Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Boyfriend Question

Listen--yesterday was rough. Today I want to be cheerful, cheerful I tell ya! But I am not so sure how to be cheerful about the Boyfriend Question. The Boyfriend Question usually goes something like this,

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

We know you got engaged to B.A. something like ten days after you met him in person, which frankly doesn't happen a lot, at least not to sane people in peacetime. And we know you dislike the boyfriend concept. But, listen, is having a boyfriend not usually a necessary stage between "I like you" and "Marry me"? We mean, come on.

Impatient Readers

But instead of answering that straight, I'm going to reprint a depressing little article I read in Metro yesterday on my way home from Edinburgh's Old Town:

Girls as young as 12 are posing for topless pictures for their boyfriends that end up circulating the internet as child pornography, warned the head of a paedophile protection program yesterday. A net security seminar in Sterling was told girls were inadvertently ending up on the web. Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Dawson, who headed Central Scotland Police's Operation Defender, described the internet as a huge risk for children. He said, "Boys ask their girlfriend to take pictures of herself with no top on, or he'll dump her. She does it to stay with him, but inevitably they split up. Then he's sending it around his friends over Bluetooth and, eventually, it's seen by everyone in the school'...

Say, I think there's something else that is a huge risk for children, and women, too: boyfriends like those. Have you ever noticed that sometimes your friends' boyfriends (or girlfriends--girlfriends are not off the hook here) don't really act like friends?

Having read two of the stories in the New York Times series on "Wow, aren't kids these days screwed up about sex and relationships?", I realize that it is kind of old-fashioned to be talking about boyfriends and girlfriends at all. According the NYT stories, people tend not even to pretend to have a romance going on: it's all hem-hem and deep intellectual posturing. However, I know my readership is mostly not going to get sucked into that, so I will continue to trash boy/girlfrienddom in my fuddy-duddy way.

Or maybe not... the computer ate it. Argh!!!! My Pulitzer Prize potential material is lost! Lost!

The most I have the time to rewrite right now is that from the age of 10, most girls think that it is an infallible measure of female worth to attract a boyfriend. This is stupid, but it is true.

However, you will notice that the Catechism doesn't mention boyfriends. It recognizes only two states in life: Single Life (which it calls Virginity) and Marriage. It mentions engaged people--but the most memorable bit there is that it does so to remind them that they can't have sex yet.

However, this does not stop almost all girls, no matter how young they are, from wanting to have something called "a boyfriend", which is a person quite separate from "a husband." And yet boyfriends go hand-in-hand with sexual temptation or just sexual pressure, or if not, with long periods of wondering if they are ever going to turn into husbands, or of jealousy if they talk to other girls or talk about becoming priests, or of disappointment when marriage doesn't happen.

Sometimes boyfriends aren't even really friends. I know a guy who is marvellous to his female friends, but terrible to his girlfriends. And once one of his female friends becomes his girlfriend...! Jekyll and Hyde, baby.

And now for the concluding points I still remember:

1. An actually marriage-minded suitor is immeasurably more worthwhile than a mere boyfriend.

2. A boyfriend (or girlfriend) who acts like your husband (or wife) without wanting to be your husband (or wife) is not even your friend.

3. No adult man who hasn't asked you to marry him is worth more than a year of your undivided attention.

4. If your adult boyfriend hasn't brought up marriage after a year--a whole year--of being your boyfriend, then it is up to you to ask him when he's going to. It used to be your mother's or father's job to ask a man what his intentions are but now, alas, the embarrassing conversation is up to you.

5. "But I love him/her" is not a good excuse for criminality or putting up with criminality. Men sin by hurting women, and women sin by sucking it up. (Vice versa is also true, but not as common.) It's much harder to get divorced from someone who is whackadoodle than it is just to break up with them before marriage.

Many people, although charismatic and attractive, are too whackadoodle, nasty or immature to get married right now. And don't wail "Oh, Auntie, that's so judgmental" because at times I have been too whackadoodle, nasty and immature myself, and now I am happily married to B.A. It could be that God means Mr/Miss Sexy but Nasty/Insane to marry somebody else---many, many years from now--and for you to marry Mr/Miss Amazing Right Now.


Josie said...

3. No adult man who hasn't asked you to marry him is worth more than a year of your undivided attention.

Nope, sorry, disagree completely. There are many reasons why a serious couple who love each other might not get engaged within a year - timing, logistics, finances, emotional readiness - and the lack of engagement does not necessarily invalidate the quality of the relationship.

I do agree with your point that within a year, marriage should be discussed and both parties should have a clear idea about where the other person stands and whether marriage is in the cards. BUT, demanding an engagement within a year is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and I think those kinds of expectations, deadlines and ultimatums can be dangerous and damaging to otherwise healthy relationships.

