Monday, 31 October 2011

Trampy Hallowe'en!

I have been sooo busy, poppets! But here I am again. I have even managed to carve a jack o'lantern despite not having time to get a pumpkin: I remembered the old butternut squash squatting on our cookbooks. The year simply would not be a proper year without a jack o'lantern on October 31; I could not cope.

Now I was going to write a condemnation of trampy Hallowe'en costumes, but then I remember in time that last year I dressed as a Jordan Wannabe, and if you are British you know what that means: fake tan, fake eyelashes, tons o' slap, and trampy outfit. I thought if I went really over the top, it would be more funny than trampy. However, I knew I had failed to reach the level of funniness when the church organist arrived, took one look and said, "You should go to church like that."

I would love to post a photograph of my wonderful last year Jordan Wannabe costume, but the internet is forever and I would like to keep my job. Fortunately, none of my guests are Facebook fans. How girls dare to wear trampy costumes in the Age of Facebook is a mystery. I repeat: the internet is forever.

When I was at an American Catholic college, the conservative student newspaper complained that Hallowe'en on campus seemed like nothing but an excuse for girls--and, increasingly, guys--to wear sexy costumes: sexy nurse, sexy witch, sexy vampire--possibly even sexy Lonerganian Teaching Assistant (whoa!). It made seriously serious Catholic girls really uncomfortable to come to parties in unsexy costumes and, indeed, one of the great life lessons I have learned regarding my own confidence is that I must never come to a party looking bad. If I went anywhere dressed as a ladybug,I would try to be the most beautiful ladybug I could be. I'm not saying I would be a sexy ladybug; I'm saying I would aim for a Pretty Ladybug With High Self Esteem.

I bet the Catholic blogsphere is full of diatribes against Sexy Costumes today. Undoubtedly sexy costumes for children are just completely inappropriate. And, yes, really we Catholic adults should do our best not to scandalize others, although how we are likely to do that if the evening's community standard is Sexy French Nurse is beyond me.

However, I reluctantly admit that "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" is a lousy attitude, even on Hallowe'en. My advice is to search the internet for Japanese goth outfits and take notes. Goths, bless 'em, tend to go for long skirts and black kilts. Guy or girl, you can dress all in black, iron your hair, powder your face, indulge in tons and tons of grey eyeshadow, pop in some vampire teeth and--hey presto! Modest yet attractive in a creepy way. If you have the money or the sewing skills, Beheaded French Aristo is also modest, attractive and creepy.

I feel a bit guilty harping on attractive, and if you are the kind of girl who enjoys dressing up in a gorilla suit or as a nuclear holocaust survivor, then I am full of admiration and giggles. However, I personally need to feel confident when I go to a party, especially if there are strangers or university students or such of my husband's pals who are under the impression that I am a little sister to be upbraided and oppressed at every opportunity.

The thing is, there is such a thing as being attractive in a classy way, even on Hallowe'en. Some of my girlfriends back home had a party where all the female guests had to dress like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's; they looked amazing. And for one of my favourite birthday parties ever, all the guests dressed up as Goths, many for the first time ever. We all looked great, even I, who was fighting the flu.

Now doubtless many of you are down on Hallowe'en, but I love it because it is the one day in the North American calendar when everyone can indulge their imagination to the extent of dressing up in costumes (and I love spooky stuff, so thrilling and so much less disgusting than the horrors of real life). Anyway, if you are going to a party tonight, I hope you have a very good time, and never forget you can look great without being flagrantly immodest, even on Hallowe'en.

The photo is of part of a tomb in a mostly Presbyterian Edinburgh graveyard. Spooky!

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I do hope Father B chimes in to tell us what he meant by "drifting" in the Seraphic Goes to Scotland "Knowing Young Nuns" post. It makes me think of skeletal wraiths in worn shrouds floating about the library downstairs. (Eeek!) Wraiths are a better image than zombies because although zombies are rather unthinking, they at least have a goal: "Braaains! Braaaains!"

To take a stab at what he might mean by drifting, I will say that I think he might mean a rather unthinking habit of following the path that grown-ups set for us, be they parents, teachers or taste-makers, while choosing those things that we think (for complicated reasons perhaps unknown even to ourselves) we think we should choose, and then coming to the huge foggy void that meets us when we finish education.

As much as we love Brideshead Revisited, I think we should be told that this is no model for the undergraduate life. Waugh almost ruined his life by behaving like Charles and Sebastian. It wasn't their fashionable homoeroticism (which in Brideshead Revisited is worded very, very carefully indeed) as much as their drunkenness, their snobbery, and their contempt for work in general.

Charles and Sebastian and Waugh himself were serious drifters. After Oxford, Waugh drifted into teaching little boys, whom he loathed, and longed for his fashionable friends and wrote. He almost drowned himself. Fortunately for him, he wrote a book about people who drift, and it was a huge hit. Realizing he could make money through writing, Waugh ceased to drift quite so much.

In this he was like Charles, who discovered he could make a living through painting, although poor Charles does drift in and out of marriage and from country to country and from love to love, doesn't he? Poor Sebastian drifts in and out of sobriety and finally applies to a religious order. They are very nice men, but they can't take him on because he really doesn't have much to offer by then, poor man.

I read Brideshead Revisited at 11 or so, and as its homoeroticism went way over my head, as Waugh meant it to do, it became my second Bible. I fell in love with Sebastian, of course, so thank goodness this was in Canada, or I might have ended up like the young Nancy Mitford: longing to marry a charming, handsome aristocrat who mysteriously was not at all attracted to women.

I fell in love also with Oxford, which made any Canadian university a sad second choice, with literature, which--as everything I studied was written before 1950--gave me an unhealthy distaste for ordinary employment, and with aesthetic thrills:

Then we talked of [the wine] and nibbled Bath Oliver biscuits, and passed on to another wine; then back to the first, and on to the other, until all three were in circulation and the order of glasses got confused, and we fell out over which was which, and we passed the glasses to and fro between us until there were six glasses, some of them with mixed wines in them which we had filled from the wrong bottle, til we were obliged to start again with three clean glasses each, and the bottles were empty and our praise of them wilder and more exotic...

...And we would leave the golden candlelight of the dining-room for the starlight outside and sit on the edge of the fountain, cooling our hands in the water and listening drunkenly to its splash and gurgle on the rocks.

'Ought we to be drunk every night?' Sebastian asked one morning.

'Yes, I think so.'

'I think so too.'

The idea that young loves are replaced by higher, more progressive, loves also left its mark.

Waugh was uneasy about this book for the rest of his life, and well he should. He made the young Charles and Sebastian so enchanting that the young reader does not compute that Charles' youth leads him to an unhappy, lonely middle-age and that Sebastian ends up penniless, bald and drunk in some godforsaken African dump.

Hindsight is 20-20, and if I had not been such an ass when I was young--and I vaguely knew I was an ass, incidentally--I would have avoided anything hard-but-classy (like Ancient Greek, for which I simply was not clever enough) and worked my butt off for top grades, so as to go to law school. Alternatively, I could have gotten over my snobby attitude that only "dumb girls" studied French and Italian so as to become language teachers for the district school board. Their pension---aah! What was I thinking?!

I'll tell you what I was thinking--when I was thinking at all, that is, since most of the time I was feeling. I was thinking that I was just going to get a Ph.D. in English Lit on the strength of my delicious writing style, and that bestselling books would just come to me as I gazed from my mullioned office window into an elegant Victorian Gothic quadrangle. A much more important concern was whether I should marry or remain Single, entirely wedded to my Academic Career.

Meanwhile, I spent my five undergraduate years battling a kind of interior fog. It had crept in when I was a teenager, despite loving high school so much more than elementary. What I didn't know then, but certainly know now, is that I suffer from a tendency towards clinical depression.

Sitting about determined to be sad and snarky about everything is a moral failing, but clinical depression is a physical, as well as a psychic, illness. It can sometimes be managed by eating the right things and sometimes by medication. It can be worsened by all kinds of external things. It is a very interesting condition, as I can say at the moment, as I am between bouts. Of course, bouts are hellish.

If you have a terrible feeling that you are just drifting and are willing to do anything, including JUSTGETTINGMARRIED to get it over with, or JUSTSIGNINGTHEPAPER to get it over with, it might be that you have some kind of depression. And if you think you might have some kind of depression, it might be helpful to talk to a doctor or counsellor about it.

I am not a doctor, of course, but I do caution you against using the possibility of being "a depressive" to feed an addiction to DRAMA. I've met too many people hooked on the DRAMA of being on Zoloft, etc. It's not helpful. Really, my vulnerability to depression is just as banal as my youngest sister's vulnerability to bronchitis. The poor child never comes to the UK but she gets the most awful colds. And they go on forever.

