Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Our Compliments

I received a marvellous email asking about compliments, but I wasn't given permission to print it, so I'll just harangue you all on the subject.

Perhaps because I am 39, I don't receive as many compliments as I used to, and when some rough-looking type on the boardwalk along the sea smiled flirtatiously and said "Hello" to me that other day, I felt quite disproportionately pleased.

Anyway, one hundred years ago--nay, fifty--mothers and aunties warned young women not to allow their heads to be turned by compliments. Recent generations of mothers and aunties hate sounding so crabby and dour, so they may have left off such warnings. However, young women still need this warning because--read carefully, my little Singles--some men will say anything. Anything!

I shall now make a gross generalisation, as you know I like to do. In general, nice young women take love and everything love-related way more seriously than young men do. This is a good thing. The post-1960 feminist attitude of "If you can't beat their immoral sexual behaviour, join them in it" was a freaking disaster.

But even today a nice young woman would never march up to a young man and say "Looking good!" or "Never change!" or "Ah, you're a heartbreaker you are!" unless she meant business. Young men say stuff like that all the time without meaning anything at all. And if challenged, they hunch their heads down into their shoulders like turtles escaping into their shells and say, "I was just trying to be nice." Yarg!

So the first thing I have to say about compliments from men you know socially is not to take them seriously. If your boss or your professor pays you a compliment, take that seriously. If your father or brother pays you a compliment, take that seriously. If a guy you know from school points both index fingers at your torso and shouts, "Oh you! Never change!", don't take it seriously. It may have more to do with his self-image as cool dude who is slick with the chicks than it does with you.

That said, compliments can be an invitation to embark on light flirtation and witty dialogue worthy of Nora Ephron. They give you a chance to show how funny and confident you are or can fake. I still quite enjoy flirtation although, of course, I have to watch it with the easily-scandalised because I am, you know, married and stuff. The reaction I'm looking for is "Ha ha ha, B.A.'s missus is so charming," not "What a brazen hussy" or, worse, "I'll go get a ladder."

Many nice women have no idea how to receive a compliment. The easiest thing to do, if you can't think of some witty reply, is to say "Thank you." Never say "Oh no. Gosh. No." or "What, this old thing? I've had it for years." That is utterly depressing and sad. I won my college crush object of two years by saying, when he said, "What a lovely dress!", "Thanks! I wore it for you."

We were both rather stunned by this, but he took my hand during the film our gang had gone to see, and it was the most romantic evening of my life at the time, until I came home and had to (long story) take my sister's contact lenses out of her eyes for her.

The thing to do, if you can manage it, is to turn a man's expectations on their heads. For me, the only possible reply to the frankly stupid "Never change" is "Why not?" The best reply to "Looking good!" is to smile smugly and say "Yes." It's a bit like telling a joke. He gives you the set-up, and you supply the punch line.

Him: Why are you single?

You: Because I was born that way.

(Incidentally, the old one-two also works with mild reproofs. For example, I get a lot of comic mileage out of my slightly rakish divorced-annulled-remarried status, e.g.

Severe Catholic Gentleman: I hope you remember you promised death-till-you part.

Divorced-Annulled-Remarried Me: Of course I do. I seem to remember promising it twice.

Severe Catholic Gentleman: [quick, horrified intake of breath] Oh, stop it. Ha ha ha! That's TERRIBLE. Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!)

Anyway, the whole point is not to take it all so seriously. If a man is serious about you, he asks you out for dinner. If he remains serious, he eventually goes down to the jewellery shop and buys you an engagement ring. It's really that simple. As I've typed hundreds of times, I don't believe in men's pretty words, I believe in diamonds.

And meanwhile, yes, I know there are young women who talk a lot of irresponsible rot, too, because from ages 19 to 25, I was one of them, and I apologize.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Cherry Goes Dating

TUES SEPT 28 UPDATE--on again on BBC 3 at 8 PM!

Poppets, it's my third post of the day, but I am traumatized. I just watched a BBC 3 programme called "Cherry Goes Dating," and I almost couldn't watch to the end. Fortunately, the girl with the brain tumour meets a cute cancer survivor through friends and so there was a sort-of happy ending.

Cherry is a sparkling TV presenter much prettier and more personable than any of the women she interviewed for this programme, so it was sort of a bad idea for her to turn up before the women's dates to ask the men how they were feeling.

Oh dear. I am almost hyperventilating, so this post isn't making much sense. Okay, Cherry interviews a number of single women of different ages, first two young teens, then a few women in their twenties, including an unabashed gold-digger, then a 30-something or two, a widow of 45, and then a divorcee of 51 or so.

The teens are mostly harmless. They go to the mall and walk around and around hoping to catch or re-catch the eye of boys they like. Too smart to approach the boys bluntly, they wait for the boys to start something.

The twenty-somethings include a woman with big breasts and big dyed blonde hair. She is looking for a rich husband. However, she seems to have become a professional girlfriend instead, having been invited away on holiday 21 times last year and given lots of clothes by her dates. She really, really wants to get married, and can't imagine still going on dates in a tiny skirt in ten years. The thing is, though, that she is after a rich man and wouldn't let herself fall in love with a poor man. Oh dear, oh dear.

Then there is a big girl, who seems really nice. Sadly, though, she is very lookist in her expectations, which is a bad idea for any woman who is not herself model-perfect or Queen Latifah. There are some belle-laides who can sweep into a room and sweep out with whatever man she likes in tow. I was never such, nor is this big girl.

The girl with the brain tumour, whom I respect a lot, finds a nice man through friends, as stated above.

The widow of 45 lost her husband to that huge tsunami in Thailand you might remember. She waited years for him to come home, and then grieved, and then finally decided to find love again. But taking no chances in this crazy world of freak accidents and sudden tsunamis, she did one of those massive hundred-question diagnostic quizzes and does diagnostic charts on (A) the men she dates and (B) their relationships. Cherry thinks that this might be a coping mechanism, and I think so too.

It is hard to say what I would do if I lost B.A. to a tsunami, but I think I would probably pop anti-depressants and write long novels about a loving couple who are separated by cruel fate. I would not date again. Heck, I never dated B.A.

There is next a double-divorcee of 51, who has a lovely slim body, great hair, and a lined face. Her principal dating problem is that she has gone through every man in her village. Oh dear. And one divorce is so ghastly, imagine two.

"Don't divorce me, B.A.," I wailed.

I think, though, that this 51 year old is just as happy to be divorced, for she speaks very forcefully about being able to do whatever she wants now. Her two husbands were both more than 10 years her senior, and I suspect one or both bossed her around. And at the show's end, she is dating a nice 38 year old.

Now, the 34 year old. Oh dear. She needs my book. And if she's still single, she might have it because she seems to have read every book for Singles out there. On the other hand, these must be the how-to-get-a-man books, not books of the I'm-Single-Chaste-and-Happy variety.

I'm not writing her name because her long search for love has made her a little loopy, and she now may be sorry she appeared on "Cherry Goes Dating". If she sees this and sends me her address, I will send her a free copy of Seraphic Singles. Oh dear, I don't want to add to her pain, but I don't want you girls to do what she did. Oh dear.

What she did was challenge herself to get five men's phone numbers a week for six months. And then, just before the Valentine's Day after the end of her challenge, she wrote a letter to the date she liked best, inviting him over for V-Day. She decorated her flat with hearts, set out Valentine's cookies, bought a Valentine's cake, fashioned a First Place Winner's ribbon, and called Cherry and the TV crew. N.B. She had not seen the man in months.

At the flat, shortly after Cherry and the crew, arrived Mr. Winner, looking for fun, and I am not sure what happened, exactly, as I hid behind a pillow and merely watched the expressions on B.A.'s face. Let's just say that it was very embarrassing for everybody, including Cherry, whose conscience might have been giving her a twinge.

It was so horribly embarrassing because it was exactly the kind of big dramatic gesture women think will work but of course never, ever does.

