I’ve received a lot of correspondence from men since launching this blog. Much of this has been enlightening and informative for me, and since I’ve shared my own perspective and that of the women I know, I want to aid the discussion by sharing what some of the men had to say:
My name’s Evan and I live a world away in eastern Canada. Whereas your writing comes from the female perspective it echoes many of the experiences that I’ve had as a Catholic male. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m an avid reader, kayaker, and runner. I have bachelor degrees in civil engineering and history, and I am in the middle of doing a master of theology and an MBA. Most importantly I have a stable life of faith that certainly isn’t cartoonishly ‘trad-Cath’ but also isn’t nominal.
Although I live in a relatively large, by Canadian standards, city the available options for dating are incredibly slim to non-existent based on your criteria of “good, moral, and normal.” Prospective partners are either taken, only nominally Catholic, or, not to be intentionally mean, because they certainly are kind and loving people, not ‘normal’. For several years I struggled to come to terms with the fact that the bulk of the woman around my age simply do not share the same general viewpoint as me when it came to relationships. In my experience I have had several relationships, which started out with the woman being okay with my faith, fall apart because of a later ‘realization’ that my religious views, particularly those surrounding sex, did not jive with their perceived ‘needs’; wanting to someday be a loving husband and father was no match for momentary desires.
Where my story differs from yours, and I imagine many of your readers’, is that I have actually found someone who holds the same values as myself. Here’s the kicker though, she’s a woman I met in high school (we attended a Catholic school) who currently lives, according to Google maps, over 4800km away on the other side of the country. While we are both relatively well off and can fly to see each other on a regular basis (we’re both in grad school so distance is our reality for now) and technology makes daily communication possible, it truly says something about the collapse in Catholic communal match-making that two “good, moral, and normal” young adults have to quite literally search the country for one another.
Honestly, my diagnosis of the situation is that, with apologies to my delightful mother, it’s our parents’ generation’s fault. Not once did my mother nag me by saying “you know, I hear that Mrs. Boudreau’s daughter is single, how ‘bout I invite them over for dinner sometime?” Nor was there ever a collective feeling that the Catholic kids should all be pushed towards each other and educated in a personalist manner à la JP2 or von Hildebrand. It seems that the parental stepping back in favor of individualism has left many of us adrift in search of traditionally loving relationships.
Anyways, keep up the discourse, I believe that you are voicing a generational frustration.
I would also like to state that the male experience appears to be far less disheartening than its female counterpart. I believe that this is due to the demographic reality that you point out. More females than males are looking for Catholic relationships. There are probably even ‘x’ amount of “good, moral, and normal” woman in my city, I just never consciously crossed paths with them in my social circle.Evan
Although along the way, my experiences have been disheartening and indeed frustrating, I have had the advantage of knowing that sooner or later the college educated, 6’2, Catholic guy was going to be alright. I only wish that to be true for all the good, moral, and normal Catholics trying to live their married vocation.
One of Evan’s most pertinent observations (in my opinion) is that this is a generational problem. We are inheriting the dismal spoils of the sexual revolution which, among other things, has profoundly disrupted relations between men and women.
Widespread, cheap contraception has caused a seismic shift in relationships, and I believe the ‘contraceptive mentality’ of our society is largely responsible for the state of many families today – absent fathers, absent mothers, rampant infidelity, open relationships – you name it.
Men don’t have the same motivation to grow up and prepare for the responsibility of having a family that they used to because, as one of my readers’ sons stated, “why buy from the bookstore when you can borrow from the library?” (See this illustrated video for more on this.)
Many of the women my male readers have met want to put career ahead of relationships while they’re in their 20s.
While this latter point doesn’t reflect my friends and the Catholic women I know – most of us have been looking for a long time and are just unlucky – there’s no doubt that we are all affected in some way by the values of mainstream society.
I think it can be easy for Christian parents to overcorrect this and keep their children sheltered from the world, but I think this is a mistake. Christ called us to be in the world, but not of it. However, I do acknowledge that this is a very tricky balance to get right.
Christian men and women are under enormous pressure and temptation to follow the way of our non-Christian friends, colleagues and acquaintances. But it is more important now than it’s ever been to hold fast to our Christian values, and be the lights of Christ in the darkness of our fallen world. We are called on to lead by example.
Reader Steven expands on some of these points:
I’m a 27 year-old Protestant, and was engaged at 22, and then that relationship fell apart and actually brought me back to Christ. The last four years of dating (and I haven’t dated that much, which I’ll get to) have been discouraging to say the least. I’ve pursued some Christian women who ultimately have behaved in ways that felt devaluing to me, and among my male friends, I’m not alone.Steven
Added to that, at least for me, the Christian women around my age tend to be really immature and, most importantly, too independent, and this is what I’ve told my female friend from church. Put simply, it seems as if the broader cultural narrative of feminism, as well as the feminization of the Church as a whole, has seeped into our church. So, as a result at least in LA, it often times feels like the men have to, in a way, convince the women to be in a relationship. What I mean by that is that feminism’s prioritization of career and success and complete autonomy runs totally counter to a Christian relationship. We’re not asking for our wives to be barefoot and pregnant, but we want to be able to lead, and many women in the church seem unwilling, or even disgusted by the idea.
