Since we’re in the season of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to cover the topic of love on our “Christopher Closeup” radio show and podcast: how to find it, what to do once you have found it, and what role God can and should play in your relationship. Joining me to share her insights was Monica Gabriel, the relationships editor for Verily magazine. Monica’s been doing that job for several years now and, when she started, she was a single, unattached young woman herself. Now she is days away from getting married, and she talked about what she’s learned along the way that can help you find or improve your own love life.
Here is an edited version of our interview (with the full podcast at the bottom):
Tony Rossi: I know you’ve dispensed a lot of wisdom in your articles over the last several years, but where did that wisdom come from? Is your own life partial fodder for some of the insights you share?
Monica Gabriel: Oh, it’s 99.9% of the fodder! I got started writing a blog before Verily really launched and most of it is based off of mistakes that I’ve made. What was really helpful was the process of writing about [them]: making mistakes and then being able to take the time and reflect on what it is that I did wrong—why did I do that thing, what do I want? As I started to write about that, I discovered that the experiences that I had were really quite universal, they were not unique. So many women experience the same mistakes, have the same questions. It’s easy to come out with content that relates to readers when they’re going through the same things that you are.
TR: In case people aren’t familiar with Verily, tell us a little bit about the magazine and the approach it takes.
Monica Gabriel: Verily is a women’s magazine [about] lifestyle, relationships, culture, style. We are a non-religiously affiliated magazine, but a lot of the women who are on staff are Catholic. But basically our mission is to present an authentic vision of women today, to talk about what’s important to her and to encourage her to be the woman that she wants to be in the modern world.
TR: In my intro, I promised some advice on single life, so let’s move to that topic. What qualities do you think women today generally look for in a man?
Monica Gabriel: I would list three. There’s confidence, humility, and height.
Monica Gabriel: Yes. Those are the essential three I come across as Relationships Editor for Verily. But I think what’s most important is to understand the reasons behind why these criteria are there.
For confidence, women want a man who’s sure of his direction, who’ll be a leader, who knows himself. This means that this is a man that she can trust, and I think these days that man is hard to find. Women are used to meeting men who are unsure of themselves, who are not leaders, especially not leaders in relationships. So that’s definitely a good thing, and a healthy quality that women are looking for in relationships.
Humility is closely tied to that because it is an essential characteristic in a leader. It’s someone a woman can trust, but it’s also someone a woman can be vulnerable to. A humble man is also a man of faith, usually. He’s a man that leans on God for his strength, and this is something that I think that a lot of Christian women especially are looking for. A man who is humble, who turns to God when he needs strength, is a man who will move mountains for her, for their relationship, for their family.
And the height thing, we’ve written about this. I do think that also connects to the confidence issue. I think height is a symbol of confidence, but this is a mistake to assume that a man who is short is not confident. In fact, I can list many a man who’d tower over the typical six foot men in character and confidence. So I would encourage women to take that with a grain of salt, know why she is looking for height. It’s probably just a symbol that she’s drawn to, but [she should] put that aside when she’s discerning who she should date.
TR: In one recent article, you point out that fewer young adults today are choosing to get married. What accounts for that trend?
Monica Gabriel: This is tricky. I see two things accounting for this trend. The first one is fear. Men and women today have watched our parents’ marriages suffer and fail. They’ve seen unhappy marriages. They’ve seen unhappy relationships in general, discord between men and women, and this is really scary. We don’t want this to happen to us.
The second thing is selfishness. This is something that’s been bred by the hookup culture. Marriage is about making yourself a gift to another person, and many of us who’ve been living the hookup mentality – or even just digesting the dating advice and behaviors that are around us – have forgotten that we were made to be a gift. [People] have been practicing dating behaviors that primarily look out for themselves and train their minds to look at what they can get from the opposite sex rather than what they can contribute and give. We largely feel unprepared for the sacrifice of marriage.
TR: Why do you think young people should reconsider that decision not to make a lifelong commitment? What are the benefits that they might be forgetting or not even aware of, considering they may come from a broken home?
Monica Gabriel: Marriage is a vocation, and if marital union is how God is calling you be holy and get to heaven, getting to heaven is gonna be really hard without embracing that vocation. I know some of us are called to priesthood and religious life and some are called to single life, but the majority of us are called to the lifelong commitment of marriage. So I think one thing to keep in mind is to be open to what it is that God has planned for us.
TR: You’ve mentioned God a few times in this, and I saw the movie “Brooklyn” recently, which takes place in the 1950s. And the way in that movie that men and women met was at the weekly Saturday night church dance. I don’t know that there are a lot of those going on still today, but how do modern singles meet each other?
