Posts Tagged With: advice

What Are You Looking For?

About 10 years ago, the concept of listing out what I wanted in a future spouse was introduced to me and like an obedient girl, I started my list.

A few years later when sifting through my life in therapy, I was told that I didn’t know what I was looking for in a spouse. Au contraire! I had my list! I showed it to my mentor/friend Katharine.

“Laura, you wrote the Proverbs 31 for men! This is completely unrealistic. And it says nothing about real things you want in a husband.”**

Me: “I did?”Gold pen with signature

Yet, not to leave me hanging, Katharine helped me pare down my page-long list to 3 columns. She guided me through selecting traits (physical, character, spiritual, personality, even how he spends his leisure time) into three categories:

  • Non-negotiable
  • Really want
  • Bonus!

One thing that has contributed to “success” is that my list is short; I think I have less than 15 items between all three categories. I’m also guided in my conversation on first dates by having “The List” in the back of my head. For example, I hate doing taxes due to a traumatic experience with them in college. Thus, I want my husband to be financially sound. On dates, I’m not shy to ask questions related to money and saving – while I don’t ask about his debt, savings, or salary, I am able to guide the conversation in order to ascertain his attitude towards retirement savings, budgeting, and financial management which let me know if I even want to keep considering spending time with him.

Depending on how long you’re in dating land, the list might need tweaking as years pass.  A small part of me dies when I look at “4 kids” in one column. It’s good to think about the number of kids you want (even if the number is zero), but being 30 with few prospects makes me less optimistic towards that original number as I’ve lost those years of childbearing/child-rearing. Also, “ministry group” had a specific meaning in my Protestant days; not so much in Ortho-world.

Here’s my suggestion, Ladies and Gents: write down what you want in a spouse. Be specific, even painfully and stupidly specific. Hair color. Ethnicity. Quirks. Height. Interests. This is your list. It might be longer than my 12-15 items, but if that’s what you need, do it. Then go through the list and pick out the “Absolutely, 100% MUST HAVE” for column A. Go through and pick the “I would REALLY WANT” items. Everything else is in “BONUS” – column C. You must have at least one criterion in each column, and it’s best to do this when you don’t have a specific object-of-your-affection in mind.

It’s frustrating to be in The Land of Few Prospects or The Land of Not-Right-Now and even The Land of Everyone-Else-Is-Married. The last 6 to 7 years of my dating adventures have been a little easier thanks to my list – if something doesn’t feel right on a date or in a relationship, generally one of the criterion in my first column isn’t present. And knowing what you’re looking for helps you not be distracted with Mr. Not-for-you-but-definitely-single no matter how great his personality.

**It has come to my attention that cradles or non-Protestant converts in the Ortho-world have not heard of the Proverbs 31 standard for choosing a wife. Proverbs 31:10-31 is an Old Testament passage describing a virtuous woman/wife. Some women, especially Protestants, feel it an unattainable standard held over their heads while wife-seeking men can never find their “P-31 woman”. It was only recently that it was brought to my attention that Proverbs 31 is an allegory for the Church and Christ. Yay, Protestant literalism!

Categories: Articles, Words of wisdom | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Guest Post: Dating in your 40s

Stephanie is our guest blogger today, and brings with her excitement and experience. Most of The Orthogals’  writings come from the  twenty- and thirty-something crowd, but we know that the over-forty demographic needs to be represented as well. Stef does not identify as a “typical forty-something”, but admits that her share of dating disasters should count for something. When not keeping her friends in laughing fits with her stories and animated style, she enjoys the active cultural offerings of her Midwestern college town.

I have a very robust inner third-grader.  My “i3g” generally serves me well; it’s kind of like having an internal fun magnet.  It reminds me of the mystery of how my dad can make open parking spaces magically appear in front of him, and my mom has a sixth sense of when there’s a sale in the vicinity.

Maybe my dating life would be more successful if I put my i3g on the case.  I really think I was a lot smarter when I was about eight.  The younger version of myself wouldn’t put up with some of the things that I do now, things that we are taught as adults to accept.  For one, my i3g wouldn’t go out with someone “just to be nice,” even when not interested in the other person.  She also wouldn’t spend an excessive amount of time worrying about her appearance or trying to be cool.

