Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Eve Reflections

Hello, my little Singles! Can you believe that this is our third New Year's Eve together? If you've been reading my stuff right from November or December 2006, it so is. (If you haven't, my book-to-be will bring you up to speed.) I don't know if it would cheer you or depress you to know how many of my best Single friends have gotten engaged, married, sworn in as nuns or ordained as priests since then. Hmm. Let's say, not all. For example, none of my male friends got married except, ah, Benedict Ambrose. Oh, and one of my brothers. But otherwise they're still bachelors (or priests), bachelors (or priests) as far as the eye can see.

So it's New Year's Eve, another dodgy holiday for Single people, especially Searching Singles without Special Someones. The blame for New Year's Eve celebrations can be placed squarely on the Scots, whose crazy Celtic love for their Hogmanay knows no bounds. Actually, in Edinburgh it does know a bound, for Princes Street (the principal avenue) will be closed to all but ticket-holders. I will not be able to tell you what orgies take place there because, like my mother before me, I have to stay at home with a not-so-enthusiastic-about-Hogmanay husband.

"Yah, whatever," I hear you cry. "At least you have a husband, you whiner."

Okay, maybe you're not crying that. I'm a bit paranoid on the point. After three years of writing for Singles, I feel a bit embarrassed about now being, er, you know. Do not go through life thinking nobody thinks about you because there are two entities thinking about you every day: 1. God 2. me, the Seraphic Singles lady.

But our topic is New Year's Eve and how to survive it relatively seraphically. First of all, it is not true that if somebody kisses you on New Year's Day, you'll get more kisses that year. I remember one New Year's Eve, the New Year's Eve I boarded in a convent owned by lovely nuns, grumping around because there was nobody to kiss me. I believe some of the nuns kissed me, but that didn't count. The next morning I went to Mass and afterwards I saw a Jesuit schoolmate who gave me a great big New Year's kiss (on the cheek, thanks for asking). I wasn't sure if that counted either, but all the same I felt better. ROFL, as my Inner Child would say. And I think that was it for the year except, perhaps, from other Jesuit schoolmates.

Second of all, there is no law you have to go out to a party and have fun. Thousands of people in the West aren't going to do that. Instead they're going to watch a film like When Harry Met Sally and then flip to a news channel at midnight. Then they're going to totter off to bed. That is what I'm going to do this year (married), and that's what I did last year (Single). And the year before (Single).

Third of all, keep in mind that there are different New Year's traditions all over the world, ones that have nothing to do with romance and/or kissing. If you want insight re: the German psyche, for example, rent Dinner for One. Dinner for One is an ancient British film featuring a dotty old aristocratic lady and her butler. The butler falls down a lot. And every New Year's Eve, the emergency wards of German hospitals fill up with drunken Germans who have imitated the pratfalls of Dinner for One at home. Dinner for One is a German national obsession. They all watch it. That's 80 million people all not caring about kissing at midnight because they'd rather watch Dotty Old Englishwoman and her Butler.

If you do go to a party, make sure you are actually having fun. Whatever you do, don't sit by the punch bowl feeling miserable about being Single. Go home to an emergency treat. And do some reflection. New Year's Eve is great for reflection. Reflect that you are Single because God has called you to be Single, even if that's just to be Single right now.

I can never say this enough: the number one reason why you are Single is because God said so. You can be fabulously beautiful, friendly, fun, rich, educated--in short, marvellous--but unless God says differently, you're going to be Single. Meanwhile, you can be plain, misanthropic, staid, poor, uneducated and yet married because God plunked you in front of the person He wanted you to marry and said, "Marry."

So tonight is not a time for self-blame. No, indeed. It is a time for saying, "Okay, whatever You want, Lord!" Mentally shove all the responsibility for your Single state onto Him before climbing into your warm and cozy bed.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Getting Yourself Welcomed

You may recognize (->-this piece) in the Catholic Register. It's been chopped down to around 850 words taken out of its original "how to survive parties" context, and given a new title by an editor.

"Welcoming the Stranger" is, of course, a corporal work of mercy. But different cultures have different ways of doing that. And the enthusiastic jumping bean who grabs you the minute you walk through the door (if such a bean exists) might not be the only interesting person to talk to. The Stranger very often has to get herself actively welcomed instead of relying on the Mother Teresa of the parish hall or party. Hopefully my article gets the tips across.

"This is So Me"

How do you know you've found your vocation?

Your head and heard sort of implode with the feeling of "This is so me!"

Here's (->a link) to the story of a Consecrated Virgin who had this experience in her mid-twenties.

Update: Here's the story of an American one.

Auntie Seraphic and Long Pause

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I like to talk as well. Fortunately, I've learned to step back and listen, and I've learned this well. I now find myself facing the opposite problem: when a lull falls over the conversation, I seem to be utterly incapable of enlivening the conversation or introducing something new. Might you perhaps address how to be a good conversationalist in such a case?

Long Pause

Dear Long Pause,

It all depends on the context.

If you are mingling at a party or after a lecture, the best way to handle the lull is to smile and say, "Well, marvellous to see you. I'm going to say hello to Such-and-such." If you can manage to introduce your interlocutor to a new conversationalist before you go, so much the better.

Sometimes a conversation has just come to its natural end. Tremendously long small talk is not appropriate for such gatherings anyway. If you have found a conversational soulmate, and you both fall deep into an intellectual discussion about Nietzche or Personalism, you're unusually lucky.

If you are on a dinner or coffee date, or visiting an elderly person in a home, you can't do that, of course. What you might do beforehand is memorize a list of top 5 questions for your interlocutor, should you need a new topic. These should be open questions, of course. Such questions might include: What do you like about this town (this parish, your job, your studies)? What do you think of the local paper (the local government, the recent plane bombing)? What was the weather (the town) like when you were a child? What was the maddest date you were even on? What was your senior prom like?

In general, people like talking about themselves, so a "you"-directed question is usually a good gambit.

At a dinner party, you take turns talking to the person on your left and the person on your right. I was at a party for Christmas dinner, and I remember asking the chap on my left how his political campaign was going, and saying to the lady on my right that I always get worked up about Historical House conservation. (She does too.) I later mentioned to the lady on my right that I was in love with her shoes, which was true, and so we had a nice chat about how and where she found her shoes.

If you discover yourself utterly ignored by one or both of your neighbours, take comfort in the fact that this has happened to people for centuries. Catch the eye of someone in a similar situation and exchange wry smiles.

If you are sitting with an old friend, you don't have to talk at all. For almost twenty years my BFF has fallen into abstracted silences, and so I still quietly until something comes into my head. With old friends, you just don't have to say anything. You just have to BE with them, and I enjoy that. Companionable silence is highly underrated.

Etiquette books of yore encourage women to read the newspapers and the latest IT-books (e.g. the latest Booker Prize winner), so as always to have a ready store of conversational topics to draw upon. And I suppose it doesn't hurt us to remember that women-in-general talk more about people than things and that men-in-general talk more about things than people, so whereas Mrs. X may respond to an conversational gambit about Brangelina, Mr. X is almost guaranteed to think it all nonsense.

I haven't discussed celebrities for some time, but Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (pictured above) was on the radio last night and she was quite enthusiastic about Elvis, so you never know. Potentional Question for Duchesses: Do you consider yourself a music fan?

Hope this is helpful!

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Auntie Seraphic & Birthday Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be 29. I am feeling very depressed about approaching 30. I would not mind being 30 at all if I was married with children. Recently a 6 year old told me I was older than her mum.

I will be attending the wedding of a friend who is 24. Another girl I know is getting married this spring to her boyfriend of 5 years. She is 22.

Please pray for me, Auntie Seraphic. It is so terribly hard to be single right now. Also, any tips on how to get through the wedding(s)?

Birthday Girl

Dear Birthday Girl,

How I wish I were 29, with skin as clear and luminous as that of a South Sea pearl. Alas! But I feel your pain because I have often thought that I would be depressed on my 40th birthday if I had no husband or children. I now have the husband, but no children, and next year I turn 39, so eek!

Now, my poppet, I was 37 when I met B.A. Thirty-seven. And I got married at 38. Thirty-eight. And on my wedding day, I was not thinking, "Boo hoo, I am old." When I wasn't thinking "oh my God--it's not just raining, it's HAILING and if my dress gets wet/dirty I will DIE," I was thinking "Yay! Yay! Yippee!" It was a day worth waiting for.

