Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Women's Checklists About Men

This is really the week of the car. It's incredibly ironic because my husband and I don't have a car, and I can't even drive. And when I told my husband my ideal man had an expensive-looking car, I got into trouble. Whoops. I then explained that my ideal man was B.A. himself with a Rolls and a chauffeur while he shouted into his mobile to his agent not to go above £50,000 at Christie's, and thus B.A. was somewhat mollified. He pointed out that £50,000 was not a lot of money to spend at Christie's, however.

Anyway, the whole car issue has made me think a lot about Men Without Cars Who Complain About How Shallow Women Are. Such men are one of my peeviest pet peeves. They are such a pet peeve that I forget to say "Bless their little hearts", which is of course the way to get out of an anti-man frame of mind. Being in an anti-man frame of mind scares away all good men but somehow attracts bad men, so you should try very hard not to man-bash either in public or in private.

Men sometimes worry about what makes them attractive to women, but not--I suspect--to the extent to which women worry about being attractive to men. Many of the less imaginative men think women are attracted to money, which suggests to me that they themselves are attracted to money and therefore if she wants to attract such dorks, a woman should look as rich as possible.

Because I kept saying that cars are less important in some areas (e.g. Paris, France) than in others (e.g. rural Ontario), it occurred to me that women's checklists about men must also change from area to area and from culture to culture. For example, in Italy no woman would be staggered and doubtful if she discovered that a 30 year old Single man still lived with his parents. However, in rural Indiana, this would cause a woman to wonder about his ability to fend for himself.

Thus, as a SERVICE TO MEN, and as amusement to the vast majority of readers who are Catholic women, I thought it would be nice if we women, by area, mentioned what circumstances of Single men we date make us (collectively) go "Hmm." (You don't have to say what town you are in. You can just say "urban east-coast USA" or "Australian outback".)

It occurs to me that if (IF) women really do prefer men with cars, this is good for men to know, for then they could get a car and thus improve their chances with women. There is no point to them sitting on the bus crying about how shallow women are, as this will certainly not improve their chances with women. Bless their little hearts.

Now I do not feel that I can speak for Catholic women in the UK, so I will write a checklist for Catholic women in general in Toronto. I will make the hypothetical man 27 years old and not in a PhD program. The questions are the question that first spring to the lips of friends. If there is no question, it is because the friends do not yet know what to say but will say it after the girl dating the guy leaves the room.


1. He doesn't have a job. (Friends' Question: "Is he looking or...?")

2. He lives with his parents. (Question: "Is he Italian or...?")

3. He doesn't have a car. (Question: "Is he anti-car or...?")

4. He is divorced. (Question: "Did he get an annulment or...?)

5. He has a child (or children) out of wedlock and never married his (or their) mother. (Question: "Was he really young or...?")

6. He is in the seminary. (Question: "Are you CRAZY?")

7. He smokes grass. (Question: "Are you okay with that or...?")

8. He still drinks like a 19 year old frat boy.

9. He even just occasionally uses hard drugs.

10. He doesn't go to church. (Question: "Is he okay with, mm, you know, chastity and stuff?")

11. He is pressuring you for sex. (Question: "Why do you like him?")

12. It's been two months, and he hasn't tried to kiss you, and you don't know why. (Question: "Does he have a really strict confessor or could he be, you know, do you think, maybe, hmm...?)

Okay, mes petites filles. Reveal the things that make Catholic (or other Christian or Jewish or Muslim) girls in your area go "Hmm." If guys don't like it, then they should count to 10 and say "Bless their little hearts. They're only trying to help."

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Conceptual Art

Yesterday's car conversation reminded me of the literalness of men-in-general and of the multi-layered thought processes of women-in-general. For example, for an American man a man's car is a man's car, an expensive object upon which he has to lavish money. For an American woman a man's car is a symbol that a man has it together enough to take care of his and his future family's basic transportation needs.

Women-in-general are great decoders, antennae bobbing towards any possible hidden meaning. Girls who are not good at reading micro-signals are, therefore, rather out of the loop in schoolyard conversations. Innocent-seeming questions like, "So do you think you look pretty in that?" are, in fact, challenges to battle. The trick (I see in hindsight) is to answer back immediately, e.g. "Yes, I think I look smokin'!", instead of goggling in silence wondering if the question is a trap.

Boys and men don't usually say one thing when they mean another. This is why you should never say to a man, "Sure, I'm okay with this," when you're not. He won't get from your tone, watery smile and red eyeballs that you're not okay with this unless he has dated a lot or grown up with sisters. Incidentally, this is why you should listen carefully to what men say and take their words literally. When a man says, "I have a drinking problem", it means he is an alcoholic. That's all it means, and he means it. Don't think "Oh ha ha. He's exaggerating." Believe me on this one.

(Of course men lie a lot, but they mean you to believe the literal meaning of their lies. Which makes them more dastardly liars than we are, because when we say things like "Of course I love you" most woman within two yards could tell we mean the opposite.)

But what interests me today is not so much the figurative nature of female speech but the figurative nature of the female sexual imagination. Women are simply not as visually-oriented as men are when it comes to sexual attraction. Our imaginations are more important than our eyeballs, and as evidence I will scoot right down to the lowest common denominator, which is porn.

Women do not surf for internet porn (later correction: as much as men do). Women do not buy pornographic magazines. Women do not go to strip joints, except maybe once or twice in their lifetimes for a laugh. The tired, lonely businesswoman does not mosey up to a barmaid and say, "Tell me, pal, where can I see some boys in this town?" And the barmaid does not slip her a card that says "Boyzboyzboyz! 135, Rue St-Catharine" on it.

No, what the tired, lonely businesswoman is much more likely to do is sit in her hotel room and take from her briefcase a fat paperback book with a woman in 18th century partial dress on the cover.

This woman's hair is whipping in the invisible breeze that somehow does not even ruffle the sails of the pirate ship behind her. Just behind her, with his nose just above her hair, is a man in 18th century partial dress. He might be a pirate, or he might be an officer in the Royal Navy, or he might be an officer in the Royal Navy who is a pirate in his spare time. He is probably not a mere Able Seaman, anyway.*

No woman on earth would confuse this book with Treasure Island. This book is an example of the bestselling fiction genre on earth: the erotic novel. Women buy millions upon millions of copies of this trash.

To get a sexual thrill, our businesswoman cannot just look at a picture. She has to decode a whole lot of text in her imagination. And the text has to convey important symbols to her subconscious. It is not enough to have a hero who is nothing but a man. He must be an officer (not an able seaman) because a man who gives orders is higher caste than a man who takes orders (A pirate chief beats his boatswain for the same reason.) An officer must be a British officer, not a Portuguese officer, because really, Portugal was rather a waning power in the 18th century, so--unless you yourself are Portuguese--who cares?

And so on. Women are not very good at compartmentalizing at the best of times. We usually cannot separate erotic enjoyment from feeling proud of the object of our erotic attentions. A famous funny-looking guy like the French premier is a zillion times more attractive to women than an unemployed male model who can barely read. (Newsflash to men with SSA: women don't think like you, so don't kid yourselves.) Undergrads of my generation thrilled when the uber-flirty 80-something former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau smiled at pretty little them in the street.

Men do not really get this. They look at the women who throw themselves at Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and sneer that he is so ugly, the women are only after his money. Er, no.

And when Wayne caves in to the women but his wife doesn't divorce him, the men sneer again that his wife is only after his money. Again, no.

The women are throwing themselves at Wayne Rooney because he is one of the best football players in England. He is famous for it. He is better than almost all men at something millions of men think is the most exciting job on earth.

I am sorry that Colleen Rooney has to put up with women throwing themselves at her husband, but imagine how she felt when Wayne gubbed Arsenal on Sunday. (Probably something akin to how I felt when my husband managed to gub David Hume in a BBC special on Hume so cleverly that the gubbing wasn't left on the cutting room floor. Ah ha ha ha!)

