Chivalry and the single girl

This blog post from James Michael Shama, founder of the New Chivalry Movement (an endeavor I applaud whole-heartedly) has been making the rounds on my Facebook feed over the past few weeks. It’s  great to see advice from one young man to another on being a gentleman. As a woman who spent most workday evenings standing on the DC metro during my four years commuting, while plenty of young, healthy men sat and stared at their phones, I’ve certainly experience firsthand that a good discussion on chivalry is long overdue, especially for my generation.

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I appreciate Mr. Shama’s work and I realize he’s speaking largely about relationships and how men ought to treat women within them. Still, as a single woman, I’d also like to remind the gentlemen of this world that chivalry is not limited to the woman you’re romantically interested in. Sure, hold the door for the girl you like and pull out your date’s chair at the table, but chivalry isn’t about scoring points with your girlfriend. It’s about honoring and respecting those more vulnerable than you, which means quite simply there’s not always something in it for you.

More than once I’ve been left in the proverbial cold while men went out of their way to impress my girlfriends with their chivalry. I’m well aware when a man is pursuing my friend, and I know just about every man in my acquaintance currently is only interested in me on the platonic level. I play the best friend role a lot, believe me, and I know how to be a third wheel.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes. As just one example among a few, several years ago a guy opened a door for my friend, then walked in after her himself and closed it on me–even though we were all walking together. I remember standing there staring at the closed door for a full minute, blinking in bewilderment. Apparently not being a romantic interest meant I wasn’t worth respecting at all. There’s not gentle way to put this: that hurt. It still hurts, in fact, even though it seems like such a small deal, and it happened so long ago.

We single women develop a thick skin to rebuffs like that. Over time we come to expect them. We twist the painful experiences into cynical jokes and snide “funny” stories so they don’t sting quite as much, but the pain of being unnoticed and unlooked-for is very real. Men, do you want to be truly chivalrous? Take the time to perform a random act of gentlemanliness for a woman you’re not romantically interested in. It shouldn’t be a romantic act (you don’t want to send the wrong signal), but just affirming her womanhood means the world — even if she’s used to being cynical and not quite sure how to take it.

AdamAndEve_Garden_Lucas_Cranach_0I often return to that scene in the Garden of Eden, when Adam awoke and saw the woman for the first time. His response was one of wonder and delight; he affirmed the woman as a woman, and that affirmation was her delight. Each of us women is that first woman, and each of us longs to be seen and affirmed, even the most cynical and thick-skinned of us. All it takes is a small act of chivalry, like holding a door or vacating a metro seat, to say, “I affirm you as a woman. Not a potential girlfriend or someone I really want to impress, but as a woman in your own right, even if I never see you again.”

In its ideal form, that’s what chivalry should be all about: affirming the value and worth of the other person, no strings attached.

–Mabel

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“Delighting in the sons of men…”

“Rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.” – Proverbs 8:31

An old spiritual director once counseled me to “seek to delight in the other.” The advice had something to do with openness to dating and letting my guard down, and I’m afraid at the time the words fell on largely deaf ears. That’s not to say they didn’t sound nice in theory — “delight in the other” has a sort of Garden of Edenesque trill to it that’s lovely all on its own.

But to delight in another person, whether romantically or simply as one child of God encountering another, has never come naturally to me. Maybe it feels a bit like taking a liberty. Admiring someone is one thing, because it maintains a respectful distance. Delighting in a thing means immersing yourself in it, digging your hands in it up to your elbows, throwing it in the air and catching it again, tasting it, laughing out loud over it, hugging it close to your chest, smothering it with kisses.

In other words, delight is a shameless, childlike, generally pretty messy process. And one can’t delight in another person without being a bit shameless, childlike, and yes — messy.

