Abby and I had been speaking to Jordan at the annual Post-Everything University baseball game and picnic. “At the risk of being oblique,” I told him, “consider the ant.”
Abby smiled at me and murmured, “At the certainty, you mean.”
Jordan looked down, lifting a sneakered foot. “Am I standing on an ant hill or something?”
“No, you’re fine. I was alluding to the book of Proverbs.”
“The ant passage,” Abby prompted.
“Oh, I know that verse — my mom used to quote it at me whenever I forgot to take out the trash. ‘Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.'”Proverbs 6:6 (RSV).
“But that’s about laziness. I thought we were talking about dating.”
“My point is a little more general.”
“You want me to imitate ants in general? Ants don’t even date.”
I glanced at Abby, whose eyes were sparkling with amusement. That’s not quite what I mean,” I told Jordan. “You complained that the Bible doesn’t include any commands about dating. I’m pointing out another way that God teaches.”
“By directing our attention to the way He designed His creation.”
“Yes, ants, but not just ants. The whole created order proclaims Wisdom, if you know how to read it.”
“You’d better give me some examples.”
“For example, the heavens declare the glory of God.Psalms 19:1. The cycling seasons teach us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven.Ecclesiastes 3:1. The ants illustrate the importance of working to provide for our needs while we still can. I need another example, Abby.”
“How about the leeches?” she suggested mildly.
“Good. Even the leeches have something to teach: That some things can never be satisfied.”Proverbs 30:15.
“Like some people,” Jordan said.
“I get that. But you talk like nature is a kind of book, something you can read.”
“It is. You just have to be careful to read the book of nature in the light of the book of Scripture. Actually, that’s an ancient Christian theme. John Chrysostom wrote — ”
“Perhaps you should get back to the dating question,” Abby suggested.
“Oh, right,” I said. I cleared my throat. “One part of the book of nature is human nature, and in human nature, God made provision for courtship.”
Jordan looked skeptical. “Does the Bible back that up?”
“Sure,” I said. “For example, do you know the poetic passage in Proverbs that compares four ‘amazing things’?”
“It goes on to list them: ‘the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden.’Proverbs 30:18-19 (RSV). Why do you think the poet thought these four things were so amazing? Start with the eagle.”
“I guess because it soars even though other things fall.”
“Good. How about the serpent and the ship?”
“The serpent moves without legs even though other animals can’t — and, um, a ship floats even though other things sink.”
“Right. Now the man and maiden,” I said.
“That one’s harder. Would it be — hmm.”
“Would it be that he wins her love even though she makes it hard and the other guys fail?”
“That’s what I think too. And what amazes the poet is the way God makes each of the four things possible — the way he provides for these amazing things through his creational arrangements. Do you see that?”
“I see it with the eagle,” he said. “You wouldn’t think anything could fly, but wings work because of the way air is.”
“Exactly. In the same way, scales work because of the way rock is, and ships float because of the way water is. The nature of one thing cooperates with the nature of the other thing so that the amazing thing can happen. It’s the same with the man and the maiden.”
Jordan said, “I can see why it’s amazing all right. Girls are —” He stopped.
“Girls are what?”
“Different. Difficult. They’re coy.” Suddenly he blushed. “Sorry, Mrs. T, I didn’t mean to be sexist.”
Abby’s laughter was a little like the sound of wings itself. She said “Don’t worry, Jordan. If you had suggested that I’m not different from a man, then I might have been insulted.”
“The two sexes are different,” I said, “but they’re also complementary. You see, in courtship, male and female nature do a kind of dance: His boldness with her modesty, her coyness with his courtesy. Culture may play variations on the theme, but the music itself is written into us. We can hear it if only we listen.”
Jordan asked “But why are women so — ” He stopped. “Sorry. I guess I’m putting my foot in it again.”
Abby asked, “What were you going to ask, Jordan?”
His blush deepened. “Why are women so coy and hard for guys to figure out?”
