Betty Duffy

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What I Learned in the First Chapter of This Book I'll Probably Finish Reading in the Car Tomorrow...

I’m writing to the women on this post, so any males reading might want to quietly back out of the room or else make their presence invisible. My little brother used to do this by hiding behind the couch while my sister and I sat on it talking. And my husband: once when I had some girl friends sitting on the front porch, my husband excused himself to go to the workshop. When I went inside to refresh our drinks, I noticed a cord coming out of the mail slot. He’d hidden the baby monitor there so he could listen to our conversation undetected.

Anyway, the point is, Sally T is having a book carnival, where if you’ve opened a book recently and learned anything in the first chapter—whether you’ve finished it or not—you can write it up and link to her linky thing.

I went to Goodwill yesterday morning, and was going through their 50 cent paperbacks and came across a cache of books on chastity. Among them were Dawn Eden’s “Thrill of the Chaste” and “Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment” by Shannon Etheridge. Whenever I find Catholic books or statuary at a second hand store, I can’t help considering it the work of the Holy Spirit somehow—since one never knows what one will find on any given visit. So I bought the books.

And naturally, in my reading last night I cracked open the one with “sex” in the title.

This book is the companion to “Every Man’s Battle,” a book for men that helps them understand the evils of pornography, etc. It’s full of anecdotes, and quizzes that help the reader discern if they are living a sexually authentic life, or if they are allowing their hearts and minds to be led into emotional affairs, whether or not they are acting out on them physically.

While men are more visually stimulated, “for women the battle often begins with a heart full of disappointment…in men, circumstances, God, life, money, kids, and the future.”

Here’s an abridged version of the initial questionnaire. The previous owner had written her answers in the blanks, which was interesting, and let me know that there might be other women struggling with similar issues.

1. If you are married, do you compare your husband to other men (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually)?

2. Do you often think of what your life will be like after your husband is dead, wondering who the next man in your life could be?

3. Do you have sexual secrets that you don’t want anyone else to know about?

4. Do men accuse you of being manipulative or controlling?

5. Do you secretly feel excited or powerful when you sense that a man finds you attractive?

6. Do you have a difficult time responding to your husband’s advances because you feel he should meet your needs first?

7. Is remaining emotionally or physically faithful to one person a challenge for you?

8. Do you often choose your attire in the morning based on the men you will encounter that day?

9. Do you find yourself flirting or using sexual innuendos (even if you do not intend to) when conversing with someone you find attractive?

10. Do you resent the fact that your husband wants sex more often than you do, or wish he would (do something else) so that you would not have to perform sexually?

11. Do you read romance novels?

12. Is there any area of your sexuality that (1) is not known by your husband, (2) is not approved of by your husband, or (3) does not involve your husband?

13. Do you spend more time or energy ministering to the needs of others through church or social activities than to your husband’s sexual needs?

14. Do you use pornography?

15. Do you fantasize about being intimate with someone other than your husband?

16. Do you have a problem making and maintaining close female friends?

17. Do you converse with strangers on the internet?

18. Have you ever been unable to concentrate on work, school or the affairs of your household because of thoughts or feelings you are having about someone else?

19. Do you think the word “victim” describes you?

20. Do you avoid sex in your marriage because of the spiritual guilt or dirty feeling you experience afterward?

Several things stood out for me as being particularly related to the blogosphere in this quiz. The author pointed out that comparing our husbands to other women’s husbands can lead to emotional vulnerability. For instance: her husband always wears a suit to Mass, while my husband wears jeans. Her husband must be holier than mine, which means they must have a better marriage, which means I’m probably less happy than she is and would be happier with someone else.

It seems like two things happen when women write about their husbands on their blogs (and I am susceptible to both): either they acquire an undercurrent of agitation about the things their husbands do, or they present them as flawless heroes. And likely, neither scenario is an accurate description of what’s actually happening in the relationship.

Likewise, comparing ourselves with other women, makes us feel inferior, which makes us particularly susceptible to flattery when it comes from the opposite sex. If we think we have little to offer, we’re surprised when someone points out that we’re actually sort of interesting, and then our hearts can turn.

