After listening to a great talk issued by Lighthouse Catholic Media’s new young adult line, Truth be Told, I found myself greatly in need of an emotional chastity makeover. The talk, entitled “Why Do Women Do That?” and given by Lisa Cotter, examined the way a woman’s mind works, how men should best respond, and why it is so important for men to help women remain emotionally chaste- both for the sake of their relationships, and for each individual’s personal growth.
After doing some research and some thinking, I’ve compiled this list of how to jumpstart this emotional chastity makeover, for myself and for others out there who- like me- feels it’s time to give up mentally stalking guys and to start mentally focusing on Christ. This list works in a backwards fashion- so the numbered items are what NOT to do, and the blurb below each goes into why the particular activity will hurt you, and how to do the opposite instead. Gentlemen, though these five points are aimed at the ladies, I hope you will read along in order to gain insight into how the women around you operate.
Once you have this insight, you will be better equipped to understand your sisters, friends, or girlfriends, and thus be able to help them along their paths to holiness. In order to help you guys out, at the end of each point there is a bold sentence in italics, giving you gentlemen tips on what you can do to help the ladies with each particular temptation/struggle. So, without further ado, here’s the list:
TO GROW IN EMOTIONAL CHASTITY, DO NOT:
#1: Dream of Guys All Day
After reading that heading, many of you may be thinking- “All day, that’s a long time. There’s no way I dream of guys all day. She must really have some issues!” Well- stop and think for a minute. I’m not talking about the daydreaming which includes pairing your favorite kids names with your latest crush’s last name, I’m talking about the fleeting, wistful thoughts which enter into your mind as you come into contact with various guys throughout the day- thoughts which are not bad, but which can escalate into a problem when dwelled upon.
It can happen in a split second. You go to see a movie with friends, and as the handsome actor comes on screen, you find yourself wondering how old he is, whether or not he has a girlfriend, and what your chances are of becoming that girlfriend. Or, as you’re running into the library, the guy ahead of you turns around and opens the door for you before entering himself, and as you flash him your best smile, you find yourself worrying about how you look, and if Mr. Doorman has continued to follow you because he likes you, or because you’re both headed for the same section (which would be romantic also!).
Little things like this, which spark and die within five minutes as the movie plot thickens or the bookshelves become daunting, hardly qualify as “all day” time wasters, but if four or five of such bursts of excitement happen in one day, than the majority of your mental reflections can unintentionally become boy-centered. No, there is nothing wrong with noticing a man’s attractive nature, or hoping to date one of these attractive men one day. But dreaming of men who you hardly know for short bursts can quickly grow into a time-consuming habit.
In order to conquer this, do learn to see men as potential friends first, instead of viewing every single individual as a candidate for courtship.
And gents, do not be constant flirts. Giving girls flirtatious attention all the time only encourages her fleeting hopes, leading her to believe that you care about her much more than you actually might.
#2: Allow Yourself an Exception
So, you decide that today is the day the “new you” is going to emerge, and you start the day in the adoration chapel just to prove to yourself that you are going to focus on God first today. You get ready and applaud yourself for showering, dressing, and doing your make-up without even thinking about that adorable actor from the movie last night, or the attractive concessions cashier. You walk to class and manage to smile and nod at several male classmates without blinking twice, and once you sit down in your first period class, you are feeling great. And then HE walks in, “HE” being the incredibly handsome Ryan Gosling look-a-like who just transferred into your class last week.
As you watch him walk to his seat, his gaze falls on you and he smiles before turning away. And then all of your good intentions are forgotten, and you don’t even hear a word of the history lesson because you’re too busy convincing yourself that Mr. Handsome’s smile was an indication that he really does like you. This is the danger of allowing yourself an exception. You tell yourself that since this guy is a good Catholic, does charity work, and is a top-notch student that it’s okay to dream about him, because unlike the other guys you encountered today, he would actually be a good guy to date, and maybe one day marry. But this can be even more dangerous.
This is when the light musings turn into serious emotional commitments. If you become an expert at avoiding romantic daydreams with all but one guy- but you’ve already planned the wedding, named the children, and picked out the house you’re going to have with that one exception, you could not only be missing the other great guys surrounding you, but also turning off the guy you want the most, for once a girl is this emotionally invested in a guy, it is hard for her to sit back and allow him to be the pursuer.
In order to avoid this, be open-minded, and (as Lisa said) don’t pick the house until you’ve bought a ring.
Gentlemen, this goes for you as well. Avoid discussing the deep, personal topics concerning hopes for the future until you’ve been with a girl for a while, whether as a friend or a date. The more of her heart a girl shares, the more she trusts and comes to depend on the guy she’s sharing it with. Just as the physical side of a relationship must proceed slowly, so must the emotional side. Though this doesn’t mean you have to talk about the weather for the first six months you know each other, it does mean taking precautions to avoid vulnerable situations which could lead further than intended.
#3: Neglect the Discernment Process
Lately the word “discernment” has been appearing frequently in Catholic circles, often in connection with the religious life. Pamphlets about discerning the priesthood or discerning a convent are becoming commonplace at Catholic parishes and events. Did you know that the discernment process is not the time in which you decide which religious community to join, but the time in which you decide if you are called to be a consecrated religious or a married spouse? Yes, discerning one’s vocation actually means praying and meditating on which path God wants you to take: the religious path, the consecrated laity path, or the marriage path.
How do you do this? Fr. Mike Schmitz lays out three easy steps, and two conditions, to follow when discerning. The two conditions are: 1. know that God loves you more than you love yourself, knows you better than anyone, and wants the best for you; 2. remember that God wants you to discover your vocation, and is not going to play hide-and-seek with you- He may not reveal it to you right away, but if you’re patient, it will become clear to you.
