Struggles of Being a Good Man Today
To the young woman reading this,
I am a young Catholic man living near Baltimore, Maryland (USA), blessed with the opportunity to write to you about the struggles of being an honorable man in today’s society… and somehow trying to relate that to women! Honestly, though, it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to announce that I think young men, like women, face a common primary struggle when it comes to respecting the dignity of the human person: chastity.
It’s no surprise to hear that chastity is a struggle for men. We are relentlessly assaulted with media influences from a hyper-sexualized culture. In fact, the three enemies working against us who try to live a chaste life – the world, the flesh, and the devil – are pulling off another successful attack that is quite subtle. They are further tempting us to buy into a hyper-relational culture; that is, a culture that is focused too aggressively on male-female relationships, and we’re falling for it. That’s because chastity comes in two flavors, physical chastity and emotional chastity, and we are not on guard with both. Men and women are very familiar with one of those, physical chastity, which is about how we use our bodies around others, but not the other, emotional chastity, which is about how we relate to other people.
We’ve all heard many opinions on physical chastity. Here’s mine: I think there is one big lie that underlies all the warped messages about sexuality our enemies constantly bombard us with, “It’s okay, because others are doing it.” Did your mom, like mine, ask you about a million times when you were growing up, “If everyone else in the world jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Let me give you an example I see in young women all the time – wearing tights to exercise, which increases the struggle to remain chaste and pure for men. I work out often, and I pray during every one of my workouts, in response to St. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray unceasingly, asking God to pour grace into the lives of certain individuals in need as I unite my muscular strain with Jesus’ pain on the cross. Yet sometimes I leave the gym angry because, even though I got a good workout with prayer, I just spent the past hour or more completely surrounded by temptation to sin. That’s only one example, and men do things that worsen the physical chastity situation too. For example, one thing I really hate is when men objectify women by judging their appearances and lusting after them. For men and women in both of these examples, I think it’s easy for us to see that underlying lie, “It’s okay because others are doing it.” For women, tights are raging in contemporary fashion; for men, other men are shaping our ideas of masculinity by judging women.
Pause for a second. I just shared with you a juicy piece of information about the struggles of being an honorable man in today’s society – men form their opinions of how masculinity, what it means to be a man, is lived out by observing other men. This is important for you to understand as women, for at least the following two reasons, and probably more:
1. If men are surrounded by men with twisted views of masculinity, their understanding of what masculinity is will also be malformed (think frat boys).
2. Women often have little success influencing men to an improved state of masculinity.
Building off of those two points, the real struggle for us as men becomes identifying individuals who can truly teach us what masculinity is all about. Masculinity is more than personality and behavior; it also includes how men relate to both the men and the women around them.
Thus we come to the issue of emotional chastity, which can also be called chastity in relationships. Because there is an alarming lack of men who know how to relate properly to others, young men who are trying to learn by observing the relationships of other men are finding themselves in a sore situation. In particular, we see many men racing to opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to commitment. Either men move too quickly in relationships by doing things like adopting titles or moving in together with their girlfriend, or they refuse to commit and leave the woman as the one-sided giver in the relationship. Instead, men should be brave enough to serve a woman by controlling the pace at which their relationship progresses and getting to know the woman as a person. Deep down, I think men understand that they and the women they are interested in eventually want a faithful, committed relationship, but it takes temperance and fortitude to walk that walk.
So how can you as women help men fight against the struggles that bombard them? Firstly, learn about rightly ordered behavior between men and women. If you have never seen The Rich Gift of Love, a magnificent collection of talks about genuine love by Dominican nun Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, I highly recommend it; the series Masculinity & Femininity: Difference and Gift is a great place to start that expounds on the things I’ve written to you about in this letter. Even better, the whole collection is available to view for free athttps://www.newmanconnection.com/institute/courses/rich-gift-of-love. Secondly, look for areas where you can build up yourself and those around you in chastity, and hold each other accountable. Sometimes that means having a difficult conversation with a friend. To pull from St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5 again, “Test everything; retain what is good.” Understanding what proper relationships between men and women look like, and living them out with perseverance, is a powerful example to all who surround you, men and women alike. Above all, pursue Jesus and find your purpose and value in Him, not in material things or relationships with others.
Your brother in Christ,