“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.