Monday, 24 May 2010

Because It Will Make You Unhappy

I am surprised at the vehemence of Singles against yesterday's unfinished post, "And don't mess with married men."

"Don't mess with married men" is standard advice in books for Singles, and I think I have written a dozen times that women should not mess with priests and seminarians, without anyone--including priests and seminarians--getting angry about it.

Where is the anger coming from? Have I finally said the unsayable? Or is it that we don't want to admit that Nice Catholic Girls ever have a longing thought or two in a Married Man's direction? And I am sympathetic to this taboo, for I had at least two crushes on Married Men when I was Single and I never wrote about them. Too scared.

But let us look at reality. I looked at reality the other day when a chance acquaintance brought the subject of Single Women pursuing Married Men to mind. Obviously I am not going to go into the circumstances, just as I've never gone into the circumstances of real women messing with real priests and real seminarians (and the priests and seminarians messing with women). But the thoughts that came to mind were, "What a shame." "But she's such a lovely girl." "Why doesn't she know better?" and even, "What would her mother say?" I have no idea if the girl is Catholic or not. Probably not.

I think I was thirty or so when I first got a crush on a Married Man. I had not planned on getting a crush on a Married Man, but he worked in my office and I was bored. He was very cute, and his wife gave him a hard time for everything and his in-laws didn't like his ethnic group (or something). I got a mild thrill every time he came by my desk, and I recorded our conversations in my diary. I meticulously referred to him there as MM, "Married Man."

Happily for everybody, I never acted on my mild crush in any way whatsoever (besides, of course, writing down our conversations). For one thing, I had the big MM taboo, still being a practising Catholic, and for another, he had a photo of a baby on his desk, so I think even if I hadn't been brought up to respect marriage vows, the photo of the baby would have stopped any word or gesture. But it didn't stop wistful thoughts of, "He's so cute and funny" and "Gosh, his wife sounds like a tartar." Generally, I believed everything anybody ever told me, so it never occured to me that his wife wasn't a tartar--just a busy working mother whose husband wasn't a saint. Younger women are very attractive for their credulity.

I can't tell you firsthand how miserable it makes you to get involved with a married man, for I never have myself. I can only tell you that women (even young women) do get involved with married men (even with young married men), and this causes widespread misery.

When Monica Lewinsky made the news for having had an affair with the American President, there were gallons of ink spilled on why Monica might have done such a thing. The fact that she had been involved before with a married man became front page news, and someone (perhaps Monica) posited that Monica's attraction to married men stemmed from low self-esteem. Apparently some women feel that they will never get "their own" man and so therefore "share" someone else's husband, making all kinds of justifications to themselves. Rose Macaulay, a deeply religious 20th century Anglican novelist, justified her long affair with a Catholic married man with the idea that the War had killed all the eligible bachelors.

The miseries attendent on pursuing a married man are legion. First, you make an ass of yourself as even chance aquaintances (like me) see you stepping out with a married man, his ring firmly on his finger, and wonder what on earth you're about. Second, you know that he returns after meetings to his wife and children and suffer the pain of loss and probably envy. Third, you either feel bad about him betraying his wife (in whatever way) or you undergo a coarsening of conscience as you simply don't care. And that's just your sufferings. There's his sufferings, his wife's sufferings and his children's sufferings to consider, too.

That all said, I will now look at why even mention of this topic (so much in the news these days thanks to Tiger Woods) is upsetting readers so much. It might be because Single women worry that Married women think their standard friendliness is a play for their husbands, and they feel insulted.

Well, obviously, I can't speak for all married women, but I have never worried about this. I would find it quite interesting news, actually, if someone hit on B.A. I love "Someone hit on B.A." stories. Someone texted B.A. to say that she had a B.A. shaped hole in her life. Unfortunately for her, that was two days after he asked me to marry him. As she is Single and I love Singles, I wouldn't normally tell you this story, which she must feel embarrassed about now, but I'm feeling on the defensive here.

