Thursday, 26 May 2011

You're Not a Freak

I heard a horrible story the other day. It reminded me why I write this blog day after day.

In short, a strictly-brought up, very devout Catholic girl decided that, because she had no boyfriend, she was a "freak."

"I'm a freak," she wailed at the kitchen table. "I'm a freak!"

It was useless to persuade her that she was not a freak. She was sure she must be a freak. All of her newest friends had boyfriends, and she didn't. Ergo, freak. And, therefore, the minute a man showed an interest, she welcomed it.

It's not that she was really attracted to him, apparently. She wasn't. It's not that she was in love with him or even found him interesting. She didn't. It's not that she even liked him all that much. She didn't. But in her mind if she accepted his attentions, she wouldn't be a freak any more.

Now they're living together. She has given up the practise of her faith. Will they ever marry? Well, if it's true that she doesn't love or like him, I certainly hope not. And as for attraction, I certainly hope she is attracted to him because I cannot imagine anything more icky than sleeping with an unattractive man. In fact, to force yourself to do so seems to me rather, well, freakish.

If you are 18, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you are 20, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you are 25, and you've never had a boyfriend, you are not a freak. If you've never had a boyfriend, and you think you are a freak because of it, you lack any kind of historical and cultural perspective.

Newsflash: Millions of women across the world, long dead or living today, never had boyfriends. Their parents did (or do) their very best to discourage boyfriends. The idea of a young, never-married woman who is not a prostitute openly dating a man for years and years without a peep about marriage is a very new phenomenon, dating from about, perhaps, 1965.

Boyfriends are sometimes, but not necessarily, suitors. A boyfriend is someone who enjoys your company and whatever else you are granting him. A suitor is someone who thinks he wants to marry you. Until recently, parents have been very nervous of boyfriends. Caring ones made darned sure they were not just boyfriends but suitors.

We hear a lot about honour killing and frightened parents trying to maintain control over something (or someone) in a new country where they feel resentful and powerless. However, we hear rather less about those parents who simply want their daughters to be happy--as happy as they are, for example--when they discourage them from dating.

For millennia, dating willy-nilly put any chance of making a good marriage at risk. For millennia, young women with boyfriends were not considered marriageable by marriage-minded men. And therefore, for millennia, young women "from respectable families" tried to discourage all young men but those whose intentions they thought honourable.

When men seem to be attracted to us, it is often a nice sop to the old ego. Despite all the advances in women's suffrage, being found attractive by men is still touted by the world as the primary goal and end of Woman. Super-models, actresses and high-class prostitutes still make more money than most of the rest of us. Pretty girls can still achieve fame and fortune in high-profile marriages. And those of us in the West who long for husband and children know that parental pressures and dowries mean nothing here: it's being found attractive that will count.

However, we are so much more than the sum of our attractions. We are not just sexual objects; we are sexual subjects. Like females of other species, we can accept our suitors or we can turn our back on their attention-seeking and amble away. And we have to get over the idea that it is a miracle, an utter miracle, when men find us attractive. It isn't. It's just normal. And it is perfectly normal to say "No, thanks" to men to whom we are not attracted. It is NOT normal to date some guy just for the sake of dating some guy.

Christianity liberated women from the necessity of marriage. When Christian women elected to stay virgins, living as if the Kingdom of Heaven had already arrived, they were doing something REVOLUTIONARY, something hitherto confined only to the tiny number of elite Roman women chosen to be Vestal Virgins. For the first time, it was okay for unmarried women to AVOID being found attractive by any man. Being found attractive by men was no longer a young woman's primary end and goal.

It is a shame we see so few nuns in habit around any more, for they would serve as a reminder that a woman without a man is certainly not a freak. This is one reason why I am always so delighted to see young nuns. Young nuns can serve as reminders to other young women that there are things much more important in life than, for heaven's sake, "having a boyfriend."


Anonymous said...

Even though I know that "boyfriends" are a recent invention and I am in no way a freak, it's nice to hear it from someone else. So, thanks!
Ciska (This Journey of my Life)

La Chanteuse said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I've never, ever had a boyfriend, and my friends are constantly trying to set me up with random young men they think I might like. It makes me sick. And yes, indeed, I have been called a freak before for not dating someone.

Thanks Seraphic!

Anonymous said...

I don't know that anyone has called me a freak, but plenty of people look at me as though I am one upon hearing that I am nearly thirty-two and have never had a boyfriend or been in a long-term relationship. I don't think I'm a freak, but seeing that reaction all the time sure makes me wonder...

