I got a Facebook message a few years back from a guy I kind of knew, a good Catholic man who was friends with a lot of my friends. “We should hang out and get to know each other better,” he said. “Want to go get coffee or a beer some time?”
Now, when a man comes out of nowhere to ask a woman he barely knows out for drinks, it’s generally assumed that it’s a date. But at this point in my life, I’d just determined that I was going to enter the convent (though I hadn’t yet told anybody). So I knew I couldn’t go on a date with this guy.
The trouble was he didn’t actually say date. And while I could have said no to a date, I couldn’t really say no to hanging out with a guy I was kind of friends with. I couldn’t respond to his message with, “Sorry, I’m not dating right now,” since he hadn’t asked me on a date. And I couldn’t say, “No, I don’t hang out with men,” because that’s strange.
So I said yes. I got there early and bought my own coffee. There was no chemistry. When I mentioned that I’d like to see a hockey game and he suggested that we go together, I changed the subject. When he said he had fun and would like to do it again, I changed the subject. I was sending as many signals as I could without rejecting an offer that hadn’t technically been made.
He called a few days later and asked if I wanted to hang out again. I emailed and told him I was pretty busy until the new year (it was mid-November). I hoped that was obvious enough,1 but in January he casually emailed to say he was going to the ballet and would I like to tag along. I’d had enough of subtlety, so I just bit the bullet and was straight with him:
“I’m sorry if I’m misreading things,” I said awkwardly, “but I’m not dating right now. If you’re doing something in a group, I’d love to join y’all, but I’m not interested in a relationship.”
My awkward email was met with an awkward response in which the poor man apologized if he had made me uncomfortable. As far as I can remember, we never really spoke after that.
I found the whole experience so frustrating. If he had asked me on a date, I could have told him I wasn’t interested and it all would have been done. No awkwardness, no games, no confusion. I was convinced long before this, but the experience cemented my position: guys need to man up and use the word date.2
Stop texting for weeks on end without making any kind of commitment. Stop hanging out solo without clarifying your intentions. Save her (and her girlfriends) from the hours of analysis of your every text and casual comment and tell her where you stand:
“I think you’re lovely.3 Could I take you on a date? Maybe this Saturday?”
The cards are on the table and your head is on the chopping block. I understand that. I get that in being clear about your heart you’re offering it to her to break. But consider this: your purpose as a man isn’t to get women, much though society might disagree. Your purpose as a man is to honor the women in your life. To love God and neighbor, of course, but particularly to guard the hearts of women. JPII put it this way: “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” And I can tell you that every man who’s asked me on a date—even if I said no—made me feel more beautiful and more worthy of love.
Consider that for a minute. When you ask a woman out, you’re risking rejection, and that is a hard thing to risk. But even if she rejects you, she becomes more aware of her value. She finds herself holding men to a higher standard. I think that’s worth the pain.
In 21st century America, you don’t meet a lot of damsels in distress. Men don’t get the opportunity to put on armor and fight for women physically. But the women in your life are under attack every moment of every day and they need you to fight for them. In the way you talk to them and about them and the way you look at them—the way you look at women in real life and the way you look at women on the internet4—you can fight for the women you love so much. By standing up to the guys who give men a bad name, by refusing to join their ranks, you are a warrior for your wives and daughters and mothers and friends. One way you can do this is by risking rejection to treat them with honor, to avoid games and weakness and commit yourself. Use the word date.
And ladies, please, please if a man has the courage to ask you on a date, be kind. My rule when I was on the dating scene was that I would give any man who wasn’t wildly objectionable one date. One date, I figured, was an opportunity to see if we might be compatible; it was not a preamble to a proposal. You might not feel comfortable saying yes to a date, but say no kindly. Tell him you’re flattered but you’re not interested. Thank him for his courage. Don’t tell everyone you know. Don’t lead him on. Do not tell him you’re not looking for a relationship if you’re just not into him. Recognize the sacrifice he’s making in putting his heart out there and honor him for that.
Gentlemen, I really think it’s a win-win for you. You’re either going on a date with a beautiful lady or you’re a hero with a few battle scars. During my years and years of being “ugly” and “unloved,” there were a few guys who had the guts to ask me out instead of just dancing around the issue. Because the Lord was protecting me from myself, I wasn’t interested in most of the men who asked.5 But each time I said no, I felt like maybe I was lovable, like maybe I wasn’t too ugly and too loud and too abrasive and too worthless. I think about those guys sometimes. I’m so grateful to them, and even to the ones who couldn’t quite muster the courage to use the word date—they patched together some of the shreds of my self-esteem and handed it to me with their sacrificial love.
If there’s a woman you’re interested in, gentlemen, stop beating around the bush. Stop “talking” or making sure she’s invited when your friends go out. Stop conspiring to show up where you know she’ll be. Suck it up and take a risk. Ask her on a date. She deserves it. So do you.
- Guys, if a girl says vaguely that she’s busy for the next month and a half, she’s probably not interested. [↩]
- There’s no official Church teaching that men should be doing the asking. It’s just my opinion. Having asked quite a few guys out in my day (and seen it done), I’m convinced that it’s not good for a woman’s heart. A woman needs to know that she’s worth pursuing and a man needs to know that he has what it takes to win her. Not to mention the fact that women read meaning into every touch and pause and preposition and we just make ourselves crazy when we’re debating asking a guy out. Y’all are welcome to be far more liberated and modern than I’ve become in my old age and defy all gender roles. But whoever’s doing the asking, someone needs to take the risk and use the d-word. [↩]
- great/cool/fascinating/whatever doesn’t sound awkward to you [↩]
- Pause for men and women in the audience to be struck by horror at their use of pornography and go get help. [↩]
- Seriously, when I fall, I fall hard. In retrospect, I think God was protecting me in making me perpetually single. I could easily have stumbled into marriage simply because a reasonable guy happened to be interested. [↩]