Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Most Pelagian Day of the Year II

This is my second post of the day, so for an explanation of the poll, scroll down to the post below.

Poppets, it has come to my attention that some of you are making resolutions to find boyfriends or even husbands in the New Year. >:-(

I was going to write a huge old rant on that, but then I remembered that I wrote a perfectly fine one 365 days ago, so here it is again. Read and learn.

Meanwhile, happy Hogmanay and all the best in 2012!

Grace and peace,

Courtship and Cowardice Online

It has come to my attention that there are Catholic men out there courting Catholic women very attentively by email and instant message and then suddenly disappearing into the ether when the going gets tough (e.g. plans to meet in person have fallen through). I do not know the scope of this problem, so I will set up a poll.

I cannot throw stones because when I was a young woman I used to talk about marriage with my poor downtrodden boyfriends, which led them to think I would marry them, and then I would break up with them because I was bored. This was terrible behaviour, for which I am now very sorry.

Meanwhile, I don't remember anyone telling me this was terrible behaviour--ooh, except one guy one frozen night one New Year's Eve, green eyes aflame with righteous indignation. I seem to remember we were inside the doors of a bank, by the cash machines, and he was actually yelling. Meanwhile, he had never even been my boyfriend, although he wanted to be. Oh dear, what drama.

Bad, bad Seraphic.

Anyway, enough about me. I am reading too many stories about this happening now, to girls, to very nice girls, to very nice Catholic girls, who are contacted by likely lads on Catholic dating sites and chat rooms. The boys write to the girls about their hopes and dreams, while thinking out loud that these might be the nice Catholic girls they'd like to share their lives with. But instead of ever meeting the nice Catholic girls, the Catholic boys eventually simply disappear without a trace, as if they had never said or thought any of this stuff.

First question: has this happened to you?

Second question: have you pulled a similar online disappearing act?

Please answer the poll and confess all below. For once I will allow Anonymous comments.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Pirate and the Old Joke

Scene: Thursday, car park in North Berwick, Scotland. The McAmbrose and Single families are in a rental car. Auntie Seraphic and Pirate are in the back seat, and Uncle Ben and Pirate's Mum are in the front.

Pirate: Guess what?

Uncle: What?

Pirate: Chicken butt.

Auntie (genuinely): Ha ha ha ha ha!

Pirate: Ha ha ha ha ha! Guess who?

Uncle: Who?

Pirate: Chicken butt. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Auntie: Okay, cut that out. I only laughed because I hadn't heard it in twenty years.

Scene: Friday, highway in Perthshire, Scotland. Pirate's Mum is again in the driver's seat, and Uncle Ben is beside her. Auntie S and Pirate are once again in the back.

Pirate: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Auntie: Chicken butt. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Pirate: Ha ha ha ha ha!

Pirate's Mother (to Uncle B.A.) I'm really sorry. Now Seraphic has been influenced by Pirate and you have to live with the results.

Auntie: Chicken butt! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Crossing the Border in Orange County

Tonight after Pirate was in bed, his mother, auntie and uncle watched "Orange County." And Auntie had a somewhat unpleasant shock during a scene in which Colin Hanks, playing an unlucky high school senior named Shaun, consults his hero, a writer/Stanford professor named Marcus Skinner, played by Kevin Kline.

At first I was amused at the way Marcus Skinner is portrayed: shrouded in J.D. Salinger type mystery. First he is just a pair of hands opening Shaun's fan letter. Then he is a well-dressed man with a briefcase seen from behind in the dark night of the Stanford campus. Then he turns around and looks like Kevin Kline. He doesn't speak much, but he remembers the novella Shaun sent him. Shaun throws his arms around him. (The audience giggles.)

The next thing we know, Shaun is in Skinner's office or sitting room or wherever, and Skinner is giving Shaun a very helpful review of his novella. His advice is so good that Shaun leaves absolutely euphoric. His smooth teenage face is a complete contrast to Skinner's grizzled charms, and he positively glows with youth and optimism and dreams and

And I was right back there in the sitting room with Marcus Skinner, thinking about how very young the young look, and I thought, Oh dear. I no longer identify with the young in young people movies. I identify solely with the grizzled adults they consult. I AM the grizzled adult they consult--or would be if they could see the grey in my hair, which they can't really, thank goodness, on account of the volume.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Have Cold But Also Presents!

Hello, my little poppets. I have a terrible cold and only emerged from the House to see our old pal Aelianus. Aelianus, whom you may remember from my unofficial first novel, The Tragical Tale of Aelianus of England, was wondering if there is any magic realism in my official first novel (Ignatius, soon to be announced on a Catholic website near you), and I had to think for an hour, sipping Lemsip, before I remembered one eensy bit.// Anyway, being so sick, I cannot think of anything very brainy to say about either the Single or the Married Life today. Instead I will gloat over all my Christmas presents, which include a bottle of Chanel No. 5 from Mum and Dad and a book on British baking from Our Nearest Neighbour Angela. I am very excited to have a British baking book to go with British flour, which is so much different from Canadian.// Feel free to gloat over your presents, too, in the combox. We all know Christmas is not about presents, but now that it is the 27th, I think it is safe to revel in them. I personally love Christmas presents, and always recorded them in my diaries so as to remember who gave me what when.// What is with Blogger? I take special pride in my paragraphs, and their glitches are driving me nuts.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Woman with a Troubled Past

