The questions women and men don’t ask but should.

Jordana met Jeremy at summer camp. They were 14. They met again in eleventh grade at a Halloween party in lower Manhattan. She wore a tail, he wore fangs. “I’ve missed you,” he whispered. They kissed.

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This, Jordana wrote in a New York Times essay that published last week, sparked the start of their ambiguous relationship — several years of “sporadic affection” but no explicit profession of feelings. No commitment. No labels.

Neither “dared to raise the subject of what we were doing or what we meant to each other,” she wrote. “… But now, more than three years after our first kiss … I’m still not over the possibility of him, the possibility of us. And he has no idea.”

She continued:

My father can’t understand why I won’t tell Jeremy how I feel. To me, it’s simple. As involved as we’ve been for what amounts to, at this point, nearly a quarter of my life, Jeremy and I are technically nothing, at least as far as labels are concerned.

So while I teeter between anger with myself for not admitting how I feel and anger at him for not figuring it out, neither of us can be blamed. (Or we both can.) Without labels to connect us, I have no justification for my feelings and he has no obligation to acknowledge them.

This is the part of Jordana’s essay at which my heart pounded. What she wrote resonated. I get it, because I think may I have my own version of a Jeremy. A dude with whom there is something unexpressed but nothing defined and I have done nothing about it. I think I have had a few Jeremies.

I think I am part of a culture, or maybe a generation, of women who only want to date dudes who pursue us before they know for sure that we want them to. We have learned to prefer men who “don’t need” us to communicate over men who need (or even want) us to. We have valued relationships that start without a push more than relationships that start after a push.

But why do we want men to pursue us before they know for sure that we want them to? Is it because men are only good who pursue us with confidence despite the ambiguity of our signals, or because rom-coms and chick flicks convince us that that’s how it’s supposed to be?

And why do we prefer men who “don’t need” us to communicate over the men who need us to? Is it because men are only worth dating who can intuit our desires to connect with them, or because we are resistant to vulnerability?

And why do we not value relationships that start after a push? Is it because a man’s interest in us can’t be authenticated if we’ve encouraged him to express it, or because our willingness to encourage has been corroded by a fear of rejection or a sense of entitlement?

We are hesitant to tell a man with whom we have something unexpressed what we are thinking or feeling. Maybe we are afraid to jeopardize what we already have with a guy, like Jordana wrote that she was. Or maybe we are influenced by old dating books that said girls gotta sit around and wait for a boy to initiate a pursuit. Sometimes I wish I had never watched a romance movie. Those things will mess with your head, get you to expect actual men to do what men do in movies.

We are hesitant to tell each other what we are thinking or feeling even if what we are thinking is “I’d date you — I’d discern marriage with you.” Marriage, which notoriously fails when the people who are part of it don’t tell each other what they are thinking and feeling. So we are hesitant to hone the skills we’ll need when we get married.

Are we influenced by gender role stereotypes? The ones that perpetuate the myth that women are supposed to express feelings and men aren’t, until they like each other. Then she is supposed to wait until he expresses something. She is supposed to wait despite the culture that has surrounded him his whole life that has told him that he isn’t supposed to express himself.

I long have thought that most of us — whether female or male — probably know perfectly well who is into us and who isn’t. We just know. But some of us avoid doing anything with that, out of fear, or because it’s not mutual. Others of us deny it. We don’t trust our guts. We think our abilities to infer what other people imply are unreliable.

But explicit expression of feelings and thoughts has been so vilified that we just infer and imply in secret instead. We create conditions favorable for Jeremies, for something unexpressed, conditions under which nobody asks the questions that Jordana and Jeremy never did — the questions women and men don’t ask but should: What are we doing, and what do we mean to each other?

Maybe it is time for us to change that.

Click here to read Jordana’s essay, “No Labels, No Drama, Right?” in full.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Perhaps it’s something innate that keeps us from taking the plunge, or better yet, our guardian angel, or the Holy Spirit, keeping us from making a mistake. When it’s right – nothing – not even cultural norms will keep the questions and communication at bay that would stop the “love of our lives” that God wants for us. Just a thought.

  • John Morgan

    Since she lost her innocence and underwear on a particular football weekend to a man who was not her husband, I’m not sure how she’s qualified to definine any relationship for anybody. She does, though, seem to represent the women today who like to play the field: “We don’t crave attachment to just one man. We keep our options open. We’re in control.”

  • Lindsay

    The key word is confidence.

    We want a man to risk rejection – to put himself on the line – to ask us out and pursue us. It’s not about reading minds or picking up on our signals. It’s wanting him to say “I like her enough to take a chance.” If he isn’t confident enough to ask me on a date (just a date!!!), then will he be brave, willing to take risks, and confidently lead at work, in his relationships, in his church, and/or with his future family?

