Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Good News?

I have been having crippling computer problems all day, so I have no new post for you. Instead I will take a leaf from Father Z's book and throw open the combox. Who has good news to share? My good news is that I have been commissioned to write an article for a great journal.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

You Can Be Who You Are

As my primarily female readership cheerfully and anonymously admits it would rather be (A) stay-at-home mums or (B) working full-time for $£€ until retirement, I will now reflect on the great relief and privilege of knowing just who the heck you are.

Now science was not my bestest topic in school, but I can read pop psychology in the magazines at the hairdresser's as well as any other gal, and I always enjoy reading about how teenagers are not exactly sane. Apparently their mental wiring zings when it should zap and zaps when it should zing, and therefore teenage girls cry uncontrollably at awkward moments and teenage boys attempt to skateboard down railings. Aha!

Sometimes I have wondered if we aren't all just chugging merrily along until we are eleven or so--like those incredibly intelligent eleven year olds in films who give sage advice to their wrinkled-foreheaded parents--and then puberty hits and we are a big mental mess until our 31st birthday. (Our 31st birthday is approximately when we get over having turned 30 and feel rather happier about everything until our 34th birthday knocks us for a loop.)

Old people love to say that you are as old as you feel, but I suspect that we are all the ages we ever were all at once. Right at the core of our personality is a plump little fetus floating about happily without a care in the world. Around her is a one year old baby who is screaming with existential angst. Then around her there's a two year old around that who wants stuff. Then there's a three year old who wonders what happens if you pull a dog's tail really hard. And so on.

Having no children of my own, and a lot of time at my disposal, I occasionally think about myself at different ages. (This is rarely pleasant, incidentally.) Right now I am cramming Italian vocabulary into my head, so I am interested in my 15 year old self, the self who decided to sign up for Grade 11 Italian even though (or because) her 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old selves were bullied by "the Italian girls" in elementary school. Today I am very grateful to that 15 year old. It's as if she had socked away a nest egg to collect interest that I could spend in later life.

That said, and no disrespect to myself at 15, I seem to be a lot better at learning now. It may be true that mathematicians and physicists do their best work before they are 25, but there is no way at 15 or even 25 that I could have memorized 25 Italian vocabulary words a night. But behold: la testa, la fronte, il naso, la narice, la bocca, il labbro, il mento, il collo, la spalla, il seno, il torace, l'addomo, l'ombelico, l'avambraccio, il braccio, il gomito, il polso, la mano, il palmo, il pollice, l'indice, il medio, l'anulare, il mignolo. Grazie, grazie mille. If I keep that up I'll have my entire visual dictionary memorized in six months. Yay, me at 40!

To be fair to me at 15, I had a lot of other homework. Also my brain was zapping when it should have zipped, and zipping when it should have zapped. And it carried on in that mad unstructured fashion for quite a long time. Throw in a bad (and unsacramental) marriage into the mix and--eeek! It took me until I was 32 to really understand who I was and what I wanted to be and also that I COULD be who I was and what I wanted to be. It was (mostly, since I have some bosom sins) OKAY.

I do not know why I could not connect the dots at an earlier age. I really do not. And I have envied friends and colleagues who have told me knew (KNEW) at incredibly young ages--like 17--that they were meant to be Jesuit priests or married to their high-school sweethearts or owners of hairdressing salons and that this was OKAY.

However, there's nothing I can do now about my own 15 years (or so) of flailing around trying to know who I was and what I wanted to be, and to give myself permission to be them. Those years are history, and they're in the past, and I can look at them or ignore them, as I choose.

Maybe one day I will have to do a thorough review with God, and sometimes we will laugh, and sometimes I will cry. Right now, though, mostly I'm glad I got through. And although this seems like a really weird place to put in a plug for Lonergan's Insight, I'm really glad I read Lonergan's Insight because I am absolutely positive it made my brain expand. It helped make me who I am today.

Oh, wait. That is SUCH a cliche: It Helped Make Me Who I Am Today....

Monday, 25 July 2011

21st Century Housewives

I never ever EVER wanted to be a housewife. One of my grandmothers and my mother were housewives, but I never saw this as a career choice for me. As a teenager, it never occurred to me that being a housewife was, in fact, a step up, or getting a job was a step down, for earlier generations of women. Most women in history have worked outside the house because most women in history have had to. Even if she had a dozen children, Mrs Whoever often had to go out and do a bit of scrubbing for a wealthier woman.

The abject boredom of Betty Friedan meant absolutely nothing to legions of women who were glad to have homes of their own and, perhaps, remembered a time when their ancestresses scrubbed and cleaned other homes. If I have this right, one of my great-grandmothers was "in service", a professional cook for a rich family that emigrated to Canada from the UK. Once she was safely in Canada, my great-grandmother quit. She married my great-grandfather and became a housewife.

Another of my great-grandmothers worked in an office almost all of her life. It wasn't know until recently that she was my, uh, great-grandmother, since there was a convenient family fiction that she had "adopted" my grandmother shortly after arriving in Canada from the UK herself. As she never married, becoming a housewife was never an option. Her savings saw her through her last years in a nursing home; she was a real trooper.

Still another of my great-grandmothers was a Society Lady, an American club woman who married a rich industrialist. She had household staff and the whole kaboodle until the stock market crash of 1929. Alas! I don't believe she went out to work after that, however. Her husband did, though. He got a job and worked into his 80s. He was a real trooper, too

I'm rather hazy about the career of my fourth great-grandmother. If I have this right, she looked down on "lace curtain Irish" despite being married to an Irish-American herself, so my guess is that she wasn't in service. She had something like 10 children, too.

One of my ancestresses operated a ferry boat during the U.S. Civil War. I can't remember which one, but it is an interesting detail on the ancestral C.V.

Anyway, although most of my career plans have gone West, I still do not consider myself a housewife. Considering how long I put off the laundry, etc., I would not be a good example. I'm more of a society hostess whose staff is permanently on its day off, and so she scrambles about making do. In between scrambles I write things, and sometimes I even get a cheque for the things I write. This is a great relief, for then I can buy my husband presents with money he didn't actually earn himself.

I'm thinking about housewifery because of readers who are Single but want to be Married AND Housewives to boot. Now that Betty Friedan is older than the hills, I think we now understand that it is not a cruel form of imprisonment but rather an amazing opportunity to stay at home with the kids and bake muffins. Not a lot of couples can afford to raise their own kids instead of sending them off to grandma's house or the state daycare. Many couples make huge sacrifices for the wife to stay at home.

Whether this situation is a tremendous improvement in Western society I leave for you to battle out in the combox. Where women have many more opportunities to work, we seem to have fewer opportunities to stay at home and raise our kids.

Many housewives do, in fact, work outside the home in part-time or casual jobs, and it makes me want to cry to think how hard mothers-who-work-outside-the-home have to work. But working outside the home is indeed the reality for most women in the world. Very few women escape having to be financial responsible for ourselves, and I don't just mean practicing household economy. I mean that very few young men nowadays really can afford to keep a wife and growing family on their salary, not if they wish to buy a house or anything else, really. I'm sorry that it's so, but it's so. And this is something to consider when you wonder why college-age men are not in a huge hurry to get married and have kids.