Plans are afoot for Auntie to return victoriously to Poland as the keynote speaker for a women's retreat. This retreat is very much still in the planning stages, and eventually I will have to remind the enthusiastic organizer that I do not, in fact, speak Polish and I get the parish Polish altar servers to read me his letters./ In one of the letters, the organizer sketched out his suggestions for the programme, and my parish Polish altar server du jour stumbled over one of the phrases. Apparently I was being described as a "brave woman with a troubled past", which the loyal altar server did not think a sterling summation of my auntish character./ "Yarg," shouted Auntie. "It's the divorce, isn't it? Yarg! Continental Europeans! Yarg!"/ The altar server listened patiently as I ranted about European Catholic attitude towards annulments and divorced women and why people look at me as if I have a troubled past. And then I remembered the last bit might be because I actually wrote about it in my book. Meanwhile, if you write about being divorced, people are going to think of you as divorced. And if you are somehow magically married again, people are going to want to see your annulment papers and hopefully some contrition./ My principal source of contrition, which I thought about as I woke up today, is that I thought Dorothy L. Sayer's Gaudy Night was any kind of guide to life. Plot spoiler alert. In Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novels, Lord Peter eventually falls in love with a dark-haired, husky-voiced, detective novelist named Harriet. We will not say that she was based on Dorothy L. Sayers herself because I will go mental if anyone thinks my own heroines are based on myself (unless they are actually named Seraphic, of course)./ Now, BIG PLOT SPOILER, after a few novels in which Harriet consents to go out to dinner now and again with the dashing and clever Lord Peter, about whom she has a major inferiority complex, Harriet "gives way" at the end of Gaudy Night and, to quote Lord Peter's mother, they end up "kissing madly in a punt."/ This is all very romantic, and I think Gaudy Night was an absolutely splendid book, but Dorothy L. Sayers sacrificed common sense to a handy literary device by making her heroine fall in love with a man she had consistently rejected for three years or so. Harriet is depicted as having won a major victory over herself, and it was of Harriet I thought when I was 24 and much stupider than I am now./ It may have been the last time I mistook fictional decisions for real life lessons. I certainly hope so. And meanwhile I have discovered that I am not the only woman who has done this, for apparently there are women who honestly take as Gospel lessons learned from Sex and the City and other television shows. Never mind that a freelance writer does not make Carrie's salary. I remember Samantha wondering if sleeping with half of New York is what got her breast cancer, and she being very relieved to discover that the nun in her waiting room also has breast cancer. Yes, nuns get breast cancer. But they don't usually get cervical cancer which, unlike breast cancer, is linked to a very common STD. And as my friend Lily pointed out, there is no way a woman who uses men the way Samantha does could possibly have long-term loyal friendships with three women./ Being in general pro-great world literature, I am sure that there are some lessons you can learn from the classics. However, I would steer clear of making major life decisions based on the decisions made by fictional characters. I don't care that PLOT SPOILER Anne and Gilbert got married in the end and had seven children. Lucy Maud Montgomery and her very best bosom friend both married men mostly just not to be spinsters, it seems, and they were miserable./ The Anne books were and are escapist fiction, no matter how many Japanese and Korean tourists insist Anne is real. Plato wouldn't allow any poets into his perfect state, and that is because they told such shocking lies. I am sure he would feel the same way about novelists. However, to be fair to novelists, our first loyalty is not always to the truth of ordinary life but to our beloved characters. We make up our own universes, and the laws that govern this universe do not always govern ours./ If Blogger does not fix the bug in its new model I will be leaving it sooner rather than later for my very own new webpage, so stay tuned.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

It's About Baby Jesus

Great column from Single mum Crescat over here.

Being between washing a ton of dishes and mixing up the dough for gingerbread men for the tree which we finally bought this morning (£20 as last minute, woo-hoo!), I have almost nothing more to say.

What I have to say is a suggestion to thank God for who you have and what you have this Christmas, and concentrate on the people who really love and like you, and not on the people you wish loved and liked you. Celebrate with the people who really are in your life, like your nephews and nieces (if you have some), and don't brood over phantasms of your imagination, like your future children.  That is the only and best way to keep sane over the holidays.

And, finally, it's not your birthday (unless it is): it's the day we mark the birthday of our Lord, so good Christian readers rejoice and get ye to the best and most beautiful service you can find to celebrate--unless you are a strict Presbyterian, in which case I wish you a happy and tranquil Sunday!

I'll be praying for you all at Midnight Mass.Merry Christmas (and happy Sunday) to all! Wesołych i błogosławionych świąt Bożego Narodzenia!

Friday, 23 December 2011

"What Do Aunties Do?" Redux

Scene: Dinner Table

Pirate's Mum: Pirate, what do aunties do?

Pirate: They fool around.


Perfectly Innocent House Guest (mournfully): Denounced by a seven year old.

Auntie: What do you mean by fooling around, exactly?

Pirate hops down from the cushion on his chair.

Pirate (with relish): They walk around like THIS! (He does a shambling dance in a circle.)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

An Acceptance Letter

I was never this thin, however.
Yesterday I got a contract in the post from Ignatius Press. They wish to publish my novel.

No, not The Bodis Riper. (This is Ignatius Press, people!) I'm talking about my Graham Greenesque thriller, which almost none of you have seen because I never put a word of it online.

This is not a tremendous shock to me, as I was told over a month ago that Ignatius Press was thinking about it, and then I spent a week or two waiting for the final decision. There was a point where I could do nothing but pray that everything worked out the way it should, and then I thought, "Hey! I have a captive audience who could pray, too!"

