Thursday, 31 March 2011

Some Scars Never Heal

Poppets, I have such a migraine. I almost never have migraines, and this one is a doozy. It's the one I used to get on wedding anniversaries--the anniversary of my first wedding, the one that began a bad marriage that ended with a decree of nullity from the local Catholic marriage tribunal, Deo gratias.

(Long-term readers know about all this. Recent readers might find it a bit of a shock. In short, I married at 25, was miserable, ran away, got a divorce, was granted an annullment, was mad at Church--though not God, actually, was in therapy for years, went to theology school, turned into Seraphic Single, met B.A. when I was 37, became Auntie Seraphic at 38.)

One thing I absolutely resist is being a poster child for divorce. I don't hate divorce, per se, but I do hate bad marriages. And I do mean bad marriages, ones that should never, ever have happened. I hate them so much--and I love good marriages so much--that I am inspired day after day to write this blog. Having been both, I can tell you with all confidence and authority that it is better to be lonely, sad and Single than to be lonely, sad and Married.

My migraine is reminding me of a sunny day in a German city where I was sitting in a wine-bar with two classmates, one of whom was moaning about her German fiance. In the manner of German fiances, he seemed a lot more German in Germany than he did where they met, and this was driving her crazy.

My other classmate understood this as her boyfriend was German, and I didn't because I rather like Germans both home and abroad, although one must always be careful before asking for their opinions because sugaring an opinion is an absolutely foreign concept to a German.

Anyway, there we were, and the engaged girl was wondering if she should marry Axel (not his real name). The wedding had been delayed by red tape, for all her documentation had to be translated into German, and German weddings are a nightmare of red tape no matter what. Therefore, she still had an escape hatch, although they were living together and her parents had booked their flights, etc.

And the other girl said, "Well, I think you should just marry him and then if it doesn't work out, you could just get a divorce. Look at Seraphic here. She's divorced, and she's doing fine! She's in a PhD program, she's studying here in Germany..."

And my heart plummeted to my mules because, really, of all the role models I might like to be, The Proof Divorce is Okay is not one.

Getting married, no matter how briefly, is a big fat deal. I don't know if this is cultural or spiritual or what, but if you marry some guy, even if it is ludicrously unsacramental, it leaves a permanent mark on your psyche. It could be a good mark. It could be a bad mark. But it is a mark and it is permanent.

The best way to prevent divorce that I know of is to not get married to the wrong guy/girl and to not get married when you ARE the wrong guy/girl and to not get married at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons. In short, there's a lot more marriage going on than there should be. However, once a marriage is made, it's made, and once the kids are born, they're born, and there's no going back. You can get a divorce and sometimes an annulment, but you can't erase history. At least, no matter how awful the marriage is/was, something good--the children--came out of it.

That said, I'm glad I didn't have any children from my first marriage. NFP really works when you hate and fear the person. I don't hate and fear him now, by the way. I haven't the foggiest clue who he is, so much older than he was. I hope he's happy and successful--although if he's not remarried that might be for the best. I couldn't tell you for sure. He might be a very saintly person today. I am a much better person myself.

Until this morning, I thought it was all over, and that scars I thought would never heal really had healed, but then I got an email--a friendly email, actually, nothing bad-- about that time, and I got hit with The Migraine.

Because I hate to lose an opportunity to hammer home the point that it is better to stay Single than to make a bad marriage, I am laying all this heavy stuff on you. Better have a cookie now, or something.

I shall be as right as rain in a minute, but for now I am going to have a little lie-down. Maybe I will take B.A. out for dinner or do some other particularly nice thing this evening.

No comments on this one, poppet. Paradoxically, I wrote about it but idoanwannatawkabowdit.

Update: Okay, who prayed? It got me out of bed. Thank you!

Krakow in June

Dear Polish Readers,

How I wish I could write in Polish! As a matter of fact, I am hoping to borrow a "Teach Yourself Polish" kit from the parish organist because I want to go to Krakow in June and see my book in Polish!

I received a letter from the publisher, Homo Dei, yesterday, and they report that the book will be out in June. They are very impressed that someone wrote in to ask about it, so thank you, Ula.

It is a great honour to have my book translated into Polish. Normally books published in English by Novalis are translated into Spanish first. However, a Polish press chose Seraphic Singles first, and I think this is a wonderful vote of confidence. The faithful Catholic culture of Poland is so evident in the Poles I meet here in Scotland.

As soon as I have more information I will post it here.

Seraphic


P.S. More evidence of Polish goodness!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Sandra Blabs

"So," said Vanessa, brushing her long dark hair in the mirror. It fell in shimmering waves to her hips. "What was up with Straighty Katie?"

Sandra was sitting cross-legged on Vanessa's bed, setting out her French manicure kit on Vanessa's battered old "Intro to Psych" textbook. She started and blushed.

"Nothing much. Do you want your nails rounded or square?"

"Square," said Vanessa. She wrapped her hair into a chignon and fixed it with a comb. A lesser woman would have pointed out that she had seen Katie crying in the lounge, but Vanessa was above such brutal attacks. Instead she flipped through the carefully compiled social dossier in her memory, and chose her words carefully.

"Katie would be really popular if she made more of an effort," she said, languidly clambering onto her bed. She sat across from Sandra and leaned back against the silk cushions. Vanessa, who was not herself South Asian, had a thing for India and had draped her dorm room in sari fabric and decorated with elephants and idols. The more sensitive Catholic girls, made nervous by the presence of Ganesh & Co., were afraid to go in.

"I think Katie is popular," said Sandra indignantly. "Give me your left hand. Everybody likes Katie."

"Oh, sure," said Vanessa, extending a slender arm. "Everybody likes Katie. As a friend. She's pretty, but she doesn't know how to play it up, do you know what I mean? She'd got to ditch those skirts that go down to her ankles and rock a miniskirt once in a while. Otherwise..."

"Otherwise what?"

"Otherwise a certain somebody is always going to see her as the friend type."

"Oh my gosh!" squealed Sandra, dropping the emery board. "Who? Who?"

"I don't think I should say," purred Vanessa. "I've seen her looking at him from time to time, even at Mass, scandal. But I don't want to start any rumours. I like Katie and I'm sorry she was so upset just now. I guess she tried her luck with this guy and he shot her down."

"No!" said Sandra. "It wasn't like that at all. It was--! But I'm not supposed to say anything."

"That's okay," said Vanessa, mentally letting out metaphorical fishing line, "I think I can guess. Don't tell me."

"You'd never guess in a million years," said Sandra. "But you cannot tell anybody."

"I never do," said Vanessa.

"Okay," said Sandra, colouring slightly. "Give me your other hand. Some guy--."

"Who?"

"I don't know. They never said. Some guy asked Katie to be his VPD."

Vanessa snorted.

"You mean his girlfriend?"

"No," said Sandra excitedly. For once she knew something Vanessa didn't. "His VPD. His Vocational Discernment Partner."

"That's a VDP, not a VPD."

"Whatever," said Sandra. "And she said No, and now she's sad because she really likes this guy, and he said she would make a good nun. Or wait--no he didn't--but nuns came up. There was something about nuns."

"Hmm," said Vanessa. "I thought a Vocation Discernment Partner was a euphemism for a girlfriend or boyfriend. You know, you're dating and you're discerning if you really want to marry this person or if you just like making out with them and having someone to fall back on at parties."

"Nope." Sandra put down Vanessa's right hand and began to shake the bottle of white nail paint. "It's when the guy--or girl--is trying to figure out if he's called to be a priest or a monk or married or just single or whatever."

She picked up Vanessa's left hand and drew a white stripe on her thumbnail.

"I once dated a guy who told me he thought he might have a vocation to the priesthood," said Vanessa dreamily. "That was in first year, before your time. And I had met his parents at Thanksgiving and everything. I was extremely p.o.'d."

"Oh my gosh," said Sandra. It had not occured to her that such things might happen even to Vanessa. "What did you say?"

"I said I was terribly relieved, and that it was an answer to my prayers because I had fallen in love with his older brother at Thanksgiving and didn't know how to tell him."

Sandra slopped the next line.

"What?!"

"The cool part," said Vanessa, "was that he'd spent his entire life trying to outdo his brother, so you can imagine how that went down. He told me he'd never felt so betrayed in his life, blah, blah, blah."

Sandra erased the line with nail polish remover and redrew it.

"So did he go into the seminary?"

"Oh, please," said Vanessa. "What do you think? But he did transfer to State, so that was nice for me. I like my endings tidy."

Like many of the girls, Sandra thought that Vanessa was both really cool and kind of scary. But her conscience told her she had to say something so she said:

"Isn't that a bit....?"

"A bit what?"

"Umm....harsh?"

"Dog eat dog, baby," said Vanessa, triumphantly. "That's looking very good, by the way."

"Thanks," said Sandra, relieved.

"Now," said Vanessa, "the thing to do is to determine who this insensitive rat is and to punish him."

"I don't think Katie would like that," was the alarmed response. "She really, really likes him."

