I met him at church. As I stood on the fringes, he came over to greet me — the guest. His eye contact and his questions were warm and personal, and he mentioned a Bible study where, presumably, we would meet again.
The next two times I saw him, his behavior was the same. I knew it’s wise to assume a man has no intentions to pursue – unless he says so. But I couldn’t ignore his nonverbal cues. And for a time, I succumbed to the fruitless merry-go-round of infatuation.
Meanwhile, I began brainstorming ideas for a new article. In response to my request for suggestions, a male friend wrote to ask me, “Women are encouraged to dress in a proper way so they don’t ‘help’ men to lust. But how can a man behave so he does not induce women around him to lust?”
Whether we call it lust or infatuation, we’re all dealing with the same heart issue: a good desire with the wrong object, at the wrong time or to the wrong degree. But while both men and women are tempted to covet what isn’t ours, we generally arrive at that temptation in different ways. Men tell me that their desires are often triggered visually. Meanwhile, women are often tuned in to a range of subtle relational cues – many of them triggers that men aren’t even aware they are activating.
But even unintended actions can speak louder than words.
We were just friends. We both knew it. In fact, I knew who he liked (and it wasn’t me!) But he was so emotionally available that it was impossible to interact without my mind playing tricks on me. When he greeted me with a hug and wanted to know about my day, and my hopes and dreams; when he sent me emails to check up on me when he was out of town, it was hard to remember that he wasn’t available. Women connect emotionally, and even though I knew he didn’t want me, I felt wanted. And it made me want.
According to the women I interviewed, the most common way a guy trips a girl up is by leading her on: prematurely pushing the buttons for her deepest relational desires. Ultimately, a woman is responsible for her own integrity – but there are things men can do to help.
Make Your Intentions Clear
In “What’s a Girl to Do?” I suggested some ways women can communicate respect to men. Now I hope to give men some tools for signaling their intentions to women.
1) Be aware. You can be yourself. Just don’t be clueless! Simply knowing what could communicate pursuit can keep you from laying it on too thick.
Many men don’t realize how vulnerable women’s hearts can be. Touch is usually not casual to a woman, nor is intense eye contact. The Lord designed us to respond, and men need to be careful not to trigger that response.
They don’t know how far a small compliment can go, or a smile. Girls notice glances, even subtle ones. This can be sweet and honest. God intends us to communicate in all kinds of body language (He intends us to get married!), but it can also make us fall too fast.
I can still remember the electrifying touch of some of the guys I’ve known, even if they were just giving me a friendly shove or a short hug.
Other cues include: seeking her out with your eyes across the room, teasing, discussing your future family, and soliciting her help or advice when there are more obvious people to ask.
Beyond any particular relational cue is the number and frequency of the cues you send to a specific woman and their proportion to the cues she sees you sending others. The existence of patterns and/or the absence of context make it far more likely that she will see your behavior as pursuit.
2) Be a man of integrity. Know your own mind, and then make sure your intentions and your actions are an integrated whole. Be “the last man in the world who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does.”A description of Mr. Knightly in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma.
A man says:
Paying a gal extra special attention sends a clear signal of interest. Repeating the habit confirms it. Sharing secrets, spending time one-on-one (even in quasi-public) and zeroing in on a woman in social settings all send that signal. It’s like fire: Use with extreme caution.
The best advice for guys is to enjoy their female friends with a healthy distance. The only exception for this is when you’re intentionally targeting a potential wife-to-be. But that’s when the signals are real.
When you’re driving a car, you instinctively begin to steer in the direction you’re looking. Early on in an attraction, you may not even be aware that you’re steering toward a certain girl. I think this subtle, hardly-conscious dance is part of God’s design. (She smiles; you take a half-step forward; she turns; you say hello.) The trick is to wake up in time to assess your intentions before she picks up too strongly on the pattern of pursuit.