I wonder if Cherry, whose eyes nearly popped out of her head when she found out what 34 year old had planned, was torn between love for her show and female solidarity. She must have been. Utter emotional and social breakdown is great for TV but terrible for one's fellow woman, and if you ever meet a woman about to embarrass herself like that, you must tempt her out of her flat, take her to a bar and talk her out of it.

I feel like Father Z writing "Brick by brick" as a kind of mantra, but, girls, really, don't chase men. Don't chase men. Let love come to you. You deserve that. You're worth that. And if God means you to meet a Mr. Right, you'll probably meet him through friends. Must have some more wine now.

Update: Oddly, the seemingly most man-savvy women in the whole show were 14 and 15 years old.

It's About Time

Goodness me. All of a sudden, men are being threatened with legal punishment for lying to women to get sex. For the past 3000 years, whenever women complained, they were treated like they were idiots.

Woman: But he said he was single and that we'd be together forever.

Men: Men lie. You're an idiot.

Woman: But no decent person could lie about that.

Men: Men can. You're an idiot.

Woman: But I feel so violated and used.

Men: Tough. That's what you get for being an idiot.

Woman: And fifty years ago my male relations would have beaten the snot out of him.

Men: True, and we were fine with that. But these are modern times, and we live increasingly by legislation.

Woman: Hmm..... (Sells late mother's jewellery, hires lawyer.)

Men: Uh, oh.

Open Letter to Girl Dating Ramon

Dear Girl Dating Ramon,

You probably don't remember me. I was the middle-aged lady with red braids and a huge brown hat on the train from Manresa to Barcelona. You were sitting beside my husband, a British man who spoke enough Spanish to tell your friend he must not smoke his weed beside me. Across from you was Ramon, who said he was from Cuba and was probably high on drugs. At least, that is what my husband thought, and Ramon certainly acted like it.

I remember you because when you realized I knew the man beside you, you offered me your seat. I was grateful to be able to sit beside my husband, for your friends were very loud and embarrassing. I didn't like how Ramon pestered the Russian lady beside him; I thought in Spain older women were treated with respect. However, I really know next to nothing about modern Spain. Possibly there, as here, most teenagers don't worry about honour and reputation and all that old-fashioned stuff romantic people like me associate with Catholic countries.

I also remember you because you looked very young and very pretty--much prettier than your girlfriend who had streaked her hair blonde. You have the sense to leave nature alone and your dark hair goes much better with your dark skin and dark eyes than blond streaks would. You had less make-up on than your girlfriend did, too. I don't know if it is a sign of aging or what, but I don't like to see 14 year olds wearing heavy eye make-up. This is totally hypocritical, as when I was 14, I wore heavy shadow to my eyebrows.

Pardon me if you are not 14 but 16; I won't believe you were older than 16. Ramon and his pals may have been, but you and your girlfriend certainly weren't. I would have been surprised at your parents allowing you girls to travel to Barcelona with older teenage boys had I imagined for a second they had the slightest idea that was your plan.

Now, about the incident that compels me to write this letter. It happened underground, or I wouldn't have seen it. I was sitting quietly beside my husband, and you were now across the car sitting on Ramon's lap, and I was looking at the window, which reflected you and Ramon perfectly against the dark of the tunnel wall. So I saw when Ramon's hands suddenly bounced up and squeezed your breasts.

Your first reaction was to remonstrate with him. But then--and this is where I felt sad instead of angry--you kissed his cheek. And he kissed your cheek. And went on to grab your girlfriend's leg and poke his fingers through the holes in her jeans.

My dear, I have no idea if Ramon loves you or not. Perhaps he does. But he has no respect for you. And this is very foolish of Ramon, for you deserve respect. You are a very young girl, and you have all your life and all the world before you.

I am not sure why you are so afraid of losing Ramon that you would give him a conciliatory kiss after very properly remonstrating with him for his very disrespectful, very public gesture. I suggest that any young man who is high on drugs at 5 in the afternoon is not worth keeping. And I am not sure why you and your friend just sat there allowing Ramon to paw the both of you. I am perplexed. Perhaps you are not old enough to know how to properly deal with men. I suppose you have a strong idea that you love Ramon and that you should stand by your man. But if I were your mother, Ramon would have been on the floor, bleeding from his nose.

It is very unlikely that you will ever read this letter or that you currently know enough English to decipher it. However, I will let it stand for the sake of other 14 year old girls who are dating other versions of Ramon, who feel their breasts grabbed by the boys they love and don't know what to do. What they--and you--should do is get off Ramon's lap and leave the train. Take the next train home and when Ramon telephones, tell him there will be no more of his disrespectful behaviour. If he subsequently tries to show you he's the boss, leave forever. Try to choose more wisely next time.

I'm sorry if you've already lost your virginity to Ramon--and I apologize if you haven't, but that's how it certainly looked to me--but that is no reason to put up with disrespectful behaviour. Young men only behave that badly when the young women around them allow them to. Be brave and demand what you deserve.

Incidentally, the one thing Ramon said to us in English was "Are you in love?" The answer to that, of course, although we didn't deign to answer, was "Yes, of course. As you see, we are sitting quietly, not drawing attention to each other."

Grace and peace,
Foreign Lady with Red Braids

Update: Today is the second anniversary of the day I met B.A. in Edinburgh and came down with a terrible cold. Appropriately, I have started a new cold. Amusingly, we have been married for 16 of the past 24 months.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Homage to Catalonia

I'm on my way to Barcelona. Holidays at last! If I have internet access, we'll chat soon. If not, see you next Monday. Meanwhile, keep an eye on my paid gigs for new stuff by me. I wrote tons for the Toronto CR during the papal visit.

Have a lovely week!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

On Going to Papal Masses Alone

Imagine you are in a foreign country, and you are going on a pilgrimage to a city you do not know at all well. To do so, you have to meet a pilgrim leader whom you have never met at a big railway station. Now, imagine that you have turned up in the nick of time--you think--and the pilgrim leader is nowhere to be seen. Your pilgrim group is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, there is no other pilgrim to be seen.

This is easy for me to imagine, for that is what happened to me on Thursday. Fortunately, the green pilgrim's band around my wrist got me on the next train to Glasgow, and I took my seat alone.

If you are lonely and think that your alone days will end if/when you get married, think again. All your life you are going to have moments when you are alone and you will have to make snap decisions alone. If you get married, your spouse will be at their work--and/or you will be at your work---for hours on end. He or she may come home tired, cranky, and not much fun to be around. When you want to see the pope, he or she may be working (or, as someone suggested, a Protestant).

My aloneness didn't really occur to me when I was on the train. After all, the only person I was thinking of at the time was Benedict XVI, and I wasn't thinking just as a pilgrim but as a journalist. I couldn't have given two hoots for my pilgrim leader, whoever he or she was; I didn't even bear him or her any grudge for leaving me behind. I had clear directions to Bellahouston Park, I had my magic green wristband and I had my super-impressive press pass. With all that, I could rewrite Pilgrim's Progress, ever mind an article for the Catholic Register.

Glasgow was tricky. Pilgrims had to hike from Queen Street Station to Central Station, but I spotted some Benedictines who seemed to know the way, so I followed them. And the Benedictine who sat beside me on the train from Central Station was friendly (and senior) enough to chat. We parted ways on the next hike, but I just followed the surging crowds of Catholics. Again, my aloneness didn't occur to me: I was one of thousands, after all.

I saw the Media Centre, but it didn't interest me yet. My first thought, which was a bit crazy, was to find fellow pilgrims from my Latin Mass community. I marched along optimistically through by a section near the front and saw, first, my community's self-appointed usher, now a volunteer usher for the Papal Mass, and, second, one of the handsome bachelors of the Latin Mass community. He had come with his geographical parish, but had abandoned them a quarter of a mile away for a spot under a maple tree. I took out my notebook, thinking to interview him, and in the end, I spent Mass with him and his pal, another handsome bachelor. We prayed and sang together.

