Archive for July, 2011

Week 3: Avoiding Fatal Attractions

July 19, 2011

Week 3 of  Love & Responsibility in NYC was all about “avoiding fatal attractions”.

(Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

This chapter is all about the dynamics of attraction and  in particular how to avoid the attractions that end up being destructive.   It talks about the components of attraction:  the sexual urge (the initial stirrings of attraction to the opposite sex – talked about in the previous chapter and previous blog post), sensuality (the physical attraction) and sentimentality (the emotional attraction).  It talked about the importance of all of these components but warned that if one became the dominant dynamic, it would lead to the destruction of the relationship as it would lead to one if not both of the parties being treated as an object.

This chapter also brings up the touchy (no pun intended) topic of pornography, it’s power to enslave those who use it and it’s power to harm those who are  victims of it.  It was careful to note that there is a big difference between the naked sculptures in the Vatican museums and the pictures in Playboy.

I was surprised to find that in my small group discussion all of the women seemed to be very well versed on Blessed JPII’s Love and Responsibility.  It seemed to be a younger, very vibrant group – a good example of the “JPII generation” that I’ve been hearing about.  (The JPII generation are those who were born and grew up during the Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II who have benefited from his writings and implementation of World Youth Days throughout the world.)

I commented that during the reading what really struck me was that in my life it seemed that I fell victim of falling into sentimentality about a man whom I had just met and that possibly later it would blossom into sensuality whereas for the man in my life it seemed to be the reverse (sensuality possibly blossoming into sentimentality).  I just figured that this is what most gals and guys experienced.

My sentimentality went something like this:

The wedding of Mr. Darcy to Ms. Bennet

the silent (yet secretly generous, thoughtful, kind, romantic) gentleman is swept away by the strong outspoken young lady who in turn is softened by his gentleness and kindness.  It was someone’s kindness and generosity that would grab my attention first and then lead me to think them more handsome than I had originally noticed.

Whereas guys, it seemed, would notice a woman’s body first and then be drawn to her through her funny personality, generosity and kindness.

I was intrigued when a woman in my small group revealed that for her it seemed to be the reverse – that for her, she experienced sensuality first, followed by sentimentality.  So if you are reading this and feel like it’s reversed for you – know that you aren’t alone 🙂

We also talked about ways women could help men avoid being stuck on sensuality.  We talked about how dressing modestly can help men see women in more than a sensual way.  I admitted that when I first began dressing more modestly I was concerned that men in today’s society were so trained to see only the sensual side of women that they wouldn’t see me at all if I didn’t reveal that side of me.    Sadly, I can admit that when I felt lonely because I didn’t have any dates lined up, I would resort to dressing more “sexy” so that I would get noticed.  Of course, this gave me all the WRONG sort of attention from the WRONG sort of men.

One of the other women in the group added that as she had grown in her faith through college she became more and more aware of the importance of not revealing too much in the way that she dressed.  She said that she felt awkward at first because her friends were wearing shorter dresses or lower cut blouses, but later she began to see the freedom that it gave her.  She felt more free to be herself, especially around men, who had less of a temptation to objectify her because she wasn’t putting her body out there on display.   Now she’s so accustomed to dressing modestly that she almost doesn’t notice it at all – it’s just what she does.

Another lady commented that she was actually on a date when a crowd of scantily clad women walked by.  Her date turned to her and said, “gross – that’s so tacky.” So at least in her experiences she is seeing that men already notice and prefer women who are dressed more classy and sophisticated.

Perhaps modest sophisticated fashion fit for a princess is the new in thing?

Modest Fashions fit for a princess is the new in thing!

When we all gathered for the group discussions/reflections one of the first comments was about the bar scene in NYC.  The question had been posed: “What is something we can do to guard ourselves against being looked at in merely a sensual way?”  One’s group suggestion was to look at what how one is socializing with the opposite sex:  is it at a bar scene where the music is so loud that you can’t even hear the person speaking that is standing next to you? If all you know about them is how they look, then are you really attracted to them – their personality- who they are as a person? or merely to their physical body?

“Wow,” I thought.  I had never thought about that.  I had never thought about NYC as being full of No-talking-so-I-can-just-focus-on-your-body-bars.  But it totally makes sense.  As people in NYC focus more and more on physical attributes and sensuality in a hook up culture, there would be less and less of a need to increase the sentimentality or attraction to the personality of the person.