One of the many non-romantic things a courting couple has to talk about is where the money is going to come from. I know many a Single woman thinks that her financial situation will improve if she marries, but I am sorry to say that that is not always so. Men, too, incur student loans and credit card debt.

Update: There's a new poll. It is called "The Inevitable Housewife Poll." It's inevitable because having asked men if they dreamed of supporting their wives at home, I should ask women if they wish to stay at home.

I'll write later about the men's poll. I know the results were very much affected by the homeschooling thing. For readers who were wondering whether homeschooling is rampant among orthodox Catholics these days, it isn't. As far as I can make out, it is most popular in the USA and in rural parts of Australia. I haven't heard of any Catholics in Canada or the UK homeschooling, although I'm sure some Catholics there and here opt for it.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pray for Amy Winehouse

Treating depression with alcohol and recreational drugs is always, always, ALWAYS a bad idea. Once upon a time, when I toddled into Student Services to see somebody about mine, the first thing she asked was how much I drank alcohol. I almost never drank alcohol. The shrink was relieved.

I am very sorry that Amy Winehouse is dead at 27. What makes so many artists really good artists is their capacity for deep feeling. Many artists are sensitive because it is sensitivity, in partnership with talent, hard work and Providence, that makes them good artists.

That is why artists seem so often to have mood disorders and also why sometimes they can be very hard to live with. Whenever I hear a conversation about someone I haven't met yet who has manic-depression, I always get very excited and ask if they make art. (I don't, incidentally, have manic-depression, but Graham Greene did. Evelyn Waugh also suffered from depression much of his life, and G K Chesterton famously had a nervous breakdown.)

I fear some people look down on Amy Winehouse for her crazy, self-destructive behaviour. But all I could see in the photographs flashed on the news last night was a sensitive young Jewish woman who was not pretty. Except for the beehive and the slashes of eye-paint, Amy was as ordinary-looking as most of us. And this was in an industry where, for women, looks are just about everything: there's a smidge of concern about actual talent.

Amy had talent and a gorgeous, smokey voice. She used her sensitivity to write and sing songs. Unfortunately, instead of working out an agreement with her pain, she tried to drown it with drink. And I'm very sorry about that.

So at Mass today I'll be praying for Amy Winehouse. I hope you will, too.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Hang in there

My mum and dad have been visiting, and I have been busy regardless, so hang in there for more Seraphic yakking.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Ivana Dance!

Ah, we are in the thick of wedding season, aren't we? Ooh la la la.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I know that you've written about dances before, at least to some degree, but I can't find where. Since we are in the thick of wedding season, it is a topic which would be well worth bringing up again.

So, you're at a dance or wedding reception, dancing it up and having a grand old time when suddenly the song ends and on comes a "couple" dance. Maybe it's a slow dance, maybe it's a swing dance, maybe it's a two-step. Whatever it is, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by dancing couples who paired up so quickly it almost feels like a conspiracy. You notice, however, that not everyone has a partner yet. There are NCBs scattered about, not dancing. Some are even on the dance floor! The song isn't over yet; maybe they will see you and ask you to dance! You are presented with a few options. You could:

a) Stand on the fringe of the dance floor, looking hopeful and available so that no one needs to guess whether or not you would like to be asked.

b) Sit down near the dance floor and smile wistfully while watching the dancing couples.

c) If it is a faster song, stay on the dance floor, dancing to the music anyway with a handful of girlfriends, though not so enthusiastically that one could assume you prefer it over being asked to dance with a partner.

d) Leave the dance floor to chat with a friend. You may run the risk of not being asked, but it could still happen and at least you'll get to catch up with a friend.

e) Forfeit your chance to be asked and disappear to the washroom because you can't bear watching all the dancing couples.

f) Find a man and ask him to dance yourself.

What, in your seraphic opinion, is best? Should we ever ask a man to dance? I never do because I want to be chosen and I want the man to take the initiative. Also, I'm fairly certain that men are less likely to ask if they expect that the woman will ask. If none of us ask the men to dance, they'll have to ask us! Unfortunately, many women ask the men anyway and us non-askers are left smiling wistfully on the fringe. What to do??

Another question: Is it wise to dance (during the non-couple dances) near the men you would like to be asked by so that you are right there and ready when the "couple" song comes on? Or is this simply come off as really clingy? Does it make us too available, thus leaving the man to seek a challenge elsewhere?

Please enlighten us!

Ivana Dance!

Dear Ivana,

The primary task of a Single woman at a wedding is to keep a happy smile plastered on her face and survive. When the happy smile starts to slip and the urge to say something sarcastic or ironic to someone is overwhelming, then it is time to go home.

You described the Couple Moment very well. As the Single woman's primary task at a wedding preserve her happy smile for the sake of the Bride, whose day it is, not try to meet Mr Right, I recommend you do whatever it is that you want to do except run away to the bathroom. Running away to the bathroom is a major fail and a sign that the smile has slipped and you must go home.

I recommend chatting with friends while scoping out the talent, and then, if you feel like it, asking someone you've been introduced to dance. If you haven't been introduced to any of the men, ask a female friend to dance.

One advice-giver I respect would recommend lingering around the dance floor with a happy smile plastered to your face. I don't think this is necessarily the best option for weddings, though.

I am very against women over 21 (unless Alisha and other habitual Swing Dancers) asking men to dance, but I am even more against Single women being absolutely miserable at a wedding. Sure, it is inevitable, but every guest owes it to the bride to enjoy him or herself as much as possible.

At the most boring, miserable wedding I was ever at, sandwiched between two bored and miserable fellow Single gals, it was very very hard to look happy and we all did our share of hiding in the bathroom. At the very end of this long night, some cute guys who had been seated, on the other side of the vast warehouse of a ballroom, at the "Cousins of the Bride" table spotted us and loudly exclaimed in tones of excitement and chagrin, "Hey, there were SINGLE girls here!"

If we had positioned ourselves near the Cousins of the Bride, I suspect we would have had a much better time.

Good luck!

Grace and peace,

P.S. to all: Hit the Label "Wedding" for everything I think and advise about Weddings. When I was still Single, my attitude was mostly "Almost all Single women feel lousy either in the later stages of the wedding reception or afterwards, so don't sweat it."

However, having had a wedding since, I also understand how important it is not to let the Bride ever, ever, EVER know that you felt this way during her wedding for she will never forget it. No matter how Bridezilla a Bride, she is the most vulnerable woman in the room, and she must be protected.

Therefore, do what you have to do to either BE or LOOK happy, even if that is leave by cab at 10 to your blankie, DVD and box of chocolates. Don't tell the Bride you're leaving. Just disappear after you have told her it was a wonderful wedding, she looks gorgeous and you are so happy for her. Maybe leave your good-byes with her mother.("Mrs Brown, I had a wonderful time, but I've got an early start tomorrow and I don't want to distract Sandra, so would you pass along my best wishes? I'm Angela by the way. Congratulations on such a lovely wedding. Thanks so much for the invitation. Good night!)

Another hint: Push the boat out. Look your best for any wedding you go to. Don't leave your prep for the last moment. Focus on being a great guest, not on meeting Mr Right. Have a treat waiting for you when you get home. Don't take the bus home alone. Get a lift or spring for the luxury of your very own cab.

