Monday, 12 July 2010

Bless Their Hearts

Some things are much easier to see and to say when you are 39 years old. It's a trade-off. You might not be as slim, and your skin no longer glows like a pearl, but you can see stuff than younger women can't see. The hard part is convincing younger women of the stuff you can see. There's this generation gap thing, after all.

Today we are going to talk about boys, and how even though they are sometimes seriously annoying they are our brothers. Also, quite a few of you want to marry one of them. The number one reason you're not married (if you're not married) is that it is God's will that you are Single. But the number two reason could be (could be) that you don't know how to get along with the men that wash up on the shores of your life. You're frightened of them. You get angry with them. And I understand because I was often frightened of and angry with the ones that appeared in my life, too.

As mentioned below, I was active in the pro-life movement when I was young, and some of the young men I was around weren't very nice to me. This was a great disappointment, and I didn't know how to handle it. I thought reasonable, spirited argument was the way forward. I thought generosity, like occasionally paying for a boy's dinner, was the way forward. I now think I was wrong. The most popular girl in our set was probably so popular with the boys because she did not take any of the ridiculous things they said seriously. She just laughed and changed the subject. She certainly never bought them treats.

No matter what their politics, some young men are bullies. Some improve as they get older, and some don't. I won't deny that. But in general, I discover that I like men the older they get and the older I get. I am no longer intimidated by young men, and I suspect that older men are no longer as intimidated by women as they once were.

The worst bully in my set married a Mexican girl, and I was always amazed that some woman wanted to marry him. However, it occured to me that this girl, being Mexican, being from a macho culture, may have grown up knowing how to handle macho men and put them, with grace, in their place. This is not knowledge I have or ever had.

American men, who often idolize a less misogynist machismo, often seem to want to marry women who are not American. Is this because American women take men too seriously? Is it because it is somehow more feminine not to give a damn?

I don't know. I just know that my relationships with men improved when I realized the following things:

1. When young men make pronouncements about men, they are revealing truths about themselves, not truths about men.

2. When young men make pronouncements about women, they are revealing their own issues about women, not truths about women.

3. Young men have to go to seminary/divinity for three to five years to learn things about empathy young women have known since age six.

4. Young men are in a painful hell of confusion quite a lot of the time, especially when it comes to love, sexuality, their parents and women.

5. A few men--a very few men--are utter bastards to be avoided as you would avoid an angry dog.

6. Male behaviour and attitudes vary from culture to culture.

7. I understand best men like my father and my brothers. My husband is a lot like my father and my brothers.

I have two social advantages over my young Single readers: I am 39, and I am married. So if a young Catholic man told me, in all seriousness, that all women should dress like the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would not be angry or frightened. I would not argue with him, or mention the Taliban.

Instead I would wonder why this probably unhappy (see #4) young man had said this very strange thing. I might ask questions to clarify. ("Do you mean all women? Your mother? Your sisters?") But it wouldn't really matter. By saying "All women should dress like the Virgin Mary", this young man would have blurted out a clue to the great shame of his young life, which is that he feels overwhelmed when he sees female arms and legs. Bless his heart. Of course he does. Of course he does. He doesn't need to be screamed at. He is suffering. He needs sisterly help. And the only sisterly help I could think to give him would be to suggest he talk to a priest or another reasonable man (like my husband) about his idea. And that would be it. I am a woman, after all, and Woman is what he is having a hard time with right now.

Yes, there are bullies. But, in general, Catholic men who go to Mass (or if we aren't Catholic, men of good will) are on our team. We have to get along with them, and that means giving them the benefit of the doubt when they say something stupid or simply refusing to argue.

I admire many men for their formidible talents: their professional expertise, their creative gifts, their diplomatic skill. But I like men best when I am reminded that once they were ten. If you were walking along a beach with my husband, and you gave him a flat rock, he would immediately skim it across the waves and eagerly count every bounce. I love that. Bless his little heart.