Cheers! Where everybody knows your name

versus

NYC club where nobody knows your name...because they can't hear you say it. 😦 booo buuuu

I also shared with the large group discussion that one thing that I had heard at a  “Theology of the Body in Art” lecture by Fr. Thomas J. Loya, STB, MA (who I believe was an Art professor before he entered the priesthood.) He said that pornography focuses the viewer’s attention on one part of the body so that instead of seeing the whole body, the viewer’s eye rests and fixates on one body part.  Whereas beauty – as seen in a naked body (or barely clothed body) in sculpture, painting, or photography draws the eye of the viewer around the subject so that it sees the person in it’s entirety.  It is not nakedness that makes it “bad” or wrong or demeaning.  It is the focus on that one particular part (usually a sexual part) that makes it impossible to view the whole person because it turns the person into an object to be seen, not a person to be known.

I actually forgot to mention to the group that Fr. Loya also mentioned that 1.)  trained artists learn how to use light and form to move the viewers eye around the canvas (etc.) so that they are able to capture the true beauty of the body in it’s entirety.  2.)  An image doesn’t have to show the body naked to be pornographic – the body shown may be “fully clothed” and still (through it’s light, shape, and form) focus the viewer’s attention to the sexual part of the body – thereby making the image pornographic.  It is an image which incites lust not love; an image that creates a hunger for consumption of the object.

One comment was made in the audience by a guy that one of the ways that we can avoid fatal attractions is by not entering a dating situation with someone who doesn’t share your views about saving sex for marriage.  For him it seems to much of a temptation – that the other person will just tear you down from your goal to have a pure relationship.

A few other comments were made and then I brought the conversation back to this comment.  In my opinion, while on the surface, the above advice sounds like a good idea, I would propose that it is just simply quite impossible to do in real life.  MOST people in New York City have never even heard of the word “chastity” before.  I commented that “just because you are struggling with chastity does not mean that you are not datable.”  People are in different points along the faith journey that each one of us has in life, likewise people are in different points along the journey to chastity.

We can’t control other people.  We CAN however, control our actions. So our first goal should be one of self-reflection.

We must first reflect on ourselves.

Are we doing our part in making sure that we avoid fatal attractions; are we making sure that we are not falling into a purely sentimental or purely sensual attraction with someone? Are we really focusing on who someone is, not only how great they look? Are we truly seeing the person? Are we doing our part in not encouraging someone to use us? Are we dressing beautifully and  modestly? Are we using our way of dress to manipulate the opposite sex so that we can have a power over them?  Are we wielding this power?

After the group discussions I chatted with the gentleman who had made the comment above about avoiding those who have not achieved chastity.  As we were chatting he admitted that what he was truly trying to say was that if we were in a relationship with someone who was actively trying to knock us off of our goal of chastity that we should remove that person from our lives.  (ie if they were saying things like, “oh you’re so stupid for doing this chastity thing” or “you’re so naive, just wait, I’ll show you how wrong you are”) I completely agree with this statement.  If someone is being disrespectful to us because of what we believe then we absolutely want to avoid contact with the person, unless they can begin to act towards us in a respectful way.

One of the reasons why I feel so strongly about not avoiding people who are not yet on board with the idea of saving all sexual activity for marriage, is because I’m married to one. 🙂

My husband was present at this group discussion and stood up and commented on this subject.  He said, “When I met Genevieve I was sexually active and contracepting.  I had never heard the word chastity before.  So while I agree that life would be simpler if we could all just date people who are chaste – like how the other gentleman is proposing- I just don’t think that’s how it plays out in real life.  Look, we’re all struggling with something.  I was struggling with the idea of chastity.  Genevieve was struggling with other things. ”

After the evening ended and while we were on our way home, my husband and I continued to chat about this subject.  One of the things that I remembered was that when I started dating my husband, I was very up front with him about what the Catholic church teaches about chastity and about the fact that chastity was what I wanted in any relationship that I was involved in.  It was a HUGE pill for him to take.  But it was important that he know exactly what he was signing up for and that I felt so strongly about it.  My husband had been baptized and raised Catholic, so I took that piece of information and asked him to consider what that meant.  I said something along the lines of, “look, I know that some of these ideas are really new to you, but even on the most simplest level: if you are Catholic you need to be going to church on Sunday.  I want to be in a relationship with someone who has a relationship with God.  If you want to have a relationship with someone, then you need to spend time with them – so spending time with God needs to be important for you.”