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But reflecting on my chosen theme for January, I realized that learning to find the face of Christ in others has to start with learning to delight in them. Of course, this is easy to do when you’re dealing with babies or small children or pleasant, loving people who are pretty obviously delightful in and of themselves. But what about the less-than-delightful people we encounter on a daily basis? The grocery store cashier who looks half dead, the jaywalkers, the drivers who cut you off on your morning commute, the old woman who sits right behind you in chapel and smells like mothballs and whispers all her prayers aloud until you can hardly think.  

Delight can be even more challenging when you don’t feel all that delightful yourself. I realized that in a more poignant way than ever this weekend. I helped to organize a black tie event with some friends, and somehow being in a social situation surrounded by people in their best clothes left me feeling irritable and shoddy. Other people thrive in lively scenes like that; the older I get, the more I want to run away about twenty minutes after the party starts. I’m afraid “delight” was about as the farthest thing from my mind that evening.

But it’s not just black tie social events. I make a point of surrounding myself with delightful people all the time, from my household to my closest friends. It’s a great practice, until I inevitably start comparing myself with them; then I just become sour. And the sourer I feel in comparison with my delightful friends, the less able I am to delight in anybody else. I’m just a quivering bundle of resentment.

Yet it’s that delight in others and even in ourselves as children of God that is the key to real Christian charity–the charity that changes hearts and stays lodged in our memory for the rest of our lives. Just think of saints like Bl. John Paul II: he delighted in people, and people never forgot it.

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I guess the challenge lies in really delighting. Delight can’t be forced. Do we simply go through the motions and hope the real feelings will follow? I think instead we have to go back a few steps and work on other attitudes first — like gratitude, service to others, and charity. And we have to be okay with being like children, unafraid of what others will think of us, unafraid to see and rejoice in the goodness of other people.

 

Profile No. 19: Brett Manero

Profiles in the Gap

Brett Manero

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Brett Manero is a young professional and Theology student living in Washington, DC.

Did you expect this time of singleness?

Hmm, yes and no. Yes, because I knew that I’d need (and want) my 20s to be a time of exploring, growing, and preparing. No, because like the rest of us, part of me imagined that I’d be settled by now! But thank goodness I’m not, because I know that being single at this very moment is exactly what I’m supposed to be. It’s a perfect place to say, “Lord, here I am, I come to do your will.” And knowing Him — He’s full of surprises.

Is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?

Right after my college graduation, I stayed in Scotland (where I studied for my undergraduate) to work for six months. I remember praying one evening and almost catching a glimpse of my coming 20-something’s, and what a roller coaster ride it would be. I knew it would be a time of “changing seasons” — different career experiments, grad school, relationships, friendships, etc. I knew it would feel tumultuous at times — that it could be a time of great excitement and joy, but also great challenges and disappointments. I wrote a short story shortly after college about going through your 20s; in it I describe it as a “lonely decade.” Lonely, because you’re not quite settled on things like vocation and career yet, and “getting there” can be quite a hike. But that’s part of the fun.

Overall, it’s been as I expected it to be. However, I certainly never expected to live in Washington, DC. My older brother and sister lived here and I didn’t want to “follow in their footsteps” by moving here. But, as often happens, God had a different plan — and here I am, and I can totally see why I’ve been here.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it?

Absolutely. I work for the Church, so the work we do is of course fulfilling. Getting to know so many other young Catholics through work has been a phenomenal blessing. When I eventually am working in a secular environment, that transition from being around the Blessed Sacrament and a Catholic presence all day will be weird! But we’re called to go out into the world to share our faith — in the workplace especially. Pope Francis has reminded me quite a bit about that.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

My faith guides my life! Being Catholic is awesome. I came back to the faith during my college years after growing up as a “halfway Catholic.” I can’t imagine life without it. Trusting in God — that He’ll guide and provide — is key.

“Build Up For the Future.”

My best friend in college, a Protestant, said this to me years back. I see my 20s as a sort of “springboard” for the rest of my life — to grow spiritually and professionally, to prepare for my vocation in the long-run.

