Proverbs 18:22 & Male Entitlement in Dating

Khristi Adams

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“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22 NKJ

I’ve heard this passage preached a lot at relationship conferences or as part of a sermon series on relationships and marriage in church on Sunday morning.

I understand the sacredness of the text and have always appreciated its context. While it’s a beautiful passage, the way it is sometimes preached has always been a little problematic to me, especially when the words “thing” and “obtains” are emphasized. I think the weight that has been placed on these themes influences the way some single Christian men approach women in the pursuit of relationships.

Historically under patriarchal systems, women were considered possessions where men traditionally controlled the lifestyles and sexuality of women. Unfortunately, this has been true of both secular and religious systems. Women were considered property, therefore were approached and regarded as such.

Fast forward to our post-millennial society.

The church has progressively transitioned from those oppressive systems, but the effects of patriarchy still manifest in a variety of ways.

In regards to the Proverbs 18:22 passage, how it has been communicated to women and men exhibits some of those undertones. One subtle way comes in the form of single men’s approach to single women in dating.

Most of the time I hear of & witness appropriate, intentional approaches by both men and women who are interested in one another. But at times I’ve also noticed behavior that is a little unsettling. Unfortunately I think it’s the result of teaching that emphasizes problematic themes in passages like Proverbs 18:22.

For example, entitlement can play a role when men receive the message that they need to “obtain” a “good thing” when it comes to dating the women they pursue.

Entitlement surfaces when a person feels they are owed something. Dictionary.com defines it as “to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something.” Synonyms for the word “entitlement” include privilege, license, due, prerogative, right, authorization.

I’m not saying that it is this way with all men and women, but from my own experiences and the experiences my friends and the women I counsel, single Christian men often approach women with an attitude of entitlement as opposed to an unpretentious disposition.

As a church we have conditioned men to “find” and women to “be found.”

We have commissioned men to “choose” and women to “be chosen.” These ideologies can show up in disturbing ways in approaches to dating.

I have witnessed this firsthand in my own dating life, noticing that there can be an aggressiveness with Christian men who present themselves to me as if it is my obligation to respond favorably to them merely because they are “good” and Christian and “fill in the blank with whatever other distinguishable qualities”.

If I don’t respond enthusiastically enough the response is somewhat like: “How dare you not give me the attention that I am warranted because I am choosing you and I have so much to offer.” Never mind the fact that compatibility, connection, appeal, and plain ole’ genuine friendship are important factors when a woman is deciding whether she would like to move forward in a relationship.

I don’t see that attitude as often with women. On the contrary, sometimes a women’s approach is more like “Please choose me and please notice that I am giving you attention because I have so much to offer” (a response that has its own issues). Many women naturally take on a more unassuming position when it comes to dating and relationships.

I don’t lay all the blame on Proverbs 18:22.

As a matter of fact, there are other passages that have proven complicated when it comes to treatment of women. But too often these teachings have been misunderstood by some men as a green light to not only pursue, but to conquer and obtain.

Perhaps teaching about dating and healthy relationships should stray away from the “finding a good thing” of Proverbs 18:22 and shift to passages like 1 Peter 5:5:

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Look for more on egalitarian relationships this spring. In the meantime, also check out this related post on dating and this one on singleness. Also see Khristi’s book, The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness.

(Note from the editor: This is an edited version of a draft that was sent out earlier by mistake. Our apologies to readers and to the author for any confusion!)

Khristi Adams

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17 Comments

  • This is such an important topic for young women to consider.

    A few elections ago, the Canadian people reduced a main, political party that often ruled the country, to 2 seats, by general election, out of a total approx. 300 seats because they had shown that they now felt that they, alone, were entitled to rule the country and represent all Canadians. Canadians rejected them outright.

    Entitlement is a trait that can wear thin after a while. Some traits that accompany a sense of entitlement are a lack of conscience, authoritarianism, emphasizing appearances, becoming contemptuous and critical, refusal to recognize their own failings, becoming envious or competitive, grandiose, hyper-sensitive to criticism, secretive and self-contradictory, but also flattering, if necessary.

