By the way, we all know that Auntie Seraphic is not a substitute for a competent parish priest, right? Although (or because) I myself have an M.Div., I would be the very first to encourage you to get a second opinion from your parish priest. And a third opinion from your mother, if you did not go to her first.
Now that I've said that I feel better about coming up with a list of which courtship gestures actually mean something. Every young man is different, of course, except when they're all the same. Hey, if Chesterton could trot out a paradox with impunity, so can I.
Okay, so here is my list of stuff men do and whether or not you should get excited about it:
1. Whistles at you on the street.
No. Ignore him.
2. Pays you a compliment.
No. But smile.
3. Gives you his phone number and says, "Call me."
No. But smile. Don't call him.
4. Asks you to be a Facebook friend.
Not yet. Some guys collect Facebook friends like kids collect stamps. Wait a day before deciding to be his 245th Facebook friend.
5. Asks for your phone number and says, "I'll call you."
Mostly no. Smile, say, "You do that," and try to forget his very existence unless/until he really does call.
6. Calls you up just to chat.
Flicker of interest. What kind of guy calls you up just to chat? What is going on here? Is he psyching himself up to ask you out? Or does he need a feminine ear into which to pour his woes? I know this is as easy as pulling out your own tooth, but after 10 to 15 minutes tell him you have to go. This may make him cut to the chase, if there is a chase.
7. Calls you up to ask you out.
Yes, moderately. You can now allow yourself to feel interest. Whenever a man takes a real risk, putting his tender ego on the line by positioning himself where you can reject his polite, decent, evidence of interest in you, he is actually interested in you. This is good. Of course, we don't know exactly what his interest is yet, so if you accept the invitation, keep your mind, eyes and ears open.
8. Asks you to dance.
Yes, moderately. See above. Unless he's been drinking. Have fun.
9. Buys you something.
Yes. You may sit up now. You know how I always say that for women giving is almost like a disease? With men it is not so. So when a man you know socially starts buying you (and you alone) a coffee here, and a muffin there, and a cool pen he found, and a book that made him think of you, it means something.
How do I make it absolutely clear that this is not money=love? It is not. And, in fact, if a suitor offers you an expensive or overly personal present, unless you are now both discerning marriage to teach other in a serious (e.g. you are over 21) way, you should refuse it. (An overly personal present includes $100 hairdressing appointments, for example.) Never, ever, ever allow any man to think for a second that your affections can be bought.
A useful sentence: "Oh, thank you, but I'm afraid I could never accept such an expensive present." A useful follow-up: "My parents would think it very odd if I accepted such an expensive/personal present. In our culture/religion/TLM community, that would be--ha, ha, ha--tantamount to being engaged."
Incidentally, if any nice man wants to give me stuff, I will assume that your motives are as pure as the driven snow and are merely tributes to my maternal/sisterly/auntly heart. Just be warned that if it is milk chocolate, my husband will eat it. (Hint: dark. Buy the dark.)
10. Pays for dinner.
Yes. This is 2010, and I hope we are all on the same page. If he pays for dinner, it's a date. If you go dutch, it isn't a date. If you still think it is a virtuous feminist act to pay for your own dinner on a date, go read my book again. Have you read my book? Go read my book. The Eighties are over, and thank God for that.
However you are not allowed to get too excited. A first date could be a last date, and I once went on a first date with a very nice 22 year old who paid for everything although he spent half the evening trying to trick me into telling him how old I was. We had met a few nights previously in a club when we were both smashed and I was 34. In the cold, cruel light of sobriety, I probably looked it, and no second date was there. Incidentally, "So what's your confirmation name?" is a sure-fire converation starter when you meet a man with an obviously Polish name, even when smashed in a club. (NB St. Paul says you shouldn't get smashed at all.)
11. Calls you up three days later and asks you out a second time.
Yes. And if you are a NCG and he is a NCB, my vote is that you should give him a second chance, no matter how dorky he was on the first date. Legions of NCGs and NCBs are dorky on the first date.
Once again, you are not allowed to get too excited. A second date does not mean wedding bells are going to chime. It's just a date. It's just dinner, or just a movie or whatever. Chill.
12. Holds your hand.
Yes, and now it is time to give into the feminine tendency to overthink. Congrats if you have managed to avoid overthinking until now.
Hand-holding makes a man look like he means business. But what business does he have in mind? Do not, I beg you, ask the man "So where is this relationship going?", no matter how many friends you ask when you get home. Again, keep your mind, eyes and ears open. Incidentally, if you don't want to hold his hand, let it go after a face-saving 15 seconds.
I have an awesomely awesome story about handholding so scandalous, I can't tell you. It involves a really cute male religious with really bad judgment and a woman who might possibly have been me. One word: DRAMA.
13. Kisses you.
Yes, and now you have to ask questions, unless the answers have already been forthcoming. I remember being suddenly seized (in a Goth bar of all places) and kissed by a young man I had suspected had a crush on me, who then ran away. He actually ran away. So of course this meant the next time I saw him, I had to give him The Talk, and he cried. He actually cried. We were both 23. Ah, youth. Unless your swain preceded or followed the kiss with "Can I tell my friends you're my girlfriend?", you should say something witty like, "But what does this mean?"
14. Asks you to be his girlfriend.
There is probably no point in my telling you that "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are stupid, made-up relationships that make no sense and that the only romantic boy-girl relationships that have serious, lasting meaning are engagement and marriage, so go right ahead and do your happy dance. If you're out of school and he doesn't mention marriage for a whole year, ask him where this relationship is going. If he doesn't know, dump him. Incidentally, asking "Where is this relationship going?" is the relationship equivalent of pulling the fire alarm in the subway; you only do it if you absolutely must.
I know we were a meel-yon years old at the time, but I only had to wait five days between "be my girlfriend" and "take my grandfather's watch and consider marrying me." Obviously both B.A. and I are elderly and insane, but we're still together two years later, so just think about that for a bit.