Then there’s that whole talking to strangers on the internet thing. (guilty)

I know that men and women work together, have conversations with one another, do lunches and business deals out in the world. But I have to admit that when I first started blogging, I was a little surprised by how much back and forth commenting there was between men and women. I looked to other Catholic bloggers for cues, and it seemed like everyone was doing it, so I did too (I know...). And dare I say that there are now a handful of male bloggers whom I consider my friends?

Every now and then, it strikes me as odd though, that commenting on a man’s blog is essentially like going up to a good looking guy at the grocery and saying, “I notice that you’re buying organic greens. I like organic greens too.” I would never do that. But wearing the veil of the blogosphere, I would, often because the topic is of a spiritual nature and it feels innocuous. I want to say that we’re all reasonable adults here, but maybe I’m an incurable flirt, and this is a sin. I generally do like men, which is good because I’m married to one.

So, that’s what I learned in the first chapter of this book. I take it the rest of the book goes into what you should do about it if you’ve discerned that you have a problem with sexual authenticity. (Buy the book here.)

Refraining from attacks on anyone’s character (especially mine) I’m curious what the ladies of the blogosphere think on this subject.


Rebekka said...

My thoughts:
1. ouch
2. the Gospel reading from yesterday.

Kaighla said...

I can completely relate to the whole "veil of the blogosphere" thing. As a Muslim, I should not have male friends, not here, not in person, not ever. The Qur'an says clearly that whenever a man and woman are alone together, you can be sure Satan is the third party present (assuming they are not married/blood related, of course). So when my husband got a little miffed that I had male friends on facebook/blog world, I was all "wwwhhaaattt?? I don't actually talk to them in person, honey!" But deep in my gut, I felt the same thing you did about being an incurable flirt. I thought "wait..if I am not to have relationships with men in real life, why do I think this is ok?". It also made me think about the many times I have felt in my heart (even before I was Muslim) that it is just not possible for me to maintain a PURELY platonic friendship with any man. I always felt some sort of attraction in some place of my heart to them that was a little more than "oh, we went to college together. he's a nice guy." I am sure about 30 of the men in my past are scratching their heads as to why I deleted them and cut off all contact. he he. But, I feel it was for the sake of Allah (God).

Lucy said...

I hopped over here from Sally's. I like your honesty about this matter. I'm reminded of the scene in North and South where the lead Male and Female shake hands, which she would have never done when she lived in the south. It's a very sensual scene revealing the reason behind the southern mores.

I also heard a contemporary Jewish marriage counselor mention that he never touches a woman, even shaking hands.

I am such a natural hugger! I no longer give hugs to guy friends, although sometimes when in a group saying goodbye I can get caught off guard. I do hug my girl friends. I tried to stop, but I just can't.

Anyway, I'm fairly new to the comments thing, and have left some on a man's blog and had that little beat of the heart. I told it to "Stop that! That's so silly. :P" It's a Catholic blog with great current events and political thought, but I'm going to keep my heart in check. I think I'll ask my hubby what he thinks too. We've discussed this quite a bit and are very open about it at this point.

I think our culture is very naieve to the inner workings of male/female relationships, and they had a much wiser grasp of these things in generations past. All the chivalry and manners that were developed over centuries of Christian influence had good reasons behind them. We are teaching our kids courtship which also develops an understanding of these human dynamics and dangers.

Anyway, I'd like to invite you over to our little blog hop--Kids Say the Darndest Things Fridays!
We also have Pro-Life Tuesdays. Hope to see you there sometime. :D

In Christ,

Anne said...

Ditto Rebekka. I know I struggle with the term "emotional affair", meaning I don't like it, meaning I probably can see myself in it. And, like your little brother and your husband, my husband also wants to know everything I share with my girlfriends and always asks if the conversation got around to him. If it didn't, I think he's a bit hurt, so I usually make up some blatant lie, like "yes, everyone noticed how handsome you look in your new coat!" When really, nobody mentions it. Is it that men think the universe revolves around them so much, that they have convinced us women that it's a fact, and now we have to be nervous and worried about talking to men either face to face or via the internet? Don't we have enough hangups without having to add to them? I sound pretty guilty, don't I? Thanks for bringing this topic out into the open. I may have to check out that book.