One of the best pieces of advice my spiritual director gave to me a few years ago was: “Pray the Rosary for your future spouse. Offer it up as a sacrifice for her.” So, a few days a week I offer that prayer.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that, with God, it’s impossible to predict the future. He is so full of surprises and loves to open (and close) doors for us. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now — still in DC, somewhere else — but I try not to stress too much about it. He’s got it covered.

If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

So much to choose from. I would travel again. I’d go on some kind of a missions trip to the Middle East to help the persecuted Christians there.

Vita est pulchra! (Life is beautiful)

Profile No. 18: Claire

Profiles in the Gap
Claire
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Claire is an anonymous Catholic blogger in the UK. She blogs at Everything Is Grace. Follow her on Twitter, @CCGraceBlog.
Did you expect this time of singleness?
When I was a kid I had a lot of plans and expectations as to what would be happening in my life at the age of 25. I had envisaged a big beautiful house, a lovely husband and at least one bouncing baby on my knee… The actual picture of my life is vastly different from this. If you must know, I recently moved back in with my parents, I don’t drive, I don’t have any prospective boyfriends, and I work two part-time jobs in a city that takes me three hours traveling to and from everyday. This was all very unexpected. I may have had a little crisis moment before my 25th birthday where I thought, “Where have I gone wrong?” But I realise that I am probably the happiest I have ever been in my life. Nothing is perfect, nothing is the way I want it to be. But this is what God has made it, and it is the best thing ever.
What did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 
I did not expect this time of singleness. I completely assumed that my life was going to go along the same path as everyone else I knew and looked up to. I am not going to lie and say that I am over the moon that I have not fulfilled my goals, but as a priest friend reminded me of this week, it’s not about my goals. My plan is not the plan, His plan. Jeremiah 29:11 is something I try to learn from on a daily basis. God does have a plan, and it could be similar or completely different to the plan teenage Claire had, but whatever it is, He will be executing it in His own time. Meanwhile, what’s happening right now is keeping me with a smile on my face. I am safe, warm, well-fed, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, surrounded by people I love, and growing into such a beautiful relationship with Christ.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
Ahhh the career question. I work for two different charities – a non denominational pro-life charity and a Catholic charity. All things aside I love what I do. I love the people I work with and for. I love the potential of the places I work in, and what they could do in the future. I love being part of the journey. But I can honestly say this is just a moment in time for me. I dream of bigger and better things. I want to work with people. I want to own my own business. I want to make people happy. I want to bring people closer to Christ. Again, these are a lot of things I want! But it all depends on what He wants.
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
My faith essentially forms everything about me. I am a very optimistic person, and I believe that this optimism stems from a knowledge of the life God has built for me, and the promise of life with Him forever. I know that anything that goes wrong is not really the end of the world, and I know He looks after me. Having faith means I look at everything very differently — from what I eat, to what I do, who I hang out with, the situations I can get myself into…. down to random things like the charities I can support and the people I vote for. People look at faith as something restrictive, but I see it as something incredibly freeing. Having a life of faith has opened so many doors for me, created so many opportunities and made me who I am today. It definitely reassures me as a single woman. I look at my peers who don’t have faith, but who are single — they throw themselves at every man/woman with a pulse, they crave attention, they crave love, and they look for these things in all the wrong places. I know that Christ loves me more than any man ever could, and I learn each day that this love is enough for me, and anyone that comes along will have to slot in with that love.
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Faith is a challenge and a half; anyone who says it’s easy is talking crazy talk! Picking up the crosses of my life and dealing with them is a challenge. Praying — having a daily conversation with Christ — is a challenge. Blogging is a bit of a challenge for me… and trying to find time to blog is a challenge in itself these days.

If I didn’t worry about being a failure… I would start my own business. I don’t know what it would be though, so some thought would have to be put in that…. I would also put videos on Youtube because I really admire Youtubers (Shaycarl, CTFxC, Datev Gallagher, HeyKayli) and how they inspire many people. But a realistic thing would be to put a photograph on my blog and show it to people I actually know “in real life.” That is a huge challenge to me. But until I get the courage for that…. it’s anonymous blogging all the way.

