Not all men are bullets.

A phone call is jarring when in it, your friend divulges the discovery she made of her husband’s infidelity. Of her boyfriend’s big lie. Of her crush’s double life. Or of his wife.
Whatever the breach of trust, the result — at first, at least — is devastating. One person’s choice pulls the path out from under somebody else, somebody who didn’t sign up for this. Somebody who promised to be true to him even in bad times after he promised infidelity would never be the source of them.Until it was.

“Until death,” as it turns out, is often code for “until I change my mind” — fidelity often only upheld when not inconvenient. She picks him as husband and intertwines her world with his, but has to peg him, when he leaves her, as a bullet.

You really dodged a bullet.

Fidelity is too often breached, too treated as impossible. I’ve received too many jarring phone calls.This isn’t a blame game. Relationships are systemic, and most marriages that end probably shouldn’t have started. But I’ve met enough women who are so disheartened by the men who used to walk life beside them to share this with all men on women’s behalf:

Some of us are giving up on you.Which doesn’t mean good single men will be single forever. It means women need good single men now more than ever.

We need you to step up and stand out.

To teach your brothers (biological or otherwise) how to make good choices.

To teach them to treat women first as sisters.

We need our male friends and our brothers and our dads to do what they say they are going to do. We need to meet men who use forethought before they pursue us, who pursue God before they pursue us. We need men whose choices inspire us to say “they do exist” (and not “is this some kind of a joke?”).

We need to know that men exist who want to love a woman like Christ loves the church. Who know love is a choice.

We need to know that not all men are bullets.

Because I know you aren’t, but I know a lot of ladies who need good men to prove it.

Thoughts on men and their emotions.

Last month, a fellow blogger asked me what I — as a woman — think it means to be a man. So in a comment on his blog, I wrote the following:

I could write a whole post (and perhaps I will after I finish my book!). But here’s what comes to mind at first: A man uses words to communicate. He does what he says he’s going to do. He understands emotion to be a human thing, not a woman thing, and expresses his own. If he was raised not to express emotion, he makes an effort as an adult to unlearn what he learned (even if with the help of a licensed therapist). He has integrity, which means he doesn’t do stuff (or makes a concerted effort to avoid doing stuff) in private that doesn’t align with his public image. He practices chastity and knows love is a choice as opposed to a feeling.

Another of the blogger’s readers left a comment regarding mine:

Actually, in this, you’re buying into the mindset that tries to turn men into hairy women. No one *teaches* men to “not express emotion” — it is a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal. Furthermore, no one, needs, nor even wants, “men” who wear their emotions on their sleeves, least of all women [sic]When it comes to emotions, the world was better off when women worked to emulate what comes naturally to men, by keeping a lid on theirs. Instead, most “women” thesa days mentally junior-high school girls [sic] … as are far too many so-called men.

These are my thoughts on that:

  • To my readers who are men: IGNORE HIM. You are not a hairy woman if you express emotion. You are a person who functions. A “masculine ideal” that doesn’t let you be who you are or feel what you feel is a crock of you know dang well what. Reject it.
  • No one needs men who wear emotions on their sleeves? Reminder: Jesus wept.
  • Words like the ones written by that reader are the reason an 11-year-old boy I once met is more likely to put his fist through a wall than to cry when he’s upset. By telling boys “crying is for wimps,” you don’t encourage strength. You set them up to be alarmed by feelings when feelings arise (and they will). You discourage the development of their abilities to manage emotion, because you can’t learn to manage what you aren’t allowed to experience.
  • Emotion is human. The moment you call expression of it weak, it becomes strong: evidence of a willingness to go against the grain — a grain manufactured by people like the guy who wrote the comment. (A willingness, which, for the record, is totally attractive.)
  • Women don’t want men who express emotion? First, men can’t tell women what women want. Stop it. Second, if I wind up with a guy who cries when he proposes or commits on an altar to intertwining his entire life with mine, or when our kids are born or our pets and loved ones die, or the Fresh Prince rerun we’re watching happens to be particularly heart wrenching, GOOD. I’ll cry with him.
  • The writer posits that men aren’t supposed to express emotion because not expressing emotion is “a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal.” It is good, regardless of gender, to be in control of yourself. And it is normal to have emotions. But it is flawed to imply it is a loss of self-control to express them.
  • Perhaps the people who have lost control of self are not the ones who express emotion, but the ones who don’t. Who is in control when what you will or won’t do is based on what other people think of you?

