Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chastity and Love: Please Don't Let Them Be Misunderstood


Chastity and love are two of the most misunderstood concepts in our culture today. In her new book Chastity Is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, Arleen Spenceley does a masterful job clearing up the confusion. About chastity and how it differs from abstinence, she says:
Chastity neither pretends sexuality doesn't exist nor treats it as if it is the only significant part of a person. ... Chastity infuses sex with love, and love with sacrifice. Abstinence doesn't. Chastity never trivializes sex, and it refuses to use or objectify people, It says we can have what we want when what we want is good for us and it equips us to discern whether it is.
This explanation of chastity shows how our sexuality fits into our lives. Sex outside the protective embrace of marriage is not good for us. That's why the Church, in its wisdom, counsels against pre-marital and extra-marital sex. Sex inside marriage, when there is a grave reason to avoid pregnancy, might not be good for us either. That's why the Church supports periodic abstinence, or Natural Family Planning, if a married couple seriously cannot handle a child (or another child) in their relationship. Deciding whether to get married or whether to get pregnant both require discernment.

About love, Arleen says:
I wanted to get married because married people get to love. And married people do get to love. But they don't have a monopoly on love. What I hadn't grasped yet was that love takes multiple forms, and all of them require sacrifice.  
Love is not about what you get (or what you get to do between the sheets). Love is about what you give and how you give it. Single virgins don't get to have sex, but they also don't have babies wanting milk from them every two to four hours day and night. It's all a balance. The culture tells us that love means having sex, but sex doesn't mean having babies. Arleen explains that single people love in lots of ways that don't include sex, and married people (in most cases) share love through having sex and having babies. Both single and married people can achieve happiness through loving and being loved.

I do disagree, however, with some advice Arleen gives on chaste dating. She insists that chaste daters need to keep the bar high, particularly with respect to virtue. She's no longer willing "to date guys who aren't 'it,' in hopes that they would grow on me." But what she discounts is that a person might grow in virtue precisely because she demanded more of him and showed him a better way -- a way to love, a way to faith, a way to God.

God's love says we can do better and be better. But it's the love of a good person that gives us a tangible reason to try. When I met my husband-to-be Manny, I didn't exactly believe in chaste dating. When he told me that all he wanted was to hold hands, I felt he had rejected me so deeply that a crack fissured right through my heart. But what really broke was my hardness of heart, my misconception that my sexuality and my sexiness was my deepest value, my badly mistaken assumption that if he didn't want sex, then he didn't want me. He did want me, but he wanted all of me, healed by his love, healed by God's love, forever.

So should chaste daters demand chastity from those they date? Sure. But chaste daters can teach chastity as well. God chooses the one who is "it" for us, even if they have to grow a bit to get there.

My thanks to Arleen and Ave Maria Press for the free review copy.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

How Soon Should He Declare His Intentions?


My recent post for Catholic Match Institute, The Art of Catholic Flirting (For Ladies' Eyes Only), generated quite a bit of discussion. The most controversial recommendation was #7:

7. Ask him to declare his intentions. Don’t let him get away with the question, “Would you like to hang out?” Tell him it depends on whether he wants to date you or just be friends. If he’s not man enough to say he wants to date you, what makes you think he’ll be man enough to propose marriage a year or two down the line? If he stutters or waffles, tell him to call you back when he makes up his mind. (Even the New York Times agrees.)
My recommendation stemmed from the disturbing trend of guys not even bothering to ask girls out on a formal date any more, leaving girls utterly confused about what kind of relationship the guys are after. When my husband and I started dating, he made it very clear that he would not be spending time with me unless he thought we had a shot at marriage. That straight-forward declaration helped us over a lot of rough spots at the beginning of our relationship.

Some readers had an extremely negative reaction to my recommendation, but others loved it. I'm eager to hear what you think! Here is a sampling of the comments:
Andrew: # 7 is going to end up disastrous unless the guy is already anxious to get in a relationship. No guy knows right away if he wants to get in a serious relationship because some flirting has happened.

Carley: I think asking what his intentions are would scare off a bunch of fruitful relationships between men and women. So hang out a couple of times without expecting any type of declaration. There’s nothing wrong with getting to know each other, but if there’s heavy flirting going on then you shouldn’t let it go on forever. Perhaps when you’ve wondered “when is he going to ask me out?” a time or two then maybe it’s time to question his intentions.

