Time for one of those questions which spawns the age old debate – can women pursue men, or shouldĀ men pursue women?

Source: Sony

Source: Sony

It seems whenever the conversation of relationships come up, there are always a few divisive questions that arise. I’ve written about a bunch of them before, and they’ll probably appear to the side or at the bottom of this article as related topics. But certainly one of those heat and decision/indecision generating questions is the question of pursuit. Namely, who should pursue who? Should a man pursue a woman out of some eternal calling, or are women allowed to register interest with men? For men, they want to see if there’s any room for a woman to go first, or whether or not they should feel like a wimp because someone just asked them out. And for women, it’s a question that drives the relational decisions of whether or not a male should be classified as a man or as a coward… or it’s a source of frustration when they start to like someone.

So… what’s the answer? It sounds kinda silly to some people, but to others the answer to this question can feel like life or death, freedom or torture, waiting or acting.

I guess the right answer is… it depends. I mean, I don’t know the exact answer. Just a few angles on it. Can women pursue men, or should men pursue women?

Traditional gender roles

I guess to start off with you have to go back to your traditional gender roles. I mean, this is where the source of the question comes from, isn’t it? Can I climb that mountain? Of course. Can I walk over there? Sure. Can I buy that drink? If you want.

Can I ask him out? WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT I dunno.

You know the gender roles I’m talking about. The man has to be a man. He’s gotta man up and win her over. Woo her heart. Draw her in. It’s her job to respond however she sees fit. Perhaps she sees fit to act aloof or disinterested, to see what he’ll come up with. Maybe her prerogative will be to play a bit harder to get. Maybe she’ll say yes straight away and give it a try. Or maybe she’ll jump on him and kiss him til he gets the picture.

Juliet sits on her balcony. Romeo cries out below.

The traditional roles.

Hunter gatherer. Initiator vs responder. We would argue today the modern woman should be able to ask out or wait to be asked out to whatever level she feels comfortable within herself. However, a lot of modern women (and a lot of modern men) still remain stand-offish when it comes to whether or not they are “allowed” to do something about it.

The theological debate

As a Christian, I hear this question most commonly in the church environment, and it is particularly driven by a lot of teaching and thought on relationships that interprets certain Scripture as painting a very stern picture. Men ask women out, women respond. That’s your role. Men are called to be the leader and the head of the house, and women are supposed to just wait around until the right person asks them out.

In reality, even within the church, things are much more complicated than that. The women who try waiting around are often either asked out by people they’re unwilling to give a chance to (for whatever reason, right or wrong), or they never get asked out. The men who are told it’s their duty to be the initiator get disheartened because they initiate and nothing eventuates. It seems on face value the reaction to Scripture doesn’t seem to match its perceived advice.

Perhaps that’s because Scripture doesn’t actually directly address the issue of dating with a set of rules, and most teaching on the topic is done so out of inference. Dating as we know it is more a cultural thing, and the Hebrew, Roman, Persian, Assyrian, Greek and Mesopotamian cultures presented all had differing views and practices on the finer details.

Because men are called to lead and be the life source of their family in the marriage relationship, to be like Christ, it is inferred by different teachers to different extents the implication this has on a man pursuing a woman, and a woman just waiting around for it to happen with the right one. One of the loudest inferences I hear based on this idea is that if a woman initiates a relationship, it emasculates the male, and it means she will forever be dragging him around and forever leading him. Yep. People really have said that.

I would like to challenge those Scriptural views by asking you to continue to read Scripture. Dating and courtship are not discussed barely at great length at all, but marriage is. What to do when someone does you wrong is. How a husband in a marriage relationship should be understanding and loving towards his wife is. How a woman should encourage and believe in her husband is. And then we have Biblical examples of love’s pursuit who don’t seem to get the memo on this “if a woman initiates she emasculates the man” memo – the Shulamite of Song of Songs lavishes her man with affection (except when she’s not making him wait outside the door til he leaves, but other than that…), Mary and Joseph seemed to communicate during their engagement with complete honesty and equivalency, and the heroic Ruth blows it all out the window by dressing up all sensual and lying next to Boaz after he’s drunk, and when he wakes up, asks him to “spread her covering over her”. And we shouldn’t even mention Esther being in the king’s harem for 7 days before that deal got sealed.

All this to say, I dunno if the “theological” backing to a lot of these views is as strong as some people make it out to be. Would love to hear your thoughts and views on that for sure, as I’m sure the statements above may spark some further thought on the issue.

Dealing with rejection

Moving on from there, we enter one of the true sources of the question. Rejection. No one likes it. Women don’t like it. Men don’t like it. Children don’t like it. Family members don’t like it.

And one of the arguments to this end has been that men deal with rejection better than women, that it isn’t as personally destroying, and for that reason a man should man up and be the one to take the first chance.

That’s a bold statement that I have only ever heard from women. Being male, I can’t actually comment on the accuracy of that statement. I mean, I could tell you what it’s like on the male side. I know that’s definitely not always pretty. And I’ve definitely seen many, many of my female friends go through rejection – the man they really care for doesn’t seem to notice them, or even sometimes it feels like no one notices them. Heck, it’s not a problem just for singles – married or dating friends sometimes feeling like their significant other really doesn’t care. On both sides.

So, should a man always be the one to go first based on his apparently stronger reaction to rejection? I dunno. I just thought I’d mention it when it comes to people’s discussion on the topic.

Success on both sides

I think something needs to be acknowledged here in the conversation. It’s that there has been great relationship success when a man has initiated and asked first. There has also been great relationship success when a woman has initiated and asked first. In fact, thinking about a number of the weddings I’ve been to (which are many and increasing in count), I’d say a lot of those relationships wouldn’t have happened at all if the woman hadn’t done anything.

“I couldn’t do that”, people will say. Well, maybe if you don’t, you may miss your opportunity. “I don’t want to appear too desperate”. Really? Or how about, “If I do that, they’ll know I’m interested”. Isn’t that the point?

I’m not saying men shouldn’t be men and communicate interest, but I’m not sure the hard and fast dictation that women can’t do anything is actually accurate. In fact I think it sometimes means it’s harder as the attempt has to be even greater. You can’t talk about this topic without acknowledging that success and failure happen regardless of who goes first,

A continual pursuit

I guess a final thought that’s always really beautiful to me is that love is the continual pursuit of each other. Going back to the theological debate for a second – I always like to ask people the question, and I’ll ask you now – in your relationship with God, who pursues who? Well, Scripture tells us that we love because we were loved first.

Ah, but it also tells us that if we draw near to Him, He’ll draw near to us.

And to put that relationship above all us. To love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And our relationship wouldn’t even be realized unless we actually made the decision to say yes and put our lives into it.

To me, that doesn’t sound like it’s purely about who initiates and who responds. That sounds like the optimal scenario is when both hearts are radically infatuated and committed to the other.

And it sounds like the pursuit should never end.

So you got the girl. Or you got the guy. Does your heart still pursue like it did at the start? Or even more passionately?

When it comes to relationships, we should be more concerned with the effort we invest than we are with the magical feelings we may or may not experience along the way.


But that’s just one guy’s view. How about you? What do you think? Can women pursue men, or should men pursue women? Ready set go.