[Q&A – Relationships] How do I deal with her PMS?

The Q: “How do I deal with my fiancée’s PMS?” -Donald*

The A: PMS, more mouth-fully known as premenstrual syndrome, is the set of symptoms most women experience during the days before we get our periods.

They can be physical (headache, fatigue, bloating). They can be emotional (anxiety, depression, anger). They can be behavioral (eating a lot, not eating a lot, insomnia). They also can be alarming for our boyfriends, our fiancés, or our husbands. That Donald asked how to respond to PMS is indicative of the existence of his capacity to serve (and interest in serving) his fiancée in a way that meets her needs. (To which I say “Bravo!”)

How guys respond to women’s PMS probably should vary, but here are my first few suggestions:

Be available. Men exist who, upon discovering a woman is PMS-ing, check out emotionally or physically until her period passes. This is cool if she requests that space, but it is not cool to assume she wants or needs it. Women exist who, while PMS-ing, really would just enjoy watching a movie with you, for instance, which is easy and harmless and impossible for you to know if you are “busy” every time she is PMS-ing.

Actively listen. To brush off a woman’s anxiety, depression, or anger because you know she’s PMS-ing is probably a bad idea. She is not angry because she’s PMS-ing. She is more angry because she’s PMS-ing. She – in most circumstances, in my opinion and experience – would be angry about what she’s angry about anyway. So when she expresses what she feels, listen and listen actively**, so she knows you actually hear her. And when a woman is angry (or anxious or depressed), it doesn’t necessarily mean she has PMS. PMS is not a prerequisite for the existence or expression of emotion.

Ask her what she expects. (And ask her nicely.) Neither men nor women can read minds, and we are both being silly and/or unreasonable when we a) wait to receive what we really need or want without ever expressing what we really need or want or b) assume we know what somebody else needs or wants when he or she has never said and we have never asked.

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*Real guy, fake name.

**Click here for active listening tips.

Q&A is an occasional feature. If you have a Q, I can come up with an A (and if I don’t have an A, I’ll find somebody who does). To submit a question, click here. No topic is taboo (although I can’t promise I will answer every question).

Click here to read all the posts in this series.

“You throw like a girl.”

Ever hear one guy tell another he “throws like a girl” in effort to insult him? contributor Sarah Spain weighs in on why men (and women!) ought not to use words as insults that are actually intended to identify females (and I wholeheartedly agree with her):

“It’s time to put an end to these lazy, damaging jeers. It’s time to stop spreading the message that being female is inherently wrong or inferior. The use of ‘woman’ or ‘female’ or ‘girl’ as an insult is sexist, plain and simple. … Assigning characteristics like ‘tough’ and ‘strong’ to men and ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ to women is not only lazy, it perpetuates stereotypical gender roles and can be harmful to both boys and girls. Those qualities are personality traits, not gender traits.”

Click here to read what she wrote in full. (And big thanks to reader Andrew for pointing this article out to me  in his comment on my post about the book The Purity Myth.)

The new normal: births outside marriage — Part 2 of 2

In yesterday’s post, I wrote some commentary on a recent New York Times article. The story cited a study that says a baby’s birth to an unwed mom “used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.”

I don’t doubt the study’s results are legit. (In fact, I’m responsible for putting birth announcements in the newspaper for the county in which I work, and at least in that neck of the woods, babies with unwed parents far outnumber babies whose parents are married.) I don’t disagree that lots of people opt not to get married after conceiving a child or after giving birth. But, as I pointed out in Part 1, the story about this unintentionally implied that marriage and “a piece of paper” are one and the same when, in fact, they are not. Marriage is a miracle that helps us “to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving,*”

Which is awesome.

