Posts Tagged ‘Love & Responsibility in NYC’

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!

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.

Week 7: Resenting Chastity

September 7, 2011

Last week  we covered: Love…and Responsibility?

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

(Unfortunately, I could not be there for the group discussion.  So I’m merely going to summarize the chapter and then provide a few reflections.)

This chapter deals discusses the dynamic that seems to surround Chastity.  In short, Chastity is met with a frown not a smile. This of course is nothing new.  Today just as in the days of John Paul II’s interaction with married couples as a Parish priest, there is a resenting of Chastity.  This chapter delves into why it seems that people resent Chastity.

Simply:

  • living a virtuous life is not easy,
  • because of our fallen nature (thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden) we tend to find it easier to follow our emotions and desires than submit those emotions and desires for the good of another
  • as we notice that a virtuous life is harder and requires more of us we start to talk ourselves out of it (in other words, we usually take the path of least resistance).
  • the virtue of chastity is often misunderstood as abstinence or a rejection of something that is very good
  • because of a misconception of what chastity is, chastity is seen as a threat not a strength.
  • if we focus on the subjective side of love and ignore the objective side of love, it then furthers the focus on the emotions of love and further instills the fear that chastity will crush it.

Ed Sri then goes on to describe Chastity as the “Guardian of Love.”  He states, “Now we can see why chastity is so necessary for love. Far from something that hinders our love, chastity is what makes love possible. It protects love from falling into selfish, utilitarian attitudes and enables us to love selflessly — irrespective of the powerful emotions or sensual delight we may receive from our beloved.”

Explained that way, I’m sure many more people would be rushing to sign up for that plan.  🙂

I wish I had received that explanation and this book sooner!  Until about 6 years ago I thought that chastity was merely abstinence.  “No intercourse till marriage.” was all I can remember hearing.  I never heard “Chastity is a Guardian of Love.”

I learned the hard way that Chastity really is the best policy.  I’m sorry that I had to learn it the hard way, but I am happy that I learned the lesson.  In fact, I learned the lesson just in time to protect the love that was and is the basis for my marriage.  Now I see that a lack of chastity is the cancer that eats away at true love.  I see that self mastery especially in regards to chastity is essential in propagating and sustaining love.

Striving and strengthening virtue gives one the ability to make good choices.  Even after I learned about the truth about chastity and threw away those misconceptions that I had about chastity, I still struggled with it.  Not only did I feel like I was up against the rest of the modern world regarding their idea of what sexual intimacy meant, I was up against myself.  All of my old habits had to be replaced with new acts of virtue.  It sounds heroic, and it is, but let’s just say that I had a few crash landings after trying out my new chastity superhero cape and flying abilities.

Mastery of Chastity will help you land on your feet!

The hidden secret is: The person who you love (who you are in a relationship with or who you are married to) will appreciate this mastery the most! No one wants their hearts to be hurt by someone they love being unchaste…. with someone else!  They want someone who has the ability to integrate their body with their hearts, minds, and souls so that their actions say that they love you.

So, your loved one will want it for their benefit so that they won’t get cheated on and they will also want it for themselves.

Perhaps not at first though. 😛

Like the people described in this chapter, often those who do not yet possess the virtue of chastity are the ones to most quickly criticize chastity or ridicule chastity.  They think: “Oh – well of course, let’s apply that “rule” over there, but not over here between us because that’s just awkward.  Besides, we don’t need that.  Right?”

I think that when I first met the man who is now my spouse, he thought I was nuts when I was so exuberant about the joys and freedom of chastity.  He thought, “umm… what? sounds more like the date fizzling than freedom.”  In fact I think that he was concerned that if we did not use our emotions to fan the fire of our passions (and therefore fall into unchaste actions), that we were in danger of having a bland passionless relationship.

Don't let your emotions fan the flames of passion... that will end up burning up the love that exists!

Luckily God invented chemistry, so that has never been a problem for my husband and I.  Through our dating experience we learned that chastity was actually necessary to really show to what extent we loved each other.  Honestly, a part of me thinks, “Chastity is the hard part – saying, ‘I do’ at the altar was easy!” For us, it was a huge challenge that has strengthened our marriage.  I know (proved by his willingness to persevere in chastity) that I married a man of virtue – one of perseverance and fortitude.  Likewise he knows that I am willing to “go the distance” – to fight against what I might be initially inclined to do and fight for what is right.

For us, chastity is no longer a thing to be feared, it is a thing to be understood and cherished.  It’s a tool in really loving someone in that mature love that seeks the good of the other.

