|Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth in You'll Never Get Rich (1941).|
When I was brainstorming with our parish staff, and came up with this topic, the women in my office – who are my strong right arm – all said, “that sounds great!” So I went with it. But then after a short while, I thought: “what do I know about any of this?” I’m not a woman, I’m obviously not married, and I haven’t been on a date in over 20 years! But, I did go back to my brain trust – my staff – and to some other resources, and drawing on some things I’ve learned as a priest, and this is what you get. If the talk isn’t any good, then it will at least be a suitable penance!
It also occurred to me that someone might ask, “OK, what am I to do with this information?” My hope is that if you are married, this will help you make that relationship stronger and more fruitful, and you and your husband can better help each other. Also, there are obviously things here that men need to know, but they aren’t here. So perhaps you can help the men in your life – husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons – by sharing what you can. And then, third, many here are young, but someday you may be thinking about whether marriage is for you. To that end, you will develop special friendships, one of which may lead to marriage. I hope something I’ll say can help you choose well, and make that marriage happy and fruitful.
- Inspiration: they need to lead, guard and give; the women in their lives can support this. I remember a line from a movie a few years ago, an artist said to a woman, “You’re the reason cavemen started painting on walls.”
There is a narrative in our society that makes everything about power, and paints a bleak picture of the power relationships between men and women. Namely, it’s all men, at women’s expense. Yes, there are problems, but that’s overly simple. Women have tremendous power over men. Women can – and must – play a powerful role in calling out the best in men. It used to be, at least, that when a guy is trying to win a girl, he would dress up and be on his best behavior. It helps if the girl does the same. Never stop doing that! This calls out the best in each other; and it’s not just about manners. It’s a statement of the importance of the other person. Expect the best of each other; and likewise, give the best.
There was a study published in the New York Times recently that found that when boys have sisters, the nurturing qualities natural to women tend to help their brothers to be more caring and generous. Their fathers as well.
But go easy: that inspiration is not a matter of nagging or pushing, but is more subtle. In that same movie I quote earlier – it was called, “As Good as it Gets” – the main character is played by Jack Nicholson, and he has a lot of personal problems. But he falls for a waitress at his favorite restaurant, and he keeps pursuing her. And at one point, she says, you owe me a compliment – because he’d been a real jerk. And after a big wind-up, he said, “You make me want to be a better man.”
- Support in chastity. It’s not fair, but men are more prone to visual distraction and temptation. Modesty is good for women and for men, in different ways.
First, let me talk about modesty in appearance. This is a responsibility both men and women owe each other; but in our society, there is far more pressure and expectation placed on women to put themselves on display. And to be very clear, I am absolutely not endorsing the outrageous idea that if a women dresses a certain way, she’s to blame if something bad happens.
But let me tell you a story about a female friend I worked with many years ago. We would both have to travel with our work, and when I’d be away from home, I’d often get a meal at a restaurant, and sit at the bar, where I could watch a game on TV. And she told me something that surprised me: that she couldn’t do that. Why, I asked? Because, she said, if she sat at the bar alone to eat a meal, some guy would always come around and bother her. That was years ago, but I suspect it’s still true today.
So being modest is smart for you. No, it won’t stop guys from being rude, but it will keep it from being worse.
Also, I am well aware that there are so many guys who push girls to be immodest, and many girls will too readily go along. So that leaves some of you thinking, maybe I should too? No one will pay attention to me. I think there is an ugly climate in our society these days, and I’m really sad about it.
It’s probably true that a girl who follows my advice is going to be criticized by others, and will feel out of place at times. But realize a couple of things. When girls take that approach, they are rewarding boys who do not value them. And, second, if it’s true that by not taking this approach, you don’t get as much attention, realize what you’re “missing out on” is attention from the wrong guys for the wrong reason. If you put out bait for rats, what do you think you are going to get?
Let me also talk about technology. There are tremendous distractions on the Internet, and smart phones bring them right into your hand, no matter where you are. Let me make a really radical suggestion: consider whether you are letting this tech intrude. Consider performing a telephone-ectomy. Meaning: remove the phone.
I’m not saying don’t own one. I own a “smart” cell phone. But you know what? It has no data. It just makes phone calls and texts, and I can take pictures with it.
I’m not saying it’s all your job to get the men or boys you know to break their addiction to the telephone; but I am saying, you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Hold the line. We need it. Set a high standard; men will aim for it, if that’s the price they must pay to have you.
One more thing on this subject of helping men with chastity and purity, and this is for married women. All I think I need to say is, be generous. I’ll leave the rest up to you.
- Unsubtle communication. Men usually don’t pick up signs. They may not even get that something you say is serious, not a joke. This is because men often say things to each other that would be terrible if serious, but are understood as jokes.
- Respect. Men respect themselves for getting the job done.
Here’s a powerful quote I read this week: “Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected. Husbands need to know that their wives respect them both privately and publicly. Men thrive when they know that their wives trust them, admire them and believe in them. Shaunti Feldhahn's research indicated that men would rather sense the loss of loving feelings from their wives than to be disrespected by them.”
(Jim Burns Home Word.)
Men need affirmation and to know that their work and their efforts are valuable.
- Understanding & patience (men are different and that’s OK). Value and appreciate what is special about men. Boys and men are not “yucky.”