You should also know that I went through a "form of marriage" at 25 and then suffered a yucky divorce, a yucky annulment and years of therapy that cost mucho dineros. It is better to be Single, 29 and hoping than Married, 26 and in despair. Trust that God knows better than you do what is good for you. It could be marriage to Mr. Perfect when you are 50, for all you know right now.

Ignore the six year old. Believe it or not, having children in one's early twenties is not an unalloyed delight. A conscientious Young Mum gives up career opportunities, travel, wild nights out with the girls, sleeping in--you name it. Of course, there are Young Mums who keep on partying like they have no children. They feature largely in the British newspapers, especially when their babies end up dead.

I can't remember if I had a boyfriend on my 29th birthday. But I definitely did not have a boyfriend on my 30th birthday. And what I did for my 30th birthday was this: I called up a ton of friends and reserved a big table at the BEST Chinese restaurant in town. After our magnificent feast, we all went back to my tiny apartment and ate cake and drank champagne and took photographs. I put the photographs in an album along with my birthday cards, and treasure them all to this day. My birthday ROCKED. And my brother was so inspired by my rocking 30th birthday party, that he did something similar to prevent his own I'm-30-and-not-married depression.

Culturally-scary birthdays like 25, 30, 35 and 40 are the birthdays in which a woman splashes out and makes sure that she, at very least, treats herself like a princess. If 29 is a scary birthday, then I suggest you spend today making sure that tomorrow totally rocks. Here is a possible banner: "First Time Twenty-Nine". Book an impractical and enjoyable appointment at a beauty salon. Book a table at a restaurant. Line up a club or a film to go to afterwards.

Now weddings. Wedding suck when you are Single, this is true. You know there is no law saying you have to go to them, right? But if you have to for the sake of family harmony or friendship, there are things you can do to survive and even have fun:

1. You sit with friends (this includes well-beloved family members). No friends there? Don't go. Send a gift instead.

2. You look like a MILLION dollars. Hairdresser. Cute dress. Lipgloss.

3. You remember that this is your friend's big day; it is not about you. Be a considerate guest. If you have to fake happy, fake happy!

4. You begin conversations with strangers at the reception according to the rules I laid out. You are going to look like a million dollars, so whoever it is will want to talk to you.

5. Do not get tipsy unless you are having a GREAT time. Alcohol is a depressant, after all.

6. You leave the reception as soon as you politely can, going with a friend or in your car (or if tipsy in a cab) because busses are so depressing.

7. You have a big treat waiting for you at home, like a DVD of a comedy you really want to see.

Now I hope all this is helpful. Birthdays are for celebrating.

Grace and peace,

P.S. You might notice that I mention my age all the time in my blogs. It is my rebellion against the stupid (but, in the West, age old) cultural prejudice that being over 30, as a woman, is a mortal sin. And I want to rub it in well to all that it is okay not to be married before 35. It is okay.

Monday, 28 December 2009

A Very Controversial Post about Talking

As you might be able to guess from my tremendous blogging output, I talk a lot. I also talk quickly. Observations and opinions zoom through my head and, with a quick adjustment for the mot propre, out through my mouth.

One of my great joys in life is meeting up with female friends for a solid afternoon of chat. In my mind's eye I see myself in The Rosedale Diner with three of my closest friends and we are talking nineteen to the dozen. Oh, sigh. Such remembered bliss. At the time I was sketching out (->this) article; I had notes on a piece of paper and we all discussed them. It was heaven.

There is some (->debate) amongst scientists as to whether women talk more than men do. One study said that women speak an average 20,000 words a day whereas men speak only an average 7,000. However, other scientists thought this was ridiculous, for their findings were that women average 16,215 and men 15,669. But they did confirm that women tend to talk more about people and men more about things, so that stereotype turned out to be true.

The study also showed that, of course, some people talk more than others. The most taciturn man spoke only 500 words a day, and the most verbose man spoke 47,000. Maybe he was a university lecturer with a crushing schedule, or an auctioneer. Maybe he was a blogger whose computer had been taken away.

I cannot be certain, but when in good health and out in company, I might be one of the world's big talkers. I remember telling a kindly university admin I was working for that I had a date that night and she said, in a pleading kind of voice, "Let him talk!"

Well, that brought me up short. I knew my mother thought I talked too much and too quickly, but I hadn't yet got this opinion from anyone else. I forget if I remembered to let "him" talk on the date--probably. I don't like going anywhere with non-talkers, male or female: it is embarrassing having to do all the talking myself.

Now here is the super-controversial part: when I first arrived in Scotland to meet British blog friends, I was absolutely exhausted. I was much too tired to talk. After all, I had had a seven hour flight to Gatwick and then a two hour bus ride to Victoria station, and then a ten hour bus ride to Edinburgh. When I arrived at St. Andrew's Square bus terminal, it was all I could do to articulate to my funny host in the eye-popping tweed jacket, "I would like a meat pie and a glass of ale."

Off we went to a pub for this meat pie and glass of ale. B.A. (for of course it was B.A.) burbled hospitably about mutual friends, and I concentrated on my meat pie and ale, saying only "gracious!" and "how nice!" And when we took a cab to the Historical House, out of which B.A. makes his living, I was rendered speechless.

For about ten days or so, I said comparatively little. First I was too tired. Then I was too culture shocked: I mostly just gazed and listened, which is what I do around new people and in new places. Finally, I caught a really bad cold. It was while I had this cold, and was sitting up straight, listening intently to someone's anecdote about Maurice Bowra, that B.A. fell in love with me. And at the end of these quiet ten days, B.A. proposed marriage.

Shortly thereafter I went to Germany. I wasn't tired, I wasn't in a new place, and I was over my cold. Furthermore, I was in love. And my poor German friends had to hear about it. I talked and talked and talked and talked until poor Volker, with whom I was staying, begged me to call a female friend over his Skype.

I only once telephoned B.A. from Canada during our engagement. This was not because of The Rules but because it was my parents' phone, and they would have slaughtered me had I called up the U.K. more than once. So B.A. did all the telephoning and therefore initiated all conversations. And it was usually I who ended them, sometimes with a hurried, "I'm sorry. It's dinner. I have to go. Bye!"

Reader, I married him. And then, freed from exhaustion, culture shock, and reliance on the telephone, I began to talk as much as I normally do, which apparently was a shock for B.A., who, after all, is used to a quiet bachelor existence. However, it was too late. He is stuck with me. Ah ha ha ha ha ha!

But being a kindly wife, I now try to keep a lid on my natural tendency to let all my thoughts flow from my teeming brain into the outside world by mouth. Marriage entails sacrifice, after all. And meanwhile I have my writing, which is merely talking by other means.

I am sure there are controversial conclusions to be made from this story, but if I make them, Alisha is sure to dance on my head, metaphorically speaking. So I will only hint that

1. in conversations with attractive people one ought to LISTEN quite as much as one TALKS

2. men are more stimulated by visual stuff then by conversation, but women are the opposite, so clever men ask women questions about themselves and try to remember the answers while clever women make the most of their visual appearance

3. despite apparently talking as much as women do, men-in-general do not enjoy talking about love, attraction, and wedding dresses quite as much, if at all.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Badness of Bitterness

If I am asked who the Single's worst enemy is--overbearing mothers, Bridezilla, PUAs*---I will say, without a second of hesitation, "Bitterness."

Bitterness is a killer. People talk about the stench of desperation coming off some Single people at social events, but it is nothing compared to bitterness. Whereas desperation merely frightens others away, bitterness gets into a person's heart and warps it. It can turn you into Gollum.

Since most women love the Anne books, one common female example of bitterness is Katherine Brooke, a senior teacher at the school in Summerside of which Anne is principal (Anne of Windy Poplars). Katherine is an effective teacher, but people look down on her because she is frumpy. She lives in a dingy boardinghouse. She is nasty to Anne, even though Anne is, after all, her supervisor. She loathes Anne's air of perpetual happiness, and thinks Anne is flaunting her pearl engagement ring. Bitter, bitter, bitter.

Well, Anne (being Anne) invites the nasty (but, to Anne, intriguing) Katherine to Green Gables for Christmas and even gives her a becoming red velvet HAT which improves her appearance no end. And then the truth comes out: Katherine's parents hated each other; when they died she was made beholden to her uncle; she dresses and lives dingily because she is paying him back every cent he had spent on her education. She hates teaching; she'd rather travel. We discover that Katherine is a sympathetic character after all.

