Another View on Intentionality

“You never climb a mountain on accident: it has to be intentional.”
— Mark Udall

Intentionality in men is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in Christian dating circles but across the board as well. The basic premise is this: men ought to be up front about their intentions when approaching a girl for a dating relationship, and follow that up by treating her in that regard for as long as he is pursuing her. So far, so good. I will never fault a man for telling a woman, “I am attracted to you and I would like to take you out on a date.” (Maybe he should phrase it differently.) Too many men take a cowardly approach, and I’ve never seen cowardice on anyone’s list of attractors.
But I’ve been troubled by this notion for a while. Many of the bloggers advocating intentionality treat it as sweeping remedy for the all the ails of modern dating. This has long struck me as false, but I couldn’t articulate why. This morning I finally figured out how to put it in words. Three things about it bother me: 1) Intentionality is not the same thing as transparency; 2) focusing on it so much can mislead us into thinking that someone who’s not conforming to this model of intentionality is unworthy; and 3) Intentionality in itself is not sufficient, and it’s not what women actually want.
1) The blogosphere is making the suggestion that in order for a man to be intentional, he must lay out all his cards at the outset and be crystal clear every step of the way. I think this is wrong and can be harmful. I’ll allow that I’m unique in a lot of ways, but I’m fairly certain that most men are like me in that I often have doubts, struggles, and uncertainties. I often find myself attracted to more than one woman at once, and also for very different reasons. How much of this should be shared before a first date? On a first date? One of the basic rules of human conversation is that there is a limit to what you should share with a person as you are getting to know them. That is, your sharing should be commensurate with your intimacy. The intentionality advocates need to acknowledge this, since at the moment they are implying the contrary.
2) When we focus so much on a single personality trait, it is easy to cement in our minds what that trait will look like. These pictures are often false. So when we overhype intentionality, for example, we create an image of what it will look like – with no guarantee that it will be accurate – and we encourage the idea that people not conforming to that image are doing something wrong. None of us are starting in the same place, nor do we have the same obstacles to face. What might appear to a glance to be passive man could in reality be someone preparing himself with focus and vigor. It’s important we not assume we can tell the difference from afar.
3) If we understand intentionality correctly – doing things with a purpose in mind – then I think it in itself is a fine trait, but falls short of being what women really want. Women want men who are leaders. Intentionality is a component of leadership, yes. But mistaking it for leadership is like mistaking a roadmap for a car. Leadership is a cluster of traits: integrity, wisdom, patience, humility, and adaptability, among others. If a man is intentional but lacks any of those other traits, tragedy ensues. Ladies, do you want to date a man that is intentional but not patient, or lacks integrity, or is unable to adapt to life’s surprises?
What do you think? A post like this is designed to foster discussion, not to state an inflexible view. I’m really curious about your opinions.

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8 thoughts on “Another View on Intentionality

  1. I really appreciate your comments in part 1 about transparency and that, “sharing should be commensurate with your intimacy.” There are things in your past, values conversations, and aspirations that should definitely be brought up at some point, but I think that people put extraordinary amounts of pressure on relationships before they have the strength to bear up under them. Just as our peer to peer relationships go through stages with new information coming out at greater depths of intimacy (there are things my closest friends know about me that would scare the pants off of my newer, less-close friends), so to should dating relationships.

    Amanda and I did exploratory outings for a few months where we learned trivial facts about each other and surface background info. After that, we started dating exclusively and we started to discus values, a bit more of our histories, and developed inside jokes (this phase lasted almost a year). At this point, I knew I was going to marry her and started going in depth into some touchier areas and started talking about the potential of a future together (this courtship phase lasted about 6 months). By the time we actually got engaged and started pre-marital counseling, we were pretty much ready to be married (our pastor was amazed at how much in sync we were).

    When I see how much pressure some people put on their relationship after maybe a half dozen dates, I cringe. It took us at least a year to get there. Find more things to talk about! Have fun! Be honest, but don’t force the relationship to mature faster than it is meant to…

    -Dave

    • Those are some great thoughts, Dave. I think a lot of that stems from the clear patience you both had with each other — something that I’m sure is paying dividends in your marriage now. Thank you for your feedback!

  2. Hello – so I’ve read this post a few times, because I’m trying to understand where your reaction to the concept of intentionality is coming from. I guess, being a woman, I really only understand the woman’s perspective. Is this coming from different blogs, or messages from church or books? I ask, because I take issue with the comment that intentionality is not really what women want. As a woman, I don’t agree. To me, intentionality plays an important role because it helps a woman feel pursued. And we want to be pursued. I personally appreciate a man who knows what he wants and acts on it, being prudent but not overly cautious. I definitely agree that it’s not the panacea for contemporary dating models. But it’s really difficult for women when a relationship seems to just be meandering along with no direction. I don’t think that means putting all your cards on the table all at once. To me, it should be a step-by-step process occurring within the natural progression of a relationship.

