Thursday, 3 March 2011

Snogs, Snuggles and Sexy Puritans

Update: Welcome again, Patheos readers! I had no idea Max Lindeman was among the few men who still read my blog despite its rosy hue and swashbuckling protectors. Trads, sedevacantists, folkies, Max... Here comes everybody, indeed!


B.A. and others told me to read this post by an American convert who actually writes for Salon. I am always astonished and impressed when a Catholic writes for famous and seriously secular journals because I have a persecution complex as big as the six counties of Ulster.

Anyway, Max Lindenman's piece is making the Catholic blog rounds, so I thought I'd read it. The one piece of advice I'm going to give you ladies, especially all you ladies who LONG to know what men are thinking, before you dive in is that we don't always like what men are thinking. It can be insulting. It can be challenging. It can be pretty darn aggravating. But men are who they are and not who we want them to be, and fortunately we only have to marry one at a time, if we have to marry one at all.

I have a few thoughts about Max's account. First, Max is a good writer. He seems to be an emo-blogger, though. An emo-blogger is the guy who has his heart broken by Miss Perfect and then tells you all about it, even though the girl in question is presumably still alive. There are ways of doing it that are poignant and ways of doing it that are cringeworthy. Doing it the day of the girl's wedding to someone else is definitely cringeworthy, and Max didn't do that, so good on Max.

Second, Max writes about a weird world in which Christian girls in skintight clothing boast about the number of guys who tried to get them into the sack. He calls them the Sexy Puritans, and I hope none of my readers are acting like that. But Max also mentions seeing a girl in tiny shorts and a mantilla, ending his piece by suggesting that even trad Catholic girls are getting in on the Sexy Puritan action. Eek.

Third, Max hones in on a snuggle-bunny culture in which Catholic girls treat their boyfriends as if they were as temptation-free as teddy bears. Snoggy, snoggy, snuggle, snuggle. Now (super rare confession, mark the calendar) I used to behave like that myself, and my mother read me the riot act. Like Max's Nice Catholic Girlfriend, I thought it was okay to get as much physical affection as humanly possible without falling into sexual sin, without much pondering if treating boys to whom I hadn't made a firm commitment like squishy toys might not be itself a sin.

Max doesn't quite put it that way. In fact, as much as I enjoyed Max's piece, I wonder if there isn't a thread of passive-aggression throughout. He's trying to keep it light, but somewhere in there Max is seething "How come you get to treat us like squishy toys?" I suspect from the comments that a few outraged women have picked up on Max's anger, and his not quite subtle suggestion that there is a double-standard going on and that he tried to get "his".

But I wonder if Max would prefer to eschew all physical contact whatsoever. A snuggle simply does not have the moral equivalence of a [name obviously sexual act here], and heaven knows there are thousands of single men rather older and less attractive than Max suffering from skin-hunger. They would be happy for a bit of a snuggle. They would be happier for a lot more, of course, but a snuggle beats a kick in the teeth.

Anyway, Searching Single life is tough, and having a boyfriend or girlfriend or human teddy bear doesn't make it much easier. Dating relationships bring their own problems and they are no substitute whatsoever for marriage. And speaking of marriage, I don't snuggle with any men except my husband, so why are girls snuggling non-stop with men not their husbands? I don't say this in a judgmental way because, let's face it, I was a snuggle monster myself. I'm just throwing the question out there.

If it is totally okay and in keeping with Catholic traditions to snuggle non-husbands, then that is totally awesome, and I will keep my eye peeled for plump, warm, snuggly looking chaps. But somehow I don't think it is.


berenike said...

Read Kristin Lavransdattir!

sciencegirl said...

Have read it! It's like the Norwegian "Gone With the Wind," but more guilt-free because no slavery.

This guy's essay...I don't know. I don't think he would like it if the girls didn't snuggle or snog with him. He seemed a little annoyed that his girlfriend didn't go further with him, not that she cuddled in the first place. As it turned out, Melissa just wasn't that into him, and their chaste relationship ended.

You know what he made me think of?

My Last Duchess

Max sounds like a nice enough guy, but it seems to me like what he really wants is an affection peculiar to him. He wasn't so much sad that the girl cuddled him, but that she was so free with her friendship and cheerful affection with everyone. The stuff he wrote about her attitude toward her friends was just very odd. He did not feel special. I think when he had sex with other girls, it made him feel special, miserable one-night stands though they were. I doubt Melissa was snogging everyone in sight, so I think he should have been less upset. However, I think what disturbed him in the relationship was the growing awareness that Melissa was Just Not That Into him. That realization always sucks.

