Saturday, 27 February 2010

Don't Dumb Down: A Clarification

Here's an extra post today because I think we have all hit on a very delicate topic. This topic is so very delicate because it is right at the nasty, zig-zag tear between men and women in the battle of the sexes.

I hate the battle of the sexes myself, and although I will joke about pompous men and rail against men who use women, I try not to participate in general man-bashing. It can be difficult because when women are badly hurt by men, we talk about those men with other women. When we hurt men, we don't tend to talk about it quite so much. I was 35 before I was convinced that some women (and not just prostitutes) really do date guys for their money. It sounded like a myth, and I'd never ever heard a woman admit she ever did any such thing.

The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood apparently asked a group of men what they feared about women. The men said, "We're afraid they'll laugh at us." Then she asked a group of women what they feared about men. The women said, "We're afraid they'll kill us."

When the power differential is that wide, it's hard not to take sides. But I don't really want there to be sides. I want us just to be sons and daughters of God, loving and helping each other. I don't want see women making men blush, and I don't want to hear men sneering at women.

Femininity has always been devalued, and it is not exactly valued today. (Does the hard stare of the woman in the photo look feminine to you? And does she look at all valued?) Meanwhile, men have always been challenged by other men to prove how masculine they are. Some men thrive on this competition--they don't seem to mind all the mindless wrestling they do as boys--whereas some men hate it. They feel constantly outclassed.

Now, being nice to people, especially the shy, and listening to people are often considered feminine attributes. And, in general, women are better than men at sympathetic listening. But if we were brought up to believe that this feminine talent of listening is shameful and that Real Women speak their minds at all times, like men, then women are going to do just that.* And since men try to one-up men all the time, why shouldn't women try to one-up men, too?

The fact is that men don't like one-upping, at least, they don't like it all the time. In fact, men frequently tire of all-male one-upping company and just want to relax. If they don't see a woman as just more competition in the great One-Upping that appears to be life, they like to be around her. But if a woman always seems ready for a scrap, no matter how good-humoured and "intellectual", the men may very well flee.

I don't like one-upping myself. Arguing theological points with the boys in the office is fine, but I don't like it during nice social events. Put it this way: I have enough confidence in my own intelligence not to have to take it out and show it to everybody everywhere all the time. It's appropriate to argue for Lonergan's cognitional theory in a classroom or public discussion group; it's not appropriate to argue for Lonergan's cognitional theory at a dinner party when everyone else would rather talk about hunting. This rule, incidentally, holds as true for men as it does for women.**

If challenged directly, I admit, I am happy to knock a chap's socks off with an answer. I was challenged, the other day, to give a definition of the soul. My interlocutor obviously thought he had me stumped. So I told him that Thomas Aquinas defined the soul as the form of the body. He sat there and thought about it. And I left it at that.

Leaving it at that, I think, is key. You make your point, and you move on. You do not triumph over your vanquished conversational foe. You do not act like you are some kind of superwoman because you managed to get a flush hit on an actual, real live man. Who cares? If we really thought the feminine was as valuable as the masculine, we wouldn't care. Why is taking a man down a peg so much more of a glorious victory than taking a woman down a peg? Or more glorious than turning a charged encounter into a peaceful one?

Anyway, I write all day long. I don't even bother telling my friends about myself anymore because I assume they've read it already. Instead, I ask them questions. How are they feeling? What have they been up to? What do they think? What can they advise? How do they do the very talented things that they do? I really want to know. And it is really wanting to know about another person that renders you charming in their eyes. And asking people intelligent questions, instead of giving intelligent answers they didn't ask for in the first place, is not in any way a "dumbing down".

*This is once again a case of "knowing yourself". If you tend to be too quiet in company, it pays to make an effort to speak. If you tend to dominate conversation, it pays to make an effort to listen.

**If the general conversation is indeed about something you honestly know a lot about, certainly contribute. Don't dominate the conversation, get overly excited, slap down the competition or bore for Britain, but shine on, you crazy diamond.

And, yes, that woman really went to Boston College. Go, Eagles.

Awesome Autumn Vegetable Soup

Darlingses, I am not even going to bother pretending this soup feeds only one person It feeds six or seven people quite well, which I know because my mum makes it for Thanksgiving Dinner every year. I love this soup dearly. So here it is, and you can experiment with making it smaller. You can even make it Lenten (if such a soup could ever be considered Lenten) by subsituting leek stock for chicken stock. If you do that, though, you might need to add a little more salt. The recipe comes from Canada's milk marketing board. You need a blender, a cuisinart or a hand-blender.

Awesome Autumn Vegetable Soup

2 Tbsp butter
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 small zucchini (courgette), coarsely chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
2 cups chicken stock or leek stock (see leek stock recipe below)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups milk

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic. Cook until fragrant but not brown.

2. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, half of the parsley, stock, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and cook 25 minutes or until veggies are very tender.

3. Puree soup in blender, cusinart, food mill, or with hand blender. Return to heat. Add milk. Cook until heated thoroughly. Do not allow soup to boil. Taste and add more seasoning if you think it needs it.

4. Garnish with the parsley.

This is a simply heavenly soup. I haven't tried it with leek stock instead of chicken stock yet, but the leek stock recipe is easy: just wash and roughly chop 2 leeks, cover them with 3 cups or so of water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, and then strain. Throw the leeks out. The clear liquid will magically taste amazing. Use 2 cups of it in this recipe.

Friday, 26 February 2010

And Don't Do His Homework

So the husband and I are working our way through a series of Coen Brothers' films. On Tuesday night we watched Barton Fink, and it took me a day or so to really process the kooky thing. But one performance haunts me now, and it's that of Judy Davis as Audrey Taylor, the Southern secretary to a famous Southern writer named W.P. Mayhew (loosely based on William Faulkner).

The film is set in 1941, so Audrey has fantastically feminine 1940s clothes. But she has the misfortune to be Mayhew's mistress as well as his secretary, and he's an abusive drunk. In one scene, Mayhew, having gotten drunk at a picnic lunch, slaps Audrey in front of Barton. Barton, the self-appointed playwright of "the common man", is furious. But Audrey tells Barton that she understands Mayhew and that Mayhew is a great man. He needs her and can't write without her. Blah, blah, blah. Emotionally abused women tend to talk like that.

Now Barton is having a terrible time with writer's block and loneliness. He calls up Audrey, one of the only nice people he knows in Hollywood, and begs her to come over. He sounds insane. And probably because he sounds insane, Audrey comes over. She says she'll help him with the film script he has to write; she does it all the time "for Bill".

It turns out that Audrey more-or-less writes all of Mayhew's film scripts. And Barton, who is a huge Mayhew fan, is suddenly horrified when he realizes that Audrey might have been writing Mayhew's books, too. After much hemming and hawing and pleas for understanding Audrey admits it. Barton goes ballistic. And then they go to bed and— . Well, anyway, things don't end well for Audrey.

It was a day before I remembered the Episode of the Essay. Dear me, what are the statutes of limitation on a high school essay? Twenty years? Thirty? It was definitely over twenty-five years ago.

I had a big crush on a boy in high school. A huge crush. And this boy was not into me at all. I didn't understand why not when I was so smart. We would have long intellectual arguments in which I would defeat him and he would curse me out for a feminist. At the time I thought intellectual victories were a way to win a man's love. (Ah, ha ha ha. Well, I was a teenager, what do you want? Men in the movies love sparky women who best them in arguments.)

Our friends knew I had a crush on him, and he probably did too. And one day he called me up, frantic, because he had an essay due and he hadn't started yet. I talked him through the planning of this essay. I asked him about the books. I asked him about his thesis, his arguments, his conclusion.

"Can't you just write it for me?" he whined.

"No, I can't just write it for you," I said, although thrilled above all else that HE NEEDED ME, me and me alone. "But come over here and I'll see what I can do."

So he came over with his books and his miserable notes, and I got out a sheaf of typewriting paper and turned my typewriter on. (These were still typewriting days, you see.) And we wrote the darned essay "together".

Afterwards, I was disgusted by the whole thing. We went to two different schools, so there was no way I was going to get into trouble. It's not like my crush object was going to confess. But I knew I had done something very wrong, and I knew my crush object had behaved shamefully. It's not pleasant, having a crush on somebody like that.

And, of course, I had my reward. The crush object was sounding off one day to a female friend of mine about what a gentleman he was and how he always treated girls well.

"Well, what about Seraphic?" she said.

"What about her?" he said.

(I was in the room, by the way.)

"She's a girl, and you don't treat her well."

My crush object clicked his tongue.

"She's not a girl girl," he said, and his words went into me like bullets. They lodged in my brain. When, ten years later, my therapist remarked that I was a very feminine woman, I was startled. I said, "What?" I was probably wearing my blue-and-black mediaeval goth top and ankle-length black velvet goth skirt at the time. And I was, in fact, a very feminine woman. But this fact had been completely obscured for me by a teenage boy--one who got nice girls to do his laundry at university--who couldn't have given a damn.