Women want to be proud of the men we date and especially of the men that we marry. That's all there is to it, really. If a rural woman wonders why a man doesn't have a car, it's not because she's materialistic. It's that she doesn't want to end up with a man she can't respect because he keeps getting rides from friends.

Today my husband is giving a lecture on the Italian Renaissance. He is giving it at a rather high profile, high status place of learning. He wondered if I would like to go along with him and hear it. I was already thinking out my outfit.

*Scottish Note: The romantic heroes of The People's Friend magazine are almost all good-hearted working-class types. They are all incredibly capable. Most either run their own businesses or have decided to run their own businesses by the end of the story. However,
style="font-style:italic;">The People's Friend
is read mostly by Presbyterianish ladies over 60 whose fathers were Communists and their bored visiting grandchildren. There is no sex in The People's Friend. I would love to write for The People's Friend but you cannot have a sense of humour do to it. I would be incapable of writing a story in which the nice carpenter did not turn out to be a wicked rake and the handsome banker up from London a saint.

Update: I've had another anonymous "shame on you" comment, which I won't put up because I won't put "shame on you, Seraphic" comments on my blog, even from recovering porn addicts. However, I think the thoughts of Catholic women who have somehow found themselves with an overwhelming attachment to porn worth reading. (I wonder if this is a fruit of the internet age because I never, EVER, EVER heard of a woman compulsively viewing porn before the subject came up.)

At any rate, my reader says she recovered from porn not by "just stopping" and "talking to a priest" but through years of therapy. And although I don't like "shame on you, Seraphic" emails, I think she deserves credit for turning her life around.

And now that we know some people--women--get hooked on internet porn, we have absolutely no excuse to click on it even once out of curiously, do we? Because when we do that we are supporting a disgusting industry from which we can draw a straight line to the sexual abuse of adults, children and even babies.

Refraining from viewing porn is not just about our own personal chastity. It's about social justice. It's about other people.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Auntie Seraphic & How Many Dates?

New Poll Alert! It is about women and cars. Not women's cars, mind you, but women's attitude towards men with or without cars.

In my dreams I am brave enough to drive and have a hunter-green mini metro. Also in my dreams, B.A. has a Rolls and a driver to drive it. We actually own the Historical House and have a staff of 15. B.A. sits in the back of the Rolls in impeccable Edinburgh-wear shouting through his mobile to his sales rep at Christie's to bid up to £50,000.

This post is not about cars. It is about what kind of men women find really boring and how long women should give really boring men a chance.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

What do you do when you have a nice Catholic guy who is very interested in you but you don't feel [as interested in him]? How much time should you spend dating him to try to see if something will develop?

Concretely, I met a guy through the internet. We exchanged some nice emails and a few telephone calls, and have now gone on three dates.

The first date went really well. I live in a different area, so I gave him a couple restaurant choices; we had a nice dinner and I would have liked to do something afterwards, but he didn't suggest it.

On the second date, we went to my second restaurant suggestion, and I also suggested a walk or something, which he agreed to. The conversation wasn't as lively, and I found out he didn't have a car, which is surprising [in my culture], and that he had some health problems, a little surprising to hear about on the second date, which to me is just a time to see if you like being around someone.

I just got back from the third date, and I was really bored. It felt like he was waiting for me to take the lead the whole time. I probably should have said I was bored and saw how he adjusted, but that felt rude...

I feel really shallow for being concerned about his car-less-ness and his health concerns. I know that has something to do with my reduced enthusiasm, but I also would really like someone a little more outgoing and eager to take charge... Should I move on or give him some more time?

I always enjoy your opinions,

How Many Dates?

Dear How Many Dates,

I always say that a nice guy deserves three dates. This guy has had the three dates, and nothing "caught fire." So I think you can toss him back into the sea for the girl who will be head-over-heels crazy for him by Date #3.

Date #1, not Date #2, is the date to see if you just like being around someone. One should be able to reveal more personal information on Date 2, but frankly I think that's more in the line of "I don't like anchovies" than in the "my ongoing health problems" department. However, perhaps this man thought his health problems might be something you needed to know. (Goodness knows why.)

I find it interesting that you were the one suggesting restaurants and walks and, yes, it is perfectly logical that you feel that you were taking the lead all the time. He doesn't sound like a man to take the initiative. Boring, indeed!

As for the car thing, you know better than I what is reasonable for your area. I would think it very odd for a man in [your culture] not to have a car, but such a lack would be more than ordinary in a big city or in a European city of any size. I am not so sure it is shallow; car-ownership is one way to gauge a man's maturity.*

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

P.S. 1 Guys, do take some lead, okay? Even if your mother is still packing your lunch and making sure you have your inhaler, non-mother women like men to lead. It makes us feel all fluttery.

P.S. 2 I cannot stress what a bad idea it is for men to be up front with health issues so early in a dating relationship. Most young women are not interested in becoming some guy's nursemaid. And you don't have to be a crazed Darwinian to think that a healthy guy might make a better dad for one's kids than a sick guy. A woman who has fallen in love with a man will marry him if he comes home from the wars with one leg and horrible burns. But a woman who has just met a guy is less likely to think illness is just part of his charm.

I dated a great guy who was severely hearing impaired. It took me a long time to realize just how bad his hearing was, and it was a while before he mentioned that his sight was going, too. He was, however, determined to make it in the "hearing" world and he never complained about his infirmities. Never. Not even when he realized it was time to give up driving. His attitude was "The Good Lord might have taken my sight and hearing, but he sure gave me great hair."

The deal-breaker? The deal-breaker was that--and I'm really sorry that I couldn't have come to this conclusion way earlier--he wasn't a Roman Catholic, and I really, really, really wanted to marry a guy like my Jesuit classmates though not, of course, a Jesuit classmate. There were other deal-breakers, too, but it came down to the Catholic thing and, of course, as the school secretary pointed out, I couldn't have really loved him. Dang. Truth hurts.

(I can think of circumstances where you wouldn't marry a guy even if you really, really loved him--or BECAUSE you love him--but that's a subject for another post.)

P.S. 3 That was in Canada, where you can have perfectly orthodox Jesuit classmates, so this is not a slight on dear old Benedict Ambrose. When Jesuit classmates complain that Nice Catholic Girls stare daggers at them when they admit to being Jesuits, I advise that they should immediately follow the words "I'm a Jesuit" with "Like Father Fessio."

P.S. 4 Note I said "car", not "nice car" or "sports car" or "Masserati" or "Beemer."

*To those who have read my book: Even Der Gute--who lives in car-mad Germany--has a car. I mean, Der Gute. By the way, he has a new fish. He phoned the other day, and he has a brand new pet fish.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Headship is Dead Hip

While reading through The American Trouser Controversy on Simcha Fisher last night, I was struck by the emphasis on male headship. A reader suggested that strangers who yell at women about being submissive to their husbands secretly want women to be submissive to them. Many readers had no problem with the idea of being submissive to their husbands (thus the humour of the husband-signed "Pants Pass"); they just didn't see why they should be submissive to male strangers, too.

Of course, the whole "Wives Obey Your Husbands" thing is so controversial in itself, I don't know if I want to go there. How much simpler if St. Paul had written, "Wives, be easy to live with." That's probably what he meant. Hey, I have an M.Div., you know. But there's Male Headship in Marriage out of the bag anyway, and I wonder who let it out in the first place.

I suppose the idea of Male Headship in Marriage floats about my local Catholic TLM community, although as most of the men aren't married, it remains somewhat academic. Like most university educated guys, B.A. had imbibed a number of feminist (one might argue humanist) ideas by the time he fell in with traddish types, so his thoughts on male headship include the inherent dignity of women and their ability to think for themselves. He also believes firmly in his grandfather's sage marital advice of "Anything for a quiet life."