Sadly, because I love them, you can't be on my kind of anti-depressants (SSRIs) if you are married and "open to life" because SSRIs scramble baby brains. However, I very much wish I had found out what the fog in my head was when I was 19 and gone straight onto lovely lovely What-Was-It or, actually, I suppose, since What-Was-It wasn't invented yet, its grandmother Prozac. [Update: On the other hand, I see that teenagers and adults under 24 aren't supposed to be on SSRIs, and that they don't work for milder forms of depression, which means most kinds of depression. Oh dear. Well, talk to a medical doctor, if you think you are depressed.]

And now I shall toddle off purposefully to the library to work on my paid article about James III/VIII and Family.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

"Young Nuns"

In a rush, poppets. Read what I wrote over here, come back, discuss in the combox.

All I want to add is that the French nun who spoke to Catherine and the cameras stressed that a vocation can be judged by how much you want it. It is a falling in love.

"Falling in love with Jesus" does not necessarily mean becoming a monk or nun. You have to fall in love with that kind of life itself, and with a particular Rule, and with a particular group of people living the Rule. Jesus is the spouse of every Christian soul, so perhaps it is wrong to overemphasize the "Bride of Christ" aspect to religious life.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Strictly Dancing

It was quite hilarious and led to broken glass, but yesterday evening some of my friends and I began a Scottish country dance. Although we often meet for a meal after Mass on Sundays, we do not usually break into dancing. I do seem to recall spontaneous waltz some months ago, when someone began to play a waltz medley on the parlour piano, but usually no. This time I found a reel on Youtube, and my husband began to shout instructions, and almost before we knew what going on, all had joined hands and were jumping about in a circle.

Country dancing is great fun, and in its way it is like Gregorian chant: it doesn't need a lot of training and anyone can learn it. And I know anyone can learn it because I can learn it, and I am the biggest dunderhead at choreography ever. I was the bane of my ballet mistresses and their carefully planned year's end performances. Eurgh! My youngest sister is lucky to have been spared ballet; she was sent straight into Highland Dance.

So I must admit up front I have a terrible bias against partner dancing, including the waltz. I realize that in partner dancing the lady (or "follower") is supposed to just do whatever the gentleman (or "lead") wishes, but I resist such notions. Only my husband has the right to give me orders, thank you very much.

And in the case of gentlemen dancers so talented that they make the lucky ladies in their arms feel like they are floating, I am much too wicked for such temptations. My head might float away, and then where would I be, eh? So I leave the waltz, the tango, the salsa, and all other modern dances to the pure. That said, the easiest way to get over a crush on a Celtic, Anglo-Saxon or differently Germanic guy is dance a salsa with him. Total anaphrodesiac.

I hate partner dancing so much I wonder why I have taken so many classes in it. I think, though, that it is usually because of peer pressure. The words "Come on it will be fun" ring a bell, as do the words "I don't want to go by myself." It is the sort of thing my Single friends would do, and then not do again once they were married. The great majority of husbands are allergic to going out in the evening, to say nothing of going out swing- or salsa-dancing.

However, ethnic country dancing of the kind all generations can and often do at ethnic weddings is a different story entirely. For me, that means reels, jigs and dances named after such mysterious individuals as Gay Gordon and the Dashing White Sergeant. The happiest "real" dances I have done have been group affairs with callers and fiddles and occasionally pipes.

What is the difference? Not to sound like a member of the Anti-Sex League, but one big difference is that the emphasis upon Boy-Girl is almost entirely removed. It is never about Him and Me or Her and Him but upon All Of Us. In country dancing, men and women and men and men and women and women hold hands and link arms with zero sexual significance. Partners are switched with dizzying speed; all that is constant is the group.

In a world that acts as though sexual partnership is the be-all and end-all of post-pubescent existence, it is wonderful that there is an ancient social activity for men and women that celebrates them not as couples but as all together, married, single, widowed, clergy, teen.

Update: Okay, I realize that this is a total old lady question, there grinding in all the dance clubs now? I ask because I am plotting to go outdoors really late for an old person to check out a dance club downtown soon, and I have heard weird stories about women in it.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Some men are jerks; most men are not. Frankly, I do not think there is a better way of correcting the bitterness searching Single women so often feel that by upbraiding the little voice that tells them the "problem" is men.

I think it must be "Man" week on Seraphic Singles because I keep thinking about the ways in which society has shortchanged boys and men. The "hook up" culture of high school, college and clubbing is horrible for women (and the children they have or abort), but it is also horrible for men. Sex on tap is emasculating. Past generations of men knew this, from Homer--who portrayed Paris as a dumb pretty-boy--to George Bernard Shaw, who credits Napoleon with saying that "woman is the occupation of the idle man."

I do not think the deep rift between men and women can be healed until women are moved to compassion for men. And by this I mean a real, disinterested compassion, one that is not about binding a man to one's side, and not about being supported by a man or having children of a man.

Men, like women, want to be loved for themselves, their concrete selves. Women are terrified that they will have to support a man who just mooches off them; men have the same fear. Women are no longer so worried that men will see them as baby-machines; this is something that now terrifies men, and it should: occasionally I get emails from women who wonder if they should marry a man they don't love just so they can have babies. Imagine if that man was your brother or son or friend.

It is hard, as a woman, to feel compassion for men and see how weak and enslaved they are to so much, including their own sexual drives and expectations. Men are usually bigger than us and stronger; that can be scary. Men can be very dangerous, to us but also to themselves. Young women do not videotape each other being pulled on sleds along icy highways by cars; young men do and if the video makes it to TV, not-so-young men watch, absolutely rapt.

However, it is not very difficult to see how advertisers, in cahoots with the entertainment industry, are constantly stabbing through the weakest link in men's armour, their sexuality, to separate them from their money.

It's so base and yet so basic that it's part of the furniture of daily life. Every morning when I check my email I have to erase yet another invitation to increase the size of a body part I don't have. If I walk along Toronto's Yonge Street or Montreal's Rue Ste. Catharine or Edinburgh's Lothian Road, naked neon dames flash on and off, tempting men to walk inside the strip club. And the pop singer Rhianna squirms around in tiny outfits on TV, singing about "whips and chains" exciting her.

(Imagine if people forced you to read erotic passages every day while handsome men gently gave you back massages. Exactly.)

And it's not just the entertainment industry. In my local medical office, scowling, sexy, nearly-naked men glare from posters warning men with SSA that only condoms save. "Relationships can't protect you from HIV" says the poster, a blatant, brainless lie if you think for two minutes about what "relationship" actually means. And it makes me angry as a human being that the National Health Service thinks it needs to use soft porn to get its advice across to certain men.

And then there's the "progressive" double-standard, as I noted while studying for my "Living in the UK" exam: more women than men receive higher education, but nobody seems to think that this is a problem. The fact that men make more money (if they still do in the UK, which I doubt, given the benefits culture and post-industrial collapse) than women is seen to be a problem.

So yes, men sometimes hurt our feelings and sometimes disappoint us, especially by not matching up to the version of them we have in our imaginations. And they sometimes embarrass us by asking for that which a big, lying, pornographic, entertainment/psychiatric/ideological industry has led them to expect. But they are our fellow human beings, and they are in a terrible fix. I think that it is our job to help to save them from drowning--without, of course, being dragged under ourselves.

Compassion literally means "suffering with."

Update: Thanks to Healthily Sanguine in the combox for linking to this! A hilarious and touching example of How Men Think.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Maggie Gallagher on the Atlantic Piece

Good response by Maggie Gallagher to the Atlantic "All the Single Ladies" piece.

My one caveat is that many Single women do not choose to be Single and that many women who have been open to marriage, and have lived according to Christian virtues of chastity, do not marry until their forties or later.

Singleness can and should be celebrated for its blessed opportunities, which do not include the opportunity to get it on with a variety of "partners", no matter how much younger.

Men Are Who They Are

...and not who you wish they would be.

This is a quote from He's Just Not That Into You, a book I very much enjoyed, although religious girls have to mentally rewrite some parts. For example, the authors are of the opinion that if a man is that into you, he will do his best get you into bed. Catholics and other Christians and women from other religious traditions know that this is not necessarily true for men committed to their faith tradition. If an unmarried religious man is "that into you" he marries you, and if a married religious man is "that into you" he tries to avoid you, and if a priest is "that into you" he goes into denial and blames you for the whole thing. (Ha, ha, just kidding, priests. Mostly.)