Darlingses, I can say no more about the drama of it all, but you will all understand soon after you have rushed off to buy my Controversial and Stunning Debut.

The final decision came in early December and a suggested contract by email shortly after that. B.A. and I bought a magnum of champagne and served it to our pals after Mass the next Sunday. But I was determined not to say anything to the outside world until after I got the contract in the post. And lo, I have. It has very nice, thick paper too!

I will tell you what it is called and various other information all in good time. Meanwhile, I just wanted to let you know about this lovely non-rejection letter and what is, I admit, extremely exciting news.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Realities of Marriage

Occasionally I get an email from a nice Catholic girl who has been dating a nice Catholic boy for some months, and she is trying to decide if she wants to marry him or not. She lays out all the good qualities of the nice Catholic boy and his family and asks me what I think.

What I think is that she should marry him only if she wants to have sex with him, wash his socks and sit beside him on the couch as he watches yet another boring episode of yet another boring TV show. Because this is what the daily, domestic reality of marriage largely is, when you get right down to it. 

I'm not talking about the spiritual stuff, obviously. There are dozens of Catholics happy to tell you all about the spiritual stuff, so go read them if you want to find out about it. I think Christopher West has even developed a kind of Catholic tantra or something, so if you want to mix in some ooh-la-la with your theological reading, off you go to Chris.

Meanwhile, if you are younger than me (it seems) there is also getting pregnant, which involves swollen ankles and having a puffy face and staring down at your huge belly moaning "Come onnnnn, new baby! Hurry uuuuuup!" The new baby will usually look like your husband, so it is important to really like or even love your husband so that you love the fact that his baby looks like him. 

Oh yes. Love. I guess I should also talk about love, although now that I live in Britain it is an even more embarrassing word than sex. The problem with love is that we North Americans throw the word around a lot, and tell everyone that we love them. Even North American boys now indulge, as in "I love you, man!" And what you feel when you get a crush on someone can be called love, I suppose, although I prefer the expression "temporary insanity." The British call it "fancying", as in "Do you fancy him?" which sounds suspiciously akin to that other common expression, "Fancy a fish supper?"

For marriage purposes, however, love is not just a feeling of sexual attraction or affection but, in my experience at least, a feeling that you will absolutely die if you cannot marry this person within six  to eight months which morphs, after marriage, into the knowledge that life will really, really suck if this person escapes or dies. 

Of course,  you could argue, that is just me, Auntie Seraphic, over 35 and brimming with natural affections. What of the indecisive young?  

I would say that the indecisive young should just sit tight until they meet a person--of proven good character and appropriate family background, beliefs and education--who truly rocks their world. And this is because marriage is not something tremendously exciting in itself, on the domestic level (on the social level it is crucial to the health of society), but a man and a woman living in one space, trying to keep the space and themselves clean, earning money and spending it on boring things, having sex, arguing and watching boring TV.  That's what the "marriage lifestyle" looks like, so unless you marry someone who rocks your world, you are going to feel seriously ripped off.   

There is a cynical little term that has arisen from people who marry young and soon feel ripped off. It's called "starter marriage." But this is a little term we want to stamp out because divorce should not be an option, and if you're even thinking of divorce as your handy little escape hatch then most definitely you should not be getting married. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

More Pirate

This is the first time a child has waited for Christmas in the Historical House for decades--perhaps a century. Our attic flat used to be nurseries and servants' quarters, so it is easy to imagine children at the table in what is now our dining room, although it is hard to imagine Pirate in the role of some Georgian or Victorian darling in a sailor suit.

Take, for example, a necessarily informal dinner party the other night. Around the table were two young Polish students, Uncle B.A., Auntie Seraphic, Pirate's Mum and, at the foot, Pirate eagerly spooning up his soup. It was Polish chicken soup and thus unfamiliar to Pirate, but to my relief he slurped it down. And such was his contentment with life in general that he began to sing a little ditty that I can only assume he learned in the playground of his Catholic school:

"Ladies on top," he caroled. "Ladies on top, ladies on top."

Spoons halted in the air as five pairs of adult eyes swiveled to the brown-eyed, gap-toothed songster.

"Ladies on top of what?" asked Pirate's mother. "That's just silly. What does that even mean?"

Puzzled, Pirate thought about his song and then his face cleared.

"Ladies on top of the roof!" he sang. "Ladies on top of the roof!"

Then, you may be heartened to hear, he burst into "All the Single Ladies." That one he learned from the Chipmunks.

Update: Memory compels me to admit that one ditty that did the rounds when I was in my own Catholic school playground was "[Angel in the] Centerfold."

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Older and Wiser

To return for a moment to the vaccination debate:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm a bit hesitant to write this due to its sensitive nature, but I feel that I must.

I'm not sure what conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant) have against the HPV vaccination, but I strongly think that they should reconsider their positions. Unlike condoms or birth control pills, there isn't a moral prohibition against vaccinations. On the contrary, the vaccination protects the life of the girl and preserves her potential to give life to children.

I don't buy the argument that getting the girl the vaccine signals to her that it's okay to have sex whenever she wants. Hormones aside, 15 year old girls aren't complete idiots, and they are capable of understanding preventive measures taken in case of a mistake versus parental approval of said mistake. What that does require is a parental conversation with the kid about sex, which I think the real reason they've come up with such a shoddy argument. 

