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?
I Like Him…What Should I 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. 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.
What About Men Leading?
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?
Let’s look back to the story of Ruth. Ruth took initiative to express her desire for Boaz. What happened immediately after that? Boaz immediately took the reins and started making plans. For the rest of the scene, he gives Ruth instructions on what to do. The next morning, after hearing what happened, Naomi tells Ruth, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” Ruth’s actions didn’t smother Boaz’s leadership. They ignited it. As soon as Boaz understood that Ruth wanted him, he went off like a shot to do what it took to secure her hand in marriage. I don’t think Ruth spent the rest of her life having to wear the pants in their relationship. Even in the three modern day stories I shared in the last post, you can see a pattern that the woman’s expression of her feelings galvanizes the man to pursue her. The woman takes the initiative in revealing interest, but after that the man steps up as a leader. What you’ll want to avoid, ladies, is entering a relationship where you have to keep playing leader to a man who won’t step up. Do that and you may find yourself the unhappy codependent of a passive, so-called man. If your expression of interest prompts him to step up, good. If he wants you to continue to lead him around, beware.
Ladies, can I make a confession? As men, we hear all the messages about how we’re supposed to be leaders and initiators and have courage and pursue and, well, you know the drill. Want to know the truth? Sometimes we get intimidated. Sometimes we feel uncertain. Sometimes the shelter of friendship is temptingly safer than the risk of pursuing romance. Sometimes when we look at you and see how wonderful and beautiful and amazing and incredible and incomparable you are, we wonder how you could ever like us. Sometimes we’ve never looked beyond friendship with you, but when we pause and look deeper we see something worthwhile. Sometimes we’re happy to take the lead in romance once we get past those initial hang ups. Sometimes – SOMETIMES – when you take the initiative to express your interest, it’s the spark that ignites the rocket.
You Should Choose
So what does this mean if you like him and he hasn’t shown any interest in you? It means you have a choice to make. You can choose not to say anything and see if he takes it upon himself to pursue you. That’s an entirely valid option! I recall a conversation I had with a friend. Shortly after she began a relationship with a guy she had liked for a long time, I asked her what she would have done if he never had taken the initiative to pursue her. She said she wouldn’t have done anything. She decided that if he didn’t have the desire and initiative to pursue her, then she didn’t want to be with him. That’s a valid choice. In fact, the girl I mentioned at the beginning of this post, as far as I know, never said anything to my friend. I believe they parted ways and sometime later she began a relationship with another man. Parting ways with someone with whom you have romantic interest isn’t the end of the world. The other option is to take initiative to express your interest. But here I must give a word of caution.
If you take the initiative to reveal your interest then you face the risk of rejection. Just like a man faces the risk of being rejected by a woman he pursues, so you will be at risk of being turned down by the man to whom you express your feelings. That, I’m afraid, could be painful. When Ruth proposed to Boaz, she placed herself in an extremely vulnerable position. You will be vulnerable also. If the guy you like isn’t interested in you, odds are you’re going to be rejected. Yet how can you truly know if he has any interest in you unless you raise the subject? And even if you’re rejected, would that be better than holding out hope that one day he’ll pursue you?
There’s no clear answer. And please mark my words: I’m not saying that one particular choice is correct. I’m trying to examine whether the notion that a woman must always wait for the man to show initiative is as biblical or wise as it’s often portrayed. There’s both biblical and modern precedent that feminine initiative can produce positive results. Yet it can also yield painful rejection. Silent desire can be difficult to endure. Yet it may allow a match that’s not meant to be to quietly fade away. Perhaps patience will be rewarded when he finally expresses interest in you. Perhaps he never will. Even if you were to begin a relationship, there’s no promise that the two of you won’t later break up. Nothing is definite.
So how do you know what to choose to do? I’d say the first thing to do is make it a matter of prayer. Always seek the wisdom of your Father in heaven. He can give guidance for your particular situation. And you don’t have to make a decision on your own. Parents and trusted mentors may be able to give you wise counsel. Depending on the situation, maybe it would be better for your interest to be communicated through a family member or friend. Or maybe those who love you will rightly encourage you to remain patiently quiet. There’s no one choice that’s always right. There’s no promise of happily ever after. You have to choose what you will do. Choose wisely.
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