It’s tricky, but I highly recommend it! I challenge you: resist resenting chastity and learn to eagerly embrace it!

Ok – that’s all for now.  More next week on “The Battle for Purity.”

Week 6: Love… and Responsibility?

August 31, 2011

A couple of weeks ago we covered: The Law of the Gift

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

Previous chapters have discussed the framework for establishing virtuous friendships, avoiding common pitfalls during the birth of a new relationship, and understanding the dynamic of love. This chapter speaks of what should happen after the relationship (and hopefully true love) has been established. It calls us not only to love, but to be responsible about it:

  • to fully accept the gift of love,
  • to fully trust the person so that they can be free to be emotionally intimate,
  • to resist focusing on our loved one’s faults which would reduce the person to a mere sinful object instead of the human person deserving of dignity that they are
  • to accept our loved one’s shortcomings and to help them in overcoming them,
  • to love them in “good times and bad”,
  • to challenge ourselves to grow from an immature love that looks inward to our own needs, to a mature love that looks outward toward what is best for our loved one.

Ed Sri then goes on to give examples of what a marriage made of mature love looks like and what a marriage made of immature love looks like. One couple had the trial of the wife getting ill with cancer. Faced with a life that he hadn’t planned for, the husband removed himself from the trial and left his wife, rather than deal with having to take care of her through her fight with cancer. (Can you say JERK???)

The other couple Ed Sri described in the chapter experienced the trial of the wife having M.S.. The husband stayed through the trial and even though the wife lost the use of her arms and legs,  he gave up the comfort of having a larger retirement fund and chose to love his wife by caring for her physical needs.  When the going got tough, he didn’t get going.  (Yay!!!)

As a single person, it’s a scary picture. Finding a suitable or compatible spouse seems like a hard enough task and now their being faced with the fact that even though they may find that man (or woman) of their dreams, the most difficult trials of love may lie ahead of them? I can just hear them saying, “I thought the hard part was dating? now you’re telling us that the hard part is when you love someone in marriage? EEESH.”

As a married person, I can tell you – it’s true. Each state of life has it’s own adventures – it’s own challenges – it’s own opportunities to challenge one’s self to become the best version of themselves. When you’re in the dating world, generally, you can’t wait to NOT be in the dating world anymore so that you don’t have to deal with all of the ridiculousness of being IN the dating world. But when you are married, the adventures (and even some of the ridiculousness) doesn’t end there. There’s a whole new level of adventures and challenges.

The key is to move beyond the immature inward looking love to the mature outward looking love. The more you work to strive toward (or strive to increase) the mature love in your marriage the more able you are able to handle adventures with peace and confidence.

This book and this chapter specifically has been very helpful in my marriage in regards to how I handle those unforeseen adventures. There’s an “adventure” that happened late in the first year of our marriage in which I really had to implement these ideas of not focusing on my spouse’s faults and responding in a way that would help my spouse overcome his shortcomings.  It also properly conveyed that while the matter was serious, my love for my spouse did not waver.

My response must have been thanks to a heavy dose of grace from God because I distinctly remember literally taking a few steps away from the discussion, taking deep breaths, and thinking to myself over and over again, “Your spouse is not the sum of his shortcomings. Your spouse is not the sum of his shortcomings. He was designed by God and has Human Dignity. He is a son of the King.”

20110915-024141.jpg

Beware of immature love's laser eyes!

My husband and I laugh about it now because he could plainly see that at that moment,  while I was faced with this adventure, I was so angry that I was practically on the verge of having lasers shoot from my eyeballs.  But in the next moment, without saying anything, the anger quickly dissipated and was followed by a very calm, peaceful, logical explanation about how his choice had been a poor choice and how to prevent it in the future.

Some of the hardest times to love someone is going to be when we are angry or when someone is angry at us.  The challenge is to diffuse the situation and to give our loved one an opportunity to adjust their behavior from cranky to calm.  I like to think of this as a lob in tennis.

Do you know what a lob is?

It’s where you loft the ball back at your opponent with an upward arcing direction so that it either lands behind them or forces them to back up.  It can be used defensively to diffuse a powerful shot and thereby give you additional time to collect yourself to be ready for the next shot,  or offensively to win the shot by catching your opponent off guard.

Here’s a picture:

Love: Lob your response back when met with anger.

A marriage based on immature love is one where the person returns an angry remark with an angry remark to win the point.  Ewww

A marriage based on immature love might be severely weakened by one  “adventure” caused by a poor choice. A marriage based on mature love (or even simply striving toward it), however, is actually strengthened by the “adventure” as each person sees that their spouse’s interaction and reaction with them is an act of love.

