Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. Titus 2:3-5
I didn't even make it to the front door at the first formal I chaperoned as a sorority advisor before the texts started coming in about a girl who threw up and needed to leave the party. I racked my brain to remember the protocol for such situations and grabbed a member of the executive board and another advisor to ride with me while I took the girl and her date home. If you've ever seen the scene in Say Anything where John Cusack and Ione Skye drive around for hours while a really drunk guy tries to remember where he lives, this was a lot like that. Like, almost exactly like that. She rambled on and on about all kinds of stuff but couldn't remember her address; her date was a friend of a friend, so he had no idea. We drove up and down streets of the neighborhood everyone agreed was most likely where she lived until finally someone tracked down one of her roommates. The roommate texted the address and agreed to put her to bed and stay with her until morning. Once we got her date home safely (and thus completed our risk management protocol), the rest of us went back to the party to fulfill the remainder of our obligation for the evening.
I loved being a sorority advisor because it gave me an opportunity to work with young women at a pivotal moment in their lives. Holding them accountable for their choices seemed so unpleasant early on, but after awhile, I saw how one person's bad attitude or behavior infected a larger group of members and caused friction that undermined morale. I recognized how important it was to address those issues before they mushroomed, and I stopped shrinking from those conversations. In most cases, it turned out to be an opportunity for growth on both sides.
I saw true friendship in action, like the girls who came to us with their suspicions that one of their friends had an eating disorder. I saw courage from a girl who took responsibility for making some bad choices and allowed open discussion of the consequences to be a learning moment for everyone in the chapter. I feel certain my fellow advisors and I prevented at least one sexual assault by applying the safeguards our national organization taught us, and I know some of the relationships I built with those young women will last for the rest of my life. Walking with someone through a challenging situation--without judgment on their value as a person, only the behavior causing the problem--can create powerful bonds, especially when you're able to convince them you have their best interests at heart. Prodigal daughters can become amazing people.
When I read this verse from Titus, I had to laugh a little bit thinking of all those parties I spent sitting at a table in the back corner, nursing a Coke because I might have to drive someone home--I definitely did my best to model respectful behavior and not be a "slave to drink." That vantage point gave me a good view of the girls' love lives, especially since I chaperoned almost all of the events. I noticed the boys who dutifully dressed to the theme of the party, followed their girlfriends to the dance floor even if their signature dance moves looked like something from a Seinfeld episode, and genuinely seemed to be having a good time from one event to the next. I also noticed the boys who went to another room to drink with their buddies instead of paying attention to their dates; who said or did things that sent their girlfriends to dark corners to sob in the arms of their friends; who behaved aggressively with me and any other person who tried to check them; and who, in the most egregious examples of disrespect, called friends to come pick them up before the event was over rather than wait to board the bus back to campus.
I don't know how many times I sat with girls in wellness meetings following one of those fiascos and encouraged them to demand better treatment from their dates. If a friend set them up with boys who ended up embarrassing them, we called in the friend to ask her why she would choose someone like that for her sorority sister. Sometimes the answer was just a mismatch ("I thought she would think he was cute, I had no clue he would do something like that") while other times it had more selfish origins ("The guy I really like wanted someone he knew to be at the party, so I asked around until I found someone who didn't have a date"). We are all human and anyone can have a bad night--Lord knows I've had a few of my own--but in a troubling number of cases, the behavior stemmed from an indifference and contempt that made it much more insidious than just a bad mood or being overwhelmed in a situation. One question I used to ask the girls who found themselves crying in corners or in uncomfortable situations with a date behaving badly was, "Why didn't you ask for help? You were in a room surrounded by women who have a vested interest in your wellbeing. Any of us would step in and help in a heartbeat if you asked. I hope there isn't a next time, but if there is, let us help you. That's why we're here."
Women and women's issues have been in the headlines a lot this week, and that's great. God made us all sisters, and we all have a vested interest in each other. We have a responsibility to encourage and support one another in our educations and careers; our parenting; our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. I do my best to live that out in my relationships with other women, and I try to set a good example in my own choices and behavior. That's one of the reasons I'm candid about messy, broken stuff: if my experience can help someone else avoid the same mistake, we both get a little extra grace. Teaching what is good--even if I had to earn my teaching credentials the hard way--is a blessing in both directions.
As for our romantic relationships? We have an important role to play for each other there, too, but I'll be the first one to admit I don't have much to offer beyond a cautionary tale. The phrase "being submissive to their husbands" from the verse in Titus up there has been taunting me for the past week. The temptation to edit that sucker out with a convenient little ellipsis gnawed at me every time I opened this draft, which was no less than fifteen times since my last post. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the truth.
But the truth of submitting to my ex-husband is that it turned out to be a spectacularly bad idea that almost broke me. It was a mistake to give power over my life to a man who left me crying in dark corners at parties and chose his buddies over me way too many times to count. I recognized myself when I watched those sorority girls struggle to demand the respect they deserved; I wanted to pull back the veil from my life and show them how that dynamic plays out over 20 years and three children. While they still had the chance to choose their partners, I tried to point them towards the boys who dressed to the theme and danced like happy goofballs. Some of the girls corrected course and found good dates in the future; others ended up in the same scenario over and over again.
Now that I have a second chance to choose, you can bet I'm not going to be spending time with anyone who treats me with anything other than respect and kindness. And quite honestly, that starts with me. If I can't show myself respect and kindness, how can I expect anyone else to know how to treat me?
I think Lauryn Hill is right: respect is just a minimum. Remember that, girls. Love and respect yourselves and each other, and be kind. The rest falls into place from there.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.