The Mother’s Dilemma

Because I’ve been slacking this whole week on my Bright Maiden post, I’ve decided to double it as my 7 Quick Takes for the week! YEAH!


ONE

TBM Topic 33: Stay-At-Home vs. Working Mothers

“The Mother’s Dilemma” by Julie Robison
“On Motherhood” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!

TWO

The first thing I think about my childhood is chocolate chip ice cream cones, us kids running through the sprinkler, and my mom wearing a headband and swimsuit while she sat in the sun, watching us and reading. What was she reading, you ask?

Oh, you know. The norm. Her cancer research.

Ironic, I know.

My mom is an oncology clinical nurse specialist – that is, an educator, a researcher, article writer, book editor, and well-beloved member of the hospital she’s worked at for most of my life.

My mom has also been a Brownie leader, Cub Scout mom, volleyball and soccer coach, a good-enough cook, eater and maker of anything involving chocolate, a good listener, too fair of a judge, encouraging card writer, presents just because buyer, and mom to six kids.

These six kids:

We’re the kids your mom probably warned you about

THREE

My mom is super woman. My Dad has had to ask that she not head up so many committees because she keeps getting elected to lead organizations. She was “Woman of the Year” at our high school alma mater, Employee of the Year (twice!) at her hospital, and this year she was nominated for “Healthcare Hero” from her hospital, in a city-wide event.

My mom comes from a family where most women are stay-at-home moms, and she definitely forged her own path. She gave up going to medical school so that she could have more scheule flexibility, since she and Dad wanted lots of kids so she could make us dress in matching outfits for pictures. (See below.)

Christmas card!

FOUR

This choice to work has had its perks and downfalls, but I certainly cannot imagine our family life without my mother working as she does. She’s a role model in how to deal with tricky situations, time management, multi-tasking, and keeping cheerful when the going gets tough. With so many kids, Mom has really been able to help out the family financially. It also provides an outlet for her to receive outside appreciation in an area where she truly excels.

Mom in her makeshift office during hospital renovations

All woman need this kind of outlet: my maternal grandmother is hostess, flower-arranger, tennis player, and thoughtfulness unlimited extraordinaire. One aunt is a speech pathologist and professor; she is also amazing at sewing and handmade most costumes for her two girls, which were consequently passed down to us six (and held up well!).

Another aunt paints and takes wonderful pictures, which is a skill she’s able to contribute to a cancer non-profit she volunteers with. A couple aunts stay at home with their kids and are active at their schools. A couple more work full-time.

All the women in my life have been amazing inspirations for me, and are wonderful at what they do, and this is where I have a beef with this “debate” about women in the work force.

FIVE

There are as many types of mothers as there are children. My mother, for instance, could not work the way she does if she had a special-needs child. My mother could not have worked as she did when we were younger if my parents could not have afforded extra help. My mother might have had to work more if my father was unemployed, deceased, or not around. My mother may also prefer to work so as to better handle her children’s shenanigans (pure conjecture).

We don’t have special needs, we’re just “special”…

My mother is not a stay-at-home mom. She decorates the house for every major and minor holiday, is constantly organizing, and pushes through enough loads of laundry a week to keep her active children clothed. She’s never been much of a cook, but she learned and keeps us kids healthy. As much as she loves us, she loves work too. Moreover, she never neglected us and always makes us feel loved. Just because one woman stays home with her kids, it does not diminish another mother’s out-of-home pursuits.

Moreover, working women is not a “new phenomena.” Women have been putting in their fair share since cave men needed to cook the water buffalo they brought down. So is the question more about equality?

When people say women are being “kept down” because they don’t get paid as much as men, I wonder where those numbers are coming from: is this an apples and oranges comparison? Are different jobs being compared or are men and women working the same job and not being paid the same? (Or is it both?)

Nevertheless, if women’s power is only showed through a paycheck or a work title, then women are being under-sold and under appreciated.

It must be difficult for a woman to feel she is a competent partner to her husband if she herself does not see her work at home as worthwhile. The marriage partnership between men and women cannot be had without mutual understanding, a willingness to pitch in and listen, respect of self and others, and love. It has nothing to do with how many times a person made dinner verses how many times the other person mowed the lawn.

In my life time, I have seen mostly scorn towards the idea of a woman staying home with her children. But isn’t that like teaching? And isn’t teaching a worthwhile venture? The formation of little minds and souls? To overemphasize a woman’s need to be fruitful outside the home diminishes all efforts done within it. Women are so much more than their job title, and motherhood is more than bearing and raising children.

