Speaker and author explains how striving for virtue can cut the drama out of relationships

“Repeat after me,” Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries, said. “I will not use you. I will not let you use me.” In a full auditorium at the 2017 Edith Stein Project Conference last weekend, Swafford discussed a major source of ambiguity in the current friendship and relationship scene: the cycle of use, both physical and emotional.

Swafford is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships. Shortly after graduating from college, she served as a residence hall director for an all-girls freshman dorm at her alma mater, Benedictine College. In her keynote address for the conference, she described different kinds of use and suggested ways to avoid them.

Presenting a “typical Friday night” for girls, Swafford described girls wearing sweats, surrounded by snacks, and geared up for one or more chick flicks. She noted that girls often not only watch these movies but internalize them and become the characters themselves. When the film finishes, however, the girls often are even more dissatisfied with life.These unrealistic love stories can perpetuate unhealthy habits, and girls unknowingly ride what Swafford calls “the emoticoaster.”

According to Swafford, the emoticoaster begins with mentally stalking a romantic interest, wondering how he is going to ask you out and later propose, and even trying out his last name to see if it would look good on your future Christmas card. Then, often girls move to social media stalking, flirting, texting, calling, and then physically stalking—meaning that they always need to be around him and do things they might not enjoy just because they know he will be there.

Girls, according to Swafford, need to change the way that they think, and this involves changing the questions they ask themselves. Instead of always wondering, “Who am I going to date and eventually marry, what are they going to do for me, and how good can I look doing it?”, she encouraged girls to think, “Who do I want to be, what am I living for, and who am I living for?”

Swafford noted that the best relationships stem from virtuous friendships. The journey to building the best version of yourself begins with a solid posse of friends (open to new members) and seeking to love and serve Christ, even through the challenges.

“We live in a world where people want things immediately. But it takes work, especially with love and building a friendship. I liked that she talked about her husband as a best friend,” said Rachel Becker, a sophomore and relative of Sarah Swafford, to the Rover.

From the guys, Swafford called for sincerity and clarity in defining the relationship, as well as awareness of the dangers of physical use. She explained that young men will frequently tell her how the ideal women they would date differs from the one they would marry. There is often a disconnect between desires of the present and aspirations for the future. She called men to be more than just “good guys” but rather men striving to be the best men that they can be.

Unfortunately, television and the media form the ‘World’s Idea of Perfect’ that no one could possibly live up to, yet everyone tries. And this ‘perfect man’ that they portray is not a virtuous man. He is a selfish, power-hungry, can’t make a mistake ever—trophy wife kind of man,” junior Patrick Koehr told the Rover. “What really makes a great guy is a man striving to be virtuous. The same goes for the women that we are pursuing. We can’t wait till we find a ‘perfect woman’ because she doesn’t exist. But what does exist is the perfect woman for you. The only way to find this woman, is not to continuously seek her out, but to strive to be the best man you can possibly be and build good healthy relationships. Then you can trust that she will come around when God intends her to.”

As Swafford articulated, virtue is the path from use to the freedom of authentic love. She laid out a concrete way to pursue virtue through a compiled a list of specific virtues for women and men to strive for. The “Simply Irresistible Virtuous Woman” is feminine, confident, and committed, and each category has a list of their respective virtues. The men too are similarly called to be masculine, confident, and committed, and to strive for the respective virtues in each category.

“There is no altar switch. Every decision you make right now takes you closer or further from the person you want to be on your wedding day,” Swafford said.

Swafford discussed the natural progression of a relationship: “acquaintances, true friends, defining the relationship, dating, courting, engagement, and marriage.” She also stressed that virtue and growing close to Christ are the ways to cut the drama and live in authentic love. Her book, Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships, gives even more details about the concepts outlined in her talk.

“My book is a letter from me to you. What I wish I could tell you in person. I don’t want you to feel alone. And remember, there is a crazy blonde chick in Kansas who is praying for you,” Swafford concluded.

For more information, visit Swafford’s website, emotionalvirtue.com, try the Virtue Challenge, or read her book.

Emily Hirshorn is a sophomore majoring in Arabic and Design and a proud Babe of Breen-Phillips Hall. She loves drinking Earl Grey tea, ordering just whipped cream from Starbucks, and serendipitous moments. Contact her at hirshorn.1@nd.edu.