In my experience the sex ed in Christian circles is abysmal. The real reason condoms don't protect against HPV? It's spread by skin on skin contact, not bodily fluids like most of the others. Which means that "technical virgins" can actually get HPV. When's the last time you heard that discussed? I'm sure I've never heard that from any Christian source, and I've been around for awhile. Yeah, I'm sure it would be nice if teenagers didn't have sex before marriage, but many do, and they are the most vulnerable ones due to their age.

Aside from teenage promiscuity, there's all sorts of reasons to vaccinate. There's sexual assault, and having the vaccination is just one less thing to worry about in that case. Also, you mentioned that the guy the girl one day marries may not have been perfect in his past. There's no test to take, and there's usually no symptoms for the guy. The best protection for the girl is to get vaccinated. Vaccinating early is best because it is most effective before sexual activity. Also, I'm not sure how the NHS works, but insurance in the US only pays for the vaccine if you are in the appropriate age range.

Which brings the topic to me. You see, I once thought I didn't need the vaccine when I was younger, for many of the same reasons I hear on conservative news and blogs. Now I wish I had taken the opportunity, because when I reconsidered I was out of the age range and couldn't afford it without insurance. I made a mistake, and now I have HPV, even though I was a really really good girl for many years. Luckily I don't have cancer, but pap smears every 6 months is no picnic. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I just wish I had been wiser. No one knows the future, and even the best NCG can't guarantee that she'll never slip up once. Speaking from experience, the best method is to protect yourself, and that includes getting vaccinations against a very common disease.

Sorry for the long email, I just have strong views on this topic. Christians often talk about being cautious and protecting ourselves in regards to many other topics, and they should protect their girls against HPV.

-Older and Wiser

Dear Older and Wiser,

Thank you very much for your email.  I didn't know that conservative Christians had anything against HPV vaccinations, unless it is part of a general distrust for Big Government and anything having to do with sex education or the patronizing idea that teenagers "will just do it anyway."

I think that maybe there is a learning curve, not just for the Christian community but for any public health body that needs to get across the idea that an HPV vaccination is not dirty or a statement that a girl can become promiscuous now. When my father said he wished his (now too old) daughters could have got the HPV vaccination, I was very angry with him because I thought he was suggesting something pessimistic about us. However, my father has a friend whose daughter died of cervical cancer, and this affected him very much.  

Thus your arguments are very good. An HPV vaccination is not a mark of dishonour for any 15 year old girl but a recognition that she could catch HPV from any man, including her husband. And I think any public health body should get that idea across instead of dumb posters with a teenage girl with her head tilted to one side with "Am I ready for sex?" in a thought bubble over her head.  

I hope I may publish your email, as I would like other girls to read it. Meanwhile, I am sorry you have HPV, and I hope it clears completely out of your system. From my reading, it appears that it usually does. 

Grace and peace,

P.S. to all: Once again, I am not a doctor, and I don't know if I would have my 15 year old daughter vaccinated, if I had one. (Ask your doctor if she would.)

It is not guaranteed that any of us will get HPV, and I am (rightly or wrongly) suspicious of all new "magic bullet" drugs and vaccinations because of what happened to the "DES Daughters" and the poor people exposed to thalidomide. All I can say is that it is your parents' and/or your decision. And, incidentally, I see that boys can be inoculated for it, too. Interesting that the burden of responsibility for sexual health has ONCE AGAIN been placed on women.

By the way, as a twice-married middle-aged lady, I get a cervical smear myself. The National Health Service in Scotland advises that women have this done every two years.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Advent of Pirate, Age 7

If you have read my book, you know all about Pirate. Pirate and his mother have arrived in Scotland for their Christmas holidays. I fixed up the guest room for them; they are now both asleep on the sitting-room couch.

But when they first arrived they were all about cookies and conversation.

Pirate: I want a new cousin.

Auntie S: You can talk to your Auntie [mother-of-2] about that.

Pirate: I want a new SCOTTISH cousin!

Auntie S: Um, er, um, er, um. Sometimes people don't get to decide about that. It is God who decides.

Pirate's Mummy: I know a lady who is 43 and has a really cute 3 month old baby.

Auntie S: That's nice. That's a nice story. I like stories like that.

Pirate's Mummy: In Bulgaria there is no age limit on adopting children.

Auntie S: Goodness!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Sex and Cancer

This is one of those posts in which I have to remind you that I am not a doctor.

When I was a teenager, I read in "Seventeen" magazine that sexually active teenagers and women over 18 were supposed to have regular pap (or cervical) smears, but I never read why that was exactly. The reason why is that vaginal sex can give you a virus called HPV which can go on to give you cervical cancer. If you have a regular pap (or cervical smear) regularly, doctors can see if you have cervical cancer sooner rather than later.

This is probably the tenth time I've written this, but the scientist Natalie Angiers wrote in "Woman: An Intimate Geography" that the very scary thing about HPV and cervical cancer is that condoms don't seem to prevent them. The more men you sleep with, whether or not you use condoms, the more likely you are to get them.

Meanwhile, I know that a teenage girl is especially vulnerable to contracting HPV and other diseases because the walls of her cervix are not very thick yet.

Here is something my friend Hilary recently wrote about sex and cervical cancer.

(Blogger doesn't seem to be working properly right now, so I can't embed it.)

Please read it and then come back for my following remarks. (By the way, I can't get youtube, either, so I have no idea what video Hilary has up.)