I think only a woman who doesn't know her husband very well (or is going through an emotionally very bad time) would worry about random Single women talking to him after Mass or during drinks with the gang after work, so I really wouldn't worry about that if I were you, mes filles. On the other hand, if a woman gives you a mean look when you talk to her husband, that might very well be a warning that the man is not a nice person for you to know.

Then it might be that some Single women are frustrated that they never seem to meet eligible men, but just married men on the prowl. I agree that that is very annoying, but married men on the prowl are rarely a spiritual temptation to nice Single women. It's the dreamboat in the office who reputedly has a bitchy wife who is the real danger.

Then it might be a confusion as to what this post is about. St. Ignatius of Loyola says that when you are confused by a person's theological position, you should charitably make the best interpretation (and not just assume he is a heretic). When I write something about Single people, I would hope that three and a half years of writing for Single people would absolve me of any suspicion of warring against Single People. I am not worried about the vast majority of my readers suddenly rushing out to steal other people's spouses. I am worried about the one girl with a crush on a married man who might be reading this and, by reading this, might be saved from a hideous mistake that will make her and others very unhappy.

Update: Sorry about the moved post. I am really, REALLY busy and rushed lately, and "Whitsunday Report" was supposed to go on my other blog in the first place. Whitsunday is traditionally the name for Pentecost Sunday in the British Isles. Today is Whitmonday.

Update 2: Any nasty comments about my marriage will get you banned. If you are that upset about being Single, it is time for therapy. And there is nothing wrong with therapy, if you get the right therapist. I was in therapy for almost five years, and in spiritual direction for three. I found both therapy and spiritual direction very helpful.


some guy on the street said...

"Don't mess with married men" is standard advice in books for Singles, and I think I have written a dozen times that women should not mess with priests and seminarians, without anyone--including priests and seminarians--getting angry about it.

Auntie, you forget something of your more loyal commenting audience if you think we are lacking the "standard advice". To be sure, allowing one's heart to covet another's spouse can only lead to misery of a most unseraphic sort, but the Nice Catholic Folk in fact have the ninth and/or tenth commandment for that.

Put another way, the young ladies who comment here and take you seriously are not the sort to "set the marriages of their neighbours at naught." If a handsome married man is unhappy, or just looks unhappy, these women--even among these young women--still do not think that he is fair game. In phrasing your previous preface the way you did, you did rather manage to alienate those you hope to convert and to insult many of those you knew didn't need it!

We do not live in Manhattan, we do not inhabit The Appartment.

(Also, I expect more people will take exception to the anti-examples of Mlles Lewinsky and Macaulay, and their specified thoughtlessness.)

Or is it that we don't want to admit that Nice Catholic Girls ever have a longing thought or two in a Married Man's direction?

Honestly, it would not have occurred to me as being a problem among NCGs; as one among the NCB crowd, I suppose I should acknowledge to suffering the odd unrequitable crush --- but I also recognized the insubstantial character of these trials and behaved as I deemed prudent. So, the "longing thoughts," maybe; to hunt him down, not.

I am not worried about the vast majority of my readers suddenly rushing out to steal other people's spouses. I am worried about the one girl with a crush on a married man who might be reading this and, by reading this, might be saved from a hideous mistake that will make her and others very unhappy.
Well, let's hope, eh? But it would have been nice to know what prompted this unsolicited advice and what you hoped before posting half of what you wanted to say!

One day, maybe, I'll write about how publishing is like a blunderbus, how niche marketing is like a telescope sight. Put them together and ... (And blogging is like a university seminar --- at the end, you have to take their questions!)

Jennifer said...

The vehemence surprised me a bit, too. I personally chalked it up to defensiveness, and probably not in the way the angry commenter might assume, but a defensiveness I can well understand, being single:

It's not a problem I often have with married men, per se, but with any ol' single man. There seems to be this unwritten assumption that if I - a single woman of a certain age - am being affable and conversational, it must therefore follow that I am On The Hunt, and that any pleasantries on my part should be interpreted as interest, nay, as pursuit.