The way male headship works in my house is that the male has the responsible 9 - 6 job, and the female floats about writing this and studying that and buying the groceries and running off to Poland. So I personally have nothing to complain about. I can even use male headship to my advantage in social situations, e.g. making a graceful exit. I seem to recall saying to someone, "B.A. says I must leave now, and I suppose I must obey him" and my interlocutor suddenly scowled like a cross goose and said "But of course you must obey him. It's in Saint Paul!"

This scary discussion of Male Headship in Marriage is, of course, meant to be propaganda for the Single Life. It's actually quite old-fashioned propaganda for the Single Life. Refusing to get married and living as virgins forever was a way Christian women could achieve the status held by Christian men. Proto-nuns, like nuns, were semi-sacred beings who remained mostly autonomous. Brides of Christ, they couldn't be bossed around by other men. I forget now who was in charge of them, but I assume it was ultimately the local bishop, who dealt with them as a collective and if there were personality clashes it would be between him and the most senior proto-nun.

If you stay single, you don't have to worry about male headship. If you are a single man, you remain free from its responsibilities and if you are a single woman, you never have to ponder what its inverse, female footship, means for you. From my own married perspective, it means doing your best never to hurt your husband's feelings and trying not to sin too often against his idea of what a comfortable dwelling looks like. It does not mean marrying a tyrant and encouraging him in his tyrannies so that you can look like a holy martyr. As a life choice, that's just perverse.

Incidentally, wanting to choose your clothes for you is a RED FLAG. Believe me on this one. Grumping because your skirt is too tight is one thing, but going out to J.C. Penny to buy you something full and frilly is psycho.

If you are simply appalled by the idea of female footship, then I am sorry and I sneakily suggest you stick with your Novus Ordo crowd instead of hanging with the Trads. Of course, you could survive if you (A) have a sense of humour and (B) have read Mulieris Dignitatem. You might also want to train up your inner Aggrieved Domestic Longhair, so you can hump up your shoulders, let down your claws and yowl when some non-husband man tries to push you around. Pfft! Pfft! Miarraw!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

One Guy's Eye View

I know, I know. Another piece on modesty. I don't know why I'm being so apologetic, though. I think modesty is very cool, and I look forward to the day the women of the western world decide that "body-skimming" beats "body-hugging" every day of the week. Slender girls will look willowy rather than skeletal, and plump girls will look soft and cuddly rather than porcine. Beautiful pumps will be worn with ankle-skimming skirts and snazzy flats will be paired with mid-knee length dresses. Beauty will return to our streets, buses and trains, and men will sob with joy into the flowers and chocolates they bestow on us for being just so gosh-darned pretty.

Incidentally, the church organist made sharp remarks about the outfit I wore to church on Sunday. I was wearing a mantilla, a roomy white blouse, a tight white T-shirt under the big white blouse, a pink below-knee length skirt, nylon stockings, moderately high heels and a shawl. However, despite all this fabric, the organist could still see the back of my neck and apparently part of my upper back. The naked expanse of flesh, he made known to me, was at ironic variance with with my black mantilla. This goes to show that you can't be too careful and that I might have had a chance with the church organist had I not so immediately married B.A.

The amusing thing about the post to which I have linked is that it touches upon power. There is a certain kind of theologian who is obsessed with power. This is why I am wary of anyone who cites the "hermeneutic of suspicion". The "hermeneutic of suspicion" is all about who has the power and who doesn't have the power and how can my group have some power? Power, power, power!

Anyway, the poster posits the power of femininity against the power of semi-naked sexuality. He doesn't mention how the power of femininity can be terribly, terribly abusive. There's a marvellous young lady back home who apparently told her husband that if he had the chance to become a jihadi and he didn't take it, she would divorce him. Okay, you just know this chick dresses modestly.

For about three thousand years or so, women have been given the impression that they have a sell-by date, and after that sad day, no man will ever pay them attention again. This is, actually, totally untrue. I have been dumped TWICE by men in their twenties for women over 30. ("I forget how really young you are," was the second one's valedictory remark. I was twenty-freaking-nine.) And I have had no problem talking with men in their 20s since I turned 30.

And why is this, eh? It is because youth isn't everything. People want what they don't have, and young men already have youth. They look up to older women who have other stuff. Sometimes the other stuff is a kind of quiet, even scornful, confidence Mr. Twenty-something can only dream of having one day. Sometimes it is success in a career he'd like to be successful in. Sometimes it's just being a PhD student, and don't laugh. Seriously, when I studied in Germany, I talked daily to young German men who wanted to talk to me because I was (A) Foreign and (B) a Ph.D. student. They also wanted to be Foreign. They also wanted to be PhD students.

Where AM I going with this? Oh yes---power. The power of a tight shirt is amazingly stupid and banal. There are so many other kinds of power, if power is your thing, and you get more of it the older, smarter and more confident you get. Really, power shouldn't be your thing, but you probably have some, so use it well.

UPDATE ON PANTS/TROUSERS: Berenike has reminded me that the Queen of the Pants Controversy is Simcha Fisher. Grr! Grr! I am so envious of Simcha Fisher, I may quit blogging. 300 comments! I ask you!

Okay, I did not know anti-trouser hysteria had reached such heights in the USA. As far as I know, we don't have it in the UK. Various women in my parish trundle innocently around Edinburgh in trousers and can even pray in trousers without being accosted by pop-eyed strangers who were distracted by their bottoms.

Personally, I don't like wearing trousers because trousers remind me that I am no longer the 117 pound amateur boxer who could wear a Club Monaco Size 2. Trousers make me feel chunky and blah. If, however, like Simcha I had three kids, I bet I'd just swallow my pride and get the darned things. There are perfectly nice trousers in perfectly respectable fabrics like wool.

Incidentally, does anyone know how to ride a bicycle while wearing a skirt these days? If I get a bicycle, I might have to grit my teeth and put on some jeans.

Men who tell women-in-general not to wear trousers (or "pants") are creepy. The one exception to this rule is the cranky pastor who tacks up the "Women Must Not Wear Pants In Church" sign that makes UK Trids giggle so much. It's his church, so if the men who go to his church have a real problem with staring at women's behinds instead of concentrating on Holy Mass, Father Cranky must know.

And, hey, at least Father Cranky isn't making the women pray at the back.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Travel Broadens the Mind

Darlingses, I have spent the morning trying to both master the absolute basics of Polish and skip all the sad parts in a Polish tour guide. Thus my brain has emptied right out.

Have I mentioned that I will be in Poland for only four days? I will be in Poland for only four days because I did not feel I ought to leave my husband all by himself for longer than that, especially since I have already spent 16 days away cooking for a sick pal instead of for him. History is full of fine-sounding people who did daring deeds to great applause while they completely neglected their spouses at home.

Anyway, because my brain is empty, feel free to tell travel stories in the combox. As you may know, I believe travel is the solution for almost everything that ails a Single person. If your boyfriend breaks up with you, off you go. If you hate your job but you've saved a mint, off you go. If you think you can no longer stand another second stuck in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, off you go to La Porte to buy a travel guide.

Stories, pls!

Update: Thanks to Berenike for finding Anielskie Single on a Top 10 List! We're number osiem! We're number osiem!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Italian and Polish Dates

Goodness me, it turns out I have Italian readers as well as Polish readers. Therefore, it is only fair that I reveal on this blog when I go to Italy as well as to Poland, in case anyone wants to buy me something to eat before asking my opinion on something.

Therefore, people should know that I will be in Rome from September 25 to October 2. However, I am not sure how much time I will have for meeting readers, as these dates represents my husband's one-and-only annual holiday abroad.

My big Anielski Single trip, however, is all for readers. I have just bought my tickets, and so I can tell you that I will be in Poland from the night of October 4 to the night of October 8. I think I will be in Krakow on the Wednesday and the Saturday and in Warsaw on the Thursday and the Friday, but I am not sure yet. I might also go to Wroclaw and environs because I have wanted to see the Lower Silesia province for years.

