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The CatholicMatch Institute is joined by a new contributor! Arleen Spenceley is a Catholic blogger, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and author of an upcoming book about chastity. The CatholicMatch Institute spoke to her about her upcoming book, Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, practical dating and chastity advice, and what she will be writing about for the institute.

You have a new book coming out! What is it about?

Chastity is for LoversThe book, called Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin, is about practicing chastity—which requires us to abstain from sex outside of marriage—in a culture that says we shouldn’t. It is unusual to adopt a lifestyle counter to the way of life encouraged by the culture that surrounds us. It’s so unusual I’ve even had to ask myself this question: Why am I ok with making choices that most of the people I meet never would? Chastity is For Lovers answers that question.

Where did you get the idea for your book?

I had been blogging for years before I pitched the idea for the book to Ave Maria Press. I got the idea from my blog, where without fail, posts about relationships (especially the ones that covered chastity or sex) drew more traffic and inspired more conversation than any other posts. My target audience has always been adults; how into this discussion the adults who frequent my blog are led to a realization: adults want and need to talk about sex (and saving sex!) too.

For too long, discussion of chastity has been relegated to youth groups. When high school ends, so does the conversation. That’s a problem, because adults who want to save sex (or sex from now on) for marriage don’t know it’s possible if no adult admits to doing it. It’s a problem because adults exist who haven’t had sex, and who feel alone or ashamed. My hope for the book is that it provides comfort to people who have felt alone in the choice to be chaste and hope to people who could use a new way to approach love and sex.

You wrote about this topic originally for the Tampa Bay Times, why did you decide to write the article and what was the reaction?

I wrote two essays on sex for the Tampa Bay Times. The first essay was inspired by the demise of a dating relationship. That particular relationship was with a guy who didn’t practice chastity and wasn’t interested in trying. I’d never dated somebody before who didn’t define sex the way I did, but in the experience and the discussions inspired by it, I discovered how normal it is for adults to have sex with the people they date. I also discovered what it’s like for somebody who doesn’t want to save sex to meet somebody who does. My choosing chastity confused the snot out of that guy, and that’s why I decided to write a sex essay for the paper. I wanted to clarify for the public what underlies a person’s choice to be chaste.

It takes a lot of courage to write about chastity in a hook-up culture. How do you joyfully live out your faith as a single Catholic?

I remind myself that what other people think of me is ultimately irrelevant. It has no bearing on my worth; no effect on the value of virtue. I also try to remember that, as nicely stated in the First Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius’s spiritual exercises, we are created to serve God and nothing matters more than “desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”

You are one of the new CatholicMatch Institute contributors. What do you plan to write about in your columns?

I intend to write about dating well, practicing chastity, and surviving (and thriving) as single and mingling Catholic adults.

How do you feel about writing for an Institution that is dedicated to helping single Catholics better discern dating and marriage?

I feel great about writing for an institution dedicated to helping single Catholics better discern dating and marriage because I am dedicated to helping single Catholics do that, too.

profile pic summer 2014What advice would you give to single Catholics who are fighting the culture war, but feel alone?

Find a community. It could be a young adult group or a campus ministry. It could be a group of people you meet at church, or even online. Find people who are single, Catholic, and share your joys and struggles with each other and agree to hold each other accountable. Do fun stuff together, worship together, and study the life of Jesus together (even if you have to do it via Skype!). It is easy to feel alone in this culture, but way harder to feel alone when we make a concerted effort to navigate life alongside people who believe the same stuff we do.

Who are your favorite authors? 

Oh, man. My number one is St. John Paul II (Love and Responsibility, which he wrote before he was pope, will change your life). I’ve also really enjoyed reading work by authors Jon Acuff, Don Miller, Rachel Held Evans, Brene Brown, Scott Hahn, and Edward Sri.

What is the best dating advice you’ve ever received?

“It isn’t your job to entertain your significant other.” Earlier in my 20s, I worried in relationships that an off-day—one in which I was boring, or in a bad mood, or otherwise not awesome—meant my significant other would lose interest. But it truly isn’t your job to entertain your significant other, or even to make him or her happy. If it were, affection and commitment in relationships would need to be dependent on what benefit you get out of the relationship, which is not a sustainable foundation. The only sustainable foundation is “virtuous friendship,” which, according to Edward Sri, is a couple’s pursuit of a common goal.