    I also agree with your comment that intentionality is only a part of good leadership, that it is not the same as transparency and that the level of intimacy in a relationship should equal the level of transparency. Revealing too much too soon can put undue pressure on a relationship and/or lead a woman on (although, let’s be honest, we lead ourselves on sometimes with our wandering minds – but that’s on us to just take things step by step). But I have been on both ends of the spectrum, experiencing a man being too passive as well as a man being hyper-intentional. Neither situation ended well – to use your word, they both ended tragically. But there is hurt that comes from unmet expectations due to a man following some of the hyper-intentional dating models that were given to my generation in such books as “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” To be clear, I’m not dogging on Joshua Harris. But I think some of the ways I have seen his ideas applied have been disastrous, to say the least. I think that’s because some have taken the model of intentionality and have applied it first, without knowing themselves or asking what they really wanted or were ready for, and second they have applied it outside of the realm of grace by trying to do it perfectly apart from Jesus (His grace applies here too…).

    There was (is) an overemphasis on intentionality as a reaction against passiveness in men – we humans tend to do that. We tend to react against something we don’t like by doing the complete opposite – its the pendulum swing effect. But in the end, I believe women find it helpful when men are upfront about what they want in the relationship and don’t leave us guessing.

    • Morgan, thank you for your thoughtful reply. It is helpful to have a female perspective on this issue.
      My thinking on this issue comes from a lot of places: bloggers, Joshua Harris for sure (though I do credit him for helping me frame my one successful relationship), but the overwhelming source of inspiration comes from observing my friends. I know some men who feel obligated to bring up marriage on a first date …and can never seem to get a second. I’ve seen men waddle around purposelessly, hoping the lady will take the next step. And I’ve seen a man working very directly and purposefully to lay the foundation for a relationship only to see (false) concerns raised about his intentionality.
      (The blogosphere and Joshua Harris each raise my ire because they speak as though they have spiritual authority on this matter, but there is no biblical precedent for their ideas. Just a note.)
      I’m trying to figure out if your disagreement stems from me being unclear in what I said (always a possibility) or because you just think I’m wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that intentionality is not important. I just think leadership is more so, and intentionality is a component of leadership. You cannot lead if you have no direction in mind. So there is no leadership without intentionality. So in the sense that I believe women want leaders, I believe they want intentionality. But I don’t think women want intentionality without the other components of leadership. Do you disagree with this?
      I have a stray thought. Feel free to ignore or engage as you see fit. Some of the women I have spoken to on this issue have acknowledged that they like upfront, direct, “I’m interested, can we go out” approaches primarily because it gives them the power of rejection. Any thoughts there?

      • Thanks Steven, that was a helpful clarification. I think I just misunderstood where you were coming from (which I’m going to attribute to not really knowing you or your background very well). I like what you said about women wanting intentionality within the umbrella of leadership. I do agree with that.

        I also have to say the experiences you described are difficult (I especially feel bad for the guy who was trying to lay the foundation of the relationship and then was accused of not being intentional). To me, it sounds like the person questioning his intentions may have had unfair expectations, but again, I don’t know the whole story. Without knowing any of the specifics on any of the situations you mentioned, the only thing I can say to what you’ve described is that leadership and, under that umbrella, intentionality, aren’t always going to look the same for every couple, and that’s something more people need to embrace. I feel like this statement might seem like a cop out, but I do believe it’s true. The frustrating thing I find about Joshua Harris and the blogosphere that you talked about – their ideas on what Christian dating “should” look like is that they seem formulaic and exclusive, and relationships just aren’t that way – there are just too many variables when you take into consideration peoples specific personalities, preferences, temptations, etc. Jesus doesn’t expect my relationship with Him to look exactly like someone else’s. So why would I expect that of human relationships?

        Ok, so on to answer your last question. I am not entirely sure of the intentions of these women who like to have the power of rejection – I hope it isn’t malicious, but I feel like that’s a selfish reason to want a man to take that kind of initiative – at best, it’s self-protective in nature, at worst, it’s just mean. I realize I could be interpreting these women way wrong – so if I am please do correct me. That being said, I don’t agree with that perspective, and I would say that the posse of women I hang out with also would disagree with it. It’s my personal rule that if a guy has the balls to ask me out on a date, I’m going to say yes (unless there’s some sort of glaring red flag). I love it when a guy takes that kind of initiative. I respect him more for it. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, I think it’s good to give it a chance, because you never know. And maybe what drives that perspective for me is that I don’t want to make decisions based on the fear of getting hurt, and I don’t want a guy to do that either. Dating is hard, but it is my hope that when it works out and you find the person you can really do life with, it’ll be worth it. But it’s so easy to let fear rule a person when it comes to a potential relationship because it sucks to get your heart broken, and it also sucks to hurt others’ hearts (there’s no evidence that I’ve broken someone’s heart, but I have had to let a guy down and it is honestly just dreadful).

        This isn’t as well thought out as my first response, so if I’m not being clear on something let me know. And I have my own experiences, both joys and hurts, that have led me to these conclusions. I want to acknowledge that not everyone is like me, so my perspective won’t work for everyone. But I know it’s something God has been working on in me, so I stand by it.

  3. Alright, sorry another comment – my first response in saying that these women hold a selfish reason in terms of wanting a man to initiate – I need to qualify that by saying I don’t know these women, where they’re at in life, or what their past experiences have been. I don’t want to seem heartless towards them. But I do think that we as Christians are called work for the good of others, and I do not believe that seeking to gain any type of power over another person qualifies as working for the good of another. So there’s that…

    • Really great thoughts, Morgan. I can’t speak to their motives either. But I can say if more willing were as willing to say yes as you are, more men would be willing to take the initiative. That’s such a refreshing take. I appreciate it very much.

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