And so I'll augment what I said to Modest Millie, girls: not only don't bake them brownies, don't do their homework, either. If you let boys take advantage, they surely will. And you won't have just them to blame.

Update: And here's something else for Singles at my other blog.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Books are IN

Hello, my poppets! The latest news from my publisher is that Seraphic Singles has been printed and delivered to... Well, some have been delivered to the Novalis office, and Dayle the PR woman is sending copies to reviewers. I shall get copies my very own self, too. A boxful may be flying its way over to me right now.

Meanwhile, Novalis has made an advertisement from some film footage I sent them. If you haven't seen it yet, go here. My accent is so southern-Ontario I am embarrassed. This is not logical, because what else would my accent be, eh? But I am more used to hearing Scottish, English and Polish voices these days, so listening to the flat Ontarioness of me was very odd. Thank goodness they did not include the bits with me singing and squabbling with B.A. Incidentally, do I say "aboot"? Americans say Canadians say "aboot", but I can't hear it. I think I say "abowt".

But enough about me. The book will be available for sale on March 1, and both Novalis and Chapters-Indigo are taking advance orders. And of course there will be copies available for sale at the book launch on March 25 at the Duke of York Pub in Toronto from 7-10 PM. Dayle promises that this will be a par-tay!

Stay tuned for any new book news. I have got a television interview lined up with Salt + Light TV, so the Seraphic Single message should be hitting the Canadian airwaves by April.

Meanwhile, if anyone has an "Auntie Seraphic" question, it may be very helpful for other readers. Confidentiality is so guaranteed, I usually give writers a pseudonym to hide even their nom de blog! Thanks to Alisha, for linking to "Modest Millie's" question on facebook. This brought a ton of visiting readers!

By the way, if you have already pre-ordered, let me know. That would be awesome.

Update: Two very seraphic readers have started a Seraphic Singles fan page on Facebook. YAY! Wasn't that nice? I've never been the subject of a facebook fan page before. How exciting!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

What I Miss

One of the problems with writing for Singles when you're married, I've discovered, is that people say to you, "But you're married." It drives me crazy because, like, you know, I know I'm married. But before I was married I was Single. I was Single for a loooong time. I had a whole Single life going on. And I decided to spend it at grad school and, when I was done with grad school, living with my parents and writing a lot. And I enjoyed living with my parents. My parents are cool.

Eventually someone might eventually ask me what I miss about the Single life. I hope somebody does, actually, because it would be a recognition that being Single (and sleeping alone) is not outrageously terrible 24/7. I hope I wouldn't turn into a pillar of salt, though, like Lot's Wife. Poor Lot's Wife looked back nostalgically at her homeland, and whammo. Since then turning into a pillar of salt has been a metaphor for getting stuck in the past.

I definitely won't get stuck in the past because I am loving my present, poppets. It rocks. I have a cute husband and live in one of the coolest apartments in Scotland. I live just outside of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and there are several boxes of books sitting in an office in Toronto, each book with my maiden name across it. It rules to be me. But I will admit to missing one or two or ten things from my Single Life, so I will list them here so that you can ponder what it is you love about your Single Life.

1. I miss living with Mummy and Daddy.

2. I miss seeing my brothers and sisters and nephews on a regular basis.

3. I miss my ole buddy Trish.

4. I miss my buddies known collectively as Les Girls.

5. I miss wandering into the Catholic Register offices to chat and hear the stories behind the stories.

6. I miss wandering into my old theology school and seeing what's going on with my former profs.

7. I miss calling up my buddy X when I'm having a crisis, and then calling up Y when talking to X doesn't do the trick.

8. I miss coffee, but that's mostly because I gave it up for Lent. However, I also miss the coffee machine in my parents' kitchen, and its massive thermos-jug, and pouring Tim Horton's coffee into a mug while my mother shouts, "Is that MY mug?", and staring out the window to see if there are any blue jays or cardinals hanging out in the backyard.

9. I miss family life in general. My mother-in-law lives up North and my uncle-in-law lives down South, and that's it for my in-laws. For someone who comes from a family of 7 plus grandmothers, it's kind of weird not to have family around.

10. I miss getting my monthly paycheque in the mail and putting into the bank all by myself. This may sound odd, but it is the truth.

11. I miss Mum doing all the laundry and most of the cooking. I agree that this is infantile. Just being honest here.

12. I miss Graziano's cappuccinos at The Annex Live.

13. I am livid there's no point in my applying to join the Toronto Temperence Society (a private club for cocktail drinkers).

14. I miss getting actual paper copies of the Catholic Register and cutting out my columns for my scrapbook.

As you can see, most of the things and people I miss I'm missing not because I'm married, but because my marriage means living in Scotland. But I won't be nagging at B.A. to pick up sticks and move to Canada because our life is here, and we love it. You'll notice that I didn't say anything about missing the architecture, urban sprawl, the subway and Toronto's teeming millions. Oh, wait, though:

15. I would kill for some decent Chinese food.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Importance of Female Friends

Okay, I know this is a topic I write about a lot. But it is near and dear to my heart because not only do I think it is hard to live a Single life without friends, I think it is hard to live a Married life without friends.

Benedict Ambrose is a marvellous husband, but the one thing he cannot be is a female friend. He has not yet grasped the principles of female solidarity, and he is prone to give advice when I don't want advice but womanly sympathy and total agreement that I am right and somebody else is wrong. But that's okay. He's a man. If he weren't a man, I wouldn't be here in the Historical House making scalloped potatoes and hanging up socks on a laundry line made from a computer cable.

One feminine ritual I absolutely love is called "Coffee". In Canada we call this "Tea", but in Scotland "Tea" can mean "Supper," so here we tend to say "Coffee" if we mean warm beverage plus cake, not a full meal. Yesterday a female friend came over for coffee, and we had a nice chat. Then this morning I walked over the fields to my neighbours' for coffee, and the female neighbour and I had champagne and a nice chat and then lunch with her husband. And on Thursday I will meet other female friends for several cups of tea in a teashop. Female friendship involves a lot of hot drinks these days.

Another thing about female friendship is that you eventually begin making friends with women much older and much younger than yourself. I was in university for a very long time indeed, so I tended to make friends much younger than myself. But now that I am a married lady in the UK, I am making friends with ladies much older than myself, too. And this is a very good thing because sometimes I need advice about living in the U.K. that only British ladies know, e.g. where can a girl get her hair done well?

That is all I have to say today, so I will take the wrappings off the commbox and let you all chat about what you and your friends do for fun. Before I married and still lived in Toronto, I enjoyed going to pyjama parties although I was by far the oldest guest and fell asleep before everyone else.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Auntie Seraphic and Scared Bunny Face

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

You've written before that Nice Men are extremely annoyed when a lady looks at them like a frightened rabbit. I've discovered lately that I do just that. While I smile at nice men who ask me to dance or whatnot, I smile what my friend terms a "Please-don't-eat-me smile." I've caught myself in the mirror and thought about how I hold myself when meeting men (or it may be people in general, but I think it's worse with men) for the first time, and it's quite true: I look scared stiff.

Since you don't know me I know you can't tell me why I do this (and for the record I have a lovely dad, good brothers and wonderful guy friends, and I haven't dated yet, so no traumatic experiences behind it). I was just hoping that, since looking scared is apparently a fairly common problem, you might have some practical advice on how to not look so, without necessarily knowing what causes the look-of-terror.

Scared Bunny Face

Dear Scared Bunny Face,

Nice men come up to you and ask you to dance and whatnot? Poppet, you are ahead of the game: A. these are nice men and B. they come up to you. I have readers dying to be you. Obviously you look approachable, and that is great.

Now what men have written to me is that they hate it when women look at them like they (the men) are potential killers. Frankly, some men like girls with big, timid eyes. It makes them want to hug you and say, "Don't worry, little bunny! I'll take care of you!" But let's assume you aren't looking at nice men like a sweet little bunny per se but like a sweet little bunny about to be pounced on by a big murderous OWL.

Personally, I always used to look at strange men like they were potential killers. But then I had my Heidi Klum Moment of Revelation, and it was that men like women who have big toothy smiles. What set Heidi Klum apart from a host of supermodels in their Victoria Secret undies and wings, in the eyes of my then-boyfriend, was her big happy smile. So my first piece of advice is to practise flashing a big happy smile at people. Enlist a friend for practice. Get her to pretend to be a nice man.

Friend: Wanna dance?

You: (flash big happy smile) Sure!

Friend: How's it going?

You: (flash big happy smile) Great! You?

Friend: So you enjoying the party?

You: (flash big happy smile) I am now!

Yes, at first this will feel fake. But do it often enough and it will become your natural, spontaneous reaction to nice men. (If you have trouble telling bad men off, create a different scenario in which your friend says something rude, and you scowl and say "Get lost.")

My next piece of advice is to watch the movie called Swingers. Make sure it is the one with Vince Vaughan and is in the comedy section, not the yucky section in the back of the store. Swingers is the most brilliant movie I have ever seen about men and how they feel about meeting women.