    Bottom line: Women value confidence in men.

    • lucylwrites

      I rarely sign in to up vote things, but I will up vote this. This kind of confidence is exactly what I’m looking for in a man.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      So my questions would be these:

      — Did the culture/church produce many men in our generation who have the kind of confidence you value in men? (I can’t answer that myself until I’ve had more time to process.)

      — If not, should we do something about it? (And if so, what?)

      • Durendal Virtu

        Why is the 1960’s paradigm of all is “cultural/social” the only possible framework? Is it not possible that generally speaking, women’s desire is wired to be desired, to be pursued, to be the beloved and men’s is wired to be the pursuer, the one who desires, the one who loves? And from our faith, certainly God, who defines himself predominantly as a masculine force, and certainly his son, Jesus, is a man, who pursues and initiates the relationship with his bride, the Church, who is referred to as female (same roles as with God and Israel). Is it not stamped into who we are?

        As to why men hesitate, that’s because of opportunity costs. For a man to get married, he makes a lot of sacrifices for very little in return, at least right now. Not so for women (at least right now). Whenever the arrangement isn’t equitable for both parties, the one who doesn’t like the agreement pulls away from commitment. Right now, the imbalance is now on the men’s side and thus more men are backing away or are becoming extremely picky. Now is a time where equilibrium is trying to reassert itself so expect a lot of disappointment as it seeks the middle.

        As for confidence, I’d say no, neither the culture nor the church has produced men of confidence. If anything, both have done the opposite. Most men lack confidence and also lack a properly ordered masculinity. It was not taught. Patrimony has been dead for a while in the West, probably since WWII scared the heck out of them. Confidence in men is attractive for many good reasons; it signals options, better probability of success, good genes, sound mind, playfulness, etc. Confidence in women tends to signal better emotional control and lack of neuroticism, two things we see men complain about when it comes to women.

        But who is teaching men and women of the coming generations how to be such confident men and women? No one. To do so would be insulting to our overly sensitive sensibilities and sentiments. The zeitgeist is to just be yourself and demand that people accept you as such, rather than to be the best version of yourself and ask the culture to help you in doing so.

      • John Morgan

        I don’t think real men are produced by either church or culture. They’re produced by conforming to the image of Christ. As far as confidence, I think a lot depends on how confidence is defined. More often than not, the world defines it as sexual prowess. The man is expected to be an animal on the prowl, ready at any time to prove his manhood, ready to strut around like a rooster at any sign of a female within hearing/seeing range, and ready to pursue. How the world defines confidence today has little to do with his confidence in Christ. Plus, I don’t think it’s biblical to value a man based solely on his ability to pursue a woman. Isn’t there more to a man that that? How would Christ’s confidence level be rated while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood?

    • Vince Mazzola

      Lindsay, I think your comment brings up a valid point. I wonder though, what if the roles where reversed? If a woman likes to feel that a man has enough confidence to ask her out, doesn’t a man have that right too? Does this imply that the man should generally be the more confident of the two sexes when it comes to asking someone out?

      • Lindsay

        Yes, I think you’re right. Confidence is attractive both ways. 🙂

        • Vince Mazzola

          Thanks for the feedback Lindsay.. God Bless..

    • caribou1

      I know this is old thread. But just want to add; yes women value confidence in men…often though they confuse arrogance or bravado for confidence and thats why many women end up with loud air heads as the significant other.

      PS: Men value women who confident as well – I simply do not buy the line that 100% of the responsibility of initiating relationships lies with men. Women can initiate and they can send out signals as long as those signals are sent with the intent to let men know their interested vs manipulative reasons(which does happen)

  • Val

    You know, that’s a very interesting thought. I always wanted a man that pursues me, but after reading your article I started checking my motives and I found that I want a man to pursue me (and not the other way back) because:
    – I’m afraid of rejection
    – I’m afraid that, even if we start a relationship, the fact that he didn’t pursue me first indicates that he is not that interested in me, at least not as interested as he was in other girls, the ones he pursued.
    I don’t know, they don’t seem good motives to me, but the idea of expressing interest first is scary.

  • caribou1

    I hope this is in context or relevant to above column:
    As someone who knows more people in non-married living together arrangements (sadly) than married arrangements I have noticed a labeling trend. Not sure if I’m on to something or it just my sensibility, but they all refer to the “other” consistently by their first name. In a married couples I occasionally to frequently hear the other referred to as “wife” or “husband” and just those words have a weight or significance to them. The living-together people never refer to the other as “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” either and it all just comes across as an arrangement without commitment or affection or love or anything meaningful its simply one of convenience. I find it perplexing that so many people have settled for this very weak “substitute” of marriage.

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