Archive for October, 2011

Week 10: Men, Women, and Tenderness

October 14, 2011

Last time  we covered: To Inspire Love: A return to modesty

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered the chapter, “Men, Women, and Tenderness” (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

This chapter is funny because I think it makes all of the women who read it, say, “Alleluia!” and all of the men who read it, say, “Uh. Oh.”

Why do they have those reactions? Because in this chapter Blessed John Paul II says that in marriage, “Tenderness is the ability with and for the whole person, to feel even the most deeply hidden spiritual tremors, and always to have in mind the true good of that person.”  He goes on to say that “women not only expect this type of tenderness from their husbands but that they actually have a special right to it in marriage.”

In trying to help men to realize that women seem to have a different tenderness need than men, one guy  repeated a simile that he heard once:  Women are like slow-cooking-crockpots.  Men are like microwaves.  So men, if you are wondering why women seem to need so much more time, effort, and love than you do, it’s because we’re wired differently!

Women are like Crockpots... they need love and tenderness for hours on end! 🙂

The chapter first clarifies however, that there is danger in being prematurely tender with one whom you are not married to.  In the dating or friendship realm, premature excessive tenderness can lead to confusion and even lead to the demise of a love that may have been quietly blooming.

Sometimes in the dating phase we are eager to reach this sort of spousal tenderness and we slip into being either physically tender, emotionally tender, or spiritually tender at a level that really is only appropriate for spouses.

In the large discussion I brought up that this reminds me of 6th grade behavior.  You know, like when Bobby said to Susie, “Hi – do you want to go out with me?”, Susie said, “Yes.”, and then Bobby and Sue hold hands.  They hold hands tightly from the moment they are “boyfriend/girlfriend” until the moment they break up.  In fact, it’s only when they stop holding hands that you know that they are no longer an item.

Bobby and Sue don’t take time to get to know each other or have the relationship and friendship deepen.  They simply quickly move on to this public display of (premature) tenderness that declares to others, “Back off.  We’re inseparable!”  It gives the illusion that they have a deeper relationship than they really do.  It gives the illusion of tenderness that simply is not there.

Are you prematurely inseparable?

For one thing, it’s not being honest to each other about how they feel about each other.  It gives them the secure feelings of a deep relationship – perhaps even for altruistic reasons, but it’s false.  For a second thing, it wards off any other suitors that are perhaps more properly matched for them.

In the larger discussion a guy commented that the above dynamic seems to be happening in the dating scene again – even though we’re not in 6th grade anymore. 😛 People seem to quickly rush into showing tenderness for the other only to realize, “Wait! It’s only the end of the first date.  Perhaps I should get to know the person.”

Janet commented that she felt that premature tenderness or excessive tenderness or even an inability for tenderness (so either there’s too much or too little) seems to stem from dating that is not “purposeful dating.”  Rushing into concern for the other (care-taking when someone has the ability to care for themselves) or rushing into spiritual tenderness with someone  stems from the idea that “this is just what is supposed to happen when you are dating someone” instead of allowing those feelings to actually develop for the other person.  OR You might hang out with a group of friends to “get to know someone before you start dating them” only to sort of stay in this friendship zone once the dating phase starts.   But dating with purpose – purposeful dating to discern if God is calling you to DATE THIS SPECIFIC PERSON (not just if you are supposed to be dating in general) and then leading to discernment on if you are called to the vocation of marriage with that specific person helps ensure the balance of tenderness.

Are you discerning the will of God? Are you staying balanced?

I think that this is probably in part to the fact that if you are discerning (focusing on what God is calling you to do in that instance) then it assists you in being more aware of whether or not you are balanced, in tenderness or other areas of your life as well. If you are asking yourself, “What does my tenderness or lack of tenderness toward this person mean?” then you are probably less likely to be reckless or lacking in your tenderness.

This may leave women saying, “Wait.  I thought you said that I had a right to tenderness – deep tenderness?”

Yep – you do – as a married woman.  Indeed you, and every human, have a right to tenderness at some level.  But spousal tenderness is something that women seem to be predisposed for and so they often, it seems, fall into wanting that sort of spousal tenderness in a budding dating relationship.  For women, our challenge is to fight the urge to create this spousal unity in tenderness when we are merely dating the person.

For men, their challenge is to fail to be fully united in their tenderness with their spouse once they are married.  Perhaps they became accustomed to the level of tenderness that they are comfortable with while they were dating? This may be fine during a budding relationship, but as the relationship progresses, the tenderness should also increase, until in fact it is complete unity in spousal tenderness: emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Why does this type of tenderness need to wait until marriage? Simply put: because you aren’t spiritually united with your spouse until you say, “I do.” Why does it need to progress and grow during marriage? Simply put: because the relationship and demands on the relationship progress and grow in the marriage.

