Friday, 5 November 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Tired of Looking

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm wondering if you can discuss the issue of actively searching for "the one." I am single, and would very much like someday not to be. I've had people tell me that if I want someone to find me, I have to go out and meet people, which I know is true - especially for someone who tends towards introversion, sometimes to an extreme, and isn't typically very easy to get to know. So if I don't go out and meet people and continue going places where I can form and deepen friendships, I imagine it'll be hard for any guy to get to know me to a point where he'd want to ask me out. (Of course, at the same time there are those people who say "It happened as soon as I stopped looking!" But I'm not sure how to fit that into everything.)

It's exhausting, though, feeling like I have to go to any event where I might meet someone, and always feeling like I'm on the lookout. I know I don't have to go to everything, but there's that part of me that thinks, maybe he'll be at this talk or that conference or this dance, and if I don't go, I won't meet him!

I'm fairly certain this is more than a little bit ridiculous, but I do know that I can't just sit at home when I'm not at work or in class. But I've grown tired of going to things with that thought in my mind - even if it's not the main motivating factor, it's always at least a little bit there. And sometimes I'll go to things that I might not really want to go to, just to get out of my comfort zone a little, and maybe - who knows! - meet someone.

But typically when I do this, I end up having a less-than-spectacular time, especially since most of the guys around here are attached already, and I have a hard time striking up conversations with people I don't know. I guess what I'm wondering is, do you have any words of wisdom for someone who's sick of feeling like she has to push herself to anything where there might be an NCB or two, in case it's the only chance she'll get to meet "the one"?

How can I get out of the mindset of being on the lookout anywhere I go? (I guess that's the whole point of trying to be seraphic.) Especially since, even if I do happen to see someone I might be interested in, there doesn't seem to be much I can do to help things along (aside from the sage advice you've given us single ladies). It almost seems pointless to be looking.

I will admit to falling into the "20-something and no boyfriend" rut - though I'm trying hard not to - not to mention the fact that I'll be finishing graduate school soon and don't yet know what I'm doing with my life. It makes me feel a little frantic - like, if the person I'm supposed to meet is in the city where I'm currently studying, I'd better meet him soon! And I suppose wrapped up in all of this is the question of whether there's one better person for everyone, or several good choices. I'm not sure which one would make me feel better...

Do you have any thoughts/pearls of wisdom about any of this?

Tired of Looking

Dear Tired of Looking,

Looking at this in hindsight, I believe I was supposed to meet a man who had spent almost his entire life in Scotland when I was almost 38 and marry him in a lovely ceremony followed by sandwiches. And this is what I did. If I had gone out every single night between the ages of 26 and 37.5 solely in the hopes that my future spouse might be at this American party or that Canadian lecture, every single night would have been wasted. He wasn't there. He was in Scotland, still on his journey towards becoming the Perfect Man for Me, which he wasn't until two days after we met in person. I met him because I stayed at home, thousands of miles away, doing what I liked best, which was blogging.

When I became Seraphic Single (four years ago), I put myself through a thought experiment I call "What if he isn't coming?" Although this may sound depressing, it can be very liberating. In this experiment, you ask yourself what you would do and how you would live your life if you KNEW, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were never, ever getting married. In my case, I decided I would try to find out what was so great about being Single (after all, St. Paul thought it rocked) and blog on it every day. This led to many good things, about which I had no idea at the time.

What would you do? No husband--ever. The search is over. You can do what you want. There is one scary thing, however: no husband means that you are going to have to finish your degree, get a well-paying job and rely on yourself. Grad school is sometimes just a way of delaying the inevitable. It's funny--some girls escape school at 16 and practically run to their first job. Others of us are terrified of leaving school at 26 or even 36. And a husband can look like another way of avoiding (or cushioning) the boring/thrilling business of making one's own living at a less than glamorous job.

Meanwhile, whereas I think men should be actively looking, I think it is pointless for women to be actively looking, too. Although this is absolutely not true for other aspects in life, when it comes to courtship, men should do and women should be. St. Edith Stein wrote that it is up to the man to call out to a woman, and up to the woman to respond. I am all for the men rising up to a challenge and doing the heavy lifting of finding a spouse, and for women going only to those parties and events that look like fun in themselves.

Finally, I think it is best that women leave this up to God. If there is a "One" whom God has ordained for you from eternity (or maybe even a "Two" or a "Three" since, you know, widowhood happens) from among millions and millions of men, God and God alone knows who that is right now. God can do anything, so even if you lock yourself in your room and never come out, if God has a man for you, that man will find you. (If you lock yourself in, he will turn out to be the UPS man or a cop or someone like that.) Have faith in God's plan for you, and go where the job is.

