The role of a man in dating
The 21st century has more than overwhelmed us. We now have thousands of apps available on a myriad of the device. Information is available at the click of a button and the world has become a smaller place. The 21st century has also left its mark on Christianity, many good things have happened, things like addiction and hurt are no longer a hushed topic. Some are bad, mostly uncensored comments left by Christians or Tweets by a celebrity who clearly reacted in the spur of the moments.
No mark is greater than the one technology, empowerment, and equality have had on relationships. This has left us as Christians in a place where a lot of things that used to be easy and clear-cut has become a little murky.
Therefore, I was not shocked when someone close to me asked this question:
What is the role of a man in dating? Especially regarding leadership, pursuing a girl, and comparing it to when you are married.
Before I start answering, I need to set up some ground rules. The person who asked this question has been in a committed relationship for about 2 years and the couple in question are working towards marriage.
The answer to this question is directed to couples who have an established relationship (not just dating) are both in a committed relationship with Jesus Christ and are pursuing the goal of marriage.
The Role of Dating
To start to answer this question I need to look at the role of dating. In the Hebrew culture, many marriages were arranged. How it worked was: The guy would pay a fee (usually in some form of livestock) which allowed him the opportunity to go on one date with a girl. The date will take place in front of both families at the end of the date he would then ask her to marry him. If she said yes, he would go prepare a house for her and return on their wedding day and they would get married.
That means that for the most part being in an extended relationship is not directly addressed in the bible. Since after the proposal they just got married where in our culture we get to know each other better (dating and beyond) and then after that, the guy proposes and the marriage preparation starts. This for one couple could be anything from 6 months to 7 years (depending on when they started).
To get into this further we need to figure out what Godly Dating looks like… Godly dating is a process whereby we get to know the other person and start to build a strong foundation. This carries through to our relationship where we solidify this foundation to carry through to our marriage.
Godly dating often is also a time where we assess whether God has placed a compatible calling and passion within both parties. The topic of who you are supposed to end up with is too difficult and too deep to address in an article we can glean some guidance from the bible.
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (NKJV)
Dating and the pre-marriage period is a foreshadowing for Marriage
The role of dating and the pre-marriage relationship is a preparation period where we get principles and values in place to sustain us throughout the marriage.
For example, if a guy is not typically romantic (flowers, chocolates etc) in the dating phase. It is safe to assume that he will not be that way in marriage.
Often we have a misplaced idea that one day when we get married we will become the super-spouse. That is very far from the truth.
A practical example of this is if the wife loves surprises and the husband is not a person who even thinks of surprises. If the husband never did anything surprising in the dating and pre-marriage phase, the wife can’t expect the husband to organise surprises for her during their marriage. Well, at least not without communicating that need first…
On a deeper level, this period is also a time where we as a couple determine our values and principles. Things like whether we want our children to be homeschool, private schooling or in the public school system. Another big discussion to be had is feelings about adoption and possibly taking in a child of another race.
The Big One: Conflict
One of the constant things in any relationship, marriage or otherwise, is conflict. During the pre-marriage phase (once you are out of fairytale land) establishing healthy ways of handling, conflict is very important. The pre-marriage period allows us to learn how each party handles conflict. In most cases, this will be similar to the way the conflict was handled in their respective families. The couple then embarks on the journey of discovering the way they will handle conflict.
Dating is also a place where we shape the ways we communicate with each other. For instance, I am not a text/WhatsApp person, early in my relationship, my girlfriend had to learn that, naturally I tend to be very short and precise in my texting. So complex questions were rarely met with correct or appropriate answers. In the beginning, she felt that I was giving her a cold shoulder, but soon we discussed it and we learned. Now when communicating with her my text is as elaborate as possible and she uses texting/WhatsApp as a way to prompt further discussion.
To summarise this, the pre-marriage phase is the place where we prepare our relationship to the best of our abilities for the challenge that is the 21st-century marriage.
What is the role of man in all of this?
Since the pre-marriage period is a foreshadowing for marriage, our roles as men are to take a lead.
In the age of women empowerment and equality, we as men also need to take the lead in how to respond to this. The age of a stereotypical woman is phasing out. Not to say that there aren’t women who still have those desires or dream, or to say that there is anything wrong with having those desires or dream. It is just not a one sizes fits all model.
That means the way men take the lead in relationships has to change as well. Often when women hear Ephesians 5:22 they see their dream and desires flutter out of existence. Very often this portion of scripture is used on its own without taking that church, that culture and what is said before and after into consideration.
In the verse just before that, it says, submits to one another. It goes on to the speak to women about how they should submit to their husbands and then the part which a lot of people leave out how husbands should treat their wives.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25 (NIV).
How does Christ love us? Selflessly, with our best interest at heart, unconditionally. I think the point is made. Never have I seen a church being hurt or controlled by Christ. Rather churches are gracefully lead to a place of victory and growth. In the same way, we usher our wives into a place of joy and fulfilment. We don’t control, manipulate or limit our wives. We encourage and strengthen them but also make sure that what they are doing is in line with what the Lord has revealed to the entire family.
One thing that is important to understand is that until your girlfriend is out from under her father’s house. Leave and Cleave. He is her Godly authority (note godly), only when you get married are you her Godly appointed leader.
Therefore, your role in dating is to learn how to be this for your girlfriend now and how to be this for your wife one day. That means you encourage taking steps that ensure a better future for your relationship, you guide her and help through tough decisions to the best of your ability.
What is your job in pursuing her?
Pursuing is quite ambivalent. For most pursuing, in the context of a pre-marriage relationship, refers to things like planning dates and outings. In marriage, it also looks like seeking out sexual intimacy. Let us call this traditional pursuit.
There is a context where you as a man will need to pursue her in times of difficulty (hurt, loss or emotional distress), let’s call this trauma pursuit, and there will be times when you will have to pursue difficult moments of relational growth (in most cases pursue a tough discussion) Let’s call this Deepening Pursuit.
With regard to Traditional Pursuit, most people will tell you men should pursue as Christ pursues the church. I tend to disagree. We strive to do that but we are not Jesus. Therefore, we are not completely and 100 per cent filled with an accurate understanding of love all the time. There might be times in your life when you are, but there will most likely be times when you are not.
This is quite an easy one to explain, the reason being, that this will look different for most couples. In some couples, the guy is the hopeless romantic and the girl is more pragmatic and vice versa. At the end of the day, this comes down to communication. If one party is creative they will most likely take the lead. One thing to note, if one party is constantly initiating a relationship can feel one-sided, that is where each couple will figure it out on their own
This looks different for each person. When I go through a difficult time I need time alone to process and then I need people around me. Someone else might need a loved one around them from the start. Hopefully, no one reading this will encounter this soon but the as you get to know your partner you will be able to read what is required.
When it comes to a deepening pursuit, I believe, we should pursue as Jesus pursues the church.
I, as the man, have to start out those difficult conversations to make sure the relationship stays strong. We should always engage these topics with humility and allow for admission in our own faults
A lot has changed from those early courting times but hopefully, this gives you a clearer understanding of what I believe is the place of a man in modern relationships.