Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Sunday School Teacher

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm curious about your thoughts about pushy-if-well-meaning older ladies. Recently I was socializing in the narthex after Mass and one of the venerable older ladies of the parish, whom I'd never properly met but see often at Daily Mass, approached me.

After introducing herself and complaining to me about something over which I have no control (music at the liturgy), she immediately dived into "Are you married?"

"No," said I, a bit apprehensive. I knew what was coming.

"Are you seeing anyone?"

"Not just now," I said softly, wishing to melt through the floor.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-x." (At this point in my life I'm not terrified of my age so I don't think this question was as rude as it could have been had I been four or five years older. Maybe it was rude of her to ask; I don't know. But I digress)

"Well then, you'll have to meet Joe!* My grandson!" she boomed. "He's twenty-six! He'll be home for Christmas and needs a nice girl. And you too would be so lovely together!"

"Ah well, I'll be at my parent's through New Year, sorry," I said, blushing like the sun. She gave me beady glance.

"I'll tell him to look you up online. Mary* [her granddaughter, who is in my religion class] says you're on facebook. And you'll add him back, of course, and then maybe meet when he's home again for Easter!"

And then she turned away and I stood there, head a bit fuzzy, lost for words.

Later I thought about why I was so uncomfortable about the whole exchange. I think it's two-fold. Firstly, and most annoying, this lady doesn't know me at all, other that that I work for the parish and therefore must be a nice Catholic girl. She doesn't know my personality, tastes, interests, or anything. All she knows is that I'm single. I have no problem with being set up by my friends- it's how many of my favorite couples met, actually - but when you're friends with someone you know them, and if they might actually be a good match for another of your friends. I've done this myself in fact; I've thought "Hmm, so-and-so and so-and-so have a lot in common. I bet they would get on well. I'll have to sneakily introduce them at a party" And I do, and off they go. But this lady, even with good intention, seemed to be thinking "Well, she is single and he is single. Clearly they should be together!"

If marriage were just a matter of finding another single person and picking a date to marry, there wouldn't be anyone single in the world over the age of 25, except for priests and religious. But just because I am single and another person is single doesn't guarantee anything! I just found it a bit off-putting that after literally two minutes of conversation (none of which were about me) she felt it appropriate to rather pushily assume I should meet her grandson.

The second reason for my discomfort, perhaps, is that many people, especially older people I meet, tend to categorize me solely based on my singleness. It drives me crazy. The first question a person asks (an older person, not usually a peer unless it's someone I haven't seen in a while) is if I'm seeing someone, as if the whole sum of my personhood is wrapped up in whether or not I'm dating, engaged, or married. When I meet a new person, I very seldom ask if they are dating, married, etc, unless they bring up their spouse or children, because I HATE when people do this to me.

Am I being oversensitive in this? Perhaps I am. Maybe I'm being uncharitable; I'm sure this lady just wants her grandson to be happy. I came away from the discussion with older lady feeling very... I don't know... very shy and a bit sad. I logged on to facebook and checked to ensure my privacy settings were still intact (everything is friends-only; I really really really do not like the idea of sharing too much over the Internet, and online dating gives me the heebie-jeebies). It was. I don't think I'll approve the grandson's friend request if he sends it; I limit my facebook page to people I've actually met in person and consider friends. I never, ever approve friend requests if I don't actually know the person.

What do I do about these pushy older ladies? Is this an instance where I just think, "Bless her kind pushy heart!" and smile placidly?

*Names changed.

Sunday School Teacher

Dear Sunday School Teacher,

Okay, I understand that at the moment this does not seem hilarious. But in five years it will seem hilarious, so save the email for future reference.

It is indeed annoying when married or widowed people stare at Single people with their beady little eyes and wonder why you all are not married and wonder how to get you all married off ASAP. On the one hand, it is annoying because it is not nice to feel that being Single makes you defective in some way. On the other hand, it is annoying also because most Singles do indeed want to get married, but don't want others to rub it in.

But complicating all this is the fact that in some cultures it is the job of older people to pair off the younger ones, and when the older people don't do this, the younger ones sometimes sort of wish they would. I used to complain loudly and bitterly that priests didn't seem to be interested in introducing NCGs and NCBs to each other, unlike rabbis, who apparently introduce NJGs and NJBs to each other all the time. (I wonder if this is really true, though, or just an idea I got from the movies.) I understand that old Ukrainian Catholic ladies work like the dickens to get their own seminarians married off before their ordinations.

Now, you can react to Older Lady in two ways. You can be sad that she sees you as marriage material for her beloved grandson. Or you can be flattered and amused that she sees you as marriage material for her beloved grandson. It's up to you.