The one part of your life you really can't control is when your future husband turns up (or if you have one at all). And therefore you must concentrate on controlling what you can control, which is your degree, your career search, your travel plans, and your amusements. Take responsibility for yourself and your future, and leave the man stuff to God.

I hereby free you from looking. Stop looking. Stay home with the televison when you want, and go to only those parties and events that you simply would never miss. And stop objectifying men. When you meet a man, think of him first as a potential friend and last as a potential husband. Ego te libero. Be free.

Grace and peace,


Friend 1: met future husband at daily Mass; he saw her and thought she was cute.

Friend 2: met future husband at friend's wedding; he received communion from her and thought she was cute.

Friend 3: met future husband while grading papers in a cafe; he saw her, asked if he could share her table and thought she was cute.

All three of these women were Single when I began my first Seraphic Singles blog four years ago. They were all in graduate school, two of them far from home. They most definitely fussed about when "he" was coming and they certainly prayed about it. But their future husbands did the pursuing; there was little need for the girls to do anything, except be prudent and patient and their own fun selves.

Update (November 6): An interesting comment was made in the combox about the "cute" issue. The stress in the clause "and thought she was cute" should fall on the word "thought" and not on the word "cute". If there is one thing I can say about men it is that they are way more broad-minded about female beauty than women are. My husband and assorted men (usually ones with a thing for big fuzzy red hair) think I am hot stuff, and not even my grandmother thought I was pretty.

The perhaps bad news is that men only fall in love with women they think are cute. The very good news is that men themselves, not Fifth Avenue, still determine what cute means to them. Men with red-headed ex-girlfriends go on to date more red-heads. My husband's Number One Fantasy Idol Pin-up Woman of all time is Dame Emma Kirkby. When I first saw a photo of Dame Emma Kirby (as a younger woman), I had the weirdest feeling that that funny Scottish blogger, Benedict Ambrose, might actually be into me.


healthily sanguine said...

Great post, thank you! It's one of those many times you've hit on just what I need to hear . . . :)

dark but fair said...

Thank you so much! This was such a great post! I think every single lady in the western world should read this post!

Christine said...

Dear "Tired," I can related to your feeling like you have to go to every conference, talk, etc, because we're supposed to put ourselves "out there." But I like the point that Seraphic makes here, and I think it needs to be accentuated more often: that although it's good to be "out there," we should only take part in things that we feel called to do, not just because it's our duty to be on the court (basketball or dating pun, whatever you like).

Hope that makes sense. :-)

leonine said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. What would I do if I knew I would be single forever? So I've done some things differently. The most immediate thing has been I've deciding I'm not going to feel guilty about investing, both financially and in terms of time, in some of the things I love to do.

And funnily, this has changed the way I interact with some of the animals I'm around. I've got a cat, and rather than think, "oh, I've just come home to an empty house again," I'm now much more likely to think, "Oh, how nice that the kitty's glad to see me!" Rather than think, "well, it's a Friday night and I don't have anything else to do, so I guess I'll work on training this horse," I've been more and more appreciative of the fact that if I want to go ride a horse on a Friday night, there's absolutely nothing stopping me.

I hope I'm not turning into a crazy cat lady who loves animals more than people. I do have friends who have promised to intervene if that becomes the case.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that thinking about "what if he never comes?" has actually been an empowering and encouraging exercise for me. I commend it to you.

fifi said...

I was just at a wedding, and observed two family friends, women in their sixties, one long-divorced, one on the brink of a tragic separation. These women were once again at a party/wedding/social event where they knew few people, and had to make small talk and be agreeable WITHOUT Mr. Right or really any other perk "in it for them." They had to be unselfish, gracious, and to a certain extent, live vicariously through the happy celebrations of others. They very gracefully did.

Bottom line: even if you do find Mr. Right, it doesn't mean you will never be alone again in your life. I LOVE Seraphic's advice: support yourself, do what you love, foster good friendships, be happy. For me, this felt like very "selfish" behavior (What, stay home and watch Lark Rise to Candleford instead of going to Theology on Tap? You mean I really can? Really, really?) but in the long run, it made me (also an introvert) much happier, more contented, and excited by fascinating interests. I wonder if Tired of Waiting is maybe a burnt-out introvert. I'm so delighted she gets to re-charge now!


browngirl said...

oh how I can relate-and I'm an extrovert!

My words to Tired would be don't spend your energy doing things that drain your energy. Then you will be to tired to enjoy the life that is passing you by!

Do your life, just as you like it. Go to that Conference IF YOU and only you want to go, not "in case" he is there. Then you end up disappointed-and exhausted, thus too tired to do what you want to do. And in living your life as you like it, he might cross your path and admire you!

