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.


theobromophile said...

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.

Yes, but. Not one of us has lived our lives 100% in accordance with the Church's teachings and the requirements set forth in the Bible, so some of it must feel like you are being singled out (pardon the pun) for one particular potential sin (i.e. being divorced-and-annulled is not a mortal sin, although being divorced and remarried is). There's nine other Commandments to follow, and no one asks you if you've ever taken the Lord's name in vain or if you get along with your parents.

(Of course, I hate divorce, have seen far too much of it in my own family and with some friends, and understand that divorce, marriage, etc. affect the entire community in ways that make it appropriate for the community to police those activities. It's also a good thing to ensure that role models are good role models, and that people are not living their lives one way but saying something else. So it's not that it's inappropriate to ask about an annulment, but it's inappropriate if that's the only or the major topic of discussion when evaluating your orthodoxy.)

Seraphic said...

I see what you're saying, but I think if you are talking about the Single life as a Catholic to Catholics over an official Catholic channel, and you were once divorced, it is fair for someone to ask about your annulment. It is not fair for them to ask about past sins. If you are talking about fraud as a Catholic to Catholics over an official Catholic channel, and your own business office has been known to be audited, then the Catholic interviewer might very well be within her rights to know if that has been all cleared up.

So it's the context. What I worry about is people coming up to people who have submitted their cases to the Church and received an annulment and making thoughtless remarks about "rubber stamps." That is really very unpleasant, hurtful and ignorant.

M.R. said...

Interesting. I am Polish myself but very Canadianized... (born in Warsaw, and I am very used to being self-deprecating about my city of birth, in the strain of "razed by the Nazis, rebuilt by the Communists"... what is this romance you speak of?) However, I am around "Polonia" a lot - grew up going to a Polish Catholic church, belonged to a predominantly Polish lay movement, many of my close friends are Polish, etc.

I'd say your guess is right: Polish women are expected to be "superwomen" - educated, good cooks, immaculate housekeepers, and look good while doing it! (Seriously, there's a huge emphasis on looks - every time I visit Poland I cringe at the sight of super-high stilettos negotiating uneven cobblestones).

I don't necessarily think there's such a crisis of manhood b/c of this fact as there is in the West, though. Polish men are still very forthright and confident - mostly b/c the women are so traditional and acknowledge the role of the man as head of the house. Also, they've probably been raised that way by their mothers - with more allowances, toleration and privileges than their sisters. I'm not saying this is bad or good - it's both. Sometimes the forthrightness and confidence is refreshing.

Also, if you're a female who's not married by 25, it's universally thought that there's something wrong with you. It's still very traditional over there, and in new immigrant circles.

Anonymous said...

My best friend at university was Polish. She had grown up in a smaller town and moved to Krakow, and was devoutly Catholic. Back in Poland she lived with girlfriends before AND after meeting her boyfriend. He came to visit us one time, and while they were totally comfortable around one another, there was a MARKED difference in PDA and even how they spoke to one another, compared to British friends. Less clingy somehow. She didn't find it weird that girls and boys lived in the same apartment in the halls, but there was definitely a kind of modesty about how she interacted with other guys. FWIW regarding emphasis on looks, she was incredibly beautiful (and insisted, as you've mentioned Polish acquaintance insisting, that everyone at home was incredibly beautiful) and creative with her clothes but wouldn't have been seen dead in stilettos. I just got the impression that young Catholic women over there, maybe provincial ones moreso, found singledom the normative state and a boyfriend more like a close friend you might eventually marry.