By Dawn VanderWerf
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
OK, I know this passage is addressing husbands, but I think it’s possibly the most important message in the Bible for single men. There is great wisdom to be gleaned from this verse on how to understand women and navigate relationships with us in an honorable way.
As I work and minister to single moms, I almost daily find myself dealing with someone who’s been deeply wounded by the way a man has treated her. In fact, I’ve found that single women in general are in such a state of hurt and confusion over the way men are treating them that their hearts are literally dying.
So this piece had to be written.
If you are a single guy who is following Jesus, we assume you know certain ‘rules of the game’ and are going to play by them. We do understand that you are a flawed human being just like us and probably don’t mistreat us on purpose. We also know that there is no such thing as a relationship without risk. But here are five things that would help our hearts tremendously for you to be more diligent about:
1. Don’t underestimate your leadership role.
God assigned all men, not just husbands, the responsibility and privilege of leadership when it comes to women. You are physically and emotionally tougher than us, which is why he refers to us as the weaker vessel. When you read ‘weaker’ think delicate, precious and vulnerable. How you steward us matters A LOT and you will be accountable for it to Christ one day.
I think I speak on behalf of all women who love the Lord when I say our number one desire in a man is that he can and will lead us spiritually. If we allow ourselves to get involved with a man who isn’t a believer, than we are agreeing upfront to not have any of the following expectations. If he doesn’t share Christ’s heart, we cannot expect him to love us or treat us in a Christ-like manner. That said, many of us who have established that submission to Christ is a ‘non-negotiable’ in a potential mate still find ourselves reeling in insecurity because of the way we are being led by Christian men. Guys, we want to let you lead us, but part of your responsibility in that is creating an environment where we feel safe to be led and to respond to you. When you mislead, it hurts us and causes us to distrust men and God.
2. Don’t single us out unless you want a singular relationship with us.
Maybe it’s that extra rib God gave us, but we women have a heightened sense of awareness. When you single us out in any way—like giving us a compliment or liking a picture we post on Facebook or letting us borrow your pencil—we notice. I know, it’s crazy. Sometimes it feels like the greatest curse of womanhood, the fact that we are SO aware of the littlest things. So when you send us a private message, or call us for reasons that are not business-related, or your hugs get more frequent, we really notice. When we notice you treating us in a manner that is significantly different than the way you treat other women, it leads us to believe you are interested in us in a singular way. If you ask us out on a one-on-one basis, we always assume there is romantic interest unless you clearly state otherwise. If you actually say the word date, we expect that you are ready to be singularly committed to us. If you want to date as the world dates, be aware you are engaging in a cruel sport. The whole concept of Let me lead you to believe that I’ve picked you when actually I’m just using you to meet my needs until something better comes along is actually pretty unkind.
3. Don’t leave us guessing about your intentions.
Imagine our female brains like a pie chart. When we don’t know where we stand in relationships, a large portion of the pie is consumed with trying to figure this out, leaving much less room for all the other important things in our lives. At each stage of the game, even if it seems awkward, we really want to know where we stand with you. It’s really ok to tell us, ‘I don’t plan to get married’ or ‘I am exploring a relationship with someone else right now’ or ‘I’m very interested in you and really want to take our friendship to the next level.’ Please make sure your words and your actions are consistent with your intentions. Don’t tell us how devoted you are to us while you’re posting pictures of yourself with a different woman every week on Facebook. By the same token, don’t tell us you just want to be friends and then call or message us every night because you’re feeling lonely or wanting female validation. Be honest with yourself. If you feel the need to connect daily or hourly with a woman who you can share all the intimate details of your life with, you don’t just want a friend, you want a wife. Which brings me to…
4. Don’t lead us to a place of intimacy if you have no intention of making us your wife.
We know it’s not ok to go to a place of physical intimacy with you outside of marriage. But guys, when you flirt or ‘connect’ with us on levels that are emotionally and romantically intimate, you are still putting our hearts at great risk. Because God wired us to want that even more than sex, it’s nearly impossible for us not to respond to it. And how we usually respond is by giving you access to the deepest places in our heart that should be reserved exclusively for our husband. When we discover, especially later in the game, that you never had any intentions of putting yourself in that role, it can cause us significant grief. Remember, if it is gratifying to you but costly to us, it is never Christ-like.
5. Don’t dishonor us by ‘keeping your options open.’
One of the reasons I refuse to engage in online dating, even the Christian version, is that I hate the idea of just being one of many options a man might be entertaining as he shops for a mate. Like, how many other women has he ‘added to his cart’ besides me? Thanks to technology, we are very aware that your options are unlimited these days. We can’t compete with all that is available to you at the touch of a screen and frankly, we don’t want to.
Guys, nothing makes a woman feel more common or ordinary than to discover she is just one of many options you are pursuing. On the other hand, nothing makes a woman feel more honored than knowing you have eyes only for her and are committed to loving her with everything you’ve got. The fact that you have kept yourself away from physical, emotional, and even visual entanglements with other women so you can offer her the special gift of your WHOLE self allows her to rest in this security: that if you were faithful to her before you even met, then you really can be trusted to be faithful once you are married.
Guys, God knows you get bombarded daily with temptation. Many of you live alone and long for companionship. If you’re a single dad, you may be away from your kids a lot too, which makes it even harder. And you’re probably not thrilled about having to do your own laundry and dishes. Not to mention the physical urges. Part of you probably feels entitled to go find a woman and use her at some level to ‘take the edge off.’ You think no one understands. But Jesus does. He lived on his own as a man and was somehow able to keep himself pure, never violating a woman physically or emotionally, always intent on taking on the role of her protector and leading her in a way that would make her feel safe and bring out the best in her.
Could women say this is true of you? If not, don’t beat yourself up. The whole purpose of a heart check is to admit where you fail and let God correct you. Even if you’ve blown it up to this point, the good news is, your past does not have to disqualify you from this vision. On this side of the cross, through grace, we are all declared pure and are capable of having a relationship with one mate that is faithful and true and marked by honor. But it will not come without sacrifice. Are you willing to deny yourself the pleasures of careless flirting or ‘befriending’ attractive girls? Will you say a decisive no to all the sexual gratification options that the world is ambushing you with and wait, possibly years, just to prove to one woman (who you may or may not have met yet) that you are trustworthy and true? Will you really ‘lay down your life’ and your own needs to honor hers?