I was the one who made the first move by asking my then-boyfriend (now husband) out. We first met online and after an encouraging conversation, I initiated a coffee date.
I don’t have any reservations about taking the “lead” by asking a potential date out, but when it comes to dating and marriage, I wanted the guy to be able to play his part as a leader in our relationship.
This may sound old-fashioned to some, and it didn’t always make sense to me, but I eventually understood how this is a blessing (more on this later).
Thankfully, my husband understood how this was important to me. While we both knew I was equally capable in decision-making and had more experience when it came to spiritual matters, we wanted to keep to the spirit of what the Bible teaches about the man’s role as a leader.
Although my husband didn’t have as much experience leading, our engagement period became a training ground for him to practise, and for me to learn how to submit.
There were times when he told me that I would have been better at leading, especially when it came to things like our devotions as a couple.
However, I remembered saying (perhaps a bit cheekily) that I “needed a break” as I had been leading in ministry for years and would like to be led by my future husband.
Thankfully, he gladly rose to the challenge and took over, leading our devotion time as a couple, deciding for us which church to attend, which house to live in, and when to propose. He did also seek my opinion on these matters, so it wasn’t a dictatorship.
Over time, he grew in spiritual confidence, while I grew in spiritual encouragement. In turn, our individual relationship with the Lord blossomed, and we experienced joy in our relationship as we both felt a certain “rightness” to our God-given roles, something I would describe as “putting on shoes that fit”.
That time I made the first move, but it didn’t feel quite right
I have also experienced how it doesn’t work if I’m always the one to initiate things.
Years ago, I asked another guy out on a first date, and when he didn’t follow up with another one (perhaps he wasn’t sure yet), I initiated our second date as well.
I thought we could be the exceptional couple where I made the first and second moves, especially with a guy who, in his words, was more passive in nature and preferred to be a follower.
We went on a total of five dates over several months, and he said that I “plan things better”, so he left me to decide on the dates, down to the location and time.
The dates aside, most of our interaction happened over texts, where I took a step back and tried to give him a chance to lead (e.g. by seeing if he would initiate our next date).
However, this never happened. He also shied away from leading our conversations and remained quiet on whether he really liked me and if he saw the possibility of a future with me.
In hindsight, I realise perhaps he simply feared upsetting me.
At the back of my mind, I kept recalling this sermon I heard at a young adults’ conference, where the speaker said that men are tasked by God with the responsibility to lead in a relationship.
I didn’t really understand then what that meant.
I saw myself as a strong, independent woman who can take the lead in things and was excellent at getting what she wanted.
But the longer it went on, the more exhausted I became, until my parents and my sister confirmed my gut feeling — that he simply was not a good fit. So I ended it, much to my relief.
Understanding the different roles men and women play
It didn’t make sense to me at first why men should be the ones to lead. After all, aren’t women just as capable and intelligent, and perhaps more naturally inclined to organising and planning things?
I gradually realised that marriage wasn’t based solely on skills or abilities. It has to do with God’s intention and design.
What eventually helped me shift my perspective was this book called Girls Gone Wise by Professor Mary Kassian, which helped unpack the unique roles of man and woman according to the Bible.
Both Adam and Eve were created as equal image bearers of God, neither being more or less important than the other. But God had created man first (Genesis 2:7) to make man the first in order, not first in rank or significance.
God also gave man the mission to work and protect (Genesis 2:15), as well as to exercise authority when it came to caring for God’s creation (Genesis 2:19-20).
The responsibilities of being the firstborn, to work and protect and to exercise authority were first fulfilled by Adam. This foreshadowed Christ’s eventual perfect fulfilment of the same responsibilities.
In the New Testament, men are also tasked to lead their families spiritually in prayer and to set an example by living a holy life that relies on God (Ephesians 5:23-31; 6:4), to protect and provide for their families (Ephesians 5:28; 1 Timothy 5:8), and to do so lovingly, gently and respectfully (Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:7).
The woman was created from the man (Genesis 2:21-22) to be his helper in fulfilling God’s commission (Genesis 2:18).
The word “helper” (“ezer” in Hebrew) doesn’t signify subordination; in fact, it’s also used to describe the Lord being our helper (i.e. the word “Ebenezer”; see Psalm 33:20, 72:12).
This doesn’t mean women should hide their strengths, but rather apply them in a way that help men achieve the crucial tasks God has assigned for him and for them as a family, ultimately to bring God glory.
I understand how the word “submit” (in Ephesians 5) grates our modern ears.
But I believe it takes godly wisdom to know how to submit — to understand that submission is not the same as being subdued, but is about exercising a humble strength that comes from a complete trust in Christ, whom the husband is actually called to submit to and emulate by loving sacrificially.
What would this look like in dating?
Though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the word “dating”, it does say quite a bit about husband-and-wife relations, which is ideally what dating is supposed to lead to.
Practically, in the dating phase, leading could translate to something as simple (yet important!) as the guy sharing with the woman, respectfully and discerningly, how he feels about her, to ensure that she’s not confused about his intentions.
Understandably, these can be difficult steps to take and conversations to have (especially in terms of timing, and taking into consideration that some relationships will not progress to marriage). Some people are tempted to ghost or be vague when asked where they think the relationship is headed.
When we receive God’s roles for us with gladness, we will experience His strength, power, and enablement to fulfil them, no matter what our modern-day culture tells us.
Doing either of these things isn’t honouring one another as people created in God’s image (Romans 12:9), no matter how convenient or “normal” it is to do so.
While my husband and I were in the early stages of our relationship, he made it clear what he was looking to do — dating with the intention to marry. He also told me what he liked about me, and in time, said explicitly that he wanted to and would marry me.
After all my disappointing experiences, his clarity and honesty were like a breath of fresh air.
On my part, I made sure to tell him that his words brought a lot of reassurance, especially in allowing us to share clearly and freely our reason for dating, as well as our life purposes.
The way I use my strengths to support his leading is by suggesting which areas we can talk more about in-depth, such as setting boundaries and exploring how we can grow together. I also made sure to affirm his efforts to organise our dates and initiate praying together.
Before reaching the point of talking about marriage, we took our time to pray individually and together for God to lead us, that we would honour Him through this process. When we both felt comfortable in moving our relationship to the next step, he finally proposed to me, with the blessings from our families and church communities.
When we receive God’s roles for us with gladness, we will experience His strength, power, and enablement to fulfil them, no matter what our modern-day culture tells us. How the roles play out will differ from couple to couple, but however we seek to fulfil them, let’s do so in a way that best pleases the Lord and testifies of Him to a watching world.
This article was first published on YMI and is republished with permission.
- Who do you think should make the first move?
- Is there any basis in the Bible for this conclusion?
- How does that challenge your approach to dating?