SIX 

As I prepare for marriage, I’m in the midst of planning: planning a wedding, planning a move out of my parents’ house, planning another move out of the state for B.’s residency (starting 6 or so months after the wedding), planning family finances, and planning for grad school.

I’m also planning and praying about working. I’m not convinced the stay at home without working life is for me, nor would I like to have a time-consuming job outside the home with little ones underfoot.

Most of us in super-hot Tennessee

Women have an awesome opportunity to kick “typical” to the curb and try their hand at new adventures. While men have the duty and responsibility to provide for their family, women have the opportunity to create a home. This home will be run according for the parents, their needs and desires, rooted ultimately in the best they can offer their children.

If the woman works outside the home, the family will function as such.
If the woman works in the home, the family will function as such.
If the woman’s work is the home, the family will function as such.

There is no right answer when it comes to one’s vocation, as long as it is properly aligned with God and your loved ones.

SEVEN

I’m excited to be a mom. One way I’m inadvertently preparing for this is my part-time babysitting job for a neighboring family. The mom works from home, and I am so glad I get to help their little unit function well. I get to dress her kids, play with her kids, feed her kids, and cart them around. I know she loves to do that too, but I know it’s also nice to have a break, get some work done, go to an exercise class, get lunch with her mom, and spend time with friends.

In this life balance we seek, kids are only a burden to the unimaginative. Motherhood is a special role only women can fill and it is in our feminine genius to discern how best to serve one’s family in that way. If physical motherhood is not attainable for women (for those called to a religious or chaste single life), then spiritual motherhood is, by being a kind woman children can look up to, other adults can respect, and that awesome aunt kids love to have.

Nothing in this life is less clear-clear cut or for the faint of heart, but being a Mom is certainly the most important job that no one can properly label.

Aunts, Grandmother, Mother: real-life feminine geniuses

What are your thoughts on motherhood and working?

(Thanks to Jen for hosting!)

Kiss the Girl!

TBM Topic 22: The Virgin Diaries on TLC

“Kiss the Girl!” by Julie Robison
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Virgin” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Chastity Carnal-val” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!



There’s a new reality series in town, and… well, it’s no different than any of the others out there. It’s extremely personal. It’s humiliating. It focuses on the exterior of people rather than the interior. It makes everyone feels awkward. It portrays its subject matter poorly. It makes people and their belief target practice for everyone else, which does not lead to toleration and understanding of others.

The show is called “The Virgin Diaries.” It is on TLC (which should change its name to TMI). A headline from ABC News says TLC is celebrating virgins because losing one’s virginity is a big deal. The show is getting a lot of press, though, with the exploitation of a video clip of the couple whom had never kissed each other before their wedding. It was, to say the least, disturbing. If I had never kissed a person and I knew the cameras would be on me, I would certainly have been more timid.

To write this piece, I’ll make the following three disclosures:
A) I couldn’t bring myself to watch the show, so my critique is general motifs rather than serving as a review;
B) I think losing one’s virginity is a big deal, and TLC has hurt rather than helped hold such a belief;
C) I’m an adult virgin.

That last one felt weird to type since I’m only 23. I hardly feel like an adult, minus the paying for self, school and taxes part of my life. My sex education came from being the oldest of six kids, religious ed. discussions about sex in the 5th and 6th grade, my biology courses in high school and college, and devouring Theology of the Body resources in college. I’ve had my heart broken, but never more than that.

For most, though, that’s enough.

The romance people are looking for in their life is not sex. The companionship people are looking for is not sex. The intimacy people are looking for is not sex. These are, to be sure, all aspects of sex. But sex is an outward sign of something deeper, which is why girls are annoying and want to cuddle after: they want to be held and know they are wanted, and that their feelings are reciprocated. Sex is reassurance for men that they are wanted and needed, but that does not mean that are emotionally (and chemically!) bonded like the girl.

Virgins used to be more revered. In mythology, virgins goddesses like Athena held power because they did not need to sway men by luring them to bed, like most other women in the stories. The vestal virgins in Rome watched over the sacred fire and, freed from an obligation to marry and have children through their pledge of chastity, were considered important and needed members of society.

Beatrice catching Hero from fainting at her wedding.

In Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing, Hero, a female protagonist, is wrongly accused of unchaste behavior. As a result, her marriage is called off, and she dies. Not literally, as the audience finds out later, but her staged death makes her betrothed realize the severe consequences his false accusation (based on false information given to him by a seemingly trust-worthy person).

Even in these sophisticated modern times, sexually promiscuity stays shameful. It may be justified, it may be more acceptable, but it is still something people get a twinge when mentioning, even if flaunting it. People are quick to say, “Don’t judge me!” and yes, no person should be judged by another person. But actions can and should be judged, because they determine a person’s character.

A man who seeks sexual relations with a woman he does not intend to marry is not honoring or loving that woman. A woman who allows herself to be thus wooed by a man is not guarding her heart or her body. There are logical consequences to these nights of passion too, like a rise in abortions, single-parenthood, absent fathers, STDs and other health predicaments, and poverty.

B. et me

What people actually want is someone who loves them for who they are; to love, and to be loved in return. When B. and I were working through a marriage book, we had to talk a lot about our selves, our beliefs, our families, and what we want. It was a very emotionally exhausting exercise, but the fruit produced was worth it: to know that someone wholly loves me for exactly who I am, and to thus love him in the same way in return.

And when the time comes for us to be married and consummate our relationship, there will be nothing more wonderful than knowing we waited to share our bodies only with our future spouse. Perhaps we will both need a lot of help, perhaps we will both be awkward, perhaps we will make the usual rookie mistakes: no matter! We will learn together, we will laugh together, we will love together, and we will share in the experience together.

Melinda Selmys at Sexual Authenticity wrote an awesome post called “Just Sex” on how it isn’t always going to be mind-blowing. But then again, neither is life:

There are two sides to the modern North American hysteria about sex. One is the side that we get to hear about all the time in the Catholic press: the hysteria about how sex is so great, so much fun, so liberating, so all-pervasively important to human life, etc. etc. That is, the hysteria that fueled the sexual revolution. 

The other side of the coin, however, is the Catholic over-sanctification of sex. A problem that I’ve encountered enough times to think that it’s probably a quiet, underground endemic within the Catholic community, is the problems of Catholics – especially Catholic women – feeling that sex is somehow wrong, dirty, or dehumanizing if it is anything less than the scintillatingly personalistic vision of fleshly union that appears in the writings of John Paul II and Christopher West. 

It’s just sex. If you don’t have it, it’s not the end of the world. If you do have it, and it’s rushed, mediocre, and half-asleep, it’s not the end of the world. A lot of the time, you end up with a situation where there is a strong biological imperative to make love on the part of one spouse, and a total lack of interest on the part of the other. This isn’t reductionistic and selfish, it’s just biology.

The Virgin Diaries misses the point about those who hold out: it’s not that we don’t want to have sex, it’s that we don’t want to have sex with someone we are not deeply in love with and committed to for life. All the smooth moves, fancy words and romantic settings in the world cannot make up for a lack of real connection with another person.

Sure, there are some people who may have missed their chance to have sex “that one time” in college. Then there are those crazy religious folks who apparently bring up being virgins on first dates (really, TLC?). But to be chaste by choice? Maybe even wearing chastity rings as a sign of their outward commitment to themselves and their body? Inconceivable! If you don’t have sex in high school, this show says, you’re going to get married a virgin and end up awkwardly sucking face in front of the entire congregation. And when I say awkward, I mean viral-on-the-internet awkward.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

“Cortona Annunciation” by Fra Angelico

TLC, in an effort to celebrate chastity in an overly pre-marital sexualized culture, gave people another reason to laugh. This Christmas, we remember the birth of our Savior by the Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Christendom. Hers was not an easy life: she conceived a child before she was married; she lived in total chastity with her husband; she bore a child while a virgin.

Who is laughing now?

Cootie Shots and Conundrums

TBM Topic 17: Emotional Chastity

“Cootie Shots and Conundrums” by Julie Robison
“Daydream Believers and Emotional Disasters” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Easy Bake Love Story” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!

In the second grade, I received a cootie shot/ anti-boy inoculation from a retractable lead pencil. Don’t worry, it was given to me by a professional- my seatmate had given them to nearly every other girl in the class too. From then on, I was (mostly) immune to male charms. I was one of the few girls still playing soccer with the boys in junior high. I focused on making good friends, both male and female, in high school. I was realistic about dating in college, following the sage wisdom of my parents: A date isn’t a proposal. A dance isn’t a commitment. Enjoying another person’s company doesn’t mean you’re meant to be together forever.