What is your impression of online dating?

I swivel between “online dating is a supplement” and “online dating is a necessity.” Practicing Catholics who want to meet and marry practicing Catholics know the struggle because practicing Catholics are few and far between. But they do exist, and if they aren’t easily accessed offline, online can be a good place to meet them.

What do you love about the Catholic faith?

So many things! But if I have to sum it up, I love that no matter where I am in the entire world, I can walk into a Catholic church and feel at home.

More from Arleen can be found on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook

(This post has been read 2,454 times)

19 Comments

  1. Michelle-989480 June 3, 2014

    Welcome Arleen! I look forward to your posts.

    • . June 6, 2014

      Thanks so much, Michelle!

  2. John-1095171 June 3, 2014

    I love that last line where she says, “I love that no matter where I am in the entire world, I can walk into a Catholic church and feel at home.” I’ve been to Catholic churches in other countries and that is so true!.

  3. Frank-780947 June 3, 2014

    Arleen;

    Your blog could be representative of a lot of topics. Society seems to look down on those of us who aren’t “politically” correct. Look at how society is trying to define marriage; or to excuse the homosexual lifestyle. I march to the beat of MY own drum; and refuse to cater to popular whims. Heck; look at all the Catholics who think it’s acceptable not to attend Mass weekly. I can go on and on. The bottom line is to look for people who have principles; and are willing to stand up for them. You don’t have to wave a flag to seek attention…..just go about your life……and if everyone else wants to jump off a bridge….I say let them. Just stay away from me !

  4. Joan-529855 June 3, 2014

    “But it truly isn’t your job to entertain your significant other, or even to make him or her happy.”

    PTL, someone else thinks like I do (as well as the Christian author of Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas). If you could do everyone a favor in your writing, elaborate on the above topic until we are so sick of reading it we might actually get it.

    • . June 6, 2014

      Thanks so much, Joan! I will do my best. :)

      -Arleen

  5. Gayle-735456 June 4, 2014

    Thank you so much for posting this article! It is so true that you need a community to help you stay strong in the path of chastity and virginity (or second virginity) until marriage! And it is also true that it helps make you happy, even if you are single (dating or not!). By removing lust, you make room for love, and you are able to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. You can be such a gift as a single person to so many people among your family, friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors.

    I am not sure what the appeal is to have sex before marriage, with all the complications: fear of pregnancy out of wedlock, fear of your bf/gf leaving you afterwards, fear of STDs, fear of your family finding out, fear of Confession, inability to receive Holy Communion, inability to receive God’s grace, deprived of the presence of the Holy Spirit, distorted view of the opposite sex, etc. With all that baggage, wouldn’t it just be easier to wait?

    I also heard from a man who lived impurely before his conversion and subsequent Catholic marriage, that sex inside a loving Christian marriage is completely different from sex before marriage, and 1000x better. He said it is like you are doing a completely different activity, they can’t even be compared to each other. I can only imagine it must be because in a Christian marriage (complementary sexes and lifelong commitment), in the marital act you are truly giving your whole self to someone who is truly your friend, and God is blessing it.

    Christian marriage is truly a heroic vocation in a culture like ours. And so is waiting for it. May God give many of us the grace to embrace and maintain a life of chastity, for the salvation of the world and the good of our souls.

  6. Michael-410923 June 4, 2014

    I admire the author’s thesis. Good conversation, brings another dimension that is not seen in regular social commentary. After reading a bit of ‘Three to Get Married’ my take on the most satisfying love is a combination of the sexual, spiritual and psychological.

    I’m curious about ‘your job is not to please/entertain your significant other’. While I agree with ‘virtuous friendship’ is the best foundation for the most satisfying relationship, I think the best friendships do involve some pleasing of the other. Given current societal practices, some relationships may fail due to lack of sex…that hurts (even for a guy who was thinking long term!)

    Specifically with regards to sex, after reading one response above, I liked ‘distorted view of the opposite sex’. To me, expectations of the relationship get locked in with sexual activity…dangerous if one barely knows the person. One ‘makes love’ to a projection, not the other. That’s people see their exes.