Third hint: Most brides love to toss the bouquet. For the bride's sake, go smilingly along with the dumb ritual.

Fourth hint: You don't have to go to all the weddings you're invited to. You really don't. If you don't accept, but you still send a gift, the bride might very well be impressed. (Just judge how much you really mean to the Bride first. If you haven't seen her since she was 7, just send the gift.)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Auntie Seraphic & The Big Dreamer

Preface: Ever since it became possible, smart women have had financial backup plans. My grandma got a teaching certificate in case she didn't get married. She told my mum her B.A. would be handy if she didn't get married. And I, born after 1970, went for an M.Div. instead of another M.A. in case I didn't succeed in academia.

One thing about being a Single woman or a Married Woman who might find herself a Widow tomorrow is that you simply have GOT to have a financial backup plan. Happy the woman who has an interesting and well-paying career that means she will never have to barter hours of her life in a boring job just to scrape by. The crowning irony about being Auntie Seraphic, writing happily all day, is that I wouldn't be able to do it if I weren't married to a man who encourages me to do it and pays almost all of the bills. Yes, that is a sobering thought. But that is reality, and I am all about reality.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A friend just informed me about your blog, and I find it so overwhelmingly inspiring. I'm not your typical NCG that's dying to meet the man of her dreams so that she can finally be happy. I'm quite open to the religious life and have felt particularly called, but after visiting a few orders and spending time with some religious sisters, I'm not sure if that's right for me at this point. Hence, I'm not necessary in full pursuit of my vocation and looking to live my single life as long as God sees fit.

So, that brings me to the present time. I graduated from college with a degree in nursing in 20--. I spent the past year volunteering with a Catholic organization that ministers to X. This was an AMAZING experience and the best choice my life thus far. However, this was where the problems began.

I was never too excited about nursing, but I was good at math and science, family and friends were very supportive of my 'practical' life choice, and I thought I would find my nitch at some point, right? Well, I left my volunteer ministry position in order to pursue nursing. Yet, as every day passes and I apply for another job, I am reminded of just how much I really don't want to be a nurse. The thought of working as an RN even makes me nauseous at times.

I've had the past two months to simply reflect, and I discovered I have a great passion for writing music. I always knew that I loved music, but I didn't know I would love writing music this much. I feel like God is maybe asking me to pursue this music thing. Yet, I'm such an amateur. I have no idea what I'm doing. I love my music. It makes me feel so close to the Lord and maybe it could do the same for others.

I know with God, anything is possible. I feel like you're a strong advocate for pursuing one's dreams. I have a good amount of money in my bank account, my parents are allowing me to live with them for free right now, and all my loans are paid off. I guess I could go back to the volunteer ministry thing too, but I don't necessarily feel pulled in that direction. So tell me, what would you do in my situation? Should I just find a nursing job for the time being? Should I find a part-time job at Starbucks? Should I travel the world? The possibilities are endless...

Practical vs. Inspirational

Dear Practical vs Inspirational,

You have got the wrong blogger, honey, because I am not a strong advocate for pursuing one's dreams. One's dreams are often harmful and foolish. I ask young women to stop dreaming so darned much and to root their plans--marital or otherwise--in reality.

Incidentally, I am also not an advocate of young Catholic women calling other young Catholic women "typical." Wanting to get married to a good man is normal, natural, healthy and praiseworthy. The part I don't go for, and the part you have in common with the women to whom you feel superior, is "of her dreams."

Women should marry the men God sets in front of them and with whom they sincerely and sensibly fall in love. Women should also consider their actual concrete talents, education, training and opportunities before pursuing a career. And most women don't have careers. They have jobs so that they can eat and keep a roof over their heads. Countless thousands or millions of women toil in rice paddies or pick garbage just to stay alive.

Now, to give up beating up on you for a moment, congratulations on having such a marketable degree. If you are in the USA, you can command a hefty salary as an RN (not so much in Canada, believe me). It seems a great shame that now you hold nursing in so much abhorrence. All that work--for what?

However, there it is. You don't want to get a nursing job, and you have a passion for writing music. You say you are an amateur. I know many well-trained musicians--musicians with doctorates, musicians with masters degrees--and they barely scrape together a living. Some teach. Some have office jobs. Some wait tables. Very few artists make a living through their art. VERY few. Heaven knows I don't. Jeepers!

Of the trained musicians I know, two are also composers. The one who worked his butt off for two decades to become a biggish cheese in the opera world may have made money from the opera he wrote, but I doubt it. The other one, who writes liturgical music---. I don't want to think about it.

If I were you, I wouldn't quit my day job, so to speak. At least not yet. I'd take a nursing contract--just for a six months, say--and see how I liked it. I imagine that there must be many different KINDS of nursing, so I would pick the kind I liked best, e.g. pediatrics.

Of course, since you had a great time with the Catholic organization, you might want to explore how you could help another organization. The Jesuit Refugee Service, for example, might be looking for nurses. If what you can't stand about nursing is the standard Stateside system, then maybe leaving the system for a charitable organization is for you.

As a reward for six months of solid work, I would give myself a nice trip when my term was up. Meanwhile, I'd start asking experts in the field if I had great musical gifts and if it would be worthwhile to pursue a career in musical composition. Depending on the genre, I might try to join or form a band.

In short, get a decent contract that makes you independent of your parents and enjoy your hobby in your spare time. Talk to experts before you kneecap your ability to support yourself.

Meanwhile, you might want--in fairness--to bounce your idea off your parents. I can imagine that while many parents would be happy to financially support their children while they looked for a practical job, most would suddenly be reluctant if their children announced that they were just going to stay at home and write music instead. Of course, if they think you are the next Cole Porter, they will probably be delighted.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 18 July 2011

New Poll--Appeal to Catholic Men Under 30

I don't have many male readers, so I appeal to you all to spread the news of this poll to male Catholic blog-readers. They have to be Catholic because the question, which arises from the hopes and dreams of some of my female readers, is specific to Catholics:

I, a Catholic man under the age of 30, hope to support a stay-at-home wife and large Catholic home-schooled family.



Those Catholic men who answer the poll are invited to leave remarks on this post. The usual restrictions apply, which means that if I think a comment will offend or even frighten many of my female readers, I will take it down ASAP. Strong arguments are okay, but insults and bad language are not.

The home-school part is not optional.

Sending Stuff to Servicemen

In general, I think it is a mistake for single women to give attractive single men gifts. However, I have concluded that it okay to send stuff to servicemen--and servicewomen, for that matter. It is traditional and patriotic. During the World Wars, young ladies sent care packages to servicemen they didn't even know. My American grandmother kept up a correspondence with a young soldier after the Americans entered the First World War, when she was 13 or so. (The poor doughboy was under the impression that Grandma was much older and wrote her telling that when he came home they'd paint the town red. But I digress.)