But Anne is not only a secular saint, she's a fictional character. Any real life Katherine would be supernaturally lucky to be invited back to the charming boss's country farmhouse for Christmas after making the boss's life a pain for months.

A real-life example of male bitterness appears occasionally in the advice (agony) columns. This is basically what the Bitter Male Single writes:

Dear Abby (Ann or Ellie),

I am a nice guy. I always treat women well, but I'm starting to think I shouldn't. Women only like bastards who treat them badly. I'm starting to think that I should start treating women badly, too, since that is what works. The problem is, though, that I don't have the kind of things that women are impressed by. For example, as an environmentalist, I think personal car ownership is wrong. But when a woman discovers I don't have a car at all, she immediately rejects me....Etc. Etc. Etc.

The most extreme example of Bitter Male Single was the Health Club Shooter, a man I dubbed Psychopathic Single. After twenty years of no girlfriend, Psychopathic Single went to his health club and shot 12 women, killing three. But P.S.'s testimony about his lack of success with women was inconsistent. Women actually did talk to him; one woman seems to have shown a friendly interest. But by then P.S. was so absorbed by his bitter thirst for revenge, that he blocked her out. By then he just wanted to kill women.

Bitterness is a constant temptation for Singles; when I was Single, I fought it back every time I went to a bridal shower, a wedding, a baby shower or a christening. (One christening almost wiped me out; I wanted to die.) But practise made perfect. I got good at remaining cheery and gracious at such times, inside and out. (Showers and weddings are not about us but about them, and sour faces do much to ruin people's special days.)

Seeing ultrasound pictures of unborn babies in my email inbox was another story, though. And, even now, because still childless, I curse and wallow in hate when some acquaintance (not family) includes me in a mass mailing of their latest baby's ultrasound. "Yes, I very glad you're happy," I mutter. "Now f--- off." But as tempting as it may be, I do not write this in reply. Instead I bin the photos and erase the episode from my mind. It is not nice to sneer at the happy; they don't like it. It feels like a slap. And it is not an effective means to one's own happiness.

Bitterness is incredibly self-defeating. Only bitter people really enjoy hanging with bitter people, and that for the same reason alcoholics love drinking with other alcoholics: tacit permission to indulge in the beloved destructive behaviour ("My pre-ciousssssssssss!!).

Bitter remarks are sometimes refered to as "being hilarious." I used to be hilarious at my spiritual director, back around 2003, and informed him that there were no good Single men. He thought about that and said, "Well, X was Single once."

That stopped me in my bitter snail tracks because X--let me tell you about X--X was a stellar, cheerful, great-hearted, enthusiastic grad student up from the American South. He was brimming over with the love of God. Both he and his wife lit up rooms. So I grudgingly had to admit if X existed, similar men might exist and some of them might be Single.

That was one of the great moments that turned me from the road of bitterness to the path of seraphic singleness. An earlier one--and I am not making this up--came from watching a Victoria's Secret lingerie show with a boyfriend. I am sure I tell this story in The Book, but here it is again because I am convinced it is a total revelation about the Male Psyche in General.

Okay, so we were watching this ridiculous fashion show, and the girls were striding down the runway in their undies, wings flapping, and the boyfriend said, "There's Heidi Klum. I like Heidi Klum. She's smiling."

And, behold, there was Heidi Klum, and unlike the other models, who were all pouting and sneering, Heidi was grinning. She grinned at the camera and sashayed off.

But then she was back. Stride, stride, stride, grin.

"There's Heidi Klum," said the boyfriend again. "I like Heidi Klum. She's smiling."

He sounded like a robot-zombie. He was transfixed by the power of Heidi Klum. But, you know, Heidi was just one of a dozen equally beautiful women. What Heidi had that set her apart was her big, white, smile.

Healthy men love happy women. Repeat this every morning when you brush your teeth. Healthy men love happy women. And men, women love happy men.

If you're not happy, and you're a Searching Single, fake happiness. Fake it! Fake it until you've tricked your little reptile brain into thinking it really is happy. Because bitterness is your biggest, baddest enemy, believe me.

*PUAs=Pick-Up Artists aka horny men too cheap to spring for prostitutes, so rely on dirty psychological tricks to seduce any woman they can get their hands on for free.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Fantastic Florentines

One of my favourite cities is Florence. Its proper name is Firenze, and for various family reasons, I spent my youth dying to go there. When I grew up and got a proper job, I saved up enough money to go to Italy and went. I had studied Italian in high school, when my brain was still pliable, and I had a good review for a year before I went on vacation. I used my knowledge in the Florentine pastry shop I bounced into as soon as I saw it. I was on a mission for a certain kind of cooky, and there it was:

"Two florentines, please," I said, in good Ontario Florentine Italian. Florentine is the R.P. of Italian, so that is what you learn in school.

"Va bene," said the lady behind the counter.

"My mother makes these at Christmastime," I said.

"Oh," said the lady. "Is she from here?"

No, in fact, but her florentines are the best in the world, and I should know because wherever I go, I try the local version. In most places (like Edinburgh) they are mostly candy and not enough cooky. This version, I think, has the right cooky-candy balance. They keep for weeks, so you can either limit yourself to one a day or share with neighbours, whichever you like.

Aged P's Fantastic Florentines

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup coarsely chopped candied cherries
3/4 cup candied peel
1/2 slivered almonds
112 g chocolate (Aged P uses semi-sweet, but I use fine dark Belgian, 'cause I can.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

2. Combine butter, sugars and honey over low heat in an ordinary (not non-stick) saucepan. When butter is melted, take pan off the heat and set aside.

3. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the ground almonds and flour.

4. Gradually stir the almond-flour mixture into the saucepan.

5. Gradually throw in the candied cherries, candied peel and almonds. Mix well.

6. Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on two non-stick cooky sheets, a dozen per sheet. Press each spoonful down with the back of a spoon so the cookies will have the right amount of crisp.

7. Bake cookies for 12 minutes, switching the trays from one rack to the other, and turning the trays around for even baking. When done, the edges will be golden brown and the middles will still be soft.

8. Cool cookies on their sheets for five minutes or so, and then put them on a rack.

9. While cookies are cooling, melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Then turn over all the cookies and paint their bottoms with chocolate. I use a spoon to do this. Aged P is enormously skillful and uses a knife to create zig-zag patterns. As yet I haven't mastered this awesome skill.

10. Let the chocolate harden before putting cookies in a tin.

If you eat too many all at once, you will get a tummy-ache. They are very expensive to buy in shops (1 quid 50 here), so if you bring them to parties, hostesses will think you are marvellous, which you are. The candied fruit screams "Christmas!" (or, perhaps, "Natale!"), and I eat them only in December, unless on a foreign-florentine tasting mission.

On Christmas Season Shopping, Purgatory, Etc.

O my little Singles, are you out Boxing Day shopping today? I am not, for my cold is fierce. Also, I am a bit of a wimp where shopping is concerned and am afraid of great crowds of shoppers who are frothing at the mouth with shopping-lust.

Last Christmastide, when we were only recently "officially" engaged, Benedict Ambrose groaned and moaned over long distance telephone about not being able to do couples-at-Christmas stuff. He would see couples hand-in-hand looking in shop windows, and drinking cider at the German Market on Edinburgh's Princes Street (under Edinburgh Castle, so very romantic), et cetera, and it made him feel lonely and cross.

Well, let me tell you something. Did we go hand-in-hand looking in shop windows this year? Did we drink cider at the German market? No, we did not. Which is okay. I mean, the first half of December was sort of rainy, and this half of December is mighty cold. I was not in the mood for hand-in-hand window shopping and outdoor cider drinking. These things, I suspect, seem more pleasant from the Singles side of the fence than they are in reality.

But I am not going to lie and pretend there are not some serious advantages to married life at Christmas. The most obvious one is Christmas cocktail parties. When you go into a Christmas cocktail party full of strangers, you profit from back-up. My husband is now my cocktail party back-up.

Of course, Singles can arrange their own back-up beforehand by making arrangements with a Single buddy who has also been invited to the party. The back-up's job, of course, is to talk to you when you are unsuccessful at finding someone else pleasant to talk to, and to leave when you do.

I have to say, I don't think I was ever so Seraphic a Single as to relish the journey home from parties alone. I remember coming home from a Christmas party in darkest Scarborough, Ontario, which might as well be, to a north-and-central-part-of-Toronto person, outer Mongolia. Anyway, I remember being in a bus station, waiting for the 1 AM bus home, all by my little self, having left zillions of couples of both the sacramental and the sinning varieties, and I felt wretched. The minutes ticked on supernaturally slowly and the station was very cold. I had a horrible sneaking suspicious that this was exactly what Purgatory would be like. I would die in a hospital or in a terrible car crash and wake up alone in Sheppard Avenue bus station at perpetually 12:40 AM in December. Nooooo!