The first thing I have to say is that it is disgraceful that nobody warned my mother's or my or your generation that "free love" was potentially lethal and that even the almighty condom can't stop all venereal diseases. The only excuse for the enablers of the sexual dissolution that I can think of is that they simply didn't know: never before had so many women slept with so many men. I suspect they know now, which is why various public health bodies are so keen to inoculate as many 15 year old girls as possible against HPV.

The second thing I have to say is that a hysterectomy should not signal the end of matrimonial hopes. Not all men long to have children. Some never really think about them, and some have had children in first marriages or earlier relationships, and some discover at the age of 50 that although they'd like to get married, they would be relieved to be married to a woman who, barring a miracle, wasn't going to have children herself, e.g. a woman their own age. That's not selfish; that's just the reality of many men over 50.

Meanwhile, as women over childbearing age marry or remarry, I don't see why a woman with a hysterectomy might not marry or remarry, too.

The third thing I have to say, and this is not in criticism of Hilary, who has written a generous post, from a place of illness, disillusionment, fear and pain, and it is that it is in general a bad idea for an unmarried Catholic woman to write on the internet about her past sexual sins, no matter how far in the past they may be.

Long-time readers will remember how I discourage female readers from revealing whether or not they are virgins to anyone other than their doctor or their date-has-been-set-hall-has-been booked fiances. Your virginity or lack thereof is nobody's business but your own, and for various reasons (freaking out the sensitive, gossipy friends, creepy virgin hunters, "how come you would for him but not for me?", etc.) you should keep it to yourself.

But I will also say, as I have said many times before, that you should also keep a lid on the sexual sins of your past life because they freak out religious men, particularly younger or less sexually experienced religious men. Men's imaginations are on a hair-trigger where sex is concerned anyway, and so if they discover the girl they really like has been with some other guy, their imaginations go wild. They torture themselves wondering who and what and where and when, and they feel competitive and jealous and potentially inadequate and generally awful. And they occasionally (often?) move the Publicly Known to Have Slept Around Girl off the Potential Wife list, no matter how humble and contrite she might now be.

And so another lie of the sexual revolution is revealed. Not only can sleeping around end up in cancer, a lot of good young men still feel uncomfortable knowing that women they might bring home to their mothers have slept around. Yes, never-married girls do have to tell their fiances whether they are virgins or not and if they have an incurable sexual disease, but I cannot think of any man not your doctor or your very trusted confessor who needs to hear about your past sexual actions.

And if you and/or your fiance has been sexually active, make sure you both/he gets checked out for HPV* and any other sexually transmitted disease before you get married. After that, it's a regular pap (cervical) smear for you. Life is hard, and in many ways the sexual dissolution made it harder. As Sister Wilfreda said back in Grade 9 religion, "Sin has its own built-in punishment."

Update: Actually, it seems that men cannot be tested for HPV. This is not good news.

Update 2: A handy article from Uncle Sam. Read all the words.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Women and Symbols

I was trying to explain female psychology this morning, so there will be a lot of bold generalization appearing on this post. Explaining female psychology without a degree in the subject is also a dangerous thing to do. When a man begins a sentence, "Any red-blooded man would---", I always assume he is mostly talking about himself. And therefore, if I begin a sentence with the word "Women feel," would it not be reasonable to assume that I am talking mostly about myself?

But I am saved by the cardinal rule of this blog, which is that just because men behave/think/speak a certain way doesn't mean women do, too, and vice versa.

Anyway, my thought this morning is that women think in terms of symbols. My principal example is the frivolous, pretty, high heeled shoe. Why do so many women buy so many shoes? Why did the shoe obsession of Sex and the City (not that any of us ever saw a single episode) ring so true with legions of girls. Why do I and my girly-girl friends unwrap our shoe-purchases for each other's gazes with such shoe-venerating anticipation? Can it really be the shoes, or do the shoes point to some other reality, like Femininity, Attractiveness and Disposable Income?

I think crushes operate the same way. Women get crushes on men we don't know, and whom we even, with another part of our brains, dislike. We fixate like mad, daydream and then, after having an actual conversation with the man, go away feeling angry and disappointed but still fixated. What is with that?

Could it be that the crush has nothing to do with the man but something the man symbolically represents? Could it be a displacement for feelings of attraction to a place or time you are currently in? For example, if you are loving your holiday on the Dalmatian coast, perhaps the Croatian waiter who makes your heart race does so simply because he has become a symbol of your lovely holiday.

I think this works for other emotions, too. For example, I was once in a terrible state when B.A. and I returned from an outwardly pleasant evening out with a very nice former classmate of mine from my not very nice Ph.D. department and a much younger friend. I seemed to have plunged into an ocean of grief and loss. But when I sorted it out, I realized that on one level I had spent an evening with my husband, a friend and a former colleague, but on another level I had spent it with my husband, My Lost Youth and the Implosion of my Academic Theological Career.

I think this is also why women get so upset if we get a very lame present for Valentine's Day or if our husbands forget our birthdays or wedding anniversaries. It has nothing to do with "stuff"; it has to do with what the "stuff" represents.

Symbols can point in good directions, of course. I once turned down a marriage proposal from a Mr Almost (but not quite) Right, who was not a Catholic. One very strong influence on this decision was, quite unbeknownst to either of them, a classmate who was a male religious. Now, I knew that I did not want to run away with a male religious. However, I did know that I would really prefer to marry someone a lot like him--which is to say, a funny, good-humoured, devoutly Catholic guy. At the time, it seemed unlikely that this might happen, as I was already in my thirties and tick tick tick and blah blah blah. However, I decided that this was the kind of man I would hold out for, and I did. The male religious, bless his heart, was a symbol of the Good Catholic Husband, and B.A. is the reality.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Auntie Seraphic & How Will I Know?

