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Please let me be me

David Moss | Monday, April 30, 2012

What is it about the human condition that will not allow us to affirm the development of others in the manner the Spirit has predetermined? It seems as though either we say nothing to encourage holistic, authentic development, or we cast negative aspersions on those who make the attempt. From a very early age, each of us has recognized that not everyone thinks, feels or reacts the same way.
During this academic year, five individuals close to me suffered through the death of a parent. As I attended the homegoing services for these awe-inspiring individuals, it became evident that each family handled the grieving process differently. In fact, there is no “normal” way to grieve. This process is unique to each one of us, and this is okay. Some may need months, some years and others only a few days. The length of time one grieves is not an indication of the depth of love or commitment to their loved one. Everyone processes these emotions differently and we should offer them the grace needed for the Spirit to do His perfect work in their lives.
Since taking on the role of interim director of the Gender Relations Center, I have enjoyed numerous conversations with students about many different types of relationships. Although there were some similarities, degrees of variance were ever present. In one of my past articles, I talked about the pressure and stress that Notre Dame women experience as they navigate their path to an impossible standard. Men on this campus feel the same stress and frustration around the issue of relationships. Last week a student (let’s call him Robert) sought me out to discuss several issues related to fitting in at Notre Dame. Robert struck me as mature, thoughtful and open to the critical examination of his personal development into manhood. He treated women with great respect because this is what he learned from his family, and he always thought it was the right thing to do.
His friendships with women were genuine, based on mutual interests and surrounded by great conversations. Robert seemed clear about who he was and comfortable with the “skin he was in.” There is a certain social movement of relationship building on campus that I will call the “Notre Dame Relationship Combine” (NDRC). The “NDRC” has certain expectations, and quickly called into question not only Robert’s perspective on dating, but also challenged his premise that women are more than objects for his physical and emotional pleasure. Some of Robert’s friends not only labeled him with various character flaws, but they also brought into question his sexual orientation. His experience of Notre Dame is that he is no longer free to be himself. The assault of the “NDRC” was so assertive that Robert began to think that there were very few (if any) men on campus who valued women and relationships the way he did. He felt alone.
Although a hard sell, I endeavored to inform him that there were many men like him on campus. These men, however, are part of the “Silent majority” (Jan. 29) that see the craziness, do their best to avoid the craziness, but refuse to call out the craziness for what it is – crazy. Until this happens, the “NDRC” will continue to be the most influential determinant of relationship quality on this campus and men like Robert will continue to view their path to manhood as lonely and uncertain.
So why is it important for the “NDRC” to denigrate those who are brave enough to place immediate gratification on hold, and to try to ignore the media’s attempt to portray women (and men) as objects only good for personal pleasure? My hunch is that it relates to an old adage you may have heard before – misery loves company. Although Robert’s friends gave him the impression that they had it all together, my experience tells me, that they lacked the maturity needed to pursue significant relationships based on mutual respect. They are having “fun,” but are unfulfilled, so they want Robert to join them in their pursuit of immediate gratification, regardless of collateral damage. This way, “we’re all in this together.”
It would be really nice if those ensconced in the “NDRC” would allow those who have taken a different path to do so without the belittling and derogatory comments. My hope has always been that our campus would be one where everyone desired authentic and mutually beneficial relationships, but I recognize that this may not be the case. This is particularly true, given the sundry attitudes with which students engage this transitional period of life. Some have bypassed the part of friendship that encourages others to be their best self, not just imitations of what everyone else claims to be. This is my message to the “NDRC” from those who are looking for relationships based on respect and the mystery of authentic human relating – please let me be me.

Dr. G. David Moss is the assistant vice president for Student Affairs and the
interim director for the Gender Relations Center. He can be contacted at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.