Essentially, going up to women can terrify men. You may not know this, but sometimes when nice men go up to women to say "Hi", women are really, really rude to them. In Swingers, the hero tries to talk to a woman at a party. She asks him what kind of a car he drives. When he tells her, she walks away. Ouch! Harsh! But this kind of thing actually happens to guys.

My favourite scene is the one in which Vince Vaughan's character gives the hero a pep talk ending with "You're a Bad Man. A Bad Man. Bad Man." Although reprehensible from a Christian Ethics 101 point of view, it is screamingly funny. It is so funny, that if you remember it when guys come up to you, you will have no problem with your big happy smile. Bonus: he talks about the girl the hero wants to talk to being like a little bunny rabbit.

Finally, when I first laid eyes on the man who would in less than eight months (!) become my husband, I was nervous. I was really nervous. But when I saw his incredibly LOUD tweed jacket, I firmly thought, "Just A Friend." The thought that Benedict Ambrose, aka Mister Tweed, was Just going to be A Friend calmed me right down. I smiled and let him lead me away for a meat pie and ale in the nearest nice pub. I revised this hardline "Just A Friend" attitude later, obviously.

Here's my CR article on the topic of talking to boys. I hope it is helpful!

Grace and Peace,

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Auntie Seraphic and Modest Millie

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

Modesty Talks stress to women that men are extremely "visual". We are told how to dress in a becoming-yet-modest way. We want to honor our beauty, but at the same time aid our brothers in their pursuit of virtue. Something that might be appropriate among women alone is scratched when we know men will be around. When every well-catechised young woman opens her closet or shops for a new dress she is asked to take into account, NOT her own feminine worldview/ideas of what is appropriate or acceptable but, in charity, the "visual" tendencies of the other sex. And well she should.

My beef is with the male half of this equation. While we women are told that men are "visual", and we should dress accordingly, men are told that women are "emotional" and they should--nothing. I feel this to be a source of grave inequality in Christian education.

Women, good women, are taught to be ladies. On the other hand men, good men, are taught to be gentlemen in ways that don’t teach them to see themselves through women's eyes, but just build their egos instead. They are taught to be content with outward acts that any trained monkey could do when it is really the selfless habit of putting others first that distinguishes a good man.

A man can outwardly act the part of a gentleman and still be, at heart, a chauvinist pig. I've met them. Their interactions with the opposite sex reek of noblesse oblige. I was once given an over-large bouquet of flowers by a young man who replied to my "Oh, why thank you, you shouldn't have!" with "Of course I should... That is what gentlemen do."

Yet it is also about excellent men that I write. Although the fine young Catholic men of my circle would never consciously manipulate or lead a young woman on, some are naive about how their charm and, shall we say, "emotional promiscuity" can be misleading. They by-and-large have fine male fellowship available to them, but the sweet and affirming company of women appeals to them. They rejoice that they know holy and virtuous women. They delight in the fact that these women bake them brownies and seem to always answer the phone when they call, and they start to drop in to their homes, and they are clueless, utterly clueless, about what the poor young ladies might be assuming.

These men begin asking and taking too much, emotionally, from their female friends. They are like babies smacking and breaking things because they do not realize their own power. Hearts are broken. Friendships are damaged. It is not pretty. And all because the only "modesty" talk they were ever given was "be very kind to girls when they are PMSing, and open doors, and affirm the fine women in your life." The real kicker is, the outward acts of "being a gentleman" are precisely the sort of charming emotion-candy that start to make women swoon and struggle.

I have been told, in essence, that when male-female friendships are complicated in this way it is the girl's fault for "reading too much into it." I freely admit that, just as men do not always keep custody of the eyes, women do not always keep custody of the emotions. Point taken. But here I am, helping the man keep custody of his eyes AND also the sole guardian of my emotions? Really, Auntie Seraphic? Must the girl do all the work?

I'm begging you to blog on this topic. How can guys act with emotional modesty and "dampen down their allure?" How can women keep custody of their emotions? Your "Crushing a Crush" post was a good start.

Modest Millie

Dear Modest Millie,

I had a good laugh at your soi-disant gentleman. One hallmark of a gentleman is that he never refers to himself as a gentleman. A gentleman also gives modest, tasteful presents, only at appropriate times and only to appropriate people. It is appropriate to give flowers to one's mother, a hostess, a hostess's mother, a guest of honour, a performer just after her performance and one's love interest. It is not appropriate to give floral tributes willy-nilly.

This is because flowers are tributes. Once upon a time, family members kept an eye on whoever gave tributes to their unmarried womenfolk. A watchful mother would raise an eyebrow, bide her time, and then "have a word" with the young man if she disapproved of him in general, or if she thought he was unfairly encouraging her daughter to love him and/or making her conspicuous, i.e. gossiped about.

Sadly, advertisers and other baleful influences have come sharply between mothers and daughters, and daughters no longer tell Mama anything, let alone everything, whereas Mama is even more afraid of her daughter than she is for her. So, for good or ill, having the word is up to young women themselves.

(In some cultures, the "having the word" is left up to a girl's brothers. Unfortunately, they often are confused about whom they are to have this word, so in extreme cases they just turn on their sister and murder her in cold blood. So let us count our blessings.)

Pompous asses bearing gifts are easily dealt with. Say, "Thank you so much! My mother will love them." Then add, "Chrysanthemums are not my thing" or "I'm off chocolate this week" or whatever polite evasion seems most appropriate. That should tip off Pompous Ass that you are not interested in his tributes and that they are wasted on you. Watching him deflate should give you a thrill of private amusement. But private, please. If he does not get the message, you may eventually have to say, "Stop giving me things. You're making me feel uncomfortable."

This is the way to deal with pompous asses. It is a more delicate when you are dealing with a man who is seriously smitten. So in his case, just say "Thank you, X" and smile. No more, no less. Unless he behaves in an egregiously inappropriate or frightening way, it is dirty pool to complain about his gifts to your friends. You remain 100% free to turn down all his invitations to coffee, dinner, his brother's wedding, et cetera. A gentle and consistent "No" should discourage his attentions. If not, you may have to say, "Please stop. You're making me feel uncomfortable."

Now I shall address the problem of the boys intruding on your girl time and giving you Ideas. I agree that it would be nice if boys were told not to take advantage of the motherly nature of girls, i.e. Not To Lead Girls On. Part of the problem is that Chastity speakers assume that Nice Girls are A) not visual themselves (which is why none of us ever bought Tiger Beat nor ever taped a film star poster to our bedroom walls) and B) made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Another part is that men, not having been brainwashed into thinking about their "allure" 24/7, don't know that they have any. Often, the nicer they are, the less conscious of their allure men are.

Men can be stopped dead in their tracks by a flash of bosom or thigh. Women can be stopped dead in their tracks by a quirky eyebrow or a fine set of shoulders filling out a jacket. But several thousand years of culture have told us that Nice Girls hide this weakness, so we do. Men reveal interest, women conceal interest. So men assume we are not interested in them "in that way" to an egregiously obtuse extent. That is why, if she wants to reveal to a man she is interested in him, a Nice Catholic Girl is eventually forced to say something like, "Hey, Steve! Looking good!" and then touch his arm. All the brownies in the world are not going to make him clue in.

Speaking of those brownies, if you deliberately left out an open bag of gerbil food for a gerbil, and the gerbil came along and ate so much of it that he exploded, who would be to blame, you or the gerbil? You, of course, which is why, after I tell men that (SHOCKER!) women harbour desire too, a desire of which men should be respectful, I would give women a hard time about how much attention they lavish on men. When it comes to female-comfort-without-strings, lonely men are hungry gerbils.

In general, I would say to a Nice Catholic Boy that he should not kiss a girl on the lips unless he thinks he'd like to marry her. This may sound strict, but give me a break. Nice Orthodox Jewish boys behave that well; he can too. Men should not give girls romantic presents unless they want to be seen in the light of a suitor: romantic presents include roses, chocolate, perfume, poetry and jewellery. Men shouldn't give these things unless they mean business. But if a girl offers a boy a brownie, he can eat the damn brownie. Eating a brownie is not tantamount to a marriage proposal.

Emotional chastity means that women don't make themselves so available. It means you are too busy to listen to X obsess about his ex-girlfriend. (That's his priest's or therapist's job.) It also means you don't make brownies for boys. (That's their mothers' job.) It means you don't invite lone male friends into your home for a chat or a meal. (That's their girlfriends' job.) It means you never, ever, ever do a domestic chore for a male friend. I don't care how cutely clueless he is about the washing machine. Don't do it. It means that you don't submit to long, warm, snuggly hugs from non-related men. It means that you don't give non-related men long, warm, snuggly hugs.

My grandmother, a wonderfully friendly woman, was a genius at not letting men take advantage. When she was in the nursing home, she refused in no uncertain terms to cut up a widower's meat for him at table. Perhaps you (or his dead wife) would think this cruel. "Awwwwww, poor old guy. Obviously his wife used to cut up his meat for him; why wouldn't your grandmother?" Because it wasn't her job, that's why! Heaven only knows what the widower would have asked her to do for him next. Wash his socks, perhaps. Rub his feet.

