[Vir]tuous Friend, [Vir]tuous Lover

Maybe he’s quiet, maybe he’s loud. Introverted or extroverted, gentle or tough, tall or short, bookish or mountain-man. Maybe he’s thoughtful, maybe he’s brash. Right-brain or left-brain, sure of himself or carrying hurts, little bit lazy or a little bit uptight, knows Brahms backward and forward or listens to Justin Timberlake on long drives. Maybe he smokes. Maybe he runs many miles. Maybe he swears like a sailor or has impeccable manners, asks too many questions or asks hardly any questions, has lots of experience – good and bad, or has little experience – good or bad. Maybe he has a mind like a steel-trap or maybe he struggles to remember details. Musical or mathematical, pensive or enthusiastic, irreverent or composed, laughs at dry humor or delights in slapstick, comes from a divided home or has never known familial strife, fit in with the jocks or never fit in well anywhere. Maybe he’s full of anxious energy, ready for adventure, or happy to sit and do nothing. Maybe he’s great with computers and technology or maybe he’s the first one to stack the wood. Maybe he’s a fine listener or maybe he’s good at keeping a conversation afloat. Maybe he teases a little too much or maybe he takes himself and the world a bit too seriously. Maybe he lays his days out like clockwork or maybe his approach is a bit different every day.

I look at the above attributes, strengths, quirks, and weaknesses and I shrug.

Those things are not essential. They’re windows through which I’ll come to know him and love him, and I have preferences: but they’re not what make the man.

The one thing I unwaveringly hope for is this: he’s trying to be a man of virtue – whether I’m in his life or not. Whether I’m ever in it or not; whether I’m there to see it or not.

Does he have curly hair, an incredible sense of humor, matchless wit and an enthusiasm for philosophy? Is he a messy eater? Does he agree with me that swiss cheese is disgusting, and that it would be worth the effort to tame a squirrel someday and maybe name it Snufkin? Does he sometimes state his opinions too forcefully?

Don’t know. Don’t need to know right now. What I want to know is simply: is he trying to – striving to – be a man of virtue?

Does he know how to fish, has he been to Asia, does he write beautiful songs, is he impatient when untangling Christmas lights, is vulnerability difficult for him, is he hyper-sensitive, has he fallen with other women in his past, is he allergic to bananas, does he look handsome in a V-neck, did he stutter when he was a kid, is he intuitive, was he ever a pothead, can he do the scissor-kick, is he all good with his Dad, is he smarter than I, can he cook?

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Don’t know, don’t need to know right now. I want to know: is he trying – striving – to be a man of virtue?

See, I want to be friends with this man. Friends remain after honeymoons become memories. Friends are not to be bothered by idealized images set upon pedestals: they prefer the real thing. They love the real thing – not only that, they like the real thing. Lawd knows I am no man’s “dream woman” – I will never match up with a list of perfect traits: spend a little time with me and you’ll discover that. I’m not an ethereal songbird who only ever floats around pondering the best way to imbue all of my interactions with the personalistic norm. I’ve got “fatal flaws to call my own”, and I’m striving to meet God in those places of emptiness, caverns he wants to fill and make like unto himself. It is this continual invasion of God that makes me crave true friendship – companionship – ‘being-with.’ And I know that only in a virtuous man will I find a true friend, because only the virtuous man or woman can experience true friendship.

And so I simply want to know: is he striving to be a man of virtue? Everything else follows from that. I’m okay with being surprised: the whole “make a list describing your ideal guy, right down to which side of his head he parts his hair on” thing always seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Makes me think of my favorite scene from Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character, Phil, asks the girl he’s interested in “what she wants”: to which she readily replies with a list of highly desirable – but somewhat idealized – traits that she’s clearly compiled over years of dream-casting: romantic, courageous, hilariously funny, good body, the humility of a saint (doesn’t know how good-looking he is), kind, sensitive, gentle, not afraid to cry in front of her, likes animals, plays an instrument, changes diapers like a pro; and finally, he loves his mother. Phil listens to all of this patiently, and then asks simply, “This is a man we’re talking about?”

What good are all of the most appealing traits if they’re not based in a virtuous heart? Where’s the beauty in a man’s muscled, powerful body if his soul can’t match its stride? Those long lists of traits are just the raw material of love. A person’s quirks and features are a wonderful part of the whole – but they’re not what make him good. What makes him good is his desire to conform his life to the inner-life of God: viz., his virtue. There is a harmony that exists amongst virtuous souls that encompasses, yet goes far deeper than, compatibility.

Is he a man of virtue? Because if he is – I will be in good hands. Tough hands, scarred hands, quiet hands, musical hands, etc. No matter. They’ll be good ones.

Lord, give that man the grace to keep trying. Who-ever he is, whatever his idiosyncrasies and gifts are: give him the grace to strive.

Try, man. Strive, friend.

I’m trying and striving, too.

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Virtue: n.

from Latin virtutem (nominative virtus): “moral strength, valor, excellence, worth,”
from vir:  “man”

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16 thoughts on “[Vir]tuous Friend, [Vir]tuous Lover

  1. Carol says:

    I have been married for 20 years and this rings true. Because every man will have plusses and minuses. But, when he is striving to be more like his creator and savior, then more plusses will emerge and the minuses will be lessened. And, he will inspire you to do the same, which is where joy and intimacy await.

  2. Laurie says:

    Yes, yes, YES! Blessedly and joyously married 25 years and THIS is the key. As my best friend always says, “We are all flawed humans.” The key is to find the flawed human who is reaching for virtue…for God. That should be the first standard. Beautifully insightful and worthy writing.

