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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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. 12: Casey Bustamante

Profiles in the Gap
Casey Bustamante
 
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Casey Bustamante is an officer in the U.S. Air Force. 
 
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
Yes! I have this magical age I think is the absolute latest age I can get married: 32 years old. I’m 27 now, so I am still on track for my goal. Hah! 
  
Okay, honestly and truly, it is an expectation I’ve set myself since my sister got married at that age. Being raised in an immigrant Mexican-American household, I want to feel guilty about being single. I want to blame my singleness on the push for me to be financially independent from my parents. My parents had to work hard to be where they are now, allowing my sister and me the opportunity to focus on our studies and graduate from college. My parents never wanted me to struggle. And as I moved through my twenties, I not only started to feel pressure to work hard at my career but also to have a family. I was totally wrong. I have gone and confronted that with my parents only to find out that it is an expectation I have set against myself. My family has never wanted anything more for me than to be happy and living in service to God.
 
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career?   
My career started on my first day of college. I was graciously accepted to the US Air Force Academy and commissioned as a Cyber Operations officer (IT girl). It has been everything I’ve needed: discipline, schedule, routine, but most of all an invitation to grower closer to Jesus. I was the type of cradle Catholic growing up who walked the line of not committing any serious sin, but I was honestly living a selfish life. I was searching for my identity, which landed me in a self-serving relationship and in a pool of lies I fed to those that loved me. God gave me an incredible moment of grace and led me to confession my freshmen year in college. The weight of sin was lifted! From that point on, I always wanted to say “yes” to God. Am I always successful at it? No, but the desire only grows stronger every day. We had an incredible young adult ministry program at the Academy that really started to impress on my heart the desire to share the love of Christ with others. And this is what brings me fulfillment in my career. I not only have a unique opportunity to share His love with my Christian brothers and sisters in arms, but my job is to serve others. As an officer in the military, regardless of your career field, you are commissioned first and foremost to serve those around you with a great selfless love.
 
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Everything I do should be for His greater glory. Through discerning any decision in my career or personal life, I must seek consolation in actions that will glorify our Lord. 
 
Since you have this time of singleness, what are some challenges you set for yourself? 
As a single young adult, the challenge to not live only for myself is tough. I have a good paying job right now that allows me to travel, buy nice things, eat out, and have an overall comfortable life. It is easy for life to continue to be about me. One of the best decisions I have made since moving to the DC area was to live in a house with four other women. The reason I moved into this house was because I knew it was best for me to not live alone, so I was going to move wherever my original housemate went. The experience has been incredible. I live in community with these women, and I am challenged in many of the simple day-to-day nuances to not live for myself. Whether the next chapter in my life brings religious or married life, God has provided many opportunities for me to live for others with the lovely ladies of the Grant House. (And yes, we have named our home.) 

Profile No. 11: Trena Pilegaard

Profiles in the Gap

Trena Pilegaard

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Trena Pilegaard lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Life is always in some kind of gap: the gaps between yesterday, today, and tomorrow; physical gaps of distance between loved ones; the gap between breakfast and lunch; gaps between work and home, between conception and birth, between birth and death. We are always swooping between different gaps like electric lines between poles while riding in the car. Sometimes the swooping makes you feel nauseous, and other times it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

I think that the gaps aren’t holes that need to be filled, just obstacles that take some thinking, prayer, and trust to get over and around. Singleness is a gap for me that I am learning to navigate. This life is becoming comfortable to me and, if it is the life that God has planned for me for the rest of my time on earth, I am happy to live it. If I said an extended life of singleness is my dream, I’d be lying. But this time has been consistent with my dreams so far. I distinctly remember planning my life in my head my senior year in high school and thinking that I couldn’t possibly have the time to be married before the age of thirty, there was so much I had to do first. To that end I purposely told myself I couldn’t date in college, I knew life would have too much for me to do to be married right away.