Emily J. said...

Hmmm, this is kind of a divergence from the familiar BD. I've never considered having a conversation with a member of the opposite sex or commenting on a man's blog to be a prelude to anything, but I guess it's a matter of personal disposition. It seems to me that too much emphasis on sexual segregation leads to self-consciousness and a false belief that conversation is more than conversation in a Harry Met Sally sort of way.

Emily J. said...

Looking forward to talking in person later!

BettyDuffy said...

Rebekka, I had not made the connection with this week's Gospel--makes finding the book all the more...interesting.

"Is it that men think the universe revolves around them so much, that they have convinced us women that it's a fact, and now we have to be nervous and worried about talking to men either face to face or via the internet? Don't we have enough hangups without having to add to them?"--I agree, actually, and so does the book to a certain extent. No need to fear the opposite sex as long as intentions are pure, and heart entrenched in God. "Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks"--apparently, however, my heart is full of turd jokes and double entendres--something for me to work on.

Kaighla, "I have felt in my heart (even before I was Muslim) that it is just not possible for me to maintain a PURELY platonic friendship with any man." Very important to know yourself and make appropriate adjustments. I applaud you.

Lucy, "I am such a natural hugger! I no longer give hugs to guy friends, although sometimes when in a group saying goodbye I can get caught off guard. I do hug my girl friends. I tried to stop, but I just can't."--Book addresses appropriate signs of affection for the opposite sex (not our husbands), including the 'brother hug' whereby one arm is extended to the side to administer a light squeeze, but avoiding full body contact. I don't know why you'd want to stop hugging girlfriends though. I was thinking today about how our culture has homo-eroticized female touching so much that we also tend to doubt ourselves with any same-sex signs of affection. I'm at my sister's, and am enjoying hanging all over her like we used to do when we were little. She prefers the brother hug.

Peter and Nancy said...

I find that I have to guard against having contempt for men (as opposed to being attracted to those who aren't my husband), because I serve in a ministry to young women who work in the sex industry. I know my husband isn't perfect, but I sure see a lot of crummy guys out there. I have to work hard to remember that God loves the men customers and cares deeply about the state of their souls -- just as much as he cares about mine, or the women whom we serve.


edibooks said...

I find it helpful to remind myself, "God wants me to warm myself at the bonfire of his love, not at someone else's." Sometimes it seems like many of us wander in the dark on a cold night--even with good husbands and loving families. We are so used to it, we don't notice the cold much until we see a light in the distance--a bonfire, a place where we can sit and feel warmth and light. The change is blissful. We can't leave, it feels so good to be out of the cold. It can feel like this when a man you respect begins to show respect and desire for you. It can be like a warmth inside that fuels your day, a secret bonfire. You don't have to act on it, no one has to know about it. It's just there, a secret happiness.

I work with a lot of men--at the hospital, at the publishing house, on council at church--sometimes very closely. I have felt the pull of that atraction many times, and not been very good at nipping it in the bud, until God dumped the proverbial ton of bricks on me.

God has taught me to be highly sensitive to where I am seeking my self-worth, my value, my inner warmth. He wants it to be from him. It must be from him. And what man, even my dear husband, can hold a candle to the living God of the universe? His respect, approval, and love is a daily joy. If I seat myself by that bonfire every morning, I am not in danger of being drawn to someone else's.

I'm not saying this very well. Jesus (of course) said it a lot better and more simply: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strenth. This is the first and greatest commandment." It has taken me many years and a lot of mistakes to learn it.

eaucoin said...