As we know, not all marriages are love matches. In some cultures, people--especially women--are pressured to marry by a certain age, and for reasons other than love. In such cultures, parents tend to say that love will follow the wedding, and this may very well be true--in those cultures. I suspect that, most of the time, at least among educated people, the bride and groom whose families have agreed that their arranged marriage is mutually acceptable at least like and sympathize with each other. I can imagine a South Asian woman doctor saying to a handsome South Asian doctor, "Our families! Argh!" and the man doctor saying back, "Argh! I know", and each feeling understood and supported by the other.

However, most English-speaking Catholics arrange our own marriages and expect that feelings of deep attachment will precede the wedding. I certainly do, especially since B.A. and I were all gobsmacked about each other when we met. And this is all a preamble to a letter I am rewriting entirely to protect the writer.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am in my early twenties, and I've always been popular with boys.
[Auntie note: This is my wording, so don't get huffy.] I've dated boys long enough to call them boyfriends, but I broke up with every one. I wonder if this is because I am very indecisive, and I wonder how I can stop the dating-boyfriend-break-up cycle.

But my biggest question is how will I know when I meet the man I'm supposed to marry. I've consulted movies, books and my parent on this subject. But my parents and other married people always say "You just know," and that drives me crazy.

How Will I Know

Dear How Will I Know,

I wouldn't put much faith in books and movies! Books and movies have to have simple, exciting plots with lots of drama and steadily growing character development, and life isn't really like that. We develop in fits and starts, and life unfolds according to its own schedule, with a lot of boring bits.

It would probably drive you crazy if I said "You just know" like your parents, so I will try to elaborate on this. Essentially, you make friends with a man who intrigues you very much, and the better you get to know him, the more excited you are to be around him and the more you hope he feels that way about you, too. And when you do find out he does feel this way, you are so happy you feel that your life has become a fairy tale. You might be torn between the excitement of getting married and the dread that something horrible might happen to prevent it. You are a little bit insane. Meanwhile, you have a serious hunch that he will get along absolutely great with your family and friends.

This sounds very exciting, and the western world is packed with women wondering if and when this will happen to them. However, there is no way of knowing if and when, although American marriage statistics, at any rate, do suggest it's more "when" than "if."

It's okay that you are indecisive. That sounds extremely normal for [an early 20-something]. But you know when you are looking for the right book or the right dress and suddenly THE PERFECT THING pops out at you? It's like that. One moment you're just casually looking around a store, and nothing seems right and then (once in a blue moon)--WHAM! Right dress! Hooray!

So don't blame yourself for being indecisive. Just keep on meeting people and going out on dates with nice Catholic boys to see if a friendship or something more might develop. Keep things on a friendly level as much as possible. I know this is difficult because our culture has developed this thing about dating as a highway to "relationships" instead of dating as a way to spend time with friendly men who might (or might not) become something more.

Also, don't watch the clock. Fortunately you are only [early 20-something] and therefore presumably not freaking about growing older, but you have no way of knowing when it is that the Future Mister You will swim into view. It could be next week. It could be next year. It could be when you are 37. Eeek! But whenever it happens--and I speak as one who experienced it at 37--it will be totally worth it and you will be so terribly thankful you didn't settle for someone else.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

Update: In light of the first comment, I should add explicitly what I meant implicitly above, and it is that both of you have become absolutely certain you should marry, and the sooner the better. And I am talking about adults, not teenagers, or people who started their "fairy tale" relationship as teenagers.

That said, I know two couples of my parents (Baby Boom) generation who did meet as children. One literally met in the sandbox (she whacked him with a plastic shovel), and the other dated in high school, broke up, and got back together.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

"You're Not a Teenager, Are You?"

Darlingses. Sometimes I get an email that makes my head explode. It's not the writer who makes it explode--usually the writer is wonderfully sweet with a vulnerability that goes straight to my auntish heart. No--it is always the man she is writing about.

If you are a teenager, and you find yourself in a car with or across the table from an OLD MAN (and if you are a teenager every man over 21 is an old man) who is talking about his love life, and he says, with a bit of a smirk, "You're not a teenager, are you?", I want you to take a big breath, sit up straight and say "YES. Yes, I AM a teenager. And I have to call my mom now."

I cannot express how serious I am about this. There is nothing wrong or shameful about being a teenager. But there is something wrong and shameful about an OLD MAN saying "You're not a teenager, are you?" to an obviously much younger woman. He should feel ashamed, not you. And if I could, I would come right over there and kick his butt.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Other People's Children

I had quite a nice day with other people's children! First I went to visit a pal with a one year old and a one week old! The one year old stroked his baby sister's head very gently; he was adorable. And the little baby was as sweet as only a one week old can be!

And then I had an email from a university-age friend, whose parents are farther away from her than I am, and I answered with zeal.

Finally my university-age Polish teacher arrived, and I heard about his housing woes and the genitive case.