3) Beware of power trips. Let’s be honest. Sometimes, just by living, you’ll turn the ladies’ heads. (Joseph in the Bible didn’t ask to be pursued by Potiphar’s wife.)
When women are attracted to you, it may be tempting to bask in the attention or (however subtly) to manipulate the women involved. Please remember to Whom all power and glory belong and give them back to Him. Besides, humility and kindness are much more attractive than raw good looks. Whether or not you think you’re handsome, women may covet emotional intimacy with you because you’re a nice guy. So beware, also, of kindness taken to an extreme.
A man says:
Because of the courtesy I feel I must uphold, I have listened politely to females as they have tried to share things with me, get to know me or even pursue for a deeper relationship. I try not to encourage them to share deep personal aspects of their lives. However, sometimes they don’t get signals like short and evasive responses. Sometimes you must be blunt to the verge of rudeness and say you don’t want to know them more or to comment on deeply personal issues. In extreme cases you sometimes need to cut off contact.
Two women say:
[When it comes to purity] a guy is wholly responsible for what he chooses to allow himself to dwell on, but it is 110 percent easier when the girl isn’t flaunting herself. It’s exactly the same on the other side. It’s easier when a guy doesn’t offer us that emotional connection that we’re wired for.
The problem is when a guy becomes something of a girlfriend and intimate conversation and secret dreams and thoughts are shared. After entering the inner circle of trust with a girl, a guy will find it hard to extricate himself without wounding feelings or breaking hearts.
4) Be balanced. Given the potential for being misunderstood, I understand how tempting it is for you to simply check out of the life of a woman who doesn’t catch your eye. But while you may be immune to her, you can’t safely assume that she is immune to you. Showing specific interest or disinterest in a woman is equally unwise.
I have watched single men treat single women as ‘safe’ because they think of her as a ‘sister.’ She’s not your sister. She has a heart, and quite often it weeps because you are treating her as a sister and not as a woman.Adapted from “Electronic Attention and Digital Pursuit,” published on The Dating Manifesto, March 30, 2012. Used with permission.
You may feel that by choosing not to interact at all, you’re protecting a woman’s heart. But you may be wounding her heart by treating her as an invisible non-person, not a fellow child of God. A brother does not single out his sister for romantic attention. But neither does he ignore her.
A now-married woman still remembers the single men who were completely detached:
One actually stood directly across from me and made a comment about the lack of Christian women in our area. I wanted to throw my Bible at him. If he didn’t want to marry me, that was fine. But acting like I didn’t exist or “wasn’t a good enough option” was disrespectful and rude.
She also recalls those who were healthily involved:
[He and I] were in the same group of friends. We talked. We joked around. Watched movies. I cleaned his kitchen a few times, and he fixed a couple things on my house. We both knew that the other wasn’t interested in any type of romantic relationship, so there was distance in our very warm and comfortable friendship. He didn’t offer me an emotional connection/protection, and I dressed and acted modestly. We were good friends, but he didn’t confide in me or give me special attention or ignore me. This is how I know we kept our relationship at the perfect level: After both of us were married, nothing changed.
5) Be kind. The Bible specifically says to “encourage…older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”1 Timothy 5:1-2 Chivalry may seem outdated, but widespread, unbiased kindnessJames 2:1-8 to all women is still the norm in the kingdom of God. With this reputation as the context for your actions, you’ll be better equipped to lift a woman’s spirits – without raising her expectations.
The young man I work with is a gentleman in every way. He’s never made me feel that he’s searching me out. He’s simply being a man, which is making it possible for me to deal with what it means to be an alive, real woman.
Men, please don’t give up, or check out. We need your encouragement and your unique expression of God’s character. While you are walking the delicate line between kindness and pursuit, we women are cheering you on from tightropes of our own. (Is this outfit attractive, or seductive? we ask ourselves. Is my behavior encouragement, or pursuit?)
By God’s grace, it is possible for us, men and women, to be fully engaged and full of integrity.
Copyright 2012 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.