Kristin: I love #7 especially. I dated for a few years after college and wasted way too much time with guys only to find out they were not interested in me for the long haul. Or they weren’t interested in a long haul anytime soon with anyone. Had I made my intentions clear for them sooner rather than later, I would have saved us both time and emotional energy. When I met my future husband, ... I told him late one night during our nightly phone marathon that if he wanted to date me to see if we were compatible long term, then he needed to ask me not to date anyone else. I must have caught him off-guard because he said he didn’t feel right doing that. ... After another month, ... he then asked me to stop seeing any others so we could see where this could lead. Four months later he proposed and 10 months after that we were married. Now happily married for almost 19 years with 6 beautiful kids. Yes, letting a date know you are dating in search of the “one” versus to have a little fun is crucial – nowadays even more so. All points were awesome! Thx for a great read.

Thomas: #7 -> YES. Though we already knew each other for quite a while, when I started dating Alicia, she gave me an ultimatum. "I'm not going to drag this out," she said, "I don't want a long distance relationship, and I'm moving back to Florida in three months. If we don't know by then if we're on our way to marriage, it's off." Two weeks from that to engagement. 

Robert:  Point #7 needed correction and seemed almost anti-Christian.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinion!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Better Aphrodisiac: Why NFP?

Kevin and Allison Gingras speak honestly about why they switched from artificial birth control to Natural Family Planning (NFP) after discovering, among other things, how artificial birth control can lower a woman's libido. They also cover topics like the effect of peri-menopause, the benefits to using over-the-counter ovulation kits, and how regular times of abstinence can improve intimacy.


Kevin and Allison started out as high school sweethearts who went to both junior and senior prom together, and now they've been married for 25 years. They are proud parents of Ian (age 18), Adam (age 15), and Faith (age 8). Faith, who is deaf, was an extra special gift coming to them all the way from China when she was almost 4 years old. Kevin and Allison began using Natural Family Planning over 20 years ago, after reading about a local class in their church bulletin. Allison blogs at Reconciled to You and is a Catholic radio and tv personality as well as an app developer. You can read Faith's adoption story here and find out how God touched Kevin and Allison's heart to adopt even while they were using NFP to prevent pregnancy.

1. Why do you use NFP?


Our use of NFP coincided with our reversion to the Catholic faith over 20 years ago. We were at a point in our lives where we wanted to open our hearts to children, after living very self-centeredly for the first several years of our married life! I had discovered the horrific things I had subjected my body to by using birth control pills including their abortifacient effect and the increased risk for certain cancers (no one ever bothered explaining that, and I foolishly never read the lengthy pamphlet tucked inside the package each month). We saw a class being offered in our parish bulletin and signed up to learn more. I particularly loved that this method was not just my responsibility, that we’d be achieving and avoiding pregnancy together – yet of course, always open to God’s will.

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?


We were able to rely only on basal body temperature for 17 years, until Allison began peri-menopause. We have now added the Clear Blue Easy ovulation detector along with temperature charting. To be very honest, this new phase of fertility has been incredibly challenging especially in light of how easy it was for us before this change of life.

3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?


Pros:

Allison: The natural breaks of intimacy that come in conjunction with a woman’s fertility cycle has been one of the most powerful marriage strengtheners. When you are able to say not tonight I’m “not safe” without hurting your husband’s feelings, that is a beautiful blessing. At one point in my life, I was in a Bible study with 40 women, and was one of the only women practicing NFP. One night we had an open honest discussion about sex in marriage – more than half of the women complained about always having to be "on" or "available" to their husbands. They spoke of intercourse with their spouses as a task – one most were not interested in - instead of the bonding, procreative gift from God it truly is. I recognized instantly the negative effect that birth control or sterilization can have on a marriage (nearly all of the women reporting an unhealthy intimacy also confided they were either on some form of birth control or one of spouses had received sterilization surgery).

Another huge benefit, which I never considered when we began our NFP adventure, is being able to accurately estimate the day of conception. This became very helpful when our first child was born 2 months premature – he was such a monster the doctors doubted my actual due date. I told them, if I had time to go home, I would bring them my chart!  After he was born they did the Apgar tests, and lo and behold we were spot on with the gestational age of our little man (who was dubbed as the big man on campus because he was 5 lbs already at only 32 weeks!)

Cons:

Allison: Really I had NONE until peri-menopause. While I want with my WHOLE heart to trust God’s plan for us, the idea of being mid-40s with a new baby is terrifying. I remember sitting in the class as a mid-20something-year-old joking that I’d be the woman with the mid-life baby as we covered that in the class. Now that I’ve arrived in mid-life, it is NOT as funny as I thought, nor am I as willing to be that woman as I was 20+ years earlier. So the con is definitely the extended abstinence couples can face with irregular cycles resulting from peri-menopause.

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?


The Diocese of Fall River web site lists two NFP teaching couples in the Massachusetts area. But we have not been able to find anyone (except online) to teach a peri-menopause informational update class. That's what we really need.

5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you? 


We received all our NFP resources from Couple to Couple League.

6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?