I get the general problem you have with boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, to some extent, especially when those relationships involve twelve year olds sexting each other (oy), but I think you're painting the situation with too broad a brush. Just saying.

Julie said...

What I'm getting is that "boyfriends" are no good because they are illusory - there's no real vocation there. But setting aside the longing for a boyfriend, it does seem like "boyfriends" do sort of happen in the course of a relationship... at some point you're not just pals or acquaintances, right? That's what I've always assumed.

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

I definitely agree with the sentiment of this article. :) The whole boyfriend/girlfriend paradigm is overhyped and treated as an end rather than a means. We should always be keeping in mind that the end is marriage, and everything before that is only the vehicle, so it could potentially take a few different forms.

My question for you though, Seraphic, is if you think there's a better alternative for terminology? What if we're dealing with a nice Catholic couple who is courting, intends to become engaged soon, but is not yet? Is there a better term than the ultra-secular boyfriend/girlfriend?

sciencegirl said...

Ok, so a) 12 year-olds (or anyone) sending nude photos to bf's is bad b) boyfriends acting badly is bad and c) dragging on relationships not heading toward marriage is bad. Desperation and lack of chastity are bad, all the way around.

None of that can really be laid at the foot of the label "boyfriend" except the 12 year-old part, because a 12 year-old's parents would not let her date if they thought the purpose of dating was to find a husband.

Personally, I think it would not be so good for a wife to send a nude photo of herself to her husband! If he wants to see her naked so badly, he knows where to go.

We can change the labels all we want, refer to Christian dating as "courting," call the men who keep buying dinners and drinks for us our "vocational discernment partners," or whatever sounds weirdest, but the elements of the sad tales of exploited, jilted, unhappy women and men do not change because of labels. These include:

1) Lack of self-worth
2) Insufficient respect for God/morality/fear of being caught
3) Fear of being alone
4) Hormones
5) Disrespect for the single state
6) Lack of maturity
7) Partner is truly manipulative & has suckered the other person
8) Unrealistic ideas of what a "RELAYYYSHONSHIPPP" should entail -- especially if it means acting in anger or petulance when partner fails to measure up

To me, all 7 things I mentioned above can happen in a Catholic relationship, including, and perhaps especially, marriages! Even the fear of being alone, in a Catholic marriage, could turn into unpleasant clinginess, jealousy, or controlling behavior. ALL of the above could happen, and then some, if Catholics focus solely on finding a good spouse. The focus on finding a good spouse rules out a lot of people, but it doesn't take sin and damage out of the equation.

I think the question under the "Boyfriend?" question is really: How does a Seraphic Single NCG, who has been dating the same man for a few weeks to months, long enough to be exclusive but not long enough to be talking marriage yet, maintain her Seraphic attitude while growing in love, trust, & desire for commitment?

The nice thing about putting dating in its place is that at least people could better avoid players and take things a little more lightly. However, if we are marriage-minded in our dating, it's hard not to think rather seriously! Me, I'm cynical both about boyfriends AND vocational discernment partners because I have seen quite obnoxious, uncharitable behavior from VDPs alike. *COUGH* From Myself *Cough*

Ginger said...

I was thinking the same thing, sciencegirl, but wasn't quite sure how to word it. Thanks!

Seraphic said...

Okay, I'll amend that to any adult male who hasn't at least mentioned marriage is not worth more an a year of your undivided attention.

Meanwhile, this is the point that people seem to most often protest, as if they are longing to date the same person for years on end without any clear plan to marry.

God knows how many women wait patiently from age 20 to 40, even moving in with the guy, only to be dumped later, when the guy finds the woman he really falls in love with.

This is a much more likely scenario than a woman in love ditching her boyfriend exactly 365 days after he became her boyfriend.

My advice to everyone is not to find yourself spending years as Miss Okay for Now.

Seraphic said...

What on EARTH is a vocation discernment partner? Is this a new name for a boy/girlfriend? Eeek!

sciencegirl said...

Yep, but not a widespread one. It's one a friend of mine heard once, said seriously, by a Catholic dating couple. It has not, I believe, caught on elsewhere. I think it's pretty wacky & occasionally trot that one out to see the flinches.

Irenaeus G. Saintonge said...

At least we're not saying "life partner". ;)

Rhona-Mae Arca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhona-Mae Arca said...

Well said, science girl.

However, "vocation discernment partner" makes me grimace and then shake my head. I cannot even think of an appropriate adjective to describe it.

Sadder but wiser said...

Seraphic, since most of your readers are singles who have never been married, they have really latched unto your thoughts about the term "boyfriend."

However, I want to emphasize #5 - "It's much harder to get divorced from someone who is whackadoodle than it is to just break up with them before marriage."

As a woman who has spent the past 16 months trying to divorce someone who is whackadoodle, you are spot on in your advice. Whackadoodle is bad. It gets worse with age, and it's very painful to divorce someone who is like that.