One day she found me in the library of my Alma Mater. She asked to talk with me about something, and we found a place for a private conversation. She confided that she had feelings for one of my friends. I knew the two of them had been spending time in each other’s company as friends, but I had no idea she had feelings for him. She then asked for my advice. She was caught between her feelings of romantic desire for my friend and the reality that he hadn’t, up to that point, revealed any interest in her. What should she do?
It’s not an unusual story in our modern American Christian culture. In our culture, men are expected to be the leaders and the matrimonial initiators. Women are expected to respond. (As an aside, in the anthology Five Paths to the Love of Your Life, Lauren F Winner argues that, at the end of the nineteenth century, during the time when the practice of “calling” governed the pursuit of matrimony, women were the ones with the power to initiate romantic interaction.) So what does it mean if you’re a woman who has feelings for a single man who hasn’t shown any romantic interest in you thus far? I sympathize with the struggle. It’s painful to be gripped between the desire to have a romantic relationship with a person and the reality that such is not the case. Yet I have an advantage. As a man, I can express my feelings toward whomever I’m interested in without violating any social taboo. I might get rejected, but at least I receive a resolution to my interest. But what should be said for those expected to respond rather than initiate? Is there nothing more than to accept the tension between desire and reality with a stiff upper lip? What should Christian women do?
In The Bible
Throughout the vast majority of the Bible, the pattern of men as matrimonial initiators and women as responders is followed. There is, however, one dramatic, biblical exception to this pattern. That’s the story of Ruth and Boaz. Do you remember the story? Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, being the widow of Naomi’s son. They both lack father and husband. Ruth begins to practice gleaning in order to provide for her and Naomi. As she gleans, she meets Boaz, a relative of Naomi. Boaz is pleased with the faithfulness with which Ruth serves Naomi and treats Ruth with favor. Time passes as Boaz continues to give Ruth favor. Eventually, Naomi decides it’s time to act. She wants Boaz to marry Ruth. There is no man present to propose the marriage, so Naomi knows she must instruct Ruth to use an unconventional method to compel Boaz to pursue marriage.
There’s some uncertainty as to what precisely the text says happens in the story’s climactic scene. Naomi instructs Ruth to go to Boaz as he’s celebrating the barley harvest. She tells Ruth that once Boaz leaves the party and falls asleep to go beside him and uncover his “feet.” Some claim that “feet” was used as a euphemism for “genitals.” If so, then Ruth’s action is a startlingly obvious expression of her desire to become part of Boaz’s lineage. However, she makes her desire clear verbally as well. After Ruth uncovers Boaz’s “feet,” Boaz eventually awakes. Naturally he asks who’s lying beside him. Ruth says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” The expression of “spreading wings over” was used to refer to marriage. A redeemer was a relative of a widow’s deceased husband who would marry the widow in order to give her a family and future. Ruth is doing nothing short of asking Boaz to marry her. I don’t care about the precise interpretation of “feet” since the only difference is whether Ruth is being forward or extremely forward. Boaz immediately expresses his desire to marry Ruth. By the end of the story, Boaz settles the necessary business, he marries Ruth, they have a son, and, to borrow the cliché, they live happily ever after. So if a story of a woman taking initiative with a man is in the Bible, does that mean it can be a good thing?
In Life Today
The story of Ruth and Boaz isn’t the only one I’ve heard where a woman’s initiative resulted in a wedding. I once put out a query on Facebook asking my female friends what they thought of being a woman and expressing romantic interest in someone. Two offered their own stories of how they took the initiative in expressing interest and ultimately married the man of their desire. The first spoke with her man face to face. He too had feelings for her but was afraid to risk their friendship. The second’s feelings were made known indirectly through a network of family members and friends. The man decided to act when he learned of her feelings, and they ultimately married. I know of two other college acquaintances who began a relationship and ultimately married after the woman dropped a dead obvious hint that she was interested. He already liked her but thought so highly of her that he didn’t think he was in her league. Once he knew her feelings, he was happy to get moving. I share these stories to demonstrate the reality that initiative on the part of a woman CAN precipitate the beginning of a quality, lasting romantic relationship.
At this point, however, an objection always rises. If a woman takes initiative with a man, doesn’t that take the man out of the leadership position and mess up the dynamics of the relationship from the beginning? Maybe feminine initiative can result in a relationship, but is that a wise way to seek it? We’ll tackle this question in I Like Him…What Should I Do? Part 2.
What do you think about feminine initiative? Do you have a story to share? Please add your thoughts in the comments section!
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