"And they never said who it was?"

"Nope."

"And yet she was actually crying," mused Vanessa. "So I think it has to be Mike."

"What!" squeaked Sandra. "Mike Machowski?"

"Yeeesss... That would be right. Come on, haven't you seen her looking at him? Sometimes I think I'm the only person in this school with eyes. Come to think of it, he's been looking at her lately, too. But it turns out he just wants some chick to talk at about his vocation. Interesting!"

"Oh my gosh," said Sandra. "I'm so relieved. I thought it might be Nick."

"Of course you did," said Vanessa. "You're obsessed with Nick."

"I'm not!"

"Then why do you work his name into every conversation? It's a dead giveaway. Anyway, don't interrupt my thought processes here. Mike Machowski is not bad-looking. In fact, he's mighty fine--and, we've discovered, available!"

"Well, not available, if he doesn't know if he's called to the priesthood or the married life or the monastery or..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Vanessa. "Like I said, av-ail-a-ble. So what is he going to do now that Katie's said No? Find someone else to be his VDP?"

"I don't know," said Sandra. "That's what Katie thinks."

"I will ponder this," said Vanessa. "Indeed, yes, I will ponder this. Hurry up with that topcoat, chica. I have places to be and people to see."

"Don't smudge it," the younger girl yelped. "You'll wreck my hard work."

Vanessa laughed and promised she wouldn't. For the next fifteen minutes she sat perfectly still and watched Sandra paint her nails and listened to Sandra enthuse about the mostly imaginary perfections of Nick Rivero. Nick Rivero was embroiled in a psychodrama with a Teaching Assistant, but Vanessa didn't think Sandra needed to know that.

When Sandra was done, she went away happily, although a little guilty that she had told Vanessa Katie's secret when she had promised not to. She comforted herself with the thought that although Vanessa rather spookily seemed to know everything, she very rarely told what she knew.

Vanessa waited for her nails to dry and then carefully plucked her phone out of her Coach bag. She went over to her computer and signed into her email account. After a few moments of clicking around, she found what she was looking for. She punched a number into her phone, got up, and looked out the window. The afternoon had faded away; it was almost time for dinner.

A male voice sounded from the phone.

"Hey, Mike," said Vanessa warmly. "It's Vanessa. Listen, will you meet me for dinner? I have something to ask you. You might think it's kind of random, but it would really mean a lot to me. No... no... Well, it'd kind of hard to explain over the phone, but it's a discernment thing. I'm looking for someone called a VDP."

To be continued... Part 4: Vanessa Discerns

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Good Word for Girlfriends

Darlingses, I think there may have been a wave of disapproval from a host of North American girlfriends last night because I was jostled awake at 5:00 A.M. British Summer Time, thinking, "I have to tell the Girlfriend Story."

Okay, so yesterday I indulged my usual snickers about boyfriend-girlfriend relationships which, I admit, are not entirely FAIR because, of course, most people these days have to go through a boyfriend-girlfriend stage before they get engaged. But you have to admit that most boyfriend-girlfriend relationships break up. They are transitory and ephemeral and painful and occasions for sin and...and... okay, sometimes they actually lead to the altar.

Now, it is true that B.A. asked me to marry him something like 10 days after we met in person, but I did not officially accept him right away. We agreed that that would be imprudent, so really I should go on to Germany to visit Volker, as I'd planned, and then go home to Canada and think about it.

Well, poor Volker. He had to listen to me go on about the fabulousness of B.A. and only put his foot down when I started discussing potential wedding dresses. He told me to call a girlfriend in Canada; he could not take such rampant feminine chatter anymore.

B.A. called me every night, of course, and as I giggled into the phone upstairs, Volker watched German television downstairs. Really, it is sad that the very best of my ex-boyfriends has had to put up with so much. Anyway, one evening B.A. told me that a woman he had met professionally some weeks before had texted him to ask what he was up to and to say that she had a "B.A.-shaped hole" in her life.

"What!" I shrieked, and possibly Volker turned up the sound on the TV. Poor Volker.

B.A. told the whole story again and I have to admit that I wasn't at all surprised that another women thought B.A. was the bees' knees.

B.A. wasn't sure what do to. Should he ignore the text? Should he reply to the text? And if he did, what would he say?

"Tell her you're busy planning your trip to Canada to see your girlfriend," I pronounced. "It serves as a friendly warning shot and has the advantage of being completely true."

I had decided, you see, that if there is a lag between "I want you to think about marrying me" and an almost certain "Yes", the people involved are boyfriend and girlfriend for the duration.

Anyway, B.A. dutifully texted his happy travel plans, and I believe that was that from his admirer. So what I would like to say today, which I did not say yesterday, is that sometimes "I have a girlfriend" is not only a true statement of fact, it is a gentle way of letting another girl down.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Whoops! Career Blip

Oh darlingses, guess what? I have lost one of my little writing jobs, probably for being a bit too "witty" which possibly did not come out as witty but as divisive.

I try to be good, but then I think of something funny to say about the postconcilar period and ... la la la!

Anyway, I like money and fame, so go forth and find Auntie Seraphic another writing job. How nice it would be to write for Our Sunday Visitor or the Catholic Herald, hint hint.

Meanwhile, I am off on pilgrimage to York Minister, which has graciously allowed Catholics to invade and revel in the architectural splendours that were once ours. (Sigh.) Oh, yes, and ask the intercession of the martyred St. Margaret Clitherow.

Update: Oh darlingses! Guess what? It was really for clericalism AND (at the same time) not being conformed to the mind of a cleric (not even a bishop) of whom you've never heard. This is in some ways extremely funny.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Real Hair, Fake Hair

This is not a Single Life post. But I was asked a question about black hair, and the difficulty black Nice Catholic Girls in growing their hair long. (This was in response to my observation that more men are attracted to long hair than short.)

Now this may make black NCGs hit the Comment button in indignation, but I actually do know what it is like to worry about real hair versus fake hair because I have extremely kinky, fuzzy hair that grows only so long and then stops. If I didn't keep my hair as long (and therefore heavy) as I could, it would rise up and froth around my head in an afro.

Black girls with afros look great; white girls with afros look weird and inappropriate. And yet I spent long agonized years of my childhood with a short afro. Today I have to think about my hair every single day to make sure it does not turn into its natural frizzy kinks. If I neglect it--dreadlocks. Heck, I have a dreadlock right now.

O dear. I just remembered the summer I was super-lazy and my hair was all dreadlocks and I got my mother to undo them all. I can't even begin to tell you how much that hurt.

There is something called "the politics of black hair", and unless I am getting this way wrong, its central question is "How come black girls feel so much pressure to have hair like white girls?" And that's a good question. The one thing I have to add to the debate is that not all white girls have hair like white girls. And nobody took a hot iron to my head until I was 33, and it was a REVELATION, people!

I'll never forget it. I was approached in a cafe by two hairdressers from the Caribbean-Canadian salon down the street, and they basically bullied into making an appointment. They washed my hair, and combed it out (with much scolding), and moisturized it (more scolding), and partially dried it, and then blew-dry it straight and then took the hot irons to it, and for the first time in my life, I had "white girl" hair. It cost just over $100.

I could go and on about my hair. It is one of my life's obsessions. It is responsible for so many random encounters. Four examples:

Black girls on the bus (in Toronto and American cities) sometimes lean over to me saying, in hushed voices, "Pardon me for asking, but are you mixed race?" ("Oh look," said one Caribbean woman at one job I had. "There's a new black girl. I must meet her." Then I turned around, and she was stunned. If you're confused, many black women in my city dye or bleach their hair auburn.)

In Boston, if I wore my hair in a bun, I was invisible to black men, and if I wore my hair out, black men--bus drivers, students, guys walking down the street--would engage me in conversation, and one made me take his phone number.

Also in Boston, two white construction workers working away on the edge of a university began to sing "Ebony and Ivory" as I walked by. I was flabbergasted. I didn't know if I should have reported them or what, since the university had a no-tolerance policy on racism.

In Toronto, an elderly lady at my theology school asked me if I had a straight-haired sister there. I explained that I had discovered the magic of straight-irons (thank you, Dionne!), but that I couldn't afford to be ironed more than once a month. And the elderly lady said--hold onto your coffee mugs--"Well, I guess sometimes you have to be wild and woolly."

Wild and woolly? My blood froze. It utterly froze. My grandmother, who was born in Chicago in 1904, had hair like mine only thinner and brown. Racism was a positive psychosis in Chicago before 1975, and as a child my grandmother was called "N--- Wool." Staring at that elderly lady, "wild and woolly" ringing in my ears, I understood in my bones for the first time in my life what racist attitudes towards black women and their hair were like.

Anyway, what I have to say is that not all white women have "white women hair" and so it's not just black women who feel pressure to live up to the standard set by Rapunzel. And also, my attitude towards natural versus fake is that you have to figure out what is right for you and then tell everyone else to bug off.