It was all very satisfactory. I don't think children, teenagers and university students understand what a lift they give older people (including 40 year olds) just by being there, but they certainly do.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Nagging Young Women's Boyfriends Day

The other day I heard the depressing story of a woman in Britain, no longer young, who is waiting for the Leap Year, so she can ask her boyfriend to marry her. In a way this seems very old-fashioned, as the tradition is that this is the one acceptable day women can ask men to marry them. But it also sounds like one long humiliation. Years gone by, the boyfriend's elderly neighbours may have said something to him like, "Such-and-such is a nice girl. When are you going to do right by her?"

"Mind your own business," the boyfriend might have snarled.

"It is our business," the elderly might have shot back. "Nice girl, Such-and-such. Known her all our lives. Know her people. Knew her people's people."

And then the boyfriend might have slunk off sulkily but newly clued in to the ideas that 1.) public behaviour, like courting or living with a woman for umpteen months or years, is kind of public and 2.) his girlfriend is well-thought of in the community and 3.) the community is somewhat disapproving of him for what they perceive to be a wrong to his girlfriend.

I am of course opposed to married people picking on single people and demanding of them why they are not married. I am especially opposed to married people picking on single women and demanding to know why they are not married or, worse, offering hypotheses for their single state. In the West, it has never been the job of a woman to hunt for a husband; it has been the job of a man to hunt for a wife.

But that's "a wife." I am not terrifically thrilled by men who hunt for a girlfriend solely to have a girlfriend and then to string her along for years and years. That's one reason why I think adult women (out of school) should start to re-evaluate her commitment to any boyfriend who has not mentioned marriage in a whole 12 months of dating.

Personally, I cannot imagine why any seriously religious woman (out of school) would date any man for more than 12 months without a whisper of a hint of marriage, given the sexual temptations, the where-is-this-going anxiety and, eventually, the boredom. However, a thought has just occurred to me, and I suppose it is because she is in love with him, poor thing.

That is why it is up to the community once again to start nagging Mr. Dragging His Feet. Marriage would actually be good for Mr. Dragging His Feet, but men are an eenie-weenie bit scared of marriage, in the same way they are an eenie-weenie bit scared of bears. I can just imagine a man admitting he was scared of bears, however, especially to men who have faced bears and won.

Other Men (chuckling): So, I guess you're scared of bears, son, eh?

I, Seraphic, have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut around Catholic men (out of school) who have been dating the same woman for years and years with no mention of a ring. "Marry or move on" I spit between my teeth, uncomfortably knowing that if they moved on, their girlfriends would be initially devastated. I don't know personally if it is more devastating to be left by Mr Wonderful after 13 months of dating, or by Mr Dragging His Feet after five years of dating, but I am guessing the latter because five years is a way bigger investment than 13 months, and time is something women are a bit sensitive about.

It feels better to dump a guy for not getting to the point than to be dumped by a guy who has found "someone better", that is for darn tootin'. And I think if all adult women (out of school) gave suitors no more than a year and a month to come to scratch, men would stop dragging their lazy man feet about marriage. I can just imagine it: lovely women, all shiny and new, intriguing, exciting and slightly mysterious for twelve months and then---RRRRRAAAAAH! Godzilla. Or at least a raised eyebrow and "Where is this going? Because if it isn't going anywhere, buddy boy, I've got places to go, people to see and there's this new guy in the parish who keeps looking up at me when I'm in the queue for Communion."

Until women get that kind of gumption, however, I leave it to their neighbours, families and friends to start clearing their throats and making short but pointed observations to their long-term boyfriends.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Very Bad Boyfriend of the Week

Poppets, I am busy studying for my "Life in the UK" exam. The details don't seem to have much to do with my life in the UK, but perhaps that proves I'm just not that integrated. (Shhhh!)

Anyway, that's the price I pay for marrying an exotic foreign person and living in his exotic foreign country as an exotic foreigner.

Meanwhile, here is a simply ghastly story about exotic foreigners to which I cannot resist linking, even though it probably is adding fuel to the strangely xenophobic why-are-there-so-many-Poles-in-the-UK meme. (Incidentally, the biggest migrant groups to the UK in the 1980s were Americans, Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders; see textbook.) Bonnie Prince Charlie was half-Polish, you know, and the Poles helped to win the Battle of Britain. Also, Poles in Poland are ordering my book in large quantities, so I am reflexively pro-Pole.

I do not know what to say about this story other than that this Marcin person seems like a very bad guy, much much worse than the general run of guys who live with their girlfriends for six years with no ring in sight. Although it is true that 25% of children in the UK live in a single-parent household (see textbook), it is not generally because their fathers have allegedly buried their mothers alive in the woods.

I hope you all appreciate that I linked to the Telegraph and not to the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is considered a tabloid like the Sun, and the Telegraph is supposed to be a respectable paper.

Perhaps the part that makes my hair stand on end is that the boyfriend's excuse was that he was "bored" with his girlfriend. It makes my hair stand on end because it was probably true. Talk about your disposable (sexual) culture! Brr-rr-rr-rr!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Busy Day

Hello dear readers! B.A. and I have been out with Single friends, and so I haven't had time to blog today. Meanwhile, I pontificated over a bottle of wine and then over tremendous stacks of books, so I am all pontificated out. No more advice from me today.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Don't Crush On Me

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

A friend of mine is newly single, and seems to be paying me extra attention. I’m not sure whether he just wants more emotional support, or if he is crushing on me, but knows enough not to jump into a rebound relationship. Either way, I want to discourage him. He’s a wonderful person, and we have some nice things in common, but he is a bit too young for me, and just not someone I am attracted to in that way. I really cannot ever see this going beyond friendship.