A friend of mine, who’s forty and desperately wants a wife and kids but feels it will never happen, just yesterday had a Christian woman ask him if he believed in egalitarianism or complementarianism. He responded the latter and she wished him luck and a good life. This is not the first time something like this has happened, nor do I think it will be the last. By and large, the single men I know want to lead in a relationship, but that isn’t en vogue, and I’ve noticed even in some marriages in our church, married men often take the backseat, which of course leads to a lack of male leadership and discipleship. As a result, the men feel disconnected. The single men and married/single women are far better at being connected than the married men, which saddens me. Even worse, our church is predominantly young, so our oldest male member is in his fifties; he’s an awesome man of God, but he doesn’t have the capacity to disciple all the men.
Of course, many of the most mature and awesome Christian women I’ve met are in the mission field, which is predominantly female already. I’m getting ready to go to a missions school for church planting in unreached people groups, and even there the pickings are slim. The previous class had 6 single men to 20 or so single women.
Ultimately, I agree many men peace out of church or really just aren’t marriageable. However, I argue, especially in culture as a whole, part of this trend comes from men feeling unneeded and awful about themselves. My friends and I don’t have the patience, perhaps a flaw on our part but also borne from many negative experiences, to convince the single women we encounter that we are needed in a relationship. “I’m an independent woman and don’t need no man,” is often used as a joke, but it’s a very real and frustrating reality.
Steven’s experiences reflect those of many men who have commented on my article and personally reached out to me. Again, while I don’t doubt that churchgoing women like the ones he’s encountered exist all over the world, they don’t reflect the cohort of women I wrote on behalf of in my original article. I do wonder if this reflects some of the differences between the dating cultures in America and Australia; the Catholic women I know, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, seem a lot less single-mindedly career-focussed than the ones my American readers have described.
I’m going to expand on this in a future post so I’d love if it readers offered their own insights on this.
I also think Steven’s observation on the lack of maturity amongst young women is completely correct, particularly amongst younger women. I’ve written about the lack of maturity in many Christian men, but it would be naive to suggest this doesn’t affect both sexes. I think this is part of the malaise of our modern times. You might even say we’re in a crisis of maturity, in which men and women are not taking on responsibility for themselves and their lives until much later (if at all).
Finally, Steven hit the nail on the head about the feminisation of the church. I think this is a huge issue, contributing to the lack of men in churches today. I could write a whole blog post on it – and I will, so stay tuned.
Reader Peter addresses the issue of immaturity in his email:
I am am a single Catholic man in his early 40s near Chicago and I want to thank you for what you are doing! We need to talk about these things in a real and honest way. Thank you for your courage.Peter
I totally agree that men lack maturity and a sense of commitment. I have seen it in many of the men’s groups I attend at churches, etc. They are perhaps willing to learn a bit but then they want to act like boys and play golf, play video games, watch sports, etc. all the while avoiding a deeper sharing about what is really going on inside them, how they feel, what they fear, what they desire, etc. I think it is harder for men to do this both by nature and also in our culture. It takes time, patience, willingness, practice. It doesn’t just “happen.” I have the impression that women feel like men want to have “fun” with a potential mate and of course they have interest in physical intimacy but probably do not know how to open up the riches of emotional intimacy that make everything else much richer and deeper.
Most men in my experience have never learned from their own fathers how to relate and share what is really going on inside. They bring a fear of rejection to relationships which they cover over by doing what they have to do to earn approval and also by appearing “tough” or “macho” with guns, trucks, hunting, etc. which is often just an attempt to overcome their own lack of inner security.
I don’t have a “solution” but in some way I think building healthy friendships with both males and females is a necessary step towards learning how to love another person in a committed personal and potentially spousal relationship. Taking concrete steps toward building healthy friendships that involve true personal disclosure and vulnerability would be a way to begin to heal the wounds in so many males today.
I don’t have a solution either (as I’ve said, there are no simple solutions), but Peter’s suggestion to build healthy friendships is so important. Partly because of social media and the internet, partly because of our hypersexualised culture, and a whole host of factors besides, male-female interactions and relationships have become so fragmented. There’s a temptation to hide behind a computer screen to interact with the wider world, and I think this is something we need to fight. More on this in a future post.
The loss of genuine fatherhood is another enormous factor in the problems we’re dealing with today but this also deserves its own post (or three).
Finally, a different perspective from reader Bernie:
I read with interest your article “A good man is hard to find…” and my heart goes out to you with your frustrations. Let me begin by telling you that I am a 67-year-old father of nine children from three different mothers and that I have been married to my fourth wife for about 10 years.
It seems your lament applies not only to women complaining about the lack of good men. Men are also similarly complaining about the lack of good women. They all face the real risk that, when they have had a few kids, their partners will reef their kids away from them, destroy their careers and take half their fortune. Not because they are in a truly intolerable relationship involving abuse but simply because their partners think that they could be happier elsewhere. In other words, there is not mutual commitment. And let’s be clear, commitment from one party to the other is not enough. The breach can originate from either party and does in probably more than 50% of cases these days.Bernie
I think Bernie is spot on about the lack of mutual commitment, another symptom of our troubled times. And while I agree that the family court system is skewed in favour of the wife/mother, I think this highlights even more the importance of marrying someone who shares your values. Ultimately, I think it’s better to be single than to be with someone who you can’t see eye to eye with on the most foundational values.
What I love about these letters is they’ve each brought up a different side of the issue. There’s a wealth of information in here to unpack, so I look forward to the discussions around this. I’m very grateful to each of these men, and to all the others who have reached out to me in respect and cordiality to share their own experiences, even though may they differ to mine. Keep ’em coming!