Emotional chastity is about protecting your heart. It does not mean being unwilling to give it, but rather, give it selflessly, without regard to return. A perfect example of this is Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. She really liked Edward, but when she found out he was secretly engaged to another woman, she protected her feelings and let life play itself out. On the opposite side, her sister Marianne committed crimes of emotional exhibitionism. Fortunately, for us readers as well as both Dashwood sisters, true love wins out in the end.

I’ll give a more probably example: menfolk as friends. I’ve never believed the old adage of “men and women can’t be friends.” I think such generalities are poppycock. Friendship, like love, is a choice and an action. Attraction, on the other hand, is not.

On of the biggest conundrums women face today is the acceptability of “friends with benefits.” Girl meets guy. They become friends. They’re not interested in each other, so they only pursue friendship. Then, something changes. They start to feel attracted towards each other. What then?

One of possibility is to pursue a relationship.

Another possibility is to have a mature conversation and decide friendship is the best course of action.

Then, there is technically a third option. Really, a fraction of a choice, an algebraic mixture of the above: the friendship as the core, plus the heart-break, minus the commitment, and plenty of unknown variables. Friends with benefits is possibly one of the worst violations of emotional chastity. The benefits are purely physical. It is a utilitarian friendship where two people seek something from the other person. Neither party will grow as a human being because humanity needs virtue and goodness, not consensual vices or an emulation of shallowness, to flourish.

Here are two recent Hollywood examples:

Exhibit A, “Friends with Benefits” (2011)

Exhibit B, “No Strings Attached” (2011)

I would like to point out that both movies involve the complication of falling in genuine love with the other person. Do you think anyone would want to watch the movie if the people only submitted to their animalistic natures, opposed to rising above the banal situation towards the true, goodness and beauty of Love?

What a conundrum the modern world is in! Even if one does not participate in the friends-with-benefits arena, watching these type of movies, reading chick lit and endlessly daydreaming about a future with someone you have not had that type of conversation with is hazardous to feminine mental health. The unrealistic expectations set up by thinking about handsome men and allowing one’s mind to wander into fictional romance does not allow the heart to grow towards genuine love, which comes with time, honesty, purpose and virtue.

Self-control, therefore, is what is most needed in emotional chastity. It means not dwelling on the good times. It means not over-analyzing every word a cute guy said to you. It means not planning out one’s future with the man you’ve started dating or just met. It is not easy, and requires constant vigilance. This does not mean one cannot enjoy romance, consider the future or giggle over cuteness. But people want mature love, which can only be achieved through pure intentions and not rushing into emotional bonds.

The best advice I’ve been given on the subject came from my bestie Julia, before I started dating B. It also happens to be the advice I gave her before she started dating her now-husband. To achieve happiness in life, you have to be content with yourself. More importantly, though, you have to be content with your situation.

If you are single and praying every night for love to find you, I suggest praying instead for God to give you purpose in your singleness. This, like most things, may only be a season, and use it as a way to serve God more fully. If you feel called towards the vocation of marriage, God will provide.

If you’re still feeling like you’re in a pickle, I suggest an old-school cootie shot. All you need is a #2 retractable pencil and a second grader to administer a dose of perspective!

Being Single.

Check out my post on Being Single over at Virtuous Planet!.


This weekend is my parish picnic, and I’m having a hard time deciding if I should attend. I’m part of the parish family, so I have a place, and I should be there. But I’m also a never-been-married Catholic adult, and in the past, at previous picnics, I’ve felt left out. As I’ve stood around looking for a way to introduce myself, I’ve seen married couples chatting with other married couples; families who know each other from school, sports, and Religious Ed; kids running around like crazy; older parishioners sharing jokes; and then…me.

I am one of the 13 million never-been-married Catholic adults in the United States, and I don’t always feel like I fit in. We are an odd bunch. Though we can be grouped as “never-been-married,” that is where most of our similarities end. We have a variety of needs, a variety of faith formation experiences and knowledge, and a large age gap. There are never-been-married Catholics who are twenty-four (hello!) and never-been-married Catholics who are sixty. For some, “never-been-married” is a transitional state; for others, it’s permanent, but the catch is we don’t really know which state is ours. Overall, it’s hard to pin us down.

I would love to have more married couples chime in!


Guest Post: Tattoos are Permanent….and You are an Idiot

TBM Topic 12: Tattoos

Join the discussion!

Guest post by B.

