Thursday, 4 February 2010

So To Whom Should Men Talk?

Me, I'm a woman's woman. I love men, but to me men are not mates, in the British and Australian sense of the word. My idea of a good time is not going to a bar with all my male pals discussing politics, playing pool, and scoring off points. You will never, ever hear me saying, as some women do, even to other women, "Frankly, I prefer the company of men."

Well, good for you, Suzie Q. Me, until recently I could never get around the "hotness" and "boring" factors. Men were hot, or they were boring. If they were hot, they were distracting. If they were boring, they were boring. Of course, there were always exceptions to my limited rule: my kinsman, some male professors and mentors, some priests, some very young men (here the maternal instinct kicks in), a very few colleagues. Now that I am married, I regard my husband's friends as friends, hairy friends I can't ever borrow clothes from.

I was told, in my undergrad days, by a very flirty and observant actor I was directing in the college play, that I had an invisible electric cow fence around me, keeping people at a distance. Little did he know that my invisible electric cow fence was up so much around him because he was really hot, and that made me nervous. Gord chatted up girls all the time, and girls really liked him, and sex--the archenemy of Nice Catholic Girls--was in the air.

But now I am 39, and I am not afraid of young men anymore, and I finally understand that men are not just scary but scared. So I will turn my attention to the problem that many young men have of not having anyone to talk to about personal stuff.

This is not a universal phenomenon. I live in Scotland, amongst a hairy, warrior race. And Scotland, like England, has a tradition of the Best Mate, or as they say around here, Pal. Englishmen and Scotsmen meet each other all the time for long conversations over pints of beer or ale. For many, the pub is a daily ritual. And for many, this is a daily MALE ritual.

"If you're not married, and you have no girlfriend, who do you talk to about personal stuff?" I asked the hairy warrior in the kitchen. He will be surprised to hear himself so described, but you should see him at the rugby, bellowing out "Flower of Scotland."

"Your best mate," he said. "Your pal."

And I know that in Canada, when utterly flabbergasted by life and women,a university man will turn to his best pal and confess what it is that is weighing so heavily on his mind. And the best pal gropes for helpful words, even if they are only, "I don't know, man. That's crazy."

But in the United States of America, home of the brave, land of the free, there is a curious kind of Stoicism that makes men think that talking is something that women do. Talking is a weakness. Feeling is a weakness. Friendship, even, is a weakness. The most devastating film about Americans I ever saw was The Company of Men. It shows the flip side of Shane, the Lone Ranger, Lucky Luke--all those solitary, heroic cowboy figures. Scotsmen are haunted by pibrochs; American men are haunted by John Wayne.

So to whom should American men talk? And to whom should any man talk if he doesn't have a wife or a best pal? Here is my list:

1. Your pastor. Most Roman Catholic priests are not just priests. They are Single Men. The next time a priest comes to talk to your group, don't ask him if he wishes he could get married. He will just see this as a "Married Priest" question. Ask him how he deals with being a Single Man. Ask him who he talks to when life gets him down or women act crazy. Then listen to the answer.

Meanwhile, I like to joke that in order to learn how to listen as well as a woman, a man has to get an M.Div. When he's not saying Mass, a priest's No. 1 job is to listen to people like you. Meanwhile, the problems of a young man are probably a lot more interesting than the problems of the elderly ladies who flock to him, and I speak as one who hopes to be an elderly lady one day, so no disrespect to elderly ladies.

2. Youth ministers. Nowadays we have youth ministers as well as priests to listen to and counsel young men and women. Make sure you talk to one who has been properly trained. Make sure they have "M.Div." or "S.T.B." or the local pastoral equivalent after their name. And I'd go for one over 30. I would not talk to a "peer minister" if you paid me. I once talked to a peer minister, and it turned out he was my ex-husband's best friend's little brother, and he stared at me with big frightened eyes. In the list of Catholics whose pastoral stupidity tempted me to give up on Catholicism, he is No. 1. So find a professionally trained adult, please.

In Toronto, we have the Office of Catholic Youth. We also have Catholic Family Services. Most dioceses offer Pastoral Services and sometimes even a youth hotline, so have a look and if you're going bonkers, and can't find a priest, try giving them a call.

3. Older male relations. This is a tricky one because we have expectations about the older generation that they so frequently disappoint. My mum is not like Marmee in Little Women (which turns out to be good, since the real Marmee hated Catholics), and your dad is not like Beaver's Dad in Leave it to Beaver. Your dad might even be an aging hippy who has given you bad advice your entire life. But I am relatively sure my dad, who is not an aging hippie, could give my brothers good advice, if pressed. So if you have a great relationship with your dad, your uncle or your granddad, you might want to ask him your overwhelming question, a question which he may have been half-expecting you to ask since you were 13.

If this question is about you fearing you are gay, though, be very, very careful. I'm mentioning this because I know one guy who told his father he was gay, and his father beat him up. For anything having to do with gayness, I would choose your mother first. Of course, it depends on your mother. But if you really are gay (and not just 14 and worried because you really admire your male friend or an older boy or A-Rod), your mother probably knows already. Many mothers are psychic about their children.

