In yesterday's comments, Jennifer brought up an embarrassment many Singles will know well. It is the problem of saying a friendly word to a member of the opposite sex and getting a cold look of suspicion and fear in return.
I used to think that was just a girl's problem, but I've received enough sorrowful email on the same topic from young men to realize that this affects them just as much, if not more. One young man complained to me that when he tried to talk to Catholic girls at Catholic events, they stared at him wide-eyed, as if he were a potential murderer. Well, we're all potential murderers, but I know what he meant, because I spent my undergraduate days looking at guys who came up to talk to me as if they were potential murderers.
So it may come as a comfort to Singles on both the Joseph and Mary sides of the aisle to know that this is not a problem confined only to their group. But what to do?
First of all, we have to be honest. If you go up to a member of the opposite sex, thinking "Oooh, what a cute guy/girl", don't be surprised and shocked if they can read the lovelight in your eyes. But if you make a conversational aside to the random guy/girl beside you at the tea table after Mass and they interrupt you with "I'm seeing someone", just say, "How nice for you," and turn your back. They, not you, have been abominably rude.
Second of all, there are rude people in the world. There are people with Serious Issues. There has also been a general breakdown in manners and a growing tendency to confuse honesty with rudeness. But enough about Boston. What I'm trying to get across is that sometimes your well-meaning conversational gambit is going to be rudely rejected, and your response is to turn the other cheek and your entire back. There's no point trying to make friends with rude people with Serious Issues.
I remember talking to a professor at a garden party in Boston. It was my first school function in Boston, and I was very nervous. Having been introduced to a celebrated professor, I began to talk to him. Suddenly he lunged past me to grab the arm of a very pretty student two or so years ahead of me, and began to talk to her with great animation. This professor was a priest, and all I think about him now is, "I was a stranger and you made me feel like garbage." I've never tried to speak to him again. And I seem to have forgotten his name. He's a syncretist of some kind... Gracious, I just cannot remember his name for the moment.
Third of all, why should you care if a random guy or girl becomes your friend or not? You don't even know them, so if they are rude to you, they have given you helpful data: they are not friendship material, at least not right now. On to the next person.
Fourth, why do you need friends of the opposite sex? How many friends do you need? The ancients thought true friendship was rare. Aristotle thought it could only take place between equals which, for Aristotle, meant that men could never be friends with women. The Romans, however, did believe that a man's best friend could indeed be his wife, so thank you, Romans.
Americans and Canadians seem to feel that you can be friends with absolutely everybody, which is what Facebook is about. Some Europeans (like Germans) find this shocking and shallow. They have a few bosom pals, and then respectful acquaintances. This dignified reality is supported by the, for example, German custom of addressing one's neighbours by their title and surname. "Gruess Gott, Herr Schmidt." "'Tag, Frau Mueller." Never mind that they may have lived next door to each other for thirty years.
I believe that men long for women friends because if they don't have a woman at their table and in their bed, most of them feel horribly lonely and incomplete. Women are very good at saying soothing things and listening and all those other skills we absorb from absolute babyhood. But I don't quite understand why women long for lots of male friends, unless it is because they don't get along with other women. Shiraz and I had a good conversation the other days as to who were the worse bullies, twelve year old boys or teenage girls. Shiraz had a lot of convincing proof that whatever bullying boys could do, girls could do better. But you know me. I think men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, but they just can't provide me with the Girl Chat I need to stay cheerful in this valley of tears.
On the one hand, longing for created stuff (like friends) is not really in keeping with the Christian faith. We're supposed to long for God and thank Him for whatever created gifts he sends our way. So we should be grateful for the friends we have, and not kill ourselves trying to get more. On the other hand, no man (or woman) is an island, and we have to take care of our emotional life. If we move to another city, and our friends are all elsewhere, we certainly feel a lack.
On Sunday, when I had collapsed from too much drink and too much sun onto a cushion as men about me drank even more and sang "Annie Laurie" around the piano, one of my husband's friends looked upon me with compassion.
"Aw, hen," he said. "Weel have tae find ye more wifies."