And let’s talk about cooties.  Your i3g knows they’re real.  When the thought “that person has cooties” goes through your mind, it means that something is creepy–a boundary has been crossed and things are not right.  The adult world might tell you that you are jumping to conclusions and that you need to override that sentiment.  But your i3g knows that things are amiss–listen to her!

Dates:  Most of the stuff that’s considered part of the standard repertoire for dates is somewhere on a continuum between stressful and boring–certainly not anything fun that brings out the best in each of you.  Or maybe the fun activities *don’t* bring out the best in my date, in which case I’d like to know that, as it would be a whole lot more helpful in getting to know someone than some contrived, artificial situation.

Here’s a quick checklist for anyone wanting to take me out:  Does it involve roller skates, bubble wrap, ice cream, animals, or bluegrass music?  Count me in.  A big no:  overpriced pretentious food, excessive air conditioning, shopping, or anybody asking me, “And now what exactly is it that you do?” in a snotty tone of voice.  I’ll make sure I need to stay home and do laundry that night.

What about gifts?  You got me flowers to show me how you feel about me.  They died within the week.  Not really, I think, what you were trying to convey.  But you found me a heart-shaped rock when you were out hiking?  This tells me you were thinking about me even when I wasn’t there.  If you catch me a frog, we’re in business.  (Especially if it’s a talking frog.  No, not one that turns into Prince Charming.  I mean a real talking frog.  That would be pretty neat.)

We should address another adult concept–the dreaded Friendzone.  Kids aren’t really concerned about this.  “So you don’t wanna be my girlfriend?”  Pause.  “Ok, how ’bout we climb trees instead?”  And everything is all good again.

I think I’ll approach dating with my i3g at the helm.  At the very least, I’ll have fun and end up with some good stories.  And maybe I’ll find someone out there with his own i3g–and no cooties.

Categories: Articles, Guest post, Singlehood | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Battle of the Marital Status

Lists on the interwebs, I’ve observed, are ways that new bloggers can make it look as though they are being productive and wise. It’s like the people that start off their day writing at the top of the paper “1 – Make To Do List”.

This in mind, I read a list earlier in the year: 23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged. I get part of it. Around senior year of college, enough engagement rings start appearing that those who are single can wonder if they are missing something. But I was still not impressed with her suggestions. Was this a list saying that getting engaged is another task in life? Some of her items served others and promoted personal growth. Others not so much.

Well, someone read the first list and wrote her response. But she wasn’t helpful. Rather, she was rude and impudent. She states in her rebuttal that “Well, if this is her bucket list, then maybe she shouldn’t publish it and suggest that I do it, too.” But what does she say later?

“Oh, and that if you’re going to share a list of fun things to do, make sure they’re actually fun. And worthwhile. So, here goes. 23 Things You Can Do With Your Husband Regardless of Age.”

And later on:

“…maybe that’s why some people don’t marry young, or ever! Because sucky people like her suggest doing awful things like that.”

Wait, wha—??

And the married vs single wars continue.

After reading the first list, other than rolling my eyes at some of the suggestions, all I could see was a 23 year-old needing validity for not getting married. It seemed to be a plea for purpose. “Help! I’m caught between desire for relationship and feminism!”

And the married girl? First, don’t mention making out or having make-up sex with your husband – multiple times in one post. Second, why are you so offended that someone was trying to encourage, albeit badly, that people not focus their personhood on marriage? Third, you didn’t represent the marrieds very well. You were snarky to the single girl. You didn’t say anything positive about your single experience. Also, getting married at 25 is not that big of a difference to 23.

In fact here’s what both articles screamed to me:



But some lists, or lists disguised as prose can be good. This came to my attention a few weeks after I read the first two lists.

“Start living the life that you do have instead of wishing for things that you don’t have. There will come a time you’ll meet a boy and you’ll have to give up some of this single freedom you currently have. Start being more thankful. Start doing that now.”