(By the way, we know crushes on priests are very, very dangerous, yes? If you have one, don't beat yourself up--crushes are just the common cold of the psyche--but don't encourage it either.)

Anyway, I have been thinking about men this week because the combox has been a bit harsh on them, and the last thing I want to do is encourage a men-are-scum mentality. Men-are-scum is not a rational belief, and it is the hallmark of the Bitter Woman. Bitterness is the Single's Enemy Number One.

I may be the General of Generalizations, but the truth of the matter is that all men, although they share maleness and thus tend to share certain behaviours, are unique, and that should always be taken into consideration. And men should be taken into consideration in a logical, methodical way. When I was a teenager, I would get a crush on a guy based on what he looked like, and from his looks I extrapolated what he might be like. And then I would be away into Fantasyville because very rarely did I get to know my crush very well.

I knew boys and men in books and on TV a zillion times better than boys and men in real life. And in elementary school I had found it very disappointing that boys and men were so unlike boys and men in books and on TV. They used bad language and said very rude things and either hated girls or snogged them behind the school (or both), and often delighted in making the weak suffer, which was not something Aragorn son of Arathorn--or even Henry of the Purple Crayon--had let me to expect.

Anyway, now that I am grown-up and even married, I take a scientific interest in concrete men and watch them and listen to them and try to determine what they are like and to predict what they will do in a given situation. For the generalities, I rely on books like He's Just Not That Into You and mull over things men have told me about men and whether experience has proven those things true.

Anything is better than wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is when you think about men not in terms of who they really are but in terms of whom you wish them to be. A very, very, basic example of this is mistaking "A man with such a pleasant smile must be a wonderful man" for a viable intellectual conclusion instead of a wish. (N.B. The worst of the bullies of my elementary school had a smile that charmed the hearts of all female creatures older than the ones he beat up/molested.)

Another wish is that men be as pure as Saint Dominic Savio, who once tore up a magazine of "bad pictures" that had found its way into his schoolyard and was being gazed at by his fellow students. However, very few men are as pure as Saint Dominic Savio, who wanted to be a priest, and died at 14 anyway. Come to think of it, most women are not as pure as Saint Dominic Savio either, as you should reflect the next time you leaf through Cosmo, Vogue or a romance novel.

I am reminded of a great young Catholic friend, a married guy, who half-ruefully told me (when my other friend his beautiful wife was in the room) that he thought he might be too preoccupied with sex, and I said that I didn't see anything wrong with that as he was a young man, and married, and it was good for the species.

I thought of this because of Denise's anecdote (thank you, Denise) about the guy who said he and his friends thought of the kind of girl who threw herself at men in bars as "Practice." Denise was angry about this, and I would be angry, too, although not because men think like of girls "like that" as "Practice". Men have thought of girls "like that" as "Practice" for at least six thousand years. If they didn't avail themselves of the girls and call them "Practice", they merely despised them from afar and called them "Harlots." The Old Testament stresses avoiding such women entirely.

I can't speak for Denise, but I would be angry because not only do I not want to be thought of as "Practice", I want to be the sort of woman to whom a man is embarrassed to reveal the seamier side of male culture. I want to inspire a man to think of higher things, etc., etc., and to reflect that all womanhood is noble and that all women are made in the image and likeness of God. Obviously, the poor benighted goop who shocked Denise was not inspired by Denise to reflect upon this. But at least he is old-fashioned enough to believe that there are some girls, like Denise, who are not "for Practice." Some men think all women are up for grabs.

This is not me saying that you should give male sluts the time of day. In fact, if I were Denise, I would have told the man that I was offended by his exploitative attitude towards the silly girls who, like everyone else, just want to be loved, and gone home. But I would not have been particularly surprised by his attitude because men-in-general have, openly or secretly, despised women "like that" forever.

As generalizations go, I think I am on solid ground when I say that. Meanwhile, the substance of the post is "Men are who they are and not who you want them to be" and this is all just commentary. I will just add that if you let a man talk more than you, or just sit silently listening to him interact with a group, you can learn a lot about him.

Don't block it out or conveniently forget it because it does not jive with your expectations. If he says something that seems disappointing or unreasonable, and you are reluctant to ask questions about what he has said, go check it out with your brother or a good male friend.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Forces of History

Berenike sent me this Atlantic Monthly article, and I most definitely think it is worth a read. By the way, I wonder when people will stop using "All the Single Ladies" as a title for everything written about Single people.

Read the whole thing. It is long, so get a coffee.

The article is worth a read because it shows that the Dominant Narrative, which is not Catholicism, has woken up and noticed what forty years of the feminist revolution and much social engineering has wrought. Of course, the Dominant Narrative thinks this is mostly pretty good, especially the part about Single women having (doing) as much sex as they like and Single women embracing "biological parenthood." It ignores, of course, the mangled corpses of millions of aborted human fetuses and the natural wish of children to have and know their fathers.

Page 2 of the article does acknowledge the ill-effects the past forty years have had on men, economic and moral. Economically, men are often in a worse situation than women, and morally the ones who can get it are more interested in having sex than in having committed relationships until (page 3) they apparently hit "Marriage O'Clock" at the age of 35.

The article also talks about historical periods in which there have been literal man-shortages. I find it significant, however, that instead of talking about England, France or Germany after the First World War, the writer chooses (page 2) to look at atheist communist Russia after World War Two. The illegitimacy rate in Britain was at its LOWEST by the end of the 1950s whatever it was in Russia.

And it also looks at the American (but not just American) problem of the black, fatherless underclass. One of life's little ironies that makes me grind my teeth to stumps is that comparatively rich white and Asian kids in Canada, the USA, Britain, France and Germany think American black ghetto culture--the big stupid baseball caps, the falling down jeans, the horrible noises--so goldarned glamorous. Little European girls of eight do bump and grind routines to lyrics celebrating unfettered, uncommitted, blatantly misogynist or misandrist sex. How on earth did we get from dignified, well-dressed, church-going civil rights marchers to that?

I could go on and on, but instead I will cut to the chase. And the chase is that a healthy society is a society in which men and women co-operate and love each other. Loving each other means men and women respecting each other's differences and understanding what makes each other happy. It doesn't mean shaming them or ourselves into some brand new notion of what human beings SHOULD be like. It certainly doesn't mean saying that men are redundant. How can that POSSIBLY make men flourish?

Meanwhile, as the article points out, there have been times in history when there were not a lot of "marriageable men." In Britain, women's chances for marriage were blighted by war. Some Single women (like Rose Macaulay and sex-obsessed Diana Athill) made extramarital sexual arrangements in the wake of war, but others lived lives of impeccable respectability. Some of the post-WW2 Singles are still alive, and there is a set of very elderly and frail Edinburgh bluestockings that totter together determinedly to every arts event or lecture they can manage.

It is possible to face a husband-free existence with class and determination; women always have, and usually on much less money than today. But, for society at large, the destruction of marriage, which is the proper cradle of children and the protection of men and women from sexual decadence, is a seriously terrible thing.

What if the reason why American white people are comparatively more successful than American black people, or Europeans comparatively richer than Caribbean people, IS marriage? For me, racism is not noticing that some people flourish better than others. It is assuming that success is naturally determined by race. Europeans have not flourished because they are white; Europeans have flourished because the majority of European men have been proper husbands and fathers.

The Christian Single Life does not denigrate Married Life. The Best (and the tradition of the Church is that perpetual virginity is the highest state in life, barring martyrdom) must not be the enemy of the Good. So on this blog, even as I hope to convince Single women that their Singleness is not just a cross but an invitation to holiness, I am also very pro-marriage. Anyone who cares about their culture--or the flourishing of the human race--should care about marriage. Marriage is about the proper ordering of relations among men, women and children. It is not about sentiment, gifts and a champagne reception.

Meanwhile, we should all have a hard look at reality--and I mean reality. Recently a 15 year old child in Ontario, a child with loving parents and many friends, who identified publicly as "gay" and read with interest material by Dan Savage for gay teens, took his own life. He noted that being an openly homosexual teenager was not like it was on "Glee." Of course it is not like it is on "Glee!" What you can learn about real life from television is almost nothing.*

And thus the article to which I have linked is very interesting. If it is true that men get all anxious about marriage at 35, and if it is true that men prefer to marry women younger than themselves, and if it is true that the way to keep a husband happy is to look at him adoringly, then this is useful information. If you are (despite my protests) on a Catholic dating website, stop complaining about that men your age won't look at you and start catching the eye of men ten years older. And if you think you would rather die than acknowledge your husband as the head of the household, give your think a think.