Profile No. 17: Morgan McFarlin

Profiles in the Gap

Morgan McFarlin

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Morgan McFarlin is a Pro-life Missionary on college campuses in Illinois. She blogs at Follow and Believe

Did you expect this time of singleness?

No, I did not. Not at all. I fully expected to be either engaged or nearing engagement by the time I graduated from college. Some of this expectation came from how my parents’ love story had played out, but never did I imagine that I would be nearly two years post-undergrad and single.

I struggled all through college watching my friends meet their future spouses. It was something that I so inherently desired, and to be one of only two single folks in my friend group caused me to think there was something wrong with me. Essentially, I began to base my worth on my relationship status. I spent years searching, hoping, and waiting for my life to begin. All because I was “alone.” Sometimes I want to go back in time and slap my former self across the face. If only I’d attempted to live in the “now” rather than for the future…

Only recently have I fully come to truly enjoy and embrace my life…yes, my single life. But even more than that, I’ve stopped allowing my relationship status to define who I am. My life is good, just as it is. And actually, I’m perfectly content being single. I’m really loving my independence, and since I travel a lot for work, it’s nice to be able to pick up and leave whenever. Plus, this period has been really great for investing in my non-romantic relationships. Making friends post-college can be tough, but that’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow as a person. Of course, if Mr. Wonderful walked into my life today, I’d be overjoyed…but clearly, if we aren’t together right now, it’s because God has other plans.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career?

Growing up as a baby-loving Irish-Catholic, I never gave much thought to the idea of developing a “career.” Sure, I always had ambitions and dreams, but above all, I desired to be a wife and mother.

So, imagine my surprise when I realize that this “stepping stone” job I got straight out of college happens to be what I now believe to be my calling. I love my work! I’m currently based on an Illinois college campus, working to build up pro-life leaders. How awesome is that? Every. day. I have the opportunity to make a difference. I’m actually living the unconventional ministry lifestyle that I longed for in my early collegiate years! Who would’ve thought that those dreams would have been fulfilled?

As content as I am now, when I first acknowledged the love I had for my work, I was a little freaked out. After all, I’d only ever planned on working temporarily before having babies and being a stay-at-home mom. This threw a bit of a wrench in my plans! But that’s the thing about our plans: God loves to mess ’em up and redirect us toward His original plan.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

My everyday life requires me to continuously trust that the Lord will provide (support raising, anyone?), and my love life, or lack thereof, is no exception. Trust is ultimately what it all comes down to. Worry and fear comes from a lack of trust in Our Lord and His goodness. After all, if I totally and completely trust that God won’t forget about me, why would I need to worry or fear for the future?

But I can only be at peace with where I’m at in life by choosing this peace daily. It is a daily challenge to choose peace over fear; to choose peace over worry; to choose peace over frustration and bitterness. In the same way that I choose to be at peace with my “singlehood,” I have to make the daily choice to trust God and His faithfulness. I have to choose every single day to allow Him to guide me instead of my feelings. Every day is a struggle to step into the unknown and see where He takes me.

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself?

More than anything, I’m just trying to take this time to continue becoming the best version of myself. I still have a long way to go, and some days I hope that Mr. Wonderful takes a bit more time to find me so I have longer to prepare. Many singles, myself included, tend to think, “I’ll finally be complete when I’m with my future spouse.” But really, God should be the only one who completes me. And in the end, shouldn’t He always be my main man? 🙂