Tolkien has a much nicer Purgatory in his story Tree and Leaf. It is a sort of hospital. Me, I am hoping Purgatory is a spa. Maybe like the Floatarium, in which the salt-water floating is better the fewer abrasions you have on your skin. Anyway, being a Searching Single sometimes feels like being in Purgatory, doesn't it? You hope to get out of it, and you don't know when that will be, and it's all up to the Lord anyway, so there's not a lot you can do. However, being a Searching Single isn't really Purgatory, and if you are feeling gloomily purgatorial the best thing to do is get outside and meet up with friends, maybe even for shopping.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, Dear Singles!

Nobody is completely alone at Christmas.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Single at Christmas

"Oh yeah?" I hear you shout. "What do you know? Look at you in your Historical House, with your little Christmas tree from the garden centre on the other side of the woods, and your Mr. and Mrs. McAmbrose Christmas cards, and your Men's Schola Midnight Mass and what have you!"

Okay, okay. I myself am not Single at Christmas this year. But I have years and years of husband-free and even boyfriend-free Christmasses under my belt, so I have learned a thing or two about being Single at Christmas.

The first thing is the truth of the old adage, "Christmas is for children." The local children are a lot more noticeable than usual, in part because they have begun to sing on the bus.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle aw the way," sang a little girl yesterday, unmusically and unchecked. Normally noisy children on the bus are thwarted with short, sharp, parental screams. But now it is Christmas and parents are making allowances. The children are beginning to shimmer and shake like perambulating UFOs.

When you agree that Christmas is for children and not, like Virginia, for lovers, you relax at bit. You detach. There is no call for Christmas to be non-stop jollity for adult you. And you are spared having to buy the Lover's Present. Buying the Lover's Present is hell. One agonizes: Is it the PERFECT THING? Does he have it already? Will he be disappointed? EEEEK! ARRRGGGGH!

If you are Single with children, nephews, nieces or grandchildren, you have the enjoyment of seeing your beloved children happy and excited. Their joy might be contagious; I am not sure. (One of my nephews is too young; the other was so wound up by Christmas morning last year that... hmmm...) My mother, who is a mother of five, gets a great amount of satisfaction from decorating the house and baking dozens and dozens of cookies, a Christmas cake, mince tarts, and Chelsea bun.

If you get along with your parents, you can collar some childish Christmas privilege yourself. Many (if not most) parents never get over the fact that hulking you use to be a teeny little cherub that said "Me wuvs mama." So let your Inner Child take over and bounce around your parents shouting "One more sleep!" and "Me wuvs mummy and daddy!" Well, maybe only women can get away with that. Men can channel their Inner Child by eating more than their fair share of Christmas baking. Surely no maternal heart is going to be affronted by a male child, especially if tall and handsome, protesting, "But it's sooooo gooood!"

In short, if you can get away with it, regress. Now we are six--again. One more sleep!

After being for children, Christmas is for loved ones. Normally I would say "for family" but I'm trying to be inclusive here. I recognize that not everybody gets along with their family. And some people (like me) just can't get home for Christmas and cry during TV commercials showing people doing just that. So instead of getting sentimental about birth family, I recommend that you spend Christmas with your real family, the people who act the way family are supposed to act: supportive, happy, jokey, stimulating, loving. Sometimes they're related to you; sometimes they're not. If you dread going home for Christmas because it always leads to drunken fights, broken crockery and you crying, don't go home. I'm serious. Jesus came to liberate us from sin, not chain us to other people's.

One of my friends is thinking of having an "Odd Socks" party for people who have nowhere else to go for Christmas. I think that's marvellous. B.A. went to one last year, when I was home in Canada, and he loved it. It was great fun.

The important thing, I think, is to make sure you aren't lonely at Christmas. There are two kinds of loneliness: loneliness by yourself and loneliness in a crowd. Avoid both by seeking out those who love you best. And instead of going to the Perfect Christmas Mass alone, like I usually did, see if you can meet up with liturgically likeminded friends.

Meanwhile, here is-> my article in the Catholic Register about being Single at Christmas. Here's one about-> Christmas presents, of which I am in great favour. I am delighted to report that presents have been trickling into the Historical House, mostly by way of Amazon.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, especially my little Singles!

The above is my favourite "spinster aunt" photo of all time. How surprised I would have been if some Christmas angel had arrived to announce that I'd be married relatively soon and living in Scotland.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

How Not to Be One of the Boys 1

One of the great things about being a woman is that I can make gross generalities about women without getting into too much trouble. I get into a little more trouble when I make gross generalities about men, but happily there is always some kind male reader who writes "So true! LOL!"

Okay, so today I am going to be swimming in the ocean of hypothoses and gross generalizations, because I don't know where I read this opinion, which I saw written somewhere, and which I share because of life experience. And it is this: "Outside of school and work, don't compete with men."

Will there be screams of horror when I hit the "Publish Post" button? I hope not. But I fear there will be because we in the West live in societies that tell us to WIN! Win at all costs! Did you see the film Girlfight? I did. I watch all young-women-who-want-to-box films. And the heroine beats her boxing boyfriend in a match. He was mighty upset, which is believable, but he got over it, which kind of isn't.

Okay, I just stared at that line for five minutes because I'm struggling between memories of the Ring and memories of boys being ticked off because I beat them at stuff. I mean, I actually know a girl (see photo) whose boyfriend introduced her to our boxing club. He won the Golden Gloves (Michigan). But she won the WIBC Lightweight World Championship three times, lives in Las Vegas, is best friends with Laila Ali. I am not making this up. And I wonder if she and he are still together. Hmm.

Well, frankly, being a three-time WIBC Champ counts as work. If you're a world class female athlete, you're just going to be better than most men at your sport. And YAY you! That rocks. Being really good at stuff rocks. And, of course, you don't usually compete with men at your sport.

But let's leave that aside. Let us leave Las Vegas and ponder the men in our lives. I am pondering the boys of my elementary school, over whom I exulted because I was better than them at school stuff. Not surprising, they hated me. But I firmly and self-defeatingly held by the 1970s schoolyard taunt, "Anything boys can do girls can do better."

This statement is not actually true, except for stuff like reading and writing, delicate hand movements, high altitude flying and having babies. And girls do tend to perform better than boys do at school until the senior years of high school, when the boys catch up. But it was not nice to rub the boys' noses in it.

I carried on my "Anything boys can do girls can do better" schtick in high school, even though there weren't many boys around, because I thought it was saucy and flirtatious. Ah ha ha ha. It so didn't come across that way. And I thought it was perfectly appropriate to speak to my crush objects with hauteur when they did something I perceived of as wrong, and to mock them with gentle raillery. I now read my high school diaries and cringe. I want to get in there and sort me out.

I did rather better as an adult, for I had learned enough about young men to know that their egos are quite easily squished by female competition, sneers and mockery. And it sunk into my head that my mother's attitude toward my father was that he was a marvellous chap and the best of men. "Oh children," she says. "Look how clever your father is! He has done [whatever righteous deed]!" My own husband has profited from this because, without even thinking about it, I just parrot my mother: "Oh, B.A.! How clever! How brilliant! And thank you for taking out the garbage, you marvellous man."

This post is longer than I meant it to be. Sigh. To cut to the chase, when you are at school and at work, girls, show no mercy. Get in and win (in a classy way; try not to brag. Smile grimly and carry on. You are your greatest competition, etc). But in your private lives, don't insist on winning all the time. Don't brag about your salary and compare it to male friends' salaries. Don't brag about your snazzy college degree and compare it to male friends' more proletarian degrees. Don't brag about your long list of publications to that cute, struggling writer. Don't get the lid off the pickle jar a male friend has been straining at for ten minutes. Don't do a victory dance when you beat a man at tennis.

Men, says the woman whose book I read but can't remember the title of, have to compete all day at work. The last thing they want to do when they go home or go out with a woman is compete some more. They want soothing. They want to relax. They want to have fun. Sure, there are some men who love sparky arguments with their love objects. These men are few and live mostly in detective novels and on TV.