Now, what to do: step number one: Be in a state of grace, and if you’re not there- get there! Staying plugged into God’s grace only makes it easier for Him to reach you, because you are already open to His urgings.
Step two: do your daily duties. This one is particularly important to remember. If you are a student, go to class, do your homework. If you have a job, be at work on time, do your assignments well. Discerning your vocation is not an excuse to drop everything that is expected of you, everything which you are supposed to do, declare “God told me I had to discern first”. He has placed you in each situation for a reason, and it is your duty to bloom where you are planted. Of course, if you have overloaded your plate or are in a situation which is not wholesome, prayerfully consider what you must do to either balance out your schedule or drop the immoral activities so as to center your life around Him.
Step three: pray. Just start with fifteen to twenty minutes a day, kneel down and say ask God what his will is for you, and then listen. If you’ve spent time quietly awaiting Him, and do not feel any urgings or indications to pursue or look into one path as a possibility, simply say “God, I understand that today is not the day for me to know, help me to do Your will today, and stay with me as I continue this process”. If you do these things, Fr. Schmitz says, your vocation will become clear to you- until then, don’t worry.
Do not determine your calling without asking God first, and do not spend your time fretting about why you haven’t found your vocation- as Padre Pio said: “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry”.
Gentlemen, the exact same process works for you as well. Do not decide on a Roman collar or a wedding ring until you’ve asked God’s opinion first.
#4: Fill the void with Taylor Swift and Meg Ryan movies
As Lisa points out- there is nothing wrong with love songs or chick flicks; what is wrong is turning to these things as emotional escapes from loneliness, depression, or boredom. “Only boring people become bored”, Lisa states, so watch yourself! If your longing to be loved leads you to eat way too much chocolate while obsessively watching Sleepless in Seattle, then you’re looking for satisfaction in the wrong place.
Make prayer your first-line relief tactic, and then go do something to get your mind off of your sad thoughts, instead of doing something which will only deepen them later. Doing something active outside is always a good idea; you could also read a new book, or revisit an old favorite, take up a new craft, finish that science paper a day early, play with your little siblings, redecorate your bedroom or dorm, make cookies, start a garden- the list is endless!
Though at first these options may pale in comparison to crying over a Nicolas Sparks film, you will feel so much better afterwards. Songs also have a powerful impact on us. I don’t know about you, but after belting out with some of Josh Groban’s greatest hits, I’m ready to fall in love with the next guy who walks in the door. If there are certain romantic songs which you know trigger you, which leave you in a discontented mood and can make you long for things which God has not yet given you, it may be a good idea to fast from them for a while. Not every love song will have this effect on you, but we all have our weaknesses- and while you are in the thick of trying to regain your emotional chastity, taking these off of the playlist would be a good idea. Save them for when you actually have a fiancé to associate them with- or at least for a time when your heart has become stronger in Christ.
Avoid turning to Hollywood for temporary satisfaction, and learn to lean on Christ in moments of weakness.
Guys, keep in mind that sweet words impact a girl heavily. As Jason Evert says, just as guys are affected by what they see, girls are affected by what they hear. Do not pour sugar-coated phrases and lovely lines out to a girl you are not serious about; it’s not fair to her.
#5: Pretend like Everything’s Okay
Too often we refuse to consider that we could be the ones with the problem. We read post after post about others trying to amend their lives- and maybe because our problems are not as extreme, we think we’re all right. It is hard and it is painful to really look at ourselves through honest eyes and acknowledge our need for change.
For those of you who found yourselves laughing nervously at some of the situations described above, first know that I am not condemning you; I am nervously laughing with you and I am also calling you, as Christ called me, to start over and to change things for the better. Maybe your problem is more serious than this. Maybe a bad break-up has left you heartbroken, or maybe your struggle with daydreams led to something more extreme like a pornography addiction (which both men and women struggle with) or a promiscuous life. Know that there is hope for you to begin again, and that God will always love you and is ready to forgive you. There are a plethora of resources available to those of you who are struggling (I’ve included some in the links offered for each category above), maybe without anyone else even knowing.
Don’t let your fear of the difficult journey keep you from seeking the peace and joy at the end, take the bull by the horns and do whatever you must to finally reach that self-contentment and strong faith which come with denying yourself for Christ’s sake.
Gentlemen, you also need to take courage, be strong, and face the temptations which are tainting your ability to love. Seek help, advice, and support from other men you admire or trust. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to admit to them your struggles. In most cases, the men you come to will be so touched that you came to them for help, will be inspired by your desire to change, grateful that you finally did ask for assistance, and will do everything in their power to support your journey home. But nothing can happen until you take responsibility for yourself, recognize your need for change, and then- with God’s help- begin the process.
Are you ready to regain your emotional purity, to become the “feminine, confident, and virtuous” women (or “masculine, confident, and virtuous” men) that Lisa Cotter praises and upholds in her talk? Are you ready to encourage each other in your efforts to become the best-versions-of-yourselves, which Matthew Kelly so often describes? Most importantly, are you ready to become the person you always wished you would be?
Do not wait any longer then, for Jesus is just waiting for you to give Him permission to take you on the most wonderful ride of your life: the ride which begins the minute you surrender to Him, and only pauses for a second, to jump from the tracks of this world and onto the paths of Paradise. It will not be easy, but it will be better than anything you’ve experienced yet- Austen novels and Lifehouse concerts included.
I would like to thank Tito Edwards for including this list in his National Catholic Register post on May 6, 2013.