Even now, with a few struggles of adulthood under my belt, my life has exceeded my wildest dreams in so many areas. If someone told me at sixteen that I would have an opportunity to spend three years in Europe after college, I would have died of joy right there. Likewise, the sheer amount of amazing friends that I have strewn across the world is also something I never could have imagined.  Other times I am simply overwhelmed with the beauty of this life I lead: starlight nights in the Blue Ridge Mountains, fall colors here in DC, a summer spent on Lago di Lugano, standing in St. Peter’s Square, snow-capped Sierras. Sometimes I find myself with tears in my eyes because I cannot believe that I am so blessed to have been chosen to live this beautiful life when so many of my generation did not survive the womb. Sure, there are days when I wonder if I will die alone surrounded by cats (which is terrifying to me because it would mean that so many things have gone horribly wrong – I am allergic to cats and don’t really count them in my list of favorite animals, and, for heaven’s sake, why are they at my deathbed?), but I know in my heart that will never be the case. Even if I remain single to the end, I am confident I will never be alone or unloved.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that when navigating single life it is important to remember that I remain my number one priority. Once I am taken care of, then I can help others. I can hear the gasps of shock now. “Oh, but that is so selfish. You should never put yourself first, always put others first.” But Christ didn’t say to put others first, He said to love your neighbor as yourself. If I don’t love myself, the person I am right now with every aspect of me in consideration (and this includes being single), how can I love others as Christ asks? As a single person my primary responsibility is me.  It is easy to forget this when you become wrapped up in living life, a 9-5 job, and just generally trying keep your head above the water. But, if I don’t check up on my spiritual, physical and emotional needs, then I am failing in my responsibilities to myself and will only hinder my ability to help others.

This means making sure that I am working towards a life that I find fulfilling and satisfying. If I am going to be supporting myself by myself for an indefinite amount of time, then I need to be happy in what I am doing. It’s taken a few years and a lot of tears, but I think I am finally on that path! It also means that I am actively pursuing adventures that I enjoy and things want to learn more about. I love ballet – so I found a ballet studio and started taking classes. I’ve scooped up opportunities to study French, to broaden my mind by extensive reading (name that quote!), travel to give myself perspective, and exposing myself to as much culture and life as possible. I see all these things as important tools in developing and caring for me. I have found that the more I am able to know myself, the more I can offer others around me. I am healthy, so I can physically volunteer to help others. I am intellectually sound, so I can offer good advice or help solve the problems life pitches. I am culturally literate, so I can help introduce others to all the things that help make life beautiful.

Loving the single life is an act of the will. Love is always an act of the will, just sometimes it is easier than others. And this life, with all its freedom and charm, isn’t easy. There are hard decisions to be made, by yourself. There are meals to be eaten, by yourself. There are nights to be spent, by yourself. Loneliness lurks around every corner – if you give in and let yourself be lonely. The trick is not to. I find myself often praying for the courage to continue, and that prayer has always been answered.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a phone call or note from a friend. Or in the realization of how much I have, like the full night of deep sleep that so many mothers crave. Or it’s when a friend says she has tickets to my favorite band, and I am free to drop everything and go. Until God calls me to another way of life, you can be assured that I am going to keep loving this beautiful and blessed life!

 

Profile No. 9: Angela Lademan

Profiles in the Gap

Angela Lademan

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Angela Lademan is a youth minister living and working in Northern Virginia.

In my 26 years of life, I have learned one thing: Never. Make. Plans. The Lord always changes them. I don’t know if this is true for everyone (maybe most other people are more in tune to what God wants for their lives and plan accordingly from the beginning), but for me, I have rarely made a plan that ever worked out according to “the plan.” And you know what, it’s okay. God’s a little more creative than I am, and He has more confidence in me than I have in myself. So, it’s made for a much more exciting life than I could have dreamed up.

Six years ago, I studied abroad in Austria. The last day I was there, the Student Life Director said something I providentially needed to hear. He asked me what I was going to do once I graduated, and I told him that I didn’t know, I would just see what God wants. He gently but firmly replied, “But Angela, you need to do your part and let the Lord do the rest.”

This conversation has often replayed in my mind as I pick up the pieces of broken plans and gear up for another turn in the road. Sometimes I want to just stop walking and say, “What the heck, Lord! Fine, you pick me up and put me where you want me. I’m done and not contributing to this journey anymore.” But, Mark’s advice keeps me walking down the road and rolling with the punches. I have to keep moving in order to encounter the world, and to meet the new and unexpected people and experiences the Lord throws in my direction.

In the last four years of my life, according to the plan (you know, the nice little Catholic girl plan), I would have gotten married out of college and started a family and would be sitting at home all day in my perfect house in my perfect 50’s housewife outfit with my perfect “Leave it to Beaver” children (because those exist). Sorry, I know, can’t any of us women be a little more creative with the story we write for ourselves? While this is a beautiful story, what I think most of us women don’t realize is that in order to have this “perfect” little “Leave it to Beaver” family, you have to be ready to be a real woman, a real wife, and a real mother. Otherwise you are just playing house, and when the hardships come, you don’t know what to do with them (’cause, heck, nothing bad or unpleasant ever happened in “Leave it to Beaver”). Now, I still don’t know what the Lord is preparing me for, but I think there is no better boot camp than having a few years of singleness.

