I got a very interesting email from a twenty-something the other day. She has a job in a big cultural centre in Eastern Europe and is planning to return to her home country next year. She says she has never dated, but is ready to date, and she would like to know how to show this.
I found this a fascinating question for three reasons. The first was the idea is that dating is something that you are ready to do. Most people hate formal dating and either skip from "hanging out" to "sleeping together" or long to get married so that formal dating will be over forever.
Of course, what we are ready for as adult women is not dating but courtship. We used to signal this around the age of 15 or 16 by growing breasts and fleshier bums and thighs. However, thanks to better nutrition, we hit puberty much too early for courtship. And thanks to civilization, we haven't learned at puberty everything we need to know to flourish as adults.
It has become common to show that we welcome courtship by dressing in skimpy outfits, getting drunk and sending men emails we would not like read out at our funerals. However, this does not attract the long-term courtship most women of religion want, so we are forced to be subtle, subtlety being considered feminine and attractive by the sort of men we wish to court us.
Beyond wearing bright colours, skirts, updos and all the other external things I love to bang on about, I think the best thing to do to show you are courtship-positive is make men feel that they are useful to you in some way on principle. If your hands are full, ask one to open the door. If the jar lid is stuck, ask one to unstick it. If you have a question, ask one for the answer. Apparently men are so demoralized by the take-charge attitude of women today that any suggestion that they are still necessary to us makes them shine like the sun. For this reason, think carefully before asking a married man to do anything for you. But, in general, practise on all Single men alive.
The second reason why the question was so fascinating was that "dating" was presented as a compartmentalized activity that you can be ready for. I started dating at 14; I went to a parish youth group dance with a handsome first-aider. I remember it well. Obviously I was not ready for marriage. I don't think I was ready for dating either, but the 1980s were fortunately a more innocent time, although not as innocent as it was in the 1960s when my mother went on her first date at 14.
Going to dances and dinners and grabbing a coffee and making friends is something you just do while your life is going on. There are whole legions of teenage boys and girls meeting for coffee and chat about St. Augustine. They don't call it dating, but it is dating of the best kind. It's no pressure, it's fun, it's life. Dating is not an already-out-there-now-real, to appropriate the work of Bernard Lonergan, S.J. in my usual frivolous way. It's just a kind of friendly social activity.
The third reason why the question was so fascinating was that my correspondent was divided between nations. Presumably she spent months telling her aquaintance she was bound for Eastern Europe, and presumably her Eastern European aquaintance all know she'll be going home next year. There's a reason behind the expression "a rolling stone gathers no moss." Few honest men dare to court a rolling stone, and few healthy women take rolling stones seriously. My correspondent wanted to know how to show that she is "ready to date," but in fact this would be a bad time for her to begin a romantic relationship.
I love Scotland, but sometimes I mournfully contrast my situation with that of my dear friend Y, who married the cousin of the husband of my dear friend X, and so they are now family and will no doubt bring up their children together and grow old together, etc. Transatlantic (or transpacific) marriages are all very romantic, and sometimes ordained by God, but they take even more work and sacrifice than usual.
Anyway, when I realized that I was in love with B.A., I stressed how much I loved Scotland and, when he tentatively referred to my love for my native land, I showed a most unpatriotic indifferentism. That meant he was encouraged, rather than discouraged, to suggest I make my home with him before I flitted off to my next appointment, which was to visit my ex-boyfriend in Germany. Although I had not yet gathered moss, I showed myself willing to gather it here.
To sum up, women can show they are open to courtship by making men feel useful, dating should neither be compartmentalized nor romanticised, and rolling stones gather no moss, so if you are one, don't stress this to all.
I hope all this is helpful to someone.
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