I knew that a simple chat from me or a handy book on The Good News About Sex and Marriage was not all that it was going to take to really open my husband to the idea of chastity.   He needed to hear the Truth from someone otherthan me.

Excellent explanation of the Catholic church teaching on sexuality

I also shared with my husband that I thought that it would be beneficial for him to go to confession.  I explained that I had felt the healing graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that I thought that he could really benefit from it too.  (With his permission to reveal this ) I’m happy to say that although he hadn’t been to confession in many many years, he considered it and went.  It made a HUGE difference in his life and in his perspective on God and how he was to live his life.

So, while I don’t think that we should exclude someone because they aren’t on the same chastity page as we are, I DO think that we need to challenge others.  I think that we should challenge others by asking them, “What do you believe? Why do you believe it? If you have a problem with the Catholic church’s teaching on sexuality, have you done any reading recently on the subject? Have you listened to any lectures or talks on the subject? or are you making your decision without much information on the subject?”

In short the chastity message says: save sexual intimacy for your spouse and only your spouse.  That’s before AND after marriage.

If someone doesn’t feel that you should reserve sexual intimacy for one’s spouse, then why would they reserve sexual intimacy for their spouse AFTER they get married? simply because they said the words, “I will” honor and cherish this person until death do us part?  What does sexual intimacy mean for them?

Allowing a person to focus solely on one’s  sensuality, causes a divide in who they are as person.  We as persons are more than just the body.  We are  mind, body and soul.  When someone only sees one side of me and they get stuck or refuse to go beyond that and see me as a whole person of mind, body, and spirit, they cause me injury.  They reduce me down to only a 1/3 of who I am.  Ouch.

That is why, in my opinion, they are called “Fatal Attractions”. The attraction becomes destructive.   Instead of seeing the whole person, only 1/3 of the person is focused on.  The remaining 2/3 is ignored or discarded.   😦

So in the final words from that night of my husband, “These are very tricky situations and it’s good to keep in mind that the journey will be difficult.  So good luck everybody.”

I’m looking forward to the next L&R in NYC discussion group in a couple of weeks – it should be interesting!

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Week 2: Beyond the Sexual Urge

July 8, 2011

Week 2 of  Love & Responsibility in NYC was all about living “beyond the sexual urge”.

(Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

In short, it acknowledges that often dating relationships (or even friendships) start out with a basic attraction and that is due to an innate sexual urge that we humans have.   It explains that in reality it’s not an abstract sexual urge that we experience, but an attraction to another person.  It’s not an attraction to blonde hair per say (because being attracted to just a wig would be strange!), but it’s an attraction to a person who has blonde hair.  The chapter encourages one to go beyond the sexual urge to SEE the other person.

(See – this blonde hair piece just isn’t that exciting when it’s all by itself!)

blonde hair by itself = not so hot

The chapter goes on to explain that if we allow ourselves to remain in relationships that are based merely on the sexual urge we end up using each other.  This refers back to week 1 where we talked about Utilitarianism.  Blessed JPII goes on to describe that these utilitarian situations develops into a dynamic of fear and insecurity.

One of the breakout questions asked, “Why do people in utilitarian relationships feel so much insecurity and instability?”  We discussed it in our small group and commented that because it’s a relationship of use, as soon as the use ends – or it becomes clear that it’s no longer useful to one of the persons, then the relationship fizzles.  Basically there’s nothing there to hold it together.  I think that’s why so many women live in a state of uneasiness – they know deep down in some small way (or sometimes in a big way) they are being used – and they are afraid of being dropped like a hot potato.

Girls: don't let yourself be a hot potato!

One of the women commented that she thought that it also worked the other way around; people that are insecure often enter into a relationship that is insecure.  This seems to perpetuate the cycle.  They feel insecure beforehand, they allow themselves to be used, they fear being dropped when they are no longer “useful”, they get dropped like a hot potato, and then they feel even more insecure.