I wish I could say I’ve spent these years embracing every moment. I haven’t. It’s hard to detach from the plan. But even if I haven’t appreciated every moment in the present, I am looking back and am so grateful for every difficult experience, every unknown move, and every unexpected friendship. Every experience makes me ponder who I am, why I am doing what I’m doing, and what I want for my life. While I haven’t figured any of these things out completely, I have more and more opportunities to discover and become that woman the Lord wants me to be.

Highlights of the last few years: European travel and the Bahamas; missionary work with college, high school, and grade school students; living in four different states; deciding on a Friday morning to run away for the weekend (just because I can); speaking to large groups of teens and seeing them completely engaged; walking down the aisle in front of several best friends; letter-writing to close friends as they journey through discerning God’s will for them to be priests and religious; realizing that my workday consisted of listening to and praying with a young adult or teen who came into my office crying over something; finding myself in front of over 100 8th graders and bursting with joy to tell them that God wants so much for them; running around like a crazy person with paint all over my face followed by 10 2nd-4th grade boys because I was “Chief” for the week at camp; a half marathon; flying in a private jet; and the list goes on… But at the end of it all, finding myself in adoration and realizing that nothing else in my life has been constant except for the Eucharist, and realizing that at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

So, if one day I find myself in my perfect little “Leave it to Beaver” life with healthy children and a happy husband, it will be because I’ve had a few years to learn to persevere through struggle and hardship, and because I learned that most things are actually a gift, and that faithfulness, no matter where it looks like it is going to bring me, is the only way God can bring about the most and best in my life.

The Divine Tussle

A few years ago I lived for a time with a young woman who was 27 and done with singlehood. She’d just watched her best friends get married in a matter of months, she wasn’t dating anyone, she had only some rather new friends and a very young and very idealistic and very stand-offish new roommate (yours truly) to turn to for comfort, and she really, really, really wanted to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and start a family. 

At the ripe old age of 23, I regarded her struggles with mingled feelings of compassion, anger at her situation, and exasperation with her for being in such a funk about it. Life has other things to offer, hasn’t it, for those of us who are still single. The ever elusive “future spouse” will come along in God’s good time, and it’s no good hounding him for it. Those were my thoughts, and tended to be my murmured condolences when she came to me to talk things out.

I remember thinking at that time that my roommate was like Jacob, wrestling with God. 

Now I am 27 and single. I’ve been through about seven roommates since that lovely lady and I parted ways, and I’ve been on a number of dates and made multiple new friends. I’ve moved on in my career. I’ve learned a whole lot about myself, including a lot of things I wish I didn’t know. And for the first time in my adult life, I’ve caught myself in a bit of a funk this year — not because I want a husband and kids necessarily (I’m growing increasingly unsure that I do), but because I want to be committed to something that matters and I’m not. And I don’t feel old, not at all, but 30 is coming, people. That feels somehow momentous.

So today’s first reading splashed over me like a bucket of ice cold water. That old roommate, you’ll be glad to learn, has gotten married and is now expecting a first child. Now it seems to be my turn to wrestle with God. 

And it’s funny, the way he bestows his blessings. He may have to knock your hip out of its socket, but if you ask him hard enough he’ll give you what you ask for — and more than you’d ever dare to ask, even though you dare to wrestle him.

And I find myself also musing on Sarah and Abraham, barren and old, who finally received God’s blessing. But that blessing would have come with all sorts of unpleasantness, especially for Sarah. Being pregnant isn’t easy for any woman, but for a woman who’s 90? It could have killed her.

In the end, God doesn’t promise not to hurt us or to leave us screaming and beating our fists for a time against the ground. He just promises to help us through it. 

It’s when I’m faced with this laughing, vibrant, unpredictable, masculine God that I’m most afraid for myself, but confident that all will at last be well. I may break a bone here and there, but I’ll be okay. 

Sooner or later, we all have to wrestle with God, because that’s how we discover how real he is to us, and how twisted our own wills can be. Sometimes it takes violence to bring us into line with him.

But isn’t it a beautiful beginning? 

 

–Mabel