Friday, 1 April 2011

Young? Popular? Overwhelmed? Run Away!

I had an interesting letter the other day, too bursting in personal detail to print, but in a nutshell it involves a recent university graduate in a small community who has discovered that multiple men are interested in her as a potential spouse.

Now some of you are yelling, "Cry me a river!", but I am waving away your yells because this is not always a very comfortable situation in which to be. When I was 23-24, I was in a similar position. (I never was again, and thank goodness.)

Although on paper it looks thrilling to have three men scheming and plotting against each other and you, in real life it can be very uncomfortable indeed. I recall a lot of screaming and yelling, and at the time I was interested in somebody else who, of course, went into the seminary, only to drop out a few years later.

It is very uncomfortable to discover, too soon, that men want to marry you. If you have spent your youth feeling either invisible or clumsy next to your sparkling, more popular-with-boys girlfriends, it can be staggering to find yourself the object of attentions you're not sure you want. It is particularly staggering if you are under 25 and scarier if your suitors are much older than you. You may be pretty sure you want to get married, but you are not sure you want to marry one of these guys.

What to do?

Well, the first thing to do is to be very careful to whom you go for advice. I tried telling a priest about how overwhelmed I felt by my three suitors, and he laughed at me. It was obvious that he thought I bragging. Hmm... Maybe it wasn't such a pastoral tragedy when his own personal life became overwhelming and he abandoned his post to get married. Not that I am still bitter. No.

Unless you know a priest very well, and he knows you very well, I think in this circumstance you should talk to an older married woman, especially one who was the belle of her family, and/or who married later in life.

Secondly, you should try to remove yourself from the stressful situation as much as you can, so as to get some perspective. I know first hand how difficult this is if you and all your suitors are at the same school. Limit how much time you see them. Create a hiding place in a little-used library in which to do your work, or work in your room and let your phone take all messages. Go to Mass earlier or later. Go home for weekends, if you can.

If you like your suitors, tell them that, but tell them you're feeling overwhelmed if you're feeling overwhelmed. Try not to have intimate conversations with them as if they were your girl friends. It is terribly painful when you value a man as a trusted and witty friend, and no more than that, and he persists in seeing you as his next girlfriend or future wife. So cultivate some detachment and exercise some reserve. Yes, this is hard.

And for heaven's sake, don't think you are Anne of Green Gables pursued by Gilbert or Harriet Vane pursued by Lord Peter Wimsey and that the script says you have to give in eventually. You don't. You do exactly what you want to do, and you'll know when you've done it because your heart will be full of joy--not relief, joy.

Thirdly, if you can afford it, go on holiday abroad. There is nothing like an airplane for getting a rest from your troubles. You leave the ground and your love life at the same time. But don't go to a holiday resort like a Club Med. No, no, no. You must go somewhere where the language or at least the culture are so different, you will be constantly challenged by your new environment. Go to Florence and look down at the city from the Piazza di Michaelangelo. Go to Berlin and try to find your way to Unter den Linden. Go to Montreal and walk through the francophone streets until you find Schwartz's Deli and are struck by the sudden blast of almost-forbidden English, shocking in its minority status.*

Travelling does many things. It furnishes your mind with imagines and experiences that you will be able to draw upon for the rest of your life. It challenges your resourcefulness, and forces you to make snap decisions and to make yourself understood to strangers and to make sense of their replies. It gives you some important distance from your ordinary life so that you can get some much-needed persepective and take stock. It helps you grow up.

There was a philosophy professor at the Edith Stein conference--I've forgotten his name--who was all for early marriage. Well, I don't have a problem with early marriage, per se. But I believe marriage is for grown-ups, and it takes longer for some of us to get to grownuphood. This is not necessarily our fault, just as it isn't our fault if we don't reach our full adult height until we're 25. But we can encourage our own growth in maturity if we travel to foreign cities and make our way around.

If you want to get married, but you're not ready to get married, and you're feeling overwhelmed by pressure to get married--travel. Don't, in heaven's name, travel with one or more of your suitors. Find a girlfriend or--shocker--go on your own. If you can't take being alone with yourself 24/7, sign up with a tour group, or a language school, or stay with a friend or trusted friend-of-a-friend who lives in the foreign city, or at least arrange to meet up with one. Consult at least two travel guides, and be safe.

Meanwhile, I say, keeping an eye on the fuel situation, international travel may never be so cheap again.

*Order a medium smoked meat sandwich, fries, and a black cherry soda. Get there by 11 AM or after 2 PM to find a table.