However, I have to see what my publisher would like me to do. I believe I will be on Krakow and Warsaw radio, which should certainly be an interesting experience for both Poland and me since I speak absolutely no Polish whatsoever. However, many people in Poland--especially university students--speak English, so I am sure that will be okay.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Stopping Someone Else from Sex

This was one of those emails that made me ponder the usefulness of being a married lady. Married ladies can talk about sex as if they know something about it without anyone thinking, "Hey! How come she knows so much?"

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A not-especially-close friend of mine recently asked for my help in coming back to the faith. She was raised Catholic, but hasn't been practicing recently. Now she wants to return to the Church, and I'm excited for her.

The problem is that she has been dating an agnostic for about three years, and they are sexually active (although I hate using that phrase). She recognizes that coming back to the Church would mean not having sex with her boyfriend any more, which I think is a good first step. The problem is that she, as a recent revert, is struggling with how to explain to him their need to stop; she isn't too familiar with Catholic teachings on these sorts of things. In the meantime, he doesn't seem to perceive any problem with the situation, and wants to continue sleeping with her. Apparently, he has also said that he wants to marry her someday, and I think this is making it harder for her to stop.

My question is twofold: how should I approach the topic with her, and are there any good resources to which I could direct her?

Thank you!

Sincerely yours,

Reversion Resource Guide

Dear Reversion Resource Guide,

I'm going radically revise my initial reponse to be even less dismissive of the agnostic boyfriend. Somehow my teenage-era horror of agnostic boyfriends who talk their girlfriends into having sex with them clouded the sun of my middle-aged married lady charity. Men who enjoy having consensual sex with their girlfriends of three years are not actually the scum of the earth. They are just ordinary guys. A guy who tries to go out and bed a new woman every night is doing it for a cheap and nasty thrill. A guy who cuddles up to the same woman for three years is doing it to feel loved and to express love. So I'm going to rewrite my response to take into consideration that Mr Agnostic is most likely not a douche bag but a guy who loves his girlfriend and will feel really hurt if she turns off the sex tap.

Okay, it's nice that this girl wishes to become a more authentic Catholic. Although her serious sins have cut her off from Grace, she never really left the Church, of course, unless she publicly repudiated her. I don't quite understand why she needs your help, however. Are there no priests around? She needs to talk to a priest.

She needs to talk to a priest because a priest is going to understand a lot more about where she and her boyfriend are coming from than a Nice Catholic Girl who thinks the first step to becoming a better Catholic is to stop having sex. Yes, pre-marital sex is pretty bad. It is a serious sin. But Christianity does not begin and end with sexual purity but with the Blessed Trinity. Christianity is not a set of rules but a relationship with Almighty God in His three Persons. Christianity is a relationship with God in light of His revelatory Incarnation, Mission, Death and Resurrection. Frankly, I'd start with prayer. Does she pray? Does she read Scripture? Does she think about, read about and talk to Jesus of Nazareth?

The problem isn't that this girl is having sex. The problem is that this girl is having sex with someone to whom she isn't married. The solution to the problem has absolutely nothing to do with you. The solution is for her to say to her boyfriend, "Look. I believe in and love Almighty God, and Almighty God wants me to be fully committed to the man with whom I share my bed. It's time we got married, baby."

This may very well surprise Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend if your acquaintance has hitherto shown absolutely no reluctance in the past three years to sleep with him outside of marriage. And Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend, upon hearing that his girlfriend wishes now to become a better Catholic, might be afraid that this means she wants to dump him. She should assure him that she doesn't want to dump him, she just wants to please Almighty God.

Of course--and forgive me for my cynicism here--it may be that she is bored with her boyfriend and wants an excuse to stop sleeping with him. If this is so, you need to be so far from the situation, you will be in another zip code entirely.

This girl didn't write to me. You did. And, therefore, you are my first concern. You sound like a very nice girl, and I know very well that it is thrilling and flattering to feel like the Holy Spirit is using you to bring about the salvation of another. However, I suspect (and this is in no way shameful, really, considering your age and state in life) that you don't understand how sexual relationships between men and women work. You don't seem to understand that even very nice (if disobedient-to-God) women like to have sex and aren't just tricked into it (especially after the first year) by vague promises of marriage.

It is absolutely impossible for you to convince another woman not to have sex when she wants to have sex. Three years of sex is a hard habit to break, and frankly, only falling in love with another man (or simply falling out of love with this one) is likely to make this girl break it. That man may very well be Our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it should be. If she does love her boyfriend, only knowing and loving Our Lord better than she does now will make her choose His will over her current set-up.

One of the most important things we were told in ministry school was that, when we were out of our depth,we acknowledge it and refer our friend/client/sheep (whoever)to someone better informed. When an undergrad under my care told me of his/her Sister Faustina-like visions, I sent him/her straight to a famous priest-professor of spiritual direction.

In your case, unless you do have an understanding of what it means to be in a long-term sexually active relationship (which I doubt), I think you are out of your depth. Think of the best, smartest priest you know and suggest your friend and her boyfriend talk to him.

Yes, the boyfriend. He, too, has an immortal soul. He is not just the potential roadblock to the reversion of your non-practising Catholic pal. He is a real person with feelings and a soul Christ died to save.

If you include the boyfriend in your suggestions, and she recoils, that may mean that she doesn't want to include him in her journey and a growing relationship with Christ and, therefore, that she doesn't love him anymore. And if this is the case, once again you need to distance yourself from a seriously toxic situation that has nothing to do with you. If she doesn't love the man, she should dump him. If she loves him and he is otherwise a man of character, then she should marry him. End of story.

End of THEIR story. It's not your story. Say "Why don't you get married?", maybe give the girl a copy of "Mulieris Dignitatem" and something on marriage, refer her to a good priest and pray for her. But for heaven's sake do not get involved in the psychodrama of Her and Him and God.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Home Tomorrow, Poland in October

Tomorrow I go home to lovely, misty, rainy, Gothic Edinburgh. Hooray! I must say I like being in lovely, sunny, hot, Baroque [town in Lazio], too. However, being married, I'd like to go back to my Principal Vocation now.

As much as I love Singles, Singles must make way for Mr Principal McVocation.

This reminds me that I offered to go to Poland in October, and the marketing man has said, "Yes, please. Early October?" So now I have to look up cheap flights to Poland and find a Polish phrasebook. I'll be off to see the Polish Singles!

I fear I have very little chance of mastering even the basics of a Slavic language this late in life. Today I had a lovely shop in Rome that was incredibly satisfying because I just said what I wanted in Italian (e.g. a particular thing I hadn't yet found, to look at something in the case behind the glass, you to please move), and I got it. I'm going to hold onto that thrill, for in Poland I will be entirely at the mercy of nice people who speak a little English.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Beyond Single Ladies' Worst Nightmares

You know, I like to emphasize the positive. But sometimes a Single woman is treated so horribly, I am forced to contemplate Single Ladies' Worst Nightmares.

I bet you haven't yet had the one where you go to visit your aged parents for the weekend and gypsies move into your house. Well, voila.

Today feel free to share your worst Single Lady nightmare in the combox. It can be a projected Widow Lady nightmare, too, if that might apply.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Modesty, Femininity, Clothes, Blah Blah

Today I was in the Human Life International office in Rome, and it is lined with books in both Italian and English. There are bookcases all along the walls, and they are seven book-storeys high. They cover dogmatic theology, moral theology and life issues. Father Cessario stands, in book form, next to Charlie Curran, which I cannot really imagine happening in real, non-book, life.

So which book, out of all these riches, did I choose to read while drinking my tea, eh?

It was the one on modest dressing.

What is with us Catholics and modest dressing? If Father Z introduces the topic on his blog, the combox goes wild. Safe in anonymity, the boys hasten to tell the girls what to wear, and the girls get creeped out, even if they already dress the way the boys suggest. And very rarely do the girls tell the boys how they should dress, which is, of course, like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Ah, George Peppard. Blonde men were born to wear sharp grey suit jackets, they really were. Paul Varjak (aka "Fred Baby") could also rock a cardigan, white shirt and straight tie combo. Really, if men cry over the tight and vulgar trampy outfits women wear today, what about OUR womanly feelings before the male slobs who people the streets? Not even Doc Golightly wore a baseball cap downtown. UGH!