One of the questions asked, “Have you ever witnessed a marital relationship where true tenderness was evident, and in contrast, one where it was not?”

Happily and sadly this brought my parents to mind.  They are Catholic and have been happily married for almost 40 years.  (How awesome is that?!?!? It makes my 2 years seem quite shabby!) I’ve seen my parents show tenderness towards each other: holding hands, smooches, flowers on an anniversary or birthday, and chicken soup and foot rubs on days when there’s been illness or bad allergies. In these times I see how united they are as a couple.

Sadly, I’ve also seen times when their patience has been drawn thin and they’ve gotten snippy with each other instead of using words of kindness.  (Hey – it happens to the best of us.)

WARNING: Words or actions without tenderness creates division!

During those snippy moments – those lack of tenderness moments, it’s almost as if I see their spousal unity divide and suddenly there are two individuals standing there.  One person is saying, “I need something of you.” and the other is saying, “I don’t care.” 😦

It’s my personal opinion that lack of tenderness during a fight is the cause for most divorces. It’s not infidelity or financial woes, it’s lack of care for the other person’s feelings.

Thankfully my parents aren’t headed for divorce, but those snippy times help me realize just how fragile love and marriage can be.  If you aren’t careful, you can crush the love that is there.  That’s why tenderness is so important.

One woman related that her parents had gone through a divorce and that it was only after she went to a friend’s house and saw her friend’s parents being affectionate and tender towards each other that she realized that this had been missing in her own home.

Nivi then offered that we all can take part in making sure that this does not happen in a marriage.  From the example that her mother gave her, Nivi now implements acts of tenderness to her husband like dropping everything and greeting her husband as he walks through the door.  Awwww!

It seems simple, but this act of being fully present to the person as they enter the room says, “I care that you are here and I want you to know that I noticed!”

Nivi went on to mention that we are often affected by the family experiences that we have grown up with.  (Psychologists usually refer to this as Family of Origin “stuff”.)  If you are aware of those experiences and dynamics you can try to avoid the areas where your family’s actions fell short and work to implement those family actions that helped strengthen the marriage, family, or acts of love toward others.

Nivi mentioned that one of the good things that she learned from her Family of Origin was a good way to end a fight. She said that when her parents have an argument and then one realizes that they have been wrong, they kiss the other’s wedding ring.  This shows a re-commitment to their wedding vows of honoring and loving the other and gives them a signal that the surrender flag has been sent up.

Kissing a wedding ring to end a fight? Sounds like a fairy tale ending to me! 🙂

Another question asked of the group was: “What do you think tends to keep husbands from entering the emotional lives of their wives? How can men live this out better? And how can women make it easier for their husbands to do this?”

My answer was: The thing that tends to keep husbands from entering the emotional lives of their wives the most is THE NOTHING BOX. Basically, they are simply wired differently then women.

If you aren’t familiar with what the Nothing Box is, watch this hilarious clip from “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.”

If men aren’t careful, they can end up staying in their nothing box for too long.  They can claim, “Well, this is just the way I am.” and refuse to come out of their nothing box, especially when it’s at the request of their spouse.  If men are in their Nothing Box they can’t be fully present to the women in their life.  If they remain in the Nothing Box then they lose the ability to show tenderness to another.

If women aren’t careful, they can end up expecting men to be like women and request that the men somehow throw away their Nothing Box.  These types of women end up wanting men to be fully present for them at all times of the day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  But this would be asking the men to be something that they are not!  God, in his wisdom, designed men to have a Nothing Box so that they can regroup and be refreshed.

Our job as women is to be aware and respectful of the existence of our men’s Nothing Box.  Once they’ve had a reasonable amount of time (whether that’s 20 minutes or an hour) in the nothing box, then we know that we’ve allowed them to be who they are and we ask them to meet us where we are now and where we need them to be.

God creates these differences in us so that we can be encouraged by the other – so that we are stretched as persons into growing into a better person.

God is asking us to be better persons by showing tenderness towards other people. It might be tricky to keep it in balance and to anticipate the needs of the other person, but the good news is,  we have a lifetime to figure it out.

That’s all for now.  Up next: How Contraception Harms Love!

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Week 9: To Inspire Love: a return to modesty

October 3, 2011

Last time  we covered: The Battle for Purity

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered the chapter, “To Inspire Love: a return to modesty.” (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

This week was fun! You know why?  Because finally the small groups were co-ed! Guys and Gals sharing ideas about….. MODESTY.  Duh Duh Duh!

This chapter unpacked the idea that modesty isn’t about covering our bodies because they are bad, it’s because they are oh-so-good that they deserve to be respected and that through modesty,  more about the person is revealed.

