Friday, 16 July 2010

Almost 25 with no Boyfriend

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.

Breathe, Seraphic.

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.


theobromophile said...

A great rant that I wished I had read at age 18. The only good thing about the disastrous romantic relationships I formed at that young age were that my friends learned from my mistakes and were more than happy to be very, very picky about men.

Add avocados and exercise to the sunscreen list. Oh, and green tea (the unsweetened or lightly sweetened kind). You have no idea, until you've tried for a month or so, what two avocados a week can do for your skin.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for such a thorough response!! I love this blog -- you have really given me a lot of reassurance and a lot to think about. Sometimes it's just helpful to be reminded that I'm not the only one. Thanks :)

Shiraz said...

I would like to second the point made about lots of non-religious and feminist women also not 'putting out'. (Dreadful term, but there it is.) In my experience, that's completely true. Most of my university friends are not religious. They were even mostly raised in completely areligious households. (Well, this WAS in Australia.) Most would also self-identify as feminist if asked. And when we were at university, aged 20, 22, 24, many of them weren't in relationships, and also having sex. And most of those who were having sex were having it well into (ie not until several months had elapsed) established relationships. The difference is they're not talking about it. And nobody's asking, because they aren't religious so people don't immediately think to make assumptions. And I think that's the crucial thing. They weren't talking about being single. They weren't talking about not having sex. They weren't fixated on it, they were just calmly going along and doing their thing, and really didn't think it was anyone's business. That's all I had to say really. If you're under 25 and haven't ever had a boyfriend, or think you're the only one not fooling around, you're probably not as isolated as you think you are.

Shiraz said...

Argh! At the top there I meant "and also NOT having sex."

sciencegirl said...

Total WIN! On so many levels. This is the ultimate jackpot.

"Socio-erotic encounter" is my new favorite term, as I have long hated the dreaded phrase "long-term relationship."

Madame Lefty said...

I was shown this picture and in light of your entry it amused me and I hope it amuses you and your readers.

By the way, this post was amazing. I wish I would have read something like this during my college or high school years. It's a powerful message.

Alisha said...

Indeed, great post...I would say though, that it is not always really that easy to find other young Christian friends, or at least friends that are accessible. I had no good friends that really shared my faith the way I wanted to live it until past age 21 or so and by then I had got very used to not running with the pack...I've been re-reading some old diaries lately, and I think the fact that I didn't run with the pack had some consequences, positive and negative. On one hand, no one ever taught me how to think...and I think I reflexively developed a sort of rebellious thinking - if everyone was doing it, I wouldn't - at least not just because everyone does because it was boring and way too easy. On the other hand, while I wanted friendship, I wasn't familiar with how to live it or seek it out since previous attempts had been disappointing - as a result, I didn't always have that strong support to help me out because I didn't know how to run with the pack - the good pack. Even now, it's more familiar and comfortable to be a lone wolf, even in a pack that is totally contrary to what I want to be...and that is tiring to the soul at times.

Seraphic said...

Thanks for the comments, all! I really wanted to underscore that sometimes there is no sharp US/THEM distinction between us religious chicks and our agnostic/"spiritual" sisters when it comes to chastity. And, ya know, maybe it's not just the boys who get bogged down in virgin-whore complexes.

Alisha, you've flagged something very important: the importance, for women, of female friendship. There is a golden mean: I believe most women need women friends to remain on an even keel--the important thing is that they really do support you in your life and not behave like, well, a seventh grade clique.

Thanks to blogs and social networking, I think like-minded people are much easier to find: no need to shiver at home trying to get up the courage to try another parish's Single group, etc.

I wonder, Alisha, if you issue wasn't more trying to find Christian women who ALSO were artists? Because that is a lot more difficult.

The Sojourner said...

THANK YOU for taking the pressure off us 20-somethings. That's what it turns into, you know, when everyone is all "Enjoy being young! You're only young once!" and my mental response is "Thank God for that." It's like I'm obliged to enjoy myself because after 30 is going to be a wasteland of middle-aged misery.

My mother and I were just talking about this very topic, actually, and she says her life pretty much hit a low point when she was 30 and has been getting progressively better ever since. Also, she has better skin than I do. (We have a strong hereditary inclination to greasiness--it doesn't settle down until 35 or 40 and then you have an interval of great skin until the wrinkles set in.)

Julie said...

"You have to have sex before you marry him, or how will you know you're not making a terrible mistake?"

"We're moving in together, just so we can try it out and see if we want to get married."

"You know that's her very first boyfriend and she's marrying him. How can she know that he's the one?"

Funny how it's only the third one that's difficult to laugh off. But, as my high school religion teacher used to say, "it only has to happen once".

I sincerely hope that all this disgusting sun screen pays off.

Sheila said...

So, so true, thank you! People seem to think their life isn't worthwhile if they haven't dated a lot of people, but the truth is, you only need one. If you've dated other people, all that means is that you wasted a lot of emotion on someone who didn't end up sticking around. Now that's depressing! I never dated anyone till I met my husband, not for lack of wanting to (because I wasn't very bright) but because I wasn't getting asked out. It ended up not mattering at all.

I realized this when I was a freshman in college, and a senior girl in my dorm was sighing over her life. "I'm 22 years old," she sighed, "and I've never been in love." Then she brightened. "Then again, I guess that's a good thing. Since I'm single now, if I'd been in love before, that would just mean I'd had my heart broken!" I realized how true that was, and stopped freaking out.

Another response that I've heard and liked was this story. A girl who had never dated before finally was in a serious relationship. She told her family she was going to marry this guy. Her more-experienced younger sister laughed at her. "How do you know? You've never dated anyone else, you don't know anything about relationships." The older sister replied, "So should I break up with him and date every other guy on the planet before I'm allowed to know that this one is the one for me?" Loved it.

Thanks for this post!

Anonymous said...

As I agree heartily with everything You said, I can't help to look at the issue from a different, probably thoroughly wrong perspective.
The pain of not dating or not having "had a relationship" is not necessarily about lack of these itself, but sometimes about never having a chance to say no. I myself am 19, have two (to my constant concern, neither a "practising" Catholic) extremely lovely friends packed with sex-appeal, who both have tons of male friends that coincidentally all one by one inevitably fall for them - and I have never experienced what it's like when a guy wants or considers having anything even remotely romantic to do with me. (Oh wait, I lied, now that I think of it there was this sixth-grader who asked me to dance at a school party. I was positive he was mocking me and so ended being cursed to hell, ashamed, obviously undancd with and alone in the girls' room.) Now, I know, of course, that it's all a part of God's plan for me and that I'm very young; I am not prepared and don't want "a relationship" and if I were to say what I'm looking for it would not be the above, but my vocation. But despite all this the little fact still manages to make me feel bad - unattractive to the opposite sex and uninteresting as a person in general. (As I want to feel slighly less bad, I like to see it pretentiously - in a big context, as a part of human nature and that kinda stuff...) We all want to make decisions, not be made to do something (isn't it one of the things that make our "Thy will be done, not mine" so difficult sometimes?). And then there's what Rebecca Dew used to explain (You must have read Lucy M. Montgomery's "Anne" series, surely!)... No woman wants to find herself left alone, she wants to CHOOSE to be single (and we all know "single" is a whole different thing than the non-feminist out-dated "old maid"...), even nuns before they become nuns. If there's a sin, it's not inchastity, it's vanity of wanting to be courted just for the sake of feeling desirable.
It's just a part of a picture, of course, and I guess you could say that it's just my shallow, probably insomnia-induced and momentarily interpretation that originates in my own unresolved freudian-ish problems, but I think it's still in some small way poignant.