Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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I am wondering how much interaction with the opposite gender is sinful. I am 25 years old but realize that I am not ready for marriage yet because I still have a couple classes left before I have my bachelor’s degree, and after that, I will still need to find a well-paying job.

Is it ok to have friends of the opposite gender? Can I see them outside of the church in group settings where our conversations and interactions are always heard and seen by the others? Is it ok to have two female friends if I have four male friends?

I have thought that it is ok before, but one of my male friends spoke about the subject with me recently, and now I am re-evaluating the circumstances for my interactions with women.

Men and women in your age group can easily be friends if appropriate boundaries are in place. You already addressed this issue by recognizing the importance of social meetings to be held in public venues. This strategy will be helpful for avoiding temptations. Although you may not be financially and emotionally ready for marriage at this juncture in your life, having appropriate friendships with women in your age group with a strong spiritual base will help you define the characteristics you would like in a potential spouse. You may also learn how to deal in a gentleman-like manner with sensitivity to the needs and expectations of the opposite gender. A woman's perspective on many issues may differ from a man. Sometimes, it is good to have this different point of view, especially when it comes from a friend and someone who shares a similar spiritual direction. However, be mindful that people who see you out with various young women may reach the wrong conclusions. Be careful, not only protect your reputation, but also the young lady's reputation as well. When serving, together, many ascetics had the company of the opposite gender, whether in the service or in their spiritual lives: Christ and the sisters Mary and Martha, St. Paul and St. Phoebe the deaconess, St. John Chrysostom and St. Olympia, and St. Cyprian and St. Justina, and many others. Be clear about why you are meeting, keep your thoughts pure, and ask for God's help.
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