But how can this be?  Covering up more of the body, hides it – how can modesty reveal more about a person? and can it have the amazing effect of actually inspiring love?

The short answer is: Yep. The answer about how modesty does this is what the chapter is all about.

The first part of the chapter is tricky because it deals with a word that most people interpret as negative thing ( in other words, it has a negative connotation, but not denotation): shame.  Both Sri and Blessed John Paul II clarify that shame in this sense is not a result of guilt – but rather a natural reaction to cover the body – to cover that which is precious and personal.  Sri explains, “It helps prevent the person from being treated as an object.” He goes on to explain that that in the context of wedded love (a mature self giving of a husband and wife), however, the natural innate tendency to cover our bodies (shame) is “absorbed by love”.

Basically, shame disappears because the spouses’ free, total, faithful, and fruitful gift of themselves at the altar is a statement that says, “I will not use you.” Once that spousal trust is there, there is no need to be afraid of  being used as an object.

But, outside of that spousal trust, we need to be aware that even though we do not mean to provoke this reaction, we may be seen as an object rather than the person that we are.

(I’d like to clarify that if a spouse treats their spouse as an object, then it’s not a situation when that spousal trust exists.  When a spouse uses the other person, it squashes the spousal trust that was there.  It’s not that marriage or being a spouse therefore is a force-field against being used for unfortunately spouses can fall into the trap of mutual use if they are not careful and active in ensuring that the state of spousal trust is preserved AT ALL TIMES.  Once that state of spousal trust is there and remains, then shame is no longer active between the spouses. Spousal trust diffuses the innate good shame.)

Sometimes this is a bitter pill for us women to swallow.

I think that this is mostly due to the fact that we don’t realize just how powerful our looks can be – we don’t realize the power that we can wield over men’s reaction to our visual stimuli.  Men are much more visually stimulated than women are, so I think women have a hard time comprehending the magnitude and speed to which men are stimulated. (Likewise men have a hard time understanding how women can get so emotionally stimulated over one tiny nice gesture, because women are more easily emotionally stimulated than men are.)

I explained in the large discussion group that when I first started dating the man who later became my husband, I had a somewhat awkward conversation with him in which I explained my desire to “not wield the power.” He said, “Wielding the power? What’s that?”  I said, “Well, that’s wearing a low cut blouse or dress so that I can get “attention” from men.  I don’t want to control a man into finding me attractive.  I don’t want to whack someone over the head, figuratively speaking, with my body parts.  It’s enticing to want attention from the opposite sex –  especially from the man I’m really interested in – or the man I’m dating.  This is going to sound silly, but I’ve come to realize how powerful cleavage is.  Or a short skirt for that matter.  I don’t want to manipulate a man with that.  I don’t want to be “sexy” to strangers. I want to be beautiful, alluring, and inviting.  So I’ve decided to stop “wielding the power”.”

Are you wielding the power like She-ra? low cut blouse? short skirt?

At first I think he didn’t know what to think of that statement.  But after a while he came to appreciate it – especially after we were married.  He’d see a woman who was revealing WAY too much to the rest of the dinner party and he’d lean in close to my ear and say, “Honey, thank you for not wielding the power.” Which was really just short for, “thank you for not showing your breasts off to the rest of the men and women that are sitting around the table – because it’s really awkward to see all these men staring at that woman’s breasts as they try to pass the potatoes.  I would just feel sooo awkward if the men at this table were drooling over my wife’s body parts like they were a piece of meat at the dinner table.”

If you are a married woman and you are reading this (or even if you are dating someone) , I encourage you to reflect on this situation and ask yourself, “why isn’t the love and affection from the man whom I love, enough? Why do I feel drawn to pull the eyes of all of the men- any man – even someone else’s spouse to my cleavage?”

The single gals are by no means exempt.  I would encourage single gals to reflect on this situation and ask, “Why do I want to be seen as an object? Why do I want a man to only see a part of me?”

My husband and I laugh about it now because as I shop for clothes my husband will look at the new outfit as I exit the dressing room and say, “Hmmm.  No.  I think it’s “wielding the power”.”

Now there maybe some gals who might be thinking, “I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’m gonna wield the power that I have because God gave it to me. Why not use it? If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

Why not use it? Because it is merely the illusion of power.  In actuality, when you use “wielding the power” to manipulate a man, you allow yourself to become an object.  So instead of gaining something, you lose something – your human dignity.  Love doesn’t see the person as an object to be used.  So gals, if you are truly seeking love, then avoid being seen as an object.  Be seen as a person who deserves and seeks human dignity.

Strive for lovely, adorable, beautiful, or alluring.  It will bring out the best in you and the best in the men in your life.