I think that many people stop short in their marriage (or relationship) at this immature love.   They limit the amount that they will love their fiance or their spouse. It’s sort of an invisible pre-nup. “I’ll love him no matter what, except if he cheats on me. Then it’s over.” or “I’ll love her no matter what, unless she gains like 100 lbs. Then it’s over, because I just can’t live with someone who doesn’t take care of themselves.” That love is an icky fickle love.

We are not called to have an icky fickle love. We are called to love as God loves. God loves us when we mess up. God loves us when we’re too skinny and when we’re overweight. He loves us when we are cranky and moody and when we are being totally selfish. (Of course He doesn’t love the crankiness and selfishness – it’s us He loves, not our poor choices a.k.a. sin.)

In fact when I think about it God challenges us to love Him, not just our spouses or neighbors, in a deeper more mature way too.  He challenges us to go from an immature love where we perhaps pray about how God can just help us get out of  a sticky situation to a mature love where our prayers are less about looking at what we want and more about what God wants of us.

Ok, so we’re supposed to love our neighbors with a mature love, but what if our neighbors are creeps? 😛

What do we do when loving in a real mature way is the last thing that we want to do?  How do we treat that stinky, drunk, loud, rude, obnoxious, 7 foot tall man as a man who was created in God’s image? a man who is a son of God? a man who is a prince in God’s kingdom – but who is seriously disguised with all of his troubles and shortcomings at this point?

I came across such a man when I was on the subway about 5 years ago.  It was early in the morning.  I was on my way to work and I was really not in the mood to be faced with someone who must have been drinking throughout the night and into the dawn.  Yet what came to mind were balloons.

It's a boy! or It's a girl! helps us to remember that we are all children of God.

Balloons tied to someone’s front door or someone’s mailbox.  “It’s a boy! Congratulations!” were written on them and they were tied with blue ribbons.  One day, 30 some odd years ago a mother brought that 7 foot man, who was then just a little bundle of joy, home from the hospital.

I think that’s how God sees us.  He remembers us when we were just a little nugget of cuteness in our mother’s arms.

So when you come across someone who is being cranky or stinky or both, just think of the bouquet of balloons to help you see them as God sees them.  It’s helped me many times.

We all have intrinsic value.  We were born with it.  We can’t escape it and no one can take it away.  In fact, during the large discussion group someone asked what intrinsic value was.  Someone gave a great answer:  extrinsic things are things that can be taken from us; intrinsic things are things that cannot be taken away.

God loves us with an intrinsic love.  You.  God loves You – the unrepeatable, unprecedented you.

(That reminds me of a trailer for a movie: The Human Experience   If you haven’t seen the movie…. SEE IT! It’s awesome!)

A gentleman commented during the group discussion that “we all were created in God’s image – and that we all reveal something about God that no one else can reveal.”  We are different for a reason.

Another gentleman, Mike, reminded us:  God created us, therefore we are good because everything that God created is good.

Some more great comments from that night include:

  • Every moment that we are in is a moment for our own conversion.
  • Loving with a mature love begins with us:  We have to know our own worth in order to value someone else and then be
    responsible for them.
  • Daniela quoted C.S. Lewis, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Treat your neighbor with respect.  We can either help our spouse (or neighbor) to be a monster or an angel.
  • Selfless love doesn’t count the cost.

The last example that I want to point out is one that was given by one of the women in the group.  She told us a story that was similar to the two couples described in the book.  It was the story of her two Aunts.  Both were faced with infidelity by their spouses.  But one handled it with love, while the other handled it with anger.  The “angry” Aunt is now divorced and still angry.  The “loving” Aunt worked hard to keep her marriage together and worked hard to show her spouse that even in a time of severe trouble and distrust, she still loved her spouse.

I’m glad that JPII, Ed Sri, and even people at our discussion group agree:  there’s more to love than just love…. there’s responsibility.

It’s not easy, but it leads to true happiness.  Good luck and see you next week!

Week 4: Sense and Sentimentality

August 17, 2011

Last week we covered Avoiding Fatal Attractions.

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered Sense and Sentimentality. (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

The chapter starts out with:  “How could Mr. Right turn out to be so wrong?”

All I have to say is: “Word.”

“How could Mr. Right turn out to be so wrong?” was my theme song of my life right up until I met and married my husband.  It seemed like I had a particular knack for finding the Mr. Wrongs of the world.  Perhaps instead of rose colored glasses, I had “Mr. Right” glasses on, preventing me from seeing what was really going on in the relationship.

Are you looking at the relationship through rose colored glasses?