It is not easy to go through life with a big afro, but if you want to, you should. It is sometimes infinitely easier, if majorly more expensive, to go to the salon and have your hair cut short, ironed flat, braided or extended. The bad part is people accusing you of not being true to your roots, no pun intended.

Personally, I love braids, and I think they look amazing, with extensions or not. I would never use extensions (which have become very popular with white British women) myself because they are absolutely murder on your real hair. I hate chemical straighteners, and I have never, and would never, use them. My grandmother fried her hair with harsh chemicals.

Bottom line: figure out what's right for you and then do it. Tell critics to shove off. If you look best with short hair, have short hair. If you look best with long hair and you are willing to have the work done, get the work done or do it yourself.

Time for photos! So as not to look completely self-obsessed, I'd put in a photo of my baby sister, too, but she'd kill me.

MANAGED HAIR: See Blog Profile photo. To get that look I washed my hair, dried it in loose braids, redid the braids tightly and then took them out when I got to the restaurant without combing my hair. I just ran my fingers through twice. The photo was taken within half an hour after that.

IRONED (i.e. FAKE) HAIR: Oh, actually see the video on the side. That is freshly ironed hair. It's not as flat as it could be, but it is very flat. I screamed when snowflakes began to land on it. Snowflakes are made of water. And water is the enemy of ironed hair.

An authority figure once called my ironed hair "professional hair" and I was almost overwhelmed by the temptation to tell her I was mixed race, for then she would have died of white liberal guilt.

NATURAL HAIR: I love costume parties. At costume parties--and anything 1970s revival--I can just be me. By the way, as far as I know, I am not mixed race but 100% northern European, and my hair grows only that long. Of course, it looks longer when ironed.

Feel free to sound off in the com box about the part of your local beauty standard that makes you do nutty or expensive things.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Vocational Discernment Should Start at Confirmation

I have just read another letter from yet another twenty-something girl who is being jerked around by her twenty-something boyfriend who doesn't know if he has a vocation to the priesthood or not. Despite them breaking up over it and getting back together again over and over again--not to mention all the snogging and whatever--the man thinks he might have a vocation to the priesthood.

One thing that young Catholics never seem to understand is that it is actually insulting for a man to tell his girlfriend that he is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He may be discerning a vocation to the priesthood, but he's also saying, "I think I might spend the rest of my life without you." If I were the queen of the world, I would make it a law that every woman would have to dump her suddenly discerning-a-vocation-to-the-priesthood boyfriend and refuse to talk to him until he showed at her door crying and begging forgiveness.

I am happy to say that I know at least one woman who gave the guy she was seeing the old heave-ho as soon as he pulled that stunt. It was a very weird courtship, anyway, since he took her home to meet his parents almost immediately but wasn't that interested in huggin' and kissin'.

Normally it's a relief when a guy keeps his hands to himself, but after you've been dating for some time you begin to wonder why. Does he not find you attractive or does he have a super-strict confessor or is he secretly and self-loathingly gay? I can only imagine how awful it must be for a son of a pious Catholic family to discover he is gay, but wasting the time of innocent Catholic women is not the solution to anything.

Whatever his own issue, this guy announced that he was going abroad to determine his vocation, and the woman said, "Hmm. Shouldn't you consult this with me?" And the guy was surprised. Astonished. It hadn't even occured to him that his girlfriend should be consulted. It was all about him, him, HIM. Overwhelming self-absorption is not really a sign of the priestly charism, now, is it? Anyway, she dumped him and met an absolutely fabulous guy, a guy whose courtship was a lot more slow, cautious, selfless and meaningful. Best of all, perhaps, he had long since figured out that the priesthood was not for him.

Once upon a time there was this marvellous institution called the junior seminary. Maybe they still exist in some places; I know a priest in his 50s who was in one in Eastern Europe. The junior seminary was a special high school where teenage boys went to be educated and discern their possible vocation to the priesthood. This was deemed later to be bad for boys, but it was certainly great for girls, because it meant we did not have to deal with discerners all the darned time. And the priest I know attended junior seminary is a wonderful priest, very sweet and kind and even innocent. No doubt he hears all kinds of horrors in the confessional, but he has a quality of innocence all the same. He's a junior sem success story.

I am sure these letters will keep coming, but I have to say that nothing burns me up as much as the story of yet another college sweetheart breaking the bad news about his sudden need to discern the priesthood. Could he not have begun that when he was confirmed? It might not be his fault, of course; I cannot remember anyone talking to my confirmation class about discerning vocations to priesthood or religious life. But, really, if you only start talking to teens about this stuff when they are 19 and dating, isn't it too late?

At Confirmation, when you are about 14, you become an adult in the Church. And as an adult-in-the-Church you should start thinking about how you might best serve the Church when you are an adult for real. Don't put off contacting this religious order or that vocatons director after you're had your fun dating and kissing and telling this boy or that girl that you think you love him or her.

At this point, I discern several voices shrieking, "But, Seraphic, you always tells us that vocation can come at any age!" Yes, it can---and for the simple reason that vocation comes from God. God calls, and you answer. But you shouldn't wait until you're 19 to start listening for it, just as you shouldn't have zero clue what you want to do with your life as you muddle your way through junior year.

And call me crazy, but if you have a boyfriend you can't quit, or a girlfriend to whom you keep returning, it might just be a sign that you are not called to perpetual celibacy. By becoming a vocational tourist, you're holding the life and future of the person who might love you more than anyone else in the world hostage. Stop it. Forget about what you might be called to; ask yourself, just who do you think you are?

The Nashville Dominicans told me I was too old for them when I was 35. They were right; it was a shot in the dark and a waste of their vocation director's time. But at least I wasn't dating anyone when I asked. Nobody cried because I called them.

Do your fellow twenty-something Catholics a favour; work out how you feel about lifelong celibacy BEFORE you make out with them, okay?

P.S. Once you are out of the seminary/convent, and have spent a year acclimatizing yourself to the ordinary world, then go ahead and date. Go for it. Recovered ex-postulants and ex-seminarians can make marvellous spouses. But if you suddenly change your mind, mid-snog, and hare after the convent or seminary again you're a jerk. Sorry, but you are. I feel sorry for the heart you're stomping on, not you, drama queen.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Chocolate Tart

Today, for something completely different, I am going to tell you how to make a lovely pudding (British for dessert) called Chocolate Tart. It is tremendously fun to make and nice to serve at a dinner party. Incidentally, although I think it a mistake to ask men out on dates or bring them baking, I cannot see anything wrong with inviting them to dinner parties of four or more.

This recipe is based on one from my baking bible Great British Puddings by Mary and Debbie Smith. It is a lie that British cuisine is terrible. British puddings have always been wonderful, and Britain had a food revolution in the 1950s that taught everyone not to boil their veggies to mush and their meat to string.

For this recipe you will need a 9 inch fluted tin tart with a removeable bottom, greaseproof paper (I use brown wrapping paper) and baking beans--either dried real ones or ceramic ones. A kitchen scales would be handy. Every cook in Britain has a scales. Mine is a big pink retro one.

The recipe has three parts: pastry, filling and meringue. It involves three separate bakings at gradually lower temperatures.

CHOCOLATE TART

Pastry

6 oz plain white flour (in Canada, Poland and the USA use pastry flour)
4 oz cold butter
2 oz caster (fine) sugar
3 oz finely chopped roasted hazelnuts (ground almonds will do)
1 small egg yolk

Filling

4 oz (a 100g bar) dark chocolate, broken up
16 fl oz (2 cups) cold milk
2 oz plain white flour (better use pastry flour in Canada, Poland and USA)
pinch of salt
2 oz caster sugar
big pinch cinnamon
1 oz butter
4 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tbsp rum

Meringue

4 medium egg whites
4 oz caster sugar


Making the Pastry

1. Wash and flour your hands.

2. Cut the butter into small pieces and then chop into the flour with two dinner knives until mixture has an oatmeal-like consistency. If this takes too long, get your fingers in there and squish the mixture to your will.

3. Stir in the sugar and the hazelnuts.

4. Drop in the egg yolk and mix it around and around with a knife. Then get your clean, floured hands in there and squish mixture into dough.

5. Drop half-formed dough onto floured board and knead until smooth.

6. Stick dough ball into the fridge for half an hour.

7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Roll pastry into a round, drop it into your tart tin, press sides into the fluting with the floured stick end of a wooden spoon, prick all over with a fork, line bottom with greaseproof paper and pour in baking beans to cover. Trim any edges that stick out over the tin with a sharp knife.

9. Put tart tin in the oven for 10 minutes. Then take the paper and beans off, and return tart tin to over for 5 more minutes.

Voila! Beautiful pie case. Take it out of the over, but leave it in the tin. Turn oven down to 325 degrees F.

Making the Filling

1. Put chocolate, milk, flour, salt, sugar and cinnamon into heavy bottomed saucepan and melt over low heat while stirring. Stir until smooth.

