Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Unlike a Rolling Stone

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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The Crescat said...

not related to this artcile... but since you got married later in your thirties, I can only assume that most men you met were married. At least that is the case with me. All but 2 of my male acquaintances, friends and co-workers are married.

Forget letting men know you are ready to date... where are the men that are available to receive these signals?

Seraphic said...

That is a very good question, and I have often pondered that I found my husband in Scotland, not at the local Newman Centre nor in my regular Torono diner.

As you will discover in my book, I did stumble upon a goldmine of foreign scientists in their 30s at the Harvard-area Catholic church coffee hour.

Grad students are often too poor to marry, and if they are scientists into the bargain, they have spoken only to women scientists for years, and women scientists seem to prefer non-scientist men.

I cannot exaggerate the importance of university science faculties when it comes to finding bachelors in their thirties. I wonder if one can just crash their wine-and-cheese parties.

Also full of bachelors: I.T. departments. My I.T. guy brother married at 36. He married a doctor, and all her in-laws love her to bits.

I wonder if you could stand to take I.T. courses. My apologies if you already in the I.T. field.

Seraphic said...

P.S. Most men I met between the ages of 32 and 37.5 were Jesuit scholastics.

Francine said...

I like your rolling stone gathers no moss analogy...I've been thinking lately about how the fact that I've flitted about from city to city over the past few years has probably taught good men to admire and respect me, but not to count on me being around to court. Now that I'm settling into one particular place, I'm hoping that anyone interested (perhaps one of the good young men from one of my past cities?) might have a better chance of knowing where the heck I am, which is a good starting point... Thoughts?

Julie said...

I think the rolling stone thing works in reverse too. That is to say, it's precisely when you feel least settled that you wish you had a boyfriend or fiance or husband.

Ginger said...

I completely agree with Julie. I'm at the point in my life where I feel a little homeless. Since I've moved out of my parents' house and out of state, I don't feel quite at home when I visit my parents, and I don't quite feel at home in my new city or the house I currently share with some roommates.

I tend to wonder if home isn't a place, but especially for those whose vocation it is to marry, a person, or people. And as you leave your family, (your first "home") you go around waiting for your next home, which is the family you start building. And if your vocation is not to marry, that family you build might be a certain circle of friends. Thus, feeling like my vocation is to marry, I feel this deep lonely restlessness that I feel-- falsely, perhaps-- would be remedied by finding The One.

That was reeeeally rambly, so I hope you can make some sense out of it.

Sarah S said...

You know, on some level it does make sense to decide on a time when you're ready for formal dating. For instance, one might decide that they are ready to start "dating" or able to be "in a relationship" with a single person only when one knows that should she fall in love with that person, she would be willing to be married within three years or so. This would help someone avoid situations like "I think we've been dating too long" down below, while also allowing the person to spend more time on the "non-dating" dating as well as on themselves prior to those years of interest.

I feel like when people start seriously dating early, it leads to lots of relationships that mean nothing but take a lot of time and energy, and often more emotional distress than necessary for no useful reason. Instead of freaking out over your boyfriend(s) from ages 15-21 and incurring emotional or other damage in relationships that weren't going to go anywhere, anyway, and then being world-weary from ages 21-25 (when you actually would want a date), why not spend 15-21 or so hanging out with yourself and making boy and girl friends, and save the "formal dating" and "relationshipping" until you're in the place where it's worth doing?

theobromophile said...

Seraphic, I wish I had read this in my teens. Sigh.

Grad students are often too poor to marry, and if they are scientists into the bargain, they have spoken only to women scientists for years, and women scientists seem to prefer non-scientist men.

Um... not really. First, there are more male scientists than female scientists, so man scientist grad students spend their time around men, not women. (Attrition is huge.) Also, we (eh, I'll park myself in that category, having spent a big chunk of my adult life there) are also tired of how insecure and competitive some male scientists get about female scientists.

In fact, dating people who are in the same competitive field as you are in is probably a bad idea all around.

So to wrap it up: yes, male PhD scientists are eager to meet non-scientist women, but for reasons

Anonymous said...

[leaving this anonymous even though I'm a usual reader]

I can relate to feeling like my geographic displacement is giving me an "unavailable" persona to single guys I know.

Essentially, most of my closest friends live out-of-state and I visit them only occasionally. Within this group of friends are a large number of single men in their 20's & 30's. [With the exception of one guy who I'm really not interested in who's been giving me weird vibes lately,] not one male has seemed at all interested. I always took this at face value, but recently, it's occurred to me that maybe because I am an out-of-stater, the guys just cross me off their list? (I'm hoping to move to the area near my group of friends in 2+ years from now).

Anyway, just thought that related, and would like to hear opinions. :-)