I never found my proper pilgrim group, and although I eventually filed a story from the Media Centre, I never found out where the media were supposed to stand. But that was okay. I was where I was supposed to be, with two Singles (come to think of it), and when Mass was over I said good-bye to them both, and went happily home alone with 65 thousand people.

UPDATE: I forgot the moral of the story. The moral of the story is that if you don't learn to live with aloneness when you are Single, you might get a shock when you are married. I'll write more on this one day.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Honourable Combat

I wasn't here yesterday because I was lying in wait for the Holy Father, Benedict XVI. First I hung outside the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh for hours, and then I rushed to Glasgow to await him in Bellahouston Park. And as is my usual practise, I prayed for all my little Singles at the elevation of the chalice.

While I was away, I got many emails. And one of them was from a Nice Catholic Boy who pointed out that if a man gets shot down by a woman or women in a small Catholic circle, moving on is just not that easy.

I know this to be true, which is why I addressed this very misfortune in the Catholic Register. Hmm...the Catholic Register no longer lovingly archives online every single thing I write, so I will have to reiterate my warnings against DRAMA below.

I am writing as an ex-drama addict. When I was 21 or so, nothing thrilled me like a good old lover's triangle, as long as the apex of the triangle was little me. I am not proud of this. I shudder to think what this will look like if I ever see my whole life flash in front of my eyes, e.g. on Judgment Day. So I feel qualified to tell the young Catholic men and women of the world to quit with the drama, to rise above the drama, and to actually behave like Christians.

First of all, if you are a man, and you develop a crush on a woman, for heaven's sake, don't let it evolve into an obsession that has nothing to do with the real her and everything to do with your idea of what the real her might/"should" be. Talk to her, observe if she seems interested in you (smiles brightly, touches your arm, asks you to a party) and then ask her out for coffee. If coffee goes well, ask her out for dinner. Don't, I beg you, just moon around for weeks and months on end without making a clear move. It puts a woman in a very uncomfortable position.

Second of all, if you are a woman, don't encourage those men you are not interested in. Yes, it's fun to hug your friends. But the second you start to think that ol' Greg or ol' Petey--whom you like but not in THAT way--has a crush on you, stop touching him. I mean that. Stop touching him. Since when did women start going around hugging men we're not related to anyway? And when ol' Greg or ol' Petey starts making date noises, turn him down swiftly and kindly. Ask "Is this as friends or as a date?" Hopefully ol' G or ol'P makes a reply even as clear as "As whatever you want it to be." At which point you say, "I want us to be just friends."

Third, and this is very important, you do not relate George's or Petey's humiliation (for no matter how swift or nice you are about it, it will be a humiliation) to your friends. Yes, this is very hard. Yes, this is almost impossible. But keeping quiet is the right thing to do. And when your pal tells you a week later that Greg just asked her out, you are going to have to pray to St. Jude the Patron of Lost Causes to ask the Lord to help you keep your mouth shut. You turned down Greg, and now he has the right to ask out anyone he wants. And he does not need you to make him look like a loser.

Fourth, Greg and Petey, if you ask a girl out and she says No, you are not allowed to go around talking about what a bitch she is. You are not allowed to go home and brood and wonder what will happen if you try again next week. No means No. Maybe in three months, the girl, having had time to think about you a little more, will be more amenable to your suit, but for now, drop it.

We all know what happens to our small Catholic circles when these rules are not followed. It's not pretty. It's bad for everyone. The nice Catholic men are humiliated and afraid to approach other women in the group, and the women wonder why they haven't been snapped up by a nice Catholic man yet. In short, behaving like a mute or babbling stalker (guys) or a bitch (girls) has its built-in punishment. And it hurts the whole community.

I hope to do my bit to end the war between the sexes, so I'm a little uneasy about the title of this post. However, the image I have in my head is of my difficult hero, the Red Baron. The Red Baron was, as you know, a German flying ace in the First World War. And fighter pilots in the First World War, no matter what country they fought for, usually had an honour code. They tried to shoot down planes, not to kill pilots, if you see the difference. Sometimes they would shoot down a plane, see if the pilot emerged, and then, if he did, waggle their wings in a friendly fashion before zooming away. They did not--unless they were real bastards--stood him standing there on the ground. The Red Baron was not a real bastard. He was a gentleman.

So my little Singles, I beg you to remember the model of the honourable German fighter pilot. Sometimes you have to shoot someone down, but you never have to make it worse for him or her. Gossiping about what he/she said to you, and what you said, and how disgusted you are that he/she would even dream, blah blah blah, is just nasty. Don't do it.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Auntie S Loses It On You

This morning I'm going to be as stroppy as I want to be. I feel like a good aunty scold. First I will scold the girls. Then I will scold the boys. No more Mrs Nice Aunt. En garde a toi.

Girls! I do not know whether to hug you or shake you! It is quite true that the average English-speaking young man is completely obtuse and can barely see two inches beyond his nose. That is why I completely advocate wearing lipstick and bright colours. Lipstick and bright colours say "Yoo-hoo! Pretty girl over here! Hel-lo!" And if you really like someone, and he seems to like you, I have also advocated touching his arm while smiling in a dazzling fashion. Finally, with a liberality that astonishes me, I have even suggested inviting young men you like to parties thrown by you and your girlfriends. All of these things, from the lipstick to the invite, are clear but not aggressive indications that you like men and that, if pursued, there is some hope of catching you.

So WHY, I ask myself, banging my head on my desk, WHY do you persist in telling young men--in pre-emptive strikes--that you have feelings for them? WHY do you do this? One of the great challenges that makes a man a man is wondering if the woman he cares for has feelings for him. WHY do you take away this man-creating challenge? WHY do you spoil the plot?

And WHY instead of keeping your lips to yourself, do you plant them on the object of your affection before he has the idea of planting his lips on you? Again, a plot spoiler! It makes me cross.

If you were all mad devotees of the sexual revolution and couldn't care less what happened in the long run, I would merely raise my eyebrows and say nothing. The definition of insanity is doing something that fails again and again thinking it will eventually work--something like that. And what can one say to the insane? But you are not insane, my little Single girls, you are just impatient and meanwhile, you think you can make a man love you just by willing this to happen. Alas, no.

You will think my conclusion utterly terrible, and I thought it utterly terrible when my mother uttered it to me, but at the end of the day, you can only contemplate the men who pursue you and either say Yes or No. You cannot blatantly pursue men; it does not work. Men are remarkably proof against marrying women they do not love. Men are binary: they love you or they don't. Give them time to figure out what side of the line they are on, and when you know, rejoice or move on.

Boys! I would smack you were you not so modern and enfeebled that you would immediately summon a big strong policeman to your aid. What is your problem? No, you look me in the eye, young men. I'm almost old enough to be your mother.

How old are you anyway? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? Do you know what you are going to be when you grow up? Newsflash--you are grown up. It is time, young men, to go out into the world, to seek your fortune, to win the hand of a beautiful princess, to sire beautiful children who will gladden your old age.

What's that I hear you say? Where are the beautiful princesses? Well, my dears, I am not exactly sure how this could escape your notice. A whole bunch of them are reading my blog. Has it ever occured to you to try to get in touch with them? Meanwhile, have you tried Daily Mass? Have you tried the Newman Centre or Cath Soc? Have you gone to your favourite priest and said "I think I have a vocation to the married life. Do you know any nice Catholic girls?" Has it ever occured to you to email the women who write the blogs you like the best? I myself, as a Single woman, turned down dates with readers, but I respected them for asking and then married the funniest one.

I am not telling you to marry the first girl who comes along. I am merely pointing out that this princess-winning is up to you. Here I am, discouraging the women of the world from foisting their attentions on you, which should leave you free to go trotting after them. Yes, they will usually shoot you down. Figure out why the last one did, and then carry on.

Whenever I meet a marvellous, devout unmarried Catholic woman who feels very called to marriage but has not been snatched up by the age of 30, I feel paradoxically that this was (A) God's will but (B) that Catholic men are shirking not just their responsibilities but the greatest gifts of earthly life. I shake my finger at you.

