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."


C. Shaw said...

Would you recommend the same for divorced and not-annulled people? Or is it at all a different situation?

Seraphic said...

It is a different situation, and I'd have to hear a concrete, specific story to say anything else about that.

margaret said...

I was one of those who could never bring herself to be 'rude' and something I found useful was to make him talk about the wife and kids. I always asked after the wife whether I knew her or not and, if I did know her however slightly, I always sent my regards. Then I would steer the conversation on to dear little Polly and Molly and ask how they were doing at school and had they joined Brownies and did they ride bikes yet... and so on ad nauseam. I had three married men hit on me seriously, religious and not, and making him talk about his kids worked every time. Even if a man is bored and brassed off with his wife he can still be brought to his senses, however temporarily, by remembrance of his children.

Seraphic said...

Good advice, Margaret!

Joannie said...

I agree with Margaret! I recently found myself with a group of groomsmen at a friend's wedding -- all married with children. They invited another single gal and me to hang out with them one evening, and we accepted it as a way to get to know the friends of our friend's new husband. But as the night wore on, we got a little uncomfortable with the situation, so I began asking them about their children. It worked like a charm, until we had the opportunity to excuse ourselves.