Personally, I'd be amused and flattered. It's not that you are Single. It's that you [A] go to Daily Mass and [B] teach her granddaughter in Sunday School. And I am loving this crazy woman who has decided, on the strength of your looks, and the fact that you go to Daily Mass, and (very likely) the good opinion of her tiny granddaughter, that you would make her a fine granddaughter-in-law. And imagine how her grandson must feel. "Grandma, you went up to a complete STRANGER and told her---? How could you?!?!?!?!?"

If, from some miracle, Joe actually does hunt for you on Facebook, and I doubt he will, so embarrassed will he be by his grandmother's loving shenanigans, you almost owe it to him to reply and tell him that his grandma must love him a lot.

Pray for this marvellous, kooky lady who thinks, without much evidence, that you are simply a lovely girl. I would be flattered. Go ahead and be flattered. And, as a matter of fact, she isn't really a stranger. She's a Pillar of your Parish and the grandma of your own wee student Mary. I know it is a scary world, but the good opinion of an outspoken parish grandma is no reason to run frightened to your Facebook settings.

I remember being sad that the nuns I boarded with wanted me to join their order. My spiritual director pointed out that meant they had a high opinion of me, and I should feel happy, not sad. I took his advice, and think you should take mine!

Grace and peace,


Ginger said...

"I remember being sad that the nuns I boarded with wanted me to join their order. My spiritual director pointed out that meant they had a high opinion of me, and I should feel happy, not sad. I took his advice, and think you should take mine!" Hahaha! I wonder if I should feel rebuked by the fact that the nuns I boarded with in my high school years have given up trying to convince me the convent is for me, and my priest, quite literally, laughs outloud at the idea of me in a habit, saying, "Well, it takes all kinds, I suppose."

I agree though, that the letter writer should be flattered and amused. :)

Alisha said...

I don't blame the letter writer for being sad/annoyed. Your identity is SO much more than your singleness, of course. The thing is, you are dealing with a generational gap issue, methinks. The whole idea of emotional connection and compatibility based on shared interests, ideas etc, is a more recent one, culturally. It seems to me, before, you would look at a couple of simple things on the surface (ie. looks, a good "church" girl) and that would be sufficient to consider someone as a match for another. Many old ladies do not think in those terms. (I'm guessing she is prob. a very good, nice, woman but not someone who thinks deeply.) On one hand this can just be amusing. On the other, it can be really misleading and confusing. When I was looking into religious life, I had tons of literature sent to me from various places but it wasn't really impressed upon me until after a great deal of heartache and confusion that I should take into consideration my own gifts and interests as at least partial indicators of what God wanted for me. (I know. What a radical idea.)
As for adding the guy on FB, I would be a bit wary of some guy who went looking for you on FB, without having met you in person, because his grandmother told him to. That's just weird.
I think the best thing is to try to find smart but still kind responses that are a bit educational so that maybe the meddlers will begin thinking, preferably in the form of questions, and a very innocent tone of voice "Oh, do we have a lot in common?" "Really? Is he into (insert key interest/important point of compatibility here) too?"

Seraphic said...

Oh, Alisha...

For heaven's sake. Don't take everything so personally. Obviously neither religious orders nor grandmothers are going to be able to personalized invitations to women based on some psychic knowledge of their own unique personalities.

Although it is not incredibly clear-sighted on the granny's part, there is something sweet about a Catholic granny wanting to set up her grandson with the Sunday school teacher. At worst, it's rather funny.

Meanwhile, if people are open to meeting members of the opposite sex, what better way than for respectable old ladies in the parish introducing them? Or is it just so much more superior to share personal information with complete strangers from God knows where on Catholic Singles or Catholic Match?

Although sometimes readers are going to be sad, let's not encourage them to stay that way, or to take as a major insult to their dignity something that is actually a very sweet (if slightly nutty) compliment.

Lizzie said...

That is a common problem, what single woman hasn't had someone try to set her up. It's best to take it as a compliment and move on with life; half the time the guy never even bothers to do what his grandmother/mother wants and if he does contact you the worst thing is you have to decline a date or have an interesting date to add to life's experiences. It's like those grandfatherly men who tell you if they were younger they would marry you and they "don't know what is taking the men so long."

Julie said...

Having given this some degree of thought, and living as I do as a pilgrim in an unholy land (that is, the vast majority of my social landscape is definitely not on board with my values), I have come around to thinking that while singleness may not be all there is to me, it doesn't do me any good to pretend like "looking for a husband" isn't something I'm doing (however haphazardly) when in fact it is. I tend to think that blind dates are embarrassing because I don't like to admit that I'm "looking" and "can't get a date" myself. But rationally I suspect it's a reaction I ought to overcome.