  3. Adriel says:

    Funny how simple, pure, and forgiving this perspective is, and yet, how tough it can still be to find one who fits it. Maybe funny isn’t the right word.

    Either way, as a guy, thanks for this. It’s encouraging.

    • Thanks so much for commenting. Your perspective and opinion, as a man, are very valuable to me, as a woman!

      And yeah… trying to live a virtuous life is tough. It isn’t tidy or efficient or popular. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves and everyone around them!

      But if the desire is there, the battle is already heading in a good direction. A man (or woman) who’s heart is filled with good desires is still going to fall, is still going to turn his back on those good desires and choose lesser ones at times – ’cause he ain’t the Son of God Incarnate! But if he keeps trying…if he doesn’t give up, if he doesn’t inoculate himself against the desire to become great, the desire to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty – that says something about the timber of his good heart.

      Thomas Aquinas’ sister once asked him, “What does one have to DO to become a saint?” to which he replied without hesitation, “Desire it.”

      • Adriel says:

        Amen. I think you’ve hit it on the head, Alanna; what it boils down to is having, (and seeing in the someone), the desire to be good and true.

        And I think your prayer at the end is a very good one, because so often for us men the desire isn’t there yet, and the battle can’t begin. But does one simply manufacture desire within himself? And he is driven to his journey by the lovely words of a wise woman, does that motivation last when she isn’t in the picture, or when he is unwatched?

        I think what’s needed is a slightly different approach to the formation of our young men, as well as more intentional prayers, like yours, for this specific grace: to desire to fight for, and love, a virtuous life.

  4. Scott says:

    Alanna-Marie,

    I was perusing facebook and saw a link to your blog post on a mutual friend’s timeline wall. This article peeked my interest, philosophically and theologically, as its title contains not only virtue and friendship but also love. I’ve now read it. Thanks for writing it.

    While you and I know each other, and I also know that we each are gifts from God for someone other than each other, romantically speaking, I recognize in your words an honest calling forth and encouragement from a former classmate, sister in Christ, acquaintance, and, dare I say, woman-of-God, to me to be a a virtuous man, friend, and lover (in the truest sense) for the woman God has for me. Oh that I might one day be looked upon as a righteous oak by my future spouse. Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus! Peace and goodness, sister.

  5. Your beautiful essay implodes the “I have to look or dress a certain way to be loved” myth. Learning to love his quirks (and he yours) is when married love goes into overdrive. Thirty-three years and counting here — if we’re striving for virtue, it just gets better.

  6. I agree. Substance over countenance. What a very well written post. I am very much enlightened and some what reaffirmed. As I choose to let go of this love of mine that I thought was all that– I realized that what I want and liked about him is only skin deep, superficial. I LIKED the perks and the quirks like what you’ve named above. Only time can tell if I’d look his direction again but for the mean time I just pray he becomes the virtuous man that I know he could become when his potential self meets his current self.

  7. Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

    I guess it works the same for men, too!

  8. David says:

    Wow, when you write, you don’t write little, Twitter sized ‘thoughts for the day’ haha. I keep thinking you have abandoned your blog but I surf in every so often when I am sorting old bookmarkmarks. Sometimes it feels like this blog’s bookmark is just hanging by a thread haha, but I am usually glad when I check back. God bless you!

  9. Brendan says:

    This is really a beautiful article and one a lot of women need to hear. Thank you for your insight.

    I have known plenty of women who try to change men, plenty who want to be ruled by men, plenty who search for a perfect man, plenty who settle for any man but few who authentically want to love and be loved. Many women long for that, obviously, but they don’t know how to attain it. They seek the characteristics instead of character. Gift of things rather than gift of self. They look for the man who has it all together or has the perfect set of whatever instead of the man who though imperfect strives for perfection. I think your article could help them see that there is something more, something deeper, something more beautiful.

    I have known women too who got it. Many of these women are now happily married; despite and even because of the difficulties and hardships marriage can bring. These women grow in holiness even as their husbands do. They allow their husbands to lay down their lives for them. They allow themselves to be loved and to love. To be guided and also to help guide. All because they and their husbands walk the road of virtue.

    There is a still higher road, of course; the road of grace. Grace goes beyond virtue because it demands greater self possession and self gift. It allows God to work in and through the soul instead of the soul striving to be both instrument and musician. It allows God to play the music of our lives through the instrument He created. And as the “two become one” in this life of grace He then plays a symphony with their lives.

    May the Lord play for us more symphonies for it will make the world an even more beautiful place.

  10. Alanna,

    “Virtue stands as tall as the man who’s deigned to fall on bended knee, to catch, to hold, or lift up and let go, safeguard from the waves of the crashing sea. Tumultuous Heart or Zealous Joy, his all laid bare to see, that when he’s known, through fame or secret, his Love stands Over Me…”

    Part of a poem I wrote as a reply to this. I have so much I could say. But what I wish to say now is, this message is the call of a generation of boys becoming men, and men becoming lovers. I cannot call myself a virtuous man. I believe virtuous men will be called such by others. Either as affirmation or as confirmation, even more ways, I’m sure, and mostly, because, if man were to judge himself, lest he be a truly just man, would more than likely misjudge. To Love, that is the greatest privilege and adventure a man can embark upon, in my opinion. Because what Love does is produce a multitude of fruit bearing traits, that only can be measured by what they, in turn produce.

    Thank you for this. Words cannot express my gratitude for being a man whom this message reached. And as long as I am able, I will do my best to be virtuous.

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