Profile No. 14: Ashton Mallon

Profiles in the Gap
Ashton Mallon
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Ashton Mallon is a campus minister living and working in Northern Virginia. You can read some of her other great writing here.
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
I think I have known in my heart from a young age that the Lord would give me as much time as I needed to prepare me for whatever Vocation He has in store for me. At the same time, I also know that at times I can get impatient with every passing year. I have always understood, in my heart, that I am not perfect yet, so I expected to have years of being single that can prepare me for my vocation and spouse. I grew up not dating often, and only dating intentionally, so it comes naturally in a sense for me to embrace singleness.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
I am very appreciative because very rarely do I get frustrated with being single; it must be some extra grace! Rather, I have always seen it as a time to grow into the person that God desires me to be, the one whom He desires me to be to my future spouse. I honestly am not one to make too many expectations, because the Lord always seems to surprise us in life.
If I were to look back, though, and then look to now, I do think that being single is what I thought it would be. It consists mostly of dating when I feel called to, continuing to discern my vocation, and most importantly staying plugged into prayer and the community, particularly through friendships. This is what I mostly imagined it to be, though to be honest, I wish that I was able to have more time to meet new people. I work in ministry, which I absolutely love, but it does mean odd hours in my schedule and often means that other (most!) things come after my students. In an ideal world, I would appreciate more time to spend meeting other women, dating, and or visiting religious orders to discern better. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way–the Lord is working beautifully!
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
I work in college ministry and I absolutely love my career! To be honest, I sometimes forget that it is a “career” because I go to work every day to, what feels like, just hang out with friends. Much of my job is spent personally growing so that I can continue to be an example to my students of what it means to seek after Christ and allow Him to fulfill you…. it’s intimidating! My only goal is to inspire them to desire and pursue Christ, hopefully first by my own example. The conversations I have about their questions inspire my own faith; the Bible studies I have led enrich my own relationship with Christ; the situations I help them work through remind me of what I need to be doing in my own life, how much more I need to depend on Christ, and how much more I have to grow. It’s beautiful!
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Faith plays a monumental role in my actions and outlook! I honestly could not name much else that does. All that I do, all that I think, and all that I am is because of and influenced by my relationship with Christ. When I am struggling with loneliness as a single young adult, I turn to Christ. When I am trying to discern a relationship more seriously, I pray even more. Particularly as a single young adult, I feel that I have even more need to depend on my faith because it is a difficult time of decisions; jobs, housing, relationships, morals–it all has to flow from my prayer life, community, and beliefs.
For me in particularly, working in ministry allows me to see my faith as a crucial aspect to my single life, because I am able to be almost radically available to share my faith with my students, something that I know I will be unable to do when I am in my vocation. Faith motivates my choices, since sometimes there is no one else there to help you (I am not married or part of a community, so it’s often me and God). Faith and my relationship with Christ motivate my discernment of my career, my charity towards and relationships with my housemates, fulfills my loneliness, and strengthens my pursuit for a spouse, amidst so much else.
 
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Some challenges that I give myself during the time of being single are not allowing myself to get too discouraged. It can sometimes take more prayer than I would like, but when I really think about how much God loves me (as corny as it sounds!) I am reminded that this loneliness is only a reason for me to draw even closer to Him; to perfect myself through His love and grace, and to let HIM lead the way.
Another challenge I give (though I need to be better about following through…) is to make time to hang out with people. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Particularly as a single woman, I think I need to be better about going out and meeting people, cultivating those friendships, and possibly even meeting people of the opposite sex … what a concept!
If I didn’t have to worry about failure, I would also go to more young adult things to meet new friends… I just get so shy! I would also like to speak in public more often. I love speaking about femininity and chastity, two great passions of mine. I come alive when I give talks on retreats, and I feel so encouraged in my own faith journey when I do. I also think that when I share about my prayer, my relationship with Christ, or about things that I have come to believe and love, I just see myself so strengthened in those areas and I love trying to inspire that in others. Ultimately, I would just put myself out there more–ask more people to hang out, etc!

A hot mess

At the risk of sounding negative and petulant and all the things I’ve been trying to avoid on this blog for the past three years, I’m going to admit something: This year has not been an easy one for me.