It was refreshing as secular reasoning for singleness can be. It reminded me of a book I read at the beginning of my post-college life that gave a list of 100 things to do in your 20s. But unlike the first two lists – it doesn’t depend on or make value judgments about marital status.

We can have all the lists we want and never have the life we need.

The heart of the first two lists is basic discontent and lack of approval. As Christians, this is crucial to understand. All we need as the source of our validity, personhood, approval, and life’s contentment is Christ. He gave us other good things – family, the Church, talents, abilities – but they are not to be the foundation of our acceptance and knowing we are loved.

I needed three years of counseling and multiple reminders since that Christ is my contentment. Christ is my source of acceptance. The very God that says He knit you in your mother’s womb, and looked on his creation and called it good (Psalms and Genesis, respectively). This same God calls us to lay aside everything that hinders and look to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12).

Get away from lists and go towards Christ. The list looks easier at first, but in reality it is heavy and constricting, regardless of your marital status.

Categories: Articles, Singlehood | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Q&A: Matushka Material

Q: I feel like I’m running across a number of young men who want to be priests but would like to be married first. If you don’t have a clear and certain calling to being a Matushka, would it be foolhardy to consider it?  What are some things we need to consider when trying to decide if we want to take on the possible responsibility of being a Matushka by dating (seriously) a seminarian who is open to the priesthood? ~Could-be Khouria

(Note: In answering our reader’s question, I will continue with the use of “Matushka” through this answer. This is not discrimination against those who go by “Khouria”, “Preoteasa”, “Presbytera”, or which ever title your priest’s wife prefers.)

A: Well now, this is a loaded question, Could-be Khouria. None of us Orthogals are Matushkas, so we are pooling our resources to answer your questions.

First, it is worthy to mention that like-minded people tend to meet each other. If you are seeking growth in your faith, you will probably meet others who are seeking the same. For the men, seeking growth might mean they entertain the thought of, or attend, seminary. Thus, it is not foolhardy for a woman, herself interested in a growing faith, to acknowledge that she could be called to marry one of those men.

On that note, I asked a Matushka and a seminarian separate from one another, “What is your advice for dating a seminarian?” Both said the same answer: Don’t! Run away! Run far, FAR away! Their collective point in the ensuing conversation: DO NOT, under any circumstance, seek out a life that is glorified by many, yet a HUGE target for spiritual warfare. If you know that in no way, shape, or form you would EVER want to be a Matushka, don’t date a seminarian and run far away if the guy you’re dating says, “I might consider seminary at some point in life.”

I personally have reservations about a woman with a “clear calling to be a Matushka” for herself. Red flags instantly go up for me on whether or not she sees a “calling” or rather a power trip to fulfill her control-freak nature. Honestly, I don’t know of any woman who has said, “I’m called to be the wife of a(n) _____.” Why do we suddenly let her off the hook for a symptom of crazy if she fills in the blank with “clergy”??

But what if you do end up seriously dating a seminarian? Remember that the best people to dialogue with when things become serious are your Priest and his Matushka. You need to talk about the future in a positive way, but one which acknowledges the struggles to come. Here are a few questions to consider in those conversations:

– How do you feel about staying in the same community for 10, 20, 30+ years?
– Your life is not yours; are you ready for the sacrifice that you and your spouse are each others’ top priority, yet he is given to serve others?
– What does he think your contribution to his and the parish’s life should be? What do you think your role is?
– Is he getting married solely so he doesn’t have to be a celibate priest or is he marrying you?
– How do you deal with others’ expectations of you?

That all said, being the wife of a priest or member of clergy can be rewarding. The Matushkas we asked expressed love for their communities and the privilege of serving. They feel blessed to be the wife of the priest, and they have learned how to brush off the people that expect too much or overly elevate the wife’s status. Having good boundaries, for them, was key. Again, your best resource is your Matushka. Open eyes and conversation will be your best friends in the decision process.

Categories: Articles, Q&A | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Danny and Annie

StoryCorps provides this week’s ordinary, yet extraordinary, view of relationships and love. It is not shown in grand gestures or extravagance; the sweetest stories are in the daily giving of one’s self for another.