Anyway, I think most of us are fascinated with clothes because clothes are in themselves fascinating. Whatever "Slutwalkers" might say, clothes send messages about their wearers, and always always have. I have among my belongings (in Edinburgh) an incredibly feminist and Marxist book written in the early 1990s, and it is called The Language of Clothes. It's written in angry jargon, but it agrees that clothes send coded messages. And it mentions that marvellous book that came out in the 1980s that, after a heck of a lot of scientific research, concluded that the best outfit for professional women was a grey suit with a knee-length skirt and sensible shoes, i.e. a female version of what successful men wear to the office. But OH NO (continues this feminist book), this was IGNORED. Instead of encouraging women to wear clothes that said "I'm a serious professional", the fashion industry encouraged women to wear to the office clothes that said "I put my sex life before absolutely everything."

The modest clothing book I read today was dotted with exclamation points and rhetorical questions like, "Have you seen what's on TV these days?" I could spend a delightful hour making fun of it, but I won't. No doubt young women need encouragement to wear pretty, feminine and modest clothes, so as not to be swept along miserably with "what everyone else is doing." And I did enjoy its quotations from various popes. The early 20th century popes had no problem dissing women's fashions, even in 1910. Sadly, the authoress does not explain exactly what was wrong with women's dress in 1910. However, she does mention that subsequent popes did not like women's trousers.

(The authoress wrote "pants", but you should all know that at least 70 million English speakers use this word only for underpants. Never ever ever refer to your pants in England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. The fact that some American churches bear signs reading "Women must not wear pants in church" throws British Catholics into hysterics.)

Padre Pio apparently really, really hated women's trousers. According to one story, he refused absolution to an Italian-Canadian woman on the grounds that she sold women's trousers in her clothing store. She could have absolution only if she got rid of them and then came back, and if she just went to an easier priest for absolution instead, Padre Pio WOULD KNOW. So the Italian-Canadian woman went home and got rid of the garments so hated by Padre Pio. This, by the way, was in 1963. Imagine what Padre Pio would make of your leggings, you minx!

Padre Pio didn't want you in the confessional unless you were wearing a skirt, and that skirt had to fall at least 8 inches below your knee. This worried me because I am short, so when I got back to Hilary's, I got her measuring tape to see how long that was. Happily, that is still above my ankles. It was also above where the green linen skirt I am wearing today falls, so I could have sailed right into Padre Pio's confessional. (But it is alarming to think what he might have said to ME!)

It is worth noting that, despite his abject hatred of short skirts and trousers, that Padre Pio is one of Italy's most beloved saints. There's a church a half mile away from where I sit that is incredibly ugly and with the ugliest furnishings except for the statue of Padre Pio, which is itself very nice. The elderly ladies with whom I went to Mass yesterday at the chapel just around the corner from Hilary would not have gotten into P. Pio's confessional, however, as mostly they wore thin dresses that fell above their knees.

(It was the Novus Ordo, I hasten to add, not because I think the Novus Ordo encourages short skirts, but because I don't want anyone to think the Trids of Lazio trundle off to Mass in short skirts. They don't. The females ones wear lovely dresses or flowing skirts, and sometimes mantillas or smart hats.)

The authoress blames Coco Chanel for the downward spiral in women's clothing, and to give the authoress credit she doesn't mention that darling Coco slept with a Nazi, too. Special mention is made of the bikini which, it might surprise you to know, Annette Funicello never wore in any of those beach movies. She sometimes wore two-pieces, but it was actually in her contract that she would never be made to wear a bikini.

Do you know, once when I was teetering on the edge of a serious exercise addiction and weighed only 117 pounds, I tried on a bikini in a store called Bikini Village. But I didn't buy it. I just could not imagine appearing in public like that. I just couldn't. Wearing full vampire makeup on the subway, sure. Bikini, never.

My scariest purchase recently was an ankle-length denim skirt. It was scary because TLM-loving Catholic women are getting a reputation in Catholic circles for dowdiness, and particular mention is made by critics of ankle-length denim skirts. However, like denim jeans, denim skirts do go with almost anything and they wear well. They're tough and strong and can be dressed up or dressed down as you like. You can even wear them to pubs to watch football matches.

Frankly, I'm not interested in wearing trousers or jeans any more. I just like skirts and dresses better.

Well, sound off in the combox. Why are so many of us so fascinated with women's clothing?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Singles and Adventure

So Hilary does not like to be defined by her Singleness.

"Why not?" I said. "You could even make a career out of it, like I was going to do before I, ah, er, got married."

But although Hilary is happy to define herself by sex, nationality and religion, she refuses to do it by marital status.

Which is too bad because when I was still trying to find a famous Single woman for my blog every day, it really bugged me when I couldn't find out if living famous women were Single or not. Sometimes it seems to be treated as a tremendous secret. Is Sally Ride married? How dare I ask?

I wish Single (and by that I mean REALLY Single, i.e. not sharing bed and not in a religious order) celebrities would say so, so that Singles would have more models. It bothers me that women (in particular) seem to put their lives on hold or don't take advantage of the career opportunities they have now because they think doing something adventurous (not sinful, I'm not saying sinful, I'm saying adventurous) will somehow jinx their chances of getting married.

The amusing thing is that one of my best friends put her foot down when I announced I was going to Scotland to meet British readers. She thought the money would be better spent on attractive clothes, and she said my Scottish trip proved I really didn't want to get married after all.

Ah ha ha ha!

Anyway, I am thinking about Hilary (who does not define herself by her Single state) who said Yes when her boss suggested she cover the Vatican for his popular news site. Off she went to a foreign country, where she doesn't speak the language, and she now lives in a beautiful flat near the beautiful sea, and she has lots of friends and fun.

Yes, she also has cancer, and it is one of a Single woman's worst nightmares that she get sick with no man or family around to help her. However, Hilary's friends, colleagues and readers have all pitched in--which just goes to show that even then a Single woman can be okay.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Being Lucy Honeychurch

Miss Lucy Honeychurch, heroine of A Room with a View, would never have been allowed to do anything so foolish as to spend the month of August in Lazio. Lazio is very, very hot in August. The sun is very strong. Lucy, as we know, once fainted in very strong sunlight, and if she thought the men of Florence were excitable, that is because she hadn't yet gone to Rome.

But if Miss Honeychurch had had to go to Lazio, to take care of a sick friend, for example, she would have done her very best to keep cool and, above all, to keep her beautiful English rose-leaf complexion. She would have shuddered, as did I, at the face of the Englishwoman in Civitavecchia whose face was so painfully red, she looked as if she had had a chemical peel. She looked as if she had dunked her face into a pot of boiling oil. If I were her, I would have been in the hospital, not serenely drinking beer on the promenade. Obviously this woman was no Lucy Honeychurch.

I have a particular love for the Edwardian period, when every Englishman and Englishwoman, no matter how poor, was proud to be English. They might have poked fun at "the Britisher abroad," but that was only when they themselves were abroad; nobody hates tourists than tourists themselves. And I also have a particular love for the Edwardian English who worshipped Italy and came here in droves, especially as they appear in English fiction (except in Where Angels Fear to Tread).

Thus, I was greatly pleased to discover that Hilary dresses and acts as much like an Edwardian Englishwoman as possible. She shipped her best china and lace from England, stocks Pears soap and Yorkshire tea, has wonderful posture and refuses to speak Italian.* On this, my third trip, I brought her a very lovely portrait of the Queen. It is a portrait from Coronation Year, and the Queen certainly looks very pretty. The Young Queen has a lovely complexion, which Hilary and I had ourselves in our twenties, and which we have had some success in preserving.