2. Simmer for two minutes. This will thicken it up nicely.

3. Remove from heat, mix in butter, and leave to cool a wee bit. It will thicken more.

4. Add the egg yolks and the rum. Stir.

5. Pour into the pastry case and put carefully (loose bottom!) into the oven for 15 minutes.


Making the Meringue Top

1. Put your four egg-whites (absolutely free from even the tiniest bit of yolk) into a cold bowl and whisk them until they are stiff (will make peaks) but not dry. If you are doing this by hand it could take five minutes. Il faut souffrir pour etre belle. Whiskie, whiskie, whiskie.

2. When there are peaks, whisk in half the sugar.

3. Fold in the rest with a spoon.

4. When the 15 minutes of baking are up, carefully take your precious pie out of the oven and pour the meringue over it. Start from the middle and cover to the very edges of the pastry to create a seal. Turn the oven down to 300F.

5. Carefully put tart back into the oven and bake for another half an hour. The meringue will turn a golden brown colour.

When it is cool enough, carefully pop it up out of the tart tin collar and slide it onto a plate. Serve at room temperature with single (light) cream or ice cream the day it is made. Eat the leftovers for breakfast.

This tart has the power to make even the most hardened of bachelors reflect that although he would rather die, marriage might not be so bad for other chaps.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

More on Modesty

Ashley of the Love and Fidelity Network sent me this link to the Wall Street Journal. In the article a Jewish mother wonders why women today allow their daughters to dress "like prostitutes."

As a matter of fact, I am not up on what prostitutes are wearing these days. I know a young priest in Germany who worked in parish right near Hamburg's Reeperbahn a few years ago, and he said that the prostitutes all wore white--white bomber jackets, white shirts, white stockings, white skirts, white leggings, white spike heels--and they all used the same perfume. He could not tell me what this perfume was called, but he said when he could smell it, he knew the woman beside him was a Reeperbahn prostitute.

It is probably more accurate to say that today's daughters dress provocatively. Of course, they might not know that. They might not have the foggiest idea how their outfits look to the men around them. One of the trashiest looks I know is the Catholic Schoolgirl Look. This consists of a tiny uniform kilt on long legs covered only in the thinnest nude hose or, more modestly, coloured tights, with an untucked white blouse.

This, incidentally, was a fashion affected by year after year after year of girls in my high school, including yours truly. I didn't realize how shocking it was until I went to my baby sister's Graduation Mass and was horrified by the handkerchief-sized kilts. In the 80s, the mini was in. In the 00s, not so much, and yet there was the teeny-tiny kilt.

Teenage girls lack the imaginative power to put themselves into the shoes of grown-up men. Because as far as they are concerned ugly old men are invisible, they seem to think that they are invisible to the ugly old men. They want to be seen by teenage boys, and hence the bright, short, provocative outfits.

I'm not sure this has anything to do with carnality, as the author of the piece seems to think. I think the outfits cry out, "Notice me! Love me! Tell me I'm beautiful! Tell me I'm normal!"

God only knows why teenage girls feel a crying need to be noticed, loved and found beautiful and normal by teenage boys, but it may have something to do with the fact that human beings used to marry at that age. Our inner alarm clock does not jive with the outer realities of civilization.

Or it could stem from a life of watching television, reading magazines, seeing movies and goodness knows what other activities that tell us that the admiration of teenage boys is all that and a bag of chips. But even the carefully homeschooled feel a need to be assured that they are normal, beautiful and all that, so maybe it's not just the wicked world.

At any rate, the immodesty of dress of women is a perennial theme. In Jane Austen's day, fast women soaked their thin dresses so that they would stick to their figures all the more provocatively. In the 1920s, women began "to paint" in earnest, and this became so respectable that heavy makeup is part of the Evangelical Woman uniform. In the 1960s, my mother wore miniskirts, and there are pictures of Princess Anne in the early 1970s wearing the highest hemlines I've seen. In the 1980s, the miniskirt came back and Madonna-the-rock-star brought underwear-as-outerwear into fashion. And the cry goes up again and again "Why do we dress our daughters like prostitutes?"

To tell you the truth, I find this vaguely annoying. (The original bit of the WSJ article is the admission that maybe sex before marriage is a bad thing.) Teenage girls have enough problems without older women wailing constantly about how slutty they look. And it's not just a way to sneer at the younger generation. It's also a way to sneer at majority society. In the 80s, daughters of Italian immigrants in my town were told not to dress "like Canadian girls, like putanas." Hey, thanks for nothing.

But clothes do indeed send a message, and they do occasionally attract the attention of manipulative adults, which is something parents should tell their children, sons as well as daughters. I eagerly await a WSJ piece bewailing sons who dress like crack dealers or gay prostitutes.

We should encourage young people to wear clothes that say something other than "Love me" and "I hate Western society." How about "I'd like to be a respectable mother of three one day" and "I'm employable"?

Here is my How to Look Like a Nice Catholic girl again, since it is popular and nothing seems to attract comments on Catholic blogs like "What should women wear?"

Meanwhile I'd avoid wearing all white outfits with white bomber jackets and strong perfume.

Update: Girls, feel free to write at length in the com box about what men should wear.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Reality Check

Oh goodness. I have been writing Seraphic Singles blogs since 2006, so I forget that most of you were not reading my blogs when I was Single. One of the drawbacks of being a Married lady writing for Singles is that I am no longer modelling Seraphic Singledom but the Happily Ever After most of you think is the IDEAL.

I love B.A. and all that being married to B.A. entails, but this mixed message is a bit frustrating. I spent years banging it into readers' heads that Happily Ever After begins NOW and not when some guy offers you a ring, and then B.A. offered me a ring (or, to be precise, his grandfather's watch). I was not expecting that, people.

Anyway, I seem to have given the impression to some that I spent my Single days the proverbial belle of the ball, which is extremely inaccurate. The reasons why I went on so many dates were as follows:

1. I first asked a guy out when I was 14. My parents thought this was okay. 1985 was a relatively innocent time, although not as innocent as the year my mother went on her first date at 14. By the way, I got turned down and so asked another guy. He went.

2. I asked out more guys than asked me out. I rarely asked, however, despite the feeling I should be out there dating up a storm every Friday night. My books, magazines, shows and movies told me that was the ideal, so I thought it was the ideal. As a matter of fact, very few of my friends dated up a storm on Friday nights. Possibly only a tiny minority of my classmates were dating up a storm. If so, I wish I had known that.

3. Formal dating was still widespread (or said to be widespread) in the 1980s, and young people just hooking up was rare and seriously frowned upon--and not just by religious people. Our model for reality was The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Say Anything. None of us could have got our minds around Sex & the City. In my crowd, Madonna was beyond the pale.

4. After the age of 18, I knew lots of guys from Catholic circles and other university groups. Lots. And to some extent dating is a numbers game.

5. I have been unmarried for most of my life, and I am 40. If I went on only one date a year from the age of 14 to 25 (12 dates), and then from the age of 27 to the age of 37 (11), that would still be 23 dates--which sounds like a lot if you're 24 and never been on a date.

If you read my blog between when Volker (the fiend!) broke up with me and when I went to Scotland and met B.A. in person, you may vaguely recall that on Friday nights I blogged about how I, like my readers, did not have a Friday night date. Between mid-May 2007 and late-September 2008, when I was 36 and 37, knowing at least a hundred people in my city, going to Mass at least once a week, hanging out with my girlfriends, being relatively social, teaching English, writing in the local Catholic paper, blogging to the Single world, I went on, I believe, two dates.

I believe that dating-for-the-sake-of-dating is a boring yet paradoxically perilous activity and best avoided. Go out there and make a lot of friends and acquaintances, but always remembering that members of the opposite sex are at least potential spouses, so don't let it all hang out in front of them. Only go out for coffee with guy if you think he's nice and you like him. Don't go because it would be A Date.

By the way, being asked out on a date is no measure of your worth as a human being or even as an attractive woman. It's not about you. It's about the guy who asks--or doesn't ask--you. Or about the person who sets you two up.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Who Dates?

One remark letter-writers often make is that they've never been on a date. And a fair number of people stumble across my blog by typing "never been on a date" into a search engine. But if I am reading current Youth Culture correctly, teenagers and college students don't go on dates. It would appear that "dating"--the "I'll pick you up at six" kind of date--is nowadays confined to people off campus and in the work world.

In the 1980s, there was still I'll-pick-you-up-at-six dating amongst teens and college students. I know this because there I was, going on dates. Mind you, I made some of these dates myself because seventeen magazine said that was okay, and seventeen magazine (with some mental editing for Catholics) was my standard of normalcy. I hasten to add that in the 1980s, seventeen was a proper magazine with long articles that ran to two or three pages. It had a prim little column called "Sex and Your Body" which was illustrated with a sketch of a medical clipboard. I started reading it at 12.

Dating, however, was not a universal, but mostly a North American phenomenon, and began with the rise of the personal automobile. Before cars, women who worked for a living "walked out" with their admirers, which I believe literally meant going for walks, and women who didn't were chaperoned--either by mothers or auntie-figures (like me) or their sisters or other female friends--and, to use an anachronistic expression, "hung out."