Allison: We know what it was like, because we used them for many years. We had needless arguments and hurt feelings when one of us just wasn’t up for intimacy. I also struggled with a very low libido, a side effect of birth control – this also led to a period in our marriage when my husband really wondered if I loved him or if I was even maybe having an affair because of my lack of interest in being intimate. It was only in hindsight did we recognize that all of these issues, which truly threatened our marriage, were directly related to our use of artificial contraception.

Our marriage with those “natural breaks” that comes from following my cycles provided the healthy balance we needed. It also forced us to learn other ways to express our love and affection apart from having intercourse.  Added bonus, there is -- dare I say -- an excitement that builds with anticipating your safe time together that continues to fan our passion for each other. The grace from being open to life and God’s will are no better aphrodisiacs if you ask me!

The Gingras Kids: Ian, Faith, and Adam
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Do You Say Yes to God?

In honor of the launch of Lisa Hendey's new book The Grace of Yes, she's asked everyone to flood the Internet with stories and images of how we say yes to God. Naturally, I asked my closest advisors -- my husband and my kids -- for their input. Here are our answers! (If you want to share your own stories or images, just post with the hashtag #graceofyesday. Awesome printable signs are available here.)

HOW THE SANTOSES SAY YES TO GOD

BY HAVING SIX KIDS



BY OBEYING MY PARENTS
(I so totally did not pay her to say that)



BY CARING FOR MY FAMILY



BY BEING THE BEST I CAN BE
AND
BY PRAYING AS MUCH AS I CAN



BY HELPING MY MOM AND DAD



BY USING MY PRAYING HANDS



Please join in -- the social media campaign will be going all day long! Plus, bloggers can join the CatholicMom.com link-up also!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Date Ideas from Spouse Dates

I signed up for an email newsletter called Spouse Dates that arrives in my inbox every week with three or four fun date ideas, including at least one I never thought of and several that we haven't tried for a while. Here are my top faves.


1. Karaoke Night: Manny and I went to a karaoke bar on one of our first dates together. The only song we both knew was The Impossible Dream from the musical Man of La Mancha. You could hear the sneer in the karaoke emcee's voice when he announced us, then we totally blew it out of the water. Fond memories!

2. Drive-In Movie: Not every area still has a drive-in movie theater, but they're lots of fun. There's one in Virginia near where my parents live and we try to go every summer. If you're feeling brave (and limber), you can even lie down on the hood of the car together. Just make sure you bring a blanket to get comfy.

3. Run a Race Together: This idea is especially good for couples who (ahem!) need a little extra incentive to exercise. Our town sponsors a "Turkey Trot" 5-mile run every Thanksgiving. There's also a 1.4-mile "Fun Run" earlier in the day for people who just want to ease into it.

4. Romantic Scavenger Hunt: My husband Manny excels at scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, you name it -- the more elaborate the better. He recently designed a scavenger hunt with pictures of our April 2014 trip to Spain taped up all over the house and a list of riddles to help me and the kids identify the right picture. A romantic scavenger hunt could include items that are a bit more ... personal. Just make sure the kids don't find them first!

5. Visit an Aquarium: We've visited aquariums in places from Coney Island, New York, to Lisbon, Portugal. The dim lighting creates a great atmosphere, and watching fish undulating through the water is very soothing.

6. Local Wine-Tasting Event: You can combine this with help for your favorite charity, if you're so inclined. In the Long Island area, for example, the St. John's Kenyan Children's Foundation holds a wine-tasting fundraiser every year.

7. Breakfast Date: This works especially well on a day when hubby's off of work, but the kids are away at school. Since my husband works at a Jewish hospital and the kids go to Catholic school, Manny and I are sometimes home together on a Jewish holiday. No need to leave the house for the breakfast date, if you don't want to.

8. Read Poetry or a Novel Together: Manny likes Shakespeare, I like Chaucer. We could definitely explore both. Great saints have also written poetry, like St. Theresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and even Pope St. John Paul II. A novel might be more your cup of tea, but reading poetry together takes a lot smaller time commitment.

9. Watch a Romantic French Movie: Since Manny and I mistakenly wound up in Paris for our honeymoon (a story for another time), we picked up the habit of shouting "Vive la France!" whenever unexpectedly awesome things happen. Watching a romantic French movie could give us lots of opportunities to shout "Vive la France!" at least as long as the main characters don't drive themselves off a bridge or something. Ever noticed how many "romantic" French movies have very, very depressing endings? Avoid those.

10. Go Ballroom Dancing: The parents of one of our friends used to go ballroom dancing together every week until she died. So sweet! Restaurants with ballroom dancing often feature live bands, so it's worth trying it for the music alone. You don't have to be any good, since honestly no one knows how to dance any more. Just put your arms around each other and hold on.

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