Saturday, 8 January 2011

Boyfriends are not Husbands

Now as stomping on the idea of the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is a mighty counter-cultural idea, I forgive you in advance for dismissing my ideas as one of Auntie Seraphic's weirder turns. But I will point out that there are many societies that frown on boyfriend-girlfriend relationships and think that if you are old enough for a boyfriend, you are old enough to be married off to cousin Whatsit in the next village.

I am not just thinking Pakistan here. I am thinking about the children-of-Italian-immigrants who dominated my high school in the 1980s. A lot of my friends were not allowed to have boyfriends. And one of my Italian-Canadian friends came to the Graduation Formal (which Americans would call the Prom) with the wealthy 30 year old fiance her father had found for her. I'm not advocating this, incidentally. I'm just pointing out that boyfriend-girlfriend relationships are not a universally accepted fact.

I grew up thinking that you had to have a boyfriend to be a whole and normal girl or woman, an idea I suspect I got from Archie Comics, the teen romance novels so popular in my elementary school library and the sexual dynamics of the schoolyard.

Being adored by boys has long been a major female desire, transcending centuries. I suppose having a boyfriend is proof that, even though you aren't the Scarlet O'Hara of your social set, at least one boy finds you attractive. The kicker is that you aren't supposed to have sex before marriage, a rule it is easy to obey if you have no boyfriend, but rather harder to obey if you do. It boggles the mind that Veronica Lodge has done nothing but leave lipstick prints on Archie since 1930. Of course, she leaves lipstick prints on Reggie, too, so I suppose that makes it more believable.

The problem with the whole boyfriend-girlfriend relationship as it is practised today is that it is modelled more on marriage than it is on platonic friendship. Girls and boys (or men and women) fancy each other, begin a sparky courtship which very often includes physical sexual stuff, beginning and not always ending at prolonged snogging, and begin hanging out as often as they can. If they go to the same school or work together, this mean every single day.

When the honeymoon period ends, both come down off Cloud 9 and see their girl/boyfriends' flaws, which can be incredibly painful indeed. There may be attempts to resolve conflicts, usually by the girl/woman who simultaneously resents that women seem to do all the heavy lifting of relationship-building. Very often one or the other starts feeling bored with the status quo. Then, either the couple moves in together, or gets engaged, or has a public pseudo-divorce, following which both are free to start another pseudo-marriage.

And if you think this is very cynical and unfair, you should read the "Canadian Dating" chapter in Seraphic Singles!

Since I usually got bored and fed-up with boyfriends after a year of snogging and hanging out almost every single day, I was a bit worried that I was irreparably fickle and would make a lousy wife. However, now that I am a wife and have been for a year and a half, I can report that I am not bored at all. I am also as snug as a bug in a rug. Possibly--I'm just throwing this out as a suggestion--it is because I didn't have chance to get bored of B.A.-as-Boyfriend. And maybe it is because marriage is a real relationship with a real, committed, till-death-do-we-part future. When you're just a girlfriend, you're left guessing. Yes, maybe you'll get married one day. But what woman in love can stand not knowing when that day will come?

Looking back upon a dating career that resembles the Battle of the Somme, I wish today that I had been more detached from it all. If I hadn't hung out with my nice, devoted boyfriends every darn day, they wouldn't have had so much cause to blame me when I, bored, broke up with them. And if I hadn't chased those who would have been happy just to be friends, I wouldn't have been hurt so much. At the same time, of course, I don't regret that somehow everything came right in the end, and I married Mr. McRight and hopefully will live happily ever after. But I wouldn't mind saving you unnecessary boredom and heartbreak.

I was very much struck by a comment in yesterday's combox about a boyfriend who exhibited his rubber-band nature by stretching away for two whole weeks before snapping back to be Mr. Wonderful. I now realize that we weren't told how long Mr. Wonderful's snapping back period lasted. If it were six months or so, then it wouldn't be so outrageous that the man takes two week holidays from boyfrienddom. But if he snapped back for only a week or so, then my conclusion is that Mr. Wonderful wasn't so wonderful. And I wonder why anyone would want to be the steady girlfriend of such a man.

When someone is not your husband but only your boyfriend, you are not in a position to make wifely demands. The same goes for men. If a woman is not your wife but only your girlfriend, you are not really in a position to make husbandly demands. This leaves you in a kind of limbo. Happy the girlfriend whose boyfriend doesn't push her for the stuff only a husband should expect. Happy the boyfriend who is not pursued 24/7 by his girlfriend.

What is the way forward? Well, as I've written before, it is that men get serious about courtship (which should follow or accompany finding a trade or a career) and that women not push for emotional intimacy by calling men up, or asking to meet up, or asking where these relationships are going, or demanding that men share their feelings whether they want to or not.

Boyfriends are not husbands. Hopefully, though, they are friends.

Update: I just told B.A. that I would have been so mad if he had kissed me without having decided already that he wanted to marry me. I would have been SO MAD! Words cannot express how furious I would have been. Extremely furious. Medusa furious, with hair turning into fire-spitting snakes.


Julie said...

See now, here is a topic about the vocations of singlehood and marriage. :) Dating is not a vocation but in practice it is the one I most longed for in high school and college.