*Note: I had a look at the poor child's blog, and it is seriously disturbing. It juxtaposes homoerotic images and gay porn with notes and photographs about suicide, photographs and notes about his self-harm, quotes from another gay teen about her own disappointing love life, and declarations that his friends aren't really his friends.

This is an incredibly sad story, and the boy was terribly bullied, and heads should roll. But what has gotten lost in the media circus is that he had a bottomless, irrational, unhealthy, impossible hunger to be loved and accepted by everybody.

Most people don't have this, thank goodness. Most of us understand that there will always be people who don't like us, who are mean to us (if they can be), and are uncomfortable with our hugs and neediness. I understand that there are men and even women who will always dislike me because I am a woman, Catholic, white, foreign, whatever.

If we belong to an ideological minority and we can't take the heat, we get out of the kitchen: I lasted only two years or so as an on-the-street, blatant-button-wearing pro-lifer. I couldn't take the verbal abuse, and I got seriously depressed. I did not stop being pro-life, of course, but I thought very prudently about how to express this controversial stance and to whom to reveal it.

Despite years of bullying, this poor child didn't know how to do that yet. He trusted to "Glee", and not to experience, when he sought love and acceptance through "Rainbow Club" posters. It is terrible that a mentally unstable 15 year old was allowed become his school's gay rights crusader.

As difficult and as unpleasant as it can be, we must stare reality in the face.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Sin and Stupid Sin

This could be a very long post or it could be very short. I have just broken off a long one, so I could cut to the chase.

(Update: As I generalize more than ever in this post, it would be helpful to know that I am thinking of university students in Canada and the United States.)

Sin is sin. It's either bad or super-bad. If you feel awake and brainy, read all about it here. Sin in itself is pretty stupid, since to choose any created thing over God is stupid.

My excuse (since for a moment I feel like arguing our case to God) for our backsliding is that people try to bang atheistic materialism or various other heresies into our brains all day long. I feel sorry for us. Secularism is a cracker that serves up the philosophy of the bureaucrats, and in the West the bureaucrats are no longer Christians as we understand them but Feel Gooders who seem to think Brave New World was a brilliant self-help book, not a dire warning.

When it comes to sexual sins, non-religious girls [update: who make it to university] have an edge over religious girls in the prudence department. Religious* girls believe sex is something we're not supposed to have** until we are married. Non-religious girls believe sex is something women should have if (and only if) we have thought about it and decided we want it. These are not, by the way, completely contradictory. When it comes to stubbornly defending what we really want, we can learn from the non-religious girls.

Religious girls bolster their faith that God does not want us to have sex before we are married with a zillion fear-based arguments as to why we shouldn't have sex, e.g. pregnancy, disease, loss of reputation, broken hearts. However, non-religious girls think they have those problems solved because they are taught about contraception, abortion "rights", their right to be sexual, and option to "have sex like men"--a libel on many men, incidentally. Not all men can "have sex like men." They too have hearts that can be broken.

Religious girls and non-religious girls go to the same colleges and very often have prickly, if not outright hostile, relationships with each other. Religious girls sometimes put up pro-life posters, and non-religious girls rip them down. Non-religious girls leave brightly wrapped condoms for other girls in washrooms, and religious girls throw them out. Of course, they sometimes do talk together about their differences, and the religious girls are rather shaken by the faith of the non-religious girls in their "sexual rights." When it comes to catechism classes these days, Venus has the edge. Her missionaries are on fire. They seem so confident.

This can lead religious girls to doubt. And it doesn't help our faith when right-on, "progressive" Catholics (and other Christians) tell us that all that stuff in the Bible and tradition against fornication is "man-made law." (I had a Catholic therapist who told me that kind of thing.) These "man-made laws", say our progressive brothers and sisters, were invented by men to control women because men feared female sexuality so much, etc. God wants us to be "happy", etc.

All this can tempt a religious girl to give in. And I mean "give in", not "boldly choose to be a sexual subject" like her non-religious classmates. The religious girl has been trained to submit her will to the will of God, but with enough argument she can be made to submit her will to the will of a man to whom she has an inordinate attachment. That's a very serious and stupid sin.

The non-religious girl has sex because she really wants to. This, outside marriage, is a serious sin, but it is not necessarily a stupid sin. The religious girl sometimes has sex although she doesn't really want to because the man she thinks she is in love with wants to, or because she wants to hang onto the man and thinks this the way to do it. That's very stupid.

The problem may be that a religious girl believes all premarital sexual intercourse is equally sinful, so she might as well be damned for a crush object-sheep as for a fiance-lamb. But a non-religious girl thinks of sex as being safe, safer or unsafe and makes her decisions accordingly.

I think it dangerous that religious girls think they are either pitiable or special because they are not having sex and all the non-religious girls around are. As a matter of fact, the non-religious girls aren't necessarily having sex. The non-religious girls might be, in fact, highly moral and sexually conservative according to their lights. Just because they believe they should have sex when they want to, and tell Catholic you that ten times a day, doesn't mean they are willing to have sex with just anyone or at any time or just because they thinks a man is hot.

The non-religious girl does not ask herself, when confronted with sexual temptation "Is this good?" but "Is this smart?" The religious girl after asking herself "Is this good?", and answering "No, but I'm going to do it anyway" skips over the "Is this smart?" question. That's stupid.

Thus although this is not a category recognized by the Church, Mater et Magistra, and I could not put it in a book and expect a nice bishop or provincial to stamp the MS with "Nihil Obstat", I note a difference in sin and stupid sin. If you have sexual intercourse with your fiance, you are committing a sin. But if you have sexual intercourse with a man who isn't even a dear friend, you are committing a very stupid sin indeed.

The one theologian I can think of who backs me up in the discussion of sin and stupid sin is C.S. Lewis, who said something like (I paraphrase) "A fool is a man who sins and doesn't even enjoy it; he gets neither his bun nor his penny."

What is the solution to the problem of stupid sin? I think it might be the ability to meet the non-religious girls and the "progressive" theologians with more preparation and more charity.

It was a great shock to me when I discovered in university that "sexually active" girls in university were neither miserable nor ashamed nor secretive nor pregnant, like certain girls in my all-girls Catholic school. Religious women should not be that naive about "sexually active" women when we get to university. We might even admire them for their only-when-I-want-it stance. The best should not be the enemy of the good, and their belief in their sovereignty over their bodies is good--to an extent. It certainly beats the "Because I love him, and I'm hoping for the best" rationalization of our dumber fellow Catholics.

What is not good is that they think women have the right to hand the keys to the kingdom to whoever we wish, husband or not. That's where their sense of autonomy goes wrong. However, the idea that women are the keepers of the keys, and that the keys must not be handed over without a lot of careful consideration, is a good start.

Okay, today's combox theme is really good books on the subject of Catholic teaching and sexuality, stuff that would come in really handy in dorm-room debates with very nice, very confident, sexually-active women. And when I say handy, I mean handy for you and your confidence in Catholic teaching about sexuality in the face of their confidence in the soi-disant sexual revolution.

*Meaning, observant to the tenets of your religion and the only religion that I've come across that thinks all consensual sex is just a-okay is Wicca.

**Why do we say sex is something we "have" when it is somthing people do?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sunshine for a Monday morning

Oh boy. In the wake of the past two posts, I have had two serious emails. The first was from a 40-something Single who was basically traumatized by the horrible sex-war dystopia the two posts revealed, a world she described as being populated by evil vampires on one side and female idiots on the other. The second was from a 20-second who is dating a very attentive man she doesn't love but thinks maybe she should marry since compared to whiny sex-demanding boy-men of the two posts, he is a rare catch.

This made me think that it is time for a happy, hopeful post.

The problem with writing about the Single Life is that no matter how much people try to convince Singles that the Single Life is good and noble and can be lived in a happy, contented way, the great majority of young Singles will still want to get married. And as marriage has been greatly attacked and eroded by everything successive popes said would attack and erode it, marriage seems less and less of a sure thing. And, thus, as if this were 1890, women dread being 30 and Single, 35 and Single, 40 and Single, even though there has been no better time in history for women to be Single.

I still get emails asking me if I think the writers should settle. But here is what one reader wrote about settling: "At the same time, I seems you and your husband, BA, had a good connection early on and still enjoy talking to each other. So do my parents. I am worried if I marry this guy, I will dread coming home to someone I find boring."

And it occurs to me that I should talk to you again about B.A and me. Fortunately, one of the defining characteristics is that he is as laid-back as I am a walking bundle of nerves, so he won't mind.

