Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic and the HFCWG Question

Darlingses, you know I hate chastity questions. This is not because I hate chastity. I love chastity. Chastity is marvellous. There is Single person chastity, priestly chastity, religious life chastity and Married person chastity. I love chastity so much that I don't think I should be trusted with people's chastity questions. The conversation is likely to go like this:

You: Auntie Seraphic, should I do X?

Me: Well, I don't see a big problem with X, unless Y is involved.

You: Oh my goodness, I hadn't thought of Y! Y never crossed my mind!

Me: Uh oh.

You: (thinking) Y, eh? Hmmm.... Nah. Not going to think about it... Y... Y... Y...

So after this question, I am not answering any more "How Far Can We Go Questions". If someone (not your spouse) is pestering you with sexual demands, you can write in for advice and sympathy. But I am not answering HFCWG. This is a question for you, your sweetie and your confessors.

Update: When I mention doing menial chores to win love, I am not suggesting that this reader was doing that. I am saying that it is the sort of thing I--and many other women--would do, and why it would be important for us not to do it. Meanwhile, my flippant tone about "love language", which I fear has wounded my poor reader, is exactly why you shouldn't send me chastity questions. You should ask a serious, super-chaste person, like a good priest, instead. Or read How Far Can We Go.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am so excited that, as a long-time reader of your blog and admirer of your great book on the single life, I finally have a question to ask you. That's the good news. The bad news is it's a chastity question! :o

Ok, so as not to prolong the agony, I will try to be brief and to the point. My question is thus: is it all right to give one's boyfriend a back massage? I am smiling at myself even for asking this question, because as a hard-nose and hardline NCG, I've long thought it not appropriate to have that level of physical interaction with someone to whom I am not married. Then why am I asking? Well, my boyfriend [of a short time] is super sweet and serious about me: lately he's bent over backwards to be there for me when I need him, despite the fact that he's going through a rather stressful ordeal himself with his work. We've talked about love languages as well, and I know his main one is physical touch, so all the hugs and hand-holding really mean a lot to him.

Now, having practiced on girl friends in the past, I know I'm a decent massage-giver. At the same time, I also know my boyfriend is a normal, red-blooded male and attracted to me, so I don't want to do anything malapropos on the physical level. So what do you think? Is a massage allowable or verboten?

- Happy Hands Club Member

Dear Happy Hands,

What on earth is a love language? This sounds like something from a women's magazine. Are young Catholic men actually sitting around talking about love languages? I feel really old now. Reality check: most young men's love language is physical touch. But calling it a "love language" is a new one on me. It's usually called business as usual.

Anyway, you should not do anything that might be an occasion of sin for you. Giving an attractive man (who is not my husband) a massage would most definitely be an occasion of sin for ME. I could never do such a thing now; if I were single I would certainly be tempted to. Knowing me, I would plot do it in a schemey way to make the man fall in love with me. Which would probably work just as well as cleaning his kitchen and doing his laundry. You can't actually make men fall in love with you; they just do or they don't. They're binary.

My verdict is Verboten, not because I think a nice backrub through a shirt is necessarily an occasion for sin, but because it reminds me of the menial chores that we are so often tempted to do for men we like and should not do until we are married to them.

Grace and peace,

P.S. For some reason, I keep wondering what girls before WWI did. Sure, they got boxes of candy. But did they give back rubs? Probably not. Did they bake cookies? Hmmm... Probably not. Does anybody know about female courtship behaviour in 1910? Did Frances give Gilbert anything before they were engaged?

Update: Novalis has a nice chastity book called How Far Can We Go; I've met both authors, and although I haven't read their book yet, I think they are solid. Leah and I had a nice chat at a wedding in May.


Pedantic Classicist said...

Hi Seraphic,

I think your reaction to HFCWG questions is certainly a good one: ultimately, all HFCWG questions are the WRONG kind of question when it comes to being chaste, which is a positive, not a negative, virtue. While I disagree with you insofar as I don't think the massage question falls into HFCWG territory, your rationale seems sound.

