After my conversion--largely shaped by the future St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body audiences--but before my first serious relationship, I thought the “rules” of pursuit, along with men’s and women’s unique and complementary roles in it, were totally clear: men should pursue and initiate, and women should receive. It was simple, until it wasn’t.
The first time my now-husband Andrew asked me out, I said no. I’d recently ended a long relationship and knew I should take time to recharge spiritually and emotionally. At the time, we’d been friends for months, and I knew deep in my heart we would one day be married. He was perfectly understanding of my wanting to wait before we began dating, and said to tell him when I was ready.
None of my spiritual books had prepared me for this. The ball was squarely in my court, put there in a way entirely respectful and well-intentioned on my husband’s part. But I worried: I was more than comfortable having our feelings for each other out in the open, yet suddenly I was in the position of pursuing, rather than waiting to be pursued, as I discerned the proper time for us to date.
Conversion is a funny thing. It sweeps you up in divine romance, in all its goodness and beauty, then forces you to reconcile all that romance with reality.
In my case, I felt bound by the TOB-inspired nature of complementarity: as a woman, how could I tell this man I was ready to walk into what I hoped would be forever, without stepping outside the boundaries of what I thought was feminine?
As we began dating, that question of how to be feminine arose again during the times I wanted to take his hand first, the times I didn’t mind driving for our dates, and the times I wanted to treat him to coffee on my dining hall plan. Then, without my noticing, the questions started fading into the background. Simply as we settled into each other and forged an identity as a couple, an easiness and peace took over.
Like many goods that might initially seem like rules, the language of pursuit and complementarity now seems more to me, in reality, to be a roadmap to a flourishing relationship. At its root, pursuit is about freedom: allowing man and woman to each become more fully who they were created to be.
And while it’s true there are inherent and good differences between men and women, it’s also true each person is uniquely, unrepeatably made. The ways in which each of us lives out those differences speak to our individual strengths and virtues, and reality doesn't always fit neatly into spiritual boxes.
What I’ve come to realize, through the subtlety born of time and maturity, is that femininity doesn’t always mean always being the asked, never the asker; always the pursued, never the pursuer; always the comforted, never the comforter. It doesn’t mean being afraid to argue or voice strong opinions.
It means loving my husband, in his uniqueness, in the specific way only I can. Like any language, that of the complementarity between man and woman can feel foreign at times as you navigate the different seasons of your relationship and come to know the other more deeply. Through serious dating, followed by engagement and marriage, I’ve realized I should never take for granted that I’ve won my husband’s heart. He still deserves the best of me, and for me to express my love in the ways that speak most deeply to who he is.
Have you ever been in a situation like mine, overanalyzing the “man’s role” and “woman’s role” in your relationship? I encourage you to take the pressure off of yourselves. Simply by striving to give of yourselves and receive the other in the inherently unique ways men and women do so, you are living out your masculine and feminine identities. Make it a goal to be the best, most vulnerable, most honest version of yourself with your beloved, because when you’re living in the truth, you see who you really are--who you already were, all along.
Three weeks after he first asked, I was ready, at least for the moment, to put aside convention and go out into the deep. I sat on a bench outside our college library and asked Andrew to ask me out again. In that question, I wasn’t bound by rules; I was free. A true yes always is. "For freedom Christ set us free..."