Most of my own views have already been stated by previous posters, that tattoos aren’t wrong, but they can be quite distracting and thus have important social consequences that need to be considered. I believe that the strongest argument for why one should very much consider not getting a tattoo is wonderfully summarized in this video, which also gives the title of this piece:


(warning: it has a few offensive words for the faint of ear)

A much more interesting argument than why you shouldn’t get a tattoo is why you should get one! As far as I’ve thought about it, there are two main reasons to consider a tattoo: to seal a memory, or to make a sign of commitment.

People before me posted pictures of tattoos showing devotion to God and Mary. I would like to offer a potential new tradition involving tattoos: getting inked together with your significant other after you get married! A ring can easily be removed as about a million of our nation’s married couples are demonstrating annually, but a tattoo requires a bit more effort to erase that mark. Not only would a tattoo be a permanent sign of commitment, it also would encourage choosing wisely!

Make sense? I think so. It doesn’t have to be gaudy or publicly displayed, and if your partner doesn’t want one, there’s no sense in pressuring him/her to get one anyway.

Anyone else think it’s an interesting idea?

Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!

The Bright Maidens, Topic 10: “On Dating Nice Catholic Girls” by Max Lindenman: a (delayed) response

“Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!” by Julie Robison
“On Reading Confused Catholic Writers” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Please Don’t Call Me A Prude” by Trista at Not a Minx, a Moron, or a Parasite

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Is it wrong that every time I tried to write this response post, the Beastie Boys’ lyrics kept playing in my head? “Her pants were tight/ and that’s okay!” they chorus, and I know Mr. Max Lindenman agrees, even though he scathingly used the adjective “tight” three times in his Patheos article “On Dating Nice Catholic Girls” in reference to three different girls’ bottom apparel.

The Beastie Boys, on girls: “I like the way that they walk/ And it’s chill to hear them talk/ And I can always make them smile/ From White Castle to the Nile.”

Later in the song, however, they lamented what happened during a walk down to the bay: “I hope she’ll say, “Hey me and you should hit the hay!”/ I asked her out, she said, “No way!”/ … So I broke North with no delay.”

Mr. Lindenman, I’m afraid dear readers, also broke North with no delay. His sub-byline is misleading, a backhanded compliment of “No hook-ups but no long-term ego-busts; nice Catholic girls teach tenderness and the valuable security of the everyday.”

Within the article, he confused readers by first he accusing the JPII generation of women of being “godawful” teases like Sexy Puritans (a.k.a. attractive Christians), then admiring his ex-girlfriends’ sunny dispositions and adherence to Catholic sexual morals before sharply criticizing those very virtues within the same page, and, the worst of offenses, did not properly fact check. Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae as our dating guide? Please. That encyclical is for married folk. Nice Catholic Girls read the Theology of the Body lectures first!

Mr. Lindenman does address an excellent topic though: how can girls only cuddle? How can they not succumb to their desires for more intimacy than handholding and playing footsie? If kissing is okay, why not taking a few tips from the Kama Sutra?

In the 2007 film Juno, after the 16 year old main character Juno MacGruff tells her father and step-mother that she’s pregnant, her father says, “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.”

Juno replies, “I don’t know what kind of girl I am.”

I found this part of the movie incredibly honest, and a good reflection of how sexual education is addressed in America. My own began at home: by the time I had my first sexual education class in the fifth grade, my parents had given me four siblings, with one more to come. My parochial grade school education was all scientific explanation of sexual intercourse, with a dose of religious reverence. My parents were extremely upfront about sex not happening before marriage, and God’s plan for sex within marriage. It was easy to see why saints had died for their virginity, and why they offered it up to God.

But there the formalities stopped. We spent one week in Postponing Sexual Involvement (PSI) lectures my freshman year of high school, and barely skimmed the touchy subject in Ethics my junior year. I made friends with many boys, took boys to dances, and occasionally went on dates, but avoided more intimate relationships. When I did go to college, I was completely unprepared for the advances of some boys and, all I can say at most is that I am glad the teachings of the Catholic Church were so firmly pressed upon me and my conscience, because my emotions would have dictated me astray.

Catholicism’s response to the sexual revolution

I didn’t learn or start reading about Theology of the Body until after my junior year of college and into my senior year, giving me now more of a foundation for what was only a protest before. As Juno later and quite aptly said, there were times when I was “just out dealing with things way beyond my maturity level.”