I, a married woman and an Auntie to the Singles of the World, will listen to a man obsess about his ex-girlfriend, but only for a limited time. I say straight up how much time he is allotted. Thus, I create a boundary and an understanding that I am not The Nice Girl You Can Always Cry To. I am too busy for that. The only men who are allowed my full attention for longer than 15 minutes are my kinsmen and my husband. I sincerely encourage all young women to develop such boundaries themselves.

Anne Landers often said that no-one can take advantage of you without your permission, and I firmly believe that. So you keep an eye for chinks in your armour, Modest Millie!

A Quick Do and Don't List for Single Girls

1. Do invite Single unattached men to parties you are hosting.
2. Don't invite a Single unattached man to your place for meals or chatting.
3. Do bake goodies for your female friends or for mixed groups.
4. Don't bake goodies for your male friends.
5. Do help out relations and elderly friends with domestic chores.
6. Don't you DARE do a domestic chore for a Single unattached man!
7. Do accept a date for coffee from a nice Single unattached man.
8. Don't accept another date from that man if he spent coffee talking about his ex.
9. Do have long telephone chats with female friends.
10. Don't have long telephone chats with Single unattached male friends. Have short ones.
11. Do lavish female friends and relations with little gifts and hugs.
12. Do not lavish Single (or Married!) men with little gifts and hugs.

Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen. Incidentally, Single unattached men include priests and seminarians. I know it's so totally unfair that, as usual, this is all being put on you. But be careful, girls. Protect your little hearts.

UPDATE: Seraphic Singles available on UK Amazon! But not until May 31. That's a looooong time after the book comes out.

Also available on Japan, France and Germany Amazon! Goodness me. Again, though, May 31.

©Dorothy Cummings McLean 2010

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Not All Unmarried Men Are Gay

Elton John turns theologian, with predictably disastrous results.

Eventually I am going to write a post about the cross borne by Single men, from the ages of 14 to 104, who suffer from people speculating about their sexuality, just because they don't have groupies, a concubine, a girlfriend, a wife or several wives. Perhaps some of my Single male readers would like to send me some thoughts on the topic? (

In Canada, a not-unknown Catholic gay activist has written on his blog about a former seminarian who was joined at Mass by another young man. The fact that the ex-seminarian has A) left the seminary and B) been seen with another young man (my thought: his brother?) at Mass has led the activist to wonder if the ex-seminarian is no longer a seminarian because of this new young man. For reasons obvious to you and me but not to the activist (whom I've asked to remove the piece), I'm not going to link to his dumb post.

This kind of thing makes me furious. Could we assume that, with only about 1-5% of the population admitting to being homosexual (Kinsey's figure was whacked), 95-99% of people are not homosexual? As for Elton John, he might find my post on the history of Christian celibacy helpful. One more time: Celibacy. Among. Radical. Jewish. Men. Of. The. First. Century. Was. Normal. Celibacy. Went. Along. With. Being. A. Jewish. Prophet.

I might also remind Elton John that homosexual activity was quite frequent among the Hellenic population Except. Among. Jews. It was one of those things that defined Jews to themselves.

That said, if you are reading this, and you do have same-sex attractions, may I suggest a browse of Courage? Courage is an apostolate to Catholics (and other interested Christians) who have same-sex attractions and wish to remain faithful to Christian teachings.

Comforting Chicken Korma

This recipe is based on a recipe I read on the label of a jar of Tesco's Mild Curry Powder. Theirs is for four portions, but I only ever make two. Now, as most of you are Single, I will let you decide whether to cut my recipe in half to make one serving for yourselves, or to make the whole thing and save half as super-yummy Indian leftovers.

Comforting Chicken Korma

1 tsp butter or vegetable oil (don't halve this)
1 medium onion, diced
2 chicken breasts
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
70 mL single/table cream
2 Tbsp natural yogurt
50 mL chicken stock (I use a fraction of a stock cube in 50 mL hot water)
1 tsp tomato paste
10 g (or to taste) creamed coconut
2 Tbsp toasted almonds (optional)

1. Heat up ye oil or butter in a pan.

2. Fry the onions over a medium heat for ten minutes, at least until soft and yellow.

3. Add the chicken and cook for a further five minutes. I flip the pieces over at the 3 minute mark.

4. Add the curry powder and continue cooking for 2 minutes. It won't burn; don't panic.

5. Add cream, yogurt, stock, paste and creamed coconut. If you don't have creamed coconut, add 10g dried coconut. It makes the dish a little less rich.

6. Bring it to a boil, and then turn the heat down to simmer. Put a lid on the pan and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

7. Prepare some basmati rice now. The korma is also excellent with naan bread. I am starting to get hungry just thinking about it. Mmmm!

8. Sprinkle the korma with toasted almonds and serve with rice and/or naan and wilted spinach. YUM!

Not for Fridays in Lent!

If there are any Goans reading this, they might be a bit indignant since this mild korma is not a Goan dish. Goan food is firey! It is much too firey for me. But I want to acknowledge beautiful Goa because it has a big Roman Catholic community. I've met many wonderful Goans and Goan-Canadians in Catholic circles in Canada. I would love to visit Goa one day.

Update: This Single woman had an amazing Valentine's Day full of love. Woot! That's what I'm talkin' about!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Traveller Weddings

Okay, I know this looks like the third marriage post in a row, but it is not. It is about weddings. Weddings are not the same thing as marriages. And it is about Travellers, i.e. Irish Gypsies. There was a show on telly last night about Traveller Weddings and I was AGOG.

Travellers, like all Gypsies, have a mixed reputation in Britain. Travellers are unique from the Roma, for the Travellers have been in the British Isles since the 15th century and most of them look very British, or Irish, indeed. B.A. pointed out some Traveller teenagers in the train, and they looked just like ordinary Scottish teenangers. There are about 19,000 Irish Travellers in the U.K.

People who don't like Travellers say they steal and rubbish the landscape and fight a lot--which sums up the non-Travellers of Trainspotting, but there you go. But what fascinated me about last night's program about Traveller Weddings was their family values.

Travellers marry young (as young as sixteen) and never divorce. They have big families. They homeschool. They tend to live together in caravan parks. The girls, who dress as gaudily as any British or Irish teenager, are strictly watched over, and they are absolutely forbidden to have premarital sex. It is considered a dishonour to themselves and a shame for their families. (Boys are also discouraged from such behaviour, though [as usual] not to the same extent.) They don't drink either. Once a girl is married, her father is no longer responsible for providing for her; her husband is. Traveller men apparently won't work for other people, so they are self-employed tradesmen. Their family honour is intensely important to them, and they will fight for it, bare-knuckle.

I was entranced as I heard all these things. I remember reading as a child of "Gypsy child weddings" and strictness about sex, but I didn't know these ideas were still around. And then the woman who makes the marvellous wedding dresses for the Traveller girls was asked how much she charges.

"I'd have to kill you," she said. "If I told you, the Travellers would kill me."

Travellers, apparently, never talk about money. Never, never, never. And this struck me as incredibly classy for a group of people famous for (as you will read) their bad taste. I realize that it might be difficult to be a very bright Traveller girl who wants to become a university professor, but in general, I am impressed by their domestic virtues. Or am I? I am all for girls being chaste and not drinking, and I can understand how marrying young helps society, and I can understand how higher education is not practical when your life is going to be devoted to raising kids, keeping house and maintaining Traveller traditions, but I am uncomfortable with, well... Oh, never mind. I don't fuss about Amish and Mennonite women. The Irish Travellers are mostly devout Catholics.

Bad taste is, of course, in the eye (the tongue?) of the beholder, but I for once would never wear any of the concoctions I saw on the television last night. In themselves, they were amazing, but....uh-uh. The current fashion is for BIG, and some Traveller brides design for themselves dresses with skirts so big they can barely get in through the church doors. I am not kidding.

Behold here. And here. And here.

Sometimes the dresses weigh more than 300 pounds, and they literally leave scars on the bride's hips. But apparently the girls are proud of their dress scars. Their wedding day is literally the most important day of their lives.

The last wedding on the show made me sad. The bride was 22, and so considered herself relatively old. Her family lives in a house in Lancashire; her groom was taking her back to live in Ireland. She had saved up for her immense wedding through her job in a call centre: she had worked hard and saved everything. But she had met the groom only TWICE. And as she danced with her father at the wedding, she cried. When she danced with the groom, we weren't shown her face, but the groom looked very concerned.

And I'll tell you what I think. I think this girl just wanted to get married. She didn't know this young man (and to give the Travellers credit, they don't marry off their daughters to old men) particularly well, but she was getting on (at 22!) and she had been saving for this wedding her entire life. Perhaps all her friends were already married. So she jumped at his proposal.

I hope I am wrong. And I hope she will be happy. At any rate, her close-knit culture forbids infidelity and divorce, and the other women will probably be a help to her.