But first I will tell you about good men in general. First of all, there are a lot of them. Almost obody writes Auntie Seraphic to tell her about the wonderful man with whom the reader has an amazing connection, and how their biggest problem is which hall to have the wedding in, since all the halls are booked two years in advance. Thus, if your only discussion about men comes from this blog, you are going to have rather a gloomy view of them.

However, I know a lot of good men. My dad and brothers (one of whom is Single) are very good men indeed. I had some good-man classmates at both my Canadian and American theology schools, and pre-B.A. I met the good-man brother of a Jesuit pal to see if sparks would fly. (They did not.) Today I know two or three fine young Polish university students and some excellent married men, Catholic and non, and some charming grey-haired men who have been unmarried so long, it would be too much of a shock for them to get married now.

There are also good men who were lousy whiny boy-men when they were in their teens and early 20s, as they ruefully confess to me in their 30s and 40s.

And there is B.A. Sometimes I wail that B.A. and I did not meet when we were in our early 20s, but then we agree we were probably not ready for marriage to each other when we were in our early 20s. B.A. was even interested in becoming an Anglican clergyman, which is fine for Anglican girls, but not so fine for Catholic girls like me.

Meanwhile, I was still in the grip of adolescence, totally unrooted in reality, and my brain synapses zigged when they should zag and vice versa. Honestly. And one of my biggest problems was that for too long I thought men were gods to be worshiped, monsters to be feared or status symbols to be attracted. And this was just bonkers because I had brothers and therefore should have known better.

Happily, I grew up and got a clue. And I also got B.A., which was a great surprise since it looked like I might start an enterprising career of ministering to Single people and being a Professional Single. But no. First B.A. started leaving witty remarks on my blog, and then such readers who were his friends started sending me his photo. Next I sent him chapters of a novel about a Scottish girl so he could correct the "Americanisms", and then we met in a bus station. He was wearing a tweed jacket that almost knocked my eyes out, so bright was it. And then he began to talk and didn't stop, except to chew and presumably to sleep.

I immediately caught a miserable cold, and in the mornings I would want to kill B.A. because he wouldn't stop talking, but by the late afternoons I would be in love with him because he was amazing, and eventually I felt the same in the mornings as I did in the afternoons, and fortunately for me, he proposed marriage shortly after that.

I make haste to point out that we were in our late thirties and that from the moment I stepped into the wooden church in which the Edinburgh Trids have Mass, the Edinburgh Trids all seemed to decide I should marry B.A. Everyone looked very cunning and soppy by turns. The peer pressure was immense, and I had just met these people. Even before we knew we should be a couple, a whole lot of even-older people did.

And then I went off to see Der Gute and Volker in Germany, and talked their ears off about the wonderfulness of B.A., which greatly annoyed Volker, who begged me to use his phone and talk to a girlfriend instead.

Skip ahead past the engagement (long-distance) and the wedding (small) and the honeymoon (cheap) and the first two years, and you have Mr and Mrs B.A. getting along quite merrily, especially when I do the merest modicum of housework. B.A. does his very interesting job, and I sit in his (well, his job's) very interesting house and write interesting things and occasionally do a load of laundry. For me the weirdest thing is eating dinner with just one person, instead of six, as I was raised to do, but we go to or have dinner parties, so that makes life seem more normal.

Sunday is the most important day of the week, not only because we go to Mass but because we spend most of the day with a gang of people who are mad-keen on the Extraordinary Form and other things pertaining the the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

If life is boring sometimes, that is my own fault for not getting a "proper job", and never B.A's fault because he is never boring. He is always making a joke or having an idea or fighting with someone who "is wrong on the internet". He is very popular with amusing, laid-back, intelligent, creative people because he is amusing, laid-back, intelligent and creative himself. He is also very loyal, not just to me, but to all his friends, and he is very kind indeed about my tendency to mope around in my pyjamas complaining about the forces of heterodoxy that destroyed my academic career, etc.

I am often very surprised by how very nice and kind B.A. is, and I wonder what that says about me. I suppose some women might find that boring, but I certainly do not. I hate a row more than anything, at least when it is about something that is clearly my fault ;-). And I am always thankful that I can make up all kinds of outrageous jokes ("That's it! I'm going back to Canada!") without him ever taking them seriously and getting hurt or mad.

I suppose we are both very flirty people, and now that I think about it, we flirt with each other constantly in private, although not in public, where apparently the done thing is for us to mildly insult each other instead. (An occasion for one of our earliest culture-clash rows.) If you can stand the gory detail, we were happily flirting away at 7:45 AM this morning in the kitchen, as I told him I had been arguing in the combox for his right not to be made out with. About 75% of what we say to each other is complete piffle, but it all seems to add up to happiness.

Okay, that's enough because I don't want to give you sunstroke. But I did want to give you an example of what one happy marriage looks like, two-and-a-half years after the wedding, so that you don't think you ought to settle for decent-but-boring just because so many 20-something men seem to be out-and-out so-and-sos. I could never be happy with decent-but-boring myself because I would treat such a man like crap. I am not proud of this fact, but it is a fact. As a married lady, I could only be happy and good with a human sparkler like B.A., and lo.

Today in the combox feel free to praise a good man, so that we all remember there are lots of them.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Chesterton Would Vomit

More doom and gloom today because a reader sent me this link to a rival Auntie. Here is a snippet:

"Dear Margo: My daughter, 22, refuses to go out with men. Why? It seems that girls of her generation have created a situation where the young man summons the young woman to his apartment to "hook up." That's the date: no phone call, just a text message. Then, after the event, the girl wonders why he doesn't call. In addition, the young lady is expected to wax her privates and carry baby wipes in her purse so she can be fresh and ready for anything. This is because men like "young" girls.

If you recall our college days, gentlemen called you no later than Wednesday for a Saturday night date. They wined and dined you and walked you to the door for a goodnight kiss, if they were lucky. Sex came later, when the woman felt she was in a committed relationship. Young women today should all unite, stop waxing and "take back the night." — Sally"

Go read what Margo says and then what the daughter says and then come back to me so we can wring our hands and wail about the death of civilisation together. And you were wondering why so many Islamic immigrants are so in love with the idea of sharia law.

But I have a lot of quibbles with this letter. First of all, I wonder how old Sally is, because I am almost old enough to have a 22 year old daughter myself, and in MY college days, very few gentlemen called you no later than a Wednesday for a Saturday night date. This was because they didn't read The Rules, which says that is what men SHOULD do. They did, however, call because there was no texting yet. There was still such a concept as the "Saturday night date" although, really, once you had a boyfriend, you just hung out as much as possible.

Also, you got walked to your door only if you insisted on it. In my college days, college age men were generally clueless about how scary it is for women to be out on their own after dark, particularly from the bus stop. One night a male friend of mine thought it would be a really good joke to scare me as I made my way home from the bus stop. He met my Inner Banshee. Most men of my generation had no idea, NO IDEA, what it might be like to be a woman when they were in college.

Men and women of my college years, like men and women of my grandmother's generation's college years, made out like bandits. (My grandmother was born in 1904, and didn't go to college, but she told me she would catch her college-age sister "necking" on the sofa.) The "good-night kiss" was a first date, will he/won't he, will I/won't I, worry, although even when I was in high school, a few girls would make out with cute strangers on the dance floor.

Sex probably "came later" for the vast majority of undergrads who did not get drunk at parties to steel themselves to do what they wrongly thought the majority was doing. I'll give Sally that. We did not reside in the sexual world she describes, with its Brazilian waxes and baby wipes.

Now I'll talk about that. First of all, I don't think this world was created by the college girls of today. It was created by p*rnographers. It was created by HBO. It may have been created by the writers of "Sex and the City". It was created by the music industry, possibly inspired by Madonna Ciccone. (In the 1980s, children, that far-off decade in which you were born, female pop stars wore big baggy clothes. The only pop star who pranced around in underwear was Madonna Ciccone, and those of us who copied her made it look 80s instead of sexy. The very daring might wear a bra over her shirt, not just a bra. Boy, those were the days.) I spend the 1990s in Goth clubs, but I recall that most women wore jeans to class. Jeans and t-shirts and no make-up. Make-up was so high school.

Incidentally, Naomi Klein was an undergrad at the University of Toronto when I was, and the feminists of that era loathed Camille Paglia and pro-porn feminism. They were beginning to waffle on "sex work", but they were still generally against porn. In so far as they thought about having children at all, they were sure they would bring up their sons to respect women as partners and equals and all of that. I doubt any of us could have predicted that their sons would summon girls to their beds with a text-message or that our daughters would simply shave their private parts and go.