Tear-jerker alert!

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Rude questions: should we answer?

Yeah, no.  We shouldn’t.

de•co•rum: noun, di-ˈkȯr-əm
Propriety and good taste in conduct or appearance [Merriam-Webster]

When someone asks you a rude or inappropriate question, it’s not rude to refuse to answer.  You’re entitled to your dignity, and you don’t owe people private information.

Real-Life Examples:

A coworker asks if you’ve gained/lost weight.  Appropriate answers include “Excuse me?” and “That’s personal, thanks.”

A guy you have a crush on asks what kind of underwear you prefer.  Appropriate answers include “That’s private” and “Ew, why are you asking?”, preferably with a side of antarctic frigidity and/or a request for an apology.

A near-stranger asks a group of young women about their sex lives or the existence thereof.  Appropriate answers include “I’m not comfortable with that,” “I don’t feel a need to share that information,” and “buzz off, you’re being creepy.”

You don’t have to answer even less-rude questions like “Do you have a crush on Bob?” or “So are you seeing anyone?”  You get to choose whom you share information with.

What’s the harm in answering?  Well honestly, there’s very little benefit.  At best the rude one gets some form of titillation from having gotten you to describe your drawers.  Once you share info it’s no longer yours, and we all know how uncomfortable it is to end up as grist for the rumor mill, whether it’s yia-yias talking or fellow 6th graders or people you’d like to be friends with.  The internet is forever and info travels fast.
At worst this turns out to be the first of many boundaries they cross, because they know they’ll get away with it.  (Please read The Gift of Fear.)

It’s okay for it to be awkward if you don’t answer.  You didn’t make it awkward, they did.  Your refusal to answer simply acknowledges that it is already awkward for you.

Speaking up can be hard, but it’s easier if you practice 2-3 responses in front of the mirror so you don’t have to come up with an idea on the spot.  And it’s always OK to just change the subject, no transition or acknowledgement needed.  If they were miles out of line, and you preface it with a really uncomfortable silence and change the subject extra graciously to save them from their faux pas, so much the better.

Putting up with bad behavior silently means the badly-behaved ones get away with it, while everyone else has to feel uncomfortable.  That’s backwards, don’t you think?

Other answers to keep in your back pocket for rude questions, offensive statements, or unwanted advice:

…wow, awkward.  So, weather’s been really nice lately.  Any weekend plans?

Hmm, interesting.  Did your sports team win this weekend?

Excuse me, I’m going to go get some water.

Not cool.  Back to work, do you have _____ for (project) ready?

I don’t understand.  Why would you want to know _____?  Keep playing naïve and sincere until they realize how far out of line they are.  Works well for racism and sexism too, ie “Huh, why is that funny?  Do you think all _____ are _____?”

Sorry, I didn’t catch that.  What did you say? Bonus points if you can get them to repeat it three times before they realize they were out of line.

Gee, if someone didn’t know you, they might think you’re (a predator, racist, creepy).

Oh!  You don’t really mean that!

Did you really just ask that?

Um, that was your out-loud voice.

Oh, gross!

Oh dear!  This seems to really stress you out.  It’ll be okay!  Here, let’s talk about _____. Say it soothingly, interpreting their anger as panic.  Works best when someone’s gone off on a rant.

Aren’t you an interesting case study.


Yeeeahh, no.

Thanks, I’ll think about it.

That’s nice, dear.

Thank you for sharing.

Or, just laugh (awkwardly, hysterically, incredulously—your call) and then walk away.

Categories: Articles | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Be assertive.

I rewrote the title of this post three times before I could let it sit as simply, “Be assertive.” I tried things along the lines of “The Value of Being Assertive” or “The Squeaky Wheel” or “Sometimes, you have to ask for what you want” first—gentler, less direct options designed to encourage you to be assertive without actually making it a command.