Gift-giving is a big deal. One of the problems of our age is saying stuff is "no big deal" when it fact it is and always has been. Hostess presents aside, if a man offers a single, unrelated woman a gift, it is often a sign that he finds her attractive. It's a nice clue to watch out for. Of course, women should turn down overly expensive or personal gifts from men-not-our-husbands unless we want to end up the subject of some misogynist rap song. A good line is, "Oh, no! Thank you--that's so kind of you!--but my parents would be distressed if I accepted such a personal/expensive gift." (Inevitable reply.) "I don't keep secrets from my parents."*

But it strikes me that a more pressing problem is the issue of the female desire to give. I wrote about this on Friday, when I was musing about what Germaine Greer gets right. Germaine Greer writes in The Whole Woman about women constantly giving giving GIVING to somehow relieve their brimming hearts of their burden of love. She describes elderly ladies knitting unwanted woollens for young male relations; I think of women thinking in June about what to give their crush objects for Christmas.

Various advice-givers I respect warn that men resent overly personal or expensive gifts, for they make them feel a woman is trying to buy them. (This makes me draw conclusions about what men think they are doing when THEY give women overly personal or expensive gifts.) One could throw a hissy fit at such uncharitable ingratitude, or one could ponder if that is in fact what the besotted women are trying to do.

Too many young girls have conversations with themselves that begin "He'll love me if I..." It comes as a big shock to discover that boys and men either love you or they don't, and it has very little to do with anything that you do. If you are a good person, who doesn't embarrass them, and are respected and thought well of by people they respect and think well of, then that's good. But whether or not they fall for you is completely up to their mysterious psyches.

Looking like the first girl/movie star/teacher they ever had a crush on is a good bet, but this is not exactly something you can control. You can't buy love with homemade cookies or--God forbid--a free housecleaning service or woolly jumpers or stuffed toys or silver cigarette cases or your body or anything else, really.

Thus, it is best to proceed with caution before buying a gift for a man who is not a family member unless he is a serviceman abroad. I was going to type "--or a priest" but I think you should be cautious there, too.

Eventually some nice woman is going to get mad at my constant devaluation of the female love of giving. And I would counter by saying that I have no problem with women giving, I have a problem with women giving TOO MUCH and to the WRONG PEOPLE.

It's funny how slang works. When I was 14 I went to a teenage party that featured boys I didn't know. It was very thrilling to be invited to a party in a far away neighbourhood given by a schoolmate who knew boys I didn't. (I spent my adolescence enamored of the concept "Cute New Boys", which strikes me now as very silly and pointless, but I don't suppose I, at 14, would have listened to me, aged 40.) Although new, these boys weren't cute. They seemed rather rough, and they used bad language, for which they were censured by the young hostess.

Apart from a vague feeling of disappointment and alarm, I remember only one more thing about this dreary party. One of the boys, in tones of mingled excitement and contempt, said of an absent girl whose reputation had been presented for dissection, "I hear she gives, man. She gives."

*Men look for cues from other men as to how to treat women. If decent men think you are valued by your father and brothers, then they will subconsciously value you, too. Also, giving the impression that you come from a good (by which I mean a caring) family, makes you more marriage than mistress material, if you see what I mean.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Germaine Greer Says Something Sensible

Holy cow! A Catholic blog with a link to Germaine Greer! But as a matter of fact, Greer's The Whole Woman (1998) impressed me enormously for her myth-trashing attitude towards men.

Greer blunted stated that men are just as nasty to weaker men, if not more, as they are to women. She also stated that women want to hang out with men more than men want to hang out with women. She observed that the only female relational role anyone seems to care about nowadays is Wife, and in stirring terms she described women's lust to give, to pour out our endeavours as love-gifts (like a great-aunt constantly knitting unwanted pullovers) before our at least somewhat oblivious or ungrateful male beloveds.

Greer's advice was to stop being so obsessed with being where the men are. "Stop chasing men," she seemed to say. And in the Telegraph article to which I link above, she seems to say that is okay for men to be on their own some of the time. It is okay for them to have their own clubs. It is foolish to force private clubs to welcome members they don't want just because those members are female.

This, I think, is enormously sane. I was about to write approvingly about Boys' Nights Out, but then I was distracted by the memory of my Girls' Night Out, which was last night. Three 30-something Women of our Parish (if you count me as 39 + 1) met at the top of Harvey Nichols department store, surveyed its boring bar and left for the much more inspiring mock 1890s black-and-gold cocktail lounge around the corner. As our pregnant member preferred "an early night" we joined the thin, quiet, after-work crowd. We were dressed somewhat soberly, but to the nines, incidentally. The non-pregnant wore pumps.

Three well-educated expat Trad Mass-loving women all chatted merrily together under a very Art Nouveau ceiling with cocktails for the non-pregnant and soda for the pregnant. It felt all very sophisticated, grand and grown-up. But then there was a loud shriek from the doorway from the bar-lounge to the restaurant where we were now seated.

A woman in the prime of life and flashy clothes paused there dramatically with her arms outstretched to the rather large group of bottle-blondes at the biggest table. I wouldn't swear to this in court, but her cry sounded like "PETE-ZAAAAAA!" Her pose reminded me of Samantha returning to her friends in Sex & the City the Movie (don't, I beg you, see it). There were answering female cries from the table, and the tone of the classy joint dropped like a can of fake tan.

The bar-lounge was now packed with groups of noisy women. There were some groups of men, and there were one or two mixed groups, but women definitely outnumbered the men. This surprised me, for this is never true of the pubs my husband frequents. The pubs are quieter, too, the patrons less flashy.

So as I think approvingly of Boys' Nights Out, the great amusement my husband has in occasionally meeting up with his university pals and drinking stunning amounts of beer while looking at old photos and repeating old jokes, I think somewhat less approvingly of the loud Girls' Nights Out in my new town. Do they have to be so noisy and unpleasant? Obviously they don't, but they so frequently are that I wonder what the participants are trying to prove? If it's that they can be as brash and noisy as men, they have rather exceeded their goal. If it's that they don't care what men think, they have rather forgotten that they are visible (and audible) to both sexes. And, if that's what women act like in groups nowadays, it shouldn't be a surprise that exclusive men's clubs don't want us.

What I hope for is a happy medium. We shouldn't chase men, but we shouldn't go out of our way to disgust them either.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Against the Tyranny of Imagination

Some people are very romantic about poverty. These are people who have not themselves experienced poverty. Some of them even hide their comfortable origins by aping the accents, tastes and manners of those who grew up very impoverished indeed--not just economically poverished, but socially and culturally. But those who were born and raised in poverty don't romanticize it. They want out.

People are also very romantic about imagination. These are often adults who encourage children to dream. There was, I recall, a cult of the imaginative child when I was a child, and so I felt that it was perfectly fine to dream my life away. Novels poked fun at the traditional Christian unease with fictitious literature, so I felt that it was perfectly fine to read storybooks almost constantly. We're not talking Wildflowers of Ontario here: we're talking about a constant diet of fiction with the newspaper and some stories about saints and world war aces thrown in. My worried parents ordered me outside into the fresh air, but as I swung on the swings I just invented more stories, and these were much more harmful ones, since they tended to be about me myself.

Everything on earth, apart from stories and cute boys, seemed fundamentally boring. Piano lessons--boring. Ballet lessons--boring. Ice hockey--boring. Girl Guides--not as boring, actually, although I am absolutely certain that I spent Girl Guide tramps through the woods daydreaming away. Daydreaming became a great comfortable fuzzy blanket in which I endured childhood and waited desperately to grow up.