The shaving thing would have made us all, radical feminists and Catholics, throw up, and indeed I do feel a twinge of nausea because only prepubescent girls do not have pubic hair. I suppose, though, that porn actresses don't either, because I can't imagine where else men would get the idea that adult women don't have pubic hair. (John Ruskin was a different headcase altogether.)

And the text message summonses would also have made us throw up, as would the baby wipes. My feminist pals carried condoms in their bags to protect themselves from disease, not baby wipes to make themselves all fresh and nice for non-paying clients.

By the way, you'll notice that I am taking Sally's ideas about today at face value, which might be a mistake. If she wildly exaggerated the (snork snork) chivalry of the 1980s or 1990s, she might be exaggerating what her daughter told her. However, my heart broke at [high-profile American soi-disant Catholic college] when a professor reported the findings about Frosh Week, which was that incoming students, in their shyness and fear and who knows what, get absolutely smashed at parties so as to be able have sex with each other later. After that, it is easy to believe thousands of American girls are trotting around to men's bedrooms like absentminded hookers who forget to ask for payment.

Why do women act like this? I almost wrote "girls", but maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe we should hark back to the 1990s, when it was considered wrong to refer to any woman over 12 as "a girl." It could be that women think they are SUPPOSED to. But who told them this? And why do they believe it?

Meanwhile, I am absolutely sure this situation is not fault of children born in the late '80s and '90s. They were groomed for it--but by whom? Surely not just Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda?

Incidentally, one of the commentators scolds Margo about her advice that Sally's daughter should accept dates. So far nobody has asked Sally's daughter on a real date, so she is quite right to say no to everyone who just invites his over to their place. Personally, I would ask Sally's daughter why she picked the pseudonym "Virgin Whore". She is quite obviously not a whore, and refuses to act like one or be treated like one. If it is because she feels sexually frustrated, that's just mad because most adult women feel sexually frustrated at least of the time. Meanwhile, she's only 22. Most men are not old enough for marriage at 22. She should wait for a grown-up. A grown-up will ask her out for dinner.

Now that we are all depressed, I will tell you that the male university students I know do not summon women to their beds with text messages. They are Catholic and Polish and wish to be married. They have fiancees or they hope to find one soon. So there is hope for your generation, particularly if you are Polish.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Overwhelming Question

I got an email from a reader the other day. She was full of anxiety about a situation I am sure many (if not most) of you know all too well. After being set up by a friend with a guy who doesn't value chastity (except when it suits him), she had to explain that she doesn't want to have sex before marriage.

By the way, this is an example of how we have to fight like berserkers to stop "gay marriage" and other upheavals of the social order. Don't think, "Oh well. If we lose this battle, we can just go and form our own little Christian enclaves, and we'll be left alone." Ah ha ha. That isn't going to happen. And it shouldn't happen. For example, let's look at what the average English chap thought relationships with girls looked like in 1911 and what he thinks they look like now:

1910: 1. Find nice girl--(don't get sidetracked by bad girls), 2. marry nice girl, 3. sleep with nice girl, 4. eventually become proud papa.

2011: 1. have as much sex as you can have, with as many consenting partners as you can find, because this is the greatest thing in life; 2. when you feel like "getting serious", find nice girl; 3. sleep with nice girl to make sure monogamy will not stop the sex supply; 4. when you feel ready, move in with nice girl and split chores 70/30 although you said 50/50, but come on, she must be a neat freak; 5. when your friends have started getting married, ask nice girl to marry you and be rewarded by her shrieks of joy and gratitude; 6. have huge blow-out wedding once you can afford it; 7. have child once you can afford him/her/it.

The man in the 2011 scenario is not an evil bastard. He is just an ordinary bloke of his times. And therefore that is the kind of bloke we are dealing with most of the time. Even if he is a western Catholic, from a Catholic family, he probably unconsciously believes in the 2011 scenario because he gets messages that this is normal every day. This is why just scooting off into enclaves is no way to deal with outrageous social engineering. If you do that, then you've lost the war without a fight, and any Catholic who is willing to do so can never make a remark about "once dropped, never fired" French rifles ever again.

Back to my reader. My reader did not tell the guy up front that she did not want to have sex before marriage. When the Overwhelming Question came up, she tried to put it as vaguely as possible, so the guy thought she just wanted to be sure she could "trust him" first. And, actually, this was true, because the only man you can trust with your private parts is your husband, and then only after your husband, unless he has never had sex before, has been declared clean of sexually transmitted diseases. But this vagueness only delayed the crisis in which my reader had to tell him what he thought very bad news indeed. Hands up everyone who has gone through THAT!

Well, I will not go into in tooth-grinding details, but in short it was All About Him and he said that if he had known that right up front, he would have dumped her, but as he had grown to care for her, he was willing to put up with it and see where the relationship might go. However, he worried that he might grow to resent it.


The A response to "I don't want to have sex until I am married" is "Oh my gosh. I totally respect that, and I hope you don't feel like I've been pressuring you."

The B response is "Of course you don't. If you were the kind of girl who did, we would not be together." (This is vaguely annoying, but I can hear most of the Catholic guys I know saying that.)

Everything else is F for Fail.

Because our grandparents and great-grandparents lost some serious battles in the 1960s, young women are told every freaking day that they are stealing from men if they do not have sex with them. It is positively schizoid: on the one hand "Your body, your choice", and on the other, "I feel so hurt that you will not have sex with me. I see this as you having power over me, and that's not equality. I associate this kind of behaviour with needy women, and am disappointed with you. Why are you being such a bitch about this?"

When it comes to you killing their kids when said kids still kind of look like tadpoles or space aliens, A-OK. When it comes to you explaining that sex is for marriage, AAAAAAAAAH! You're worse than Stalin.

I'm afraid the one cure for the horrible position Mr Resentment puts you in, concerning the sovereignty of your body, is to dump him before he dumps you or, worse, badgers you over the long months into having sex with him.

The pattern will look like this: MR WONDERFUL mr angry MR WONDERFUL mr angry MR WONDERFUL mr angry. He plays good cop/bad cop all by himself until you are half-insane. No man is worth that, so if he fails the Sex Talk, ditch him.

For lo, it is he, NOT YOU, who has failed the Sex Talk.

The only man on earth you are indebted to have sex with is your husband, if you have one, and even that is open to some negotiation under some circumstances. You are under no obligation to have sex with anyone else. Meanwhile, men are obliged BY GOD not to be bastards about it. Of course, if they are bastards about it, your tummy will know, and even if you don't want to listen to your tummy, your tummy will tell you to dump them. You should listen to your tummy because your tummy is your best friend and it is screaming "Red Alert! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Red Alert!"

Society is broken, and although society is still very much down on out-and-out rape by violence, society does not give much of a damn about rape by Chinese-water-torture nagging and sighing and "What about MY needs?" And society has more-or-less told young people that they will die or go crazy if they do not have "regular sex", so society has created successive generations of men who think they have a right to it. Not just in marriage, and not even just in exchange for money to prostitutes, but for free, from the girl who likes them enough to make out.

G.K. Chesterton, who was around in 1911, would be appalled. He would be staggered that not only do men in great numbers debauch the kind of women they might (or should) marry, they make such women feel bad about refusing to be debauched. And not only that, instead of dismissing such men with the steely, noble gaze of a red-headed Chesterton heroine, women feel bad about saying no. We feel guilty. We wonder if we are being selfish.

Well, we aren't. We are being good. We are protecting ourselves, our hearts, our health, our future husband's health, our future children's health, our histories and our immortal souls. We are even protecting the sulky moron who feels personally attacked by our refusal to have sex with him. We are behaving like women have for thousands or years.

He, meanwhile, is also behaving like men have for thousands of years. He can dress up his routine with 21st century waffle about "rights" and "needs" and "equality", but as some rather pessimistic woman said long before the sexual revolution, "His job to try, and your job to say no."

I throw this in because of the men who actually squeak a pass from the Sex Talk Test. Lapsed Catholic men from Mediterranean cultures who have been around the block a few times and then meet a Nice Catholic Girl will sometimes try the old "voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?" anyway and then get The Sex Talk. Then Mr Mediterranean Cultural Catholic says something like, "Well, I don't like it, but I respect that." Then they will either stick around and get married or they will scram.

Actually it is only on the topmost level of their consciousness they don't like it. Subconsciously they have moved the NCG from the "Foxy Lady" category to the "Potential Wife" category. And, if he sticks around, the NCG can expect a ring real soon because a man in love is still a man who wants to have sex. Duh.