I always thought growing up meant getting to know yourself and settling into a life-long sort of routine, not just in outside things like when you wake up in the morning and where you buy your gas, but internally. I thought I’d reach a point in my late twenties or early thirties when everything about me just clicked and settled into place, and I could get comfortable with who I am and what I think and want and sort of “cruise” through anything life might throw at me.

Okay, so I never “thought” this in so many words, but I definitely carried the idea around with me in my subconscious, and I sort of staked a lot of my plans on it.

I’ll get serious about pursuing my vocation when I’m finally grown up, I thought.

I’ll be more comfortable in my own skin and have an easier time facing things like confrontation, leadership, suffering, and (gulp) relationships when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ll be worthy, when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ve always known life and outside circumstances can throw all sorts of curveballs our way, but I thought as long as I could maintain a good grip on myself, everything else would be okay. It never occurred to me that I might be my own biggest curveball.

Not until I found myself sitting on my bed in the dark one Friday night this past spring, surrounded by a pile of clothes I’d tried on and decided against, dreading the prospect of smiling and chatting my way through yet another crowded house party. Five years ago I would have killed to have the social life I have now. On this particular night, I would’ve sold my right arm for the promise of a few hours’ peace and solitude. But we were the hosts, and already I heard guests arriving downstairs. And I lost it. I sat up there for at least half an hour, sobbing over everything and getting angry with myself for losing it and completely unable to figure out why I couldn’t just get it together and drag my butt downstairs and have a good time. I finally had to sneak out of the house for an hour, and showed up late to my own party, with a brave enough face that I didn’t frighten off too many of the guests. But my own inability to control my reaction that evening really scared me.

Apparently, no matter how hard we try, we never have complete control over ourselves. Sickness, physical incapacity, emotional disturbances, mental unrest all just happen, and they force us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we’d like to be. I have discovered this year that no matter how hard I try to build fences and construct barriers and make my own personal corner of the universe safe and pleasant and full of nice people and things that make me comfortable, I can’t change the fact that I am not and never will be perfect.

The worst part? Apparently I’m the only one who’s been fooled into thinking I might be, or at least I might be close.

As I wrote recently, it’s been a humbling year. It’s been a year of learning how to ask for help, or at the very least to admit that I need it. It’s been a year of letting people see me cry. It’s been a year of taking criticism and critique as an opportunity to become better, instead of letting it cripple me. It’s been a year of letting myself  voice an opinion or a desire or a need without apologizing for it. It’s been a year of going on dates even though I tend to find them uncomfortable. It’s been a year of asking family and friends for prayers on the really tough days.

I’m not there yet, but I want to look back later in life and see this as the year that I finally learned, as St. Paul says, to “boast in my weakness.” I don’t know where I’m going or what my Vocation will look like, but I do know that I will be a weak, sinful, redeemed woman, in every circumstance. I’d like this year to be the turning point in a life that bears fruit because I’ve finally, finally begun to understand that I’m a hot mess.

Yet somehow, I’m still worthy of love in spite of it.

-Mabel

This needs to be said

While we’re broaching the subject of dating, there’s something I’ve been needing to get off my chest for a long, long time now, related to the dating scene here in the DC area.

We gals can spend a lot of time complaining that “the men around here” aren’t proactive enough. And while that can feel painfully true at times, it isn’t. I think what we really mean is that the men we like don’t happen to like us. Frustrating? Of course. But let’s not denigrate all the men in the local area because the “wrong” ones are the ones reaching out.

In fact, I want to thank all the men in my life who have honored me in the past few years by seeking to get to know me better, and even — at times — asking me out. Obviously for now it hasn’t been quite right for whatever reason(s). Attraction remains a mystery, right? Some of us are comfortably returned to being “just friends,” and some of us have fallen out of touch or taken a big step back. And I’m afraid I’m the most awkward person alive when it comes to dating and all things that threaten romance, so I know I haven’t always handled things as graciously as I could have. Still, you should all know that your notice was flattering, uplifting, and encouraging, and I’m incredibly grateful.