A note about your fantastic worldly success:

In general, men marry women who make less money than they do. This is, in part, because women seek men who make more money than they do. And if you are a woman at the top of the earning heap, this creates a very, very small pool of men, men who have no problem marrying women who earn much, much less than they. So bragging about your salary and Harvard degree may get you everywhere with recruiters but NOWHERE with eligible men.

The skills we use to get ahead in school are not the same skills we need to attract men. This is sad and annoying, but it is so. I know of a brain surgeon who talks to her artist husband in baby talk. It makes her sister sick, but the marriage is a very happy one. What are we to make of that?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Joy of Single Beds

I am running away to the National Library to read one of my MSS, so today's post will be short. And it is a paeon to the Single Bed, which is not terrifically original, as there is one in my book, as you will see.

When you are Single it is very, very important to have a nice, comfortable bed. Since you don't get to share it with anyone, it can get a bit lonely unless you make it just perfect for your own sleeping needs. When as a Single woman I had a bed that was too big, too cold and too clammy, it made the loneliness seem all the more acute.

Therefore, the bed I loved best was a single bed, meaning a nice narrow bed with a semi-firm mattress. Single beds are no-nonsense. They are made for Single people. They don't expect you to have a bedmate. They expect you to snuggle in, switch on a lamp, and have a cozy read before saying your prayers and drifting off into chaste slumber. Their mattresses say, "Never mind futons. They're for crazy college kids. You're beyond all that now."

My ideal single bed has clean, lavender-smelling sheets, wool blankets and a comfy comforter. I write in my book about the potential horrors of having to give up sheets and blankets for a European spouse's duvet. It's all true. I'm condemned to duvets for the duration of my marriage, except when home in Canada where my mother doesn't put up with such nonsense.

If a single bed isn't warm enough on its own, I absolutely require either a hot water bottle or woolly socks. The problem with hot water bottles is that after awhile, the joins weaken and they begin to leak. So I recommend buying only the finest quality water bottle. If your feet are cold, you begin to think about other people's legs and how nice it would be to warm your feet on them. And this leads to either impure thoughts, gnawing the blankets in frustration, or both. In the absence of a hot water bottle, bed socks are an aid to chastity

My ideal single bed also features pillows both firm and squish and perhaps a totemistic stuffed animal. The most important stuffed animal of my Single life was a brown teddy bear named Edward Sebastian, christened after the two most influential crush objects of my childhood: H.R.H. The Prince Edward and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. There was also a giant blue whale until he sagged and leaked beans. Dear me, how I loved that whale. Anyway, although I enjoyed having a whole regiment of woolly toys on my bed when I was a child, as a teenager I got tired of them hogging all the room.

The ideal single bed also has a lamp and a bookshelf within easy reach. The bookshelf should have room for a tissue box, for there are few ordinary evening things worse than having to get out of bed to blow one's nose.

Then there should be a crucifix or holy picture over the bed. This is in case one dies in the night. If one is found, one wants to be found picturesquely under a crucifix or holy picture, hands folded peacefully on one's bosom. I imagine there are other reasons for wanting to sleep under a crucifix or holy picture. Possibly it is because when we are asleep we are vulnerable, and we hope the crucifix or holy picture will scare away evil influences. And then there is the symbolism (and therefore psychology) of prostrating oneself at the foot of the cross for at least 8 hours a night.

Now, what does your ideal Single person bed look like? What do you need to get a good night's refreshing sleep?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Going Out is Dating

I had a conversation with a Single friend yesterday that went something like this:

"I'm just not ready to date again."

"I totally understand that."

"But I have been having a great time going out with my dance partner."

"Uh huh."

"And I did go to a film with the charming optometrist."

"I think you're dating."


"Going out with men is dating. One man + one woman + outing = dating."

"Oh no," said my friend. She was sad. "But I'm just having fun. I don't want it to be serious."

"It doesn't have to be serious," I said. "But it's definitely dating. I hope you don't think you're going out with single men as friends. Searching Single men and Searching Single women can't be friends."

"That makes me feel sad," said my friend.

This was all over instant message, if you are wondering why we sound so stilted.

"Okay," I said. "I make an exception for priests, monks, gay men, way-too-young men and way-too-old men, and also the husbands of your friends, to a certain extent. With all other friendship-worthy men, there is a likelihood of vroom-vroom sexual attraction getting in the way. And although it can complicate things, this is good for the species."

One of the thing that bothers me about modern life is that young women hang out with lovely, kindly men who love them, but say "Oh, but we're just friends, it's nothing serious" but then date immoral scumbags and say, "It's serious." I mean, it's the other way around. Good man = serious; scumbag = not serious.

It took me over 30 years to get to the headspace where I found goodness sexually attractive. Unfortunately I was surrounded by male religious at the time. But, in general, the sooner a woman gets to good = sexy, the better.

"Is this optometrist divorced?" I asked.

"I don't know. He could even be married."


"Would it be flirtatious if I asked him?"

"No, it would be normal."

Another modern problem is that we pretend some bedrock things are social constructs and then elevate social constructs to bedrock things. Dating is a social construct. Men and women finding each other sexy is bedrock. New immigrants to the USA, the UK, and Canada are right to suspect our concept of "dating" and think it just an excuse for men to spend unsupervised time with women they find attractive. Camille Paglia is very funny about it in Vamps and Tramps.

I am anticipating outcries from women who have great male buddies and wonder if I don't have close male buddies of my own. And I have to say, sure I do, and every last one of them is a hottie. I have had a small or large crush of short or long duration on each and every one of them. They are stars. But I'm married, and just like a priest with female buddies, I keep them at a friendly distance.

When people read the crankier parts of my book, they will assume I don't like men, but the opposite is true. I love men. The older I get, the more I love them, which will become embarrassing when I am eighty and deaf. ("Tricia, who is that immensely TOOTHSOME young man?")

But I mostly like them to look at or flirt with, which proves that I am not a man's woman. I would never, ever say "Frankly, I prefer the company of men." Too much company of men, unless my husband or brothers, can be a snore. I need my Girl Time. Oh dear, this has become about me again.

Anyway, unless it is true what they say about chemicals in the plastic baby bottles, human nature is still the same, and when a man of ordinary sexuality wants to go somewhere fun (and I mean fun, not an excuse to cry on her shoulder) with a woman by themselves, it is not because he likes her as a friend but because he thinks she's hot. And why not? It's flattering. You don't have to do with, or feel about, him anything you don't want to do with, or feel about, him, ever. If you want to go to the film, go. If you don't want to kiss him, don't.

My unsolicited advice for the day is to call men by their correct names:

Boring guy. He is not even "just a friend." He is an acquaintance. It is okay not to think of him as a friend. Not everybody can be your friend. You are not a bad person if you don't think of men who bore the socks off you as your friends.

Great Single (not vowed, ordinary-sexualitied) guy your age you love being around. He might not be "just a friend". He is a potential romance--unless, of course, for some reason he thinks of you as "just one of the boys".

HOWEVER, girls, if there is a guy you like so much you wish he were a woman, this guy is NOT dating potential. A guy who makes you feel like a louse because you won't date him is a bad friend. Tell him. And if he doesn't quit, he's not even your friend anymore. He's a jerk.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Book and Its Cover

Most of us know the story now. A middle-aged woman with an intellectual disability got on the stage at a televised talent show organized by a man known for his cruel remarks. She was portly, frumpy, beetle-browed. The judges asked her about herself. She said she had never been kissed and sulked in a would-be flirtatious way. She shook her hips suggestively. The audience, used to a parade of no-hopers, rolled their eyes. (At home, watching on the internet, I rolled my eyes, too.) And then Susan Boyle sang.

We cried.

Was this astonishing about-face spontaneous or a set-up engineered by an entertainment genius? I don't know. I don't think it matters. Susan Boyle touched thousands of people by overturning their expectations. She could really sing. She opened her unkissed lips and beauty poured out.

We can learn two things from this astonishing televised event:

1. People judge a book by its cover.

2. People shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

Susan Boyle intrigues me because she shows the world not only that lifelong Singles have a lot to offer, but that there ARE lifelong Singles, including women (and men) who have not married because they have a social, physical, mental or intellectual handicap of some kind.

The reaction of the world to the purity of Boyle's voice versus the oddity of her appearance intrigues me because of this passage from Isaiah:

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance--
so he shall startle many nations...

...[H]e had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces,
he was despised and we held him of no account.

(Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:2b-3)

Christians recognise Isaiah's Suffering Servant as a prefiguring of Christ. And Susan Boyle, who surprised us all, reminds me of the surprise of the Suffering Servant and the surprise of the Baby Jesus. Few expected the Messiah to come as a little baby, born to a carpenter's wife. And nobody expected God to take on human flesh. The expectations of people like Peter, like James and John, were completely overthrown. And I wonder if somewhere, deep in our Christian and post-Christian psyches, we all caught a glimpse of Christ in a homely singer from Scotland.

And that is why I have decided that the Seraphic Single for this week, the week in which Christmas falls, should be the expectation-overthrowing Susan Boyle (b. 1961).

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Beautiful Broccoli Cheese Soup

One should treat oneself with dignity and affection always, but especially when one is Single. If you're dining alone, it is best to do so from good china, with harmonious silverware and sparkling glassware.

When I was Single and living alone, my favourite cookbook was Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites. Because everything was made of veg, I felt comfortable making a big pot of any given recipe and then eating it over the next three or four days on my good china. Sadly, I lost my Moosewood moving from Boston to Toronto. I have no idea where it is. I was due for a new one, though, as the pages had started falling out.

The following is NOT a Moosewood recipe, but it is very good. It provides enough for two big bowls. If you are alone, divide the stock in two, use only half of the milk and flour and cheese in one portion, and refrigerate everything else until you want to eat the rest.

Beautiful Broccoli Cheese Soup

25 g (2 Tbsp) butter
1 small onion, diced
1 small clove of garlic, diced very small
big pinch white pepper
225 g (big handful) broccoli, chopped into trees
475 mL (about 2 cups) chicken broth (One chicken stock cube in 475 mL/2 cups hot water, well mixed, works fine.)
30 g (2 Tbsp) flour
175 mL (3/4 cup) milk
125 g (1/2) finely grated cheddar cheese
salt, if needed (If you use a stock cube, you probably don't need it.)

1. Cook the onion in butter until translucent.
2. Add the garlic and pepper, cook for one minute.
3. Chuck in your broccoli and stir in the chicken broth.
4. Bring to a boil, then turn down temperature and simmer until the broccoli is tender.
5. In a bowl, whisk milk into the flour. Whisk until there are no more lumps.
6. Stir milk & flour mixture into the soup until the soup thickens. The broccoli will break up, and that's fine.
7. Take the soup off the heat and pour in the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted.
8. Taste to see if you need any salt. You might not, because of the cheese.

The measurements don't have to be exact. But make sure not to use too much flour, like I did this Thanksgiving, alas, alas, or you will end up with a thick broccoli cheese sauce instead of a nice soup. It is great on a cold winter's night. If you use veggie stock instead of chicken stock, it would make suitable Friday fare. I haven't made it this way yet, though.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Shy? There is No Shy!

There is only do or do not, as Yoda would say.

I remember a salty proverb that goes "Free your mind and your a-- will follow." However, I discovered that the opposite worked for me. It was when I got really fit and strong, learned to exercise, lift weights, box and eat a healthy diet that I learned to stand up for myself.

How we stand, sit, walk, smile, pray and move in general both expresses and controls our inner attitudes. As I wrote the other day, if we fake it, we make it.

I long considered myself a shy person. Don't fall about laughing, I'm serious. I didn't enjoy grade school, where I was told I was ugly and freaky about once a day. Hell is other people, said Jean-Paul Sartre, and I definitely would have agreed with him when I was twelve. Hell was other people; heaven was books.

But after many years, I managed to get over all that and learned to love people. People, after all, are the inspiration for, and the readers of, and the writers of books. They are also like books themselves. You can read them. They tell stories. And unlike books, they sometimes hug you. The trick, of course, is to stop being afraid of people.

In the West we have a whole code of conduct, called etiquette. Etiquette is not some snobby kind of oneupmanship. It's primary function is to make people feel at ease. The hallmark of a lady, which is to say, a woman who has dignity and education and also makes people of all walks of life feel comfortable in her presence, is that she should be able to put someone at their ease, even if they have surprised her, naked, in the bath. I have not as yet been subjected to this trial, so I will practise my emergency speech.

"Oh, my DEAR! How nice to SEE you! Hand me that TOWEL, will you? I've just been having a nice wee WALLOW!"

Anyway, if you are afraid of people, it is not a great stretch to imagine that people might be afraid of you. This is something to remember when you enter a room of strangers. And thus, it is helpful to remember good manners as well as projecting the idea that you are a happy, confident person.


Compliments are very useful. If sincere and not intrusive or cheesy, they give two people an instant lift, the giver and the receiver. A good rule of thumb is that if spontaneous praise of someone passes through your brain, you should say it. Superflirt says it should be the thing the person is most proud of, but how would you know what that is? Just say it. "What a gorgeous blouse!" "I so enjoyed your performance!" "This sideboard is splendid!" "Your parties are always so much fun." "Great lecture! I especially liked your insight into Pius XII."

If you get a nice compliment yourself, there is only one acceptable way to handle it. You must smile and say, "Thank you!" You are not allowed to say "No, no" or "This old thing?" or "I could do better." Such responses disappoint your interlocutor, and make him or her look stupid.

Backhanded compliments are harder to handle, and women have to deal with them all the time. If I am the victim of a hit-and-run backhanded compliment, like a guy walking past, snarling "Nice jugs", I generally choose to smile and say "Thank you!" That way I can trick my brain into thinking someone actually gave me a nice compliment and, hopefully, confuse Mr. Silvertongue. However, if a stranger plunked himself in front of me and said "Nice jugs", I would simply walk away. I would pretend he didn't exist. There are all sorts of lovely men. Why spend a second on that one?

Small Talk

Some people say they hate small talk. They want to get right into Bush Destroyed America or Obama is the Anti-Christ right away. But I enjoy small talk because it is a friendliness ritual. It isn't supposed to mean anything except "I'm a friendly person, and I find you interesting to talk to." That's a good message. And it's why, when an acquaintance asks, "How are you?", you are supposed to say, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?"

Small talk with strangers should be like a business interview or writing for Pravda in the 1980s: everything is fine. Deflect anything negative with a joke or an optimistic observation. And don't you yourself pry.

For example, much of the English-speaking world is in a recession. We're not all making money hand over fist. Many of us are underemployed. I am underemployed. Theobromophile is underemployed, and she asked in yesterday's combox how to deal with questions about that.

First of all, remember that small talk with strangers is not really supposed to mean anything except "I'm a nice, friendly person, and I find you interesting to talk to."
You don't have to, and you shouldn't, tell them your problems, your sorrows, your social insurance number, your sex life or your salary. You don't have to apologize for anything either. You don't owe the world an apology for the recession and its effect on your life. Someone owes you an apology. But it's probably not a stranger at a cocktail party, unless they masterminded the American subprime mortgages scheme.

Here is a typical conversation that I have at almost every party.

"So what are you doing for work?"

"I am a writer."

"Oh, and who do you write for?

"I write for a paper back in Toronto. And I've got a book coming out in March."

(Notice that I don't tell them how often I write, how much I get paid, or what my advance was. If possible, I avoid mentioning the title of the paper, as it includes the word CATHOLIC, which can frighten Orangemen, village atheists, et alia. I keep it general and light.)

"Oh, brilliant. What's it about?"

"It's about the Single Life."

There's a short conversation about the Single Life, and then I say:

"And what do you do?"

The "what do you do" is crucial, especially for the underemployed. People love to talk about themselves when things are going well, so it shouldn't be any trouble at all to get past the topic of your career. In fact, I could switch the conversation over to the other person's life even sooner. Say, for example, I got fired from my paper, and the Holy See suppressed my book. (How exciting!)

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"And who do you write for?"

"Mostly freelancing these days! What do you do?"

The thing to do is stress your avocation, not your paid employment. You are a writer, teacher, artist, full-time mum, computer programmer, enterpreneur. How much money you make or how employed you are is immaterial. It's your interests that make you interesting. And if someone is pressing you on money, etc., it might be because they are dying to tell you how successful they are. Let them. They might be handy as a business contact. Or they might just be boring braggarts. If the latter, smile and excuse yourself because there's someone across the room to whom you must say hello.

Full-time Mum

Sometimes I meet a former high school classmate, and when I ask "So what do you do now?", this strange look of shame crosses the woman's face. And then I know exactly what she's going to say.

"Well," she says. "Right now I'm just at home with the kids. Sort of.. Ah. Um.. Full-time mum."

And I say, "That's great. My mother was a full-time mum until we most of us were out of school. I really appreciated having her home. Your kids are lucky."