It's fair enough, really. If a couple is falling in love, they naturally want something that marks out the relationship as romantic. The physical is a sign of the emotional attachment, and the prolonged hugging that is the snuggle may be an appropriate sign for single people, depending on the couple. I think it assumes too much to say that the women want to snuggle more than the men do!

Isabel said...

It seems understandable that he was miffed that her affection towards him wasn't different or special compared to her affection for others. Obviously, you need to keep a sense of detachment and reserve proper affections for their proper state (I.e. physical affection for marriage) but why would a man want to marry a girl who treats him exactly the same way she treats her roommate or her next door neighbour? If the shoe was on the other foot, and it was a woman writing about how an NCB didn't do anything romantic or inidcate a deeper love/affection for her, I don't think it would be seen in quite the same way.

SJH said...

If we take this as accurate:

"It occurs to me," she wrote, "that I'm not ready for the great, epic plunge of love. You seem to be, and that's great—excelsior! As for me, I think what I've been after all along is a stable, supportive romantic friendship, like Xena and Gabby. Or Francis and Clare. Write me if you're interested.

Francis and Clare? Francis and Clare weren't kissing and snuggling.

There's simply no such thing as a "stable, supportive romantic friendship." Romantic friendship is an inherently unstable state leading either to marraige or breaking up.

Assuming we're getting an accurate account, it doesn't seem to me to be a matter of her not being into him, but of her wanting something that's not possible.

If she wants platonic friendships, they'll have to be platonic. Now maybe she's just learning how friendships work and next time around she won't kiss and snuggle with her platonic male friends, but his signals were pretty clear they explicitly said they were dating. He said "I love you." I can see why he's a little irritated at the end.

communion gifts said...

I think physical intimacy is incredibly sacred, however with modern times changing, it is a triumph to say no to sex. I don't know if anyone should boast or flaunt it, but some sort of validation for the girls who are doing a good job at preserving their purity is necessary. I'm tired of the "bad girls" getting all of the attention, as in, how to fix them, rehabilitate. etcetera.

Interesting article, regardless.

Drusilla said...

This is my 2nd reading of Lindemann's article & I realize more & more how stupid this guy is. Snogging sends mixed signals. It is not a chaste kiss on the cheek but an incomplete sexual act. It's like the dance club a co-worker wanted me to go to so she could judge whether I was cool. Dancing involved gyrating & rubbing privates w/ strangers of the opposite sex to the sound of reggae. I could certainly "dance" that way with the best of them but I told her it was really just sex w/ clothes on. This was back in my Anglican days when I was trying (& failing) to explain away all sorts of sins but neither her style of "dancing" nor she, after that, were very interesting. If you're going that far, I think you should have the right to go all the way.

And then there's the witness which is profound but not mentioned as if there is no communal aspect to such relationships. "Connected @the hip" couples have no awareness that they make it excruciatingly more difficult for those who were sexually abused, who know what "feelings" run amok lead to, who need to see examples of self control before venturing into the relationship experience. Ditto those who are trying to be chaste after a history of sexual impurity. There are so many men & women who need to know that chastity & purity are possible but what we learn from those who are engaged in the eternal snog is to stay far, far away from those NCBs & NCGs because they won't help us heal & they certainly won't help us get to heaven. Maybe they're not so nice after all.

Seraphic said...

Well, I wouldn't go that far. It is hard to read the heart of another. What I do think is that young people are all fed a load of malarky about how harmless and cute various displays of affection are (in something as innocuous as "Archie" comics, even) and teens take their cue from that.

Survivors of abuse often need to learn what acceptable, healthy boundaries are, having been taught wrongly by their abusers. This includes to whom and when to disclose the history of abuse, since sadly knowledge is power and strangers sometimes abuse that power.

Christine said...

Imho...snuggling (and DEFINITELY snogging) are not part of friendships. Even in romantic boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, these must be in moderation (as per the tendency toward temptation of the couple).

Maybe I might put my head on one of my girlfriend's shoulders (I actually fell asleep this way once while waiting for an off-b'way show to start) or maybe link my arm with her (or with a guy with whom I'm flirting, though I haven't tried it before), but I'd not consider these part-and-parcel of friendship.

Additionally, I don't think snuggling and kissing are a necessary part of a romantic relationship, depending on the couple. After learning from a relationship with an ex-boyfriend, I really see now that (a) I don't think it's healthy to be touchy/kissy and (b) it makes nearby friends astoundingly uncomfortable. Hope that makes sense.

Sarah said...

I totally agree with Christine about the part where she says that snuggling and snogging are not part of friendships, "romantic" or not. It just sounds to me like a less sexual shade of "friends-with-benefits." I don't blame Lindenman at all for his frustration or tones of passive aggression.