Monica Gabriel: A lot of people do meet someone online. But when you’re talking about meeting that special someone that you could potentially marry, most people still meet that person in person, through mutual friends. That’s one thing I struggle with as a Relationships Editor. I encourage our readers to be open to social media, and to dating apps, and online dating, and I think that’s a great vehicle to meet people. But I think more of us need to socialize, just to get out there. I think letting our separate social circles blend together a little bit more.I don’t know if a lot of people have this experience, but growing up – and even now – I have my high school friends, my college friends, and my New York City friends. It’s taken me a long time to get those groups of friends to merge together. But I recently had a dinner party and invited a bunch of different friends from different phases of my life. And there’s been one date out of that, and they’re still dating now! They wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t introduced them. So I think people should just be more proactive about not being afraid to have their friends meet their friends and to just have fun out in the world.
TR: Staying with the God factor, I think it was Fulton Sheen who said that God needs to be the third person in every marriage. But does that hold true also in the dating and engagement period, based on your own experience as a Catholic who is getting married soon?
Monica Gabriel: Yes. I spent a long time being single. I went on a fair bit of dates, but from the time I graduated from college until I met Joe about a year and a half ago, I had no boyfriends. What this meant for me was that this was a time that I was able to nourish myself on the teachings of the Church, and most especially, the mysteries that She uncovers for us on who I am as a person, as a woman, as a member of the world. I find that when I was single, my relationship with Christ was so wonderfully childlike. He was who I ran to when I was lonely and when I was afraid, and that was a gift. I miss that because what has happened now that I’m engaged is that I now have someone that I can run to here in the physical world. Joe is someone I can come to when I’m lonely, when I’m afraid. I think it’s a natural drift away a little bit from going to Christ for my needs. But I need to change that. Being filled by a person, especially as you’re preparing to marry, is good. But I need to return to this intimate relationship with Christ.
And one thing that was really helpful to hear from a priest who was preparing Joe and I for Pre-Cana was – I was telling him about this, and he was saying this ability to be so natural and intimate with Christ is a gift that women tend to possess more easily than men. So the way this plays into my relationship is learning how to share that gift with my husband. It means that I need to go back to that childlike relationship with Christ and help my husband grow in that area too. So that’s an interesting faith development in single life and now in engagement.
TR: When I was reading through your articles the other day, I saw that one of the most popular – with over 33,000 shares – was one titled “The Wisest Advice My Mom Ever Gave Me About Love.” So in a world where young people often think they know better than their parents, why do you think that piece struck a chord?
Monica Gabriel: Good question. I was surprised that did super well. We often believe that our parents have nothing to offer in the modern dating world. But I think what was surprising from that piece was how on-point my mom was with dating advice, how simple and relevant it was. And my mom’s just a very wise woman.
TR: What is some of that wise advice?
Monica Gabriel: One of the things that struck a chord was the advice about not judging a guy. It was about comparing a man to a dress on a hanger. The advice there was: sometimes when women go shopping, the most trendy dress is the dress that they want. But upon trying it on, it is just not good for your body type. In many ways, that’s how dating can be for women. We see this guy who’s attractive, and that’s the person that they want. [But when they go out with him], they want to make it work, but it doesn’t! We’re all unique, and meeting the person who fits you right takes a little bit of digging around.
TR: I want to touch on your recent article about announcing your engagement on Facebook. I found it interesting that you put an emphasis on this idea of community in the lead-up to your wedding, and also how it’s going to affect your approach to married life. Why have you found community to be so important in this process?
Monica Gabriel: I think a lot of people can begin to think that marriage is an island. But I think what most married couples will tell you is that this is untrue, and that it’s those around you who support you in the difficult times of your marriage. They’re also the people who get you to marriage. Looking at my own life – all of my friends, all those people who were ecstatic that I got engaged – were the people who were teaching me how to love. They will continue to teach me how to love as I’m married and I run across issues and I don’t know how to talk to Joe about something. I’ll run to my mom, or my sisters, or my friends, maybe even a counselor. But it’s all those people who are rooting for your marriage that help your marriage grow and thrive. Obviously, there’s certain boundaries that you need to place around your marriage to protect it from certain influences. But marriage is so important to our communities, I think it’s something that we need to remember.
TR: In our final couple of minutes, let me ask you this. If there’s someone listening and they’re thinking they’d like to meet somebody, but they don’t know where to start or what to do, do you have any basic advice on what that person should do? Maybe dating advice they should ignore and advice they should follow instead?
Monica Gabriel: Yeah. What I would encourage them to do is to take some time to ask themselves what it is they want, why they want it. I think our intentions going into dating are really important.
Then, put themselves out there. I know that’s the most annoying thing for people to hear because you’re out there going to work, talking to friends! But be intentional about the way you spend your time. Don’t spend all your time one-on-one with your best girl friend or guy friend in your apartment watching TV. Get out there, try new things, new experiences! This helps you stay positive when you’re trying to meet someone because you’re growing, you’re enjoying yourself. It also puts you in a position to, to meet new friends and hopefully, someone who you might be able to marry one day.
Also, I would reach out to close friends and family that you admire and trust. Tell them that you want to meet someone and [they should] come up with a list of people to introduce you to, and have them set you up on a date.
(To listen to my full interview with Monica Gabriel, click the podcast link):
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