Then the woman always relaxes. If she admits that sometimes being a mum is boring ('cause sometimes it is), you can say "What did you do in college? You're into [art, music, science, politics], aren't you?" At which point the woman, if she went to college, will be thankful, so thankful, that at last she is having an Adult Conversation. Full-time Mums are often dying for Adult Conversation. Don't assume they want to talk only about their kids.

What's the most positive way of expressing what you do?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Missing Post

A post is temporarily missing because I sold an altered version of it. But it will return eventually. I retain subsequent publication rights, dotcha know!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Joy of Trashy Advice Books and Good Posture

There was, for a time, hidden from my mother under my Canadian single bed, an incredibly trashy but interesting book called The Seduction Mystique by Ginny Sayles. Because this How-To-Make-Men-Like-You book was padded with How-To-Do-Stuff-in-Bed information, it was not suitable for nice Catholic girls, nice Catholic wives or even nice Catholic divorcées like me back then. However, I refrained from reading the really naughty stuff in the back and stuck to the interesting advice in the front, which suggested that women should 1) stop resenting men, 2) wear bright colours and pastels instead of brown, black, beige and grey, 3) grow our hair longer and 4) wear makeup.

The mental exercise Sayles gave for removing one's resentment for men (which a woman might very well have after umpteen years of broken hearts and no husband) was to look at men in the street and think "Bless his little heart!" I thought this sounded bonkers, but I tried it out on some unsuspecting, balding soul, and lo! My mood immediately lifted. For awhile I went around silently blessing strangers. "Bless his little heart! Bless his little heart!" I suppose the phrase kicks in my maternal feelings or something.

I became fond of Snagging-Men advice books, trashy and classy, and occasionally bought them on sale. Now that I'm married to the Perfect Man for Me, of course, my interest in such things is completely academic. Yesterday I spotted a bright pink trashy one called Superflirt in Oxfam. It is full of photographs of winking Brits chewing straws and dangling shoes from their stockinged toes. The back cover trumpets: "Make Every Man Want You/Make Every Woman Melt."

"What trash!" I yelped.

It cost me ₤2.99.

I spent the evening perusing it and reading snippets to my husband, who was reading about the Gunpowder Plot.

"It says here that a man takes 30 seconds to determine if a strange woman is his type, but it only takes woman 3 seconds to determine if a man is her type."

"Oh, indeed?"

"That strikes me as true. Women jump to conclusions about men too fast."


"You can't rush a man in his 30 second process, I bet. You gotta let him have his 30 seconds. He looks once. Do nothing. He looks twice. Do nothing. He looks a third time. Smile, if you like him."


"Say," I said. "What made you fall in love with me?"

The husband politely closed the Gunpowder Plot over his finger and pondered.

"You were pretty, intelligent and Catholic," he decided.

"But that's your rational side speaking. There must have been something to attract your reptile brain."

"You were pretty?"

"Hmph," I said, not satisfied on the intellectual level but vastly pleased in my reptile brain, and after some chit-chat about my attractive, happy blog persona (which he met before he met the rest of me), I went back to Superflirt.

Okay, here in my own words are some tips from Superflirt. Some of them will sound very familiar.

1. Men and women are attracted to HAPPY AND CONFIDENT people. So if you are a Searching Single and you are neither happy nor confident, FAKE IT. Incidentally, I wasn't happy all the time I was writing my first Seraphic Singles blog. But I didn't think readers needed to know that. So when it was time to write, I summoned the stiff upper lip and wrote happy.

2. Faking it makes it, apparently. The book says that if you force yourself to smile, you can trick your brain into thinking you are happy. And this is certainly true for me. Writing happy makes me happy. Writing angry makes me angry.

Now at this point, many of you are saying "But I don't want to be fake" and "I gotta be who I really am". And I say, lipstick is way faker, but women wear it all the time. Shaving is also a bit of a dodge, but men shave all the time. If you can wear lipstick to pretend your lips are Toast of New York-coloured or shave so that your chin is as smooth as the sink, you can plaster on a smile. When you are going out into the world to make friends, you just can't let it all hang out. You have to be your most attractive version of you.

3. Your posture is worth a thousand words. If the world has been cruel, people will see it in your sagging shoulders, stooped back and lowered chin. And they will avoid you. If the world has been kind, you will naturally stand up straight and tall, put your shoulders back, keep your chin up and look everyone in the eye with a pleasant smile. And people will think, "Wow! Here's a confident and striking person!" And they will find you attractive. Is this fair? No. But there it is.


a) breathe to relax

b) stand tall

c) keep your shoulders back

d) keep your chin up

e) meet people's eyes when you talk to them; if you're too shy to do that, stare at the bridge of their nose

f) keep a relaxed posture: lean on your forward leg or lean on the walls or furniture. Leaning makes you look confident and relaxed. Who knew?

g) if in doubt, watch a confident-looking person and subtly do what they do.

h) wear clothes that reflect your personality but also say "I'm relaxed","I value myself" and "I am a long-term relationship kind of gal/man." Don't leave the house wearing sweatpants ever, ever, ever. And there's a fine line between modest and frumpy. Find it and remain on the side of light.

Incidentally, your eyes are very, very important in attracting people. Plucking your eyebrows makes your eyes look bigger and more noticeable. So keep your brows tidy, accentuate them cleverly if female and, if you are a rest the chin-on-the-hand kind of person, rest your chin in the L of your thumb and point to your eye with your index finger. Hey, that's what the book says.

Meanwhile, I knew a girl in high school who was a flamenco dancer. She had the best posture of anyone I knew, and I was in ballet classes for a long, long time. A tall girl, she never slumped. Her head was always up. Her movements were graceful. Her figure was good. Her clothes, which she paid for from her very good part-time candy-striper salary, were elegant. She was certainly striking. And the cutest, most spoiled, most sought after, boys in our circle followed after her like men stunned.

More unsolicited body language advice later.

Converse: How do you cope in a roomful of strangers?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Hours Between Five and Bedtime

The joy and sorrow of being a graduate student is that you never have any free time. There is always some deadline looming and there is always some book to read. But the unmarried salarywoman or salaryman who works from 9-5 (or 8:30-4:30) might very well have a problem. That problem is the hours between five and bedtime.

The unmarried graduate student is poor. He or she probably has a housemate or lives in a dorm with a lot of other unmarried people. When I was working on my M.Div., I lived in a lovely warm house with some lovely nuns. When I was working on my PhD, I lived in a big draughty house with two philosophy students, Jon and Ted. The nuns were often available for a chat, and the boys inevitably appeared into the kitchen to cook and eat and exchange political and social views. So I very often had company. Thank goodness for the lovely nuns. Thank goodness for Jon and Ted.

But the unmarried, childless salaryman or salarywoman is compartively rich and has his or her own apartment to himself or herself. All the mess is her mess. All the stuff is his stuff. All the noise is her noise. All the food is his food. It can get really, really quiet.

The last time I lived all by myself, with a job, with no housemates, I thought I would go crazy from the lack of noise. My day began when I went to the gym. Then I went to work. Then I came home to my cat. Thank goodness for my cat. Occasionally the cat made noise: he snored and he caught mice, who squeaked.

At home I tidied. I made my supper. I read a little. (I had no television; I think it is wrong for Single people living alone to watch television, just as I think it is wrong for Single people living alone to drink.) And then I made for the Bauhaus Cafe and Bar. Thank goodness for the Bauhaus Cafe.

The Bauhaus Cafe was what you might call a hipster joint. It no longer exists, alas. It was sold and televisions were screwed under the pressed-tin ceiling and barflies sit at the copper-topped counter and push buttons to answer the quizzes. But when I went there it was packed with young artists, young actors, philosophy undergrads, Goths, young painters, young writers, young art curators. (We all lived in an industrial town, and so this may have been the only truly young-artsy place to be.) I went there almost every night, and on weekends I showed up soon after opening. And what I did was write. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and when I came up for air, I had a look around to see who was in, and what was going on, and who would welcome a chat. At Bauhaus, anyone could talk to anybody, so long as you were young or attractive.

And that's how I survived the hours between five and bedtime, the last time I lived alone. The previous times I lived alone, before I discovered Bauhaus, I filled up the hours with boxing training, language studies, going to films, and writing at home. And, of course, for years there was always my monthly trip to Toronto to read stories and listen to poetry good and bad at Clara Blackwood's Syntactic Sunday spoken word event. And of course there was dating and meeting friends for brunch.