All men, even the most annoying, even the most confused, even the most pompous, were bright eyed little boys once. It helps to remember that. In all but the worst, those little boys are still in there. Bless their little hearts. Say it after me, right now: Bless their little hearts!

Update (July 14): Some people have voiced problems with the word "little" in the blessing because it can sound too condescending. If that is your trouble, may I suggest the word "wee"? "Wee" to my Canadian ears could never sound condescending. So try out "Bless his wee heart!" Does that work better?


Lemons said...

I loved this post. Life becomes so much more bearable when you remember that the bad things a person is or does to you are not their whole being-- that there is something to love in everyone, even if it's just the fact that they were once a little boy.

I only get angry with men when I don't understand them-- when they say one thing, but act in a way that contradicts it.

sciencegirl said...

I like this post. I love acknowledging the boyish behavior of men, which is so great.

I would change just one thing, which is that it is actually easier to see men as brothers not despite their annoying behavior, but because of it. My younger brothers are very annoying, and very lovable. I thought the story of Mr. Marionist was hilarious and kind of adorable, so I responded with much mockery, as has always been my wont. That is my sister/brother dynamic. I don't find brotherly pranks and goofy statements very romantic, though, and don't really like to tease men I am romantically interested in. I've seen great romantic relationships work well for other people who kind of rudely joked around like that, but I don't really enjoy it in my own romances. I see men as either brotherly or datable, not both.

Alisha said...

I like this post, but I'd like to get clarification on this point: "We have to get along with them, and that means giving them the benefit of the doubt when they say something stupid or simply refusing to argue."

Yes, we have to get along with them. Yes, it helps tremendously to view them as boys (God sees us all as very little, after all, and it's easier to understand His affection for us in that light), but if I really want to help them grow into men, I think sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to argue. I can't say exactly when or how because it's an "in the moment, listen to the Spirit" thing...and by arguing, I don't necessarily mean being argumentative in tone or nature - just purely the exercise of trying to have the truth become clear through discussion that actually makes a claim. I don't think it's a good thing for men to persist in error...those who can't or won't take direction will end up being the ones that, no matter how smart, will perpetually hurt women and make a mess of things and then claim women are too difficult or picky or not up to their standards, the entire time not having a clue (or not admitting) that they are in fact emotionally immature, or worse, abusive.
Depending how close your relationship is with the guy, or how bold you are, you can even say, with a healthy dose of good humor "Women are put on this earth to help men improve, so I'm doing this because a) I care about you and b) I was designed that way and c) God created me for your good in this moment, so you should listen."
I have actually said things like this - and if it is an "in the moment/Spirit" thing, it can actually make a huge difference

Seraphic said...

Alisha, that is a one way ticket to never getting married. However, as you don't want to get married, carry on.

Women may have been put on earth to inspire men to improve, but I sincerely doubt that we were put here to do this through active nagging.

I am trying to imagine myself improving Benedict Ambrose. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

One great rule I learned early in life is never to nag. Sure, if a guy is rude to you personally, tell him you won't put up with it. But trying to improve a man makes a woman a character out of a Wodehouse novel. He usually already has a mother.

Science Girl, it's interesting that you bring up brotherly/datable because the Perfect Man for Me turned out to be a lot like my real brothers. After a day of conversation, I kept thinking of how well he would get along with my brothers, and how he reminded me of my brothers. Of course, he was enough UNlike my brothers to be romantically attractive.

sciencegirl said...

That's sweet! I just would not want to live in that state of permanent irritation/tolerance. My brothers and I get along very well now that we are in different regions of a very large country, whereas I would like my future husband to share a house with me.

Alisha said...

"Alisha, that is a one way ticket to never getting married. However, as you don't want to get married, carry on."