None of this applies to priests, male religious or seminarians, of course. Bless your heroic hearts! (And start thinking about how to encourage marriage among young Catholics, please. Why not talk to some rabbis?)

I'm scolding only because I care. Have a cookie.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Evolution of Attraction/Epistemology

It may seem odd that my first crush object ever was the cartoon mouse Speedy Gonzales, but that is a fact. I believe I was five when I developed this vague attachment, and it is difficult to discern what it was I found so appealing in a Mexican mouse. Perhaps it was because he was excitable, shouting "Andales andales arriba!", and therefore exciting.

I am clearer on the attractions of my second crush object ever, whom I spotted from afar at some school assembly or other when I was six or seven. Richie was a grade above me, an England immigrant, and had thick, long eyelashes. He was also very short. Maybe there was a progression from mouseness to shortness in my psyche. Who can say? I have a vague memory that Richie did't like me very much, alas. Well, he was only 8.

It is odd how much time my classmates seemed to spend in romantic dalliance from about the ages of 10 to 14, when we graduated. There was rudimentary dating, called "going around with", and experimental snogging behind the school buildings, in a disused playground. Rumours were rife about who liked who and who had broken up. (There was, unfortunately, also an undercurrent of sexual violence against some of the "popular girls", which (I hope) was confined to a gang of boys knocking one over in a sort of rugby scrum and lying on top of her and also some groping. This was, incidentally, before the internet and in the very earliest days of MTV, so I don't know what to blame.)

But I digress.

In elementary school, I fixated on this boy or that because I liked his looks, which were usually blond and blue-eyed. How very Alfred Hitchcock of me. In high school, I started to like boys because of their personalities although I must say my romantic ideas about their personalities soon blinded me to their personalities. If one was a talented musician, I fixated on him as a Talented Musician, A Tortured Genius, An Unreachable Star. If another was a Keen Football Player, I fixated on him as a Rough Diamond, a Man's Man, A---. Goodness, it's all very embarrassing now.

More embarrassing, however, was when I decided that I was keen on Intellectuals, and to me at 19 anyone who was in university must be an Intellectual. (Ha ha ha!) When I discovered my mistake, I fixated on graduate students for it must be they who were the real Intellectuals. Somehow I didn't get a crush on a professor, which is just as well.

I spent my 20s having crushes on either Artists or Intellectuals and fixating on the more attractive parts of their personality which I could mistake for the whole. Really, I was not rooted in reality. But then I had a strange shift of perspective: I began to be attracted to men who were Good.

As I soon went to theology school after this shift, it appeared to be a bit of a problem. Many of the Good men near my age were priests and religious, so they were off-limits. Frustrated, I had a psycho-drama with an Artist but got out of it when I realized how not-Good he was. But then I toddled down to the USA for graduate studies and met Volker, who was very Good indeed although Just Not, ultimately, That Into Me.

The most important shifts, I think, were becoming attracted to men principally because they were objectively, morally Good and learning to live in reality, which came only with post-divorce psychotherapy and three years of studying the work of Bernard Lonergan, S.J.

Dear me, from Speedy Gonzales to Lonergan's Insight. You couldn't make it up. And it may surprise owners of my slim volume Seraphic Singles to know that I consider it a work in the school of Lonerganian philosophy. The most obvious clue is on the dedication page, but the candid tone throughout is the fruit of Lonergan's transcendental precepts: Be Attentive, Be Intelligent, Be Reasonable, Be Responsible.

These precepts are linked to Lonergan's epistemological (how knowledge works) schema of Experiencing, Understanding, Judging and Deciding. Skip any of the first three steps, and you do not authentically know. Meanwhile, attention EUJD (as Lonerganians call it) is the discipline that keeps me from mistaking my fondest wishes and imaginings for reality.

Attention to Experiencing gives rise to the question "What is it?"

Understanding gives an answer--although as yet this is not THE answer, but a hypothesis.

Judging looks suspiciously at Understanding's hypothesis, asks "Is it so?"

Deciding says "Yes" or "No" , which leads to the question "That being so, what do I do?"

Judging implies the question, "Do I have all the data necessary to decide?" and I have to say that this is the most important question of my highly imaginative daily life. If I did not frequently stop myself and ask "Do I have all the data necessary to decide?" before doing or saying this or that, I would probably get into social difficulties.

I can't imagine what Lonergan would think of his work being offered as a way to negotiate dating and courtship. I simply do not have enough data to decide.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Marriage Craters

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

The Daily Telegraph has a handy collection of statistics that compare the Catholic Church in the UK when JPII visiting in 1982 as opposed to now.

A lot of these numbers look roughly comparable: number of diocesan priests, number of women religious, number of parishes, number of catholic schools, number received into the Catholic church:

There is a slight downward trend overall. Most of today's numbers are down from those 30 years ago. Except for one. The number of Catholic marriages in the UK and Wales has dropped by TWO THIRDS, from 28,548 to 9,845.

Look at Leeds: 1,338 Catholic marriages in 1982. 104 Catholic marriages per year now.

The number of Catholic marriages has dropped by nearly EIGHTY PERCENT.

This is not a joke. It's not like single Catholics wait a long time but then by age 40 everyone's married and everything's fine. We regret that we are not having children, but otherwise everything's dandy.

The reality is that many--perhaps most--of us who choose to get married only in the Church are not getting married at all.


I did some further looking and found marriages in Boston down 50% since 2000, all Catholic marriages in the United States down 35% since 1995, all Catholic marriages down about 46% since the 1960s.

I find these numbers stunning. How come nobody talks about it?

On the outside, the Church looks like it did 20 years ago. On the inside, the next generation is already gone.

Marriage Geologist

Dear Marriage Geologist,

I do not see a reason to panic. It's not that fewer faithful Catholics are getting married. It's that fewer Catholics are faithful. They get married outside of the Church and--tahdah!--ex-faithful Catholics.

I just erased an enormous rant I wrote on the subject. Instead I will just say that a smaller, purer church was predicted by no less a personage than Cardinal Ratzinger.

Our responsibilities as Catholics are to continue to learn what Catholicism really is, to continue to catechize others about what Catholicism really is, to repudiate the notion that Catholicism is in itself an ethnic group, and to fulfill the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Also, we must support our parish priests financially, fulfill our Sunday and Holy Day obligations, confess our sins, fast on fasting days, do penance and, unless called to another state in life, marry within the Church.

We are called to be witnesses. One Greek-derived word for witness is "martyr." A few will be chosen for red martyrdom; a heck of a lot more of us are going to suffer white. The faithless cultural "Catholics" are either half-pagan or gutless. We must lead by example, pray for them and do penances on their behalf.

That is all I can suggest.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 11 September 2010

We Are With You, Brothers

I'm not American, but my Dad is. Generations of his family were. Canadians, as a nation, tend to define ourselves as not-American, in the chippy way common to smaller nations like Austria re: Germany and Scotland re: England. However, that definition doesn't matter a damn to me on the anniversary of 9-11, just as my reaction to the atrocity--part of which I saw live on television in a public library--was to weep for my father's people. Later, listening to Yassar Arafat, I screamed.

Some appalling people write smugly,"I'm so over 9-11." I don't think I ever will be.

Where were you?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Friday Night Girls

One of my favourite TV comedy sketches by the Canadian (and Newfoundlander) troupe Codco was about the "Friday Night Girls." The two women of the troupe contrived to make themselves look as homely as possible, with hair curlers and white moustache bleach, while sitting around in pyjamas bleating "Froiday noight!"

Their sketches were always about their attempts to find something to do on Friday night, although I seem to recall they didn't work very hard at this. Mostly they dreamed of romantic Friday night dates and moaned because they didn't have any. Since I so rarely went out on romantic Friday night dates myself as a teenager, I identified with them entirely, except for the moustache bleach. (Thank you, ginger ancestors. Thank you, recessive genes.)