There is a whole "courtship movement" among Protestants (perhaps among Catholics too -- I've seen it called "biblical courtship" which sounds like a Protestant buzzword, for better or worse). I'll be honest and say that that particular lifestyle strikes me as strange and extreme, like (forgive me) ladies who feel that the bible calls them to cover their heads at all times (not just in church) or only to wear skirts. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Anyway, Seraphic, I wonder if you've come across this stuff and what your thought is. I tend to think it's right in its instincts but unnecessarily strict and culturally bound in its practice.

KimP said...

Thanks for this; your post is very timely, I think. I'll try to remember that Jamie is not my husband yet, although I feel Practically Engaged. The annulement process slowly continues . . .

Christine said...

Good post! I wish I had read this 3 years ago. ;-)

Anna said...

Auntie Seraphic, I love what you have to say here, especially about the snogging before being really serious part. But I can't imaging finding a nice boy who takes his religion seriously that would just follow your advice, whether by instinct or maturity. Those rules seem to belong to a completely different era.

Seraphic said...

Julie, I haven't heard of this movement, but I'll keep my eye out. What I have come across are Catholic guys with really strict spiritual directors, and they are super-careful about who and when they kiss.

KimP, I'll pray for you today!

Christine, I wish I had written it 20 years ago!

Anna, I have met Catholic guys who WERE super-careful, but that was in Canada. I was really amazed my years in the USA when guys who were orthodox, scholarly, prayerful, you name it, seemed to be sleeping with their girlfriends. I underscore "seemed to be" because I do not know for sure.

Anyway, it would be nice if all NCBs had tough confessors or spiritual directors; that would make the lives of NCGs easy. Men take their behaviour cues from other men. I am not sure they would listen to ME.

However, the rules above are mostly for girls. I remember thinking the "other era" stuff when my mother told ME not to call boys, etc., and it turned out she was right: human nature does not change that much from era to era.

That was soooo annoying. But what can we do? When we are young, we find an idea attractive but then sadly dismiss it as belonging to "another era." But, heck, I go to Mass of 1962, you know? Nobody can kiss you without your permission. All (!) you have to do is say, "No, thanks. You're great, but I think kissing is only for engaged and married people." You have the right to do that. They're YOUR lips. The guy will think either you are crazy or amazing. But if he's a decent Catholic, he will know in his heart of hearts that your opinion is incredibly sane and chaste.

Ya know, martyrdom begins when you're really young. Sigh. But unless we start standing up for total chastity now, when will people do it?

Clare C said...

This was a really sane post. I don't think kissing is only for engaged and married people, so that's not something I'll be enforcing. But that's the nitty gritty everyone has to hammer out in their own lives. I don't think your main point can be stated enough, especially to young/naive/impressionable girls.

Anna said...

"Men take their behaviour cues from other men."

My priest told another single lady in church that "you have to teach guys". Meaning, you have to teach them how to act towards you, what's acceptable and what isn't. It was most disheartening to hear. What woman wants to "teach" her boyfriend not to try to sleep with her? Argh.

I also really wish priests would be very clear with young men on what they can and can't do but unmarried singles above college age just seem to be left to their own devices.

Jeff McL. said...

From a male perspective, let me say that I find serial dating disturbing and frustrating. Disturbing, because women these days just go from boyfriend to boyfriend to boyfriend, like a child on monkey bars. I once dated a girl I met in RCIA who, let me say, was barely Catholic. She had a bloated photo album with a page for each of her boyfriends. We went out for 3 months, and I suppose I have a page in there now. Why go out with a woman like this when I'll just be one more in a seemingly endless series of boyfriends? It's frustrating because I can't meet single women. They all have boyfriends. Most men simply tell me I have to "prove myself" by separating one of these girls from her BF. I have no desire to play those sorts of games. At 37, having had only one real girlfriend my entire life, I'm happy to remain celibate, but regardless it's either celibacy or marriage. There's no in-between.
Nice blog, BTW, found it indirectly through Fr. Z.

Seraphic said...

Anna, that is a very good idea. I think priests should give a "To the Single People" homily at least once a year, to acknowledge their existence, to point out that they themselves are Single, to share how they themselves cope with being Single, and then to encourage and chastize Singles as needed. It would be great if priests stood at the pulpit and said "Single men, stop pressuring women for sexual favours--how dare you?!" I have never, ever in my life heard this from the pulpit, though I have twice sat with everyone else being berated for our supposed homophobia.

Seraphic said...

Jeff McL, my hair is standing on end from the story of Donna Giovanna and her photo album.

Most of the women who read this blog are Catholic and have no boyfriends, and one of the most common search terms that show up in my stats counter is "[age] and no boyfriend." So even though it may seem all the Single girls have boyfriends, this isn't true.

Christine said...

@Seraphic - Yes, I do wish priests would [once in a while] address the fact that there are faithful singles in the church. In my parish, I doubt whether my parish priest really cares about folks who either lack young children or who haven't reached retirement age. Alas.

Seraphic said...

Christine, I hear you, and what makes this so messed up is that most parish priests lack young children and are not yet retired. They themselves are Singles. There are married priests, priests in religious orders, and Single priests. So it would be great if Single priests would talk about being Single!

Christine said...

@Seraphic...good point!