Update: Blogger has erased some of my votes. I do not know why. The self-described anti-Catholic troll is gone, and I don't know if I should feel sad or relieved!


Ginger said...

I've only been in this situation once, and it wasn't too terribly traumatic. I was simply the shiny new toy in a new place and captured the fascination of some slightly younger boys who felt I was somehow superior to the girls their own age.

My priest was the one who brought it to my attention. He told me perhaps I should be aware that some of the boys didn't merely see me as friendly or sisterly, and that I should subtly discourage their attention and meanwhile, direct my well-meaning and platonic attention elsewhere. I scoffed and told him I was *sure* that was not the case. But of course, I eventually saw what he meant, followed his advice and after a while, I was just discouraging enough that they forgot all about me on their own without anything too dramatic happening.

Domestic Diva said...

Thank you for your comments about travel, Seraphic. I've been overseas multiple times, though never when running away from a love affair. (Great idea, though; why didn't I think of it when I WAS running away?) I didn't know it at the time, but reading your post I realized that yes, I did grow in resourcefulness, ability to make snap decisions, resilience (Plan B, anyone? how about C? D? E? ...) independence, and a whole host of other important skills.
I've always felt a little guilty about the money I spent on those trips, even though I enjoyed myself hugely and they certainly didn't break the bank. I think you just showed me that I gained something that doesn't have a price tag - growing up.

Anna said...

Fantastic advice, but....

What do you do if you simply cannot afford to travel? I know the benefits of getting away, but I also know of many women including myself who, for various reasons, simply cannot travel overseas or even to the next state. You might suggest going home, but for some of us even that doesn't help due to its own set of problems. What does a locationally trapped girl do in this situation?

Seraphic Spouse said...

Hide. You find a new neighbourhood and create space for it in your schedule. If A, B and C all know you love to hang out in a certain Starbucks to study, move to the Starbucks across town. Or Moe's Diner, if Moe is a nice guy and the diner is a nice place to hang out.

If there is no town, and it's just you in the FSSP seminary in Nebraska--actually, this is not a problem you'd be having in the FSSP seminary--or whatever the university equivalent is, discover the other departments. The language lab is often an extremely good hide-out. You can watch foreign films, or you can study in a corner.

When I lived in Boston, I wasn't running away from suitors but from a school. So I ran away to Harvard. I loved, loved, loved Cambridge. I also loved the language lab, and the librarian in charge loved me because every time someone used the language lab, it helped justify the language lab budget.

fifi said...

I wonder if it might also be a good idea in this situation to spend time with brothers, if you have brothers, or brothers-in-law, or close friends who are married to nice men. They can have very valuable perspectives, and remind you what it is like to interact with men who are NOT romantically interested in you. And they keep you from feeling, in your seclusion, very growly and annoyed with the male sex in general.

I can also say from experience that travel is a good idea.

Eowyn said...

fifi, I agree with your idea about hanging out with brothers. I don't have any brothers, but I do find that a good day spent doing nothing with my family, especially my cousins (only a couple of whom are male) can do me a world of good. It gives me an overwhelming feeling of permanent belonging, like I fit in somewhere with people who are connected to me for life....and since I think this is something we are seeking (one of the things we are seeking anyway) when we go seeking our one true love, it can be a very happy thing when we find we already possess it to some degree.

Ginger said...

I agree with Seraphic's advice to hide. There's a coffee shop with a loft and comfy chairs where I sit and read while sipping espresso until closing time.

Urszula said...

I think travel is a great idea and a solution to many problems! Just one thing though - a girl trying to escape from many suitors should be aware that she might find more in foreign countries (in some places it's enough to have a rare color of hair to get much unwanted attention). So it's important to exercise caution in meeting new people, especially if travelling alone!

And thanks ever so much for writing on this topic. I think situations of many 'suitors' can happen very quickly, and it's sometimes very distressing, especially when all of the guys are nice and decent (as seems to be the case here), more distressing than being alone because you feel somehow responsible for the other people involved.

My very good Catholic friend described the phenomenon as "Guys treat girls like motorcycles. If one of them discovers he likes a rare or unique model, all of a sudden all the other guys want it to, even if it went unnoticed before". I wonder if this is something about the male psyche? Could your saying, Auntie, that men subconsciously take cues from other men have anything to do with this?

I don't want to ramble, but I've seen this happen often, both to me and other Catholic girls - when you reach a certain age, guys suddenly (sometimes all at once) realize you are interesting marriage material, and that can be problematic. My uncle (happily married for 30 years, 5 kids) used to say that guys divide women into girls to 'just date' and girls to marry and at a certain age/maturity level, they look for the second.