Needless to say, I regret this now because childhood should be a period in which children grasp the fundamental realities of life. And some of those fundamental realities include what human beings are really like and how true friendship and even sincere courtship works. Not to know these things before high school graduation is a massive lacuna in a child's education.

I did not like the boys with whom I spent ten years of my life in elementary school and so greatly preferred the boys in books. These books were usually written by women, women who were now very old or had been dead for some time. The women, if born in England, reflected not just the prejudices of their times, but of their class, which I absorbed without realizing for a moment their implications for (A) today and (B) middle-class me.

I also assumed that it must be English boys who were the only ones worth knowing, or at very least boys who went (thank you, Enid Blyton) to fee-paying schools. Fortunately, an chance insult by a boy attending Upper Canada College put paid to that hypothesis. And, as a matter of fact, the sons of the rich (and their pals) often behave like out-and-out bastards. So much for the Famous Five, alas.

It is sad how even today wealth is so often conflated with goodness in fiction, when the opposite is so often the case in real life. Even little orphaned Harry Potter is a millionaire, with umpteen sacks of gold in the bank. Bridget Jones falls for a tremendously rich professional. So, conveniently, does the Shopoholic.

I am certain dozens of my readers think that Jane Austen's Mr Darcy is the Ideal Man. However, Mr Darcy's real-life counterpart would NEVER have spoken to one of my readers [or her great-great-great-grandmother] in a million years, unless to say "A cup of tea, please" or "Tell me, good woman, is this the road to Netherfield?" before handing her a tip. It would be quite amazing if Mr Darcy (Mr Bingley, Mr Ferrars, Colonel Brandon) did not--before his marriage---go to bed with the more attractive middle-class slappers who hit on him in clubs, and absolutely impossible that he might have married a middle-class girl, slapper or not. The equally fictitious (but credible) Mr Bennett was "a gentleman" which in today's terms means a multimillionaire.

This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that Mr Darcy (if real) would have been more likely to marry Paris Hilton than you. Oh--don't laugh. Mr Darcy was nothing if not based on the utterly conventional "gentleman" of his time, and conventional "gentlemen" of our time don't get that exercised about female chastity. They're much more concerned about whether or not you can afford to go on holiday to the Caribbean with their friends. Really, unless you or your mother features regularly in the pages of Hello, you're much better off with a Nice Catholic or other hardworking Boy of Good Will.

Meanwhile, Mr Darcy despised his wife's mother, and as much as we might resist this gruesome fact, a fair number of us become our mothers in the end. I can too easily imagine a scene at Pemberley, 20 years on, when Elizabeth blurts out, "Oh Mr Darcy" in her mother's voice, and Darcy looks at her, not with amusement, but with a growing boredom and contempt.

And this intense literary discussion brings me to my major point, hinted at yesterday, that young women, instead of daydreaming about men both fictitious and real, should force themselves to be utterly rooted in reality. And I do mean reality, not pessimism. The most useful line I learned in five years of studying the philosophy of a Jesuit named Bernard Lonergan was, "I don't have enough data to make a judgement."

When you are in public, speaking to people, I recommend paying strict attention to what they look like, what they say, what gestures they make, who they talk to, and how they leave. Only then can you get at all a fair picture of what they might be like. I think it also very important to pay strict attention to your inner feelings of attraction and revulsion. Many a woman has chosen to ignore her spontaneous reactions of revulsion towards an attractive man because he is just so good-looking or because no other single man has paid her so much attention in six months (or ever). I was taught the scientific method when I was 12; I now realize it works not just for chemistry class but for people, too.

I've written before about imaginary boyfriends, and given the fatal tendency to daydream, I think it worth repeating that (A) you are not in a relationship with a man unless you have actually met him, and (B) you are in relationships with all kinds of people all the time. It drives me crazy how "relationship" is used to denote solely those relationships based on erotic desires. Every time someone tells me that she has never been in "a relationship", I remind her that she has been in at least one relationships ever since her mother learned she existed. Women have simply got to stop privileging non-existent erotic "relationships" over the fruitful real-life relationships we already have. That way we won't be birds for the plucking by silver-tongued smoothies.

A strict attention to the data might also help us to see or hear a man's "No" either when or before he actually says it. Many of the letters I receive are about a man who has already said "No."

Imagination is, in itself, a good thing. It entertains writers as they write and readers as they read. However, too much of it is a bad thing, and when it comes to navigating the difficult shoals of life, it absolutely must take a back seat to reason.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Beautiful Weather!

We have here that very rare treat--a beautiful July day in Scotland. Pardon me if I rush out to be in it instead of writing any more today.

I will leave you with a thought: that you cannot be in a relationship with a person you do not know. If you think a person interesting, talk to (and about) him or her with a courtesy and friendly reserve that is appropriate between almost strangers. Do not permit the fantasies of your teeming imagination to block out the observations of your reason. The person you are talking to is him- or herself and not your own creation. Truth is what is, said Saint Thomas Aquinas. Stay rooted in reality.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Book Stories

Now, I know that this blog looks like a fun blog full of letters and advice and reflection upon life, love and keeping sane while you are single, but actually it is all a great big ADVERTISEMENT.

The whole point, chickadees, is that you read it and think, "Oh gosh, I must immediately buy Seraphic's book!" And the publishing world has made it even more interesting for you by producing three different versions: the Canadian, the American and the Polish.*

The most interesting aspect to the business of selling my book--in the USA at least--is that it seems to be driven by fans of this blog. So far, you are my absolute best salespeople, so thank you.

And since you are my absolute best salespeople (at least in the USA), I am throwing open the combox to your stories of how you bought the book. I know there were ads in America and National Catholic Reporter.** Did you, um, see them?

I am also throwing open the combox to criticism. Did you prefer the lady with shoes to the cartoon lady? Which title did you like best? Would you have called it something else? In which publications would you think it worthwhile to advertise, if you were Liguori?

Pull no punches! I won't mind. The fine old profession of selling books is rather new to me. I was good at selling coffee as a teenager, though, for not only did I remember the names of the regulars, I remembered what they drank. Actually, I still remember what they drank. There was a marvellously tall Ontario-Dutch construction foreman who took off his hardhat when he came into the shop. He always had a large Irish Cream.

*Oh, awesome. I am just above Alfred Delp, S.J. on the Homo Dei author list!

**Yes, I can just imagine what Father Z would say.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Divorce is Forever

I am a merry little ray of sunshine this morning, am I not? But I have been replying to emails, and it strikes me that it cannot be stressed enough how much a bad marriage can mess you up.

Like Malta, I have a schizoid attitude towards divorce. As a Catholic, I officially decry "easy" divorce, and I worry about its effect on children. But as someone who got an "easy" divorce and then an annulment and then ten years later found the most awesome man, I love divorce.

On the other hand, I would freak if the awesome man divorced me.

It's all so confusing. Let's leave it at that I deplore divorce, but I'm so grateful I got one, and therefore I have a schizoid relationship with it.

