A married couple offers students their wisdom


Two weeks ago, students gathered close in the lounge of the Coleman-Morse Center to hear husband and wife Josh and Stacey Noem present “What’s Right for this Relationship?” In this third and final session of the “SEXuality and Faith” series, sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Gender Relations Center, the Noems shared personal experiences to advise students about maintaining healthy relationships during college.

After a brief introduction from Father Pete McCormick, CSC, the Noems quickly put the audience at ease with the topic “right relationships” by recounting their own drastically different first impressions of the topic to show that there are no simple answers. The Noems began transforming the audience into participants. First, students were asked to draw three concentric circles of intimacy and populate them with the names of loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and anybody in between. The general consensus after the exercise was that it was relatively easy to list those people in our innermost circle, but more difficult to distinguish between friend and acquaintance.  In another interactive exercise, the Relationship Attachment Model, audience members privately evaluated one of their personal relationships to see if it followed healthy progression levels of “know-trust-rely-commit-touch.”

Josh turned the group towards a more explicit discussion of the hook-up culture, saying “It’s a falsehood. It’s an aberration. It’s an outlier from our normal experience.” As “ensouled bodied and bodied souls,” Josh argued, what we do affects who we are. In our everyday relationships, physical touch, such as hugging a friend, typically increases in proportion to how emotionally attached we are to a person. In pursuit of a “distorted notion of freedom,” however, the hook-up culture tells us we can do whatever we please with our bodies without consequences for our souls. The hook-up culture breaks the norms of healthy relationships, instead substituting alcohol and the cover of night. Josh concluded his segment on an optimistic note, pointing to the regret often felt after partaking in the hook-up culture as “an invitation” from ourselves to foster better relationships which respect to the link between our bodies and souls.

Stacey’s portion of the talk focused on justice’s mandate to keep ourselves in right relationships. Defining justice as “rendering each person their due with constant and perpetual will,” Stacey emphasized, “it is effortful to choose to give someone their due.” She explained how when practicing the virtue of justice, there can be no neutral interaction. To illustrate her point, she spoke of how when passing a stranger in an otherwise empty hallway, we make the positive choice to smile or the negative choice to avert our eyes or be embarrassed. No matter how much we wish it could be so, we cannot leave no impression. Stacey then led the group in a guided meditation examining our relationships before opening the floor to questions.

One student gave voice to a common conundrum facing today’s young adults: how to reconcile sexual abstinence before marriage and pressures to delay marriage until a more socially acceptable and economically stable time. In response, Josh first acknowledged his and Stacey’s unusual position in regards to that question. The Noems married each other the day after finals in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Josh continued with his belief that the new tendency to delay marriage into one’s thirties is “inherently misguided.” He explained that people want to have their lives perfectly planned, but if you have found someone you want to spend your life with there is no sense in putting off marriage. Josh did add, however, that people must have a good grasp of themselves, which can be gained during college, before being formed enough as persons to commit themselves entirely to a spouse.

Stacey agreed with Josh’s assessment, reminding the audience that the “What’s enough?” questions about readiness for marriage and children will persist throughout life, and that we cannot have certainty. On the practical dilemma of finding employment in the same city after graduation, Stacey said it becomes very clear when you are in love with someone that you may have to make sacrifices. She reiterated the tug of commitment to one’s partner over a career opportunity, suggesting that one’s mentality ought to be, “The job isn’t first, you’re first. We’ll figure the rest out.”

The Noems offered a great deal more practical advice over the course of the question and answer segment. For example, some committed couples worry that they spend too much time together during college and miss out on a period of life when they are supposed to try as many new friendships and experiences as possible. The Noems advised that couples should have some friends and ways to spend a Saturday night independently of each other, but they did not say it was necessary to invoke those independent routes for appearance’s sake. The couple emphasized the mutuality of a romantic relationship and how couples should help each other grow to be better people, which requires a great deal of time together.

After the talk, the Noems and most of the audience lingered for smaller informal discussions.  There was a great deal more energy in the room as a result of the Noems’ presentation, and the event was well received by the student audience. Sophomore Carlos Grosso reflected to the Rover, “It’s a good dialogue to have. It’s good for people to expose themselves to this talk because it seems to be a view that’s dying out in popular culture.”

Julia McKeon is a freshman studying theology and political science. She is a proud resident of Ryan Hall. Contact Julie at jmckeon1@nd.edu.