An Amusing Word about Making Out: I get a lot of letters in which readers admit to making out with non-husbands. Because almost everyone not a priest, including Archie Comics, tells you that making out with non-husbands is fine and fun, gazillions of Catholics end up making out.

Actually, I think making out with non-husbands is risky, judgement-clouding, obviously sexually-charged behaviour. It certainly channels sexual frustration, but I believe it makes it worse, especially for men, if memory of masculine complaint serves, unless you are getting married next week.

You may say, "Oh come on, Seraphic, now you are sounding kind of old-ladyish. Making out with non-husbands is not such a big deal." Okay, then, so can, like, I make out with non-husbands?

You: (screams) No! Of course you can't! You're MARRIED!

Me: Okay, so you can make out with non-husbands because you are Single, and I can't because I'm Married?

You: Exactly.

Me: So because you are Single you can have highly charged sexual experiences with a man here and a man there, and because I am Married, I can't.

You: Um. Yes. Um.

Me: Where is this in Scripture and tradition again? Because, you know, I thought any deliberately chosen, highly-charged sexual experiences were just for Married people.

You: Um.

Me: Ah hah!

You: Don't go all Smug Married on us, or we'll come to Scotland and kill you.

Me: Just sayin'.

Update: National Catholic Singles Conference . Girlfriend has ideas quite similar to mine, except that she is a Theology of the Boditarian. Hat tip to Berenike, who sent me the link.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Power and Illusion

There is a school of thought rampant in theology schools called "the hermeneutic of suspicion." The hermeneutic of suspicion is obsessed with power, although usually just who has it. It helps you to lose your love for and trust in Holy Scriptures and tradition because it demands that you read them thinking "And if this is so, who has the power?"

In my experience, theologians who worry so much about power and who has it are quite powerful themselves. Academia is about political alliances as much as it is about grades. The successful theology student is the theology student who is lucky enough to find professors he or she agrees with (and therefore doesn't threaten) and a thesis adviser who cares enough to get him or her through the whole awful process of getting a PhD and--if he or she is lucky and their professor-patrons have enough clout--a good teaching job. The power professors have over their job-hungry students is quite scary, and even scarier is that they do not notice it as they fulminate about "who has the power."

Catholic North America is full of intensely powerful academics who are afraid that the CDF is going to swoop down on them and take their power away. Thus, they think they are the powerless ones, even as they hold the careers of the next generation of Catholic theologians in their hands.*

Even without a professorship, priests have a lot of power. A lot. Possibly the best cinematic example of this I have seen recently is the scene in "Doubt" where the priest--who may or not be a child-abuser--demands of the hard-as-nails nun who believes he is if she has ever committed a mortal sin. She bursts into tears. "Yes, Father," she quavers. And that's not just a 1950s thing.

We are talked to about self-empowerment, and we hear the expression "power to the people", and we hear "fight the power", and we are told to discover our own power. Feminists, in recent decades, have talked about sexual power. In the 1970s, feminists were all about modest clothing that was comfortable and did not highlight secondary sexual characteristics. By the 1990s, however, feminists supported power-dressing and women using their sexuality to get what they want "in the boardroom AND in the bedroom."

The problem with sexual power, however, is that it is largely illusory.

I'm hammering out a philosophy about sexual power, and I think ultimately the winner in the whole power game is power itself.

Take, for example, two characters in my favourite novel, Turnip-Tops by Ethel Boileau (1926). (It is an odd favourite novel to have, but we do not choose our favourite novels: they choose us.) One character is an intensely intelligent, art-loving and fastidious Oxford student named Colin. The other is a middle-aged, married socialite named Arlene. She is beautiful and married and takes rather a shine to Colin, the son of her friend Alison, the narrator.

Now, who do you think has the power in their relationship? Is it the single young man, or is it the aging if beautiful married woman? We all know of course that the young have oodles of sexual power because they are so young and so attractive and so... and so... and... Um...

Actually, Arlene has a history, it turns out, of attracting earnest young men and then breaking their hearts for fun. Her husband is disgusted by her behaviour, but won't divorce her because "she has all the money" and the scandal would be enormous. So when the narrator discovers what is going on, she desperately figures out how to put a stop to the affair before Colin fails all his exams.

So it would seem that Arlene has the power, and why not? She has a husband at home, money and everything she could possibly want. Colin, on the other hand, is an intensely idealistic, unmarried man of 20 or so, and therefore a seething mass of hormones and unrequited desire. (And by the way, the love of an honest younger woman could mean squat to Colin. Yours truly has been dumped for ten-years-older women twice.) Colin is very flattered by Arlene's interest in him and his ideas, and I can just imagine him explaining his philosophy of life, as brainy young men like to do, as she nods, pretends to listen and brushes the hair out of her face with a perfectly painted fingernail.

And indeed poor old Colin suffers intensely indeed. His ideals are besmirched and he cannot believe the cruelty of women, etc. But--now that I am 40--I am left feeling even sorrier for Arlene, because it is now obvious to me that Arlene is bored of her life, which is why she is addicted to the kick of attracting young men and making them smile and then eventually cry. Arlene is a slave to her own sense of sexual power.

Now that I am even older than this fictional Arlene person, I feel very protective of the young and their illusions about their own sexual power. It blows my mind that there are undergrad girls who intentionally dress like tramps because they think they will get better grades if their lecturers are sexually attracted to them. How crestfallen would they be if they ever heard what professors and T.A.'s think about THAT.

The young are very beautiful, but they are not often very smart about sexual politics, which we tend to learn not from real life but from Hollywood. Pretty Woman, I regret to say because I enjoyed it, is a movie that did great evil, a complete and utter fairy tale which too many girls around the world took as a documentary, just as now others take Sex & the City as Gospel.

(This reminds me of a photo of myself at 20. I have beautiful, beautiful skin and big blue eyes and look as worldly-wise as your average bunny rabbit. All that kept me out of serious trouble for so long was Catholicism and the kindness of older people.)

I was thinking about all this yesterday because, in contrast to who I was at 20, I am now a middle-aged married lady with insane levels of confidence. (Unlike many women, when I look in the mirror I think I look thinner than I am.) Yesterday--I say this not to brag but to illustrate--I was out with girlfriends and as I walked through a snazzy bar in my quest for the loo--various faces turned to watch me. (When I was 20, I would not have noticed.)

The faces probably turned because, even when ironed flat as it currently is, I weirdly have more hair on my head than anyone else, but I felt very attractive and powerful all the same. People are, after all, very attracted to happy, confident people, no matter how far from the model-perfect beauty standard they are.

And then I was brought up short because I realized that I could become very quickly addicted to this feeling of power. And that would not make me very powerful at all, but merely a slave to power. And, then, bottom line, I would be in danger of hell.

This is not really an issue for you, my little Singles, since you are much more likely to be the exploited than the exploiters. (Honestly, and by the way deciding to remain chaste is in no way exploitation, whatever manipulative men may tell you.)File this away for later.

Mostly I suggest that right now you not put too much trust in your "sexual power." As the narrator of Turnip Tops concluded, that kind of power is a weapon that can break in your hand. Really, you should think about the good influence you might be having on the people around you in your determination to follow Christ and the bad influence you might be having when you fail.

*The Holy Spirit might have something to say about that, however, as I silently pondered in the studio of Radio Warszawa last week.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Auntie Seraphic & the Speaker's Acquaintance

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A few weeks ago, I a friend introduced me to an out-of-town guest. I was surprised to discover that this guest was an attractive single man about my age. I got flustered and while I didn’t do anything too embarrassing, I kind of got quiet & shy and didn’t let him see the best parts of me. However, my interest was sparked...something that (a friend observed) hasn’t happened for me in some time. I find myself wishing for an opportunity to get to know him better.

This guest is returning to town soon, to participate in a public forum. I am interested in the topic, as well as in the man, and so I am planning to go to the event. My question is: how do I go about saying hello and starting a conversation with him, without actually chasing after him?

I’m so not good at this - I despise any hint that I’m “throwing myself” at a man - but some friends have pointed out that you do have to let the guy know that you’re open to his attention. And one married female friend has encouraged me to let him know about a few things we have in common. Of course, after that the ball would be in his court.

No, he didn’t call me, email me, or friend me on Facebook. I realize he could be completely uninterested. But he’ll be back in town briefly, and then not again until who knows when. Would it be violating The Rules to show up to a public event where he will be and start a conversation with him? If not, how can I go about doing this?

Thanks for any practical tips you can give.