Years later when I contemplated my still-Single state, I thought perhaps that I had squandered the last of my twenties by hanging out with Goths and Wiccans and waitresses in Bauhaus Cafe, to say nothing of the hours spent in the boxing gym. Perhaps I should have become more involved in parish activities and hung out with, ya know, eligible Catholics. But perhaps it was this very lack that helped propel me into theology school. And, of course, theology school led to my destiny.

I wish there could be a Bauhaus for all Singles everywhere, somewhere where you can do your writing, or handicraft, or whatever it is you like to do best, in company with others under a beautiful pressed-tin ceiling.

And how do you put in the hours between five and bedtime, my little Singles?

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Waiting Game

I have a buddy, a religious, who discerned his calling at the United States Military Academy at Westpoint. He was just a child, and he had been invited with his family to a cousin's graduation. Seeing row after row of marching soldiers, he realized that he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. He joined his religious order at 18.

I have another buddy, a married man with a houseful of children, who discerned his vocation at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His parents had sent him down there with, if I remember this correctly, hopes that he would become a priest. But there he met a pretty girl in Oregon. They married soon after graduation, when he was 22.

That's nice, isn't it? It's great when you know your vocation so early in life. You see something or someone and--wham! Revelation. But for many of us--maybe most of us-Catholics of the 21st century, it's not that easy.

Vocation has taken on two meanings. First, we use the word to mean our careers or jobs. These are the answer to "What do you want/have to be when you grow up?" Happy are those who hang onto the idea they had when they were little kids! Second, we use the words to mean our "state in life": married or single, and, if single, clergy, religious or hmm....

Confusion arises because to a certain extent, we get to choose what we do for a living. We can say, "I want to be a engineer" and then study hard and go to engineering school. But we do not get to choose our state in life in the same way. We have to discern. We have to wait for God's say-so. We have to wait to be called.

Waiting is hard.

There is some controversy over whether being Single is a vocation or not. Some argue that the only vocations are Married, Religious, Priest. However, there are people, consecrated virgins, consecrated widows, and men and women in institutes, who take vows of perpetual virginity or celibacy. That to me certainly sounds like a serious Single vocation. But is the unvowed Single life a vocation?

I think it's a vocation, a calling, to wait and listen.

When I was still Single and becoming Seraphic about it, I called this "waiting for my marching orders." And it was supremely hard. Sometimes I surfed the dating websites. Sometimes I surfed the religious order websites. I dated. I was tempted to marry the next great Catholic guy who came along (whoever he might be). I was tempted to join the Dominicans (whichever bunch would have me). But having been unhappily married and divorced in my twenties, I knew that jumping the gun on one's vocation is a terrible, terrible mistake. Better to wait, to pray and to listen.

And then-WHAM!--right on the cusp of middle age, definitely over the ideal age for having babies, I met my husband. I was on vacation, a trip to meet some of my British readers, and I was staying with one of the Scottish ones. We had exchanged emails and comments, but there was no real expectation (on our part) of romance. But after two days of chatting, I had three thoughts:

1. This guy is great in about a hundred ways.
2. This guy needs a Nice Catholic Girl to marry him.
3. I'd love to volunteer for the job.

But I kept my mouth shut, because it really wouldn't have been smart to blat all that out after two days' meeting. (It would have been crazy, and healthy men are allergic to crazy.) So I waited, I prayed and I listened.

As my vacation raced merrily on, though, it became increasingly clear that I was actually where I was supposed to be. Surprisingly, my vocation was to marry this guy! I had got my marching orders.

After all these years, mistakes and dead-ends, they were definitely worth the wait.

This week's Seraphic Single is Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Louisa May Alcott was an American fiction writer and a veteran of the U.S. Civil War. She is most famous for her series of books about the March family, beginning with Little Women. She is probably most beloved by women for her creation of Jo March, a woman who longs for the freedoms and opportunties given to men of her class and time. Bowing to public pressure, Alcott provided Jo, whom she meant to leave a happy Single, with a "funny husband." But Louisa herself preferred to remain unmarried, and made sure to include Serious Singles amongst her many female characters.

Alcott loved her birth family deeply and kept the bonds strong. She devoted herself to her philosopher father, and died two days after he did. I've made her our first Seraphic Single of the Week because her work influenced me from a very early age and, with the exception of many saints, was the first permanently Single woman I knew about.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


Welcome to the restored Seraphic Singles blog!

If you've been following my blogs, you know that I'm not actually Single anymore. While I was hawking the Seraphic Singles book to publishers, I met the man to whom I am now married--one of my readers! I got the news the book was to be published when we were on honeymoon. However, I've made it my mission to continue thinking and writing about the Single Life from a Roman Catholic perspective.

Why? Well, first of all, Single people are interesting. Married people have come to the end of the classic adventure tale: to a certain extent, they settle down, they follow the social structures laid out like a red carpet for married people. But Single people--! Single people are still slashing their way through the jungle, still adventuring, still finding their way into the world.

Second of all, Single people--and I mean really Single people, men and women who always sleep alone--don't get enough positive attention. Oh, sure, the advertisers love you. The dating websites really love you. And, sure, the Church and society have all kinds of activities for you---as long as you're still in school. Out of school? Well, it's a different story.

So this is a blog for those who are Single, for those who sleep alone. I hope to provide you Singles with helpful links, inspiring stories and loads of unsolicited advice. Meanwhile, if past comments boxes are anything to judge by, you are likely to meet a whole host of likeminded Catholic Singles and other Singles of good will.

Just a note about terminology: for the purposes of this blog, there are are Serious Singles and Searching Singles. A Serious Single is a Single person who has made a life choice to be Single--either as an unvowed layman or laywoman, a consecrated virgin or an unmarried, secular priest. A Searching Single is a Single person who is Single and either really, really doesn't want to be or is relatively happy as a Single person but would be just as happy (or happier) if he or she got married one day.

Also for the purposes of this blog, I count divorced people, widows and widowers as Singles. If you are sleeping alone and doing your best to live a life of chastity, as far as I'm concerned, you're a Single of the kind who can profit from Seraphic Singles.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Not every woman who wants to get married gets married. This is the cold, hard fact from which many of us run. Similarly, not everyone who gets a divorce and an annulment receives that second chance. Or we blow that second chance. Sometimes, our prince doesn't come.

There are a myriad of reasons why this prince might not arrive. Some are historical, like most of the men leaving town for work, or the anti-marriage trend of the Sexual Revolution. Some have to do with our circumstances: we work in a mostly female environment, or in a profession dominated by gay men, or in a profession dominated by celibate men, like priests and religious, or in a community where everyone else got married at 22. Some have to do with our poor choices: we dated the wrong man for a decade and have been dumped; we date only unmarriageable men; we are drinking alcoholics; we are using users; we are bad-tempered harridans that no-one can stand to be around. Some have to do with personal tragedies: we are physically scarred, maimed, or plain as a pan of milk; we are wheelchair bound; we are chronically ill; we are "old"; we have been irreparably slandered in our communities; we are big-boned, full-figured, or just heavy women, and no matter what we do, we cannot lose the weight. That is why Prince Charming has not come.

Or maybe not. Maybe some of us are just "too picky." I hear this one a lot, especially from grumpy single men. But what I, and many other chronically single women, usually want is just a nice man whose looks we find attractive, who is intelligent and funny and faithful, who goes to church, who has a job that he enjoys and is proud of, and brings in enough income so that if we lose our jobs, or have a baby, we all won't be in a financial mess. I wrote this once on a website, and a poster wrote, "Wow, you're picky." So maybe these men don't exist anymore or were all snapped up when they were 22.

Or maybe not that either. Maybe it is an insolvable mystery. Maybe, for some inscrutable reason of His own, God has decreed from eternity that many of my single friends and I will never find The Right Man. Maybe, in fact, we have been called to be Single.

I am a Roman Catholic, and for Catholics, being called by God to be Single, doesn't mean that we have been given divine sanction to be swinging singles, living only for the moment and ourselves. It means that we have to discern how we can serve God and neighbour as single women. Unfortunately, it also means putting up with a lot of disrespect and presuppositions from others, even from other Catholics. Some people think that single women are selfish. Others think we are losers. What I hope to do with this book is give a lift to the thousands of single women who are gradually losing hope that they will ever get married (or married again), or who have decided to cut their losses and embrace the state of life God has placed them in.

--from Seraphic Singles: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Single Life