Two years ago, before I met B.A., I began to put "Friday Night Dance Parties" up on my blog. I can't do that anymore, for I had to give up youtube when I moved into the Historical House, boo. But I am struck that from the ages of 14 to 37 I had an idea that Friday night was a night unlike any other night and that it was the night that being Single and dateless was particularly hard to bear. This feeling persisted even though I knew dates are usually stressful and horrid. I spent one date trying to hide from my date, who was about 24, that I was 37. Yeah, I can laugh now. Anyway, I greatly enjoyed assembling "Friday Night Dance Parties", for it felt like a good substitute for actually being at a Friday night dance party.

Anyway, it is Friday again, and I am probably doing nothing exciting tonight, as the Festival is over and no-one has invited us to a dinner party. But that is fine because I have reached the lazy age and condition where watching TV or reading a book or surfing the web before bed is a perfectly satisfactory way of spending Friday night. The idea of putting on my Gothware and trundling down to a Goth bar to drink and dance (while B.A. drinks beer and reads the London Review of Books in a corner) has lost the greater part of its dark charm.

But then I am happily married, and I married quite late at that, to someone who very rarely goes out with the boys and even more rarely spends an evening down at the pub, so I do not usually have lonely Friday night feelings anymore. If I do, it's because I miss my girlfriends across the ocean.

Combox is open. What are you guys doing tonight?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Small Pause

Hello, my little Singles! Today was a research day, so if you miss me, check out my other blog.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Malicious Eavesdropper

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm currently involved in a convoluted and drama-filled situation, and I'm at a loss as to what to do. Here's the shortest version of the story:

I have been friends with a family of Nice Catholic Boys and Nice Catholic Girls for the past twenty years. The sister I was closest to (let’s call her A) moved out of the country last year. A has never been good at communication, and I rarely hear from her despite the emails and letters I[...] write on a regular basis. When I get frustrated with her silence, I turn to [another] NCG (B) who is not only a mutual friend of ours, she is dating the brother (C) of A. B and I write several emails a day to each other, talk on the phone often, and try to get together as frequently as our schedules allow.

Recently, A came back to [our nation] for a month’s vacation. B and I found out that A was angry with us because she was informed that we have been “badmouthing” her while she’s been away. We were both fairly surprised because most of our frustrations come out in our emails. Both B and I tried to contact A via emails, letters, and phone calls, but she refuses to talk to us to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, C and B have been holding on to their strained relationship.

After two months of this drama, B and I were told that the original story was not quite true. Whoever the “informer” was didn’t hear us saying these things; this person hacked into our email account, read our emails, and copied and pasted quotes about A into a Word document. These quotes are not chronological and completely out of context. And now they have been forwarded to C.

B and I are completely humiliated and hurt that someone would be malicious enough to do something like this. Our privacy has been completely invaded; our emails are like our diaries. I believe that venting is a natural thing to do and these emails were only meant for B and I to see. It’s especially hurtful that this would be done by our nice Catholic friends who should know better and are now causing friendships and relationships to be hurt and possibly ended.

I feel like I’ve done all I can do but is there something here that I’m missing? I’ve tried to contact A to no avail. I’ve said novenas and rosaries and offered Masses and Communions for the resolution of this ridiculous situation. Please give me some advice on how to handle the situation. Thank you!

The Unwilling Drama Queen

Dear Unwilling Drama Queen,

How awful! What a mess! Whoever read your emails and sent A this cut-and-paste poison pen letter did a terrible, terrible thing. He or she or they are not "nice" or "friends"-- they are evil-doing enemies. (Um, do you know who it was?) If he or she or they are Catholics, they ought to know they have committed at least two or three awful sins and need a good tearstained grovel in the confessional on Saturday afternoon.

Your story reminds me that email is not safe (more on this below), and that we have all got to be very careful with what we put in writing.

You've already tried to contact A, and it hasn't worked. And you've been storming heaven, and heaven hasn't sent a resolution yet. Perhaps it is time to be silent--and to change all your passwords, if you haven't done that already.

You and B have been terribly wronged by someone. That, to me, is the most important thing. Someone has stolen from both of you. This must be traumatic. Just ghastly. I want to say that before I give you a short sermon on the dangers of venting. No matter what you and B said, I think you are both the most sinned against here.

I agree that it is perfectly natural for women to blow off steam when we feel hurt by other women, although I don't think it is always a wise or helpful thing to do. The Christian life demands that we "rise above" the natural. And although I assume my friends gossip and complain about me, I sort of hope they don't. Someone once sent an email about me to me by mistake, and it permanently affected my relationship with three people.

Meanwhile, it is a very bad idea for a woman (or man) to discuss a member of her (or his) beloved's family with a third party. Blood really is thicker than water. In an ideal situation, B would have told you that she can't discuss A because A is C's sister. Such reticence is not just kind, it is rock-solid prudent.

Personally, I don't allow anyone outside the family to complain about members of my family. My siblings and I may look like cold and bloodless Anglo-Saxons, but say the wrong thing and we turn into seething claymore-wielding clansmen. My married brother's wife is now my sister, to be defended to the death; my unmarried brother's girlfriend (if he had one) is a stranger, at best a charming acquaintance, at worst a threat to family peace. I feel badly for C who is now torn between his sister A and his girlfriend B. That said, I repeat that the person you should all be worried about is the malevolent creep (creeps or creepette) who sent that cut-and-paste email.

The only thing you could say to A--if you ever manage to talk to A, who might not ever want to talk to you, and you must respect that---is "We were only complaining because we really like you and want you to contact us more often. We're horrified that someone got into our accounts and sent you that cut-and-paste email. If we had any idea that could happen, we would never have written a word."

Meanwhile, since both you and B were (and still are) frustrated by A's lack of communication, you both may have to pray for detachment. The painful truth may be that you care for A more than she cares for either of you. Leave her be.

I spoke to a computer security expert, and he said that the first thing I should state is that I am not a lawyer (IANAL). He's not a lawyer, either. So that done, I now will tell you that he told me that hacking is very hard to prove. And, worse, email is considered public communication unless it has been encrypted. It is just too easy for others to read.

You might forget to log off on a home or college computer, and then the person who uses it next finds out, reads, cuts and pastes, steals your password, emails all your contacts pretending to be you. You might unconsciously press "Send All" when you meant to press "Send". You might absentmindedly send an email to the wrong person, and she or he might forward it to everyone in town. You might forward an email to someone, forgetting that there's an entire correspondence under the latest message. Public, public, public.

Unencrypted email is nothing like a diary or a letter. It is much more like a postcard--a postcard any postman (remember the Chesterton story?) can alter invisibly, with your name still scrawled at the bottom. I find this terrifying.

Therefore, my last bit of advice is to remember this lesson and swear never again to send anyone anything by email that you would not want read at your wedding or funeral. I just did myself.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Men, Not Meal Tickets

As a freelancer/struggling novelist/auntie to the Catholic Singles of the world, I do not make a lot of money. If my husband hated his job, I would live in a puddle of guilt. But fortunately my husband loves his job. And fortunately I make enough money for some of our extras. For example, half one of my paycheques bought us our new refrigerator. I love that refrigerator. It stands in the kitchen as testament that I, Seraphic, am not, financially speaking, a slug.

My mother has been a housewife for almost forty years, as was her mother before her. Both my mother and grandmother occasionally worked part-time jobs, usually behind the counter of a shop. My father's mother, who had only two children, worked full-time, from about 1929 to retirement. But I didn't know her before she retired, so my primary model of family life is Man Works Outside House for Money/Woman Works Inside House for Free. This is very old-fashioned, as is the fact my father has worked for the same employer for 40 years.

I don't know how to put this nicely, so here goes: our generation (meaning everyone born after 1965) was ripped off. We are often thousands and thousands of dollars in debt by the time we leave college, and we do not have the employment opportunities the Baby Boom had. In 1969, MAs could walk into their pick of academic jobs while they completed their doctorates. Compare that to 1999. (Shudder.) And in 1949, a skilled labourer--a joiner, say--could support himself, his wife and four children on his salary, as long as he handed his pay packet to his wife before he went to the pub. There was no question of Mrs Joiner putting the four kids in daycare and commuting to a grey-carpeted office to work eight stultifying hours. The contrast to today makes me want to weep, it really does.