Through all of it, I valued honesty, whether the guy bravely breached the gap or I had to step up and address the awkward silence of unsaid triflings. My heart, therefore, sank a bit deeper into my chest as I read Mr. Lindenman’s belittlement of such an effort.

He wrote, “My nice Catholic girls were completely different animals. Straightforward and unaffected, they sent no mixed signals, crowned their bedposts with no negative notches. In their orgies of chaste snuggle-wuggles I see evidence for a startling truth: where sexuality decreases, tenderness and sensuality increase.”

I, in turn, see evidence of confusion. Chaste snuggle-wuggles (hereafter known as “cuddling”), for starters, are the antithesis of orgies, which are unrestrained and excessive sexual activities. I submit as my thesis that in a pre-marital, non-sexual relationship, sexuality does not decrease, but remains consistent, in check, and in anticipation, as well as increasing tenderness and sensuality, not to mention creativity for fun and romance.

One topic not addressed by the author is the difficulty for a Nice Catholic Girl to find a Nice Catholic Boy.

Nice, of course, means more than pleasant to be around and no less than respectful in words, actions and thoughts; it is a vague word that indicates the virtues of men and women are being honed and prepared for delivery when called upon or needed.

Well, says the dear readers, maybe you two shouldn’t have gotten that far in the first place.

But would two people sitting feet apart, refraining from most contact, cultivate anything but sexual frustrations and tension? Holding hands would perhaps alleviate that, without overdoing it. To avoid temptation, one must avoid the near occasion of sin. But if two are both committed to not sinning, does proximity of one’s bodies determine the occasion?

I am not prepared to address every specific situation a couple may face together, but I think every situation can be correctly handled according to the Church’s teachings and without the tease of a Puritan courtship. This is where I quarrel with Mr. Lindenman.

Say what?!

He tells a tragic tale of woe: of Melissa, his former girlfriend, the nursing student. She was beautiful, but either didn’t know or didn’t care. She could draw parallels between saints and X-Men characters, participated in Eucharistic Adoration, and was courageous enough to ask Mr. Lindenman via e-mail postscript if they were dating since, apparently, he failed to properly ask her out.

He said his security was Melissa, and that he inadvertently told her he loved her during a hike. They talked long into the night, but the nuances of their relationship began to haunt him, like Dimmesdale’s guilt in The Scarlet Letter. Unlike Hester, however, Melissa did not keep things secret in the crevices of her heart. She was kind and open with all she met and knew, and her “buoyancy, the way she revealed herself as recklessly as a patient on a couch, worked on me like a stimulant.” But in the end, instead of admiring this trait, Mr. Lindenman “cooled off pointedly.”

No reader was shocked when Melissa broke up with him. He said, “That was Melissa: scrupulous in honesty and generosity, a nice Catholic girl to the end. …There’s a great deal to be said for nice Catholic girls: the up-front quality, all those depths made visible, like the ocean in a color-coded map. Even the prudery has its advantages. Getting kicked to the curb by a girl you’ve never slept with means never having to wonder whether you’re a bad lover. That cuts the ego’s recovery time exactly in half.”

I am sorry Mr. Lindenman did not take more time to “recover” from this relationship, or rather, reflect. Melissa was no prude. She was not shocked nor did she shun the topic of sex. She discussed it, and at length. She did not physically give her body, but she opened up her soul. This can be more terrifying than being physical with another person, because it requires a different kind of affection that people crave more than touch. This kind of affection has fewer lines, and allows for more creativity. To say I Love You is one thing; to show it is another.

“For God so Loved the world that he sent his only Son,” says John 3:16. Good experiences and good memories only really happen once. Nothing in this world can be repeated, even though it can be done again; the world writes its history based on the choices of individuals. Sex is a choice every person faces, and the idea of chastity is a contradiction to modern sensibilities, for which freedom is the ability to do whatever one wants to do, opposed to the freedom to do what one should do.

The bomb-diggity.

This is exactly what John Paul II persuasively argues for in his Theology of the Body lectures. The Catholic Church preaches authentic freedom through Christ, which leads to an authentic love. To love someone is to recognize their dignity. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

In this same thread, dating a Nice Catholic Girl or Nice Catholic Boy is about seeing the other person as a whole person: not just someone to have sex with, not just someone to pass the time with, not just a possible vocation, and not just because they’re Catholic. The intimacy two Catholics seek in a relationship is beyond a want of sex. Of course they both want it, but they’re willing to acknowledge its significance, which is a true bond, but not as the pinnacle of the relationship, nor an indulgence for one’s own gratification.