Anyway, I bought a cheap Goody hairbrush a month ago, and last week I was dismayed to realize that the rubber coating on the bristles was wearing away—my morning routine was becoming painful, and I was going to need a new brush.  I didn’t want to have to buy a new one already, so I did a quick search of Goody’s website and found their contact form.  I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I wrote a quick note:

Hey there, I’m feeling a little frustrated. I bought a grey paddle-style hairbrush from you a month or two ago and the rubber coating on the bristle tips is coming off–it’s definitely becoming painful. Would you be up for replacing the hairbrush?

I wasn’t rude or demanding.  I still dithered a bit—”Would you be up for replacing the hairbrush?” instead of “Please send a replacement”—and I honestly didn’t think they’d even read my comments.  But to my surprise, three days later I got an email.  Pick out a replacement of comparable value from their website, it said, and they’d include a prepaid envelope so I could mail the crummy brush back for their engineers to mess with.

The brush I was interested in was a little more expensive than the brush they were replacing.  I didn’t want to claim it was of comparable value, but it didn’t hurt to ask.  After all, no harm done if they said “nope, choose again.”  So I just said, “I’d love to try this brush, if that’s all right.”  And then I never heard back.

But a few days ago I got a package in the mail.  I now have a new “Heritage Collection” brush, Goody may learn something from my hard head destroying the other one, and my hair feels amazing.

Moral of the story?  Well, partly to say that it’s worth giving your business to companies that want to protect their good name and that listen to their consumers.  Partly to plug this rather delightful new brush of mine, because good customer service deserves a callout.  But mostly to remind you that you get to make your voice heard.

There are times to be gentle and beat around the bush and imply things.  There is value in that, and there’s a reason we’re taught to do it.  But there are also times to cut to the chase and be upfront about what you want.  You’re allowed to say, “I’d like ______, please.”  Even if _____ is an inconvenience.  Even if you’re not guaranteed to get it.  Even if, even if, even if.  You get to speak up.

It can be so uncomfortable.  As often as not, it won’t do any good.  You still won’t get what you asked for, much of the time.  And that’s okay.  Your odds are a damn sight better than if you just sit there wishing silently.

I still wasn’t hugely direct when making my requests.  I have to work on that.  I still spend a lot of time and effort not-saying things, because I’m still figuring out how to speak boldly—I don’t want to become a harpy, but I also don’t want to become a doormat.  It’s easier when it needs to be said, when I’m speaking up for someone who needs me or against some grand injustice where many voices need to be heard.  But our voices deserve to be heard over little things too, and it’s a good life skill to have in the arsenal.  A crucial one, in fact.

Many women I know are very sensitive to the effects of their requests, sometimes too sensitive.  There’s a link between being open with one’s desires and trusting that it’s okay to be vulnerable enough to say what you want.  It takes courage to speak up.  It also requires paying attention and noticing that there’s something you need, and preferably recognizing what it is.

And too, we have to trust that the other person can handle the request without becoming resentful or guilt-ridden if they can’t acquiesce.  Especially in relationship and business situations, you need to be willing to speak up.  Your mama can’t read your mind to know that you now hate hooded sweatshirts, and she’ll send one every Christmas unless you say you’d love to receive her favorite novel instead.  Your boyfriend doesn’t know that his new cologne reminds you of your ex, your roommate genuinely wants to know what you’d like for dinner, and your boss (or client) will pay you as little as you’ll accept.  Even if your request is denied or thwarted this time, it’ll still be a net win.  They’ll know more about your needs and wishes, you’ll know more about how the two of you handle this sort of situation, and you’ll know you can speak up about more and harder things in the future.  Communication is a Very Good Thing.

There’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive.  Being rude is aggressive.  Being demanding is aggressive.  Acting entitled is obnoxious and often aggressive.  It’s aggressive to say, “You need to give me a new hairbrush yesterday!”  It’s aggressive to say, “Your company is horrible and my hairbrush is lousy and I’m gonna smear your name all over the internet unless you placate me.”  It’s aggressive to say, “If you don’t give me a new hairbrush, I’m calling my lawyer.”  (Nota bene: There are times when, to protect yourself, you may need to be aggressive.  And calling a lawyer is not necessarily aggressive in all situations.  But if your initial contact is threatening to sue over a broken brush, that’s aggressive.)

