Editor’s note: The CatholicMatch Institute is happy to announce our newest contributor, Arleen Spenceley. Arleen is a Catholic blogger, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and author of Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. Here is her first column for the CatholicMatch Institute.
In my then-boyfriend’s apartment, I smiled while I quietly asked a question:
“What crossed your mind the first time you saw me?”
He thoughtfully paused, and aligned his eyes with mine, before he answered without blinking (and, apparently, without thinking):
“I want a piece of her.”
You want a piece of me? The line led to fightin’ words, words that build walls between a woman and a man, which—in that case—was for the best. But the line also led to a realization: When a man likes a woman, he doesn’t do what that guy did (including but not limited to “objectify her”). So what should a guy do when he likes a girl? I’ll tell you:
1. Ask questions. Few pursuits bear less fruit than those of men who desire to find and marry the right woman but refrain from asking women questions. A woman needs to know who you are, but a woman also needs to know that you want to know who she is. We are generally delighted by a good guy’s desire to tell us about his life, but a guy who shares information and doesn’t solicit it does a disservice to a potential relationship. If a man likes a woman, he ought to ask what her goals are, and what she values, and how into comics she is before he lists all the titles in his collection. A man who doesn’t ask a woman questions sends a sign that he isn’t interested in her.
2. Use words. It is equal parts liberating and alarming to acknowledge this important truth: we can’t not communicate. A person says as much by not talking as he or she does by speaking up. But there is a big gap between somebody who doesn’t talk and somebody who does. A guy who crosses his arms, audibly sighs, and rolls his eyes over and over when he is frustrated speaks in code. A guy who tells his date he is frustrated is a grown-up. A woman can’t read anybody’s mind but her own, and a man who doesn’t give her a reason to try to read his is a man who spares her stress. By default, human beings constantly communicate. But when a man likes a woman, he uses words to do it.
3. Seek counsel. Dating is hard. Dating is potentially harder when half a couple seeks advice from somebody who isn’t qualified to give it. When a man likes a woman and needs advice, he considers a person’s credentials before he solicits it. If he wants to know what a woman meant by what she said, he doesn’t poll his friends; he asks her. If he isn’t sure he knows what his vocation is, he doesn’t tweet about it; he meets with a spiritual director. If he struggles to practice chastity, he doesn’t vent to his single but sexually active friends; he asks his friends who are good at chastity to hold him accountable. A man’s respect for a woman and his relationship with her is evident when he seeks counsel about it wisely.
4. Follow through. Actions indeed speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean what somebody says is irrelevant. When a man likes a woman, he does what he says he’s going to do, and in doing so, he proves he is worthy of her trust. If he tells her he’ll text her, or call her, or DVR a How I Met Your Mother re-run for her, he gives her an expectation. But a man who gives a woman an expectation and then does not fulfill it gives her a reason not to trust him.
5. Save sex. A practicing Catholic woman expects a man to believe before he pursues her that preparedness for marriage is more important than preparedness for a wedding night. As Catholics, we are not called to have sex because sex is pleasurable. We are called to create a pleasurable sexual relationship with the person to whom we are united in marriage.
Marriage, a vocation, is designed to result in the destruction of self-absorption. Saving sex while we date aligns us with that purpose. When a man likes a woman, he does what he can to prepare for the patience, sacrifice, and self-denial that a marriage will require—and saving sex is an exercise in all three.