The most important thing to keeping your complexion nice in Lazio in August is staying out of the direct sun. The sun is moderately gentle at 7 AM, but by 8 AM it has had its coffee and is on the prowl for complexions to devour. Its left hand bears gifts but its mouth holds wrinkles and skin cancer. If Roman ladies wish to turn chocolate brown now and pay for it later, that's their lookout. But this is not the way of Neo-Edwardian English (and Canadian) ladies. It is also strictly forbidden to cancer patients like Hilary.

Thus both Hilary and I try not to go outside between the hours of ten in the morning and seven in the evening. This is sometimes difficult because Hilary has to see various doctors and the pharmacist and the waits are long. We may get to a medical office before ten, only to wait until after eleven and then scurry home under the sun's deadly noon-hour beams.

For this reason we go entirely clothed, with straw hats, cotton blouses, long linen skirts, thin and floaty scarves and, in my case, cotton socks in flower-patterned tennis shoes. We also unfurl umbrellas.

Of course we are also wearing 50 SPF sun screen and lip balm. And the kind of sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays.

We mostly eschew man-made fabrics. We prefer clothing that breathes. We also prefer floaty clothing that traps or even creates its own breeze. Our clothes are mostly of light colours--white or pale pink or pale green or pale blue. White clothes are best, and we clean them by dunking them in a gallon bucket of water and bleach (quarter cup of bleach per gallon) before throwing them in the washing machine.

(Cultural note: The local rosary chapel is just this noon minute signaling the Angelus by playing "Christus Vincit" on its bells.)

I do have a rayon scarf, but as it is fraying, it constantly annoys me by catching on things.

Thus, Hilary and I, who could never be mistaken for Italians anyway, dress according to the best of Englishwoman tourist traditions. We are quite a contrast to the skinny, skinny, skinny Italian girls of all ages in bikinis and thigh-skimming cover-ups.

Lucy Honeychurch would also want to stay as cool and comfortable as possible so as not to repeat her sad little fainting fit in the piazza. We do this by following the coolest part of Hilary's flat. First thing in the mornings, it is nice to sit in the lacy soggiorno. But then breezes stir up outside, so we sit under a huge umbrella on the balcone overlooking the giardino. The umbrella can be adjusted to follow the sun's wicked path. In the afternoon heat, we retreat back indoors and even have a wee snooze.

After seven o'clock I put on my rather 1950s-looking two-piece under a billowy white blouse and green linen skirt and walk down to the deserted beach to bathe in the Mediterranean. The sun regards me sleepily and as it is about to disappear, it cannot be bothered to eat me up. Ha!

But the heat remains, and this is where I sadly reflect on the importance, in hot countries, of being thin. If you are thin, your upper thighs are slightly concave, but if you are not (and I am not anymore, boo), they are slightly convex and brush together. This is okay in cool countries, but not in hot countries, where you can get heat rashes. Short of going on a stupid and dangerous crash diet, or not going to a hot country until you have spent six months with the thigh-master, what can you do?

What you do is powder yourself with liberal amounts of talcum powder. This, by the way, was how girls in my high school dealt with perspiration. We had no recourse to the showers (which were only for The Nuns), so the daintier girls covered themselves in talcum powder after gym class. (I was so lazy in gym class, I myself never broke a sweat.)

Thus, when I feel the slightest bit sticky, I just powder myself madly with "Felce Azzurra" talcum powder. It has a very nice scent.

The whole morning routine of washing, powdering, moisturizing, sunscreening and dressing to keep cool is not time consuming when you're used to it, and essential for staying unburnt as an Anglo-Saxon/Celt in Lazio. It takes me only twenty minutes, and then I sail out into the cool, bright morning to the corner "bar" (cafe) for my croissant and cappuccino.

Update: A voice in my head said "What about the men?" And that is very easy. As I am now over 40, I am an unlikely Mediterranean sex object, and the only man who has tried at all to flirt with me recently was the fishmonger, and I understood only one word ("You're blushing.") I do have a little mendacious speech about having three children (Hugh, age 12, Rory, age 10, and Anita, age 5) saved up for an emergency, as it is mothers, not the merely married, who are sacred in Italy. But it has not been necessary. It is the young things in their teens and twenties who can expect the constant attentions of local men.

*Update: When I was much younger, and my Italian was in great shape, it was my job at the [Canadian government department] to help those few Italians who, after years of living in Canada, still could not speak English or French. A marvellous elderly lady, who had been in Canada for over 20 years, sighed and said that she had attempted to take English classes many time, but they never took.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Cummings-McLean's Sweet and Spicy Chemo Curry

Hmm! Now doesn't that sound DELICIOUS? But as regular readers know, I am in Italy visiting Hilary, who has had two bouts of chemo and has a third one coming up. I do the cooking, and it is not easy finding my way around Another Woman's Kitchen, believe you me. Things aren't where I put them at home, and although the local produce is marvellous, Hilary's cookbooks are all for England.

Hilary, who believes very firmly in REALITY, does not want to be a fake Italian, but a real British (and Canadian) expatriate, and what is more British than CURRY? (Believe me on this.) And since I am married to a Scotsman, I know how to make a good curry from scratch. I generally follow the directions on the back of the curry powder jar.

That recipe I have memorized, but Hilary's kitchen did not have what I needed today, so I had to wing it. Normally I disapprove of winging it, unless one has made a dish so many times that one really can intelligently substitute this for that. And, happily, my noon-time experiment worked out so well that Hilary asked for the recipe.

Hilary, incidentally, does not believe in flattery.

The reason why I call this Chemo Curry is a chemo patient's abstention from pasta, bread, rice and potatoes. I served this on barley and various kinds of lettuce, and it really worked. The nuttiness of the barley substitutes for almonds, so this recipe really doesn't need almonds.

Cummings-McLeans Sweet and Spicy Chemo Curry*

one onion
chicken breasts (defrosted is fine) for two cut up
2 Tbsp curry powder with chili powder added to taste
1 cup yogurt
some cream if you have any, milk if not
1/4-1/3 cup chicken stock (made from powder)
big (2 Tbsp?) spoonful coconut cream
2 squirts tomato paste

1. Dice onion and cook till golden in olive oil.
2. Cook pieces of chicken for 2.5 minutes either side.
3. Throw in curry powder and cook for 2 minutes, coating chicken and onions with it.
4. Pour in yogurt, cream (or milk), chicken stock.
5. Throw in coconut cream and squirt tomato paste squirts.
6. Mix gently to incorporate tomato paste and coconut into sauce.
7. Bring to boil, lower heat and put on lid.
8. Simmer for 20 minutes.


1. Put 1 teacup of barley in 3 teacups of water and smidge of chicken stock powder. Set to boil.
2. Boil for 20-25 minutes. Test for chewiness.
3. If sufficiently yummy, pour off any water remaining.

In Italy, barley is called orzo.


If the chicken curry sauce seems a bit too thin, let boil for another 3-5 minutes with the lid off.

Put mixed salad greens in shallow soup plate. Heap barley in centre. Spoon chicken onto barley. Pour curry sauce over chicken.

The cancer patient should drink water with lemon. The cook-carer, however, should have a lovely cold glass of dry white wine.

*Not doctor approved. I am not a doctor! Heaven knows if chemo patients are really supposed to be eating coconut cream.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Usefulness of Childless but Maternal Ladies

Hilary is napping again. Hilary takes enormous quantities of drugs, and they make her sleepy. Our plan that at 4:30 PM she should go to the fruit and veg store and I should push her there in her wheelchair is no more.

You're going to think I am being paid by Natalie Angier to push her book, Woman: An Intimate Geography, but I'm really not. I was just so struck by her explanation of why women live so long after menopause that I keep repeating it. Essentially, women are necessary for the survival of the human race beyond actual conception and child-bearing. Once we survive (or are never brought to) child-bed, Nature needs us to care for the babies whose mothers don't survive child-bed or who are too busy with new or other babies. In short, the human race needs aunties and grannies almost as much as it needs mummies.