Update:I don't know how I feel about the Tacky Weddings site. I thought it would provide all you Singles with a good guffaw, but I'm loving these people who did their weddings THEIR way. Singles, it will depend on the mood you're in. The comments are mean-spirited but the photos are simply... Well, I don't know what to say.

Update 2: Don't run away with the Gypsies just yet. An Irish reader drew my attention to this.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

How Will I Know?

N.B. Happily married lady stuff ahead, so don't read the middle section if you are seriously not in the mood for it.

When I was a fresh-faced young thing, Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" topped the charts. Back then the woman was a beautiful girl with an innocent, dazzling smile. (She featured on the cover of seventeen magazine before her first album came out.) She looked like the kind of young woman any young woman would want for a best friend, and that any girl would want for a babysitter. She came from a family of strong women: Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick. Aretha Franklin was her godmother, and in her video for "How Will I Know", Whitney consults the Queen of Soul's portrait, saying "I'm asking you 'cause you know about these things." She was so sweet.

Then she married Bobby Brown. And then she started on the drugs. It was a very public tragedy. And I always thought it unfair that such a beautiful, sweet and talented girl could become a skeletal, allegedly battered drug-addict. Rightly or wrongly, I always thought it was because she had married Bobby Brown.

Marrying the wrong person, or being the wrong person to marry, can seriously mess up your life. That's why I blog here day after day, counselling detachment, chastity, prayer, enjoyment of your lives right now, appreciating the love in your life right now. Most people do marry at least once, but many of them shouldn't: they aren't ready yet, or their fiance isn't ready yet, or they've mistaken fancy for real love. The real tragedy is not when a man or woman breaks your heart by not marrying you--it's when a man or woman breaks your heart after marrying you. I hope none of you Singles ever know the pain of that.

(Happily Married Lady Middle Section)
I imagine every happy love story is different. But I will say that I didn't know that B.A. really loved me until he asked me to marry him. I thought he did, I hoped he did, but I wasn't 100% sure. To me, a marriage proposal--freely made--is proof of a man's love. And when I say "freely made", I mean without pressure. There was no societal expectation that B.A. should propose marriage to a woman he had first seen in person less than a fortnight before. But he did, and handed over his most prized possession in place of a ring, and told me to think about it for a month. Two months later he came to Canada, met my family and friends, and gave me a ring.

"We don't recommend this to everyone," said B.A. to a friend with a long-term girlfriend. I especially would not recommend whirlwind romance to anyone under 30 or anyone who has met someone on a package-tour or all-inclusive vacation. But I am confident that I fell in love with B.A. and married him for all the right reasons. These include:

1. he is the kindest, best-humoured man I ever met
2. he is incredibly witty and not at the expense of others
3. he has collected a great number of all the right books
4. he is a church-going Roman Catholic of the sort who loves Benedict XVI with an earnest and filial love
5. he has been a committed Christian since he was 10
6. he loves hospitality--both giving it and receiving it, and so do I
7. he loves historical houses, and so do I
8. he is the sort of man whom my parents like
9. he reminds me in many ways of my brothers
10. he is physically attractive, and thinks I am too
11. he has an interesting job with a salary big enough to support both of us when I am not earning much
12. he suggested I write full time and find a husband to support me
13. he bears wrongs patiently and tends to forget them
14. he is in his late thirties and knows who he is
15. we share many middle-class values, including the deep cultural importance of classical music and eating supper in the dining-room instead of in front of the TV
16. I knew myself and I knew this was a man I'd be very happy living with and eating with for the next 50 years

(Okay, those who are super-cranky today can read from here:)

From this list, it should be obvious that I have a lot of respect for my husband. Indeed, I would be mad not to have this respect, for he is eminently respectable. So to the question "How do I know if I should marry my boyfriend?" I would reply:

1. He's a good man.
2. You love him.
3. You respect him completely and wish you were more like him.
4. You are willing to drop everything and follow him across the world.
5. Being together brings out the best in both of you.
6. Your parents, family and friends like him, too.
7. Together you make enough money to live together as a married couple.
8. You are both grown-ups, which means that neither of you is hooked on Drama.
9. He asks you to marry him in as romantic a way as he is able to figure out. ("Whatever. Fine. Okay. We'll get married. Geez!" is not a good proposal.)

Update: I've been reading the transcript of Oprah's 2009 interview with Whitney Houston. What is clear to me is that Whitney really loved Brown, and took her wedding vows seriously, but that Bobby was the wrong man to marry. He was a weak man, a jealous man, a man who had to be in control. And for whatever reason, Whitney got a sexual charge out of being controlled. This is not normal or healthy. And refusing to speak to your spouse unless he or she does drugs with you is serious emotional abuse.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Blue Indigo

My day's proper post is below. This is just a short note to direct you to three interesting links about my book.

The first link is to Indigo books in Canada. They are carrying Seraphic Singles for less than the full market price AND they might have a competitive shipping rate, so give them a look. They are also asking for reviews. Obviously you cannot give a proper review without the book, but maybe they will allow you to say my writing on Single Life is generally marvellous, so the book is sure to be, too.

The second link is great fun, and it will bring you to the offical Library and Archives of Canada. They are the people who assign Canadian books their library call number. To my great surprise, my book has not been classified with theology but with sociology. And I admit I think that exciting because it suggests that my rather Catholic way of thinking might reach a larger and more diverse set of people than church-going Catholics. Preaching to the choir is cozy, and my literal preacher gives his literal choir gin and tonics afterwards, but it is nice to get out into the world and meet new people, too.

The third link is to an advert on Toronto, Canada's Faith Connections for my book launch on March 25 at 7 PM at The Duke of York Pub. Cash bar, but free hors d'oeuvres and one heck of a lot of Singles and Marrieds and Religious. Let's just say that if you like this blog, you're going to love my book and you're going to have a lot in common with people at the book launch. I'm sad that B.A. can't come, but if you come, I will cheer right up!

Update: Mysteriously, it seems to be available over Amazon France, but only after May 31.

Update 2: Thanks, Alisha!

Birds of a Feather

We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. Two kids from two totally dissimilar backgrounds, whose families are mired in ethnic or class or religious prejudice, fall madly in love but are torn apart by....

Wait a minute. That is not the story of Romeo and Juliet at all. Romeo and Juliet were both Italians from the same town. They were both children of rich men. They were both Catholics. Their fathers' opposition to such a match was based in nothing more than a irrational dislike for each other. And this was Shakespeare's point: irrational petty grievances are stupid and even tragic.

The unfortunate impact of Shakespeare's powerful play on our own times is twofold. First, because Romeo and Juliet's parents were irrational about hate, Western youth suspect their cautious parents of being irrational about love. Second, because we mistake Romeo and Juliet for West Side Story, we think it a much more romantic thing if we fall in love with someone completely different from ourselves and our families than if we fall in love with "one of us".

And maybe it is. When we fall in love with someone supremely different from ourselves, with differences almost as vast as the differences between man and woman, it shows that romantic love can transcend boundaries. But if those boundaries can't keep love out, are they necessarily able to keep love in?

I have an American friend who will be a university professor. She is marrying a not-American plumber. They are madly in love. And their friends are greatly pleased. For one thing, bride and groom are both Catholics. For another, the professor is descended from a line of plumbers. She has a great respect, a familial respect, for the hard work and pragmatism of plumbers. Her domestic values are their domestic values. And he, knowing firsthand the value of hard work, deeply respects the hard work that goes into being a professor.

My favourite metaphor for a successful marriage is that of the fire in the grate. Character and shared values are the logs. Passion is the match and the tinder. Match, tinder and logs together add up to a warm fire that will keep a marriage going for decades. And I imagine even the ashes can keep the widowed warm.

I think Catholics should date only Catholics. But that is because I assume that the principal value of Roman Catholics is their Roman Catholic faith. This is not always true, of course. There are Catholics whose supreme value is something else, like the American Democratic party, or art, or capitalism, or their ethnic group. And as far as marriage goes, that's fine.

I believe that you can marry someone much different from yourself and be happy as long as you are agreed on your core value or values. A Filipino left-winger can be happy with an Filipina right-winger, so long as they both agree that what really counts in life is that they were both so blessed by God that they were born Filipino. And by that token, a Catholic who believes with all his soul that hell will break out if the British Labour Party falls from power will be eternally smitten by the intelligence of his non-Christian wife who believes with all her soul the same. And, no doubt, there are married couples with nothing discernably in common except their mutual love of amassing capital for Mr & Mrs Enterprises, Inc.

Anyone attempting marriage simply has got to know what their core values are. I worked with a man who had been recently left by his wife. Although they were well-off and had two children together, the wife just wasn't happy. What made her unhappy was that her husband was not Ukrainian. This could not have come as a surprise to her; he wasn't Ukrainian when they married. But the wife began to fuss about her Ukrainian identity and the Ukrainian identity of the children. Her husband's ethnicity mattered not a whit to her. Indeed, it was a threat. So off she went, taking the children with her. Subsequently, her in-laws walked out of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, furious at the portrayal of the groom's parents, shown to be dopey in their WASPness. It is a tragedy that my co-worker's wife did not know herself before she married him. I wonder what the children make of it all.