    Of course, as Christians, we believe God always makes a place for repentance and we would hope that those who feel “entitled” might repent of this sin, but this sin is actually pride and belongs, originally, to Satan…full of arrogance, conceit, smugness and vanity. It is the opposite of humility. But a person can play-act humility and assume the body language of humility, like the classical Dicken’s character “Uriah Heep” ( I’m an “umble” man)…it requires discernment and often experience to identify a proud, entitled person especially one who pretends to be humble…so be careful and be sure to pay attention if your friends and family voice concerns that you don’t observe. I have often been fooled by such people who bend down to you with apparent grace, but who, in the very long term, you discover, always considered you to be inferior in the eyes of God and who expected your adoration and unwavering catering to their wishes.

    When it comes to dating, it is very important that a person is able to identify such a character in their partner, by really getting to know that person’s long-time friends and observe their interactions with family. Such people are often especially charming and many a person has married this charmer only to find that the two have actually become one, only that one is the entitled person ALONE…and that the “unentitled” one has ceased to exist as a recognizable entity.

    I observed a woman after 42 years married to such a person. She had become a shell of a human being, having no personality left. Like a robot she went about her daily life. It was so tragic when her church now also considered her an outcast because her children had insisted that she divorce her husband to protect herself from his predatory ways. She lost her house (her inheritance) and all her property in the transaction, as well, because he was so good a fooling most of the people (outside of the children). This is often the end of a person who marries a man who feels entitled, especially if he believes his “privilege, license, due, prerogative, right, authorization” are God’s will, as Khristi says.

    The Canadians were able to fix their mistake by ‘divorcng’ that political party after only 4 years with little damage to the country. But marrying a man whom you have dated, who feels entitled in any way, is a very dangerous path to take. It may cost you the rest of your life and your potential for ministry to others.

  • After 30 years in a church where men are expected to feel entitled to all the glory and power, I realize that were I ever to be widowed, I would NEVER CONSIDER marrying a Christian . In fact, I have already decided that I will never marry again, if the time comes, because “if you had a good marriage why spend your later years in misery and if you had a miserable marriage, why take the chance that you might continue to live in misery to the end”. Men need to realize that they aren’t that important to women anymore, so entitlement is not an option today. Women can live without them, unlike in the good old days, and you can’t put a price on peace and liberty. An entitled man is a pain worse than death…if you gentlemen feel entitled then do everyone a favour and keep yourself to yourself.

    Women would do better to live for Christ and give themselves to His work rather than wasting their lives on a scoundrel who calls himself a Christian, while living like a pagan.

    If you must marry, then for goodness make sure he has lots of acceptable references (I’m serious!), and that these references have known them for at least 25-30 years…then check his family out and be really fussy about examining his relationship with his mother and sisters…then perhaps you might have a small chance of a good marriage because ‘she who finds a good husband finds a good thing’ but she who finds herself with a selfish, arrogant or abusive husband has given herself a life sentence to misery…or a divorce and worse.

    Oh how I wish men would really take a good look at themselves and learn what is really meant by humility. A really humble man is a treasure. I know there are a few out there, but they are like finding hen’s teeth and all this is because of our lop-sided culture that is, thankfully, changing.

  • I wonder if changing notions about property play into this. In the Old Testament context, children and servants were “property” as well. Property today tends to be disposable. Ancient world property included land (home), family (loved ones), and livestock (livelihood). All of those things can be exploited and abused or loved and cherished. Certainly in our context the property language is no longer appropriate. The challenge comes in expressing the egalitarian message of the Bible that was originally communicated in patriarchal language.

  • Not sure a lot of thought went into that as much as, rather a frivolous way of saying we should perhaps introduce new passages- that may have been a better phrase than “stray away from.” However I wouldn’t go as far as to say we shouldn’t be introducing new passages when guiding women and men in their dating process. But I agree we should reclaim those complex passages as well. Thanks for the input!

  • I quite enjoyed this post, but I was a bit taken aback by the conclusion: “Perhaps teaching about dating and healthy relationships should stray away from… Proverbs 18:22 and shift to [other] passages…”

    I think part of the egalitarian perspective and plan should be to actively take these verses back from complementarianism. When a passage starts to get so much baggage, rather than “straying away” from them, I think we need to commit to reexamining them and putting forward a biblical perspective rather than a complementarian presupposition.

    I was particularly struck by the use of the language “stray away from”… I’m curious to know what was meant by that exact terminology.