- Honor. A woman gives herself carefully, but when she gives herself, she gives all. It is an unfortunate reality in our world that women are often degraded and – despite legal and moral equality – need protection.
Also, men will want lots of things from women that are neither good for men or for women. Many in our society basically tell women they should go along with this, in the name of “equality.” However, what women need is for men to respect them, and unfortunately, women may have to do most of the work in the present climate to insist on that. Don’t go along with indecency or impurity. The old saying is still true: men will have less respect for women when women do that. No, it’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s true.
Proverbs 31 gives a portrait of a woman of rare virtue and accomplishment; it says that “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, too, praises her.”
If a boy ever treats you with disrespect, drop him. If your husband mistreats you, this is simply not acceptable. There are several approaches to take, and if anyone wants to talk to me, we can talk privately. But do not put up with it.
- Fidelity. Where men are more likely to measure their value by their work, women draw strength and affirmation in their relationships. So there are some very helpful steps suggested here. Women can do a lot to strengthen their relationships by giving appreciation and respect for the work that men do. And, in turn, men can do a lot, in return, by not taking the relationship for granted. I have a saying that so far, no married couple has corrected me on, and that is: never stop courting each other.
- Companionship. Men may be more likely to seek to be alone when they are down or in stress; women are more likely to want someone to listen and support them. Women need and value more highly the emotional relationship. So to connect this back to “unsubtle communication,” this may be something you will want to explain to your husbands. This is also a good time to mention a book some of you have read: The Five Love Languages. The author makes the sensible point that a wife or girlfriend may “speak” one language, and the man speaks another. Learning these things, and then “speaking” to each other in the right languages, can do a lot to make things more reciprocal.
- Self-mastery. A lot of what is happening in our culture is making boys and men increasingly selfish and immature, resulting in what some call overgrown boys. A young man who cannot sacrifice his own pleasure, who cannot master his own appetites, who cannot put these things aside, will be handicapped as a husband and father and in every role he takes. Do not reward this behavior, and if you are dating, don’t compromise. If he wants the wrong things, or is surfing the Internet for the wrong things, dump him.
Don’t listen to the voice that says, “I can fix him.” It is hard enough to change ourselves; the odds that we are going to change someone else are exceedingly slim. What is more likely is to make him and you miserable.
When men have good self-mastery, they are more likely to be…
- Men with courage and strength. Again, many in our culture are demeaning men, supposedly in the name of lifting up women. Women do not benefit from men who are weak and needy – even if there are women who may prefer that (because then they can push them around). A strong man will be a better protector and provider. A man with courage will stay when the going gets tough.
Men who have self-mastery and inner strength are more likely to make tough choices. They are more likely to provide the leadership needed in the family. I hadn’t realized it, but there is a huge problem of men not stepping up to make the tough decisions with discipline. So mom ends up being the bad guy, while dad is the nice one. But if the man is doing his part, he will, in the process, honor his wife by supporting her with discipline and family decisions.
This is especially true in spiritual matters. If the father isn’t on board as a spiritual leader, the mom’s job is five times harder – or is it ten times harder? So if you want to know a quality to look for in a husband, this is one: someone who is ready to lead, including spiritually.
- Attention/Listen. It is no secret that men and women think and communicate differently and thus approach problems differently. Men tend to zero in on the problem and not want to mess around with anything else. Women want to sort out how they feel about a situation; this helps them get past negative emotions.
- Men’s feelings communicated to them. Men will not often share these things, but in the right circumstances, with the right encouragement, they will. So this connects back to men needing “unsubtle communication.” And not to be belittled.
- Understanding & patience (women are different and that’s OK). Value and appreciate what is special about women. Professor Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) was wrong: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
Finally, let me point out some obvious things that everyone – men and women – need:
- We need God’s grace. Nothing good happens unless God is the origin, and unless he gives us the power to see it through. The help I’m talking about isn’t just for the men you know to change – although that’s needed – but just as much for you to change. Someone asked G.K. Chesterton, “what’s wrong with the world?” His answer was, “I am.” Which means, if you want to change the world, start with yourself.
- We need forgiveness. The great gift of family and specifically marriage is that we learn to forgive and be forgiven. In Communist China, for many decades the government imposed a policy that no family could have more than a single child. That was a terrible evil, and only recently has the government there started to relent. But one of many awful results was that many, many millions of people grew up without any sister or brother.
You may find your brothers or sisters unbearable. They probably say the same about you! But on that subject, I’ll tell you something Bishop Binzer likes to say to parish priests. If you have someone in your parish who drives you crazy, give thanks for them, because they are helping you get to heaven. So be forgiving of the people you live with. It is the necessary lubricant that keeps the machinery of life from grinding to a halt.
- We need other people. There are many wonderful things about our country, but one negative is that because we so strongly emphasize personal liberty, and freedom to choose, and individualism, that we make some mistakes along the way. We sometimes think we can get along by ourselves.
But God didn’t make us that way. No truth is more obviously written into human nature – from the first moment of our existence until our dying breath – than that we cannot live, or even exist, on our own. When we try, the best case scenario is that we end up being sad. Worst case scenario is that become deeply damaged people who cause terrible damage to others.
And the encouraging thing is, these things we need? We have. God gives us an abundance of all this and more. That is a very hopeful thing to realize.