I was thinking about this again today because I am having a rather nice time with Hilary, nicer than Hilary is having herself, of course, since she is often in pain and somewhat drug-addled. It is very nice to feel useful just by sitting around drinking cups of tea and muttering Italian vocabulary words, or by pushing Hilary in her wheelchair to the Mediterranean and splashing around myself. And I would not be here, and Hilary would have had to work harder to find another under-employed pal, if I had children to look after at home.

In old-fashioned books, the one cast-iron excuse for leaving your husband to cook and clean for himself is going to take care of one's sister who is having a baby. In old-fashioned books men are even more useless about babies than they are about cooking and cleaning. Come to think of it, my married-with-children friends' mums are always traveling vast distances to stay over in the last weeks of pregnancies, to scrub the floors and make the dinners, etc. They don't bring the expectant granddads for some reason. Hmm...

Anyway, I am glad that society has loosened up enough to allow husbands to cook for themselves without being made fun of by other men and to allow wives to care for sick female friends far from home. And although of course I am sorry that Hilary is so sick, I am glad I have hit on a definitely plus to being both maternally-minded and childless: one can be useful to sick friends without worrying about betraying family responsibilities.

And, of course, Single childless women--as long as they can support themselves financially from their sick friend's home--can be useful in the same way.

This reminds me: on a brief visit to the beach very early this morning, I met two Mexican nuns taking a day off. They live in Rome, and for work they cook and clean for the Misericordia. I'm not sure what the Misericordia is in their context, but I guess that it is probably a hospital. And I was charmed to meet nuns who were not professors or ministry staff or famous organizers or celebrities but just plain old cookers and cleaners.

This is where Hilary would yell, "Nuns aren't Single!" True, but you see what I'm getting at. When you don't have serious familial obligations, you are more free to help others, which can sometimes be more enjoyable and certainly gets you more praise!

Of course a man or woman should put care of his or her children at the very top of the responsibility list, but if you choose not to marry or you do marry and God doesn't send you children right away, you can have all the enjoyment to be found in helping people who don't expect it as much, including in romantic Italy, as have the nice Mexican nuns and me.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Seraphic Single Dilemma

The dilemma is that being seraphic about being Single is not the same thing as getting yourself married. And this may be why my book is not #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The fact is that most Single people do not want to be happy about being Single. Most of you want to be married.

Thus, Single people are going to buy books that will tell you how to get married, and this drives me nuts because most of you are not married because we are all on God's time and God hasn't willed that you be married yet.

I will now tell you a story I haven't told you before. It is a good story and could increase sales, but for the wrong reason, which I will explain.

So someone involved with the publication of my book (so she could be Canadian, American or Polish) sat down and read the proofs. She read them all the way through. And when she was done she put the pile away and gave her whole life over to God. She had been struggling with her Singleness for some time, but after reading my book she decided that was it. If God wanted her to be Single she would be Single. If He wanted her to get married, He could arrange that. And that's what she told Him.

That Sunday after Mass she was introduced to the man who is now her husband.

"Maybe that's what He wanted to hear first," I said. "Maybe He wanted you to give him a total gift of trust, and only then did He decree you were ready to meet [your fiance]."

The problem with this story is that I can imagine dozens or hundreds of women shutting my book and giving over their lives over to God in the hopes that they will thereby be rewarded with a man the next Sunday after Mass. But that is not really giving your life over to God, now, is it? It's not good enough to pray to God just because you want to go to heaven and avoid hell. You should pray to God because He is so great and good.

"Seraphic Singles" was never about "how to get married"; it was about "how to be happy about being Single." It was about "How not to go crazy with being Single." And I definitely do not want to become a "How To Get Married Lady" because I don't think there is much women can do to get married beyond:

1. being a nice, friendly person with good manners and good taste
2. living her life in public, especially a public that includes eligible men
3. not having premarital sex (and even then some women manage it, just so long as they are sleeping with the RIGHT GUY, and so often they think they are and they aren't)
4. praying to know the difference between a good prospect and a bad.
5. actively living in reality and not in an imaginary land of her own making

(Most of my dating advice is about how not to get mixed up with the wrong man. It is rarely about finding the right one, except by staying away from the wrong ones.)

Getting married, of course, necessitates both God willing you to get married and a man wanting to marry you. So you cannot do very much on your own. Becoming happy, however, is something that you CAN do, so that is what I encourage. And if you know your path to happiness includes spending the ages of 20 and 40 in graduate school, then off you go to graduate school. Let the marital chips fall where they may.

I once heard a male graduate student pity the female graduate students he knew because they worked very, very hard and never went out, except to teach and go to drunken wind-down parties. Assuming they all wanted to get married and have kids but were too embarrassed or brainwashed to admit it, he said that they were shooting themselves in the foot.

Well, I don't know. As I wrote yesterday, I know lots of women with graduate degrees who got married after or right during their programs. They met men at church or at weddings or just in a neighbourhood cafe while marking papers. They were faithful Catholics who loved to hang out with their girlfriends and go to parties and have parties themselves. They met lots of people, and they networked, and they wailed about being Single until suddenly, one by one, they stopped being quite so Single and then got married.

The thing is, they enjoyed themselves even though they were Single. They studied because they were very interested in the topics and thought they might have a shot at teaching them one day. But they made sure they socialized, too. They leaned on each other for companionship and support and help with party-having.

And, of course, not all the girls in my various sets got married. And as each one of us got engaged, many of the rest of us, no matter how old or young, had "What about me?" moments. But we all kept on with our other dreams and plans and worship and prayers and parties and some of us, still unmarried, still do that.

From years of conversations through my blogs, I think women get more comfortable with being Single the older we get. The thought that terrifies us at 19--what if I never have a boyfriend--ceases to be the big boogie monster over time. It is women who are still forming an identity who think that romance is a shortcut to identity, not women who have forged careers and friendships and holidays "on their own" for decades.

The one thing I think can hurt a woman in graduate school, both in terms of being happy in her Singleness and in terms of marriage prospects, is getting a reputation for blowing off steam at drunken parties and having stupid, usually short, love affairs. Grad school can be quite a little fishbowl, and so it might be a good idea to plan your social activities with the same good sense you use to plan your papers.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Holy Housewife, Batman

Here I am in Lazio visiting Hilary White who is, as you may know, now currently having chemotherapy. At the moment she is napping, so here I am on her computer, blogging away.

So of 160 readers who voted, 29 of you would prefer to work full-time until retirement and 131 of you would prefer to be stay-at-home mums (or, if American, moms). The fact that 97 of the housewife hopefuls are Americans reflects that fact that most of my readers ARE American. (Next come the Canadians and the British.)

"Shaidle was right!" chortled Hilary, and she was referring to yet another Canadian blogger, that one being called Kathy Shaidle. (Since many many people complain when I link to Kathy, follow the link at your own risk. Kathy is a polemicist, and she writes dirty.)

Kathy Shaidle often says that most women would rather just stay at home than have to go out and work for a living. Of course, this might be true of most men, too, and quite a number of men in various countries just sit in the town square playing games all day while their wives scrape together some kind of living so their husbands and children can eat. But possibly I digress.

The truth is that many young women would love, love, LOVE to be able to stay at home like most (but certainly not all) Western women in the 1950s and create a home and keep it looking and smelling nice and improving it with handicrafts and also bottling jam. I was going to say "middle-class and wealthy women", but as a matter of fact many working-class women stayed home too. Many working-class men were proud that their wives "didn't HAVE to work", and in exchange expected dinner on the table soon (if not immediately) after they got home. If they got home. (Some working men stayed in the pub as long as legally possible instead.)

So if any of the minority of my male readers have been moaning that today's young women don't want to stay home and look after their home, husband and halfings, they need look no further than my last poll. Lots of women want to stay home.

You know what? As much as I can't stand dating websites, I would support a dating website for future housewives and the men who want to marry them. Since a woman can't exactly go around telling men she wants to be a stay-at-home mum, and since a man is afraid to say he would prefer his future wife to stay at home and raise kids, this dating service would eliminate all the embarrassment and fear of slaps.