I’m especially grateful to the men who have had the courage to pick up the phone and call. Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone for me. Thank you for letting me know that I’m worth seeking out, beyond a Gmail or Facebook chat or the occasional text message — nice as those things are, of course.

Know that even though I’m not very good at expressing it out loud or in the moment, you have earned my lasting respect. By behaving the way men ought to and pursuing, you have helped me step into my role as a woman. I mean it from the bottom of my heart: thank you.

-Mabel

Stepping past disheartened

“I’ve given up on men.”

It’s becoming a key phrase among my single lady acquaintances. We’re single and we’re tired of being single, but scanning the horizon turns up a pretty bleak picture of…well, a lot more singleness. It’s the same whether you live in a metropolitan area hopping with apparently eligible bachelors (I’ve heard D.C. listed as such a place by wide-eyed out-of-towners. Oh, ladies: give me a call before you start planning your move to this area to find Mr. Right), or in a suburban wasteland. Here and there around us people meet, date, fall in love, get married, and all our elders tell us this is the “normal” state of affairs and ask us when we’re going to settle down. Now I believe this used to be the normal state of affairs. Granted, I’m no history expert, but every woman I know over the age of 45 tells me the same story about life for the 20-something woman back in her day. A twenty-six-year-old living on her own and working, while not unheard of twenty years ago, was certainly not the established norm like she is today. If movies like Crossing Delancey are any indication, they were in fact still something of an anomaly.

Anyway, this post was not meant to be a commentary on cultural norms, but on the disturbing trend toward bitterness I’m seeing resulting from those norms. Of course, I see only the ladies’ side of this discussion, where hapless single females between the ages of 25 and 35 begin to throw up their hands and cry, “It’s hopeless!” But though we haven’t talked much about it, I sense a similar feeling of discontent in my male friends and acquaintances. Of course their frustrations are different from ours, but they’re every bit as real. Whether we’re going on frequent dates, dating online, or hardly dating at all, many of us are becoming increasingly disheartened.

Disheartened. I’ve been mulling this post over for the past couple days, and that word keeps playing around in my mind. Like a good editor, I looked it up, because even though I know basically what it means, sometimes it’s nice to see the exact definition. To dishearten is “to cause someone to lose determination or confidence.” It fits even better than I realized. We are losing our determination to hope, and we are certainly losing our confidence in one another.

Of course, we all have our own ideas of the perfect solution to the problem. The girls say, “If only the men would take some initiative!” (But let’s be fair. Ladies, do we really want every man we know to “take initiative” and ask us out? Or are we thinking of those few men we could potentially be interested in who have never made a move?) The men say, “The girls just have to be more approachable!” (Frankly, I’ve never understood what the heck this means. I may not be Mrs. Potts, but I’m not exactly an icicle…)

At the end of the day, though, there is no perfect solution. The human race has ever been and remains a broken people. I think we pin a whole lot of expectation on our hope for love. We want to be discovered, rejoiced in, cherished, committed to, perhaps healed, and we seek all of those things in a romantic relationship that just never seems to materialize.

Let’s start with the obvious problem: those are things we should be seeking from God first. If we’re blessed to discover them also in a romantic relationship, praise God. But don’t pin all of that responsibility on another human being. (I remember being surprised when a dear friend of mine in a committed long-term dating relationship once told me, “Even when you’re dating, you still have some days where you just feel sad and lonely.” It made sense, but it still took me aback. Subconsciously I guess I’d always imagined I would want for nothing once I ended up with a great guy.)

More to the immediate point, we have to lose the bitterness. Christ and his mother are often referred to as “all sweetness.” If we’re to imitate them, we also must be sweet. “I’ve given up on [the opposite sex]” is the cry of a bitter, very often wounded person. My heart goes out to all my single friends, as I know the real pain behind those words. But spreading the bitterness around only tears everyone down.