I did think your reaction to "love language" talk was hilarious. The "5 Love Languages" is a shtick that Gary Chapman came up with to help married couples understand each other. I have heard some married couples swear by it, and when I was engaged (back before I wandered out to Serious Single territory), I think my fiancee and I did benefit from understanding that she appreciated quality time the most, while I appreciated affection (we were unified in placing gift-giving last!).

The trick, then (according to Chapman), is to give your spouse what SHE/HE wants, not what YOU would want to get. But I've never thought that a man might use the Love Languages as a gambit for physical contact (quod Deus avertat!); I suppose anything is possible. I am amused a little bit at your reaction, though, because I think that I am rare among American men in valuing affection most of all, both from men and women, as signs of love. But I think many American (at least) men are stand-offish and do not readily accept affection from anyone, male or female. So I am not sure if I agree with your assessment, but, then again, maybe we're comparing apples (affection in general) to pears (sexually-charged affection).

theobromophile said...

Er... why not "If you have to ask me, yourself, or your priest, the answer is probably a resounding 'No'"?

Secular sex-ed classes that try to encourage girls to wait use that to impress upon young women that they shouldn't have sex if unsure of the decision. As a good common-sense guideline, why not extend that to everything else?

some guy on the street said...

Before they were engaged, Frances gave Gilbert...
... an impression of caterpillary fuzziness...
... a glance to set his heart aflame...
... an answer in the affirmative.

The first two you can read about here. The third... well, that's me being silly, and obvious.

I can't really tell --- maybe someone else knows better? --- but I've a vague fancy the notably-hatted Juno-like creature and Miss Caterpillar may be different views of one and the same figure, and it took a second acquaintance for Gilbert to properly recognize the moment of things.

MargoB said...

Hello Seraphic! I got to grow up around some fine Protestant folks, and we listened to/got periodicals from a fine Christian group originating here in the States called "Focus on the Family."

Here's a link to "the Love Languages" according to the source I learned it from (Chapman's book):

I think that knowing someone's love language can be useful information. What do you think?

Seraphic said...

I think discussing "love languages" right in the earliest stages of a dating relationship is bonkers. The man wrote this book, if I read this right, FOR MARRIED COUPLES.

However, I see nothing wrong with reading the book and stealthily watching your suitor(s) to see if they fit any of the Love Language patterns.

Julie said...

I don't know anything about the Chestertons, but I think it's perfectly reasonable to think she gave him nothing but a few hours of private conversation and maybe a very little handholding. Of course, it depends much on where you're talking about and "what sort of people" (to throw a little moral gloss over the usual metric of class), but before WWI, I think the real question is how much time alone together would a particular couple get, which is what would govern any sort of physical contact. Among some working class communities, on the other hand, I understand it was perfectly accepted that couples got married (if they got married) when the man could afford it or when the girl got pregnant, whichever came first. Much of the difficulty surrounding family benefits and working class women during WWI arose out of this, where a woman might not be a legal wife, or where a baby was born out of wedlock because the man had been shipped out and not because of any particular intention not to marry between the parents.

MargoB said...

I agree -- while the love language info can be useful, it *would* be bonkers to have a discussion on it in 'the earliest stages of a dating relationship.' And yes, the book is geared to married folk. I should say that imho, love language info can also be useful in one's familial relationships -- that's what I was thinking of when I wrote the 'useful' bit. For example, I found out this past year that my younger brother prefers gifts and to hang out with family/friends - that's what communicates ILY to him. Me: GREAT! That's what I'll give him,instead of giving him what I thought he wanted, b/c I'd rather do whatever helps him know I love him.

Jessica said...

I thought about this article and laughed today at the library -- on the "new book" shelf there was one about the "Elements" of love. The cover was decorated with different earth element type things: water, fire, etc. I can't remember the title exactly, but a quick google search shows there's dissent, at least among the internet community, on whether there are four or five elements of love. ;)
So much rhetoric just to get to the main point: self-sacrificing love is the only kind that lasts!

healthily sanguine said...

I found this article helpful and formative for the HFCWG question. The background on the site is awful, so I copied into Microsoft Word. :)