I am being pursued for marriage by a wonderful, godly man. We are both in graduate school, have loads in common, similar life goals, and enjoy spending time together. We have been in an official relationship for about four months now. Although he’s rooted in Christ and has excellent potential as a husband and father, there’s hardly any romance in our relationship. I’m not sure if it’s even right for me to want romance at this stage.
About a month ago, I told him that I needed to feel pursued emotionally by him, not just pursued through spending time together. He confessed that it’s hard for him to express emotions verbally, but that he would make a better effort. But I don’t feel like it’s been different since that conversation, and the lack of romance is hard for me, especially since he’s only ever complimented me once.
During the couple of months we dated before we had a DTR, he planned amazing dates, but he doesn’t plan official dates anymore now that we’re in a relationship. We just hang out now, and he doesn’t ever walk me to my car or hold my door without me asking him to.
I’m his first girlfriend, so maybe he just doesn’t know to do those things. And although I’ve been in a few relationships before, they were before I came to Christ, so I can’t really compare them. I might be completely in the wrong for expecting romance.
Is my desire for chivalry and romance and to be wooed contrary to how a Christ-centered relationship should be conducted in the early stages? Is it selfish of me? If not, how do I better communicate to my boyfriend how to pursue me without making him feel like he’s failing or just telling him what to do? I don’t know how to walk this line between being patient while giving my boyfriend grace and feeling like I’m liked and that this relationship could go somewhere. Advice on this would be much appreciated.
A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend this is
We should be like a
Couple of hot tomatoes
But you’re as cold as
Yesterday’s mashed potatoes
So crooned Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the soundtrack of my mind as I read your question.
A fine romance, you won’t nestle
A fine romance, you won’t wrestle
I might as well play bridge
With my old maid aunt
I haven’t got a chance
This is a fine romance
Ah, romance. The stuff of gauzy love stories and chick flicks. Is it real? Is it OK to want? Can you even define it?
Romance is a tricky thing. It’s one of those nebulous terms like chemistry. Hard to define, but when you have it, you know it. Are you two like Armstrong and Fitzgerald? Or is something else at play? I’m not sure what you really want is romance in the Hollywood sense. It sounds like what you’re longing for — well-planned dates, gentlemanly acts of courtesy, heartfelt compliments — are the marks of being treated with special care that typically go with growing affection in a relationship moving toward marriage.
The particulars of this attention will vary from couple to couple based on lots of factors like personality, budget, schedules and more. But how your boyfriend acts toward you, and you toward him, should be different from how you feel about and act toward your other friends.
If you are moving toward marriage, your interaction should be unique. This doesn’t give you latitude to stop relating as brother and sister in Christ. However, there needs to be something different, unique, special about how he treats you; otherwise, how will you know he’s pursuing you for marriage?
Words are a big part of that. He should express his intentions, but not in cold clinical terms. He should have reasons for wanting to date you and be able to tell you what they are. There’s a need for restraint, certainly, and if you were writing to say your boyfriend heaped compliment upon compliment with reckless abandon, I’d warn you that his over-eagerness might be its own red flag. But never expressing gratitude for what makes you you, for God’s work in your life, for your beauty or your interests or your thoughts or your talents, does make me wonder if he’s too inhibited. (This should be an exchange, of course. Do you express gratitude for him, ask him about his hopes and dreams, and let him know why you appreciate him?)
Is he generally an expressive person? How does he relate to his other friends, his biological sisters (if he has them), his mother? All of these things can provide clues to his character and habits.
What was he like in friendship with you before you started dating? It may be that sharing your needs more specifically will be enough to help him see areas where he can improve. Though it’s also possible that it’s not his practice to be what you’re hoping for. Men do tend to be less relational, and certainly less emotional than women, and some more so than others. The question may come down to, are you OK with his current reticence even if it never changes?
Where does this leave you? It helps if you’re thinking clearly about what you need — nebulous concepts like romance tend to cause more confusion than clarity — and use words that express yourself clearly. You may tell him, “I need romance” and mean one thing, and he will likely hear it as something else. Even telling him that you need to “feel pursued by him emotionally” doesn’t make it clear or concrete what it is you’re hoping he’ll do.
Have you shared with him the specific things you wish he’d do: Be intentional about your time together; plan ahead the way he did before you were officially dating; walk you to your car; hold your door open for you; ask you questions about your day, your interests, your family, etc? All these are acts of kindness and indicators that a man is interested in pursuing a woman for more than friendship. And all are reasonable to share with him.
But also, it’s important that you be considerate of him, his needs and his personality. You’re wise not to want to tell him what to do, and patience and grace are always called for. But in a biblical dating relationship, it is the woman’s role to respond to the man’s leadership, and where he’s not leading, it’s helpful to share your concerns, respectfully, in order to know if he is the sort of man you’ll be able to follow. Too much patience can stymie a relationship.
You’re necessarily called to navigate two extremes. The first is doing anything in the name of romance that would fan the flames of passion before the wedding. The other is a lazy-river-like path to marriage that lacks urgency. What could explain such a lack of attentiveness or appreciation? Is he generally a motivated, diligent, hardworking man? It may be that your “official” dating status in his mind feels like reason enough to put things on auto pilot. It may be hidden sexual sin in the form of pornography use. Or possibly open sexual sin between the two of you. It could be lack of modeling by a father, grandfather, older friend or pastor. Or it may be that while you are good friends, you are not a good fit for marriage.
Part of dating is learning how to relate to one another in selfless ways, all the while trying to assess if the other is a good fit for marriage.
I think often we jump ahead of that process in our desire to be married and start expecting the other to treat us, even in small non-sexual ways, as if we are married. He should not yet be treating you as his wife. And you should not be expecting him to. This will be something you have to think about and resist hoping for. But as I’ve already said, he should be treating you with a unique sort of attention that’s different from the other girls he knows. This is a nuanced and fragile balance best walked out with the help of your fellow church members. We need the body of Christ to help us walk faithfully through this life in a fallen world. This is nowhere more obvious than in our relationships with others and especially romantic relationships with the opposite sex.
It is healthy to want to hear from your boyfriend what he admires about you, what character traits give him reason to think you might be a good wife (or maybe more generically, what he’s hoping for in a wife), why he wants to date you, and what he hopes a future life with him as the leader might look like. It may not come naturally for him to express all this unprompted, but a few good questions could help him get that conversation started.
These sorts of questions are often most helpful when asked by another — ideally your dad, but in his absence, an older married couple who know both of you. Men need to be asked, “What are your intentions for my daughter?” but also, “Why do you love her?” “How will you care for her?” “What qualifications do you have for marriage?” etc.
He may need some coaching from another man, but if this is a good fit for marriage, he should welcome the chance to answer such questions, even as you should be able and willing to answer similar questions about yourself and marriage to him. While it’s nice to be told you’re pretty, biblically satisfying answers to substantive questions are far more helpful in determining if you are a good fit for marriage to one another. Desiring God’s Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage is a great resource to get you started.
I pray you will seek out faithful mentoring and counsel as you pray for wisdom about how to walk honorably with this man who is already, and eternally, your brother in Christ. Will it lead to a Song of Solomon romance? Time will tell. May you walk humbly, trust God fully, and obey Him faithfully in the discovery.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.