The thing is, chickadees, that you can't stay at home as a grown-up person if you (A) aren't married or (B) have wracked up a huge student debt. And since so many women have huge student debts, I just have to ask, if you want ultimately to be a stay-at-home mum, why did you wrack up that college debt?

If you went to community college and learned to be a chef or a florist, for example, you would have a good solid trade that would keep you fed and housed "in case" as my Grandmother once said, "you don't get married." Or if you went to a state university and studied Chaucer, you might still know as much about Chaucer as you might have had known you gone to Notre Dame. (If, however, you have always wanted to be an English professor, than the Big Name school might be the way to go, since academia is one of the rackets in which Big Name School means something.) You would just have a smaller student debt.

At any rate, if you dream of being a stay-at-home mum, then stop racking up student debts. Do not apply to do an M.A. or PhD in Theology. Seriously. Get your B.A. (if you really want that B.A.) and then get a job. Spend your evenings at, or planning, social events. Go to lots and lots of Young Catholic (or Other Young People of Good Will) meetings. Go to World Youth Day. Go on the annual Chartres Trid jamboree.

Now there are indeed some women, and I honour them, and heck, so does everyone else (on paper), who are so interested in an academic topic or their business or their careers that they are willing to go without kids and marriage, if that's what it takes. Because, sadly, sometimes that's what it does take.

This is not me saying that if you go to grad school you'll never get married. It is NOT. I know lots of women with advanced degrees, most of them much younger than me, who got married. But I also know women with advanced degrees who have the most appalling student debts. You don't need to get a graduate degree to be a stay-at-home mum, and now I'm going to tell you something horrible. Hold onto your coffee, for it is ghastly.

Men don't necessarily want women to be smarter than they are. Women, famously, want to marry men who make more money than them, are at their intellectual level or even challenge them intellectually. But many, many, many men don't care about these things. They don't expect women to make more money than them; if she's attractive and fun, they'll sweep a waitress off her feet and carry her out of the bar. (Fact: I know a real live barmaid who was indeed swept off by a millionaire.) They also don't expect women to be smarter than them, and many don't like it when women are.

These men are not just 65 year old prosing away on the golf course. I delicately brought up the subject of intellectual companionship in marriage to a handsome and very well-educated NCB and he laughed. He. Actually. Laughed. That was not what he was looking for, he said. His future wife could be intellectual or not intellectual. It didn't matter to him. And, anyway, he hadn't met many women who were his intellectual e--. Okay, I will now draw a curtain over the scene.

Germaine Greer or Gloria Steinem would have hit him with his chair, but I was merely in awe that at such a young age the NCB knew what was important to him and what was not and, above all, that he was not afraid to say so.

Of course, there must be NCBs who really do hope for wives that are their intellectual equals. B.A. and I are traditional, but we're not so traditional that we don't have fights about politics and conversations about matters philosophical. I often tell people intellectual conversations are not a daily feature of marriage, but as a matter of fact, they do crop up in mine. I suppose it all comes down to core values again. That said, I have a terrible suspicion that B.A. would have married me even if I didn't know Hegel from Hume. It is much more important that I am too smart to make the mistake of making the man I love feel stupid.

On Way to Rome

Off again to see Hilary!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Let Your Yes Be Yes...

Poppets, I am having computer issues. Alas! I have to use one computer to check my email and another to blog. It is a headache. And who knows when I will have time to fix it? I am once again leaving for Italy to see Hilary, who is still sick. This time I am going on Wednesday and not coming back for two weeks. Nobody steal my husband!


Of course, I could use Hilary's computer....

Sadly I can no longer easily cut and paste Auntie Seraphic emails to my blog, so today I will have to paraphrase madly. In short, I have had two (2) queries about "dating under false pretenses."

Now that might sound spicy, but I assure you it isn't. Both ladies in question are single, eligible and Nice Catholic Girls. But one has vowed to date only Catholic men and the other hasn't been on a date since an extremely lousy relationship broke up and doesn't know whether she's ready to go on one yet.

Nice Catholic Girl #1 was freaking because she was asked out for supper by a nice man she knows through work, but she doesn't know if he is a Catholic or not. Since she believes she will not continue to date him if he isn't a Catholic, she fears she has led him on just by accepting his dinner invitation.

Nice Catholic Girl #2 hasn't actually been asked out yet, but it is beginning to look like she might be. She is also freaking.

I have addressed both situations with my calming mantras of "It's just supper" and "You're allowed to say yes when you want to say yes" and "You're allowed to say no when you want to say no."

Unless you're actively pretending to be single when you're married or unattached when you have a boyfriend, there is no such thing as dating under false pretenses. If a man says "Would you like to have dinner with me?" there are only two answers: Yes and No. Hopefully you have figured out in advance which answer applies.

"Would you like to have dinner with me?" does not mean "Will you marry me one day?" or "Will you have sex with me if I ask nicely?" or "Will you date me for the next six months?" or even "Do you date Non-Catholics?" All it means is "Would you like to have dinner with me?" One dinner. One.

Maybe you would like to have every dinner with him for the rest of your life, but that is not what he is asking. Men are very literal. When they say something, they do not usually mean something other than what they are saying. They could be lying, but then they are lying in a literal fashion. Bless their little hearts. So when you say you would like to have dinner with him, he will think you are saying "Yes" to just one dinner.

I am all for first dates with men you like, especially if you have met them in person beforehand and not just on the internet. My favourite, of course, are first dates that you didn't realize were dates until you are engaged to the person. Thus, my first date with B.A. was in a pub on Rose Street, just after I tried to offer a tissue to a man reeling out of an alleyway brawl with a bloody nose. I had a half-pint of ale and a meat pie. I forget what B.A. had. I barely talked, since I was seriously jet-lagged and had just alighted from the London-Edinburgh bus. B.A. talked for Scotland. I merely listened and let him pay. Heck, no wonder he fell in love with me. But anyhoo...

Listen, I dated for twenty years or more (boo hoo hoo!), so I know it doesn't seem as simple as "Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no." It doesn't seem like you can say "Yes" to Date 1 and "No" to Date 2 without apologies and a huge explanation, but you can. You can even date a man for two years, discern marriage to him, go to see a priest together and then decide that you don't want to marry him after all. I did. Whoa, come to think of it, I think I did that twice. Hmm.

Oh well.

Let's face it, I was not Christendom's greatest dating role model. I learned the hard way that adults who do not discern within a year that they want to marry each other are wasting each other's time. But my point is that you never have to see a man again if you don't want to, and you can date a man for a year and then say "No" if he asks you to marry him. You can be engaged for a year, and then call the whole thing off when the planning-the-wedding drama reveals a side of him (or you) that you didn't know he (or you) had and that you don't like. You can do that. It's your right.

But to go back to first dates, the whole point to a first date is to get to know a person better. That's it. You drink your coffee or you eat your supper, and you sit back and allow the man--if he asked you--to do his best to impress you. (If you asked him, you're on your own, baby, because I don't know what to tell you.) Don't worry about impressing him beyond looking nice, speaking politely to the waitress and not putting your sleeve in the butter. Let him do all the heavy conversational lifting. Ask intelligent questions and give thoughtful answers, and do not for a single second make the mistake of thinking he is (A) a woman (B) a priest (C) your therapist.

After you go home you can decide if you want to see him again. If you do, I hope he calls. If not at all, all you really have to say when he asks once again "would you like..?", is "No, thank you."

Happy 23rd, Meaghan M!

Birthday greetings to Meaghan from me, Seraphic. Happy birthday!

Meaghan has friends in high places, including my prom date! Not every woman keeps in touch with her prom date, but I continue to be vastly fond of mine. If he says,"Wish Meaghan a happy birthday on your blog!", I ask "Which blog?"

I think he meant this blog.

I hope Meaghan gets more for her birthday than a bloggy greeting card! Maybe a raise?