And, just to be a nerd, while companionate marriage is a new concept in the grand scheme of things it's not *that* new. Granny's priorities were different, maybe, but she almost certainly went into dating with ideas about romantic love between husbands and wives. What would have been different was her willingness to identify herself as a girl looking to get married and to think of men as targets rather than neutral pals. Thus in her mind, of course a girl would want to know about an eligible guy because she could sort through the compatibility stuff herself once she knew about him. I think you would find granny quite understanding (possibly, in the abstract) if you said post-date that it just didn't click for you. What she doesn't understand is why you wouldn't want to take an opportunity.

Nekeisha said...

My Spiritual Director is always trying to get me to consider religious life. I would love a little, harmless, old lady to try and set me up with her grandson. Provided of course said grandson is also a regular at Mass, I am a daily Mass goer but if he only attends Sunday and is very good about it I would give him a gander. Considering that finding NCB to date is not so easy, feel free to send this little old lady my way.

some guy on the street said...

As a man, haphazardly looking, as they say, I would rather be introduced in person on some suitable occasion than be told "you should look up Miss Wyxyz". This would have the advantages (if it ever happens maybe I'll tell you whether it's true) of each being able to form a direct impression of the other's character. I suppose it has the disadvantage that I'd have to improvise something conversational, but there are other reasons to get better at that, aren't there?

... I'll stop rambling now.
Merry Christmas!

Seraphic said...

Well said, Julie. And this leads nicely into my theme of the day!

Alisha said...

Just for the record, I wasn't expecting personalised invitations of any sort from strangers. I just find it surprising that the subject of personal interests was not raised as a matter of importance either in conversations or in this case, church ladies' minds.
And no, I do not want any readers to remain sad!! This is def. not worth being sad over.

Anonymous said...

People do seem to get more offended by the "are you single/I have a man for you" line of talk than it really warrants (though I did not think Alisha was guilty of it here!).

Getting offended or hurt in such encounters is a waste of energy *unless* one's interlocutor clearly intended to offend or hurt one. For instance, a relative of mine whom I had not seen for some years asked how old I was and if I were married yet. I told him no, and he snorted, "what are you, practising for head virgin of the Catholic League?" Can't remember the exact words but they were something like that.

Now, THAT, my dears, was offensive. Remember my story whenever you feel inclined to get upset at well-meaning old ladies and perhaps it will help you shrug it off.


p.s. I did keep my temper, however, and politely said that a good man is hard to find. (A somewhat barbed answer perhaps, but then he deserved it.)

Seraphic said...

I had a whole long comment that has disappeared. In short:

1. Clio, that's awful.

2. I may have been too hard on Alisha because I was so offended on behalf of elderly church ladies. You "educate" aka condescend to elderly church ladies at your social, not to mention spiritual, peril.

Today's grandmas of 26 year olds were born around 1935, not 1905, and were married around 1960, not 1860. Sophia Loren is their age and generation; keep that in mind. If they are Catholic, they too believe in compatibility and romantic love. And they have forgotten more about life, love, marriage and getting along with men than I certainly have learned yet.

Thomas Aquinas wrote seriously of the spiritual gifts and inner wisdom of little old Catholic church ladies. Sure we have something to teach them: something from our own professional fields when we give entertaining lectures at their CWL meetings. But when it comes to life and love, I think it is the younger women who should be being educated by the older women. We should at least give them some credit for knowing what might make their grandsons happy.

Elderly women are horribly marginalized by our societies, but they often fight back like crazy. And one of the places where they still have power is at church and in church related activities. You offend them at your peril. "That lovely girl Mary-Kate whom I'd like to introduce to Joe" could find herself "that sharp-tongued hussy Mary-Kate" if she tries to "educate" a 70+ church lady--bad news for her if Joe does appear on the horizon.

In short, smile, bless their little hearts and remember that they have decades of life experience on us. If they are intentionally offensive (which in my experience they rarely are), consider just sucking it up and forgiving them just because they are old and frail.

theobromophile said...

As for blind dates: I've gone on four of them in the past year; one of them resulted in the person I've been seeing for almost six months. All four of them were genuinely nice people. Three of them live in different states than I do. All four blind dates were enjoyable. Then again, every friend (or my mother, in one case) who fixed me up with the person had very good reasons for doing so, and told both of us in advance why they thought we would be compatible. So count me in the "convert to the pro-blind date" category.

That said... women who were bullies or popular or bossy in high school continue to be that way throughout your life; it's just easier to avoid them as an adult, except when they become officious, sanctimonious old people who will say nasty things about you in you cross them. I suspect that the elderly ladies who are incredibly sweet and loveable were always that way.

Maybe Alisha (and I) has been bullied by elderly (or older) women more than Seraphic has. It's really lousy, because you just have to take their garbage, and it is garbage. And, in many situations (not the letter-writer's, necessarily) it IS bullying, plain and simple.