Friendship is not the same as marriage. We can and should make friends with all sorts of people, people radically different from ourselves, so long as friendship with them does not lead us away from friendship with God. But marriage is where friendship is turned into family, and marriage is not just a personal decision affecting two people alone. It affects two families, it affects the Church and it affects wider society.

Marriage is the way in which a complete stranger is introduced into the very heart of personal family life. I have a sister-in-law, and by marrying B.A., I presented my parents with a son-in-law, my siblings with a brother-in-law and my nephews with an uncle.

Fortunately for everyone involved, B.A. is nice to have around. Indeed, when I was falling in love with B.A., the thought that he would delight everyone in the family at Christmas Dinner popped into my mind. We still have not had Family Christmas Dinner together, but that's not the point. The point is that he adds to, not detracts from, the joy of our shared family life. (My sister-in-law, by the way, is a precious jewel loved by all of us, and I think marrying her is the best and most important thing my brother has ever done.)

When B.A. and I were being interviewed by my parish priest, the parish priest kept harping on our ethnic differences. Now, as B.A. is a Scot and my mother identifies as a third generation Scots-Canadian, we were not inclined to take this very seriously. But it turns out after all that a 21st century Scot has cultural values different from those of a Canadian descendent of 19th century Scots. These differences, though slight, do indeed cause friction. For example, I feel the ghost of B.A.'s grandmother at my elbow every time I do something in the kitchen, and she makes me cranky. (That said, I have submitted to her way of washing the dishes, which does, after all, make more sense, given the sink.)

But our way is made smoother by all the things a certain 21st century Scot and a certain descendent of 19th century Scots have in common. The principal one is belief to the teachings of the Catholic Christian Church as we understand them and, as we both understand them in the way Chesterton (and not Chittister) seems to have understood them, we should be fine.

ANSWER TO LOUISE'S COMBOX QUERY: When you say "you've fallen for a non-Catholic man", do you mean someone who has made a promise to marry that non-Catholic man? OR do you mean someone who has a crush on a non-Catholic man?

I, personally, have dated all kinds of non-Catholics, and even married one (and that marriage was annulled), but when push came to shove I knew I would be unhappy, deeply unhappy, unless my husband were Catholic.

But that's me. One of my super-Catholic friends recently married a very nice Protestant in the Catholic Church, and he presumably is okay with any kids they might have being Catholic. I hope he is, since to marry him she had to swear an oath to bring any kids up Catholic.

Officially, and according to the Baltimore Catechism, the Church discourages mixed marriages and considers them dangerous to the faith of the Catholic party. But in the 1994 Catechism, the writers bend over backwards to say they might not be hideous errors if certain conditions are met. See 1633-1637 in the CCC. Meanwhile, if you marry a non-Christian, I don't believe the marriage can be sacramental. But check the CCC on that.

Some men and women lie their brains out to marry the person they want to marry. "I'll become a Catholic"/"I respect Catholicism" and then not becoming a Catholic/bitching about the spouse's Catholicism before the ink is dry on the register is a dodge as old as the Reformation. I fell for it myself once upon a time.

The first thing I would ask a nice Catholic girl wanting to marry a nice non-Catholic boy is what the boy REALLY thinks of Catholic beliefs. If he says he's okay with them, I'd want to know exactly what he meant by that. I'd want to know if he'd be okay with Catholic beliefs about marriage, including no artificial birth control, no sterilization, no IVF, no swinging ever. I'd want to know if he'd be okay with wife and kids (and hopefully him) going to Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation. I'd want to know what he thinks about his kids being brought up to believe in God, the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, the special place of Mary in heaven, the primary option for the poor, the works. I'd want to know that Catholic school is okay by him.

I'd want to know what kind of non-Catholic this guy is, and how his family feel about Catholics. If they're Greek or Russian Orthodox, I'd shake in my boots. They tend to hate our guts. Not all of them of course, but---whoa! Where I come from, and it's not Corfu, even merely nominal Greek Orthodox people sneer at Roman Catholics every chance they get. I make an exception for one particularly ecumenically-minded Greek guy I knew in college; he had a lot of Evangelical friends too.

I'd want to know what this guy's religious beliefs really were. No sense in hiding from this thorny question. Maybe he doesn't really have any, or that he sort of believes in God but the rest is hazy---and in a way, that would make things less complicated.

Then I'd want to know how this guy is going to help this girl become a better Catholic Christian. Is he, perhaps, a model of patience and charity? Does she wish she could be more like him? That would be a good sign, in my books.

Then I'd want to know what is going to keep Catholic Girl from hating Non-Catholic Boy's guts when the chips are down and she is tempted to kill him. Will she admit to herself that because he is an X (X being one of her core values) he is worthy of respect and love even though right at this moment she hates his guts. Is X going to be enough?

Finally, Catholic girl should pray for non-Catholic husband, that he convert to the same faith as his wife and kids. This actually happens from time to time. Really, I think whoever has the strongest faith is the one who converts the other. From an orthodox Catholic point of view, this is great if the non-Catholic becomes Catholic but a massive tragedy if the Catholic lapses. It's interesting to see how many women convert to Judaism or Islam to please their husbands.

Meanwhile, if the deed is done, and Catholic girl has married non-Catholic boy, what I would suggest is a life that stresses the values the two have in common. If they both love the poor to distraction, that's great: they can volunteer in a soup kitchen or "Out of the Cold" program together. If they both love opera, to the opera they must regularly go. If they are both Christians, they should decorate the house and celebrate like crazy for major Christian feast days.

Also, both people must go into the marriage determined to do 100% of the work. Of course neither can actually do 100% of the work, but if both are determined to try, they should be okay.

For more information, I heartily recommend talking to a priest or spiritual director and finding a book on the subject of ecumenical marriage.

There will be challenges. Guaranteed.

P.S. One of the happiest Hollywood marriage (Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), which ended only in the wife's death, was a mixed marriage.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Stages of Praying for a Spouse

Catholics who aspire to Serious Singledom do have their challenges. Men who wish to live their Serious Singledom as priests have structures and groups (like Serra) to support them, but they still have to deal with a chorus of "Oh, how sad that priests can't get married!" The response "But I don't want to get married" is sometimes greeted with a blank stare. Searching Singles and Married People sometimes have difficulty comprehending that some people just don't want to get married. In my hometown of Toronto, nuns and religious brothers almost never wear identifying garb, so they don't serve as public reminders that permanent celibacy is a viable and honourable option. I hope this changes with the Benedict XVI generation.

But my first sympathies are with Searching Singles. Serious Singles are free to get on with it, but Searching Singles are stuck with searching until they either give up or get married. They sometimes suffer quite a lot. However, Jesus did say, "Pick up your cross and follow Me." Protracted Singleness, for a Searching Single, is indeed a cross. So pick it up, my little Singles, and follow Him.

I think there are three stages to praying for a spouse, and I described them to the St Andrews Catholic Society. They are "fun", "passionate" and "accepting." In my experience, the Searching Single bounces around them.

In the fun stage of prayer, the Searching Single looks up the saints traditionally said to find an unmarried person a spouse, and these are St. Joseph and St. Anne, Our Lord's Grandmother. The prayer asking the help of Saint Anne is "St. Anne, St. Anne, send me a man." I don't know of a similarly simple intercessory prayer to St. Joseph. But I do remember asking both St. Joseph and St. Anne to help me out. (When we were engaged, B.A. and I visited St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, where I took the opportunity--in the original oratory, thank you, not the behemoth--to thank him.)

In the passionate stage of prayer, the Single Person gets right down into his or her heart where it hurts and wrestles with God over the issue of his or her Singleness. "Send me a Spouse," yells the Searching Single.

Now, this is controversial to some, for this may be mistaken for disrespect. Anglican converts used to the Book of Common Prayer are used to a lot of bowing and scraping before the Lord our God, and that is okay. But Jacob (or Israel) wrestled with an Angel (or Our Lord God) and before that, his mother demanded of the Lord for the answer to why her twins were fighting in her womb. In the Psalms, the psalmist intersperses his praise with demands and complaints. In the Book of Job, Job refuses to admit he had done something wrong when he hadn't and demands an account from the Lord. And, to my great delight, a Certain Blind Man Who Sat By the Wayside Begging (Luke 18: 31-43) yells and screams until Our Lord asks to see him:

Et clamavit dicens: Jesu, Fili David, miserere me. Et qui praeibant, increpabant eum ut taceret. Ipse vero multo magis clamabat: Fili David miserere mei. (My translation: And he yelled, saying: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And those who went before, scolded him, that he should shut up. But he kept on yelling, even louder.)

So I think that if your heart directs you to inwardly yell and scream and demand that the Lord have mercy on you in your Searching Single suffering, you should go ahead and do it. This is a million zillion times better than deciding that there is no point in yelling because God doesn't care or that there is no God and this is an absurd, purposeless, random universe ruled by blind evolutionary forces. By demanding mercy, you are keeping the lines of communication open.