But as awesome as that is, few people our age are interested in it. Few currently-married couples exemplify it. And so I was compelled to ask a question:


Unfortunately, I can’t answer that. For one, I don’t know (at least not with any kind of exactness), and for two, I do know the answer is so complex that I couldn’t do it justice if I tried. What I can do is list some factors that, in my opinion, contribute to why few people our age are interested in marriage, and why few married couples exemplify what marriage actually is.

1. People don’t know what marriage actually is.

Refer to Part 1.

2. People don’t think enough (some can’t, some won’t).

Part of the story says the following:

A woman, “27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now tends bar, (she) said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. ‘It was like living with another kid,’ she said.

Another part says this:

“In Lorain as elsewhere, explanations for marital decline start with home economics: men are worth less than they used to be. Among men with some college but no degrees, earnings have fallen 8 percent in the past 30 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the earnings of their female counterparts have risen by 8 percent.”

The point the story makes is that these women aren’t marrying the fathers of their children because to do so would be financially irresponsible and/or of no financial benefit. But if our focus is on deciding not to marry a man because marrying him is of no financial benefit, we miss a deeper point. The young woman in the story wouldn’t dare marry a man-child who can’t afford his own cigarettes, which is good, and I commend her, because she shouldn’t. But, then, I’m left wondering: if a dependent guy isn’t good enough to marry, why is he good enough to date? Why is he good enough to make a baby with? This points to the deeper point:

There are so many questions to ask before we promise exclusivity to someone and before we make babies with him or her — questions that few are asking.

Questions like is this person emotionally, socially, spiritually, financially fit to be my spouse? Would he or she make a good parent? Do I want kids to turn out like this person? Am I emotionally, socially, spiritually, financially fit to be a spouse? Would I make a good parent? Do I want kids to turn out like me?

We need to think about our answers to these questions, which implies we have to answer them. I think lots of humans are so generally horrified that the answer to any of them will be no that we neither ask nor answer them. But know that if an answer is no, it does not not mean it has to be no forever. It means somebody has some work to do — some growing to do. And that’s ok, and always will be.

Lots of other humans do think about their answers to the questions, but their thoughts backfire because they are are under the impression that if an answer is no, the act of entering into a marriage — or even just moving in together — will transform the non-marriageable half of the couple into a marriageable one. But that’s not how it works.

From the article:

Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.”

This is because when a relationship isn’t working, doing something that complicates it never makes it work. We’re better off taking something out of the equation (such as one of the people, or sex) and seeing what happens.

Which brings us to a third factor that contributes to why few people our age are interested in marriage, and why few married couples exemplify what marriage actually is.

3. People treat the sacred (sex, in this case) like it isn’t.

In our culture, you hit a certain age and the assumption is that if you’re dating someone, you’re having sex with them. And in an overwhelming majority of cases, that’s a safe assumption. It’s the norm. Which is one of several reasons we know what the norm isn’t: treating sex like it’s sacred.

Sex is not kept sacred when it’s something we do with every person we date. It’s not kept sacred when we participate in it selfishly. It is not sacred when we decide to have sex because we believe we can’t not have sex.

“It’s impossible to wait” is a lie. Humans, in my opinion and experience, are stronger than that — we can control our appetites. A couple of my favorite quotes about this are as follows:

“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains healthy discretion.*”


“The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.*”

There are far fewer people who believe that than who simultaneously a) believe marriage is a piece of paper, and b) are currently unfit for a piece-of-paper-marriage, let alone for a real one, who c) are so unwilling or unable to acknowledge that they are currently (and probably temporarily!) unfit for marriage that they d) date while they e) are completely convinced they cannot date without having sex.

And that, over time, combined with a lot of other factors, results in new normals like the one in the article.

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To read Part 1 of this post, click here.

To read the New York Times story in full, click here.

*This quote comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.