It is fascinating to read novels that pre-date mass production of the automobile, for one perceives thousands of romances that had absolutely nothing to do with dating. In the Anne books, the only time boys and girls were alone together was when a boy asked a girl "May I see you home?" (There doesn't seem to have been a polite way to say "No", either, so poor Anne had occasionally to walk home from school or church with boring old Charlie Sloan. In Little Women, the March girls hang out with the boy next door and his pals. The boy next door asks one of the March girls to marry him without ever having gone on a date with her or kissed or anything except having hung out for the past seven years or so. In Pride and Prejudice, the first time Elizabeth is alone with Mr Darcy she has to tell him that her family is in total disgrace. In Sense and Sensibility....but I could go on.

There is no dating in Germany, which I know for dear old Volker did not go on a date until he did a post-doc at Harvard and met little me. I believe there is dating in Britain, but I was told by a most credible source that the way Britons pair off is to get absolutely smashed at parties, and then have intense discussions at 2 AM that turn into snogging. Incidentally, this is not how B.A. and I got together.

Uh oh. B.A. is arguing.

"It basically was," he claims.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Children In Our Lives

When a proofreader was going through the manuscript for Seraphic Singles/The Closet's All Mine, she wondered how "Other People's Children" fit into the rest of the book. One moment I'm talking about dating (or not dating) and the next moment, I'm babysitting my nephew. What was that all about?

What that was about was that many women (if not most women) love children, especially babies, and one of the harder burdens of Single life is not being anybody's mummy or, if a Single mum of one, never being anyone else's mummy. My life as a Single woman--and now my life as a Married woman--is infinitely richer for my sister's son "Pirate" and my brother's children "Peanut" and "Popcorn."

I know this isn't a tremendous comfort if you're the only child of an only child, or just don't get along with your family, but some of us can feel better about "not starting a family" when we remember that we were born into a family and have a permanent place in it. Even as family members die, we're the people who pray for them, and hopefully they are praying for us. Love lives forever.

Sadly, I don't get to see my nephews and niece as much as I'd like, for I live across the ocean from all of them, but I enjoy socializing with the Youngest Member of the Parish and his mother.

Feel free to mention in the combox any of your little friends: nieces, nephews, wee brothers and sisters, fellow parishioners, students, babysitting charges. Don't use their real names, of course! Think of a cute one-time-only nickname.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Collegiate Conflict of Interest

Update: Happy Saint Patrick's Day to my Irish, Canadian, American, Anzac, Glaswegian and crypto-Irish British readership. Special greetings to all German priests and Scots cabdrivers who have remarked, "Oh, I thought you were Irish."

Yes, I am wearing green. I am wearing my super-special rhinestone-covered Hibernians T-shirt. I would like to stress, however, that Hibernians really is my neighbourhood team.

****
Last night I realized that one drawback of writing fictional stories about undergraduates is that various undergraduates I have met, however fleetingly, will read the stories, feel their blood freeze and shriek, "Who told?"

But the astonishing fact, the Ripley's Believe it or Not cartoon, is that the same problems, questions and conversations have been cropping up amongst Catholic undergraduates for at least the past twenty years. And I know this because twenty years ago I was an undergraduate, and my First and Second Year boyfriend toddled off one Christmas vacation to try his vocation with the Somethingians. In retaliation, I wrote a love letter to the Daughters of Saint Paul, as they were then known, and no doubt wasted an hour or so of their vocation director's life.

Sound familiar? It's not just your set in 2011. It's my set in 1992. And probably your daughter's set in 2033.

I could tell many other stories about my undergraduate days, and probably will, and have had two decades to think about them and see things I couldn't see then. Evelyn Waugh, looking nostalgically back upon his undergraduate days, which he mostly spent drunk, wrote Brideshead Revisited. I spend my undergraduate days bewailing that they weren't anything like Brideshead Revisited. But now I realize that the last ones kind of were, insofar that the life of a middle-class Catholic girl in Toronto could at all resemble that of Charles Ryder. Amusingly, though, my grades vastly improved once I ran away from my sedate, pro-life set and began to hang out with the bad, aesthete, Bridesheadish set. Et cum Sebastiano ego.

But enough about me. The major difference between Evelyn Waugh's college days and yours and mine is that men and women did not study together. The life of scholarship and the life of marriage were strictly apart. Celibacy (if not necessarily chastity) was the rule rather than the exception at Oxford and Cambridge, and Oxbridge wives could lead a very drab existence, mending late into the night as their husbands spent evenings in the pub reading their manuscripts to each other.

Running around with girls was what undergraduates did on vacation and on special Varsity weekends. Those few women who went to college generally went to women's colleges. Even in my father's day the University of Notre Dame was only for men; women went to St. Mary's.

And this, I suspect, rather protected the business of study from the business of marriage. Men were free to study hard and join the clubs and be elected to the offices and make the friends who would be helpful in their later careers. The women those men would marry were groomed for marriage, sometimes given a taste for culture, sometimes encouraged to learn a trade "in case," and then shot into society at the age of 18 or so.

In short and in general, in the 1920s men did not let romance (with women) interfere with their studies and projected careers, and women did not let studies and projected careers interfere with their romances. I am not at all suggesting that this was a superior way of life. It may have been fine for men, but I can see how boring and stressful it must have been for those girls without religious vocations. And they too had to pretend they weren't worried they'd never get married.

Personally, I deeply regret how much time I wasted in my undergraduate days on dating and romance. My grades were appalling until, in desperation, I dropped out of Classics and went straight into English Literature. The work was easier, my grades sky-rocketed and my professors delighted in my sentence structure. It wasn't enough to save my GPA, however. It's a miracle I got into an M.A. program.

Years later, when I was divorced and depressed and between office jobs, I asked myself what I wanted more than anything on earth. What I wanted was to relive my undergrad days, only to work my brains harder than I ever had before, and to graduate with sparking honours. In a sense, this is what I did, putting three years of extremely hard work into an MDiv. I am the Queen of Second Chances. Possibly--perhaps when the Restoration comes--I'll even get another crack at the Ph.D. one day.

However, since hindsight is 20:20, I would like to encourage my readers not to let the hurly-burly of collegiate social life, the gossip, the flirtations, the dating, the kind-of dating, the romances, the sexual dynamics of mixed retreats, the rivalries, the broken hearts--in short, the whole side of life that points to eventual marriage--interfere with your grades.

It is a shame--a terrible, inescapable, historical shame--that the traditional age for advanced study and career preparation overlaps exactly with the traditional age for marriage. But that is the way it is, and how annoying is that? It is not surprising, therefore, that the average age for first marriages has shot up, and most of you are unlikely to marry a man in his early twenties.

The University of St. Andrews brags on its website that 10% of its graduates marry other graduates of St Andrews. What blows my mind is not that the percentage is so big, but that the percentage is so small. Ninety percent of those who go to St. Andrews, therefore, do not find their spouse amongst their schoolmates. I hope that they are concentrating on their grades and rolodexes. It's one thing for the Scots to let things slide, but those foreign fees are killers.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Katie Weakens

Of course, a single phone call would not suffice. Rushing to her friend's aid at her time of need, Anne left the gym and returned to the dorm room she shared with Katie. She sat on her bed, and Katie sat on her bed, and the two of them pondered the matter.

They looked at it from Mike's point of view. They looked at it from Katie's point of view. They looked at it from Anne's point of view. They tried to find an appropriate quote from Alice von Hildebrand. And at long last they were hungry, so they stopped pondering long enough to go into the lounge and pop a bag of microwave popcorn.

"Of course," said Anne, who looked kind of like your very best friend, "you have to give him points for being honest."

"Who?" demanded a voice, and Sandra bounced into the room. Sandra was exactly like your slightly younger friend whom you really like, and is super-friendly and fun, but can never keep a secret.

"This guy," said Anne and Katie at once.

"Oh come on, chicas," said Sandra, throwing herself down on the couch. "Don't be like that. I want to knoooooow! Who? Who?"

Katie looked solemn.

"I would tell you," she said, "but I sort of have a gossip problem, and I promised God I wouldn't gossip about this."

"Oh," said Sandra. "Is that like a Lent thing?"

"It started as a Lent thing, but I'm going to try to make it a permanent thing," said Katie. "It's okay to say good things about people, but this isn't a good thing."

"It isn't gossip if you don't tell me who it is," said Sandra.

There was a pause, unbroken save for the popcorn popping.

"Well, okay," said Katie. "It's kind of complicated."

Sandra clapped her hands excitedly.

"Somebody asked Katie to be his VDP," said Anne.

"Eeeeee!" shrieked Sandra. "That's so EXCITING! Except, um, I don't know what a VDP is."

"It's a Vocation Discernment Partner," groaned Katie. "It's like a girlfriend only there is no guarantee romance is on the cards."

"The guy might become a priest instead," said Anne.

"Or a monk."

"Or a monk," repeated Anne. "Or just Single."

"Oh," said Sandra, nonplussed. "That's random."

