What are women looking for in a guy?

Should we be muscular or intellectual? Clean shaven or bearded? Tough or sensitive? Good guy or a troublemaker?

During my college years, I experimented with many of these personas in a quest to find love.  The typical advice, “Just be yourself,” didn’t feel like enough. I didn’t feel like enough. I knew I needed to improve to get the girl, but I didn’t know which version of manliness to strive for.

Recently, a group of college girls sat in on a brainstorming meeting at FamilyLife, and we asked them, “What are you looking for in a guy?”

Initially, their answers were as varied as they were. For a moment, I thought they were just as confused as I was at that age. But after one girl’s answer, a consensus began to form. “I want someone old school,” she said.

That simple phrase helped to galvanize their once ambiguous target. It soon became clear. What they wanted was a gentleman.

A gentleman is at once masculine and gentle. He is a man with passion, conviction, and purpose, yet considerate, humble, and patient. He is reserved and in control, yet willing to put himself in harm’s way for the benefit of others.

I’ll never forget the time, early in my career, when I held a door open for a woman at work. She glared at me as if I had given her the biggest insult imaginable. “I’m perfectly capable of opening my own door, thank you,” she said as she stomped off.

I was trying to be polite, yet I wound up feeling like a scolded little boy.

Society’s efforts to empower women, while good on many fronts, have left many men confused. Power in women is applauded, but in men, it’s feared. Masculinity is treated as something to be sealed up in metal drums and hidden away because it is “toxic.”

In the midst of this confusion, young guys, especially, have no idea what to do with their God-given strength and other male characteristics. Unfortunately, this has left many to either shy away from their masculinity or to use it selfishly.

Masculine strength

First Peter 3:7 calls women “weaker” vessels. Unfortunately, when many people hear weaker they think, inferior. So to protect against such a misunderstanding, the term is often avoided.

But when we deny the fundamental truth that the average woman is physically weaker than the average man, we also lose one of the main motivators of gentlemanly behavior—the desire to use our strength in the service of others. If there is no difference, men are left to treat women like “one of the guys.”

When Peter says that husbands should treat their wives with understanding, “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,” he doesn’t say it to imply they are less capable. He says it as a warning. It means, guys, be careful. Your natural size and strength can be intimidating. The tone of voice and body language you use with other men is inappropriate to use with your wife (or your girlfriend). She needs to be treated more delicately. If you don’t, your strength could end up bullying her into doing things your way.

Remember, that same verse goes on to say, “They are heirs with you of the grace of life.”  Instead of using your strength to get your way, use your strength to lift her up, to honor her.

So go ahead, let your girlfriend go first, give up your seat, carry her bags, and offer to walk alone through the rain to retrieve the car. Look for ways to use your power to encourage and support her, not to take advantage of her. Remind yourself to keep your power in check. You are stronger, so choose to be gentle.

Masculine boldness

When that woman scolded me for opening the door for her, it made me wonder if I had done something wrong. Over the years that followed, I worked with and for many powerful women. While this helped me appreciate a woman’s natural abilities, it also caused me to withhold help because I thought, “She can handle it.” Or, “She can do it better than me anyway.”

While this might be true, those college girls we talked to were longing for someone “old school.” A guy who would volunteer for the quest, cross the wasteland, and battle the dragon on their behalf. They wanted someone who would embrace his strength and use it for something noble—someone bold, not passive.

My wife is a strong woman, but I can’t use her strength as an excuse for laziness. I need to be willing to stand and fight for her, even if I think I might lose. That might mean physically putting myself between her and a dangerous situation, but often it is much more subtle. Sometimes it means praying for her when she doesn’t have the strength to pray for herself, or even doing the dishes when I’d rather watch TV.

Your girlfriend may be highly capable of handling things on her own, but don’t let her God-given abilities cause you to deny your own. Instead, look for creative ways to serve her. Don’t be afraid to be bold and initiate.

Masculine gentleness

While Jesus walked the earth, He gave us the perfect example of a gentleman. As the sacrificial lamb, He welcomed children, washed His disciples’ feet, turned the other cheek when beaten by Roman soldiers, and wept without embarrassment. His mercy and compassion were undisputed, even among His enemies.

Much of our image of what it means to be a man in the Christian church comes from examples such as these. Yet while Scripture calls Jesus a meek lamb, it also refers to Him as a powerful lion. Jesus chose to use that power, not for His own benefit, but for ours, and went on the ultimate quest. He pursued us, served us, battled Satan, was bloodied and scarred, and when all hope seemed lost, He rose from the dead and rescued our souls. This takes more than meekness. It takes boldness, determination, and the courage to do the hard thing.

There may not be many examples of gentlemen these days, but that’s OK. Jesus was a true gentleman. As you pursue relationships, emulate Him. You can’t get much more “old school” than that.

Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

What does authentic manhood look like? Listen to Dave Wilson challenge men to be strong and courageous on this episode of FamilyLife Today.