A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about submission, and since that time I have had some interesting conversations about it. In particular, I started talking with one of my friends about the role of submission in dating. He was asking my thoughts on the topic since submission is part of marriage, and dating is preparation for marriage–given those two presuppositions, is there such a thing as submission in dating? Unfortunately, there are hardly any resources on the subject, so I thought I would follow up the earlier post with some thoughts on the topic.
(And in case you want to read my original post about submission, you can check it out here)
First off, this is an issue that has tripped up many a young lady in the beginnings of a dating relationship. Because we desire a man to be a spiritual leader, some of us will simply hand over the reins and let him determine the direction right away. This can play out in a variety of ways, but in my experience it has led to major problems. The mistake I made was in trusting a man to lead me without taking the time to discern whether he was actually able to do so.
Some men simply aren’t spiritually mature enough to lead you or make wise decisions in their handling of the relationship. Because of this reality, it would be foolish to trust their judgment blindly without first learning whether or not their judgment is Christ-centered.
For instance, in the past I have entered into serious relationships pre-maturely, and walked down many other paths that I knew were dangerous to trod, all because I was following my boyfriend’s leading. I didn’t exercise any kind of real discernment because I thought that I was called to follow him.
With all of that in mind, submission is not entirely appropriate in dating. Dating is the period in which you determine whether or not to submit to a man in marriage. Prior to a marital commitment, you are discerning whether or not he is right for such a radical step of trust.
Granted, there is no man who will be perfect in that regard, but you should be sure to marry a man who will seek God in all areas of his life, including you and your future family. That is the kind of man you are wise in submitting to, but that is not information that you can know with certainty right away. For that reason, it is important that you guard your heart, especially at the beginning.
Now all of this is not to say that the man shouldn’t be a spiritual leader in a dating relationship. On the contrary, he should. BUT, the leadership must be exercised in ever-increasing stages. At first, the man should take the lead in the logistical parts of dating–initiating time together, expressing his intentions, and doing these things in a way that honors you.
Gradually, he should start taking more spiritual and emotional leadership (ie. praying together, reading Scripture together, asking you about your faith, as well as talking about your feelings, long-term commitment, etc.). However, this stage should be done very carefully because women are far more emotionally influenced by spiritual intimacy, so it could usher the relationship into a serious commitment rather quickly.
Now here’s the catch–although the man should be doing all of these things, it is the women’s choice as to whether she will follow. Ladies, this is very important, because it is not your prerogative to follow his leadership if you are not yet sure of his character. In the same way that you wouldn’t go out with a random guy you met in a bar simply because he asked, you don’t need to follow every single suggestion you receive from the guy you’re seeing if you don’t know the source of his judgment.
You see the reason a man should lead in a dating relationship is two-fold. The first is the most obvious–it is preparation for marriage. If he’s not a leader before marriage, he certainly won’t be a leader in marriage. But the second reason that a man should be exercising leadership is that he is demonstrating whether or not his leadership is trustworthy. If he is consistently dependable, thoughtful, and strong, then a woman can trust his leadership because he is earning credibility through his actions. The longer he demonstrates these attributes, then the more she can actively defer to his leadership. This progression of increasing trust will continue all the way into marriage.
If, on the other hand, his decision making is inconsistent or reckless, then you need to be guarded. Don’t follow him simply because he’s a man, but instead exercise discernment. If you reach a point at which you simply cannot trust his leadership, and enough time has passed to make an informed decision, then the relationship needs to end.
In addition to these practical points, there is one final element that sticks out in my mind on the topic of submission. Marital submission is meant to reflect the Church’s relationship to Christ–the Church submits to a king who laid his life down for her. In that instance, submission is freedom.
Having established that, submission in dating is somewhat inappropriate because it requires you to submit to someone who hasn’t laid himself down for you. When you submit to someone in a dating relationship, you engage in a kind of intimacy that was only designed for marriage. The cross teaches us that intimacy and sacrifice go hand in hand, so it is only when a couple professes to lay down their lives for one another that their intimacy reflects the intimacy we have in Christ.
Again, it’s important to let your boyfriend take the lead at some point. Don’t follow him blindly, but if he has earned your trust then don’t fight his leadership–embrace it. For some women, this is more of a heart issue than a guy-specifc issue. Many of us struggle with the concept of submission, simply because we want to be in control. There is, however, a healthy middle ground between blindly following and jaded guardedness. No, there isn’t an airtight formula, but if you prayerfully search your heart in this process, as well as seeking godly counsel, then God will surely direct your steps in this messy, messy business that is Christian dating.