I wish I had read this chapter sooner!  Then perhaps I would have noticed that I was often getting caught up in being overly sentimental about the relationship instead of looking at it in it’s reality.

This chapter explains that often one can get carried away in the idea of a relationship rather than the actual relationship between the two persons.  Sentimental feelings about someone is a good and important thing, but when the sentimental feelings take over the relationship and obscure who the person really is, it’s a bad thing.

The chapter argues (as does Blessed JPII) that women have a particular propensity to fall into this trap of being overly sentimental.  We see a guy across a crowded room and suddenly we find ourselves dreaming up a life with him, when we haven’t even met him yet! Or perhaps we’ve had a brief conversation or a momentary encounter and we think, “perhaps this is the one!”

(It’s not that men don’t do this sort of thing, because they indeed do, it’s just that women seem to be more prone to this.  Men seem to rush into the physical side of the relationship and women seem to rush into the sentimental side of the relationship.)

In a way, I think it’s nice that we as women want to think the best of a man.  Awww – aren’t we sweet?

However it’s not exactly prudent to attribute virtue to a man who doesn’t yet posses it.

It reminds me of a scenario in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  (Insert swooning from the ladies here and groans from the men here.) Elizabeth Bennet has erroneously assumed that George Wickham is an upstanding soldier.  It’s only later that she is informed of his actual character in a letter.  George Wickham is in fact, a scoundrel who has been imposing extortion on various people and has left a string of broken-hearted women trailing behind him.

wicked George Wickham

Why do we see virtues that aren’t there? Perhaps we are longing for the heavenly virtues which we are all called to.  Perhaps we are innately yearning for the union that we will have with God when we are in heaven and that yearning drives us to seek those heavenly virtues and an earthly union.  Or perhaps it’s both, and.  (Which is very Catholic…“both, and”…) Perhaps we BOTH yearn for that union AND we (as women) have a particular weakness to rush into the sentimental swooning over a relationship.

When we got together in our small groups we talked about how we as women can sometimes get carried away as our hopes for that “happily ever after” gets imposed upon someone we may have just started dating or someone we may have been recently introduced to.

One woman commented that it’s interesting that the chapter comments on this dynamic but in essence, “what do we do now? How do we prevent this?”

I commented that further chapters discuss actions and attitudes that can help prevent this over-sentimentality, but I encouraged the women in the group to provide suggestions.

Advice for women: get an accountability partner
One woman suggested having a fellow girlfriend act as an accountability partner. (What a great idea! I wish I had one when I was single).  She commented that it was important to “choose an accountability partner who you could trust and one who had the same values as you”, otherwise you would tend to dismiss their advice or their advice might be contrary to your beliefs.  This person could help ensure that you were not looking through those rose colored glasses and that you had a clearer sense of reality about the relationship.  This accountability partner would not be experiencing the relationship emotionally and would be able to give a more clear answer about whether or not the relationship was a healthy one.

Advice for men- how you can help
Once we returned to the group discussion, one of the men’s groups asked, “Well, if women are prone to this, what can we do to help prevent this?”

One woman answered that question quite succinctly:  “prayer.  Please pray for us.  Pray for us to be emotionally chaste.”  Men struggle with physical chastity in particular and women struggle with emotional chastity.  That isn’t to say that we don’t have struggles vice versa, it just means that we USUALLY have a struggle when it comes to these things.

Also, don’t be judgmental.  Yeah – it might be weird for you, as a guy, to witness a girl getting all wrapped up sentimentally with a guy (maybe even you) but don’t label us with terms like, “she’s being a psycho.” 😛 Men and women are just so different that our struggles seem “weird” to the other.

I chimed in with, Say, what you mean and mean what you say.  Don’t just say you “had a really really great time on a date and that you are going to definitely call usjust because you can’t think of a nice way to end a date.  Don’t be nice – be honest.  If you say things that lead us to think more of the relationship than there really is, then it’s no wonder that we’re thinking it!  Also – don’t talk about what particular school your children will be attending, what their names will be, or what kind of house you want unless you want US to be envisioning ourselves in that house.  Don’t talk about your dream life in detail and then expect us to NOT picture ourselves in it.

Don't describe your dream house in detail!