Oh, I'd still take Auntie Serry's advice to live life as if you were to never get married. It is very freeing. As fifi said-you could have been married and lost him, or even be lonely in your marriage. Live YOUR life. God knows your life. If he wants a NCB to cross your path and ask you out, it will be in the context of the life you are living, the life God has for you. Don't let it pass you by.

In the end, if I never marry, I want to have lived. Really really lived.

Anonymous said...

A friend recently asked me if I what I would change about the way I lived my life if I knew I would have to wait another thirty years before meeting my one and only. I thought about it for a few minutes before answering not much.

I used to feel the same as Tired: always needing to be a part of this group, attend that event, etc. If I stayed home I felt as though I was missing out on living life. But I realized that my life is happening in the present moment wherever I am. This is all I have. I may not get a tomorrow, so I enjoy what God has given me today.

I wouldn't change a lot about the WAY I live my life, which is according to God's will in the present moment, but I will soon be making a few changes (moving to a major city to follow my dreams). If I have to live another thirty years on my own, I'm going to enjoy it as much as possible! And I'm confident that God will bring a man into my life when He sees fit.

KimP said...

Excellent post, Seraphic; I agree with it all. As an introvert also, I learned to do what I really wanted to do - which is the major upside to being single. You can eat popcorn for dinner and not worry about cooking a proper meal for anyone else. I took up sewing and quilting in 2002 - not activities that lead to meeting men - but I love it. Do what you want to do.

Tired (and thankful!) said...

This post (and all the subsequent comments) have been so great and helpful/comforting! It makes so much sense now that I read this, but I guess it's never occurred to me before to imagine what I'd do if the possibility of marriage were just taken off the table, and to live that way. It does sound very freeing!

And I'm so, so thankful for this wonderful blog!

The Crescat said...

all three of your examples ended with "he thought she was cute".

What about those less aesthetically pleasing females.

Seraphic said...

Crescat, I have tidings of great joy. Men are actually a lot less hung up than we women are on the great societal standard of female beauty. Although they will only want to marry a woman they think is cute, their idea of cute is much more varied than OUR idea of cute.

You and I know very well what female perfection looks like, and each knows how much she falls short of it. I could write a whole list for myself. Eee! And I bet all three of my friends could, too, although the first one actually looks model-perfect to me. Envieeee!

However, men dig who they dig. They might not be able to say why they dig the women they dig, but they do. Some men just prefer plump women, which is usually expressed as "I want a woman with some meat on her bones" or the whimsical "A man doesn't want a woman he has to shake the sheets to find!"

At any rate, never underestimate your own cuteness. If you are a woman, especially a young woman, scrubbed clean, wearing feminine clothes and a little make-up, and you are smiling, some men somewhere think you are cute. They are programmed that way and thank you, God!

I guess I should say something about women with weight problems, although if you go to any mall in the USA, you will see very large young women hand-in-hand with very large young men.

My hunch is that big women need even more than small women to dress with feminine confidence. Today, thank goodness, there are big women in movies and pop music, who dress beautifully. I have a friend who I wish would stop being (and dressing like) one of the boys and take her cue from Queen Latifah. Confidence and joy a girl very, very far indeed.

Seraphic said...

Er, that is, confidence and joy TAKE a girl very, very far indeed!

Lily said...

To The Crescat - I know what you mean but I also think that people have different ideas of what is cute/attractive. So that what's cute to one person, isn't to another? I know my friends and I have very different ideas about what we find attractive so I'd hope that the "one" will find the right person for them to be cute, even if society/the media would view them as less aesthetically pleasing. What do you think?


Lily said...

And while I was typing my post, Seraphic beat me to it!

Seraphic said...

I will definitely have to write about this next week.

You know, one thing I really love about men is that they aren't slaves to what fashion magazines think female beauty is. They are all unique, and although many of them would get whiplash if a super-model (cut down to 5'6") walked by, each has his own inner "cute code."

My ah-ha moment about the fashion industry was when I saw some very, very thin, models dancing, waving and holding balloons outside a MAC store in Toronto. Something about them made me look twice, and I saw that they weren't women. They were female impersonators.

If the ideal woman is not a woman but a teenage boy than something has gone completely crazy somewhere.

dark but fair said...

Thanks so much Seraphic for sharing that story about the female impersonators. The Media and Hollywood and the fashion world's idea of beauty has gone crazy and was going down in that direction for a long time. No matter what the age in history, I believe women get used to their own appearance and are more naturally critical of their appearance. The more sane men in this age when they shake their heads at us and go, "You are crazy! You are GORGEOUS!" might actually be seeing something that is there, that we have not been hard-wired to notice. The media has not helped women's sense of confidence, which is so vital to us. Let me rephrase that. I do not think there has been an age on the history of this planet where western women were this beautiful (partially due to advances in modern medicine, hygeine, cosmetics and dental care), tried so hard to look their best, and still felt so dreadful about themselves and were so lacking in confidence.

