My short answer to this question is yes: I absolutely think it’s possible for a woman to pursue a man, in a real, genuine way that neither defies who we are in our femininity nor buys into what the culture has to offer.
Until I was in my 20s, my dating experience was limited, to say the least. I was big-time shy in high school. That’s not to say I didn’t ache for a loving relationship; I definitely did. During my conversion in college, that desire deepened more and more in my heart as I learned about pure, authentic love and began praying for my future husband. I loved being surrounded by a community of friends who were growing in faith at the same time I was and meeting other young women who took relationships seriously and weren’t afraid to want both a family and a fulfilling life outside the home.
But there was something else among young Catholics, sometimes in books (I had a lot of issues with Captivating, but that’s a post for another time) and sometimes in conversations I had, that I started to notice. They had a lot of opinions, bordering on rules, it sometimes seemed, about dating and relationships: Guard your heart. Guard his heart. Don’t be too forward with guys, because it’s not feminine. He should always be the one to initiate texts, dates, and hanging out. Be a little hard to get, because men like having something to fight for.
Whoa. These ideas represent just one school of thought when it comes to dating, one I know isn’t universal, nor entirely wrong, but at the time, it was pretty confusing for me. If men and women are created to inspire each other’s inherent masculinity and femininity, I wondered, was it really necessary to analyze things so much and to practically strategize my dating life just so I could follow the Catholic playbook?
The conclusion I think I’ve come to is no; all of that’s not necessary. In the last few years, I’ve observed that the more intimately you come to know the Lord through prayer and worship, the more deeply you come to know yourself. As I grew in faith, I discovered, I grew in honesty. Not without difficulty and a few servings of humble-flavored pie, I slowly, slowly became (and am still becoming) more honest with myself about my shortcomings in virtue, more open with my friends about my struggles, and much more able to see a negative relationship I was in with truthful, critical eyes. I think, then, that honesty plays a huge role in creating clarity when it comes to dating.
John Paul II’s Theology Of the Body goes back to the Garden, where the Father created man and woman from love and for love. Man and woman He created them, to each answer the deepest desire of the other’s heart and to be loved in the fullness of their dignity and worth. Men and women complement each other, and it’s written right into our bodies that men are active initiators of the gift of self, and women are active receivers.
So, do I think men and women each have something distinctive to offer in a relationship and that our sexual difference fosters different roles in giving and receiving? Of course, and far be it from me to disagree with a Pope, but in my opinion, there has to be a meeting somewhere between theology and our daily lives. Focusing too much on distinctions and roles, in my observation, can sometimes inhibit the natural growth of a friendship between a man and a woman, as well as the path to romance. There can be all this head knowledge, but it doesn’t always translate to movements of the heart. If a woman insists, for instance, that she should only receive, rather than give or initiate, any romantic gestures from a man who’s interested in her, I’ve noticed it tends to squash any potential relationship more often than it helps it along, because there’s a lack of complete honesty and reciprocation.
Boldness can be good, and even holy, I think. If he’s interested, has initiated the first move, and you like him, say so! Being honest with yourself and potential dates about your feelings, instead of keeping a man guessing for the sake of maintaining his interest or hiding one’s inclinations out of fear or convention, just seems to make things so much simpler and clearer for both people involved. As women, I think our role in pursuing men involves directness and a willingness to make our feelings and intentions clear, and to return his gestures, like phone calls and time spent together, rather than leaving it all up to him.
The first time my husband Andrew asked me on a date, I had just ended my first serious relationship a few weeks before and knew I wasn’t ready yet, though I really liked him. So I told him so. After spending several more weeks in prayer and discernment, I felt like the time was right, but I knew that the ball was in my court. He, after all, was waiting patiently and so sweetly for me, and if I didn’t say anything to this boy I knew was special, how would things ever get rolling? I saw him and asked him to ask me out again. ”Okay; soon then,” he said. Not ten minutes later, he asked and we made plans for our first date.
Before my husband, I think I’d still held onto some conventions about Christian dating, about how the guy should always do this, the girl should always do that, and all that jazz. I was amazed to find that as our relationship grew, I thought about those conventions less and less, and it was so good. Instead of blurring the lines of what manhood and womanhood required in dating, both of our identities became so much clearer. We revealed more and more of who we are, not just to each other, but to ourselves, because of the easy honesty between us. I realized that it’s not who does what so much as the fact that equality in dignity and in love is the most essential part of a relationship. Andrew was, and still is, such a gentleman, but suddenly it didn’t seem to matter much if I treated him or drove us to our destination now and then. Serving each other and giving gifts were acts of love, not declarations of masculinity or femininity and who wore the pants.
Being on the other side of marriage now, I guess some aspect of pursuing each other is over, but I’ve learned that it really is so important to still initiate love and pursue my husband as a woman, in everything from our physical relationship to how we get chores done. For us, I think having strictly defined notions of what a husband does and what a wife does would put more pressure on being a certain way for the other and wouldn’t let our natural skills, inclinations (I enjoy cooking more than my husband does, for example, while he never minds doing the laundry), and affections flourish.