“I’m pursuing her,” says the skinny-jeans wearing Christian male when speaking of a girl whose photo he just liked on instagram. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, some would say it’s the commonly accepted colloquialism within the overly intentional Christian community to express romantic interest, or something like that. I’ve heard it a hundred times but never really questioned its meaning until the other day while watching “The Hunt,” a Planet Earth spin-off on Netflix with a sole focus on animals eating other animals. Pursuit seems to mean a strikingly different thing on the plains of Africa compared to the modern dating scene. A cheetah pursuing a gazelle is one creature attempting to prolong it’s life by consuming another. A 23 year old male recently home from a jaunt across Europe insta-stalking or Bumble hunting is far less primal…. right? When we say “I’m pursuing her,” do we even know what we mean? Maybe you do, which makes you higher minded than I, but either way, I think it’s worth a second thought to not only deconstruct the phrase, but also question how we go about dating as a whole.

The concept of “pursuit” is intrinsic to the male psyche. We like to catch. We like to chase. Is this really what I want to do with a girl? Maybe in some sort of weird instinctual way, but I would hope my own behavior is influenced by something other than base carnal desire. However, in our weaker moments this is how we operate, at least I do. I want her, the object of my pursuit, to fall for me. To like me. To know me. To want me. These may not be inherently evil desires, but if they are the motivation for my pursuit all I am pursuing is my own satisfaction. It’s consumption. I am pursuing another human, another creature made in the image of the living God, to meet my needs and add to the quality of my life. And even more than that, if dating is the potential path to marriage, we risk setting a foundation of conditional and self-serving affection underneath what most would accept as the penultimate life-long human relationship. That’s heavy. I don’t want to set up a marriage like that, and I’ll go ahead and assume you don’t want to either. If we know we should leave the ideas and impulses of consumption behind, where do we go?

I think it starts with redefining “success” in the dating realm. So often we count success as a text back, a “yes” to a date, or the magical time she initiates conversation. This idea of success drives us to behavior aimed at convincing the object of our affections that we are worthy of their affections as well. To simplify, we just want to be liked back. Sure, we do things that overtly care for her like buying that $5 pour-over coffee, sharing the latest thought-provoking podcast, or shelling out half-hearted compliments via text, but are these really pure hearted? If success is merely being wanted, if not careful we find ourselves manipulating our own behavior to gain approval. The faux-self we present can quickly become something far from who we even are. If affection is ever actually reciprocated, it is not affection for us but for a facade we created. We have now denied our true self the very thing we set out to pursue.

Clearly, we need a new definition of success in dating. Let’s stop pursuing affection or approval and aim for what’s life-giving to you and her. What if we defined success in dating as creating honest and inviting space for each of you to experience who the other is? We could walk into a free trade coffee shop, or artisan charcuterie boutique, and engage in thoughtful conversation with the other across from us seeking to know the intrinsic beauty they carry as any and all humans made by God do. This simple act of creating space to know the other is mutually affirming for you and her. It is no longer hunting for affection. It is obediently living out who God has made you to be, even within dating. The internal question shifts from “Did she like me?” to “Did I earnestly seek to know her, and did I allow her to know me?” If we pursue this, when mutual affection does come it no longer carries the baggage of image presentation and facade. It is honest and giving, with space to selflessly care for the other. Marriage is ultimately two people choosing to give themselves away to each other, not using the other to meet your needs. Let’s begin all dating relationships with this in mind, giving ourselves by knowing and being known, even on date one. The thing is we can’t side step our need for approval, belonging, and acceptance through surface level manipulation or brute will power. The only means of dating without the desire for acceptance shading our behavior is through our deepest and most eternal needs being met most fully in Jesus. It’s simple, but when pressed into allows for a freedom to receive acceptance or rejection without twisting or shaking your core identity. If Jesus is your ultimate end, you no longer need the girl with the Hebrew wrist tattoo to accept your repeated advances. But if she does, you are now free to let her know who you really are. There’s no more hiding. You can buy her that pour-over coffee now without it being a roundabout way of meeting your own needs. Go pursue.