Even when interest is the furthest possible thing from my mind.

This has the two-fold effect of causing me to constantly view every single one of my interactions through the lens of possible misinterpretations of infatuation or interest, and also of making me rather grumpy that I can't just be my normal, non-forward, reserved self, and that I have to be a squillion times more reserved, lest some gentleman make the assumption that I want to date him and either a) start avoiding me or scurrying off whenever I come into a room, or b) flirt with me, to my confusion and dismay.

I've had the same assumption applied by married men (although thankfully not as often), and it is tiresome. Honestly. I've gone home and cried my eyes out on occasion because it can be so difficult to build friendships with otherwise lovely men simply because they can't get past the knee-jerk 'She's single - it's only a matter of time before she wants ME. OMG - did she just smile? SHE WANTS ME. Danger! DANGER! RUN!' response to a normal, single woman being pleasant.

All in all, it's just tiresome to have my every interaction viewed through the lens of my unmarried status. I would like to think that I am more than simply my spinsterhood, quite frankly. And it's so disappointing to find that this is often not the case, even from otherwise rational people.

That said: I wholeheartedly agree with the advise to not mess with married men. Nothing good can come of it.

I have 2 co-workers who are constantly trying to steer me toward 'unhappilly' married men, reasoning that they are fair game. I am appalled. Not just from a moral standpoint, mind you, but from a logical standpoint: WHY would I want a man who'd fool around on his wife and leave her for me? Where could that possibly go that would be happy? I mean, I look around at people who have done this, and I see misery and jealousy, not happiness. Not in the long-term, in any event.

theobromophile said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seraphic said...

ATTENTION: Nasty comments about my marriage or husband will get you banned.

Seraphic said...

Some Guy, I am touched by your chivalrous defense of Nice Catholic Girls. NCGs with any brains would never ever ever admit to anyone a crush or affair with a married man. That's strictly for-the-confessional stuff, to be regretted, confessed and forgotten as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, don't forget that I am writing for ALL Singles, not just the Catholic Mass-going set. I really can't get why the very mention of adultery on this blog is causing so much concern. It happens. It features in the work of Catholic novelists Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark. They didn't write for a niche market, either.

Jennifer, thank you for illustrating what I am talking about. Society has lost so much respect for the marriage bond that you have actual CO-WORKERS encouraging you to go after married men. How insane is that?

Seraphic said...

And, by the way, I admire Rose Macaulay very much for her writing. I am sorry she had an affair with a married man, an affair she drew on for her marvellous book "The Towers of Trebizond" and other writings. But it was not the totality of who she was.

Again, I am fascinated, and a bit annoyed, by how personally people are taking my reminder not to mess with married men. I am very sorry if you are all constantly being accused of doing any such thing. Never in my very long stretches of Singledom was I ever accused of such a thing. Nor did I ever worry about such a thing. Of course, I don't go out of my way to make married men my friends. I don't really believe in married men friends--unless they are married to one of my female friends, and then I fret over whether I said something too flirtatious. Thank goodness for lifelong happy bachelors, I say.

aussie girl in australia said...

In this anonymous forum I can honestly say I have NEVER had my eye on a married man. Even when men I have had crushes on have married somebody else. Once they are married, that's it. They are a husband and not to be thought of in such a way.
Thankyou to some guy - your points are right on the money. And I appreciate your defence of NCGs.

Jennifer said...

Lest it was not clear in my comment, I don't much go for making friends of married men, either.

I get frustrated with making friends of unmarried (straight) men, for the reasons I mentioned. That's frustration enough for me to handle, I don't need to add married men friends to that stress.

Seraphic said...

I agree. I find it really very annoying when men assume that because I am talking to them that I must want their bodies or whatever. Fortunately, I don't think this has happened recently, but you never know. I might have a nice conversation with some new young university student in the parish, and when he finds out I am married he will feel really shocked and feel sorry for my husband or something. Some men are really THAT egotistical.