"But at least he was honest about it," said Anne. "It wasn't like when you're seeing this guy, and he's really fun and sweet, and then the next thing you know he's having long talks with Father Bryan all the time, and then he goes on the Priesthood Discernment Retreat, and then he comes back and acts like nothing happened."

"Like Petra with Robert," said Sandra.

"Ex-ACT-ly. Or like Paul with Aileen."

"They're not really going out, though," said Katie. "Aileen's been talking about joining the Dominicans since frosh week."

"Yeah, and she's been going everywhere with Paul ever since. Whateverrrr."

"It's not going out unless you're both agreed its going out, though," said Katie.

"Whateverrrr!"

"If nobody says anything, how do you know when going out is going out?" asked Sandra. "Like, if Nick asked me to meet him for breakfast in the hall, would that be going out?"

"Not the first time," said Katie.

"It would still be a date, though," said Anne.

"No, it wouldn't," said Katie. "Breakfast is not a date."

"Maybe it is if you really like the guy," suggested Sandra.

"Not exactly," said Anne. "I think it's a date if he really likes you. And there's nobody else at the table when you get there. And he pays."

"It could just be a friend thing," argued Katie.

"Like being a VDP," said the younger girl.

Katie made a terrible face and shoved her hands through her hair.

"Aaaaaargh!"

The popcorn battered ferociously at its bag, and the microwave beeped.

"Well, look at it this way," said Anne, taking out the popcorn. "You can eliminate him from the Possibles list."

"Wahhhhh," said Katie, throwing herself beside Sandra. "I don't want to eliminate him from the Possibles list."

Anne held the popcorn bag at arm's length and ruthlessly ripped the top off. Steam shot into the air.

"You will just have to be firm with yourself," she said. "He thought you would make a good nun. That's simply death. If a guy tells you you would make a good nun, and he isn't joking, you can forget about dating him."

"He didn't put it that way," said Katie. "He just said that lots of girls my age were becoming nuns. 'Real nuns, with habits.'"

"Look, chickie, if he's imagining you in a habit, you can just forget about it."

"Yeah," said Sandra loyally, "he can find himself another VD-whatever it is."

Anne stopped pouring the popcorn in mid-pour. She looked at Katie aghast.

"Oh my gosh," she said. "I hadn't thought of that."

"I did," said Katie and sniffed.

"Oh nooooo," said Sandra. "Don't cry. Don't cry, Katie."

"Right after I called Anne, I thought 'Now maybe he'll find someone else to be his VDP' and I thought... And I thought--."

Anne ripped a piece of paper towel from the roll over the sink and handed it wordlessly to her friend.

Katie dabbed at her eyes and then blew her nose.

"Thank you. And then I thought 'Wouldn't that be better than nothing?'"

"Oh noooo, Katieeeee...."

"I mean, I really like him and...maybe if he got to know me better, he would really like me..."

Anne put down the bowl and sat on Katie's other side.

"I know, honey. I know. It's hard. But what if he didn't? You know what a nice guy Paul is. Do you want to be like Paul, hoping all the time that Aileen will change her mind?"

"No," said Katie forcefully. "I don't."

She blew her nose again.

"But it's hard."

"I know it's hard. Life is hard. But you're strong. You're one of the strongest women I know. So you'll get through it. Now come on," she ordered, picking up the popcorn bowl. "I want to show you this thing on youtube."

"Okay," said Katie. "You want to come, Sandra?"

"No, that's okay," said Sandra. "I promised Vanessa I would do her nails before supper."

Sandra had a french manicure kit and a steady hand.

"See you later then," said Anne. "And don't tell anyone about you-know."

"'Kay!"

"We mean it," said Anne.

"'Kay!"

To be continued...

Update: See Part 3, "Sandra Blabs" here.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Age of Reason

I have a theory that we know what we are meant to be--or want to be--at the age of 7, and then eventually puberty scrambles our brains, leaving us uncertain and confused. We think what we wanted when we were seven wasn't good enough.

I know a priest who knew he wanted to be a priest when he was about seven.

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven.

What did you want to be when you grew up when you were about seven?

Of course being a mommy counts. You don't even have to ask.

****
Update: Those Roman Catholic readers who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass may find this post vastly amusing. Other readers of Good Will may not find it as amusing, unless they are Pixies with a very well-developed sense of humour.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Good and Bad Gossip

I love news. Sometimes I call a friend back home and demand, "What's the news?" One particularly juicy bit of news was that a good friend won a major academic prize.

"She didn't know she was going to get it. Everyone thought X was going to get it, but she got it. They only told her at the last minute."

This is, of course, hard cheese on X, but lovely for my good friend, so I rejoiced in this lovely bit of news.

Sometimes the news from home is less joyful and spectacular and rather more spicy, as in the perennial "A did B, and C is pretty mad about it."

"A did B, huh?"

"Yup."

"Oh, that naughty A. Well, A does that sort of thing all the time, so what did C expect?"

"Well, C really didn't think A would do B this time. I mean, A should have known how C would have felt about it."

"Well, it's a fallen world."

"Well, that is fo' shizzle."

I admit that I enjoy that kind of gossip, even though I suspect it is one of those "harmful pleasures" that the "Secret" for the (traditional) First Sunday of Lent hopes we will refrain from indulging in. It's the fascinating never-ending story of A and C, and the sad recurrence of B in A's life, and C's disapproval of B.

People love stories about people. It's why so many of us collapsed into puddles of tears when the ever-entertaining Princess Di died. Well, that and the realization that if she could die, we could too. And, in fact, will.

It is always ghastly to discover that not only do you enjoy gossip about other people, but that other people enjoy gossip about you. I keep this thought before me like the reminder that I will die, and it sobers me up a bit. I attribute to it two things: (1) patient forgiveness of my dearest friends in advance for all past and future gossip about me (2) a reticence unknown in my teens and twenties, when I told anyone almost anything.

Very often the person gossip hurts most is the person who gossiped. This is particularly true when you are gossiping about yourself. I know an unfortunate woman who casually told her colleagues that she slept with one-night stands. This, of course, became the number one thing the colleagues knew about her, and since she had no problem discussing it, her colleagues thought nothing of discussing it, too. I imagine that it hurt her matrimonial prospects; I don't know what it did for her career.

There is a charming naiviety about the person who gossips about her- or himself. It's as if, in his or her humility, he or she thinks the listener will listen, sympathize, forget immediately, and never think the story worth telling to anyone else. This is, of course, madness. If the story involves sex, death, crime, media or exotic pets, it will certainly make the rounds.

Very rarely, I think, do people gossip to do harm. Just about everything you read in the newspaper is gossip, and it is important to know the news. It may be none of your business that Japan has just suffered a terrible earthquake, and one of its nuclear reactions may melt down, but you ought to know. You might wonder why, since there's nothing you can do about it, but don't go there right now. That's a good question, but for now let's assume its good to know most news.

It's very good to know news when you are vulnerable. Thus, if your boss is going bankrupt, it's good to know in advance so that you can find another job. Your boss doesn't want you to know, but for your own sake you should know. Your boss may throw a fit and condemn the "gossip" in the office, but hey. Tough cheese, boss.

In social affairs, there is much more of a question mark about what one ought to know. I am sure there are all kinds of terrible things said about me that someone has thought, "She has the right to know" and then very charitably not told me anyway. I live in blissful ignorance that D said E about me, and I am glad.

(Incidentally, I am absolutely sure this happens because sometimes people do tell me such interesting tidbits as, "All the teachers in my staff room hated your column on Eckhart Tolle. They love him. They kind of hate you." And once someone sent me an email by mistake, an email that revealed that others had thought (wrongly) I had Something Going On with Someone. Oh, my screams of rage.)

I always read eagerly to see what all advice columnists have to say about this little conundrum:

Dear Ann/Abby/Ellie/Auntie,

I saw my friend's husband/wife in a restaurant with another woman/man, and when I went up to him/her to say "Hi", he/she looked at me with panic. Should I tell my friend's wife/husband? I think she/he has the right to know.

Righteous Indignation


The advice columnists always, always, always say "Keep your mouth shut and say nothing unless your friend asks you." I think this is excellent advice. And the numero uno reason why is that nobody feels grateful to the person who tells them potentially really bad news. For your own sake, shut up.

Personally, if I'm going to swan around town with a man not my husband, I get my husband's permission in advance. That way it would be funny, not embarrassing, if there should be gossip.

Meanwhile, when the thought "I should tell So-and-so of such-and-such; So-and-so has the right to know" crosses my mind, I think very carefully indeed about my motivations.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Damage of Drama

UPDATE (Sun): Whew! Things are not as bad as I thought. There was no gossipy X. It was all a misunderstanding and, er, drama.

Great thanks to those who emailed to say they were praying for whomever involved or to remind me how much they love my blog. Full speed ahead, and, God willing, a nice new post tomorrow.

*****

Unfortunately, someone has used this blog to hurt a letter-writer and a friend of that letter-writer. Needless to say, I feel terrible.