The final stage of prayer is acceptance. And that is when you say "not my will, but Your will be done". (And where Jacob lost the fight, where Job said he was dust and ashes, and where the Certain Blind Man shut up long enough for Our Lord to get a word in.) For many, of not most of us, this comes after a good wrestle, like Jacob's, or a big squally fuss, like the Certain Blind Man's. And, guess what, this is not always a lasting state. I think saints manage to say "not my will, but Yours be done" every single second, but I discovered that even after I was Seraphic about being Single, my prayers would zoom around between Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.

Stage 3 was the most comfortable one because it was followed by a feeling of trust and contentment. The only way I could say the Stage 3 prayer with sincerity was to remember that God loved me and had a plan for me and all creation that I didn't know about and that I should just calm down and let Him unfold His plan in His own time.

Meanwhile, there are activities that correspond with the stages. In the fun stage, I would sign on with Catholic Singles dating services and flirt by Instant Message. I even gave into massive peer pressure and gave answers to the very long and boring questionnaire set before me by Whatsit (the expensive secular one whose name I honestly forget--not LavaLife, hmm....) as my buddy typed them in. In the passionate stage, I would gripe at my Spiritual Director. In the accepting stage, I would write a nice blog post about the Single Life.

But I am absolutely sure that it was Stage 3 that made me a better and, if I may say so, more marriageable person.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Today can be a good day.

Happy Valentine's Day to all my little Singles, especially Notburga, Berenike, Volker, Cecilia, Bolyongok, Theobromophile, Gruntette, IA_, Dominic Mary, Dayle, KimP, Hip2BSquare, DowntownDude, Calvinist Cath, Janet in Toronto, Wodkatonik, Shiraz, Frank Monozlai, Jasmina, Mary, Alephine, Elspeth, MargoB, Thwarted Throne, Alisha Ruiss, Lemons, Markyate Priory, Aussie Girl in Australia, Leonine, Healthily Sanguine, sciencegirl, The Sojouner, Claire Christina, Anna, Jessica, Francesca, Lizzie, Jen D, Clio, Maggie, Mark M, Aelianus, Papa Bear, Some Guy on the Street, Amy, B, Mulieris Fortis, Father PF, Father B, any other commentators and all the lovely lurkers.

Valentine's greetings also to my married readers!

Special valentine's greetings to B.A.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report that at least 3 of 4 overseas Operation Valentinus packages reached their targets in time.

Survival Tip: Every time you see a canoodling couple today, take a breath and silently say, "Bless their little hearts." It might be fun to count them, too. Count up each couple whose little hearts you bless, and then report to me!

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Celibacy Revolution

I'm back from St Andrews, having made sure its Catholic Society knows that there is something called a vocation to the Single Life and what it looks like and how you know you might have one and how you go about investigating its possibilities. I also talked about Searching Single stuff and Married Stuff and how priesthood is something Serious Single men might want to look into. At the end my throat was sore and, boy, did I need that beer afterwards!

The part of Serious Single life that I find so fascinating is that lifelong celibacy, such as began in the Mediterranean area only around Jesus's day, was a revolution against the ancient pattern of marriage-reproduction-death. Since the average lifespan even as late as the second-century A.D. Roman Empire was only twenty-five years, getting married young and having babies was essential to the survival of earthly society. But Christians, in their enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God, looked at earthly society and said "Who cares?"

This will blow your minds, but from St. Paul to St. Augustine, the Early Church Fathers had a bit of a problem convincing Christians not to throw marriage completely out the window. Some Christians, in their enthusiasm about being eunuchs for the Kingdom, preached that marriage was actually BAD. So St. Paul and St. Augustine, to name only two, had to put the breaks on and insist that marriage was GOOD and, yes, although lifelong celibacy was better, marriage was still great. St. Augustine's winning argument--get this--was that marriage was good because it produced more virgins.

I'm telling you, once upon a time being Seriously Single was where it was at.

Now the ancient Greeks and Romans were very impressed by celibacy. Never mind orgies and pederasty and all that. Philosophers and other educated Greeks and Romans valued temperence very much. And they thought that the most manly man was the man who could do without very much sex. Sex robbed men of their strength, brains, whatever. (An idea that still manages persists today with athletes. Do you remember in the film Rocky, the trainer's belief that "Women weaken legs?" You can thank the Romans.) So they were very impressed by men who had no sex at all. Pliny the Elder wrote with admiration of groups of prophetic celibate Jewish men, like the Essenes, in Palestine who lived without women or slaves. And later the total sexual abstinence of a growing number of Christians impressed Greeks and Romans so much that it helped in their conversion to Christ.

Thus, Jesus was not the first Jewish man in his time to have no wife. We hear all kinds of dumb theories of how weird it was for a Jewish man not to be married and therefore Jesus MUST have been married. This is nonsense. Historian Peter Brown writes that Jesus's celibacy was an unremarkable part of His calling as a first century Jewish prophet. Of course, one difference was that the Essenes didn't want women or slaves around because their celibacy was about being "single-hearted" and they thought women and slaves were "double-hearted." But when Jesus said, "Follow me", He was talking to women, too.

When early Christians decided to follow Jesus by going out and preaching as celibate people, they weren't just giving up marriage, they were giving up a rooted existence--and this was revolutionary, too. But what I find particularly amazing is that for the very first time, women didn't have to marry, have sex and have babies. The median age for Roman brides was 14. And even the Vestal Virgins were expected to marry when they retired from their positions at age 30. But for the first time, women could say "No, I want to stay Single, thanks." And they could add, "Like Our Lord Jesus."

By remaining celibate, women and uneducated men could belong to a spiritual elite. Celibate women and men were prized as heroes and, as we still see them, as signs of the Kingdom of God where there will be no marriage. And women, generally ground down, alas, took on something akin to male privilege by remaining celibate. And, indeed, since they didn't have children or the wear-and-tear of married life, they probably lived longer too. (Even today, Single women live longer than anyone.)

In the beginning, I imagine, Serious Singles were just Single without any blessings about it. But then they did take vows, and Consecrated Virgins and Widows lived as sacred presences in their family homes and later out in the desert as Desert Mothers. Even later they joined up and lived together as proto-nuns and then as really, truly organized nuns.

Later still, Single women tried experiments in living Single in the world, instead of living Single enclosed. The Beguines were one movement of such women, and they made bishops nervous. And then the Counter-Reformation Era Mary Ward wanted to start an order of roving nuns, a kind of female Society of Jesus, and got seriously stomped on by Rome before she was exonerated. Despite, Mary Ward's exoneration, the Loretto Sisters were made to act more like conventual nuns. Now that they have reclaimed their original "charism", their numbers have dropped like a stone. But never mind that for now. The point is that Serious Single female life has always been important to the life of the Church, as has, of course, Serious Single male life. But then, ever since St. Augustine's day, those Serious Single men have usually been brothers and celibate priests.

Today we tend to think that marriage is the better part and there is not as much need to remind Christians, at any rate, that marriage is good. Unlike the Early Christians, our problem is that we forget that celibacy is good, too. Indeed, it is better for those who can hack it, for it is truly a sign of the Kingdom of God.

Update: My report on my St Andrews trip is here!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A Modestly Modest Proposal

Somebody asked me a chastity question yesterday, and I gulped like a goldfish. I can talk about the Single Life all day long, and I can talk about Strategic Dating for hours. But ask me to talk about Chastity, and I will look at you with eyes darting backwards and forwards like those of a cockatoo who's just made a 48 hour journey from Australia in a cardboard tube.

One reason why I would never give a Chastity Lecture is because of the fatal opening line of "When I was a teenager". Is there an introduction more dire than "When I was a teenager"? But anyway, when I was a teenager, passionate kissing (like in the movies) was still thought to be a relatively harmless and completely desirable recreational activity. Now that I am old and cranky and, it must be said, married, I don't quite believe that anymore.

So if I were the Queen of the World, I would make it a rule that nobody could kiss lingeringly on the lips unless they were almost-engaged. That is so retro I am dying of embarrassment here. When a young married guy said almost the exact same thing at a Theology of the Body lecture two years ago, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Oh, pul-eeze, married guy!" But as a matter of fact, when B.A. first kissed me, I knew we were almost-engaged.

This is not to say that I think you are Bad People because you made out like bandits yesterday. All over this little world, young Single People of Every Religion were making out like bandits yesterday. And yesterday was Tuesday, so imagine Saturday afternoon. Therefore, nobody write in, "Seraphic, do you think I am bad because...?" I don't think you are bad because of anything. God created you good. Jesus died for you. You're good. And don't ask me about "purity" because I don't really believe in the concept of "purity" applied to human sexuality because human bodies cannot be compared to Ivory Soap, as I explain very forcefully in My Book. What counts is treating everyone, including yourself, like beautiful Temples of the Holy Spirit.

But what I have concluded, after 39 years, and also now being married, which I admit makes these things seem a lot simpler than they do when you're Single, that one way to keep out of trouble of all kinds, especially emotional, is not to kiss people passionately unless marriage is definitely in the air and a diamond ring is immanent.

