?

I think of a friend from college whose spouse was quick to give me the title of friend. Since I mattered to her, I was going to matter to him, too. Alternatively, I think of times when hanging out with an old friend and their significant other was just plain uncomfortable. Excess “coupling” can leave a bystander looking for an exit. Conversation can suffer a slow death because the sidekick you don’t know as well isn’t as keen on getting to know you.

Or maybe after a new relationship, a friend decides to start hanging out with other couples at the expense of your friendship. Here’s my next question: As believers, should we allow the natural drift that tends to happen when people pair off? I offer three reasons why the answer should be “no.” Third wheels can be a great indicator of a healthy relationship.

Relationships should help you serve better together than apart.
I’m sure we’ve all heard this sentiment, but as a single person, this truth is something that I’ve had to hang on for dear life at times. If God’s goal in rescuing us into His family is to build His kingdom, then the reason for my season of singleness must be that He knows I can serve Him better this way. Should He choose to throw an eligible counterpart into the equation, it can only mean that our union enhances how we serve others, helping them know and love Jesus more. Alternatively, if a couple behaves in a way that cuts them off from some of the people in their lives, they are potentially less fruitful than when they were single.

Diverse community reinforces a relationship.
Every season of life offers its own challenges that require community, and not the kind of community that segregates into teens, singles, young marrieds, married with kids or otherwise. 1 Corinthians 12 compares the Church to a body. Verse 21 says “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” The separation that happens sometimes between single and married people can sound like that. The point is we need each other. We have all been given unique gifts and insight due to our distinctive callings by the same Spirit, and much like a limb being cut off from blood-flow, when we cut ourselves off from each other, we miss out and fall asleep.

The Gospel needs to be on display.
From Ephesians 5 and elsewhere, we understand that the main purpose of marriage, is to put the Gospel on display. In this image, the husband loves sacrificially like Christ loves the Church and the bride responds in confident service. They prefer and serve each other in a beautiful dance that puts Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to shame. In this performance, couples are given the honor of reflecting God’s beacon of love in the Gospel message. An isolated couple might as well cover the illumination they’ve been entrusted with because no one can see it anyways. If you are a Christian in a marriage relationship, you have been entrusted with beautiful truths that are meant to shine bright for ALL to see, not just those who have lots in common with you.

You may recall from high school chemistry that a litmus test is performed to tell you how acidic or basic a solution is. In a similar way, a couple’s interaction with the plus nones in their lives will indicate the health of their relationship. The kind of dating or marriage relationship that encourages the single people in its sphere speaks to an understanding of its purpose, God-given community and gospel-reflecting interaction.

So, for married and dating pairs reading this, let me ask one more question. Have you checked in on your single friends lately? They might have some valuable insight to share on how inclusive and caring your relationship is towards outsiders. Ask them if they can see the Gospel up-close in the image you reflect. Don’t have any more single friends? Perhaps you have some work to do. Much like the pins and needles sensation of a limb regaining feeling, it might not be easy. But it will be worth it.

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