Words are lusty for women
Low cut blouses and short skirts are kryptonite for men; men are prone to lust after the physical attributes of a woman.  Likewise words can be kryptonite for women; women are prone to lust for the sentimental feelings she has when a man speaks to her. Of course every dress is not going to thwart the good natured man and not every word is going to impact a woman to bring her to swooning uncontrollably after a man.  But there are certain key words or subjects that are sure to trigger an emotional response.  Those are: marriage, children (like what their names are and where they will attend school in Westchester County) and house.   (When I think of more, I’ll add them.)  Words can be used for good (like poetry or compliments) but they can also be the triggers that send a woman into daydreaming about a relationship that perhaps isn’t even there yet.  A good rule of thumb is to keep your words level with what sort of relationship you are in.  If you’ve just met, it’s a good idea to avoid describing what sort of house you want to buy “someday” (and what size tv you’ll have in the living room.) If you’ve been dating a while then perhaps it’s time to venture into those conversations which include more details about the specific life you envision leading in the future.

Here’s the thing: it’s not inherently WRONG – it’s just not wise.  See, we gals are like a video game character.  Say the right word and it’s like we just gobbled up a mushroom in a secret world of plumbing pipes and now we are dooo dooo do doooo Growing in Power

SUPER SINGLE GIRL! Now we have super hero strength and are able to leap to a committed relationship – heck, maybe even marriage- in a single bound! (Sorry – I’m sort of drifting in and out of metaphors.)

Super Single Girl! Able to leap to a committed relationship in a single bound!

So – unless you WANT to be out on a date with a slightly psycho superhero, I suggest that you make sure that your words match the type of relationship that you are ready for.

Make sure that you use the “D” word.
Patrick made a great comment:  To avoid all of this, simply state what you mean.  If you want to ask a girl out say, “Hi.  Would you like to go out on a date so that I can get to know you better?”  Be sure to use the word DATE so that she OR you wont be confused about why you’re headed out to coffee.

Patrick went on to mention that he’s noticed that in the Catholic dating scene in New York City, he’s seen a a really big pressure put on dating – that somehow dating someone = marriage.  Patrick noted, “asking someone out on a date for coffee is just coffee, it’s not a proposal for marriage.”  So guys, you don’t have to discern if you are going to marry someone, you just have to ask them out for coffee.  Gals, you don’t have to discern if this guy is Mr. Right, it’s just coffee.

Another guy suggested to keep the conversation on something that is outside of yourselves. I thought that was a good point.  Often first dates we are searching for a subject to talk about and so the conversation often lands on ourselves.  First dates are sometimes like an in person resume and unfortunately sometimes they are disastrously like a police interrogation.

Talk about something outside of yourself, like this tree!

Not fun! So instead of divulging too much about one’s self too early in the relationship, one can attempt to talk about something outside of themselves.  The gentleman that night used the example of talking about a tree.  I’m not sure how long my conversation would be if it were only about trees, but I think it’s a good idea nonetheless.

Another comment was made about prayer.  Pray to God that He will allow you to see the person you are speaking to, how He sees them. Nice.  Short and sweet and much better at making sure that we see the reality of the person not the dreamed up overly sentimental version of the person.

Another suggestion was: Relax.  Dating is a learning process, not a succession of failures.  It’s about getting to know

the other person and simultaneously getting to know ourselves better.  Dating is a way of determining if the match is a complimentary fit, not, is there something inherently wrong with this person that I am interacting with- and how bad or good are they.

I wish I had an easier time remembering this when I was single.  A breakup felt like someone saying, “eww – you’re no good.”  This was probably due to the circumstances of the break up.  Towards the end of my dating career, I realized that really, it came down to whether or not we were a good fit for each other.  Sometimes the guy was a really nice, great guy, but just the wrong fit.

Great fit for someone else, but not a great fit for me.  It didn’t really make sense until I met the man who became my husband.  Each day that I interact with him, I’m reminded what a good fit he is for me.  I’m so glad that I was able to learn through the dating process, what type of person would be a good fit for me.  It helped me to not get stuck in the trap of being overly sentimental and helped me to see the relationship and my sweetheart, in reality, not in my imagination.

As, I said before and as many other women in these discussion groups have commented:  I wish I had read this book sooner!

More to look forward to in further weeks!

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!

Love & Responsibility in NYC

June 27, 2011

I’m happy to report that Love & Responsibility in NYC is starting up again!

Taking place right in the heart of NYC every Tuesday evening, in downtown SoHo, this weekly social discussion forum for young adults in their 20’s and 30’s will inspire you to grow in your understanding of love and flourish in your relationships.

The first meeting is tomorrow night (Tuesday June 28, 2011) at 7:30 p.m. in SoHo.

Interested? check it out at:
Outdoor Courtyard of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral High School
Entrance via the yellow door on Mott St (b/w Prince St & Spring St)
New York, NY

More info at:

https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=211308248907388

Hope to see you there 🙂