My parent's generation (but not my parents) ushered in the Sexual Revolution and screwed us all up. Maybe your generation will save us. I hope so.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Busy, busy, busy!

What a day! Deadlines, social stuff, a talk to plan, housework--you name it. Today was not a bloggy day.

Tomorrow is my talk to the U. of St. Andrews Catholic Society, and I'm looking forward to it very much. Of course, talking about stuff I normally only write about is very scary. Eeek! And I will be talking about Marriage as well as Single Life... Er, only been married for nine months, so what do I know, eh?

Anyway, it will be fun and if I blank right out, I will simply move into my one of my usual lectures, e.g. "How to Find Your Writing Voice." Here's the Catholic Register version of the latter.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Valentine's Day is not Failure Day

A pal of mine called Valentine's Day "Failure Day", and I was shocked. I've been so consciously peppy about the Single Life for so long, I've forgotten that other women are perfectly comfortable complaining about Valentine's Day and equating not getting anything on that day to a personal failure of Titantic proportions.

Once again, I encourage all women out there to make or buy Valentines for such Single female friends and relations who will not blow up like TNT in response to your kindness. Single men can fight off their V-Day loneliness by also doing a similar good deed, only in their case I recommend sending these valentines to Mom or Mum, Auntie and Sis, who cannot possibly read anything scary into them.

My five-year-old nephew Pirate, soon to become as famous as Christopher Robin (I hope), once electrified a room of his female relations by suddenly saying to his mother, "Mommy, you're my little sweetheart."

All his female relations cried "Awwww!" in one voice and looked all tender and misty and in danger of melting like butter in a puddle on the rug.

So I think that only good can come of brothers and sons and nephews firing off or bringing valentines and chockies such kinswomen as they are strictly forbidden by God and man to marry.

If you do something nice for someone on Valentine's Day, that day cannot possibly be a failure. Meanwhile, the day is a fantastic excuse for Single Women to have a party and tell (risque) jokes and watch Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean or Colin Firth's wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice.* It is an opportunity to dress as Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell and sing a chorus of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend." It is a Women's Solidary Day of epic proportions, which is no doubt why the [Woman's Private Part] Monologues are staged that day on Roman Catholic college campuses across the USA and at secular colleges elsewhere.

Personally, I always had better things to do on February 14 than listen to horrible stories about rape by soldiers and 'empowering' stories about statuatory rape by seductive lesbians, all in the company of the kind of man who can be talked into going to such a show. Apparently the audience participates by chanting an Anglo-Saxon word no lady or gentleman ever utters, no matter how stressed out she or he is. If the F-word is merely a bomb, this word is a weapon of mass destruction plus cancer thrown in.

No, there are better things that Single people can do for fun on Valentine's Day. They just need a little ingenuity and planning. So please, dear Single readers, my angels, reveal in the comm box what you're going to do on Sunday. By so doing you may give helpful ideas to your fellow Singles. I am going to an afternoon cocktail party being hosted by a clever, romance-less Single man. No doubt he will be rolling in chocolates by supper.

*Update: Fraternal correction by Berenike leads me to note that if for you sharing risque jokes and admiring matinee idols, even in all-female company, are occasions for sin, and not the female bonding devices they are for me, then obviously you shouldn't do those things. Frankly, I think reading romance novels with erotic scenes--a very common (and solitary) female habit--much, much worse. But, anyway, gnothe seauton.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Long Letter

Poppets, I have been writing a very long answer in response to an email. In short the email read:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am a young woman. I want to get married one day. Retaining my femininity is very important to me. Should I join the Marines for four years?


And, in short, I replied,

Dear Gruntette,


Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

I forgot to ask Gruntette for permission to reproduce our correspondence, so this is all the detail you're getting.

Here's Mulieris Dignitatem.

I totally respect Gruntette's urge to serve her country, by the way. If there are any American (British, Canadian, et al.) servicewomen (or even servicemen) who would like to add their two cents in the comm box, be my guest.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Melty Smile Admirer

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm in my late 20s. I'm a nurse and loving it! My flatmate knows every Catholic person in town. I go to pretty much every social event that I can and meet new people and am loving life. I, of course, have my woe-is-me searching single days/hours then I snap out of it. It's usually hormone induced and cured with a glass or three of red wine and some chocolate or retail therapy (don't mind being single as long as I have good shoes)!

Now, let me tell you about Mr. Melty Smile.

A bunch of people went out for a late night breakfast after a church concert, and this thirty-something guy with a smile that made me melt leaned over the priest next to me and introduced himself. Turns out he goes to the same Mass and I've met his mom at the local "gin and tonic of good will." The next few times I saw him we had a chat. Then he gave me a usb thing with orthodox sermons downloaded on it which I promptly lost, confessed, got another one, found the first one, returned the second. He's offered me rides...

Now, other boys at church have been trying to set me up with blokes. I told them that I already liked this one--probably a bad idea as one of them decided to tell his now ex-girlfriend who in turn I think told Mr. Melty Smile who now just isn't quite the same after long conversation with aforementioned.

This past weekend I had a party at my place, invited nearly everyone I know here, and about 40 people came, including Mr. Melty Smile. He brought his guitar because I told him that someone else was bringing theirs and at the end of the night he played Spanish guitar music to me . . . Well I was the only one in that corner anyway. At about 10, he abruptly left when his ex-girlfriend came in with her boyfriend, but not without giving me a kiss on the cheek and saying goodbye.

The next day he came up to my sister and me after Mass to say hello and politely refuse my sister's invitation to breakfast . . .

I've read your "Crushing the crush" blog and have been hell bent on getting over him since. Every time Mr. Melty Smile comes into my head, I pray to St. Joe as patron of unrequited love to free me. But then today I re-read and am asking for clarification of whether or not I can crush away. Oh wise Auntie Seraphic, what should my plan of action be??? I'm having drinks on Saturday together with, like, 80 friends. Do I invite Mr. Melty Smile or what?

Melty Smile Admirer

Dear Melty Smile Admirer,

Excellent that you love your job. As a nurse, you serve people and yet make enough money, and that is basically the secret to a happy life: service, but not slavery. And a great flatmate is worth her weight in rubies. It strikes me that you are pretty Seraphic and therefore when a good marriage prospect comes along, you will be able to make your decision to marry him with a free heart, and not from loneliness, desperation, age-panic or any of that bad stuff.

Crushes are painful, and they are like headcolds. They come, some linger on longer and more unpleasantly than expected, and then they go, soon to be replaced by a new one.

Now what to do about this young man, Mr. Melty Smile.

At first the signs looked very good. His leaning across priest to introduce himself was excellent. Little giftie of USB of sermons--also excellent. Rides--very good. You gave him a party invitation--very good, for the closest Old-Fashioned Girls can get to asking chap out on a date is inviting him to a party. Then the ex-girlfriend arrived and he took off.

Crash. That was bad. And it suggests to me that he is not 100% over ex-girfriend. The guy showed what looks like clear interest in you, but the timing may be wrong.

The breakfast thing---I wouldn't sweat that, as he might have been very busy. But on the other hand, he might have been all miserable about the ex-girlfriend.

So I would not do any more invites. He kissed you on the cheek, and he knows you like him enough to invite him to a party. So that should be enough to give any suitor encouragement. Now it is up to him, and you have to wait. Waiting sucks, but this is what you have to do. Do not pursue (and party invites are now pursuing). It could be that he needs to get over ex-girlfriend for a few more months before starting something with you.

My husband, after an inital rash of emails, blog comments, etc, went more or less radio silent for five months. It was because he was dealing with stuff. And then I came to Scotland at the end of September 2008 and met him in person and we fell in love and got married and here I am.

Moral of story: if a man needs some time, he needs some time. So pull back a bit and see if Mr. Melty Smile invites you to some party himself in the next few weeks or months. If he doesn't, he's just not that into you, as they say. Which, although the idea may be sucky now, will be less sucky in March or April when you have met other Melty Smiles or when this one finally has dealt with his Issues.

Grace and peace,

Auntie Seraphic

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Oh no! I got your advice too late and invited him. He said he couldn't come because of a conflict. There is a church thing he wants to go to. (I knew he was going but I figured I'd ask him anyway.) It may be cancelled though...

Melty Smile Admirer

Dear MSA,

Okay, back right off this one. Baaaaaack right off. He knows you think well of him now. That's all any interested guy needs to proceed. He might come to your party, but considering that the ex-gf turned up at your last one, he might not.

At any rate, this guy has had enough encouragement to know he can ask you out for a coffee without you laughing at him. So he will if he wants to. If he doesn't, forget him. As I like to remind everybody, I didn't find Mr. Right until I was 37 and he mysteriously came with a flat in a Historical House.

Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

For lots more Auntie Seraphic, go here.

There is an interview with me on the Novalis website! Scroll down while looking to the left, find "Interviews" and when you see a name you recognize (hint: a lady's name), click on it. I mention you guys. Yes, I do!