As Isabel said above, if it were a man who was doing this to a woman, we'd be saying what a cad he was to take advantage of someone's feelings that way, unintentional though it may be.

kozz said...

The Francis and Claire, that's a very inappropriate comparison.

healthily sanguine said...

This article is an exercise in misdirection! It's not about Catholic women at all--not all of us have "physical touch" as our love language, and not one-tenth of us are as dysfunctional as the ex-girlfriend he describes. But beyond that, doesn't anyone else think it's incredibly caddish of this guy to publish a relationship autopsy with such vivid details about his ex-girlfriend's life? I mean, how would you feel?

Alisha said...

I think Max' frustration was legitimate though probably not completely voiced not only in the interest of the piece but because he may have found it genuinely difficult to to justify being angry at someone who was affectionate and loving to everyone.
And I don't think that girl is dysfunctional. She probably is just wants physical affection and is either not good at knowing boundaries yet, or has an idea of them but justifies her actions solely from her own point of view and not what his might be.
I'm not really sure what can be done to restore these types of boundaries, at this point in history without it being ridiculously artificial or impractical. We can't try to live as though it's a century ago in 2011. Part of the problem is that closeness for a lot of people may no longer feel "dangerous" or strange. There is a loss of something there which might naturally guide us otherwise, but how to instill it if it's not there, I have no idea how it could be done. I know I allow men a familiarity with me (amongst certain people, obviously not anyone) which would have been totally inappropriate decades ago, and may even be shocking to some now, but to me it doesn't feel unnatural or disrespectful - I only question it if I am surrounded by others for whom it is, but that rarely happens.

Seraphic said...

Well, caddish. I wrote relationship post-mortems myself in MY BOOK, although I did ask Volker's permission to publish, and after gulping a bit he said to go ahead. What a good sport, he is. I am grateful. But I didn't ask Max's permission for anything, though, so perhaps Max will one day get his hands on a copy and feel AGGRIEVED.

It's only caddish if it harms the woman's reputation, and presumably nobody will recognize Melissa and that Melissa is not her real name. All kinds of women love the X-Men and can talk comic book with any male geek out there.

What I do find a little caddish is Max's suggestion that his portraits of Humanae-Vitae reading Catholic girls and tight-T-shirt wearing Evangelical girls apply to ALL young Catholic and Evangelical women. This is of course complete nonsense. Not all young Catholic women are snuggle-monsters, and not all young Evangelical women count up the men whose advances they have rejected.

No, what really bothers me about Max's piece is that (trying very hard to hide his rage under a veneer of humour) he caricatures the kind of woman he purports to love. And, to add to the controversy, as I read, I wondered if a cradle Catholic guy would have written such a piece. I didn't get a sense that Max saw Catholic women as anything but sexual targets--you don't get a sense that Max has Catholic sisters, aunts, a mother, grandmothers, neighbours or female teachers.

sciencegirl said...

I was disturbed by Max's description of his new "type" as well. I think it's great that now he's an NCB, he likes NCG's, but he seems a little condescending toward them. "Look at me, dating these amazing, hot weirdos!" But -- and here I must pause to ruefully lol -- that's not so different from how the sexes normally feel about each other! I think that if he meets the right girl for him, he will quickly just fall in love and get married. It would probably help him to get a lot of NCGs as friends and to know healthy Catholic couples.

As for snuggling, I don't think we can logically conclude that because you would only properly snuggle with your husband (or, I suppose, any children you were caring for that day), snuggling is best reserved to marriage. You would also only properly gaze deeply into your husband's eyes, hold his hand while strolling through a park, or lovingly rest your head on his manly shoulder, but those are time-honored courtship rituals for chaste couples. Let's not make a prudential matter into a rule when the Church doesn't!

I also think we are forgetting that Melissa asked if they were dating, Max confirmed it, they got more physical, and then, some time later, she ended it with one of the lamest Catholic breakup lines ever. This is not a story of a girl keeping a man in the friend zone unfairly, it's a story of a girl no longer wanting to date the guy she's been dating & using a really weak-sauce breakup line to basically say "I'm not ready for a relationship right now." It sounds, actually, not so different from Volker 2 breaking things off, though he did the breaking-up in a much more grown-up way, citing neither saints nor fictional heroines for his reasons. Why do Catholics think it's a great idea to break up by invoking St Francis & St Clare? This is not the first time I've heard them used as an excuse for "I'm just not that into you."

Christine said...

My comment about cuddling wasn't a directive for all couples, but my personal opinion for myself (although I don't like being around other couples when they're cuddling PDAs ugh).