I recently received an email asking about women’s expectations of male Catholic role models, and the characteristics they should look for in a man when considering dating or, more specifically, marriage. Coincidentally the topic also arose in conversation at my women’s group, which led me to consider it in more depth.
Firstly, this is likely to be a controversial post. Of course there is no singular ‘perfect man’, in the same way that there is no singular ‘Catholic woman’ (or Christian woman!). Secondly, the title is somewhat facetious – there is definitely no rule of thumb or easy strategy. The decision to marry is by no means a light one, and neither should it become a simple choice following years of desperation rather than a discernment of your vocation individually and as a couple. I don’t believe in following strict rules to find the ‘ideal man’, because that in itself would remove the freedom to follow God’s call however unexpected it may seem. However, I do believe there are certain qualities which are advantageous for women to seek in a man and for a man to strive to reflect in order for both to draw closer to God and to each other in the process. (Of course, there are such qualities in a woman as well, but that is a different topic).
I don’t mean the physical kind that is ogled at and objectified in modern culture. I mean inner strength. Outward strength is often one of the defining characteristics used to ‘assess’ men in films, magazines etc. But that completely misses the far more important and long-lasting aspects of strength of character, determination, unashamed sensitivity, loyalty and faithfulness: the type of strength which comes from knowing you are a child of God and pursuing the life He planned for you. ‘True masculinity requires interior strength… if a man does not possess interior strength he is a walking contradiction of what it means to be a man’ (Jason Evert).
‘Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). If a man strives to reflect Christ himself, in doing so he will draw closer to God. By seeking a pure heart and a close relationship with God he is also demonstrating that in a relationship he will not only allow but enable you to maintain your own purity. He will be respectful, open, honest, wise, and most importantly will incorporate discernment into every decision in your relationship – thus inviting God to be a part of it.
If he has prayed about entering into the relationship, and feels it is right, there will be no reason not to be entirely up front and honest about it. A man who dances around the point and spends a long time flirting without actually expressing his intentions or asking you out is not a man who is likely to be clear and focused on finding a solution when something goes wrong later on. It is important that he should be dedicated to pursuing you, but there should also be clarity in the intention of that pursuit. The tension of flirtation may be fleetingly exciting, but ultimately honesty is the best policy when it comes to declaring his intentions and feelings. The hard truth is that that excitement of mystery very quickly gives way to the heartache of uncertainty and insecurity – how many of us have used the phrase ‘I just don’t know how he feels about me’? If you both know where you stand, you both know where and how you are progressing.
It is natural to be threatened by the conflict we are all faced with when spreading the Gospel message, but having the courage to defend one’s faith is a good indicator that that person is stable and confident in what they believe. Peter’s denial of the Lord represented the intrinsic instinct of humankind to avoid embarrassment and protect the self against persecution. Therefore a courageous man, who will stand up for his faith regardless of the consequences, without fear of humiliation or condemnation, is a man who will help to nurture your own faith and will remain true to God’s commands.
A man who knows that whatever he does is done not by his own strength, but by that which is given to him by God, demonstrates true humility. Whilst this means he aims to stay on the path God intends for him (and as such keep your relationship on that path), it will also mean that he is more likely to be willing to accept responsibility for his own mistakes, forgive you for yours, and work to improve the relationship at all times. A humble man who is secure in his identity in Christ without being selfish, conceited or indulging his human nature will also be able to guide you in your own journey of faith thereby bringing you closer to Jesus.
Above all, seek a man who DOES NOT put you first. This may sound entirely counterintuitive – of course we all want a man who dotes on us and makes us feel special, but for a relationship to truly blossom GOD must be kept at the forefront. That means both people prioritising God over each other, even if that means making sacrifices. The best analogy I have ever been given for this is imagining the relationship as a triangle with God at the top: as you both move closer to God, you inevitably become closer to each other as a result!