What I hate is being defined by a failed marriage. And whether you stay in the failed marriage or fill out endless pieces of paper (especially cheques) to get out of it, the failed marriage gets inscribed on your brain forever. There's the emotional damage, which can be very long-lasting. There's the spiritual damage, which can be jaw-dropping. There's the historical damage, which makes you want to wipe perhaps a whole decade or decades of your tainted memory. You can't, though.

If you get out, there's also the stupid government forms, like your tax bill, in which you have to tick "Divorced" again and again. If you get remarried, you find yourself referring to "my first husband." If you write a book about being Single, you discover your advertising blurb begins, "Divorced and..." Yes, that will really appeal to the orthodox Catholic reader.

There is also the humiliation of being contacted by a monsignor's frightened secretary who wants to establish that your second marriage was approved by the Church before the monsignor will deign to speak to you.

When I announced in my blog that I was engaged, a seething stranger wrote in furious that my annulment allowed this happiness. It was clear he felt that my punishment for a failed marriage should continue for life. Well, no worries there, mate. Unless old age kindly robs me of my reason, I will periodically be haunted by some nasty memories.

"Argh," I will suddenly say, apropos of nothing, perhaps on a bus.

"What?" asks B.A. kindly.

"Nothing," I reply.

The one good thing about a failed marriage and its aftermath, if you ask me, is that you get an intensely personal view of who you really are, and how tough you are, and how rotten you can be.

A good marriage fosters and nourishes the nicer parts of your personality. A bad marriage rips up the flowers and encourages the weeds. When you are, say, 25 and miserable, it is hard for you to see your weeds. But when you are, say, 35 and happy, you can see the weeds and keep them in check without beating yourself up too much about them being there in the first place. And if you are happily married you do indeed keep them in check because you are afraid that if you don't, divorce might happen. And that would be bad.

Now that I have frightened you rigid about the entire institution of marriage, I will muse on what I think are the best qualities for a husband to have. The first is kindliness. I'm married to a kind and cheerful bloke, and it's heaven. We are not exactly rich, but I don't really notice. If we lived under a piece of plastic under a bridge, B.A. would contrive still to be kind and cheerful, and you have no idea what a comfort that is. I would bring him mashed up roots in a rusty soup tin, and he would quip, "Don't feed the troll!" That's the kind of man he is.

The second is respectability. The wife's lot is sometimes a harried one. So much housework--ugh. I am so bad at housework, but it generally falls to me because I work in the house and I make very little money and I'm female and men are almost incapable of it and the only thing on earth that makes B.A. cranky is dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, etc., etc. However, any minor annoyance like having eventually to do the laundry is well-compensated by the fact that I am proud of my husband.

No, really. People are constantly telling me how much they like my husband, and how famous he was at university for this, and how good he is at that. When the BBC came to interview him about David Hume... Okay, I'll stop now before you develop diabetes.

Let's leave it at this: he's sincerely kind to you, and you are intensely proud of him. That's my recipe for a happy marriage.

Monday, 11 July 2011

You Can't Hurry Love

Some of my most enthusiastic readers are women in maths and the hard sciences. As I never grasped the simplest algebraic theorem, I am in awe. I assume my math-and-science readers must have worked very, very hard to be so good at math and science. Yes, they probably had some native talent, but my guess is that talent could take them only so far and then they had to work their slender fingers to the bone.

Hard work can bring you many things: good grades, the praise of your professors, scholarships, great jobs, promotions, a clean house, a stunning garden, riches, a muscular body. But I'll tell you that there is one thing you cannot get by working and that is romantic love.

Forget it.

The kicker? Men can.

"Oh but Seraphic," I hear some of you cry, "that's not true. If I worked harder on my appearance, for example, or on my tennis serve, or on my dancing skills, or on my jokes my current crush object would flock to me!"

So not true. I know that the television and magazines have told you thousands and thousands of times that you can win male attention and devotion through hard work or the right product, but they are lying.

I had an email today, and it was a very interesting, gut-wrenching email. It was an email about a crush, and I have seen variations on this email many times in the past year.

To sum up the email and its variations, a very bright and talented young woman met an attractive man and, after a lot of friendly online chat, told him she had feelings for him. The attractive man said that he just wanted to be friends, although he would not rule out romance in the future. And far from this hurting the friendship, they talk more than ever. However, the young woman feels jerked around. How can she make the attractive man stop taking her for granted?

My answer, as always, was "Stop Being So Freaking Available." And, as always, I pointed out that my reader laid her heart on the line, and the man rejected it. End of story. Or that should have been the end of the story. When you tell a man you have feelings for him, and he says he doesn't for you, your response shouldn't be "Okay, talk to you tomorrow." Your response should be "Wow. I feel totally embarrassed. I think we should spend some time apart. Bye."

When you tell a man you have feelings for him before you have proof positive he has feelings for you, you may have done one of two bad things:

1. you may have short-circuited a slowly budding romance

2. you may have given a man an excuse to take you for granted.

Let us look at these two possibilities:

1. The conventional wisdom of the ages is that men value only that for which they have to work. If men were automatically given a Porsche when they turned 18, they probably wouldn't value Porsches all that much. They'd drag race in them and play chicken with them and heaven knows what else. Men also like having adventures and taking risks. They like challenges. When I was asked who would have dug up huge gravestones in a local cemetery overnight and switched them around, I pondered the challenge involved and said "bored young men."

When you tell a man who is paying you gobs of attention that you have feelings for him, you ruin the challenge. It's like telling someone who is happily reading a book the ending. Men need to wonder and worry and doubt themselves and listen to sad songs and risk having you punch a hole in his heart with your high-heeled shoe. The time to tell a man that you have feelings for him is AFTER he tells you he has feelings for you, NOT BEFORE.

2. Meanwhile, the world is full of men and women who get a kick out of being admired. It's a very human trait. And there are people who so enjoy the attention of fans that they even encourage them in their crushes without giving much in return. The half-promise of romance in future is the carrot to keep you hooked.

Such men and women might call this mind-game "flirting," but it's not fun for the person with a crush. It's insensitive. Sometimes it's even cruel. Girls sometimes get a bad reputation for this kind of behaviour; I think men get away with it more. I know one man who brags about the women who propose to him. Needless to say, I don't set him up with friends.

There is no magic elixir to make a guy fall in love with you. He other does, or he doesn't, and if he doesn't, there's nothing you can do---except switch your focus from him to you. You can't control him, but you can control you.

Stop thinking about X. X may be a nice guy, but unless he is a kindly man who is crazy about you, he is by no means marriage material. Think instead about how you would prefer a man to treat you, and stop wasting time on Mr. Thinks He's Too Good For You Right Now.

P.S. Once one of these "friends now, maybe romance later" guys I've been written to about eventually confessed to being gay. He may have been using my female reader as cover. It's a tough old world, ladies. Be careful.

Friday, 8 July 2011

On Going to Concerts "Alone"

Yesterday afternoon I had lunch with two Single friends, saw one of them to his train, bought some supper for my husband, went home, painted my nails black and went to a rock concert in Glasgow.

I didn't go with my husband. No, indeed. Rock concerts are not his thing. I went with some of his uni pals. One of the uni pals had a car, so we went to Glasgow by car. That was great. From a passenger point of view, car beats bus and even train hands down.

