From a reader:
In the posting titled “What men want”, several men identified “kindness” as a quality that their potential spouse should exhibit. It seems to me that many kind-hearted women read that statement and immediately updated their online dating profiles to make sure some declaration of their kindness was included. After all, if men are looking for such a characteristic, it had better be announced, right? That must be the missing piece of the puzzle. Tell the men how kind I am, and wait for the offers to come in.
Not so fast. Words have meanings. And the devil is in the details.
If you lined up 100 men and asked them what spousal “kindness” means to them, you’d surely get 100 wildly different responses. Some might expect a pat on the head at the end of the day, and reassurance that tomorrow will be better somehow. Others could see kindness in a refusal to tolerate any whining about his day, and an expectation that he will correct today’s mistakes and make tomorrow better. My point is that even a positive characteristic like kindness can mean just about anything, depending on the personalities and the situation.
This makes your writing that you consider yourself to be kind (or loyal… or devout… or anything else, really) open to interpretation. Personally, I don’t think a truly kind person would be comfortable bragging that they are. Perhaps I am bringing “modesty” into the mix, which only confuses the situation further. The bottom line is that we can write about our qualities all day long, but it really doesn’t accomplish anything of true meaning. Online dating profiles are a morass of unproven nothingness, and I sincerely believe that this is why online dating is so inherently flawed. It may be “better than nothing”, but not by much.
Where am I going with this? So far, I’ve said that I don’t know what kindness really means, and I won’t trust you to tell me that you are kind. So how can men possibly learn of your kindness or other good qualities? I can think of two ways, and both require real in-person interactions:
– I’d like to hear it from someone who knows you. From a friend or a relative or a co-worker who knows both of us, and thinks we might be a potential match. Or just in random conversation. Do your friends and relatives try to help you in this way?
– Or, because we share an interest or activity or “know of” each other in the community, and I can develop that opinion for myself. I can see you “in action” and see that your particular kind of kindness appeals to me.
I’ve written over and over about how Catholic parish life used to provide an environment for introductions and friendships and marriages. Not intentionally – there was no mission statement nor theology of such things – they just “happened”. It’s immensely frustrating to me that our Catholic parishes have abandoned the kind of community life that many of our parents and grandparents used to make Catholic friends and yes, quite often to find their spouses. This is not operating a “dating agency” as someone alleged in a previous article, and it’s not an additional burden for our tremendously overworked priests either. Social activities do require organization and volunteers and time and effort. But the benefits are that people can actually know each other. In person. Good things can happen naturally after that.
I think it’s true that words like ‘kindness’ can be vague. When I pointed out that so many men mentioned kindness as a desirable trait in a wife, I took that to mean someone with a kind heart – not resentful or spiteful, someone who is gentle and caring of those around them. A few people mentioned kindness in contrast to the trait many American women, in particular, seem to show when it comes to messy divorces; suing their husbands for all they’re worth, etc.
I can certainly see why this sort of kindness would be desirable and attractive in a wife. And while I’m not certain lots of my female readers are running to change their dating profiles accordingly, it’s worth noting that kindness is a virtue worth inculcating in general. Whether that means volunteering at soup kitchens, visiting the sick or helping an elderly person carry his or her shopping bags down the street.
I’ve noticed that building up a habit of random acts of kindness changes your behaviour towards others in general, and it seems to beget itself. It’s a really beautiful thing. Once you start doing kind things for your neighbour regularly, you want to keep doing so, and it becomes easier to do things like visiting elderly or infirm relatives and acquaintances in hospitals and nursing homes. This is just being a Christian, really, and something we all should strive to do if we claim that title.
The last point about community that my reader makes is an important one, which I delved into in a recent post. I’m now trying to revive this kind of community in my own parish, and I encourage my readers to consider doing the same, whether that means starting new events and opportunities or helping others do so.
Community is important for its own sake, not just for making it easier to find potential spouses, after all. And if we who value and yearn for community don’t step up, who will?