Mr. Lindenman sees all the accidents of Love, and none of the essence. He gets distracted by the tight pants and sees pious hypocrisy in that same girl if she wears a mantilla too. He thinks not having sex is a decrease in sexuality, and downplays the honest desire to get to know another soul before allowing the bodies to join. He relishes in the feminine touch, but rejects its liberality if it won’t go beyond the cuddle.

Well, he can write his bishop about the tight shorts all he wants, but I think he’s missing the Church’s point. H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” Catholics know how to have a good time, and do. Just because we’re not having sex before marriage doesn’t mean we’re prudes or Puritans. It means we bring the party when the time is right, and give the perfect gift too.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Week Six: Saving Sex for Marriage

“The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same” by Julie Robison
“Cut to the Chaste.” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Three Strikes, I’m Out!” by Trista at Not a Minx

This is the sixth post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

After my sophomore year of college, I sat on a park bench with three close friends from high school, licking ice cream out of cones and giggling over the stories we told each other. I distinctly remember feeling blissfully happy; the weather was warm and windy, the ice cream was delicious, there were people all around us in the square, and I was reunited with three girls I had been close with since our freshman year of high school.

One of my friends mentioned her boyfriend making pancakes one morning and serving her breakfast in bed. I had the most sheltered college experience of us four– at my alma mater, boys and girls live in separate dorms and there are visiting hours. Without thinking my question through, I wondered aloud how he got into her room so early. Then it dawned on me: why was he in her room that early? With trepidation, I then asked, trying not to tremble as I said the words: “Wait, have you two had sex?”

She admitted they had, in a low, sheepish voice. But the embarrassment soon wore off, as the other two girls chimed in that they had done it too with their respective boyfriends. I had just survived a semester of awkwardness between one boy because I had turned down his request for me to be his girlfriend, because I knew it would probably get too physical, and I didn’t see him respecting me as he should. The rest of the evening was disappointing, as my friends eagerly discussed sex and their various experiences, and I- I could only sit on the bench, and listen.

My three friends are not the only ones; I had many more experiences of home friends coming to me in college to talk about how they did something they thought they would save for marriage. Most of these conversations were them lamenting their disappointment, but most of them also never showed a desire to stop what they had started. I was there to talk them through it, to discuss how things could have gone differently, and how the future is still for the taking. It was a distinct contrast from most of my college friends, who are mostly not sexually active before marriage. I even have friends who did not kiss before they were married, so the contrast I feel, as you can imagine, is sometimes sharp.

Yesterday, MercatorNet published a book review of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.

The review began, “It’s complicated. More than a Facebook relationship status, “it’s complicated” sums up the ambiguity, fluidity, and contradictions experienced by “emerging adults” in America–at least when it comes to sex and relationships. What’s simple are the numbers: 84 per cent of unmarried, heterosexual, emerging adults (ages 18-23) in America have had sex—a number that cuts a wide swath across religious denominations, political leanings, family backgrounds, education levels, and geographic regions.

Yes, I can think complicated is an apt term for most modern relationships. One of the most interesting parts of the article discussed the very term “premarital sex,” which usually happened before a couple got married- opposed to now, where the couple might not even know each other’s name, let alone stay in a relationship. I am always intrigued when people say that sex isn’t a big deal. Perhaps not to some, but doesn’t an inner crevice of one’s soul want it to be? Theology of the Body teaches that our bodies are modes of communication in this world and that sex is a form of communicating, from the depths of one’s soul. As Catholics, we believe God gave us sex to join two people in a spiritual and bodily communion.

So, of course it is natural to want to have sex! Sex is wonderful and life-giving! Not only potentially to a child, but between the couple. Catholics are certainly not Puritans. We love sex! Which is why we value it so highly and thus, protect it from false forms. The Church says married couples are a visible sign of Christ and his love of his bride, the Church, as are consecrated religious and the chaste single. There is good reason why a Catholic bishops have started to deny communion to cohabiting couples. They are having sex outside the sacrament of marriage, which hurts the sacrament and hurts the sacredness of sex.

Catholics believe that we are masters of our own fate. We are like heat-seeking missals, always seeking truth, beauty and the good. But we have to say yes to choose good. We choose God’s way, and follow the teachings of the Church, which are time-proven and guided by the Holy Spirit. People are happiest when they are inter-relational; living in just community with virtuous people, and can self-preserve these good things through the commitment of marriage, sex and children.

