The parting words of a friend still rang in my ears, “You have your whole life ahead of you. The world at your feet.” I mustered up all the wisdom I possessed from my 18 years, gathered my bags and set off hundreds of miles to a foreign and exciting new destination: college.
I had a vague realization that entering a university somehow marked the end of childhood and the onset of adulthood. Mostly, though, I concentrated on my dreams, waiting to be discovered and fulfilled, and a new identity that needed to be forged.
All too soon, I was whisked away in a flurry of activity, trying to navigate the newfound freedom that came with making friends, choosing professors and classes, getting involved in student organizations, landing the perfect internship and, of course, finding love.
Three years later, I found myself in a relationship with a young man all too wrong for me. I found myself thinking, How did this happen? More importantly, I began to wonder whether the ideals abd standards I had thought so promising were really realizable.
My story is not so unique. Many of my female friends have faced confusion and difficulties in their romantic relationships. Other young women have never witnessed a loving relationship modeled for them to imitate.
Jason and Crystalina Evert, chastity speakers and authors of How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul (Totus Tuus Press, 2011), report, sadly, that “countless young women have never seen a man properly love a woman. How is a girl to hope for something she’s never seen? Even if she does have a vague notion of how love should be, she might refuse to hope in it, assuming that such dreams will only end in disappointment.”
The culture doesn’t help. Long accepted ways of behaving that would serve to inform and guide young adults in how to build healthy romantic relationships are largely done away with. In the name of freedom, many young women find themselves sliding into behaviors they have not chosen, with poor results. The decline of healthy dating on college campuses and the rise of the hook-up culture helps perpetuate this cycle. Faced with the confusion and pain that comes from feeling used, devalued or ignored, many women internalize these bruises and make them a defining part of their identities. Christopher West, perhaps the best-known popularizer of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, has rightly said that we, as women, have been abused by our culture.
Strength in Numbers
I have learned that this does not have to be so. All across the country, college students — aided by organizations such as the Love and Fidelity Network (LoveandFidelity.org), the Ruth Institute (RuthInstitute.org) and others — are recognizing the great sense of loss felt and the dissatisfaction experienced by living in a culture that promises more than it delivers. Many of the heartaches students experience could have been avoided, if only there had been more information and education given to them about how to build healthy relationships.
By forming student groups and supporting one another in their principles, students are strengthened in their resolve and educated on how to articulately defend their reasons for living chastely. That’s what we do at the Love and Fidelity Network, where I’m director of outreach and programs.
Lives are changed through the discussions and interactions that students and young adults have with one other, simply by discovering that, at last, they are not alone. The presence of these groups on campus gives students the permission to be confident in their principles and maintain their commitments. It gives them hope and direction for brighter futures.
As the Everts note in their book, “Allow yourself to experience the ache within you for something beautiful. It’s not childish to dream about finding a love that helps you become the woman you want to be. However, no one can give you this kind of love. You have to work for it ... the process begins by loving yourself enough to avoid the guys who don’t.”
Made for More
We are made for more than what society would offer. We are searching for a deeper, more meaningful kind of existence. We want friendships that serve to make us the best version of ourselves — and love that leads us closer to friendship with God. We have grown weary of the fake, anemic representations of romance that leave us unfulfilled and anxious. These lessons weren’t so clear to me at the beginning, but they have come into focus.
Looking back, I can see that it was due to the hopeful words and reassurances of friends who cared for me that I decided to take some time off from dating and grow deeper in my relationship with God and those friends he had placed in my life. As I began to prioritize my friendships, I didn’t worry that I was missing out on the love of my life. Rather, I came to understand that the ingredients that make up authentic friendship are the same that go into the recipe for fulfilling, long-lasting love: trust, commitment, sacrifice, communication, unselfishness. Moreover, a true friendship is a foundation from which authentic love can develop. Edward Sri, author of Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love (Servant, 2007), states that “the only way two human persons can avoid using each other is to relate in pursuit of a common good, as in the virtuous friendship.”
I decided to be friends with God again. He and I had lost good footing during the time when I was preoccupied with misfit romances. Whereas I felt like I was losing myself by dating the wrong people, by getting to know God again, I began to rediscover my identity and the purpose for which I was on this earth. Placing all of those questions tucked away in the recesses of my heart close in his loving care, he slowly provided me with answers and helped me discover that I was called to a life of authentic love.
The doubts I had about whether my standards were foolish disappeared. By daily learning how to hold God’s hand as he led me, I began to embrace life to the fullest, while maintaining my integrity and upholding my dignity. I found healing and began learning how to love fully through friendship — the first being friendship with God.
Ashley Crouch earned a bachelor’s in theology at the University of Dallas and is director of outreach and programs at the Love and Fidelity Network in Princeton, New Jersey.