I propose what may seem a trite solution, but I firmly believe it’s the only one: prayer. And lots of it. How often do you ladies pray for men–not just your brothers/fathers/friends/future spouses, but Christian men everywhere, and especially the men in your own community? When you’re dating online, how often do you pray for the men whose profiles you click through? Ladies, I challenge you: let’s pray for our men. Pray that they may become holy, grow in virtue, and become the men God wants them to be.

And guys, I offer you the same challenge: please pray for us!

We are all of us broken. We’ve all been hurt in some way, some far more than others. But we can be healed if we want to be. Cynicism and bitterness are selfish responses–people have not given us what we wanted or expected, and we respond by putting up walls. I challenge all of us to try something new, something different. Let’s counteract the bitterness with sweetness. Remember that Christ still heals. Why not ask him to heal us, and to heal those who have hurt us?

What are we most afraid of?

Father Rich Dyer spoke at Arlington’s Theology on Tap this week–the topic was “fear.” I almost never attend TOT these days, but being The World’s Biggest Coward, I thought this talk might be worth listening to.

It was.

At the end someone asked the question: “What do you think is the biggest fear among Catholic young adults these days?”

I thought, “If he says ‘commitment’ I’m going to punch the wall.” Granted, there’s some truth to the statement, “Today’s young people are just too afraid to commit,” but I’ve heard it so much that it just rings hollow. Besides which, I think the “fear to commit” is only the surface of some much deeper sociological, psychological, spiritual problems. So it becomes the easy, cop-out answer of an older generation that needs to have something to cluck its tongue at.

But I digress. Father didn’t answer the question right away. He paused and looked at the floor for a long minute. A really long minute. The guy in the booth next to me started to squirm a little and someone coughed. At last Father looked up and said, “I feel a little out of the loop these days, but I guess I’d have to say Catholic young adults are most afraid of being themselves.”

By that, he went on to explain, he meant too many YAs are afraid to be obviously Catholic. He gave the example of saying grace before meals in public. How many people refuse to cross themselves before and after grace, for fear of standing out?

Okay, so maybe many of us are okay with blessing ourselves in public. Some of us go so far as to wander the city streets with our rosaries on the walk home after work.

But how many of us (and I plead guilty) hide behind the old, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words” excuse for not standing up for what we believe in when we’re faced with tough questions from our peers, maybe in social settings, in the work place, wherever? I fall into this trap all the time: I’ll be a nice person, they’ll know I’m a good Christian girl, and somehow or other they’ll all be won over to Jesus by the juxtaposition of those two things.

How often do I end up half apologizing for my weird belief system when people ask me to explain it? Or talking about the harder-to-swallow truths of our faith with just enough of a lilt to my voice that my hearers can pick up, “Don’t worry, I get how crazy this is”? Or falling into the corrosive “Well, this is what I believe, but you can believe what you want” mindset that ends in a relativistic approach to life?

I didn’t realize quite how wishy-washy I could be about this until I participated in a writing workshop this past spring. Not only was I the only conservative Catholic in the group, but we were all participating in a pretty intimate thing together: the writing of short stories. And I found myself embarrassed to let my Catholicism shine through in my writing. Would it turn people off? Wouldn’t they have trouble relating to my writing, unless I made myself out to be yet another angsty, questioning Catholic who isn’t quite on board with the whole deal?

It was easy enough to be Catholic boldly as a Catholic homeschooled kid, as a student at  a Catholic college, and even now as a Catholic young adult surrounded by like-minded peers. But to be Catholic in all settings, and to be so with pride is hard. Even scary.

And the hardest part is being Catholic with pride, and still loving and welcoming everyone we encounter on a daily basis, and letting them know they’re loved and welcomed. We can’t hunker down and shut the world out because “it’s evil.” That’s just another form of living fear.