Monday, 11 October 2010

Costing More Than You Can Give

Domestic Diva wrote in the other day, mentioning that she had had a number of dating relationships that ended up costing more than she could give. And although it it is common to talk about relationships this way, I was momentarily taken aback by the language of "give" and "cost". People also talk about relationships being "work." Now, call me cold-blooded, but the only romantic relationship I can think of that demands "give" and "work" is marriage.

Maybe I should write a book called Zen and the Art of Dating. What prevents this is that I don't exactly know what Zen is, other than that it implies a certain detachment, tranquility and che sera, sera.

"Relationships aren't supposed to be work," said a good friend to me one day. "They're supposed to be easy."

She said this in an art gallery in Montreal. At the time we were talking about a chap I was dating, who enjoyed all the hanging out, but didn't seem to be in love with me. He never held my hand in public, for example. If He's Just Not That Into You had been published, I would have understood exactly what the trouble was. But, anyway, there I was with my happily married friend, and she gave me this great revelation: dating relationships are supposed to be fun. If they're not fun, why bother? I mean, really, why bother? If it's not fun before you're married, if marriage is even in the cards, what makes you think it will be fun afterwards?

Friendship is different, but friendship takes time. In general, when we make friends, it is an easy if lengthy process. In short, birds of a feather flock together. I don't know how men go about this, but a woman sizes up a new woman and often just knows that she is a potential friend. A certain sympathy just springs up between them, based on some shared trait or trait, belief or beliefs. And, in general, adult women take these new relationships calmly. We all know our friends can't meet up daily or sometimes even weekly. We have family and work commitments; they have family and work commitments. We manage a comfortable detachment about our friends. If a good friend doesn't call, we don't lurk by the phone. We call them up ourselves when we think about it and say, "You swine. You never call. What gives?" And then she says, "Swine yourself. You never call me." Et cetera.

This easy banter does not seem to extend to the greater part of dating relationships, and perhaps it shouldn't, really. When it comes to romance, we're hoping this acquaintance or friend will become "more than friends." We're disappointed by offers of continued friendship. We're devastated by the idea that the Beloved might want to be "just friends."

I don't like devastation, which is why I counsel detachment again and again. Detachment keeps us sane. Detachment keeps us from demanding more than someone wants to give. Detachment keeps us from giving more than we ought to give. Which brings me again to this whole question of giving. Women are addicted to giving. It turns into a freaking disease.

A young woman asked my advice about a plain young man who's shown interest in her for years. She finally consented to going out for dinner with him, but wondered if she should cancel. Because she couldn't think of anything wrong with his character, I said "No." It's rude to cancel dates; you should only do so if you realize that the man is evil. But other than that, my attitude is that you should do what you want, as long as it is moral, and don't do what you don't want to do, as long as that is moral, too.

If someone asks you out for dinner, and you want to go, go. Don't assume this is a tacit understanding you're getting married one day. Detach. If he doesn't call you afterwards, don't call him.

If someone asks you to a film, and you want to see it, go. Don't assume this is a tacit understanding you're getting married one day. Detach. If he doesn't call you afterwards, don't call him.

But this is about meeting up. Obviously if someone makes some sort of move that, if you go along with it, frankly discourages other suitors, then you have to start asking questions. The most obvious one is when a suitor takes your hand in public, and you wonder what that means, or if he kisses you on the lips, and you wonder what that means. It shouldn't mean squat. Make sure it doesn't.

Meanwhile, your lives are too precious to waste on dating relationships that go on for years and then peter out from boredom. The longest an exclusive, post-school, situation should last before a marriage proposal is one year. I know various people think it should be much longer, for how can you know a person's whole character in just one year, etc. but I've known my husband for two years, and whole parts of his character are still a mystery. And I don't mind the mystery, for without it, I would probably be bored. A year is plenty of time to know if you're the One or not.

IMHO the answer to how much should you give a man you're not related, engaged or married to is practically nothing. Give him only as much of your precious time as you wish AND can afford to give. Send him a birthday card. If you give him a present, make sure it is just a book or an inexpensive trinket. Give him advice if he asks for it. Above all, do not make a martyr of yourself. There is no call to make sacrifices for attractive adult men to whom you are neither related nor married. Doing so is the primordial female sin. When we give until it hurts to some man who never gave a damn in first place, we have only ourselves to blame.