Then someone in the group asked me,  “What was it that led you to have such a good marriage? Was it prayer?”  My response was: “Well, yes, I guess that prayer played a part.  But it wasn’t the foundation of the marriage.  Honestly, it was Chastity and our struggle to achieve Chastity.  Striving for Chastity enabled us to NOT use the other person.  We avoided having a utilitarian relationship by striving to be chaste.  The good outside of ourselves that created the Virtuous Friendship was that we didn’t want to use each other.  There were times that we fell and that was tough because we actually admitted to each other, “I’m sorry.  That was NOT our plan.  I’m sorry that I used you.” Thankfully we had the grace of the sacrament of Reconciliation which picked us up after we had fallen and encouraged us to continue striving for that Virtuous chaste Friendship.  It was hard, but it was worth it because our relationship is strong and has an awesome foundation.”

The last question of chapter 2 is: “What does John Paul II mean when he says the sexual urge can provide the raw material for love? How is this so?”

I think my story above is a witness to the fact that it is good to be attracted to one another, but I believe it’s the act of moving past that that allows you to SEE the other person, to stop the cycle of using each other, and to create a wonderful strong foundation for a Virtuous Friendship that blossoms into True Love.

Later in the large discussion group I mentioned that while I am blessed to have a virtuous friendship as the foundation of my marriage, I have to daily take steps to ensure that I don’t fall back into use of my spouse.  For example:  My husband has awesome cooking skills.   Coming home to a hot dinner that my Handsome Husband has finely crafted is easy to get used to.  So on the days when he was tired I caught myself being a little miffed that dinner wasn’t already ready.  “Boooooo” 😦  As a way to combat thinking of my spouse as merely my private cook, I made a conscious effort to thank him for cooking.  In thanking him I was able to look past the action that he was doing and SEE him – the person that he is and that his act of making dinner was how he was loving me.  Likewise even though I may not want to get up and go to work in the morning, my husband has made a special effort to thank me for going to work.  That little action of thanking each other that helps keep us from using each other.

Yummy Thai Hot Soup with Pineapple thanks to my fabulous spouse

Later in the evening a comment was made by a woman in the large discussion group.  She brought up the issue that when it comes to living ‘beyond the Sexual Urge’, often men get a bad wrap.  She commented that often women complain about men not getting past the sexual urge.  She gave a great quote:

“A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.”
Max Lucado

Her advice to the women in the crowd was that they should grow deeper and deeper in their relationship with God.  That closeness with God will be the draw for men to go out side of themselves.  Their holiness will attract men and actually assist them in seeking God and living Beyond the Sexual Urge.

On the dance floor, beyond the sexual urge, and beyond the Lindy Crush.
On the dance floor we are also called to go beyond the sexual urge – beyond that sexual attraction- beyond the “Lindy Crush”.  I first heard about the term “lindy crush” after I had only been dancing for about 2 months.  Someone flippantly said, “oh have you danced with Mr. x? I soo have a Lindy Crush on him.  He’s a great dancer.  You should dance with him.”  For a moment I wondered, “am I 15 again? did she just say crush? and what’s a Lindy Crush anyway?”  So when I asked for some clarification she explained that a Lindy Crush is where you have this great connection on the dance floor, you have an amazing dance, and you feel this euphoria and you think, “Wow. That guy is dreamy.  I think I have a crush on him.”

Go beyond the Lindy Crush!

Actually, when you have a Lindy Crush, it’s more like a crush on the guy’s dancing, not him.  You might not know him at all – whether he’s got a girlfriend or if he’s single, what his interests are or what his background is and yet you still feel as if there’s this great connection (off the dance floor) and any moment now he’ll be asking you out on a date and soon after you’ll be living happily ever after.  It’s tricky because when you are dancing you are close enough to pick up on the guy’s pheromones, so it’s even more difficult to work past the sexual urge

So my advice to women is:  enjoy the dance and then resist the urge to day dream.  Get to know the guy on and off the dance floor.  Don’t look at a guy’s dancing expertise and stop there.  Look beyond to SEE the person and to get to know them.

