The Kill Switch and the Steering Wheel

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Dear Darla,

So in my last letter, I concluded with a reference to you meeting a genuine prospect, and I believe I even used the word “eventually.” And now your mother has informed my wife that this may have happened. So . . . what’s his name? My only concern here is that it not be Murgatroyd. That should be a deal breaker.

So, as you are already corresponding with your favorite uncle, I take it that you are not averse to a little avuncular advice. When you are all by yourself, unattached, “boys” as a topic is kind of out there in the abstract. And when you are married, Scripture sets down a very clear pattern for life between the sexes. But how are you supposed to behave when a guy has asked you out a few times? “What are the rules?”

There used to be shared cultural standards for dating and courtship, but those are largely gone now. This has been a function of the sexual revolution, the invention of the automobile, the sheer number of people in the country, the result of various subcultures jostling around, and different movements and fads within the church, which in their turn have led to different emphases that different families have. And so there you are, wondering what the expectations are. Don’t worry. For you right now, they reduce to just a few principles.

I heard that this fine young gentleman has already called your dad, and has been given certain parameters by him. And I trust that your father has also talked to you about various challenges that I touched on in earlier letters—the need for guarding your heart, not daydreaming, and so on. That’s all good, and if you want to, it might be helpful if you went back and reread those letters.

But here are some fresh observations for you, given the new circumstance you are in. I have one central thing for you this time, although I am sure there will be enough for a few more letters later.

This topic has to do with realizing that this young man you are going out with has no actual authority over you. He is taking you to a restaurant, and that does not make him your head. But at the same time, if the relationship gets a bit more serious, both you and he need to be mindful of the fact that he is “trying out” for the part of becoming your head. So how do you treat him in the interim? Before there is a covenant, you are the final authority over whether there is even going to be a relationship at all. After a covenant is made, he becomes the final authority in the relationship. And navigating that transition can be pretty tricky.

So supposing that you like his company, and that he likes yours, as indicated by the fact that he asked you out again, what are you to do? First, do not try to control the pace of the relationship. What I mean is this. Do not, on your seventh date, say anything like, “So, where are we in all this?” That’s a perfectly reasonable question (at some point anyway), provided your dad asks it. So the issue is not whether you need that information (you might well need it), but rather the question is whether you are in charge of extracting it. You are not.

When a guy asks a girl out, whether it is for a first date, or for the twentieth date, she can say yes, or she can say no. That is fully her prerogative. What she shouldn’t try to do is get control of the agenda, and then try to chair the meeting. But she is in charge of whether or not there is even going to be a meeting. She determines that by saying yes or no. But the fact that you have the kill switch does not mean that you should have the steering wheel. And many girls make that mistake. Let him have the steering wheel, and if he needs help steering, involve your dad. You should just sit in the passenger seat, looking cute.

So once the meeting (i.e. the date) starts, she shouldn’t be asking him questions like, “What am I? Your girlfriend? Your movie buddy? Your sister’s friend? Your future fiancé? Talk to me, Murgatroyd.”

If she feels like he is dragging his feet—and lots of guys do that—or is dithering somewhat—and guys do that too—and she would like the relationship to get a little more forward momentum going, then she should exercise this prerogative of hers that I just mentioned. She should just say no.

It is up to her whether or not she gets into the car on the passenger side. She doesn’t have to go with him. But if she goes with him, having gotten in on the passenger side, she shouldn’t try to steer.

Now if she says no, he of course is going to ask why, and she should say “well, it is not my place to tell you how to run your affairs.” And he will say, “But I really want to know. Did I say something wrong? Are you mad at me?” And you should smile and say of course you are not mad, but you don’t want to grab the steering wheel of anything, and if he really wants to know more, he should talk to your dad about it. And he will ask, “Are you breaking up with me?”

Now this is the million dollar question that you really wouldn’t know how to answer. You don’t know if you are breaking up as an item because you do not yet know if you even are an item. That is why you felt enormous internal pressure, over that coffee, to say, “Hey. Are we an item?” That is you taking the initiative, you taking the lead, you taking the position of the head. Don’t do it.

If he asks you to go with him, and you want to, then go with him. If he asks you to go, and you don’t want to, then don’t go. But . . . and here is where the rub comes in . . . what if he is the kind of guy that you would like to go out with if only you had some idea of where you were going? If a girl is attracted to a guy, and he is showing some interest, she hates ambiguity. She hops in the car, but without knowing if it is going to be Italian at some restaurant, and back home again, or a cross-country road trip, with forever at the end of it.

A long series of aimless, non-teleological hang out sessions is fun and all, but it gets old quick. But guys like the companionship of a pretty girl, and they can get comfortable with an undefined relationship more readily than a girl can. If that starts to happen, he is content and she is exasperated. So in this I am not telling you how to break up with him—I am telling you how best to avoid the kind of exasperation that might result in you breaking up with him when you didn’t really want to.

So if, under these circumstances, he does call your dad, you might want to know what your dad should say. That should be simple and straightforward. “Darla is reluctant to go out with anyone aimlessly. She likes you very well, but thinks that just hanging out doesn’t have enough direction to it.”

Now of course, your father may already have anticipated this problem, and headed it off. He may have told Buster that he was free to take you out five times or so, and then after that they would need to have a talk about where this was going. That is probably the best approach, at least for my money. But if he didn’t do that, you can just hand it right back to your dad anyhow. He won’t mind. And five dates seems about right.

Your father is in a position to talk to him about the pace and direction of the relationship without you looking like you are “seizing the reins.” And when doing something like this, you really are wielding authority, but you are doing it in a feminine way.

Say that a woman had three suitors, and they all wanted to marry her. She is deciding between them, but in doing this she is deciding who is going to be her head and her authority—but she is the one making the decision.

“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

1 Cor. 7:39 (KJV)

If this woman referred to in 1 Corinthians marries a particular man, then she would be called, by the standards of Scripture, to be submissive and obedient to that man. But she is the one who makes the selection. The metaphor might be off-putting to some, in these our feminist times, but a marriage is a little kingdom and the husband is a little king. Once married, he is the king of that little kingdom, and his decisions have real authority. But the woman has true authority also. She is in charge of the line of succession, and she is in charge of the coronation. If a man proposes to a woman, and she turns him down flat, it is her authoritative decision that results in him being “not a king.”

The challenge for you will be to wield that kind of authority, in the right place, and in the right way, without becoming the kind of woman who mistakenly believes that this makes her the king. No. But if you select the right kind of man, you will be the queen, which is what you were made for.

Your uncle,