    I have to disagree with ‘wouldn’t it just be easier to wait’. Reading Sheen’s ‘Three to Get Married’ the animal passion lasts only a few years; sex is sought due to egotistical concerns and a lack of reason. Very good points! However, if one were to humble oneself and use reason, there is still a challenge. Sheen’s Chapter 1 argues that women understand the difference between the meaning of love and sex, but men have more of a challenge. (I think some women have some strictly animal challenges too). I would go further and say even if a man differentiates properly between love and sex, the animal instinct for sex in a fit male is a challenge. Sometimes reason is enough; there was mutual interest between one woman and myself but when I saw her walk out of a pro-choice meeting I lost interest. Sometimes reason is not enough. One young woman asked ‘why do men want sex instead of cuddling?’ I replied ‘because it is just the next step and there is strong urge to merge’. Properly using reason and minimizing the ego sometimes means not cuddling too much especially if one physical body is prone to take that as a strong animal stimulus. That may mean one seeking cuddling but not sex may be frustrated, and per Sheen it would be an egotistical challenge for them. Physical proximity makes ‘wouldn’t it be just easier to wait’ a challenge for some.

    • John-1027301 June 5, 2014

      Michael – I have to agree with Arleen that it is easier to wait. Christian singles who take the word of God seriously rise above societal practices and animal passions. And as one myself, I don’t constantly check opinion polls everyday to see if my behavior matches that of every other human being. And I don’t necessarily agree with Sheen that women understand the meaning of love better than men. To live a life of chastity is a challenge – whether you’re a fit male or fit female. I think it’s our responsibility to use our God given reason, self control, and intellect to rise above the level of animals. And one of the clearest demonstratons of that is patience.

      • Michael-410923 June 6, 2014

        Yes, rationalizing and spirituality helps to manage those desires. One is satisfied with life as it is.

        That being said, the human body has animal passions. It is a challenge; I disagree with the comment saying ‘wouldn’t it be easier to wait?’ If the potential for animal passion is not recognized, and managed, the challenge can become unreasonable. It is not only saying yes to chastity, but also minimizing situations where there is more temptation than necessary.

    • . June 6, 2014

      This is Arleen — (I don’t have a login yet, nor do I have an active Facebook profile, so this one will have to do for now).

      I don’t think Gayle implies by saying “wouldn’t it be easier to wait?” that waiting isn’t difficult. I think she DOES imply, however, that waiting is the better choice. It’s “easier,” she implies, in the sense that the potential results of non-marital sex complicates life and saving sex doesn’t.

  7. BethAnne-168224 June 4, 2014

    I cannot wait to read your blogs on CM! I can’t wait to read your book!

    • . June 6, 2014

      Thanks so much, BethAnne! :)

  8. Cynthia-875784 June 5, 2014

    I can’t wait to read your articles. I do hope you don’t just focus on young people and virginity. I was married for 33 years and have vowed to remain celibate until/if I remarry. Also, when do you tell someone you are celibate? First meeting? First date? First “pass”?

  9. Bonnie-305136 June 5, 2014

    Thank you for posting this and for writing a book about it. I have felt so alone in my commitment to Chastity. It is so difficult to find others committed to this most important value. I am going to purchase the book.

    • . June 6, 2014

      Hi, Bonnie! This is Arleen. (I will hopefully have my real login set up soon.)

      Thanks so much for sharing this. My hope for what I write is that you and others who practice chastity will feel less alone. Stay tuned. :)

  10. Carolyn-1086273 June 28, 2014

    What are you suppose to do if you had a good marriage for 45 years and sexually active and your spouse passes away. For 6 yeas you have mourned and grieved. After that time you have temptations for sex and meet someone you really like. What are you suppose to do when your sex drive is very strong?

    • Arleen Spenceley June 29, 2014

      I’d suggest the same things I’d suggest to a young, sexually inexperienced dating couple that practices chastity — temptations can arise, and what we need to do is avoid acting on them. No two people, for instance, “suddenly” have sex. There’s a set of steps that lead to sex, if you will, ’cause sex is progressive. If chastity is something we practice, we can’t all just decide to stop right before sex. We’ve got to not take all the steps that we know will lead to it.

      For some people, that means you’re only together in public places, or you’re never alone in one of your homes. For others, it’s staying really, really busy (distraction!) or staying very vigilant to what surrounds you (avoid consuming media that could sexually arouse you, for instance).

      I hope this helps, and I’ve added your question to a list of stuff I’d like tackle in the future (either here or on my personal blog: arleenspenceley.com.)

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