In college, I waited—like I thought every good Christian girl was supposed to.
The Christian rhetoric of “men initiate, women respond” gridlocked my heart into eleven months of waiting. As the story often goes, I really liked this great guy. Our relationship escalated from group hangouts, to study breaks and late-night runs, and from there on to dinners off-campus and formal events. He never expressed his feelings per se, so I mastered the art of channeling my anxiety about his ambiguity by scribbling in my prayer journal. I was that girl.
“Does he like me? Will he ever profess his true feelings?” I asked God, but I never asked my crush.
I didn’t ask him how he felt because I was told good Christian women’ don’t initiate, and speaking up crossed into the forbidden category of pursuing. I was instructed to pray more, trust God, sit by the phone, and wait. As a result, I lost my voice. And as it turned out, he did finally profess his feelings—to another girl. Spending a year of your life swooning over a guy only to discover he never fancied you “that way” can feel like a small death, can’t it?
We all know how hard it is to land a date with a good man, both statistically and anecdotally. We’ve heard about prolonged adolescence and know how The New York Times suggested the word “date” be stricken from the dictionary because no one is really “dating” anymore. Added to all this are the common Christian teachings for women seeking romance:
1) God calls us to wait.
2) We can’t ask him to tell us how he feels or clarify his intentions because that’s “taking matters into our own hands.”
3) If a woman initiates, even just once, she’ll set a pattern that could lead to a marriage in which he’ll never be the spiritual leader.
4) He’ll pick up on your hints, so there’s no need to be explicit with your feelings.
5) Flirting will make him stumble.
We talk about “biblical dating,” but since there was no modern concept of dating in the Bible’s historical context, what does this really mean? Is the mandate that women should not initiate a biblical idea? Are women in danger of dominating their future husbands because they suggest hanging out one on one? Is it really God’s will for women looking for “the one” to wait and be patient?
When we take a closer, more critical look, we find these rules are not necessarily based in biblical teaching. I believe Christian men are called to lead—but that doesn’t mean women have to lose their voice.
Here’s a look at a biblical woman who was strong, courageous, took risks, and—drumroll, please—initiated. Ruth, a single woman, put on her best rockin’ outfit and to Boaz after dark. Of course, there’s cultural context in this story, to be carefully studied and considered, but there’s at least one simple principle that speaks to us today: Ruth didn’t sit at home praying Boaz would come knocking on her mother-in-law’s door. She didn’t read into his kindness. assuming he liked her and would eventually make a move. After he showed her special attention, Ruth took a risk. She initiated and allowed him to respond.
Ruth teaches us a few insights into how women can pursue romance:
Don’t be afraid to initiate
If you have your eye on a guy, suggest a Saturday run or something casual to do together. Invite him to come out with you and your friends. Don’t just wait for him to pick up on your hints. Initiating can be scary, but it also circumvents a lot of confusing games. If you reach out, you’ll put the ball in his court. Then, it will be up to him what to do next.
Be clear with your desires
Communicating—in words, not actions—what you want is vital. If he’s singling you out, engaging you in witty text banter, or prolonging an unspoken possibility, it might be time to speak up. At some point, you both need to clarify and communicate your expectations. And if he’s not talking, you might need to be the first to bring it up. Does that mean you are a dominant woman? No. Does that mean you’ll turn him into a passive man? No. It means you are strong and have good communication skills. Hanging around Boaz’ field’s wasn’t getting the job done, and lingering by his side on a group evening doesn’t count as telling him you’re interested. Let’s stop the subtle communication and use our words.
Ask him to clarify his vague intentions
Asking him what he wants will protect you from unnecessary wondering and heartache. Boaz’s kindness to Ruth was initially vague—we don’t know if it was motivated by romantic interest or simply a familial obligation to care for a distant relative. So she actively put him in a position that required him to clarify. And we can do the same. If he’s singling you out, giving you special treatment, and hasn’t been explicit about his feelings or intentions—ask him.
This takes courage, especially because you’ll need to be prepared for a favorable or unfavorable response. Whatever he says, you need to know that his response does not define you. Instead of hinging your self-worth on what he thinks of you, remember who God made you to be and speak out of that confidence.
As women, it’s easy to allow a man to string us along, grasping at signs of his affection and remaining silent. I did it for entirely too many years. But when my husband Michael came into the picture, I was committed to protecting myself by not putting up with vague intentions. After several great phone conversations, he sent a nonchalant Facebook message ending with: “Keep me updated.” You know what I didn’t do? I didn’t pray he’d clarify his message. I didn’t remain silent and hope he figured out I was the one for him. I took a risk and told him I’d love to get to know him better and would like for him to keep calling.
Two days later, my phone rang. And the conversation hasn’t stopped since.
Ruthie Dean is the Director of Communications at Bernard Health and a passionate writer and speaker about relationships. She and her husband, Michael, chronicle their dating mistakes and offer a fresh approach to love, sex & relationships in the age of texting and Twitter in their new book, Real Men DonÕt Text. SheÕs @Ruthie_Dean on Twitter.