Now, as usual, the Nice Catholic Girls and Boys of the western world (but, I suspect, particularly of the USA) wish to be a sign of contradiction to the world. Many Nice Catholic Girls do not want to put their children in daycare. They want to stay at home and teach them to read and watch them grub about in the backyard. They want to make nourishing dinners that have to simmer for an hour. They (quite reasonably) baulk at the idea of rising at 6 AM to drive their kids to daycare before driving to some jill-job (or even career) before rushing back to the daycare at 5:15 PM and then home to do in five hours the things housewives have all day to do. And many Nice Catholic Boys (especially in the USA) don't want their wives to "have to work." They gamely volunteer to shoulder all the financial responsibility themselves. God bless them.

However, let's be real about this. Let's look at the dollars and cents. Let's look at the pounds and pennies. Let's look at the mound of debt with which too many of us leave college. In today's world, not working--or working at a poorly paid job, however glam or interesting--means a serious financial sacrifice. On television, artists and musicians and whatnot have these marvellous, hip clothes. Columnist Carrie wears Prada. Well, let me tell you, columnist Seraphic wears charity shop. Buying new shoes is a big, big deal. The most interesting men I know, real artists, real musicians and whatnot, stand around in frayed trousers, battered shoes, ancient shirts, sipping gin and debating the merits of Mahler. In some glorious ways we are rich, but in others, we are poor.

"But you're married," I hear someone say. It is a tiny, soprano voice, coming from somewhere in the American southwest. And I say, "So what? I didn't marry the man for his culture-worker's pay. I married him for his quirky eyebrows and his beaux yeux bleus. That way, even if we have nothing to eat, I'll have something to look at."

In short, very few of us are going to live like people on TV. The men/women we meet are probably going to be burdened with student loans. We are probably burdened with student loans. We, we women, are usually going to have the choice of working or of being poor, of working or of seeing our husbands' faces go grey from the responsibility of carrying the entire financial burden.

Marriage is not a meal-ticket. It rarely was before (housewives worked from sun to sun), and it usually isn't now. Even if you do marry a man with a big salary, and no debts to pay off, he could get ill. You could have eight children. You could have two children and then one child with very expensive special needs. You could get ill. All kinds of things could happen. As some poor office mate, a single mother who married a man she met on a beach in the Dominican Republic, wailed, "I thought marriage would make my life easier."

In the 19th century, most people worked and scrimped and saved before they got married. There were long engagements and, no doubt, quickie weddings when the almost-inevitable happened. In the novels of Louisa May Alcott, lovelorn couples are constantly delaying marriage until they have "enough to live on," which either means growing a nest egg or that the man has got far enough in his career for a good salary.

I'm not sure this is the solution for our 21st century woes. I'm not a fan, for example, of long engagements. However, I would encourage all Single people who feel a tug towards the married life to use their current freedom wisely. Work hard to clear debts and to save money instead of just backpacking around Europe or spinning out your days in one expensive MA program after another. And the advantage to not finding the Perfect Man for You until you are over 30 is that--and please remember that I love and obey Humanae Vitae--you are going to have fewer (or no) children and therefore less financial pressure.

Anyway, having got a letter today from a NCB who is worried that his student-loan debt and moderate salary would "disappoint" any NCG he might meet, I want to make it clear that NCGs who feel called to the married life are on the same page: we want men, not meal tickets.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Auntie Seraphic & "The Debtor"

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I have a fair bit of debt from my student loans, and some residual debt left from some poor choices I made early in college regarding credit card use (sigh). I work for the Church, so my chances of raking in a large salary to pay it down are slim; I make my payments and the balances shrink, but at a small rate. There is no way in heaven I'll be debt-free before I turn 30. 35, if I'm lucky!

This NYT article made me twinge rather uncomfortably. If I marry, what is mine will be his and what's his is mine. The idea of saddling another person with my debts seems horrible and selfish. (Perhaps I'm projecting; a cousin of mine married a man with a lot of graduate school and credit-card debt, then ended up paying it off herself when he lost his job, and he divorced her soon afterward).

The article advises that the best time to mention one's financial solvency (or lack thereof) is around the eighth or tenth date; what would you say? My fear is that I'll meet a lovely man and fall in love with him, only to have him flee when I explain my situation. Or worse, he'd marry me anyway but his family would always whisper I were some sort of wretched gold-digger who married him for financial security instead of love. Yes, yes, I know that's ridiculous, given that this gentleman is currently hypothetical, but I do worry about it.

The Debtor

Dear Debtor,

Almost everyone I knew in grad school had student loans. I paid off one student loan before I got my M.Div., and now I am paying off my M.Div.-era student loan. My husband is still paying off a student loan. He pays off part of his every month, and I pay off part of mine every month. When mine is paid off, I'll start paying off his, too, or vice versa.

Chances are that any man you meet, if he has been to university, also has student loans. He might have more debt than you. Thinking of your cousin's ghastly story, you might want to ascertain that any man who interests you shares your responsible attitude towards paying down debt. Keep your ears open and notice if suitors flash around credit cards a little too extravagantly. Meanwhile, B.A. and I totalled up our debts when we first started talking about marriage. I think personal finances are not something you seriously delve into until the M word is in the air.

I agree that it is not a comfortable thought, having to tell a man how much debt you have. However, if he is in love with you, he will accept that your debt is something that comes with you. (Just as you will have to accept that his debts are something that come with him.) You can relieve his worries by insisting that you will continue to work to pay it off and that you will never run up a credit card debt again. You can also prove your reponsible attitude by consistently paying down your student loan, even to the extent of increasing your payment whenever you get a raise.

Your debts are nobody's business except yours and your husband's. His family should never know about them; they will not be their business. Goodness knows how much debt they might have themselves.

Finally, most homeowners have a debt to the bank until they are 50 or 60: it's called a mortgage. Most people these days cannot begin to afford a house without a mortgage, just as most students in the USA cannot afford four years of college without a student loan. Houses and education are both investments, and therefore loans taken out to obtain them are not shameful, although having to come up with payments every month can certainly be frightening.

Sadly, debt is something that almost everybody, including the government of the USA, has these days. It is terrible that in the contemporary West, debt is so much a part of daily life. I suspect we are dancing on the lip of a volcano.

And with that sobering thought, happy Labo/u/r Day!

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Gentle Raillery

I got an interesting email today about a tiff arising from internet dating. Giving advice on internet dating while it is still going on is a bit difficult, since any given internet relationship is probably at least 50% fantasy. In life, most communication is non-verbal, so goodness knows what is going on in merely epistolary and telephonic relationships. Not the two people involved, that is for sure.

As one can always expect when relationships arise from dating websites, a second lady has become involved in the drama between X and Y. Indeed, there could be dozens of ladies involved in the drama, for the great charm of internet dating is that there are hundreds of other pretty people one can contact online without any of the others having the slightest idea. This is most unlike a cocktail bar, where if a gentleman hits on one waitress, all the other waitresses will know. And if a gentleman hits on a second waitress, not only will the first waitress find out, but all the other waitresses will stand in judgment over him. Bad man. Bad, bad.

Judgment, of course, has a role to play in internet dating, too. I was asked if I thought X should threaten her internet interest Y to tell her internet rival Z that Y had already considered X in the rosy-hued light of romance, and my attitude was, "Why bother? What possible good could that do?"

The whole thing, in fact, made me contemplate the subject of female righteous anger and how unattractive it is to the male sex. For some bizarre reason, some women seem to think that nothing will make men love them more than to give them a piece of their minds.

I think we must get this from films or, Hera help us, Anne of Green Gables, for Anne famously smashed her chalk slate over Gilbert's head and he loved her forever after, blah blah blah blah blah. Today Anne would be sent to the principal's office, and then to the school psychatrist and then to anger management counselling, but I digress. Anyway, Anne walloped Gilbert for calling her "Carrots," not for inviting Ruby Gillis home for lemonade. There are times to yell at unattached young men, but the time he prefers the company of a young lady to yours (or to staying home alone) is not one of them.

