Thinking with You
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Strong, Cynical & Alone

In our culture these days, it’s become common for women of all ages to feature in direct leadership roles across all industries.  We don’t think twice about a woman being a CEO, school principal, or politician, nor do we think it unusual or wrong for a woman to lead men in a professional setting.

This has of course infiltrated church life, with many women holding lay leadership positions that require them to lead groups or teams of both men and women.  It’s quite normal for young women to be organising men of all ages in arranging events, recruiting volunteers, and scheduling rosters. 

Furthermore, the buzz words of our generation are centred around leadership, and regularly invite women to assess their ‘ministry gifting’, ‘leadership style’, ‘personality type’ and ‘calling’.  Particularly in school and uni these days, women are strongly encouraged to forge their own paths and to try to rise to the top of every field.  So women these days have no problem ‘manning up’ and taking the reins.

But when you throw a romantic relationship into the mix, the cracks can start to appear.  It’s not easy for a woman to lead herself and lead others 24/7 for years on end, then all of a sudden to have to ‘clock off’, get out of the driver’s seat, and stop bossing a man around (let alone let him lead her).  

If this resonates with you, perhaps you are a girl with a ‘leadership gifting’.  This probably just means that you are highly intelligent and have a strong personality type and/or moral convictions, with decent social skills.  (I’ll post on personality types soon.)  Think about it – if you think faster and more practically than most, can see the big picture due to your experience and knowledge, are charismatic and inclusive, and care deeply about something – chances are, you are going to end up being some sort of leader.   

This is a bit of a poisoned chalice for a single woman.  For starters, every man in your context sees you as a boss – a ball-buster, a schoolmarm, a mother.  These do not inspire romantic feelings in any man.  On top of that, and possibly worse, is that you may have developed a sense of entitlement, self-sufficiency, and pride.  For example, do you and your girlfriends sit around commenting on specific men you know, with disdain and contempt?  Do you run around cleaning up after certain men that you lead, because you feel they are a bit useless?  Do people tell you that you’re cynical, and too picky?  Do people suggest certain men in your world for you to date, and you give a mocking laugh and say, ‘Oh please.’  (Speaking from experience.)  

What’s really happening here is that you’ve had to (or learned to) rely on and trust yourself so much, that you no longer want to risk being vulnerable.  When you’re young, you are vulnerable and you can’t do much about it.  You have very little social capital, you’re poor, and you’re not that smart.  But when you’re older, you’ve got a lot more social status and confidence in yourself.  Risking that on a relationship with an unknown man who might turn out to be a dud, is really scary.

But you just have to choose to take that risk.  You have to choose to be vulnerable again and to jump in with both feet.  Sure, it’s terrifying.  So is sky-diving.  But if you don’t try, you definitely won’t succeed. 

Obviously there’s a level of wisdom necessary here. Go back and read my earlier posts which will give you some tips on how to know what to look for in a man. Don’t just date any old drifter who approaches you online. But you do need to be honest about your own fears - it’s tough giving someone else a chance - but no one is perfect and nothing is guaranteed, so that’s what you’ve gotta do.

Vulnerability in this area is about stepping back down the ladder of power that you’ve been climbing.  Just give someone a chance.  You never know what he might be capable of, with a little nudge of encouragement and a few well-placed forgivenesses.  Sure, you are strong.  So be alone, if you want.  But if you want a partner, you have to learn how to be weak again, in some ways, and to be a heck of a lot stronger than ever, in other ways. (Marriage is super hard and requires a great deal of maturity, wisdom and diplomacy.  That’s strength!)

Here’s the bottom line.  When girls say to me, ‘I’m such a strong person; how do I let a man lead?’  Well, by doing exactly that: let him lead.  It’s actually a conscious choice to allow a man to gently invite, encourage and provide for you.  That sounds lovely, doesn’t it.  Who wouldn’t want that? 