Be Adora…. as in adorable…. not She-ra… as in She-ra-ther be treated like an object. 😛

When She-ra isn't wielding the power, she's modest Adora.

(For those of you who watched She-ra when they were young,  you will know that the character Adora actually has another step to go in being more modest.  She is seriously lacking in the pants or skirt department which is why the picture above is not zoomed out. BUT please note that She-ra has all kinds of cleavage going on- while Adora is revealing much less! For those of you who didn’t watch She-ra and need a little explanation:  She-ra and Adora are one in the same.  Adora is a princess and when wielding the power, she becomes She-ra!)

During the both the small and large discussion groups I brought up a hilariously and even quite functional As-Seen-On-TV product that helps in the effort to be more modest: the Cami Secret.

It’s in many colors and if you call now, I’m sure that you’ll receive a free bonus selection! 😛

I was going to get it for my sister one year for Christmas as a joke, but then I got to thinking that it would probably be a pretty great gift.  Sometimes I find dresses or tops that are very flattering but unfortunately have one significant flaw:  as one guy at L&R in NYC put it, “It looks like you’re dressed for open heart surgery!”.  Yep – the  neckline is way too plunging thereby making the shirt or dress unwearable. 😦

Anyway – I thought I’d post the clip so that if any of you are interested in actually purchasing it, you can follow the link listed there.  Boy don’t I wish I had invented it – or at least I was getting a cut on this referral!

Sometimes people think that dressing modestly means wearing a frumpy jumper.  It doesn’t.  NO frumpy jumpers please!

No frumpy jumpers!

One way to dress modestly is to, as one person put it that night, “Make sure your underwear is under there.  It’s called UNDERwear for a reason.”

In other words, whether you are a guy or a gal, I don’t want to see your underwear!

Isabel reminded us gals that we should dress for our body types.  Be aware that some fashionable trends were not made for your body type – and on your body type they are too revealing.  She also pointed out that dressing modestly does not mean dressing unattractively as some people in today’s fashion world might have you think.

Crystal suggested that girls ask themselves, “Do I want the cheap kind of attention?”

Another gal asked the guys to “Please let us know when we aren’t dressing modestly.  We might not know that what we are wearing is causing a temptation for you. ” Brilliant.

In the small group Megan offered that modesty is also in our actions.  It’s not enough to dress modestly, we must also be modest in how we hold our bodies.  We can be fully clothed but still be inappropriate in our manner.  Hold yourself to higher standards in dress and in actions.

In the small group I offered the reflection that it seems: If we reveal everything, there is nothing to draw the other in to discover that which is hidden.  What is hidden?  Our minds and our spirits.  We are more than our bodies.  So if we reveal everything about our body, the other person could easily miss the reality that there is more than meets the eye.

Patrick who was in my small group added that, “by revealing too much, it hastens that ‘getting to know the other’-phase.” He commented that if the getting-to-know-the-other-person-phase goes to quickly then you actually end up missing a lot about the other person.  As he was speaking it made me think of a car speeding past a beautiful scenery.

Are you speeding past the "getting to know someone" phase?

If you’re going 100 miles an hour, you aren’t really going to see the scenery as it goes by.  If you drive by a person at 100 miles an hour, would you be able to recognize them once you are standing still?  Dressing immodestly makes everything a blur.  On the other hand, dressing modestly sets both persons up to be able to actually see the other person.

Michael commented that when guys come across a gal at a party or a bar who is dressed modestly the guys don’t think, “Wow.  I really want to get to know that modest woman over there.”  They think, “Wow.  She’s beautiful.  I’d like to get to know her.”

Some guys in the crowd also acknowledged that while there might be some women who ARE striving for modesty, there are plenty of women who are unaware that their immodesty is a temptation for men.

One guy in particular commented that in college, while he considered himself to be a practicing Catholic, he really struggled with the idea that women should not be objects of lust.  Once he realized that women deserved to be treated with dignity and not be the objects of lust, he had to reform his old habits and replace them with good ones.  Instead of a subscription to Maxim Magazine, he read the Bible.  When he encountered a scantily clad woman walking down the sidewalk, he would push lustful thoughts out of his head by reciting Hail Marys over and over again.  One of his friends even wore a rubber-band around his wrist and snapped it every time he felt himself being drawn into lusting after a woman (or a particular body part) instead of seeing her beauty and value as human deserving the utmost respect.

To be sure, today’s world brings us challenges in the way of modesty whether we are men or women.  But I’m here to say, that it’s worth it.  I encourage you to, Be “The Cutest You” not the “Sluttiest You”.  Be “The handsome-est You.  Not the “Slickest You.”

That’s all for now – more next time on:  Men, Women, and Tenderness.