4. Popular Girls. No, I am not crazy. I'm talking about your female friend who has a boyfriend or a husband already. Even teenage girls have maternal instincts and can mother a teenage boy a bit. But the ones that always end up doing this are the girls everyone seems to see as "just a friend."

I have too many long-term Single women friends who suffer from being the one whom the cute guy calls to moan about his life, but never the one with whom he falls in love. So don't do that to your non-attached women friends. Call up your married/always-dating female pal instead. The one caveat is that she might tell her husband or boyfriend roughly what you said. You can swear her to secrecy re: boyfriend, but not re: husband. But don't worry about husbands because the one thing a husband is likely to say to your woes is, "Poor bastard", and then he will forget them.

Make sure your gal-pal really doesn't mind counselling you, though, because if she does, she won't tell you. She'll tell her boyfriend, and he'll tell you. Which will suck. Yes, it sucks that so many girls can't just tell you stuff like that to your face. I'm sorry. Anyway, ask: "Martha, I'm freaking out. Do you mind if I bounce this off you?" "Oh gosh, Jimmy, I'm really busy" means "No". Try another gal-pal with a man of her own.

5. Municipal (Youth, etc.) Hotlines. No, they aren't going to be orthodox or understand what you are going through as a Catholic man. (Christian services will understand what you are going through as a Christian man, though.) But they may be good at general advice, like how to talk to girls. I have called up Crisis Hotlines twice in my fraught pre-Seraphic life, and the ladies were very good. The first one was tremendously consoling, and the second one was merely bracing. She explained that I was not being stalked. She told me what stalking was really like, and I was, like, "Oh."

6. Therapists. I visited a therapist until she disclosed that her lover had finally been kicked out of his religious order and dismissed from their college. But before that, she was really helpful. No, I'm serious. She really was. The great thing about therapy is that when you pay someone to listen to you, they have to listen to you. Pick carefully, though. Freud hated Catholics. But there are Catholic and other Christian therapists, so find one who will be sympathetic to your desire either to be or to become sexually abstinent until marriage. Private therapy costs a lot of money, but state-funded therapy rarely give you a choice of therapist. Always be careful whom you let into your head.

I hope this is helpful, boys.


berenike said...

You forgot to mention that a diocesan or other officially Catholic youth advisor may not be any more Catholic in his understanding than a non-religious counsellor. Sad but true. At least the in the case of the latter you would know to consider what they said for its coherence with the Gospel. When someone has the diocesan or other ecclesiastical stamp, one might not be so careful.

Actually, I suppose that goes for priests too. :/

Seraphic said...

Well, I am hoping that everyone who ministers to youth is solid on "There's this girl" and "I feel lonely" questions. We all know the answer is not to rush off and get laid by Mrs. Robinson down at the cougar bar, so if anyone in ministry says it is, we know they're bonkers.

IA_ said...

In college I found immeasurable solace in Liturgy of the Hours and adoration.

Especially when I first began the psalms of the day were particularly fitting with what I was dealing with in life.

Too much of my prayer was talking rather than listening; but you can't have a conversation without both.

It was good because I knew the Lord knew exactly what I was dealing with and He most certainly responded.

Lemons said...

I'm a girl, but this definitely made me nostalgic for my high school science teacher/principal. He's a priest in his mid 30s (early 30s when I was in high school) and he has given me the best advice anyone ever has, from everything to spiritual matters, to parents, to how to act around/talk to boys.

I see what you mean about not wanting to talk to younger priests, but I always found that his being somewhat on the younger side meant that he remembered what it was like to be young, and clearly understood exactly how I felt and gave advice accordingly. I found going to the older priests, they sort of forgot how real certain silly feelings were at the time, so they would just say "Well, you know... pray about it. Concentrate on school." Which of course, is good advice, but advice you'd probably already heard elsewhere. And if you were following it, or if it were helpful to the situation, you wouldn't be coming to them in the first place.

Anyway, back to Father. To this day, I appreciate his wisdom and understanding and though I don't get to see or talk to him much anymore, I still trust him more than anyone else I know and if there were any pressing, serious matter I needed advice on, his would be the first number I'd call.

Seraphic said...

My only objection to younger priests (as opposed to peer ministers) is that younger priests are sometimes cute. This is okay if a girl throws up at the very idea of having a crush on a priest, but it is not so okay if she gets crushes on priests. Then she has to do a big head-sort and heart-sort and it's all very sucky.

Fortunately, crushes on priests pass on like ordinary crushes, i.e. like the common cold, if a girl doesn't fuss too much or feed them.

I'm not saying you, Lemon, crushed out on your fantastic priest. (Eeek!) I'm just throwing it out there for girls who are wondering if they should talk to young cute priest or old squashy priest. I, personally, have had crushes on seminarians, male religious AND priests, kept my mouth shut and lived to tell the tale.

Welcome to the com box!

Lemons said...

Oh, yes. Well. He is very cute, I must say. :P I had a small crush on him, but I learned my lesson after one more serious crush on a seminarian earlier on. Thank goodness, haha.

And thank you. Your postings have been very helpful to me so many times. :)