Ah, the comfort of travelling through the Central Belt by car! The pregnant-wife-of-uni-pal (I must come up with a better pseudonym) passed around a bag of sweeties as we chatted about the Scottish Anti-Sectarianism Emergency Legislation. Traffic did not seem heavy. It was all good.

We arrived in Glasgow, parked in a public garage and strolled into the street to see two large Goths--male and female--walking before us.

"What I love about these concerts," said one of the uni pals, "is that you get to see how well you're aging by comparison."

This struck upon my ear like the sound of a uni student calling me "Ma'am." I'm used to throwing around the insult "aging hippy", but can it really be that there are now "aging Goths"? Oh, alas, and to no doubt quote some Goth lyrics, "Sic transit gloria mundi."

The other uni pal reflected that the benefit of a middle-aged crowd was the availability of hot coffee at the bar.

"Have ye no' got Fairtrade?"

And there in the bright evening light (for this is Scotland, where the July sun only begins to think about setting at 10) was the mid-sized concert hall and there on its marquee were the words "Sisters of Mercy 7 PM".

I would have a photo of myself in front of this, but the sunlight was too bright. And my inner Goth thought, "Sisters of Mercy 7 PM?" I mean, 7 PM? What, are we, like, in our second childhood? Are we, like, 72 years old?

Incidentally, no-one write in to tell me how wicked Goth bands are for I can't hear their lyrics and don't want to know. I usually have no idea what they're singing. It all sounds like thrilling shrieks and growls to me. I am all about the aesthetics, so much so that dance clubs without skulls on the walls seem incredibly boring and banal.

This may sound very odd, but I have gone to Goth-positive dance clubs all by myself and had a very good time. Indeed, to go to the Sisters of Mercy concert with three other people felt like a tremendous social luxury. And, indeed, many of you may have a somewhat unusual hobby or interest that few of your friends share, and so you are used to doing it by yourself.

To continue my story, the four of us disappeared into the concert hall, presented our tickets and proceeded up and up the dark stairwells until we reached a great black cave with a big stage and a huge dance floor. I was all very thrilled to be among black-haired people in black again. However, as the concert was not really going to start at 7 PM, one of the uni pals bought a round of drinks and we carried them to a sunlit bar to drink them.

I found the continued sunlight a tad depressing. However, I was cheered up by the costumes of the mostly middle-aged Goths who came in, wearing chopines or many-buckled boots, and whose middle-aged figures were well set-off by corsets and layers of black. The plump lady who chose to wear skin-tight grey leggings was rather less pleasing, but what can one say? I had thought it humorous to wear green Keds with my more traditional Goth-wear. But, alas, I felt quite shabby in comparison to the perfectly Gothed-up.

The other uni pal bought a second round of drinks and then we fled the sunlight into the dark cave. The concert began with great squirts of fake smoke, and so thick was the haze and so colourful the stage lighting, that I could hardly see the figures on stage. It crossed my mind that this prevented us from seeing how old they had become, heh heh. Meanwhile, I could see their dark outlines because Scotland is the Land of the Wee and therefore my own head was not much lower than all the heads before me.

I suppose it was loud, but I didn't think so. My husband would have hated it, of course. Hated it. He sneers at Mozart as a johnny come lately, so you can just imagine what he might think of Sisters of Mercy. If ever I dreamed of the day I could bring a husband to Goth concerts, my dreams were in vain.

The crowd bobbed along to the beat, bobbing more enthusiastically the more drink it consumed. To my surprise, I found myself holding two plastic glasses of cider. And to my dismay, I was asked eventually if I wanted another.

"Are you alright?"

Merciful heavens. I might drown.

"Yes, I'm alright!"




"I'm not alright," I hissed to the other woman of our party. "I'm wasted."

This was not really true, and I never fell down or anything, even at 10:30 PM when the concert was over and we crunched over the sea of plastic tumblers to the door. The sky was still bright, but I didn't mind that as much on my way out as on my way in. That's just the way the Scottish sky is in July.

A uni pal crossed Sauchiehall Street to buy four containers of chips (french fries), which is not just a snack but the British antidote to alcohol. And then off we trundled, past beggars, junkies and Indian restaurants, back to the car park. The road to Edinburgh was smooth, and before long I was back to my London Review of Books-reading husband.

On second thought, this post belongs more to my Scottish Stuff Blog than to my Singles blog, but I didn't put up a Singles post yesterday and also I thought it handy to illustrate that even when you're married, you end up doing fun stuff without your spouse or not at all. Not only that, if you do go out, when you come home, your spouse might have only a token interest in what you were up to.

And that's fine. As I've said umpteen million times, what matters in a marriage is that you share core values, not all your interests.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Don't Be a Doormat

I loathe the phrase "female empowerment" because it is so often used as an excuse to do something anti-social, like wear grossly inappropriate clothing in public, treat a man like a sex toy or punch people in the face. The word "empowerment" merely cloaks a cheap and nasty thrill. I've even heard it seriously used to justify taking all one's clothes off on stage in a sleazy strip joint. The Empress not only has no clothes, she has no empowerment, either.

So let us dispense with that stupid phrase. Let's talk about dignity instead. Or if you don't like the word dignity, let's use the word self-worth. How much do you think you're worth?

This question may confuse you, for we tend to confuse worth with price. Flipping through a British literary magazine, I came across an article that reduced the human body to its chemical ingredients and then estimated their selling price. Goodness me, who knew that the dollar (or rupee) value of Mother Teresa, for example, was so little?

I hope I haven't ruined your morning with that soggy little materialist-extremist anecdote. I will cheer you up by pointing to the Christian economic metaphor at the heart of most of your lives: that Christ paid for you with His own blood. That's how much you're worth.

And if you can't quite get your mind around Christ's love for you (a love symbolized and celebrated as the Sacred Heart), you might be able to get your mind around your family's or friends' love for you. Perhaps even today your mother, if she still lives, or your old auntie might shove her own body between you and a speeding truck. If you cast your mind back over your life, you may notice many sacrifices someone has made on your behalf. My grandmothers and parents, for example, put aside their grief over my uncle's untimely Advent death to make sure the children of the family had a happy Christmas.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you of your worth to God and some of your fellow creatures, I would like to point out that it would be churlish to put a lower value on yourself than they do. You might think that effacing yourself is appropriately humble and simply good manners. And, yes, it is good manners to give up your seat on the bus to an old or pregnant lady, and to offer someone else the bigger slice of cake. But it is neither appropriate or good manners to allow someone to treat you like crap.

I want to proceed carefully, for I witnessed a disgusting brawl on an Edinburgh bus the other day. Two drunken women about my age, who possibly thought getting drunk "like men" and being loud "like men" was empowering, stumbled up to the upper deck and began to harass the passengers "like men". As we ignored and then upbraided them, it occurred to the two harpies that they were being treated like crap. This they could not allow and so one began to beat a much younger woman, and when another young woman tried to restrain her, along came the other old harpy to protect her pal with violence.

Thus, when I talk about people treating you like crap, I mean people actually doing sober, well-behaved you real harm. Real harm includes behaving inappropriately, leaving you miserable. It includes taking advantage of your generous nature while giving you nothing in return. It includes being friendly to you one moment, and then turning on you the next.