My family!

This is not to say sex cannot be treated otherwise. It is true- a person can have sex with whomever they please. But the freedom to do something and the choice to do something are two different commodities. I can have sex; I choose not to, until I am married. In the Old Testament, one book I especially love reading is the Book of Tobit. It is a really beautiful book and testimony to Jewish piety and morality, specifically to the sacredness of marriage and love. I remember hearing this passage at my aunt and uncle’s wedding; it follows after Tobit’s son Tobiah marries Sarah:

When the girl’s parents left the bedroom and closed the door behind them, Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, “My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.” She got up, and they started to pray and beg that deliverance might be theirs. He began with these words: “Blessed are you, O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night” (Tobit 8:4-9).

Patheos published a wonderful article yesterday, “Friendship and the Language of Sex” by Tim Muldoon. In using the story of Sarah and Tobiah, he writes,

Today, our common cultural attitude toward sex is that it is a pleasurable activity to be enjoyed by consenting adults, with proper protection. The story of Tobiah and Sarah, however, suggest a radically different model. Their sex is a duet in a story authored by God, made possible by their free and willing response. It is embedded in a context of familial and clan relationships; it is blessed, as it were, by parents and friends. Perhaps most importantly, though, it is sex that is oriented toward a noble purpose, rooted in prayer, expressing a shared desire to do what is good.

… I want to suggest that what the story offers to us is a way of thinking about sex that is rooted in friendship. According to Aristotle, who was active only a couple of hundred years before the author of Tobit, true friendship is rooted neither in pleasure or utility, but in a shared striving for the good. Even if we grant that the reason why many people choose to have sex is because it’s pleasurable, we must ask why people consider pleasure important. The psychoanalyst and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed in his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning that the people in concentration camps who did not survive were those that gave up on meaning, and turned to pleasures shortly before they died. Pleasure, he seems to suggest, is for those who have lost a sense of noble purpose.

What makes Tobiah and Sarah friends is their shared sense of acting in cooperation in the unfolding story of God at work in the world. At the heart of Catholic faith is a profound sense that God reaches out in friendship toward each creature, and that living in cooperation with God enables us to live in cooperation, in friendship, with each other. In the context of friendship, then, sex is to be understood as cooperation with God. It is the shared practice of an intimacy embedded within a larger web of relationships: with parents and siblings, friends, fellow pilgrims. For that reason, the Church has from its earliest days recognized that sex has a social dimension to it. It changes one’s relationship to the other, and the changes the couple’s relationship to the rest of the world.

It is holy ground.

Saving sex for marriage isn’t the cool thing to do (in the heat of the moment), or the easy thing (when you really like a person, etc.). But as we told my baby sister last night, as she was bemoaning the “awkward talk” her teacher was giving the class on chastity, no one regrets saying no and waiting for sex. We told 11 year old Boo how she was worth waiting for, and if a guy wanted her to commit her body to him, he was going to have to step up and offer her his lifetime commitment, not just a good time. The good times will come, as will the bad, and when/ if I have sex, it will be the most self-giving thing I can do for that person; because I’ll have to step outside my wants, and become a wife, and then a mother.

This sounds old-fashioned, but mankind truly does not change at the evolutionary rate we like to think we do. Aquinas said that reason should be our guide for morality. Natural law, therefore, has very much a relationship to sexual ethics. You shan’t be surprised then when I, budding Thomist that I am, heartily declare that “one should act rationally.” Not having sex when one is not married seems pretty rational to me since I

A) don’t want to be pregnant (yet)
B) don’t want to get any funky diseases (ever)
C) don’t want to be overly emotionally attached to someone I may not marry
D am, in fact, not married (and have you seen the statistics on single parenthood?)

These are all graspable realities which I contend with in my decision. The wide-spread use and acceptance of birth control and legalized abortion seems to cut at each of those barriers. But they do not take them away. Dr. Janet Smith says, “Natural law depends upon such. It rests upon the claim that things have natures and essences that we can know and correspond our actions to.” But I did not need to give you that vocabulary lesson. Somewhere in your mind, you already knew that. I merely put the words there, to remind you. This is the beauty of natural law! It is so natural to the dignity of our very personhood.

CCC 2353: “Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.”

Catholic young adults are biologically no different than other young adults, but as Christians, we are called towards a higher purpose in all that we do, and that includes sex.