This reminder couldn't have been more timely. Thank you!

sciencegirl said...

THIS POST needs to be dropped on every American town and campus from antique WWII Allied planes.

sciencegirl said...

@: celiamschwartz

I wonder if those people would be HAPPIER for you if you said, "No, I'm single because my live-in lover of five years broke up with me two months ago." You certainly would not be happier, but I suppose these people don't much care about that.

And who the heck are these thirty-somethings sitting about counting up their numbers of previous boyfriends and comparing them (or demanding that you do the same)?

Hilary said...

There's an issue surrounding the growing problem of "grooming", where young men will seduce young and impressionable teenage girls into drugs and prostitution, that almost no one ever mentions.

Why aren't these girls being more strictly protected by their parents? In so many of these stories, the girls met these horrible young men out on the streets, or in malls and places like that and often late at night.

Why is a 13 or 15 year-old girl out alone at night? Where is her father?

The government loves to give children contraceptives and free abortions, and insists that no one will tell their parents, to protect the "privacy rights" of the child.

Well, who is protecting the child herself? Certainly not these school nurses or social workers or whathaveyou handing the poison out.

Who is protecting these kids? Where are their parents?

Christine said...

@Seraphic - Thank you for [yet] another blog post that is awesome and that I wish I read 5 years ago. Like @sciencegirl said, it should be dropped by planes or handed out on the streets like in "Newsies".

"And we have to get over the idea that it is a miracle, an utter miracle, when men find us attractive. It isn't. It's just normal. And it is perfectly normal to say "No, thanks" to men to whom we are not attracted. It is NOT normal to date some guy just for the sake of dating some guy."

IMHO, many young women and teen girls today don't think they are found attractive by young men and teen boys, at least not as much as I'd reckon they were years ago. I don't mean they're less attractive (certainly not!) than years ago, but I think that men in yesteryear grew up knowing that they had to take a step to show their affection for a girl, otherwise they'd never get married. [I would infer that] years ago, all men would become accustomed to making their presence & affections known from their teen years. Basically, they had no choice but to take initiative.

I feel like nowadays, since the so-called sexual revolution, men know that they can get away without being on the offensive, so to speak. They can still command the time, affections, and sometimes, sexuality of a woman, without actually taking the risk of trying to win her over.

So, I think that women nowadays, though they be lovely, might have never heard it uttered by their male peers, because many men have been trained that shyness or lack of action will suffice. (Personally, the first time I remember a boy tell me I looked nice was at my high school prom; he wasn't my date, but it had such a lasting memory because I never had received such giddyness-inducing words before. Years later, when I did have my first (and only, so far) boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, at the core I only liked him because he showed interest in me, not because of any particular virtue or personality elements).
Just mho. Ladies, you are all beautiful, inside & out, so please don't think that the planets have lined up just because a guy shows interest. You're beautiful and unique, regardless of whether or not a man recognizes it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, @sciencegirl! I dobut they'd be happier for me but at least I'd have a 'reason' for being single. Right now, I don't have a good 'excuse'.

I usually just roll my eyes because along with those looks, they also question how I'll ever get married since I don't have any experience in relationships. I try not to get angry but instead pity them beacause they are obviously jaded by their experiences and want me to be as miserable as they are. I'll pass on their idea of 'experience'.

Seraphic said...

Probably the biggest problem is the ubiquity of images of "beautiful women". Women get the idea that men will find them beautiful only if we look like women in magazines, on TV, in the movies. (The UK is refreshing in that fat, middle-aged women are actually allowed on TV, and not just as "mums".)

Women and teenage girls are told 100x a day that to attract men we must use the products used by the tiny number of women whose images we see again and again. However, men are largely (if not completely) proof against these ads and generally just find women attractive, as long as we look healthy and normal (or, if the men are screwed up, vunerable, weak and easy).

The irony is that women-in-the-West have better medical care, dental care, hygiene (washing, if not sexual), sports opportunities, food (when we eat it) than most women-in-the-West women a century or two ago, and so we could probably run rings around the average 18th century glamour-puss. And yet I bet we'd have MUCH less confidence than the average village beauty, thanks to the constant directive to compare ourselves to Beyonce, et alia. She didn't have to worry about that crap.

Naive said...