I just wrote a whole post to talk about Drama, but sadly my computer erased it. I'm feeling too downhearted to write the whole thing again, so I'm going to go away and have a little think.

It's things like this that make me wonder if I ought not to quit blogging.

People, if you think you recognize someone discussed in a blogpost, the Christian thing to do is not immediately to tell the universe, or the person you are certain will be devastated if she or he finds out, but the blogger. That way the blogger can change or take down the post before damage is done.

I almost always (i.e. all but once) ask for permission before printing letters, and although I edit a lot of detail, I can never be 100% sure that people mentioned or alluded to are not recognizable. If people don't make their own judgement calls, I have to make my own judgement calls, and sometimes I don't make the best one.

You know that thrill you get when you discover a piece of really juicy gossip? It's evil. Ignore it.

Friday, 11 March 2011

"Will You Be My VDP?"

They were at the same college, and they had seen each other at Mass and on the fringes of chaplaincy events. They had chatted a few times, and Katie liked Mike quite a lot. If he wasn't tall, at least he was taller than she. And if he wasn't very handsome, at least he was more handsome than the other guys around. He was always carrying some Catholic book or other, even though he was science student. Katie thought this was very cool.

Then one day, in the college library, which was a lot like your college library, where Katie was diligently trying to memorize vocabulary lists by writing out each word ten times, Mike appeared at her elbow. Katie looked up and smiled, hoping against hope that she was not blushing.

"Hey," said Mike.

"Hey," said Katie.

Mike looked around the library and then back down at Katie.

"So are you busy?"

"Kind of," said Katie and then, not quite fibbing because the thought had that very second occured to her, "I was thinking of taking a break."

"Cool," said Mike. "You want to grab a coffee or something?"

"Sure," said Katie and then, since she is a great fan of this blog, smiled and said, "You paying?"

"Sure," said Mike. "I want to ask you something."

Now Katie prayed to all her favourite saints that she wasn't blushing. She chewed the inside of her lip to keep from smiling too widely. Her heart pounded in her maidenly bosom. She scooped her papers and laptop into her bag, picked up her coat and followed Mike to the library cafe.

They chose a table with a view of the campus, and hung up their coats on the backs of their chairs, and put their bags on the floor. Katie watched as Mike unwound his college scarf from his neck and felt a bit woozy. She distracted herself by silently reciting vocabulary lists.

"So," said Mike. "A latte or what?"

"Double double," said Katie.

"Aha," said Mike. "A sweet tooth! I like that in a woman."

He strode to the counter and Katie sat on her hands so as not to chew her fingernails. She looked out the window and recited more unfamiliar words crucial to her studies.

Mike returned with a big cup of white coffee, a big cup of black coffee, a brownie and a plastic knife, all carefully balanced on a tray. He cut the brownie in half and smiled at Katie.

"I figured we might both need some chocolate by now."

"Thanks," said Katie faintly. She felt an almost overwhelming urge to text her best friend immediately, but she repressed it.

Mike flung himself in his seat and lifted his mug.

"Cheers!"

"Cheers," said Katie.

Her coffee was rich and sweet, exactly as she liked it.

"So," said Mike, leaning forward. "About that thing I wanted to ask you about?"

Katie composed her face into a look she hoped conveyed mildly ironic and detached womanly sophistication.

"Uh huh?"

"I was wondering. I mean, because we're Catholic and all, and go to the same stuff, and have the same friends, and get along great, if you'd consider being my VDP?"

Katie made a strange squeaking noise, turned red and stared at Mike blankly.

"Your what?"

"My VDP. You know, Vocation Discernment Partner."

"I'm sorry," said Katie. "I don't know what that is."

"Oh," said Mike. "Maybe it's not that popular here yet. Well, it's when you're trying to figure out if you're called to be married or a priest or what. I mean, obviously as Catholics we totally reject that whole stupid campus hook-up culture and just, you know, concentrate on discerning our vocations. And it's way easier to do that with another person. It's, like, by going out with you, I would figure out if I'm called to be a husband and father, and I think I would make a great husband and father, or a priest, who, you know, technically should have made a great husband and father if he hadn't become a priest, and you would figure out if you were called to be a nun or what."

"A nun?" said Katie. "Me?"

"Sure," said Mike. "Why not? Lots of women your age are becoming nuns now. Real nuns, with habits. Anyway, what do you think? Would you like to be my Vocations Discernment Partner?"

Katie became vaguely aware of some sort of interior shrieks, and wondered who was shrieking. It was her heart, but Katie didn't have time to attend to that right now.

"You're going to think I'm awfully stupid," she said, "but I still don't know what this entails. I mean, do we go out to the movies and stuff, or go to Mass together, or go to vocation discernment lectures together and talk about them afterwards?"

"All of that," said Mike enthusiastically. "I need to give every vocation a fair shake: marriage, priesthood--heck, even monastic life."

"I don't know how I can help you discern monastic life," said Katie.

"Well," said Mike, "say I go on retreat, to Kentucky with the Trappists or whomever. Then if I miss you really a lot, then that might give me a clue."

"A clue to how you feel about me?"

"Sure," said Mike nervously, "or women in general."

Katie's heart gave another wail.

"I don't know if that's flattering or not," said Katie, "standing in for women in general."

"That's the beauty of it," said Mike. "You represent women in general for me, and I represent men in general for you."

"Like in hook-up culture," said Katie.

Mike blinked.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, it's like hook-up culture, isn't it? You use me--as a woman--for something, and I use you--as a man--for something. As a means to an end."

"No, I'm sorry," said Mike, not sounding sorry but actually annoyed. "That's not the same thing at all. Hook-up culture is about sex without strings, which is a mortal sin, and vocation discernment partnership is about finding out God's will for your life, which is awesome."

"But I already know God's will for my life," said Katie.

Mike blinked again.

"You do?"

"Yes," said Katie, standing up. "It's to spend time with people who want to be with me for me, and not just because I'm some woman."

"Hey," said Mike. "Sit down. You're not just some woman. There are tons of women on this campus. You're a, well, you're a nice Catholic girl."

"No, I'm not," said Katie, getting her coat. "I'm a fantastic Catholic girl. See you around, Mike. I hope you find your vocation soon."

Mike held his coffee cup with both hands and looked at the evenly divided brownie.

"I'm confused here," said Mike.

"Yes," said Katie, picking up her bag. "I can see that."

This was too big for texting. She left the library and began to walk to her dorm. She walked swiftly for a block, and then she began to run. She ran as if all the Vocation Discernment Partners in the world were after her. And when she got to her room, she pulled out her phone. As she turned it on, her eye fell on the crucifix.

"Just one," she promised.

She speed-dialed her best friend.

***
Update: Part 2, "Katie Weakens" here.

Update 2: Willkommen, der Lederstamm von Ecce Sponsus Venit! Ich spreche kaum Deutsche...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Good Single Life News, Please!

Recently I listened to a lawyer describe the injuries done to a Single NCB by an intoxicated (and not particularly penitent-looking) crook. This morning I discoverd that a Single NCG I admire has cancer. There is no obvious reason why she has cancer; it is probably because she is over 40. I am in need of cheering up.

Therefore, it would be very nice if readers would publish any good news in the commbox, with one caveat:

No dating or boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.

If you just got engaged, great. But other than that, I don't want to hear about dates, flirtations, winkies, encouragement or anything else that plays into society's obsession with sexual attraction. I am WAY too cranky for that today.

I want to hear the large or small triumphs of your lives as Singles (not just sexual subjects), please, or (if Married) as ordinary, supposedly boring Married people.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Boyfriend Question

Listen--yesterday was rough. Today I want to be cheerful, cheerful I tell ya! But I am not so sure how to be cheerful about the Boyfriend Question. The Boyfriend Question usually goes something like this,

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

We know you got engaged to B.A. something like ten days after you met him in person, which frankly doesn't happen a lot, at least not to sane people in peacetime. And we know you dislike the boyfriend concept. But, listen, is having a boyfriend not usually a necessary stage between "I like you" and "Marry me"? We mean, come on.

Impatient Readers


But instead of answering that straight, I'm going to reprint a depressing little article I read in Metro yesterday on my way home from Edinburgh's Old Town:

Girls as young as 12 are posing for topless pictures for their boyfriends that end up circulating the internet as child pornography, warned the head of a paedophile protection program yesterday. A net security seminar in Sterling was told girls were inadvertently ending up on the web. Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Dawson, who headed Central Scotland Police's Operation Defender, described the internet as a huge risk for children. He said, "Boys ask their girlfriend to take pictures of herself with no top on, or he'll dump her. She does it to stay with him, but inevitably they split up. Then he's sending it around his friends over Bluetooth and, eventually, it's seen by everyone in the school'...


Say, I think there's something else that is a huge risk for children, and women, too: boyfriends like those. Have you ever noticed that sometimes your friends' boyfriends (or girlfriends--girlfriends are not off the hook here) don't really act like friends?