    Anyway, just my thoughts: instead of avoiding these passages, we should confront complementarians with the misinterpretations that have been applied to them.

    • I have to say that I agree with you on this. The objectionable language (obtain and thing) is not used in most translations today. Yet I think she’s right about the attitude of entitlement, or at least I’ve observed it in churches and Christian colleges. Perhaps the cause is more complex?

  • Yes, many single Christian men I have personally come across online or in real life are VERY entitled, so are some of the married ones.

    I have run into older, celibate, never married Christian men who write, in a whiny, entitled tone on their blogs, that they believe it is a duty of single, celibate Christian women to be encouragers to the single, celibate men.

    One celibate, never married, Christian guy who writes this sort of thing on his blog makes no mention of celibate, single Christian men acting as encouragers to the women.

    It seems to be a one-way street with that celibate blogger guy, that un-married, Christian women are supposed to act as perpetual cheerleaders for the allegedly beaten down, put upon, single celibate men, but not the other way around.

    Apparently in his universe, single women are not deserving of encouragement from men or churches, only men are.

    Even my ex fiance, who was a Christian man, expected me to be his cheerleader and encourager (and I was in fact supportive of him, but not to the degree he preferred), but if I out-right asked for his emotional support in my dreams, problems, or ambitions in life, he would refuse to provide any.

    Christians have frequently bought into secular stereotypes about the genders, such as, all men are visually oriented, but women are not; women are more interested in emotional closeness than men (supposedly).

    How this works out in Christian sermons I’ve heard about marriage or in Christian material on dating is that Christian writers and preachers often lecture women to stay skinny and sexy-looking, but the men are never told to stay in shape.

    I’ve yet to hear a preacher advise his balding, obese, or unattractive male members to hit the gym, lose weight, or get a toupee. The “look sexy” advice is only doled out for the women, in sermons and in most Christian dating advice books and blogs I have seen.

    Women are more often told by Christians not to dream about or expect to marry a good-looking man. No, the women are told they should only care about the man’s “godliness” or “spirituality.” And this double standard makes me want to throw up.

    I am a visually-oriented woman and would prefer to date a man I find phyiscally attractive (he doesn’t have to be movie star level good looking). But churches keep telling women to settle for a guy who looks about as attractive as mud to her.

    The men are seldom to never told by Christians to lower their standards in the physical attractiveness area when looking for a girlfriend or wife, or to be realistic and to date women their own age, instead of chasing after women ten or twenty or more years their junior.

    So I do find that many Christian single men are entitled. Even the unattractive 40, 50, 60- year -old single ones feel they deserve to marry a 25 year old, stick thin, movie star looking woman, and churches are not in a hurry to correct their misconceptions about this, but actually encourage them to continue thinking this way.

    • Well said. It seems that Christian men feel at least as entitled as non-Christian men, especially concerning sexual activities. An unmarried man who is a virgin is laughed at, while an unmarried woman who is not a virgin is reviled and called every kind of derogatory name. Even terms people use for courage have changed from “spine/backbone” to parts of the male anatomy, while the worst insults a man can endure are in terms of feminine anatomy or physiology. Everything is sexualized these days, and everything female is deemed defective and dirty.

    • Thank you both! Really good stuff here! It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives.

  • Thank you for this Khristi! I have felt this so many times in dating relationships and it is refreshing to hear someone talking about it in a public space!

    • I agree that language is so important. I also agree that dating should be a mutual responsibility as two people “find each other” in their journeys. But this whole process is far more difficult than we often realize. “Pair Bonding” is a complex and yet natural process moving from mutual attraction of committed marriage and we’ve lost our way as a culture, even within the church. I like this conversation and would encourage us to enlarge it to other aspects of dating, sexuality, purity, commitment, spiritual union, etc.

      • I really like the language of “pair bonding.” I’ve never heard that before. It is complex I wish more people would acknowledge that. Thank you!

        • “Pair bonding” is a specific term with a specific meaning. If you’re interested you can look up the term online and find out more about it. My own experience with it has been unfortunate, in that it was only ever presented as another club to beat young women with as part of a fairly obsessive female purity culture — it was all the rage when I was in college — but it is still informative and can be helpful.

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