This is someone I see nearly every day, as part of a small circle of friends who share class and social time. We are all in our mid to late twenties. I want to continue my relationship with the group as a whole, which is very supportive and important to me. Yet, when he is there, I feel more constrained and not quite able to be myself because of my suspicions.

I know that in the end, I can’t stop him from crushing if he’s bound and determined to do so. But I know how much it can hurt when someone leads you on…or even when they are oblivious, but kind of dumb about their boundaries. Is there any way I can be clear that I’m not interested in him without confronting him directly? Do your male readers have any tips?


Don't Crush on Me

Dear Don't Crush on Me,

Just as you cannot make a man fall in love with you, you cannot make a man not fall in love with you. This is the annoying thing about men: they do not come with a remote control.

One good thing about men, however, is that in many countries they are not allowed to touch you, take you out to dinner or marry you without your consent. They can think and wish whatever they want, but they can do nothing involving you without your permission.

It is not a tragedy that your young friend is paying you extra attention. At best, it is a compliment and at worst, it is slightly boring. But you can discourage him as soon as he gives you the first opportunity, e.g. when he actually asks you out on a date, if he ever does, or actually tries to hold your hand. The only "middle ground" I can think of--where it is not clear that what he might be feeling actually affects you in any real way--is if he is staring at you. If he is staring at you, go ahead and say "What?" in an aggrieved tone.

Continue to be just yourself, and for heaven's sake don't blame him for having a crush on you. A crush is as ordinary, and can be as brief, as a cold. Meanwhile, the best way to keep the group together and happy is NOT to create a drama out of this situation by talking about it to the group. For his sake, your sake and the sake of the group, don't gossip about your suspicions. And, of course, don't go out of your way to text, email or call him, for an extraordinary gesture is what is most likely to make him think you like him back.

Never forget that the magical words "No, thank you" keep you from going on dates or having to hold Mr Wrong's clammy hands. All you have to do is wait for the opportunity to use them.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

One of the joys of people-watching is realizing who in your set has a crush on whom. There is, of course, an ethical dimension in trying to read the minds and hearts of those around you, so whatever you think you find out by observation, you should keep locked in your head behind the barrier of your teeth. The lesson to be gained from the exercise is that almost everybody--not just you--comes down with crushes, and also that people recover from their crushes, often very rapidly. It is very embarrassing when you discourage a guy with a crush on you, only to change your mind two months later and then discover that he has completely recovered.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Type Versus Reality

I had a hilarious conversation with a married friend the other day. For some reason we were talking about boys. You would think that married ladies over thirty would get tired of talking about boys, but we haven't. At least, I haven't, and maybe the other married ladies over thirty are just humouring me.

But anyway we were having this hilarious conversation in which the subject of Our Type came up. If you have lived more than twenty years, you know what I am talking about. Perhaps you have even said (for example) to a friend, "You know, My Type is six-feet-tall-or-over, dark-haired, blue-eyed, athletic but also intellectual." And your friend may have said, "Oh, well, I don't really care about height, but My Type is dark-eyed and muscular."

These do not, by the way, approximate Our specific Types. I can't tell you what Our Types are because of the next part of the conversation, which was when we fell about laughing because in the end we married men who didn't look at all like Our Types.

I wonder if this is a sweeping phenomenon, this being attracted to One Type and then happily falling in love with another. And I wonder if it is related! (A sudden look of existential horror has passed over Auntie Seraphic's face.) What if the very fact that we are attracted to Type A gives us the exact right amount of indifference towards Type B that makes Type B go to vast lengths to impress us?

And since the more attractive examples of Type B doing the human version of the blue-footed booby dance are demonstrably more lovable than dumb ol' hot-but-haven't-noticed-we're-alive Type As, could it be that our psyche gives up on Type A and just falls in love with this highly attractive example of Type B? Or is it that our psyche knows that Type A is fun for dreaming about, but that this particular Type B guy is the real eligible deal?

I don't know. I haven't done any social-scientific research on this. I almost never do any social-scientific research on anything I write here, poppets, which I hope you remember. I work from instinct, curiosity and memory, like Miss Marple.

By the way, when I talk about forgetting about Type A long enough to fall in love with Type B, I am not talking about settling. I am never talking about settling; I hate the whole concept of settling. This is the 21st century, and you shouldn't have to settle. In Western cultures, you either marry in an exuberant spirit of friendship-on-fire or you don't marry.

I once spoke to a deserted husband who said "I've known for some time that I wasn't the kind of man she wanted" and I felt so awful for him. No woman should marry a man with whom she is not madly in love. It is not fair on him, no matter what he says beforehand. He can't love enough for two, and I wonder who came up with that particular bit of nonsense.

No, all I am saying is that we women may have certain Types that we recognize when we see them, but that they have little to do with the flourishing female life as it is actually lived. And thank goodness that's true, or English-speaking men under 5'10" would never get married. I have never in my life heard a Canadian, American, Australian or British woman describe her Type as "of small or medium height." Yet men of small or medium height can make great husbands, as I happen to know first-hand.

And don't write in saying "But what about men?" because men aren't women. I believe, and this is based not on science but on hearsay, circumstantial evidence and personal experience, that men are much less likely to fall in love "out of Type." Nope. When Type B starts doing his blue-footed booby dance, it is because his psyche has perceived his Type A before him.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thanks to the Poppets!

Thanks, kids. You did it. Intention answered. All smiles.

I'll tell you more when I can.

Grace and peace,