If you are good-mannered and good-looking, and have no boyfriend, almost everone will think "what's wrong with her?". No surprise if you start thinking "how come nobody wants me? It must be something wrong with me". Even some confessors will tell you that. And if you are very young or insecure (like girl in the post), you'll do everything, not matter how wrong it is, to move that freakiness from you.
Even single people think the same about other single people.

Seraphic said...

Dear Naive, I think my best response is to say "Buy my book!" because I wrote it about being Single when I WAS Single, and therefore you'd have a 36/37 year old Single voice talking to you instead of 40 year old Married me.

Sometimes there really are things wrong with us: there are no doubt some really tough-minded, tough-talking, high-paid, independent, take no prisoners, type Single women who have no idea that to get along socially, as women, its a good idea to leave their office demeanour at the office. Some women are addicted to crack. Some women are six feet tall but instead of putting on heels and rejoicing in their goddess-like stature, they stoop and creep meekly around trying to look smaller.

Sometimes, however, it's just that God has other plans for us than being the belle of the ball. If you look at the side of this blog, you'll see a list of people who were Single (and not even nuns or priests) for all or most of their lives. A couple had lovers, but they were Hollywood stars, so I cut them some slack and allowed them on the list.

Naive said...

Being single because you are aware you are called to be single, not wanting at all to be wife or nun (like Armida Barelli, for example) is totally ok.
But when after 20-something years of prayers for family you still discern marriage as the only form of life you are longing for but nothing ever happens? Well, the possible reasons are:
1. I'm fooling myself, deep in my heart I don't want it, it's only social pressure.
2. I have to wait patiently ... till retirement home, probably :-((
3. This yearn for family is put in my heart without any intention to come true. God wants me to suffer.

I must admit that third option haunts me lately. Too often, frankly.

sciencegirl said...

As for "Everyone" thinking that, I guess I am lucky, because I've known so many single men and women that we all are just used to it. Sometimes I have thought, on meeting a great girl who is single long term "What's with the guys around here? They're missing out!"

Seraphic said...

Naive, hundreds of people, mostly Single women, read this blog. Do you think God wants them all to suffer pointlessly?

I mean, we're not talking about Zeus or Odin. We're taking about Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ here, whose personality and love we can discern in Gospel accounts: "He who seen Me has seen the Father."

Is it likely then, knowing Jesus of Nazareth, that He wishes you ill?

I'm not sure you can do this at the moment, but sometimes all you can do (and maybe this is what God calls us to do) is give up and say, "Not my will, but Your will be done. I give up wanting. I don't want want. Please take want away."

There is a story that when St. Thomas Aquinas finished one of his treatises on God, Christ appeared to him and said "Thou hast spoken well of Me, Thomas. What wouldst thou have of Me?" And instead of asking for more wisdom, or books he didn't have access to or anything else, St. Thomas said, "Only Thyself, Lord."

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. Seriously. I have no idea how your life will turn out, but my life is the way it is because I decided to use my Singleness to write to Single people about being Single and how to find happiness in it. In short, I stopped just feeling sorry for myself and reached out to the world, especially those who were also Single and sorrowful.

Once you realize how many worried Single women and men there are, you stop feeling so isolated and sorry for yourself.

Naive said...

I did it 10 yrs ago. I gave up and prayed to take want away; and still I do. He didn't do anything. Everything is pretty much the same, except I'm 10 yrs older.

Suffering is not pointless. But so often we can't see any point in it, and, concerning vocation, it's hard to be in some kind of limbo and hang on mere faith not only for years but for

Trying to Accept said...

Reposting because I didn't see where I was not supposed to post as anon.

I am almost 38 years old and have never had a boyfriend or been on a real date. I was severely bullied in high school, and felt that it was impossible for any guy to ever be attracted to me.

Several years ago, my doctor told me that it would be dangerous for me to get pregnant. It wouldn't be a risk to my life, but would be dangerous to my health. That was a blow, as you can imagine. My parents keep pushing me to find a man (even to the point of encouraging me to have a relationship with a married friend after he expressed an interest in me).

I'm a convert to the Catholic Church, and although I'm not a good Catholic (I don't go to confession as much as I should), I'm determined to stay single. I can't ask a man to marry me and stay celibate (I can't imagine a modern man even considering such a thing!. That would be the only way for me to avoid pregnancy for certain.

It's been hard for me to accept this, especially since I'd love to have children. This isn't something I've chosen, but with God's help I'm learning to deal with it and realize that staying single isn't the end of the world.