If you laugh along in misery when people make cruel fun of you in the hopes that this will make them relent, you are complicit in your own abuse. If you return constantly to people who are mean or indifferent to you in the hope of winning them over, you are complicit in your own abuse. If you lay out your time, money and/or body to an attractive man expecting nothing in return, you are complicit in your own abuse. You are behaving, in fact, like a doormat.

"Welcome" says the doormat. "Walk on me."

Allowing people to walk on you like that is not a virtue. It is a sin. However, if you don't know that, don't beat yourself up. You didn't know any better, and for a sin to be dead serious, you have to have known it was a sin. But from now on, the next time you let a man or false friend walk all over you, to confession you go.

Would you allow someone to deliberately spill the Precious Blood on the floor, or spit on the Holy Eucharist? No, you would not. And yet Christ allowed His Body to be spat on, and His Precious Blood to be spilled for you. I hope that makes you think about your value to God and how repeatedly allowing yourself to be abused and/or used is thus a form of sacrilege.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Auntie Seraphic & (Un?) Guarded

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Some time ago I met a particular Catholic husband & father about my age. This guy lives far away from me, so we only see each other through business every year or so.

After we met, the guy seemed interested in cultivating a friendship with me: seeking out my company when we were in town together, emailing, sending a family Christmas card. I enjoyed his company and responded as I would with any other friend, and came to regard him as a kind of brother.

But over time his interest began to bother me. He started calling me at home (I rarely took his calls or returned them), saying things about how hard it is for him to say goodbye to me and things like that.

Once he emailed something that I no longer quite remember specifically, but I didn’t know how to understand it. (I showed the email to a friend who thought it puzzling, but saw red flags that he might have “more than friendship” in mind.)

I responded that I was so grateful to have a brother in Christ since I don’t have any brothers, and that ended that communique. But since then I’ve felt a little wary about him.

I’ve continued to keep things superficial, but the last time we met I was really suffering over my singleness and, flattered by his attention, I felt emotionally drawn to him. That was weird & unexpected, because a) he’s married and I never want to jeopardize a marriage, and b) even if he were free he’s just not a guy I’d want.

But my question, Auntie, is how to discourage this guy without creating a scene or making the situation more awkward. While I am uncomfortable with some of the things he’s saying/doing, it may be my own vulnerability and not his wrongdoing that’s creating the problem. Maybe I’m reading something into his words and actions that simply isn’t there. I don’t want to falsely accuse him. But given my emotional struggle the last time we met, I know I need to do some things to guard my heart a little more carefully with him than I have in the past. We will see each other at business conventions in the future, so I can’t completely avoid him.



Dear (Un?)Guarded,

You did the absolutely right thing in discouraging this man, and your expression "brother in Christ" was perfect, because it stressed the idea that you "saw him as a brother" and you reminded him that you are both Christians. That should discourage any Catholic man thinking of betraying his wife with you. Even if he is a complete jerk longing to have an affair with a woman conveniently far from home, it is a sign that you aren't that kind of woman.

However, I hope you now understand that he is not "a kind of brother." I have brothers, and I can assure you that neither has ever said it was hard to say good-bye to me. Maybe they will say this on my deathbed, but that's about it. Many women fall into the trap of thinking unrelated men are "like brothers" but they almost never are. They lack the incest taboo, for one thing.

Whether or not you are reading anything into his subsequent emails, he is making you uncomfortable, and that should stop. I recommend not answering his emails. If this is impossible because of work, then answer only his emails that are about work. If he asks why at your next meeting, smile and say you prefer to keep communications with married male colleagues strictly professional.

As for your own heart, no matter how scuzzy a cheating married man is, society now teaches us to prize every scrap of evidence that we are found sexually attractive. So I am not surprised that single you feels flattered and drawn. But you must remember that a married man who hits on a single women, thus betraying his wife and risking her future happiness and the future happiness of their children, is being monstrously selfish. He isn't doing you any favours, either, for if you get attached to Mr Wrong, you will send out silent signals to decent, Single, available men that you aren't available right now.

I recommend that, in addition to answering fewer and fewer of his emails and screening his calls, you spend as much time as you can with friends and favourite family members. This will help assuage your loneliness. If your mother or father or another trusted older relation is also a devout Catholic, you might want to confide in her or him about this married man's calls and emails. Your determination not to be sucked in will be bolstered by their disapproval.

As for the conferences, would you feel comfortable telling one of your female colleagues that the married man's attentions make you feel uncomfortable? It might get around, of course, but that in itself would discourage him and meanwhile the female colleague could run interference. If not, try to keep conversation with him about his family. Hammer it in that you know he is married and that his wife is a real, live, person whose whole life is based on her trust in him.

I am often struck by how afraid my female readers are to be rude to men, even men who are behaving in obviously inappropriate ways. But there often comes a time when a woman absolutely has to say, "I wish you would stop_____. It makes me uncomfortable, and it is completely inappropriate." When that time comes, say it. Feel free to add, "especially as you are married."

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

P.S. Here are some exit lines for future meetings: "We must catch up later. I'm run off my feet right now. Bye!" "You get two minutes of my time, and then I absolutely must talk to X." "Have you met Y? Y, meet Married Man. He's also married with kids. You might have a lot in common."

Monday, 4 July 2011

Coping with Sulky Seminarians

In nostra aetate, more and more young women find themselves studying and working alongside seminarians, male religious and priests. This has its sorrows along with its joys, as I know personally from my stretch in Santa Theologia.

One of the more annoying sorrows, one that has happened to countless Nice Catholic Girls, is the sudden coldness that falls over a once-promising buddy-buddy friendship. One moment, Seminarian Bob or Brother Tony or Father Pat is laughing at your jokes, and then suddenly he's pretending that you're dead.

At first you think that you're the only one who's noticed, and you worry about it in silence, but then someone else notices and asks what's going on. At this you say, "I don't know! Ask him!" And then you take your own advice, gather up your courage, go to his desk or office and say, " What's going on? You haven't been your friendly self lately."

And, dollars to doughnuts, your brave attempt to clear the air will be met with feigned confusion, vague excuses or outright and entirely unfair blame. You retreat feeling unhappy, confused, betrayed and disappointed. You probably also examine the past two weeks minutely for faults of your own. Did you say something rude? Did you wear something immodest? Did you forget something important? What did you do?

The fact is, you probably didn't do anything, and now I will tell you my preferred assumption. It is the most charitable assumption, especially to you.

He has a crush on you.

Ah ha ha ha ha! Bless his little heart.

Even if he doesn't, because who knows what goes on in male heads half the time, I have simply found it a great relief just to assume that he does. Not only is this highly flattering to me, it enables me to feel a lot more charitable towards him. Instead of being angry at him, I can feel sorry for him and pray with all sincerity that he get over it soon.

If you leave him alone, but get on with your life, he probably will. Ponder how embarrassing it would be for him to have to admit that he has a crush on you. He'd probably rather go to the stake, and perhaps he feels that he has. Aw.

Meanwhile, if you continue to feel bad about it, and/or it is interfering with your work, away you go to a trusted priest adviser to tell him all about it. He will sit there with a straight face, but after he has ascertained that it is not you with the problem, you may see flickering behind his eyes, "He probably has a crush on you."