I want to continue to try to answer a question that reader Stephen asked me a few weeks ago. Here is the question.
Everyone talks about women wanting guys who “lead”, who “aren’t pushovers,” who “aren’t nice guys,” etc. Question: what does this mean in the context of DATING. NOT MARRIAGE. Its fairly obvious what this means for married men. But when I’m asking a woman out for the first, second, or third time, the only things we’re going to disagree over, or have to decide together, are whether we’re going to Chipotle or Olive Garden. What if I really don’t give a darn? How am I supposed to “lead” while I’m casually dating a girl? I’m not an integral part of her life, I’m not her primary counselor, I’m not even likely to be *informed* about serious decisions that she has to make.
I tackled the general nice guy question previously, but I think Stephen raises a very interesting question when it comes to leadership.
First of all, let’s clear a couple of things up. Nowhere in the bible is the phrase spiritual leader used. It’s kind of inferred in several places but we’ve sort of created this phrase so that we don’t have to use words like headship. But regardless of all of that, and no matter what you call it, when you are dating someone, you are not her spiritual leader or head of anything. You are not saddled with that and you don’t have to love her as Christ loved the church (any more or less than you would any other person) and she is not called to submit to your leadership. Ephesians 5 is not about dating.
At the same time you can show leadership. You’re not her “leader” but that doesn’t mean you can’t lead. In the restaurant example from above (a great simple example) I’d say on the fist date you should just have a plan and do it. Just lead. This is where I’m taking you tonight. Go someplace that you like that you think she might also enjoy. Don’t show up and say, “where do you want to go?”
Now once you are dating, I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking her what she’d prefer, but I’d ask her that before you show up. Leadership is more about an attitude. It’s more about the conversation that night than the menu. (A note to the ladies here – for the love of all things, if the guy asks you if you prefer mexican or italian and says he is great with either, and you have a preference, express it. Don’t make him guess and then say, “well I really wanted mexican”. Men like food. We don’t care.)
While the above is sort of a practical answer to the fist couple of dates, I think this question begs a deeper one. What is leadership and what does it look like in a dating relationship.
Leadership is sort of a funny word in our culture. It seems that everyone wants to be one, but very few are seen as one.
Which brings me to the first important point – in order to be a leader, you have to actually be going somewhere.
If as a guy, you know who you are, and remain confident in that, you can look for someone who will come with you. In terms of attractiveness, knowing what you want, and passionately pursuing it aren’t going to hurt you. Frankly it’s also often more effective when first asking someone out to invite them to go with you versus a general ask. “Will you go out with me sometime?” is a lot more pressure than, “I’m going to the game this weekend, come with me.” I get that isn’t always the preferred method, but the general idea of having a plan and inviting her to it is good.
But here’s another funny thing about leadership. It require followers. If no one is following you, you’re not actually a leader. Also, just because someone has followers doesn’t mean they are leading the right way – just that they have leadership ability. Hitler had followers.
I say all of this because it’s hard to have a conversation about men leading, be it in marriage or dating, if we don’t sort of have that down.
So here are a few thoughts on how to lead in dating.
- Be going somewhere yourself. What are you about? Where are you heading – big picture and tomorrow.
- Invite her to that – the simple small stuff at first (go with me to the game?) the bigger vision later (where do we want to be in life).
- You set the boundaries – physical and otherwise – and honor them – even when she doesn’t want to.
- Don’t follow her around. Pursue her, get to know her (which is leadership), but don’t chase her.
- Make decisions about things you do together. (Again to clarify, the more your in the relationship the more that becomes joint – but you can still lead the conversation).
- Lead in reconciliation and forgiveness, but not out of fear – instead out of concern for her and the relationship.
These are just a few examples. Maybe some commenters will have more. Keep in mind that no one leads well all of the time (I for sure don’t) and over thinking it and crushing yourself when you feel you don’t lead is totally counterproductive. Every guy screws this up. But we need a target.
One final thought here – if you lead and the woman never follows – reconsider that relationship. Especially when it comes to following Jesus.