I have had that book for some time. The very first time I read it I thought, oh great, another book for normal people (I have Aspergers, and many social rules escape my notice--so it's embarrassing when I see how different I am and how little I know). Relating to people, being with them and intimacy can be so difficult that it felt at first like the book didn't reach me where I live. Over time, I have adopted her guidelines as information that I need but didn't learn naturally because of my cognitive differences. It was really hard to acknowledge how naive I have been and I'm sure that many young women will need to be taught such things in specific terms like the ones she uses. The shame of it is that this information is never taught along with the explicit reproduction instructions in the school system. I can tell you that if I had had a book like hers when I was twelve, I would have been spared a lot of embarrassment and general misery. To read it initially was to see how wide the gulf is between myself and neurotypical women (a painful reminder). To absorb it over time made me understand how much I still have in common with normal women.

joyfulpapist said...

I learnt many years ago - pre-Internet - to mention 'my dear husband' when in conversation with men. It saved a lot of misunderstanding. I've carried that over into the Internet.

Random thoughts: Finding other men attractive is just nature; dwelling on that attractiveness - that's another issue. I think we need to recover the principles of 'custody of the eyes' and 'avoiding the occasion of sin'.

Good luck, all. There are definitely some benefits in growing older!

Suburbanbanshee said...

I think of pretty much everybody on the Internet as my brothers and sisters, except for the trolls.

I've been on the Internet since 1994. Considering how few women used to be on the Internet back in the day, and considering how much the engineers and science guys of back then were just like my own brothers, it would have been difficult to have any other policy.

It's true that a lot of guys then had very susceptible hearts, or at least excessive optimism. This is due to the fact that, back in the day, a lot of nerdy guys never had any women to talk to them. So you had to work hard to maintain a kind of impartial friendliness without encouraging them.

Nowadays, young nerdy guys tend to have a good deal more social experience, since nerdy interests are more mainstream and technical guys get a lot more respect. Also, I'm older. So it's not as much a problem. :)

Also, even mainstream people tend to have more than one set of casual friends on the Internet. It's just not as intense as it used to be. Too many people in the pool.

Shrug. Of course, I'm not married. Maybe I'd feel differently. But it seems to me that it would take some effort to get into trouble. I mean, sheesh, you can totally delete your entire online life with comparative ease. You can lurk. You don't have to check your Facebook or answer email. You can withdraw contact a lot more thoroughly than you ever could with a coworker or neighbor.

And if you're going to get paranoid about making friends with guys... well, it's a lot more common for men online to take on female personas than for women to pretend to be men. If people really want to be generic, they go with the generic handle or generic initials, and you'll never know either way unless they say something revealing, or you suss it out. Comments aren't going to tell you that, necessarily. The only reason it's not done more often is that there's very little point in doing it, these days.

(Back in the day, venturing onto a BBS or freenet with a female handle would often mean guys bombarding you with chat requests. Nowadays, I don't think that happens except maybe on AOL.)

be said...

I answered "no" to every single one of those questions except possibly #16. A lot of my friends are men, though I don't have any guy friends who didn't also become friends with my husband since I married, and I do have some female friends who aren't particularly friends w/DH. I've never felt seriously attracted to anyone besides my husband. (I think a lot of men are attractive, but a lot of women are attractive too -- doesn't mean I'm personally attracted to them!!) I don't read romance novels but things like proposals and first kisses in movies/tv shows can give me butterflies. So romantic!

Sometimes I realize that I just really like a person (male or female) and it feels like kind of like a crush for a while. Everything they do is golden! They're just so funny/smart/cute/talented! But it would NEVER lead to anything (after all, real people are much more - better and worse - than the funny/smart/cute/talented characteristics that make it easy to admire them from a distance).

I wonder if flirting is always a problem? To me it seems like there's a kind of flirtatiousness that's exclusive and therefore inappropriate outside of an exclusive relationship. But my observation is that some people are just very charismatic, and have a form of "flirtation" that broadcasts how awesome they think everyone else is, male or female alike. To me that doesn't set up perimeters for any kind of exclusive relationship, but works towards a kind of friendly group cohesion? I think I might lean a little aspergersy too :) But it does make me happy whenever someone says something that implies that I'm liked or considered pretty or that my company is appreciated in a general way. I also don't mind when my DH receives complimentary attention that's obviously not pursuit.

I guess this book would make me feel like an odd one out. But Platonic relationships were always erotic - it's just that the eros was recognized to really attach to something bigger than the person (philosophy, the beautiful, the good, God).