“That’s not such a mystery, is it?” she said. “Women have children.”
“Sure, but what does that have to do with it?”
“The young man has to prove to the young woman that he’s the sort of man who can make her nest secure. She has to be coy, because he has to win her.”
“You mean a girl is thinking about that all the time?”
“It doesn’t matter; it’s built into her. When a young man shows interest, the whole bent of her nature is to put him to the test — even if she doesn’t know she’s doing so, even if she’s thinking ‘I’m not the sort of girl who does that.'”
He was scandalized. “That seems — well — sneaky.”
Abby arched her eyebrows. “Don’t you think it’s a bit lazy of you to think so? Once upon a time, men your age took for granted that they’d have to prove themselves.” She paused. “Think how much is at stake for a young woman. She carries the next generation in her eggs. Who are you that you should win her heart so easily?”
She tilted her head in interrogation. Jordan, however, was speechless. He looked as though someone had been spinning him on a barstool. “Actually,” she went on, “for most young women it would be better to think about these things more, not less. Any girl who places a value on herself will make the young man prove himself. Whether she puts him to the right test is quite another matter.”
With a smile, she turned to me. “Your victim,” she said. Jordan’s eyes looked like the eyes of a spaniel I had once seen at the vet.
“Ready for the next round?” I asked him.
“I guess I let myself in for it,” he answered. “After all, I did say I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Another thing that you owe to a young woman is clarity.”
“Clarity about what?”
“Clarity about expectations,” I said. “I don’t mean you have to say up front, ‘My dear, let us spend time together, in mutual inquiry whether marriage between us would be possible or desirable.’ But you need to be clear in your own mind that finding the answer to that question is what dating is all about — and of course she needs to know whether you’re actually having a date!”
“But Prof,” Jordan said, “you told me once that every social activity between two single people of opposite sex is a date. So doesn’t that question answer itself? Or are you going back on what you said before?”
“No, I still say that. But think about how you’ve been running these so-called group dates of yours. None of the young women know whether they are having a social activity with you. You introduce each girl as your ‘special friend,’ which gives one sort of impression — but then all the other girls turn up too. What is she supposed to think?”
“Now you’re making it sound like I’ve been sneaky.”
“Sneaky? Not deliberately. Just a bit of a heel. And for some reason, the young women seem to let you get away with it.”
Jordan winced when I called him a bit of a heel, but he couldn’t quite keep a little grin from slipping into the mix when I said that the young women let him get away with it. Abby must have seen that too, because she pounced.
“The last thing is this,” she said. “A young woman wants you to take the initiative. That’s your step in the dance. I don’t mean that you should pressure her, but act like a man, for heaven’s sake. She will take the initiative if you force her to, but she doesn’t like having to do it, and she won’t respect you for making her do it. Not only that,” she said, “but if you won’t take the initiative — ”
“Go ahead and complete the sentence, Mrs. T.”
“Let’s put it this way. If you can’t make a choice, some young woman will end up making it for you. And you won’t even know that it happened.”
Jordan’s face froze in shock. He hadn’t seen it coming. After a few seconds, Abby and I laughed together, breaking the tension. Jordan relaxed and smiled a little.
“Anyway,” he said, “I was right about the ant after all. You should both admit that.”
“How were you right about the ant?” I asked.
“I said the proverb was about laziness. Isn’t that sort of what you’ve been telling me I am? You’re telling me that my way of dating is just plain lazy. Among other things.”
“I guess we are,” I smiled. “Now that all that’s over, why don’t you ask your other question?”
“What other question?
“The one you never got to ask. At the beginning. You said you had a question about your term paper. A short one.”
“Oh — I, ah, don’t think I want to ask it any more.”
“It would sound kind of funny — now.”
“I don’t understand.”
Jordan slowly looked from me to Abby and back again. He let out his breath. “I was going to ask for an extension.”
Copyright 2004 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.