Speaker's Acquaintance

Dear Speaker's Acquaintance,

As he is coming to a public forum, there is no harm in you going up to him afterwards to say, "Hi, I'm [Speaker's Aquaintance]. We met at so-and-so's house. I really enjoyed your talk. Listen, if you're not doing anything afterwards, X, Y and I would be happy to take you out for a drink." Having been introduced to him by a mutual friend, you have the right to talk to him. In fact, you have to, to be polite.

Suggesting you and your friends whisk him away for a drink is just good hospitality to a someone who you know who has travelled to your town. It makes you seem friendly, not a man-chaser. If he is already booked, then smile and tell him you hope he enjoys his visit and then toddle off with a happy (if fake) smile on your face. Go out with X and Y and moan.

Notice X and Y have to be there. As a woman, you really can't just ask a male acquaintance, on the strength of one introduction, out for a drink. Keep in mind, though, that if X and Y are girls, he might like one of them better. So put some thought into whom you pick as wingmen, as the boys call such useful friends, or wingwomen.

Incidentally, it is also okay, at a day-long seminar, to plunk yourself down beside any speaker if you spot him munching his sandwich alone. That whole ritual of introducing a speaker means that, for the duration of the seminar, he is officially part of your social circle. And, once again, approaching a speaker who has been introduced to you during or just after the seminar or talk is just good hospitality. Speaking as a speaker, I love it when people come up to me to say "Hi." It makes me feel like a movie star.

One of the problems in society is that we have forgotten all the useful old rules that explained the difference between friendly hospitality and overly forward behaviour. For centuries, an adult woman could always speak to a man to whom she had been introduced by a mutual friend. But of course women could not (and still should not) go up to a complete stranger her age in a park or bar and start chatting away.

The Rules is very much obsessed with husband-hunting. I am more interested in men and women becoming good, chaste friends, friends who may or may not fall in love. The introductions of mutual friends and public lectures are ways in which women can meet new men in a respectable, stress-free way.

You know, I may start advising shy readers to intentionally go up to speakers after lectures to say "Hi, I really liked your lecture!" just to bang into their heads that men are not that scary, and not just marriage-possibilities, and there are indeed appropriate times to go up and talk to them.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Singles in Poland

It is hard to believe I spent only four nights and four days in Poland because I saw so much and spoke to so many people. At night I collapsed into bed and fell more deeply asleep than I had for ages. I spent most of my waking moments trying to absorb everything I saw while listening to people tell me snippets of Polish history in whatever English they could command. My Polish is still of a very "Hello. Pleased to meet you. Is it here? Thank you very much" simplicity.

I had four interviews, and two of the interviewers were Single. I wish now that I had asked them about their Single lives as Poles; we had very long conversations when the interviews were done, but we spoke mostly about Poland, John Paul II, theology, history and politics. All my interviewers were very bright young women, well-travelled polyglots, but it did not occur to me to ask them about Single life in Poland, although on radio I was careful to qualify my opinions with the handy phrase "We in the West".

(I think I enjoyed saying "We in the West" just a little too much, but I could not get over the romance of being in Warsaw. When I was a child [which was during the Cold War], being interviewed by Catholic radio in Warsaw one day seemed less likely than one day travelling to the moon.)

Eventually I asked two older Single women how they thought Polish Single life might be uniquely different from Single life in the West, but before then I got some clues. First, I learned from the Homo Dei office that the very word "Single" (SING-la) is controversial in Catholic circles in Poland as it is synonymous with "swinging Singles" and is associated with "Sex & the City." And let me tell you, poppets, when it comes to Catholic media anywhere, "Sex & the City" is not something you want to be associated with.*

Second, before my radio interview and through a translator, I was grilled on my divorce-and-annulment. Well, perhaps I was not really grilled, but it felt like being grilled. My interviewer was a young, beautiful married Polish woman still in her twenties, but her face was stern.

Now, my head is 100% sympathetic with making sure the people to whom the Church entrusts a microphone to speak to the Church are orthodox and orthoprax. If anybody has to have her toes held to the fire while making an official declaration that her previous marriage was dissolved and declared null by the Most Holy Catholic and Roman Church, it is I. However, my heart doesn't like it that much. My heart wails, "Why don't you trust meeeeee?" It bleeds a little with bad memories, too. And feels for all the other people with annulments, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, and for the flatly excommunicated Divorced-and-Remarried people.

In short, it probably sucks even more to be divorced in Catholic Poland than in North American Catholic circles. And, yes, that is not exactly Single, as my radio interviewer would be swift to point out. In fact, her next question was about whether I had written Anielskie Single before or after my annulment. Once again, my darlings, I thanked God I had applied for my annulment as soon as I possibly could, i.e. when I had my certificate of divorce in my trembling hands, thirteen years ago.

But at the same time, I acknowledge the right of Catholic newspapers and radio stations and employment tribunals and whoever else, to ascertain if a speaker has dodgy theology. It is horrible to be an orthodox Catholic being fed heterodoxy by trusted Catholic institutions, as I know all too well. Thus, I am in a different situation than other annulled people out there.

Yes, give me a hard time because I claim to write as a Catholic, but please be kind to the average annulled-marriage Catholic who went through the process in good faith (and probably much suffering) and came out the other side with enough of a whole soul to get married again. We all have a little scar, and it hurts when you poke it.

Third, from my interviewer's questions, I gleaned that there is a gender war between Polish men and Polish women. I am not sure exactly what this looks like, or if it is any different from the usual. It must be, because the Communists sent women out to work, and thus large numbers of Polish women did "men's jobs" long before large numbers of Canadian and American women did.

My very tentative guess is that Polish women were expected by the Communists to do two jobs, their man job and their womanly perfect-house-quiet-children-perfectly-cooked-pierogi job, while men struggled to find some sort of manhood balance in the face of such overwhelming superwomanhood. Before men could blame women's mens's-wage-earning on the Communists (while extolling housework-and-cooking as rebelliously Catholic), but there is no-one to blame for it now and even John Paul II said women earning man-sized money was okay.

I would like to stress, however, that I personally know almost squat about Poland and am just hazarding a guess based on conversations with Poles. Another tentative guess is that Polish men ignored what John Paul II said about not trusting all the values of the West and now read Playboy. I saw Polish Playboy for sale in a Warsaw railway station. I wonder if Hugh Hefner actually sold his soul to the devil in a personal transaction or whether it was all done on an unconscious level.

Fourth, a non-nun woman's theological career is likely to be even more curtailed in Poland than in Canada and the USA because the big teaching jobs go to priests, of whom there is still no lack in Poland. (N.B. Here in the U.K. my priest asked me to prepare something for a parish function this week. I honestly thought he meant a speech or writing of some kind. He meant sandwiches.)

But when I finally asked Single Polish women what made Single life in Poland different than in other countries, they were surprised and a bit stumped. The one thing that occurred to them was that it is more expensive and difficult to go on holiday as Single people. Tours are organized for married couples, so a Single person is out of place and has to pay more. I think by this they meant the "Single supplement", which I know well myself. The women I spoke to solved this problem by going on holiday together.

And that, poppets, is all I can tell you about being Single in Poland, so I invite Polish readers, both Poles-in-Poland and Polonia, to enlighten us in the combox today.

*Exception that proves the rule: America magazine.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Normal blogging will commence soon. I have at least two articles and a whole lot of thank you notes to write!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jestem w Warszawie

O poppets! I am so tired! Up at 6 this morning in Krakow to take a train to Warsaw. So far I have had two print interviews and recorded a radio interview. I must say it is very exciting, however.

Krakow is very very beautiful, and Warsaw is enormous. The religious articles shop where Berenike (of Laodicea) said "Anielskie Single" would be has sold out of "Anielskie Single." Meanwhile the shop was very crowded; I have not been in a crowded religious articles shop before. Ah, Poland!

Now I must sleep.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Anielskie Single Tour

Poppets! We returned from Rome on Sunday, and tonight I leave for Krakow. I think the first thing I shall do when I get there--if shops are still open--is to buy a postcard for my youngest brother. He was with me at the never-to-be-forgotten Toronto Spoken Word event when a crazy Polish-Canadian poet got up and read a poem including the immortal verse:

First I lived in Krakow
And now I live
In a crack house.

You may laugh scornfully, but after going to Clara Blackwood's Syntactic Sunday event for years, that is one of the only verses that stuck in my head.

I am not sure of my schedule as yet, but I do know that I will be appearing on Radio Warsawa at NOON (Polish time) on Thursday, October 6 to talk about my book.

It's all very exciting. Don't forget that you can still buy my book in Canadian, American and Polish.