Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

June 28, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

Agatha and I had a great discussion on Sunday night. Well, we have great discussions most nights. But the topic of this one turned to the topic of the heart and how various women understand how they are to guard it from or give it to a man. Naturally, as with all matters like this one, we didn't come to a resolution, but we did arrive at various insights from examining our own hearts and those of women we know.

The extremes:

1. "Hi, my name is ______. Here is my heart! Here is all of me!" I think some women tend to go all in when meeting someone. There is a natural desire for women to be SEEN. "See me. Accept me. Love me." We want to be viewed in full and accepted as is. Why risk spending time with someone or investing in someone if he's not going to love the most important parts of you? These types of thoughts feed into a natural inclination to disclose parts of our heart that are the deepest so as test a man's fight or flight instinct with us.

The pros of this? There is a real openness to dialogue and a willingness to be vulnerable. The negatives? You're asking too much too fast, risking significant rejection, and failing to help a man grow in the masculine virtue of working to earn your heart.

2. "Hi, my name is _____. That's all you're going to get from me." Some women completely close their hearts off from men. The reasons vary: vulnerability is the scariest thing in the world; previous relationships have left scars; we carry an idealistic sense that men need to fight these huge battles to win us. This is without mentioning that the art of flirting and the art of opening up is very difficult to master!

The pros? Hearts should be guarded. They are our most precious gift, and should only be given to men that we understand to be worthy to view them. The cons? We can easily set up these impossible gauntlets for men to run through in order to get a peak into our hearts, and by that time, if they actually get through the maze, they might just be too exhausted to continue.

The suggestion:

Agatha and I did agree that the virtue of chastity is a good model to follow in terms of revealing one's heart (and this goes for men, too!). Chastity is not abstinence, but is also does not clearly permit anything to be fair game. As one grows more intimate with someone at various stages of a relationship, one measures out appropriate gestures to indicate that growth. Likewise, a woman need not give her heart to a boyfriend in the way she would to a fiance, or a fiancé in the way she will in marriage twenty years down the road. There is growth and an ever-deepening revelation to be done.


not a minx, a moron, or a parasite said...

Good post! Gives me a lot to think about.

Jerome said...

Maybe I'm too much of a mathematician and not enough of a romantic, but could you be a bit more precise about what you mean when you speak of someone's "heart" and its various levels of depth, and what it means to "give your heart" to someone and how one is supposed to interpret "working" for someone's heart? I mean, I think I see where you're going in bringing up things like vulnerabilities and other personal matters, but I don't quite see the specifically romantic angle of this. In particular, it's a little alarming to me to think that the women I would like to get to know (for whatever purpose) already expect me to understand that I'm supposed to labor in some unspecified way for their attention, rather than just be myself trying to get to know somebody who interests me (again, for whatever purpose) and to communicate why that interest exists. Again, maybe I'm not sufficiently inclined towards romance (and I beg to differ!), but it seems to me that the whole issue of opening up to another human being is going to be roughly the same regardless of romantic context (not to say that that makes it any easier!). After all, rejection of friendship can be just as, if not more, devastating than rejection of romance, which can at least be easily blamed on things beyond our control (e.g., lack of physical attraction, distance, etc.).

Julian said...

Jerome, thanks for your comments. It's always helpful to hear from readers, especially male ones, on matters of the heart. You're right; romantic interest does very much involve you "being yourself, trying to get to know someone who interests you." In fact, it is just as simple as that. Moreover, it is not a game, nor logical per se. But, there is a feminine inclination to want to be pursued, to be "fought for" (here I'm taking directly from Stasi Eldridge's book, Captivating). No, one need not draw a sword to battle for us, but the desire to win us by reminding us that we are captivating, beautiful, and that our hearts are something to be cherished is innate in us. Our hearts can rest (and therefore are won), with ever greater trust in the other person.

Jerome said...

sure, I see what you mean about "heart". But I'm still a bit perplexed over how to manage this phenomenon of "guarding". I think I understand that the point of it is that you're not supposed to make a premature emotional investment in anyone. And I completely agree with that.

But a difficulty arises when one tries to walk the line between friendships and romantic relationships, since this is not always easy to demarcate, let alone tread. I'm just going off of personal experience here where I've had a couple of female friends who have essentially severed our friendship subsequent to their marriage. Now, I completely understand that that's something of a function of The Way Things Are in terms of guarding oneself for spousal fidelity. But it's nonetheless dismaying for the single male to acknowledge that at some fundamental level he is perhaps seen as something of a sexual competitor, even absent the intent.

Now, this certainly isn't always the case, and I do have a couple of valuable married female friends. But recently I've been confronted with the question of how I ought to approach women of my age given this problem. This is severely complicated by the fact that friendly interest and romantic interest overlap, i.e., people you genuinely like as people are easier to be attracted to romantically. So, when I meet someone new whom I genuinely like, do I choose the level of friendship and risk being let down when they get married, or do I lay down my cards at the outset and bluntly say it could go this way or that, thereby precluding the game of pretending how to define and navigate through what interest may or may not exist? Is the "guarding of heart" to be implicit or explicit? Or do I just not bother at all to take the risk of meeting new women when I'm not in a position to follow up on any leads I might be given, but then might be later on only when the moment for her has passed?

You speak of revealing one's "heart" by degrees; this is a matter of timing. But if openness and being yourself is paramount, how does one strike that balance properly? And if one errs in the beginning and reveals perhaps too much or too little, should that necessarily compromise the ensuing interactions? "She's great, once you get to know her." So much (too much?) is bound up in arriving at that dependent clause, esp. when one considers the differences that can exist between people as they present themselves versus as they truly are.

I don't really know what to do with all this. I've tried various approaches with various people-in some cases it's worked, in others I wish perhaps I've been bolder or more reserved. I guess what I ultimately want to raise is how male-female friendship can complicate one's thinking in "guarding" and "giving" one's "heart", and how it's possible for one who is "guarding" nevertheless to hurt someone else's feelings by the unclear and/or insensitive application of necessary caution.

As for solutions, I believe this dialogue is doomed to aporia...

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