I haven't had an Auntie Seraphic letter lately, but someone wrote in the combox about being 23 and never having had a "relationship." And I am torn between envy, compassion and exasperation. Picture envy, compassion and exasperation as little gnomes pulling on my green pyjamas. (Green pyjamas are my blogging uniform.)
Ah, twenty-three, twenty-three... Actually, I did not like being twenty-three. I was dead poor, I had just got a rather ho-hum Bachelor of Arts degree, and I was working in a secretarial job I was absolutely no good at and then in a coffee stall with a manager I depised. Oh, and I was being pursued by two men I wasn't in love with and, being addicted to Drah-ma, this to me was akin to having an addiction to cocaine or so I'm told: you love it and you hate it at the same time. I asked a priest for help, and he laughed at me. He's married now. Hmmmm.
Argh! It is so hard to be young! Why does nobody tell us this? When you're a kid, you think Sweet Sixteen is where it's at, and you thrill to the Beatles singing "She was just seventeen", and the magazines push the idea that the pinnacle of human life is between 15 and 25. But this is crap because life gets really, really hard at 15, and it offers you constant chances to screw up, and it does not get better until you are over 25--as long as you haven't wrecked your life by then.
One of the ways you can seriously screw up your life--in fact, it is THE way that a woman usually screws up her life--is to get sexually involved with men too young, or with the wrong man any old time. And it makes me furious that dating and making out are shoved at girls as perfectly harmless activities, right from the first moment we watch "Happy Days" or read Archie comics. The happy-go-lucky innocence of "Happy Days" and Archie comics have nothing to do with present day realities, and possibly had nothing to do with any historical reality whatsoever.
I want to look at the word "relationship." We are all in relationships from our conception. As soon as Mum knows we're in there, we're in a personal relationship with Mum. If Dad is around, we're soon in relationship with Dad because we can hear him. We might even already be in relationship with our grandparents and siblings, too--they certainly feel a relationship to us. (I remember the split-second I went from non-aunt to Aunt.) And then we are born, and we develop more and more relationships, learning about our environment and, more slowly and painfully, human nature. The definition of a person, say personalists, is someone "in relation to".
It is impossible, therefore, for a person to reach the age of 23 without having been in a relationship. Even if she were brought up by wolves, she'd be in relationship to her wolf pack. So when a woman says "I've never been in a relationship" she is unconsciously aggrandizing the fact that she has never been in a short-lived socio-erotic encounter with a man. But I congratulate her. Love with an expiry date is not love at all; it is an occasion for sin and very often the highway to disaster.
Now--here is the tricky thing--young women do, in fact, belong to wolf packs. (Thank you, Clio, for reminding me.) Mature adult women manage to break free to a certain extent and devote themselves to a cause or a family, but most young women feel a great need to belong to a pack of other young women. And if all the other young women around are entering into short-lived socio-erotic encounters with men, a young woman is going to feel anxious about differing from the pack. This is no doubt why the supreme indicator of whether or not a young woman is going to have pre-marital sex is whether or not her friends are already having pre-marital sex. The answer to "If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you jump off too?" is "Yes. Duh."
This is why it is so crucially important, if you are a young Christian woman intent on living the Gospel, to have other young Christian woman friends. And this should not be too terrifically hard, as Roman Catholics alone make up one billion people. It is crucial that you be in touch with women who do not think that keeping out of short-lived socio-erotic encounters with men is a massive tragedy, a mark of immaturity or whatever your current wolf-pack thinks.
It blows my mind that for all the advances women have supposedly made since 1960 (many of which we had made by 1930, but never mind that for now) we still feel anxious if we are Single at 25. But history is jam-packed with great women who were Single at 25. And, indeed, we don't necessarily even look our best at 25, if that's what you're worried about. (Go look at photos of movie stars at 25 and 35, and you'll see what I mean.) And given that Western European/North American human lifespan is now well over 75, and that in general we can be healthier and more active in middle-age and old-age than humans ever have been before, 25 is positively adolescent.
So, to recap:
1. Everyone has been in a myriad of real relationships by the age of 23.
2. Young women who run with packs of young women are anxious when they differ from the pack. However, maturity for women consists in mental freedom from the pack.
3. Short-lived socio-erotic encounters with men are not all that and a bag of chips, no matter what your friends say.
4. You are fortunate if you manage to avoid short-lived socio-erotic encounters with men. Wait for a real, honest-to-God, respectable suitor who is your real friend and whom you have good reason to trust.
5. Twenty-five is really young from the perspective of everyone over thirty. Meanwhile, being young has a very sucky side, and I heartily recommend being over thirty.
I have two more things to say. The first is that you are never the only girl on your campus or in your work place who doesn't put out. Anyone who tells you so is either flattering you or insulting you, and I'd wonder about their motives. You should never be ashamed of chastity, but you should never become a monster of pride about it either. Just because the girls around you believe in pre-marital sex doesn't mean that they're actually having it or would have it with just anybody. Very few women, actually, put out for just anybody. That is why there are courses for pick-up artists, aka scumbags. Some of the most chaste women I've known were far-left, feminist hardliners.
The second is sunscreen. What I miss most about being 23 is the absolutely fabulous quality of my skin. And I must say that the ol' skin is not doing so badly now, thanks to good genes and sunscreen.