My advice to men is:  work hard to go beyond the sexual urge.  Resist the urge to day dream.  Get to know the gal on and off the dance floor.  Don’t look at a woman’s physique and stop there.  Look beyond to SEE the person and to get to know them. (We women notice it and appreciate it!) 

Week 1: Virtuous Friendships

July 4, 2011

It’s almost time for the 2nd week of Love & Responsibility in NYC 2011 season, so I’m taking time to write about what we covered in week 1.

Week 1 is all about friendship.  (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

In short it’s about how to NOT use people, but to love them instead – whether they be our friends, mere acquaintances or strangers.

The turn out in SoHo was great! about 150+ people showed up for the first week and it lead to some great discussions.  During the small break out discussion group I had a group of about 15 people and only two of them had ever been before.  It was a whole new set of people ready to unpack Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love.

Love & Responsibility in NYC, SoHo

One of the first discussion questions asked, “Have you noticed a friendship that was a utilitarian friendship – one where the friendship is merely for one’s use of the person?”

Boy is that a scary question.  You think you’ve got a lot a friends until you start looking at them closer.

We have a culture of use right now.  “Use me and I’ll use you” is our motto.  This is evident by the latest string of Hollywood movies based on mutual use:  Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached.  Mutual use does not make it ok.  It just makes it doubly gross.

Some people were confused about the idea of use.  When is it using someone? Are we never supposed to gain anything from a connection through a friend?  No.  Here’s an example that I hope will help clarify what is a “use” of the person.

Don’t use your friend as a taxi.

Taxi = 🙂 .... Friend as Taxi = 😦

If we are nice to a person just because they have a car and we hope that we’ll be able to save money by catching a ride with them instead of paying for a taxi, we are using the person as a taxi.  This is very different than carpooling, where the agreed intention of both parties is to save money, increase fuel efficiency, and be better stewards of the environment by reducing emissions and fuel use. This also does not mean that if you are friends with someone you can never take a ride from them again.

If giving you a ride means that the driver is going way out of their way OR if that small little voice in your head answers, “Yes” to the question, “Am I using this person as a taxi?” then it may time to hail a cab, rather than use a person for a ride.

This also applies to the dance floor:  Don’t use the guy as your dance monkey. 

Sure you can dance with a guy without being friends.  But if you find yourself ONLY being nice to the person when you hear a song that you really want to dance to (instead of also being nice to him off the dance floor), then it means that you are using him as your dance monkey.  He gets to dance only when you feel like it.

also Don’t use the gal as the “Bling” – the pretty thing at the end of your arm. 

Sometimes I’ve seen guys twirl a girl around so much that she can’t see straight. I’ve seen him trying to show off by doing all the fancy moves he knows one after the other, without regard to IF the gal is able to follow his lead or IF the gal is enjoying the dance.  A gal is more than a pretty thing at the end of a guy’s arm that simply will do what he tells her to do on the dance floor.  She’s more than a pretty dress.  So if you are a guy and you find yourself caring more about how you look while you are dancing with the woman, than if the woman you are dancing with is having a good time, then you have fallen into the trap of using her.  Stop it.  It never looks good.

One should never see their fellow dancer as merely a lead or merely a follow.  One should see the other person – a unique creation of mind, body, and spirit.

One of my favorite reflections of the evening for week 1 of Love & Responsibility in NYC, was what someone said about our possible “Utilitarian use” of God.

Just like in our friendships, we can fall into the trap of “using” God to get things:  Grace, blessings, and perhaps quiet time away from the rest of the world.  We forget that He is a person.  We forget to see Him as a person.  So instead of thinking of prayer as a way to spend time with Him or a way to get to know Him better, we see it merely as a way to ask for what we want.

So, be sure to reflect on your relationships, whether they be with friends or with God.  Strive for those virtuous friendships.  Refuse those opportunities to take the easy road to Utilitarian friendships.

Do your best to SEE the other person. 

Practically that means that when you are in a checkout line, stop texting and stop talking to someone else on the phone.  SEE the person that is helping you.  Try to connect with them even if they don’t try to connect with you.  (This seems to be a problem in NY; not so much of a problem in the friendly south.)

That’s all for now….

Looking forward to tomorrow’s Love & Responsibility in NYC:  Week 2 – Beyond the Sexual Urge.   It should be a great discussion!