To reiterate, the deeper question these girls are asking is: ‘Can I trust him not to let me down?’  It’s a trust issue.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of you reading this have been let down by your dad (and/or your mum), another important parental figure in your life, or a male boss/friend/ex in the past.  You may have even been harassed or abused in some way. Your trust has been broken.  You’ve been vulnerable before, and been burned by it, and you don’t want to feel that way ever again – hence the walls you’ve put around your heart, and the measures you’ve put in place to ensure that you’re never left hanging, humiliated, or taken advantage of.  Well - I’m so sorry that happened to you, and it is really tough to come back from those kinds of situations and history.  But you can get healing, and it’s up to you to work through your trust issues. 

Because in a relationship, you will need to choose to trust a man, and he will still let you down.  He is human.  You just have to decide what level of ‘letting down’ you can live with.  How much do you want to be married?  You’re not going to get the perfect man – there’s no such thing.  So what can you give up, what can you live with, and what can you not live without? 

This is why the dating phase is so important, and why you can’t know if you could marry a man after the first coffee (or before!). You need to meet his family, his friends, see him at work, at church, watch how he handles stress and disappointment, conflict and rejection, success and power. Only this will show you his true colours. Let me say it again - no one is perfect. So you have to watch and decide on what you could live with. You WILL NOT get a perfect man with a perfect life. Get over yourself. You are not too good for everyone.

Be honest with yourself. Be selective. And be open. What are your absolute deal-breakers, and can you adapt?

I once dated a guy who was chronically late for everything – because he was extremely social and helpful, and was always busy chatting or helping someone fix their car.  Was it annoying?  Sure.  Was it a deal-breaker?  In retrospect, not really – I could have adapted to work around his lateness.  (There were other deal-breakers for me though, so that was a non-starter.) 

You might not marry the first guy you date, ladies! That’s ok. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. That’s why it’s important to keep ‘circulating the room’ at every event, and metaphorically speaking when you’re online. Just see what’s on offer out there.

And with all that said, I think the REAL issue at the very bottom of the ‘male leadership’ issue is that perhaps at the moment, no-one is offering to lead you anywhere.  If a man is pursuing you, he’s taking the lead.  Full stop.  All you have to do is give him a chance, and figure out your deal-breakers.  But if no-one is pursuing you, then of course you don’t feel led.  If you are always initiating things with men, waiting for them to respond, trying to analyse their (few) messages, looking for signs that he’s about to make a move – well, I’m sorry, but he’s just not that into you

That’s why I’m so adamant about dating rule #1: let him initiate.  Unless a man is pursuing you, you have ZERO CHANCE of being led by him!  You might say to yourself and your friends (as I did for many years): ‘There’s no strong guys around’ or ‘None of these guys are strong enough for me’ – but the truth is simply that ‘none of these guys are into me’.  It’s amazing how a man who seems shy, meek, insecure and lazy can all of a sudden rise up and pull himself together when he meets a woman he is really into.  It’s totally possible, and it happens all the time.  It’s just not happening for you, YET. 

So how do you show the men in your context that you want to be chosen, pursued and led?  How do you show them that you aren’t the ball-busting schoolmarm they see you as?

1.     Act like a lady.  Be feminine.  Wear lipstick.  Smile.  Let men take care of you.

2.     Appreciate their gestures of care-taking and leadership.  Admire them, thank them, and encourage them.

3.     Don’t act like you have it all together.  When asked, share some of your fears or weaknesses.  Allow a man to find the places in your life and heart that he could help to fill and to heal. 

4.     When they try to lead, follow.  Then say thank you.

And most importantly, you need to have your own safe place. That could be with your parents, older siblings, pastors or a trusted counsellor. You need to have somewhere where you can let it all hang out, be a mess, and be truly vulnerable and honest. Only then will you be able to keep the inner ‘softness’ alive, which is the main thing that attracts a man.

If your life requires you to be the strong one all the time, it’s quite unlikely that you’ll be able to let your guard down with a random new guy. (Or if you do, you may let it down too far and be totally desperate, clingy, and throw your self-respect out the window - a hot mess!) Get yourself a safe covering relationship to gird you up. Trust me, it’s vital. It’s only when you feel safe under someone else’s leadership that you can begin to feel safe under a romantic partner’s leadership. It’s weird, but true.