The whole enterprise of making male friends one's own age is so fraught with second-guessing, that I mostly don't bother. (Men much older and much younger are less likely to think you are AFTER them.) How many friends do you need? My closest friends (after B.A.) are all women, I have a great priest pal, I have some other nice priest friends, I have some male friends from the good ol' high school days, and I have brothers. And my husband's friends. I adore my husband's friends. Oh, and there are my writing mentors. My writing mentors are married. But they are way older anyway. Are they really friends, though, or "just" mentors? Sort of like godparents, or something.

Kate P said...

Thank you, Seraphic, for broaching a tough subject that perhaps doesn't affect your readers directly but might be helpful in the event someone we know is contemplating getting involved with someone married. I myself had to steer someone away from the idea (that whole "distant from his wife, planning on leaving" line was killing me--even worse that my friend was buying it!) and I am happy to say she did not get involved with the guy. A few months later, while she was working at her part-time job, a (not married) man worked up the nerve to ask her out and they wound up dating.

This is just a theory, but maybe it is more immediate a subject to those who have been married before, like my friend.

some guy on the street said...

(Incidentally, I *really like* that film, The Appartment; it'll show you some awful stuff, but it ends the right way. Manhattan is all wrong; don't bother if you haven't already.)

Julie said...

I have never been tempted to have an affair with a married man: but. I have several very close colleagues who are married men, who have helped me with several enormous and very stressful projects. They have stepped up for me in that touching unselfish way when I have screwed up, and they have made a point of checking in on how I'm doing, what do I need etc. And I have several times had to check myself, not only to make sure I wasn't sending off any vibes or making a bad appearance, but also to make sure that I didn't put too much emotional stock in those relationships. I have sensed several times how those professional relationships were starting to edge over for me -- not into a realm where I would want to have a romantic or physical relationship, but where I might start to think I had some sort of special claim on them, or that they played an important role in my emotional life. Neither of those things is good or healthy for a single gal like me, although I suspect that my threshold is rather lower than other people. It can be hard to hear a man say "You look so tired, go home and rest and I'll finish this" and NOT think, "that's exactly what I hope my husband will say to me someday". So while I wouldn't ever date a married man or try to poach one or whatever, I think it's still a good and necessary reminder that he is not yours.

observer said...

While many people never intend to violate the sanctity of marriage, unexpected things do happen in this fallen world of ours. Women (married & single) that I thought took their faith seriously have committed some serious sexual sins. In these cases, it always happened that she was very unhappy and vulnerable to attention from a man. She let her longing for "love" override her better judgement and paid a high, high price for it.

I've also known women who thought that a married man was "just a friend" and enjoyed his friendship, only to have him begin to say and do things that indicated he was interested in her as "more than friends." One woman I know in particular was dismayed when she realized what was happening...fearful she had encouraged him, wondering if she had scandalized others, etc. Furthermore, she was even more horrified to recognize stirrings of a response to his overtures in her own heart. She shut down the friendship pretty quickly, to save herself both sin and heartbreak.

I suppose this brings up the age-old question of "Can men & women be friends?" I don't have any good answer for that; I've never been good at male-female friendships myself. But there is certainly a danger in male-female friendships that doesn't exist in female-female friendships (or male-male, for that matter), and I think it behooves us to remember that. No, we don't have to freak out and run every time someone of the opposite sex speaks to us, but we can "guard our hearts," as they say. Keeping the opposite sex friendships in a group, and avoiding private personal conversations with married members of the opposite sex is good for starters.

Seraphic said...

Julie and Observer, thank you very much for illustrating and developing what I was trying to say. Unexpected things DO happen in this fallen world of ours, and we need humility and prudence to keep out of such messes.

Seraphic said...