I think there has always been pornography in one form or another, but the accessibility of the trash, the use of advertisements, and the constant visual overstimulation with images of fake people; are all mostly to blame for this.

Well, that, and the men whom we know who stop and gape at those images (poor men) and the women who wear the immodest clothing and buy the magazines after they have seen the men gape at them (poor women).

Alisha said...

I looove Queen Latifah! There are actually more and more media role models of bigger sizes, which I think is good. It sounds cliche to say accept yourself for who you are but there is freedom in it - and acceptance doesn't mean resignation or conversely, celebrating what might be a problem (like a serious weight issue or eating disorder). It means you begin from the point of reality...and you work on what you can from I heard yesterday in a discussion, the mystery of Christ is in the facts in front of us and not off in some ideal. He's not just helping us deal with the less desirable parts of life or ourselves, He's in fact present in the very things that make us struggle.

Kate P said...

Funny, as another introverted gal I was gearing up to write this letter, too! Thanks, Tired of Looking & Auntie Seraphic.

Aside to KimP: I used to *love* popcorn dinners! With coffee. :)

fifi said...

My "popcorn" dinners are sometimes chocolate dinners... Shhh.. don't tell... :P

On the subject of "cuteness" I totally get it. I was very deprecating about my appearance for the first 26 years of my life. But in my saner moments, I remember working customer service, and seeing a parade of married women walk through the door every day: frumpy, fat, dowdy, socially awkward, unkempt, high-maintenance, even downright name it. As one of my coworkers one time very coarsely put it "Do you ever look at someone and think to yourself, what made your husband ever say "Yeah, I wanna have sex with YOU!"?"

I don't say this to put people down, but to point out how silly our assumptions are. Seriously, are ALL the married women you know supermodel-worthy portraits of perfection and charm? It is completely illogical to think that "only attractive women marry and 'attractive' means X," but we are SO illogical!

I look forward to your post, Seraphic!

some guy on the street said...

fifi, that's just silly! I mean, everyone knows that chocolate is for breakfast!

Christine said...

My popcorn dinners are usually accompanied by a nice cold beer. (hehehe)

theobromophile said...

Quick thoughts, from my "what I've learned the hard way" file:

Seraphic could not be more right about men liking what they like. I'm tall, thin (okay, I put on campaign-trail weight, but usually thin), and have long hair. You would not believe the number of men I've dated who think that I'm too tall (which is GREAT news for short women), my hair is too long (GREAT news for women who have their hair short and look cute that way), don't like blondes (what I used to be - great news for brunettes!). Some of them like my green eyes, some don't.

Also... can't say it enough... men who are so crass as to comment negatively on your appearance, or who aren't going to date anyone because she isn't model-perfect, are not worth having. Period, end of story. I cannot explain how long it took me to come the epiphany that, although I'm not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, any man who demands model-perfect is not husband material.

The other thing, if I may rant: women who say that they "met him when I finally stopped looking" are either revising history or speaking in incomplete sentences. Usually, they were looking, but don't want to admit it (despite being out at bars - or church singles' dances - every night!). Or they were looking, but not for the man who eventually found them. Or they found someone when they stopped looking... in all the wrong places, for all the wrong men. You get the idea.

I'm not saying that those women are trying to be mean or Smug Marrieds (although some of them might be), but they just aren't thinking things through fully. If they are used to serially dating a string of Men Who Are Not Right For Them, it can feel like "not looking" when they only date (clutch the pearls) one man every year or two, but that's about what happens when you only consider men who are right for you.

Also, it really depends on where you are coming from. As a chronic non-looking-for-men, who once rivalled Alisha for that title, that philosophy always struck me as wrong; if it were true, I would have found The One many, many times over. When I wasn't looking, though, I met a lot of men who were bad for me, and only started meeting and dating Nice Boys when I actively started looking to find someone.

Maybe that's not how it will be for you, or maybe the real advice is, "If what you're doing isn't working, change it and try something else".

KimP said...

@theobromophile, I agree! When I met my BF, I would say I was definitely looking - just looking in new and different ways.

@fifi and KateP and Christine - chocolate for supper rocks too. But popcorn has the advantage of being considered a hot meal!

healthily sanguine said...

theobromophile, great comment! You wrote, "can't say it enough... men who are so crass as to comment negatively on your appearance, or who aren't going to date anyone because she isn't model-perfect, are not worth having." I'd like to extend that to dating a guy who'd like to change ANYthing about you. If you get any inkling whatsoever that the guy wants to change you (whether it be, like in my case, to be "less traddie"), RUN don't walk in the other direction!!