Update: I anticipate a dozen comments demanding "But what if he's sick? Can't I bring him chicken soup?" Well, obviously, we are called to perform works of mercy. So perform works of mercy, but don't expect anything back. Detach.


aussie girl etc said...

Most useful advice ever. Also the hardest to follow.

Fritha said...

Seconding the "most useful advice ever" comment. Definitely hit home for me.

Jasmina said...

Me too..definitely have to work on the detach part.

Claire Christina said...

"The most obvious one is when a suitor takes your hand in public, and you wonder what that means, or if he kisses you on the lips, and you wonder what that means. It shouldn't mean squat. Make sure it doesn't."

Seraphic, I don't understand in what context holding hands or a kiss on the lips should mean squat, and my insides rail against the obvious interpretation of your words (so I presume I've understood you wrong). Would you clarify, please?

Alisha said...

Fr Giussani has a wonderful understanding of detachment = possession...that only in detachment can we truly possess (not in the sense of ownership but in the sense, I believe of full understanding of a person)
I know that I can't detach for detachment's sake - it's not human. But I can if the motivation is desire - for more, of life, love, caring for the person's destiny...only then is it attractive..
Some of his thoughts in the context of a dialogue are here - the part on detachment/possession is about 3/4 of the way down the page:

Kat said...

Great advice, especially the comparison between being detached from your friends and being detached from potential suitors; I hadn't thought about it that way previously :) I'm conducting a bit of a dating experiment myself so I'll have to give this a try.

Anna said...

Claire, I think that she meant that a kiss on the lips SHOULD mean something. i.e., NOT squat. true, but so DIFFICULT. I WANT the little things they do to mean something, because I WANT to think that for the first time in my life, a man actually cares about me more than a friend. I'm scared about going on my first date when I actually DO go on one, because I know it's going to be hard to be emotionally detached to him.

Another way to look at it is emotional's a link:

Seraphic Spouse said...

Oh yes, of course I mean that such gestures shouldn't mean nothing; they should mean something. I am not in the habit of using double negatives.

Another Jennifer said...

LOVE the call to detachment. Today I needed to be called out on it. And I got it here.

I wonder though- do you or any other posters here feel like you have to do a dance in front of the guys to get noticed? I mean, what gives with all the gorgeous single holy women out here? Why are the men not taking advantage of -in a holy way-these amazing creatures?

I don't see the men acting as they "should" i.e. asking women out, pursuing them, not staying an adolescent, etc and if often feels like there is a need to cajole them into dating. Me, in particular, women in general.

And let me be clear. I Don't Want To CAJOLE. I don't want to convince him. I don't want to do all that work. Pursue me and I'll see what I think, but for heaven's sake, pursue me!

I'm an attractive, successful, confident, NCG who just wonders what in the world is going on?!

FWIW, I've told God all this and have come to be content with my status, really. But I just wonder if anyone else sees this and has any answers?

Seraphic said...

All your answers here:

Plus wear bright colours and, when appropriate, knock-out shoes.

healthily sanguine said...

I read this post when you posted it, and it contributed to my decision to break up with my boyfriend. Thanks.

Seraphic said...

Goodness me! I'm glad it was helpful, and I hope he doesn't live in Scotland!

french said...

How would a man know what kind of wife you can be if you do not take care of him a little bit ? Would he not think you are not a generous woman ? And how will i know a man will take care of me if he do not while we are dating (ex: i need things to be repared in my house etc.)

French said...

Seraphic, can you please answer my last question ? Please please please

Seraphic said...

Men enjoy it when women cook and clean for them, but they don't necessarily marry the women who cook and clean for them, unless they are elderly or in wheelchairs and are too cheap to pay for a professional nurse.

A Christian, Western man wants to marry the woman he's in love with, and that's about it. Many women would marry any man they lie to themselves about, but men tend not to want to marry unless they are gripped by the idea that they can't live without a woman. This has little to do with what she does and almost everything to do with who she is (or who he thinks she is).

Once you're married, that's the time to be sunny Suzie Homemaker. Before that, it's best to show a hint of reserve and act more like a sophisticated, graceful princess and less like his mother.

It sounds like your question comes from a sticky situation you're in, so feel free to send an email to No point wasting good brownies on the wrong man, if that's what you're up to.