In my extreme youth, I thought nothing of giving a young man I admired a piece of my mind for whatever reason. I definitely recall chewing out one handsome lad for standing me up, and thinking that this evidence of my roguish sparkiness would win his heart. Uh, no. If I had any hope of his heart, he would not have stood me up in the first place.

Eventually, as the years rolled on, I realized that roguish sparkiness had no effect whatsoever on any man anywhere near my age. It works solely on men who are at least ten years my senior. Really, I should be charging you girls for this stuff. Go buy my book.

"Hey," I said, one memorable day, to a silver-haired cutie, "why don't you ever ask me out for coffee?"

The silver-haired cutie, who had previously mentally crossed me off his list of eligible women in the office because I was too young, put me back on the list and asked me out for coffee.

Since then I have discovered that I can boss around and upbraid other silver-haired cuties with surprising success. This is awesome. This is so awesomely awesome that it is actually kind of amazing that in the end I married someone younger than myself. But anyway, I want you to remember a good rule:

Yelling at or writing cutting things at or being ironic at a man who is not already in love with you is not going to speed up the process.

Again, I am not ruling out gentle raillery. If you are unusually pretty, or ten to twenty years younger than the object of your raillery, you can get away with it. Make sure your raillery is accompanied by a smile. But most of the time, you are not going to get away with it. And getting angry with a man who is not your steady boyfriend or husband because he went out on a date with another woman is pointless and stupid.

"But, Seraphic," I hear you wail. "I am only 25. The idea of demanding of 45 year olds why they do not buy me coffee makes me feel slightly ill. They have wrinkles and stuff."

"Ah, mes filles," I say in a fake Belgian accent, having just come away from watching "Poirot" on ITV 3, "wait until you are 35. The wrinkly 45 year olds will no longer look so bad.* And there may even be some widowed, divorced-and-annulled or hitherto simply gun-shy 55 year olds who will be worth your notice. They will be putty in your soft unwrinkled hands."

Meanwhile, wear sunscreen and those cute, soft leather driving gloves.

*I mean this quite literally. Shortly after you turn 30, the world sort of becomes bigger and a whole bunch of men who seemed to be invisible when you were in your twenties loom into vision. Their grey hair looks kind of cool and their suits rock your world. You wonder why, when you were a kid, you preferred Luke Skywalker to Han Solo. You now understand why your mother was always a Harrison Ford kind of woman.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Good Stuff

Open post today, for I have been writing hard all day. Tell me some good news from your life!

Did your boss praise you this week? Did you sell an article? Did you get a chapter of your thesis finished? Did you go on your 15th date with someone surprisingly perfect for you? Any new nephews or nieces? Did your spouse do something fabulously kind? Did you reserve your place on the Bellahouston papal mass bus? (I just did.) Let me know!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Auntie Seraphic & "Disabled and Determined"

Sometimes I get a letter that challenges my mind and stretches my little world. Here's one:

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

First, I must say that I love your blog, which I accidentally stumbled upon one day when completely bored at work and trying to find blogs which were not nixed by our firewall. :) And who says the Lord can't provide? I honestly can't believe I'm writing a letter like this to a complete stranger, but, such is life.

I am writing because I agree pretty much with everything you say about women, and how they should and should not make themselves available for dating. However, as a disabled woman, I find it hard to put your advice into practice. I will try to explain what I mean without being too rambly, and hope that you might be able to give me some practical suggestions.

First, disabled women find themselves in a unique situation because they must walk the fine line of asserting their independence so as to be dignified but not to come across as so independent that they have in no need of anyone, let alone a man. If I never refused help or, in some cases, rather ardently asserted my self-will, I would be carried practically everywhere, have every door flung open for me, have all my
food served to me, etc, etc. In essence, I would be treated like a child. Not only is this not what I desire, nor is it complimentary, it certainly does not give off the vibe that, hey, now THIS is a woman who can be a wife and mother! Husbands might want to be our protectors, but caretakers? Not so sure.

However, the assertion of ones independence can often be interpreted as aloofness or arrogance or some such. Many a time, I have been at a churchy event with any number of young Catholic adults. If I adopt the former attitude, well, don't you know, I make tons of new galpals but not a single male speaks with me. If I assert the latter attitude, I often appear as unfriendly, no matter how graciously I might refuse the offers of help.

I think this issue is compounded by the fact that, since I am completely blind, I can not do many of the "subtle" feminine things that women like to do in order to catch a man's attention. How do I let a man know that I am open to dating without being too forward and without being able to adopt many typical ways in which women do such things?

Lastly, I, unfortunately, agree with your statement that a man either is attracted to a woman, or he is not. I also believe that your average, everyday man is not going to look at a disabled woman and think ATTRACTION! for a variety of social and, yes, I do believe that for strictly biological reasons, disability is not as attractive as, well, non-disability.

This isn't to say that I sit around feeling sorry for myself. I love me, and I love my life and my friends and my activities. It doesn't mean I think I can't be a mom, or that I can't be productive. I have a good job, graduated from a terrific college,
navigate [a large city] in the US on my own, but I also understand on a practical level that, were I to be paired with a sighted identical twin, the majority of men would probably opt for the sighty.

I acknowledge the social stereotypes which might cause men to believe that the disabled are not interested in sex, cannot be good mothers/wives, and many others which are consciously [but usually subconsciously] held. I also believe that, evolutionarily, being disabled is a legitimate weakness, and I think this plays a genuine role when considering spouses. I am sick of being told "if men are
going to judge you on that they're not worth having," "you'll eventually find someone who'll love you for YOU," and "you're only 23-you're still so young!" because such platitudes do not acknowledge how painful it can be to watch your single friends be flirted with and courted as you stand by unnoticed. [Also, such platitudes] are not practical.

I hope this letter came across as I intended it to. I am trying to remain content in my singledom, yet I do yearn for marriage deeply. I am looking for an eligible, traditional catholic man who is accepting of disabilities (and we thought just the eligible traditional Catholic man population was a small one!), and I am seeking any advice which might help said young men to realize that I'm actually quite awesome and they'd be lucky if I thought them worthy enough to bust out the super-elegant-eveningware cane!

Thanks for any advice, and keep up the humorous posts! They're terrific.

With love in Jesus,

Disabled and Determined

Now, as far as I know, this is my first-ever letter from a blind Single, so I wrote back for more information. Long-time readers will not be surprised that I wanted to know what Disabled and Determined looks like. I don't think men, especially Christian men, are soooo inwardly Darwinian that they would reject an attractive girl at once because she is blind. Sighted men are all about, well, sight.

So after some clarification and some googling, this is what I wrote back:

Dear Disabled and Determined,

After poking around on the internet, I can see why you asked me. So far there does not seem to be a lot of stuff on the topic, although there are certainly some "Disabled Dating" websites that include tips not really helpful to the blind like "keep eye contact." I checked the website for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind because I am Canadian and that's the first blind advocacy group I could think of. And, lo, nothing on dating. Maybe readers will be able to find something solid, though.

Meanwhile, let us recap. You're 23, right? You're attractive, but not a super-model. You are slim and have medium length curly hair. You have a lot of friends, you work out, you go to Mass, and you seem to go to a lot of Catholic events. You are interested in men. So far so good.

The first problem may be your feeling that you must be independent simply all of the time. And I can definitely understand why because if I grew up with a disability, I would long to be like everybody else in that I could take care of myself and do everything for myself.

However, two things that women find out are 1. that sometimes, just because we are women, we DO need help, and 2. that good men enjoy helping--it makes them feel useful.

If I need to get the lid off a jar or a cork out of a bottle, I don't struggle with it. I go and find a man and get him to struggle with it. Men love to feel useful. Helping them feel useful is not a loss of our independence. It is a little gift to them.