Julie and Observer, thank you very much for illustrating and developing what I was trying to say. Unexpected things DO happen in this fallen world of ours, and we need humility and prudence to keep out of such messes.

Seraphic said...

And, by the way, thank you for such honest responses about such a dicey topic. Julie, bless you especially. You're not alone.

I have written before that a lonely Single woman (or man with SSA) should try to make sure her (or his) number one male emotional support is not a priest. I should add that she should be careful also, not to have a married man (other than a blood relation), as her number one male emotional support.

Bernadette said...

When I was in high school I made a decision that any guy who was attached to another woman (from dating to married) was completely and unquestionably off limits. That attitude has stood me in very good stead every since, particularly since it has freed me to thoroughly enjoy the extremely good men some of my friends have married without fear of misunderstanding on either his or her part. The way I explain it is that it's the difference between seeing a beautiful work of art in a museum and seeing a replica of the same work of art in the museum gift shop. The first I am free to enjoy, but I don't contemplate taking it home with me, while it's much too easy to start envisioning the second in my home, particularly if it's at a price I can afford!

Anne-Marie said...

Seraphic thank you for your post. I didn't really see why it was so controversial. If girls can get crushes on priests and seminarians why are other "off-limits guys" off limits? I too have been in situations where a man isn't forthright about his marital status (the wisdom in wedding rings?!) and have had to distance myself from him/situation. While I'm flattered by "Some guy on the street" thinking that NCG aren't capable of breaking the 6th and 9th commandments, we are. Thank you Auntie for reminding us yet again to be prudent.

Lemons said...

I guess I'm a little late in the game. But it never occurred to me to be offended by your advice, Seraphic. Probably because I've never been attracted to a married man, but like it's been said, things happen and even NCGs can fall victim to these things. (though I do appreciate "Some guy's" defense of us :) ) I'm of the opinion that if it doesn't apply to you, it wasn't directed at you. Perhaps the ones who are taking it personally see this problem in themselves.

theobromophile said...

Generally, I believed everything anybody ever told me, so it never occured to me that his wife wasn't a tartar--just a busy working mother whose husband wasn't a saint. Younger women are very attractive for their credulity.

(With the caveat that this applies to the general "you", not to Seraphic, and with all love for young women and the former selves of no-longer young women - let me explain what I apparently explained rather badly before.)

Being married to someone else is the ultimate "He's just not that into you." With men, it's all about looking at the logical implications of their actions, not their words, and a man who sleeps alongside his so-called cold/unloving/tartar wife, every night, is actually happy with the situation.

Sure, he might be happier if he had something else on the side, too, but if he's still married to her, she's actually a good woman who makes him happy - his b.s. to the contrary notwithstanding. Let me tell you, I know religious men who feel strongly about the permanence and sanctity of marriage, who nevertheless know how to find their way to a lawyer and a courthouse when they realise that their marriage isn't working.

I'm sorry if I'm strident about this, but I spent the better part of the least year trying to convince a dear friend of this reality, who was being strung along by this guy who said he would divorce his "ice queen" wife whenever X, Y, and Z happened... but those things weren't necessary to dissolve the marriage. That he also spent months upon months telling her that he would, eventually, divorce this woman, but had no sense of urgency, was another red flag.


Please don't take any of this as condoning divorce, just as a statement about men who aren't getting divorces are actually married to decent women. My limited point is for non-religious or otherwise vulnerable women who believe the line about his wife being terrible; the rejoinder could be, "Great, call me when your divorce is finalised." Obviously, for Catholics and other religious, suggesting divorce and then dating divorced people are not valid options, either.

Elspeth said...

"I've never strayed from all I believe;
I'm blessed with an iron will.
Had I been made the partner of Eve,
We'd be in Eden still.
C'est moi! C'est moi! The angels have chose
To fight their battles below,
And here I stand, as pure as a prayer,
Incredibly clean, with virtue to spare,
The godliest man I know!"

Lancelot, before having some issues
Camelot/Lerner and Loewe