I have a question for my female readers: Women, are you romantically interested in a male friend whom you do not think is ever going to ask you out? If the answer to this question is yes, I want you to tell him or ask him on a date. Yes, I hear you protesting: “But that’s not my job; he’s supposed to—” Wait. Why is he supposed to be the one to initiate a relationship?
On two separate occasions, male friends recently complained to me that their college pastors have been haranguing them to ask women out on dates. Their stories remind me of my own undergraduate days, during which not only the leader of my college fellowship but also the pastor at my church lectured us men to date more. These exhortations were not directed at the women in our church; no, it was the men who were to be asking the women. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the women were the impetus for these sermons; it was the women who wanted to date more than the men. Why, then, did the college pastors lean on the men to initiate the dating?
First, I want to dismiss the idea that male-initiated relationships are a biblical directive. The Bible itself does not speak at all about the modern institution of dating; instead, it offers examples of arranged marriages. Yet I do not know any Christians who actually advocate arranged marriage, despite its unquestionable biblical precedent. Most Christians acknowledge that it is merely a cultural relic, an example that is only descriptive and not prescriptive. I agree with this understanding, but I also believe these same Christians should apply this logic to other manifestations of patriarchy.
These Christians also ignore the fact that there are examples in the Bible of women pursuing men. For instance, in the Song of Solomon, the book of the Bible that speaks most directly of erotic love, we see several examples in which the woman pursues the man (e.g., Song of Sol. 3:1-4). Or consider Ruth, who with Naomi carefully hatches a plot to attract Boaz’s attention so that he will marry her (Ruth 3:1-18). Both of these women are blessed for their pursuit of these men, indicating God’s favor.
Second, I believe the notion that men have to be the ones to ask is actually a product of our own patriarchal culture. Less than a hundred years ago, women could not vote. Fifty years ago, women could not attend many of the major universities in our country. As we continue to question the mores of our parents and grandparents, why have we not likewise vetted the belief that the woman is forbidden to ask the man?
Third, consider the alternatives to my proposal. Women will not refrain from forming affections; everyone does. Rather, they will hide those feelings, wrestling with them inside, yearning for the men to ask them out. Chances are, these hidden sentiments will manifest themselves in flirtations as love-stricken women do their best to attract the attention of the men they desire. If these efforts prove futile, they may resort to theater, performing in a way or feigning interest in things that they believe will make themselves more attractive. These behaviors teach women to pander to men, setting a dangerous pattern for any relationships they later enter.
Worse, these women may come to hate themselves, to desire to be someone else, to question the value of their physical appearance, their social graces, and their passions. Finally, they may come to resent Cupid’s arrow entirely, feeling embittered and even resentful of men.
Most of these alternatives are self-destructive. In contrast, my proposal has the additional benefit of honesty, itself a biblical virtue. Is it not preferable that men and women be straightforward and transparent in their relationships with each other, that they not play at endless games? As Proverbs tells us, open rebuke is better than hidden love (Prov. 27:5).
Finally, I want to offer some practical advice and deal with a few potential objections. It is important to understand that my proposal is targeted at a particular scenario: a woman who has become friends with a man over a significant time period, has good reason to like and trust him, and has sought out the advice of her friends in this matter.I would also offer the same counsel to men who are considering asking out a woman. I will assert, without argument, that these are the ideal preconditions for a dating relationship, which I believe should be more than casual. The subject of what dating should be could consume an entire article, and it is not my intent to address it here.
Women (and men) should not be impatient, overhasty to enter a relationship before they know the other person as a friend. They should also closely examine their hearts, seeking to root out impure motives that would lead them into a relationship because they are seeking validation from another human being. Such relationships are doomed to failure because no other human can offer that unconditional acceptance, for which we must look to God.
I know that some women – and men – may object to my proposal because they believe it will “rob a man of his manhood.” However, this objection merely reveals that those who make it have not examined the power of their cultural biases. It is only our culture that defines this as a “manly” duty. As noted above, I do not believe, contra John Eldredge et al., that there is anything biblical in the notion that the man is the pursuer and the woman the pursued.Addressing the arguments made by John Eldredge in Wild at Heart and Captivating would require another article. It will suffice to say here that the foundation for Eldredge’s argument is his gut instinct and his idolization of Braveheart, not the Bible. Eldredge’s picture of romance seems downright bestial, characteristic of animals for whom every act of sex is tantamount to rape – hardly cultural sentiments Christians should want to baptize. In fact, such an arrangement is closer to evolutionary ethics than it is to Christian. On the other hand, it could be argued with some fairness that men are too timid or immature in their approach to dating; I will not deny that this is sometimes the case. It is at this problem of fear, so connected with identity and our understanding of the gospel, that the college pastors should be directing their polemics; asking such men to simply suck it up and ask women out is not addressing the root of the problem and will solve nothing.
Some women may object that they will be turned down, that the man does not actually have any romantic feelings for them. To this I offer two counterarguments. First, their position in this regard is no different from what men already must endure. If anything, perhaps these women will come to have greater sympathy for the trepidation that men must bring to the task. Second, even if there is not already some attraction between the friends, it may develop. As C.S. Lewis writes, “When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass … into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later.”C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1960), 67. Even if no mutual romance does develop, at least the woman will have the satisfaction of knowing how the man feels and will be able to center her attentions elsewhere.I acknowledge the response of some may be to continue to pine for their lover, and I would recommend that these women or men examine the roots of their dissatisfaction, seeking to uncover the idolatry that is almost certainly present, the idolatry that promises them happiness if only… This promise is only a lie that leads away from God. Instead, I urge them to ask God for faith in His promises, promises that He has a plan for them that is superior to their own longings. Further, if the man’s preferences are too superficial for such affections to develop (e.g., if he idolizes a certain ideal of beauty), it is better that the woman know this now. Ideally, this knowledge should make him unattractive to her: his heart is not so beautiful.
In closing, I admonish both women and men to remember two things in all of their romantic relationships. First, our primary duty is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). It is only from this complete devotion to God that we are able to love each other in a non-destructive way, else our love will only be selfish.I urge anyone to read C.S. Lewis’s memorable fictional portrayal of the damaging power of this type of “love” in Till We Have Faces. Second, the greatest danger of all romantic relationships is that they will lead us away from God, as Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 7. Relationships too easily bind our hearts to earthly concerns, and we must be conscious lest we sacrifice the Ultimate on the altar of the good.