Therefore, the next time a young man you like offers to do something for you, accept or think of something you're more comfortable with. For example, if I were at a party, and a man asked me if he could get me a drink, I might turn down a beer but say I would love a glass of water, thank you. And when he turned up with the water, I would thank him with a dazzling smile. And I love it when men get the door for me. They open the door, I say thank you. They offer me their seat on the bus, I take it and say thank you. Bless their little useful hearts!

The second problem might be figuring out how important sight is to sighted men. I'm afraid it really is, which is why I asked what you looked like. The Disabled Dating websites I looked at assured me that 94% of communication is non-verbal, which once again doesn't help the visually impaired, and makes me wonder who is running the Disabled Dating sites! But if you are not doing this already, consider how your body language makes you look approachable or not approachable to sighted people. Figure out which clothes flatter you and are appropriate to your age and personality. Practice smiling while saying hello, and nodding to show you have understood what a person has said to you. (Sorry if this is all basic stuff you know already!)

There are two visually impaired women in my parish, one married (not totally blind, I think) and one Single (totally blind). The married woman does not wear dark glasses or use a stick; usually her husband guides her around. The Single woman has dark glasses and a very naughty--but loveable--guide dog. The advantage of the dark glasses, I suspect, is that they create the illusion that she is keeping eye contact with sighted people (who seem have an inborn sense that eye contact means friendly interest--well, I do anyway). What do you think of this?

The third problem stems from this one, and it is how to smile at a man from across a crowded room when you can't see him. If I were in your shoes, I would enlist the aid of a trusted female friend, first to find out if any interesting man is looking at me, and then to fetch him with the line, "My friend Seraphic wants to meet you." Your friend becomes your smile.

This is bolder than I would recommend to a sighted woman, but in the case of a blind woman, it seems a necessity. And, besides, if the guy doesn't want to meet you after all, he can just make some excuse and flee. Do not be overly crushed if this happens because, believe me, men just ignore the welcoming smiles of sighted women all the time.

The fourth problem is that sighted people have no real clue what it is like to be blind and forget that blind people cannot see their non-verbal cues. I dated a severely hearing impaired guy for two years, and constantly forgot that he couldn't understand me at all unless he could read my lips. He had to remind me over and over again. I'm not saying that all sighted men are as dumb as I was, but I am suggesting that you are going to have boundless patience while building friendships and potential romantic relationship with sighted men.

Do tell me if any of this is helpful. I don't see why some guy shouldn't fall in love with you eventually and marry you, unless it is simply not God's will for you. Queen Alexandra was profoundly deaf, but very lovely, and Edward VII of England married her.

As I say to everyone, our main focus should be on making friends, not meeting mates. Husbands and wives usually start out as friends-of-friends, and become friends-who-are-secretly-attracted-to-each-other, and then fall in love. Tell your female friends you are interested in making more good male Catholic friends, and see what happens.

Also, as I say all the time, I didn't meet the Perfect Man for Me until I was 38. And I was attractive, funny, smart, university educated and all that stuff. If God wants it to happen, it will happen, but only when He says so.

Finally, I feel that other blind women may be a great resource for dating advice. If you belong to a support group for the blind, bring up the topic at a meeting. I am sure everyone will be glad you did.

Grace and peace,

Now, there are two points that I had not considered, and Disabled and Determined filled me in. The first is the shocker that disabled support groups do not always provide good relationship and sexual advice. There is a culture of wanting to behave like "all other women", and this, unfortunately, means the "acting just like men" crap we popularized in the Age of the Pill. I think, then, that there is a crying need for faithful CATHOLIC fellowships for disabled men and women. I wish I knew older, blind-from-babyhood, Catholic married women who could pass on their wisdom and experience to Disabled and Determined.

The second point is what to do if you are blind and want to join a new Catholic parish, and you can't convince your sighted friends to come along. How do you meet people, including men? My advice here is to find the parish priest and ask him to introduce you to men and women your own age. (This, by the way, goes for everybody. The one man you can always go up to and get the ball rolling with is the priest.) And I suspect that it is easier to meet people in a small, quirky parish with a strong identity (whether Trid or Most-Left-Wing-In-Town) than in a ginormous, anything-goes parish of thousands.

Update: Association of Blind Catholics (UK) here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Imaginary Boyfriends

In her book The Girl's Guide to Break-ups, Delphine Hirsh makes the reader broken up with go through a reality check. If the girl has never actually been on a date with the guy, Hirsh advises counselling.

It is true, funny and sad that sometimes a certain woman believes that she is in a serious relationship with a man when that man has no idea of it. It is less funny, and just scary, if this woman becomes a stalker. But I'm not talking about women with mental illness today. I'm talking about ordinary women who are so in the grip of wishful thinking that they temporarily lose their own grip on reality.

I have a ghastly memory of a conversation in Paris, where I met up with a high-school era acquaintance many years after we had both left school. For many years I had had a serious crush on him, based almost entirely on my own confused ideas and feelings, and now it had returned. In this conversation, over a plate of blood sausage, I mentioned how marvellous it was that we had been friends for so many years.

"But we haven't," he said. "We barely know each other."

He might have added that we weren't exactly pals as teens, either. We might have run into each other weekly, but we had never had a serious, amiable conversation. It was all "Hey, how's it going?" and "Are you going to the dance?" and "So what are you doing this summer?"

His honest remark blew up the edifice of my imaginings like a dynamite-stuffed truck, and to this day I can't think of Paris as the city of romance. Now, Florence, that's a city of romance. Edinburgh is definintely a city of romance. Paris--no. Paris is a train station with North African men standing on the steps shouting in French at passing women. It's a performing artists' canteen with steaming subsidized mashed potatoes and blood sausage. It's feeling exhausted and overwhelmed in front of the tiny Mona Lisa. It's dyspepsia after too-rich a hot chocolate. It's where I hit reality with a bump.

One of the many, many problems with crushes, especially if they are allowed to go unchecked, is that they blind women to reality. Reality hurts, but suck it up, sweetheart, because living in a fantasy is a waste of life. And falling in love with a real-life man who really has fallen in love with you is so much better than fantasizing about Crush Object, that I don't even know where to start.

I'll start with ordinary human interactions. The fact that Mr. Brown next door, who is a genial fifty-two, smiled and said "Hello" to you is better than whatever dialogue you wrote in your head for Crush Object. What you got from Mr. Brown was real human interaction. Mr. Brown is real. God made him. Crush Object in your head is not real. You made him. And the more you refine Crush Object in your head, the less likely you will be able to see the man you're basing him on, the man, like ordinary Mr. Brown, made by God.

My great regret in life at the moment (regrets I've had quite a few, a few too many to mention) is that in my youth I placed too little importance on real, ordinary human interactions, and too much importance on my own imaginings. And yet real life is fed by real, ordinary human interactions. These are that to which we must pay attention.

And now I'll end with my usual realist advice. At this point, I should write it in verse form and have it set to music, but here it is.

1. Men are attracted to women they think are beautiful and elegant, so don't leave the house without making an effort. Accept that you might appeal to a niche market instead of the mass market. Play up your most distinctive features. Wear flats if you are tiny. Wear heels if you are tall. Think Audrey Hepburn if you are thin. Think Queen Latifa if you most definitely are not.

2. Men want what they want, and if they want it badly enough, they will make an effort to get it. So there's no point in you chasing them down. Go where your sort of men are and see what happens. Smile at the men who talk to you, and don't talk too much. Show polite interest in what they say. Say things a stranger would actually find interesting in reply. Pretty is half the equation, smart seals the deal.

3. If you think a man might be interested in you but needs a bit of encouragement, invite him to a party hosted by you and your friends. Touch his arm when you talk to him at this party. Air-kiss him good-bye, if you are the type who can get away with such shenanigans.

4. Wait.

5. If he does not call you up or text you within three days, forget him. FORGET HIM AT ONCE. Do not hanker for what-might-have-been. Be open to embrace what-will-be. God knows better than you 100% of the time. Save your fantasies for short stories, and change all the names.