It’s assertive to say, “I’d like a replacement brush.”  It’s assertive to say, “Actually, I’d prefer pasta for dinner.”  It’s assertive to say, “That comment made me uncomfortable.” And there is nothing wrong with that.

So.  Be assertive.

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Words of Wisdom

In truth, the Lord does not seek virgins nor married women, and neither monks nor worldly men, but doth value the free intent of the person within the arbitrariness of his free will to offer thanks to the Holy Spirit, which acts and which rules the life of each person yearning to be saved.

Saint Macarius the Great, via OrthodoxHelp

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Words of Wisdom

When we have a disagreement or some kind of problem with someone we shouldn’t keep going back to the same problems over and over again. It’s like when you are waiting for a train and it is late; once it comes, you get on. You don’t get on and keep thinking about when it should have arrived or when it wil get here. Live every day like someone waiting for a train. We don’t know when the train will come to take us away.

Elder Sergei of Vanves

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Q&A: Long Distance Relationships

TRS volunteered to take this one as this is her current relationship advantage/predicament.

Q: Okay, you have told Orthogals to make lists of what they want in a future husband. You’ve given advice about where and how to meet these guys. But in Orthodox world, there is a distinct possibility for a long-distance relationship. How do you navigate this territory?

A: Long-distance meeting and dating is an issue for Orthodox singles these days. In America, we are a Christian minority and for those who do not want half of their dating life to be catechism, well, the pool of potential singles is relatively small. Even in my city where the Orthodox churches have great interaction with one another, the opportunities to meet other singles intentionally are few and far between. Meaning that, unless metro areas have some movers and shakers to offer spiritual and social events for the locals, meeting and dating long-distance is a potential reality.

I personally define a long-distance relationship as one where regular daily/weekly times in each other’s physical company cannot occur without serious planning. To me, this starts happening around a 2-3 hour driving distance, for you that might be closer to 1 hour. Basically, hopping in the car to see your sweetie because you suddenly have a day off and/or extra time just doesn’t happen. Rather you call or text to say, “Hi! Wanna Skype?”

This is also a representation of your life:


One thing to keep in mind with long-distance is that it is still a genuine and valid relationship – regardless of whether the long-distance was before or after you met.  You have to work around schedules and preferences; there are communication gaps. You are still two people navigating that time where you really like one another but have yet to know what is in store.

Advantages? Yes! Yes there are! The lack of physical presence feels like an immediate problem, but the long-term trajectory is our focus which means you need to know how to communicate with this person. When you see each other, there is a definite relationship that has built up.

So, what can you do to while in the long-distance period:

  1. Mail – Find out some favorites and send them. Might not hurt to send a card or letter, that way you either give them something to burn OR your kids find it later and are totally grossed out.
  2. Spiritual direction – You go to different parishes, in different states, dioceses, and jurisdictions. You can still say prayers together, people!!! My boyfriend and I both balance laptops in or near our respective icon corners and say evening prayers. While it sucks if the call gets dropped, a little static is okay because you can keep going on your own until the connection fixes itself. It’s also a great way to say, “Hi!” to St. Xenia, since there might have been an Akathist or prayer of desperation to her regarding this individual.
  3. Let your priests know. They know what works and fails when it comes to love and relationships. Learn from their wisdom, plus it gives them a heads up when confession rolls around.
  4. Over time, be honest with each other how you feel about the distance. Maintaining decent communication while missing the presence of someone can be a needed test for the relationship. Depending on presence or contact with someone for simple maintenance of a relationship is a clear warning sign that something is not right. And it lets both of you know how much whining occurs with impatience.
  5. Yes, the long-distance is now, but if the relationship is hoping or intending to lead to marriage, either or both will eventually need to move. Be intentional in looking for the right opportunity and time, but don’t rush this step either. Keep in mind that one or both sets of parents might be monumentally disappointed.
  6. Plan time together. Don’t wait for a free weekend to pop up. Just like your close-distanced friends, you have to plan intentional time. Maybe you already have the next 9-10 months of trips planned (*cough, cough*). What a great way to know each other is a priority!
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