I'm not advising to say this to all men, all the time. As I said, it's an "in the moment, Spirit moved me" kind of thing.
If we are going to view men as brothers, there's some of them we won't mind saying these kinds of things to, because we don't want to marry them anyway...Even if I wanted to get married, I would have no issue correcting someone who I thought was particularly out of line (i.e. wanted all women to dress like Mary) because that is probably not my dream man anyway. I agree that saying this to someone whom you've just met that you hope will perhaps one day be your husband is probably not the best strategy...though it depends on the man - if you use a lot of charm, and go about it in a way that doesn't embarrass him, he might fall head over heels for you - he'll love your spunk, and the fact that you cared about him enough to say it (if he can't see that, he's prob not very mature, and therefore wouldn't be on my list of marriageable men). I've had many different men (at least some of whom were also attracted to me) say they love my honesty...Maybe they are were all lying, or maybe maybe it only works on non-Catholic men because what I'm saying is so foreign that it's interesting no matter what it is...I don't know.

"Women may have been put on earth to inspire men to improve, but I sincerely doubt that we were put here to do this through active nagging."

I don't think trying to help someone see the truth and become a better person is nagging - those are part of what charity demands: wanting someone not to be in error! I see nagging as persistently insisting on proving a point or trying to cajole or guilt someone into something they don't want to choose even if it is good. That's definitely not's also specifically why I mentioned why tone was important, degree of intimacy, using humor and timing, and I would add to that also politeness and gentleness...these are the things that give charity their charm.

sciencegirl said...

I will also add that one of my married friends started dating her husband when she forcefully corrected the nonsense of an obnoxious male coworker.

Her future husband had long been tolerating the workplace blowhard, but my little friend couldn't stand to hear his ridiculous "facts" and proved him wrong. Her future husband thought "This girl is amazing," asked her out, and they were engaged in a few months.

Not all men like all men. Actually, I would guess that most men know men they really don't enjoy very much at all. A lot of them are secretly rolling their eyes at the bunk some of the other men are saying, and maybe they wouldn't mind so much if these guys were taken down a peg. I don't recommend we all go out there and get our rude on, but it's worth keeping in the backs of our minds that, as Seraphic said in another post, rude ugly people get married all the time. Or something like that anyway. Plus, educating the ignorant is a work of mercy.

Seraphic said...

Sciencegirl--I notice that she married the bystander, not the blowhard she corrected.

Sure, take a guy down a peg when it would be a crime not to. Don't expect him to ask you on a date afterwards. This happens a lot in the movies, but I would't expect it in real life.

I'm such a hardliner against roguishly (or sisterishly) telling off men because I used to tell off men I really liked and this got me nowhere. It didn't work well for Caroline "Fine Eyes" Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, either.

theobromophile said...

Don't expect him to ask you on a date afterwards. This happens a lot in the movies, but I would't expect it in real life.

Ah, but the type of comment matters a lot, too!

Women whose goal is to take men down a peg rarely date nor marry men who have a lot of dignity. (They will date or marry men with Issues, however.) Women who are not afraid to tell men - lovingly - how to improve, or that they will not put up with such-and-such, marry more frequently than those who quietly let men go on their way.

(I am - was? - among the last group of women. I realised that men thought I was a doormat and had little respect for me. Men want sweet and loving, not nagging, but they also want a woman whom they can respect, who will be a good mother to their children, and who can help them be better people.)

theobromophile said...

I discover that I like men the older they get and the older I get.

Which raises another question: how old is too old (to date)? Is life good so long as you're at least half his age plus seven? Within five years? Ten years?

sciencegirl said...

Good point! I forget just how common it is in the movies for the rude lady to marry the guy she is rudest. The more cold-hearted and nasty she is, the harder the sweet, dashing, smart, and ridiculously handsome man tries to sweep her off her feet. The more she claims to hate the very concept of love and romance, the higher her chances of ending the movie with a wedding. It works the other way too sometimes, when the sweet, beautiful, innocent girl reforms the reprobate whose oh-so-touching redeeming quality is that he is nice to grandma or can make a meal. Is that crazy or what? What a terrible message! No wonder some people flirt like they are trying to win an insult war.