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?
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,