Having read two of the stories in the New York Times series on "Wow, aren't kids these days screwed up about sex and relationships?", I realize that it is kind of old-fashioned to be talking about boyfriends and girlfriends at all. According the NYT stories, people tend not even to pretend to have a romance going on: it's all hem-hem and deep intellectual posturing. However, I know my readership is mostly not going to get sucked into that, so I will continue to trash boy/girlfrienddom in my fuddy-duddy way.

Or maybe not... the computer ate it. Argh!!!! My Pulitzer Prize potential material is lost! Lost!

The most I have the time to rewrite right now is that from the age of 10, most girls think that it is an infallible measure of female worth to attract a boyfriend. This is stupid, but it is true.

However, you will notice that the Catechism doesn't mention boyfriends. It recognizes only two states in life: Single Life (which it calls Virginity) and Marriage. It mentions engaged people--but the most memorable bit there is that it does so to remind them that they can't have sex yet.

However, this does not stop almost all girls, no matter how young they are, from wanting to have something called "a boyfriend", which is a person quite separate from "a husband." And yet boyfriends go hand-in-hand with sexual temptation or just sexual pressure, or if not, with long periods of wondering if they are ever going to turn into husbands, or of jealousy if they talk to other girls or talk about becoming priests, or of disappointment when marriage doesn't happen.

Sometimes boyfriends aren't even really friends. I know a guy who is marvellous to his female friends, but terrible to his girlfriends. And once one of his female friends becomes his girlfriend...! Jekyll and Hyde, baby.

And now for the concluding points I still remember:

1. An actually marriage-minded suitor is immeasurably more worthwhile than a mere boyfriend.

2. A boyfriend (or girlfriend) who acts like your husband (or wife) without wanting to be your husband (or wife) is not even your friend.

3. No adult man who hasn't asked you to marry him is worth more than a year of your undivided attention.

4. If your adult boyfriend hasn't brought up marriage after a year--a whole year--of being your boyfriend, then it is up to you to ask him when he's going to. It used to be your mother's or father's job to ask a man what his intentions are but now, alas, the embarrassing conversation is up to you.

5. "But I love him/her" is not a good excuse for criminality or putting up with criminality. Men sin by hurting women, and women sin by sucking it up. (Vice versa is also true, but not as common.) It's much harder to get divorced from someone who is whackadoodle than it is just to break up with them before marriage.

Many people, although charismatic and attractive, are too whackadoodle, nasty or immature to get married right now. And don't wail "Oh, Auntie, that's so judgmental" because at times I have been too whackadoodle, nasty and immature myself, and now I am happily married to B.A. It could be that God means Mr/Miss Sexy but Nasty/Insane to marry somebody else---many, many years from now--and for you to marry Mr/Miss Amazing Right Now.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

K/W Seminarian

I've just been going through my stats, and I found someone back in Ontario who found my blog by googling "ex-seminarian what is left to live for".

I have just prayed for whoever wrote that, and I hope other readers will, too. I'm hoping it was just a random google-search, but I'm worried it's not.

If you are an ex-seminarian who is feeling depressed, please telephone somebody now. Many, many men leave the seminary. Some leave sadly, some leave skipping. Leaving the seminary is not the end of anything except, perhaps, a painful few years. It marks a new start.

I walked away from a full fellowship to a PhD in one of the most famous Catholic theology programs in the USA, and here I am, happy and working away in the field--in a way much different than I ever imagined. Was walking away hard? You better believe it. Was I depressed? Talk to my doctor.

God has a plan for everybody. He has a plan for you. You might not have the slightest idea yet what it is, but He loves and knows you better than you know and love yourself.

If you want, email me. If not, and that was not just a random google search, please call somebody now.

So far my pieces about seminarians (and ex-seminarians) are for girls trying to cope with men who are still unsure if they want to be priests or married men. I am not at all an expert on the pressures of seminary life. There have been, of course, many, many men who married happily after leaving the seminary.

Morally Stronger?

Poppets, no long post today because I have been in court, seeing justice being done. At first I was in the wrong courtroom, and that was very dull. But then I found the right courtroom, and life became a lot more interesting.

Now, I don't really want to get into a "Women are better and purer than men" kind of an argument. I certainly don't want to let men off any kind of hook by stating that they are (in general) morally weaker than women. And I am also reluctant to think up examples of how women are morally weaker than men, or explain that women are, indeed, capable of sexual assault--usually of other women and of children. (It's rare, but it happens and of course it is disgusting.)

But I will say this. I was in court for hours. Court was very busy. And all but one of those addressed as "the Accused" were men. Most of them were young men. The only woman who shuffled into the dock was pregnant. She sought to have her ultimate court date transferred to after her baby was born.

The men in the dock--and their male supporters--wore casual clothes, clothes that were almost insolent in their slovenliness. In general, their womenfolk dressed respectfully.

I'm just throwing it out there. I do believe science will bear me out that women are less likely to break the law then men, or commit violent crimes. And for whatever reason, this suggests to me that women, in general, do keep to a higher standard of civil behaviour.

It is my belief that women are a force for civilisation, and that when women give up the more usual standard of female behaviour, we are letting civilisation down. The biggest difference between the binge drinking culture of Britain now and of Britain 50 years ago, is now even the women get smashed out of their minds, fall about in the streets and get involved in violent disputes. This is not an improvement.

Monday, 7 March 2011

New Review, Too

And this is awesome: a new review of Seraphic Singles/The Closet's All Mine!

Hurry up and buy my book in large numbers, so that some nice publisher will ask me to write another one, and I can have all the fun of updating and pontificating. For example, I'm not sure I've made it clear enough that a girl must never tell a guy how badly other guys have treated her because guys, consciously or unconsciously, take their cues from other guys.

I've heard from one of B.A.'s pals that B.A. treats me like fine china. Now, I expect B.A. to live a good long time, but the tale that he treats me like fine china cannot be too widely told.

All men, bow before me and give me stuff! ;-D

What's It All About, Auntie?

After reading the college junior's essay in the New York Times yesterday, I wondered if there isn't some mass psychosis amongst the fathers of the world that makes them take their sons aside to say, "Listen, son. Monogamy is for losers. Life is short. I want you to go out there and get as much tail as you can. Quality's fine, but I'm talking quantity here, ya dig? Whatever you do, don't commit. Oh, and never volunteer."

The imaginary fathers in this scenario were nothing like most of the fathers I know, though. Almost all the fathers I know are married to their kids' mothers, and either have a job or are over 65 and retired. The only father I know personally who might conceivably make this speech hasn't seen his son his years and left the country shortly after he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. And why a kid whose father took off on him and his mom would listen to his life advice is beyond me--except that boys have a heartbreaking need for guidance from men.

That said, the above speech is basically the philosophy of Playboy magazine and therefore the alternative voice of the 1950s that became the dominant voice of the cultural elite of the 1960s and beyond. So, beyond the ancient adolescent male pattern of trying to score as much as possible before settling down (a pattern St. Augustine recorded), that's what we're dealing with. But sadly we're dealing with something else, too.

On TV the other night, I saw an advertisement for a marathon run against breast cancer. In the UK, people love to dress up in funny ways. I believe one year it was fashionable for a local woman to do a marathon run against breast cancer wearing her bra on the outside of her T-shirt. Well, in this advert, the women were wearing white fluffy bunny ears. And this made me uncomfortable because bunny ears on women means Playboy magazine and the defunct Playboy clubs. I cannot get the idea of adult women voluntarily donning THE symbol of women-reduced-to-sexual-animal before raising money for breast cancer research.

But, to make a long story short, many women have simply accepted the Playboy philosophy, and believe that the only way to hang onto a man (or get any male attention at all) is to look young and perpetually sexually available. The best book I've read about how this happened is Female Chauvanist Pigs. My new pal (yay!) Wendy Shalit also touches on the subject in her A Return to Modesty. And Dawn Eden writes about her depressing bed-hopping years in The Thrill of the Chaste.

Despite hundreds of generations of women telling their daughters that jumping into bed with men was not a path to long-term happiness and marriage, ever since the Second World War, young women keep thinking that it is. Or young women, obedient to the Playboy philosophy, claim they aren't interested in marriage anyway, and just want to have sex "like men". Yeah, you love it when man after man walks away--or when you walk away from the man you're in love with so he can't ditch you first. I believe you. Sure.

The saddest part of the NYT essay is not that the young men of New York and New England sound positively addled. It's not even the bad Jesuit novice/scholastic who dumps the author because she won't sleep with him on the third date. (Hey, and thanks for helping the Society's reputation, Brother Dirt-bag!) It's that the author keeps going to bed with these characters--although not, one notices, the Jesuit. I wonder if he had horrible zits, or what.

In Bridget Jones' Diary, Bridget's mother warns her not to sleep with Mark Darcy, a great matrimonial catch, because if she does, he won't marry her. Bridget is embarrassed and outraged and (PLOT SPOILER)--never mind the movie--never does marry Mark Darcy. But the point is that the wisdom of the ages was "If you want to get married, you must not sleep with him" and the current superstition is "If you want to get married, you shouldsleep with him."

Unsurprisingly, I agree more with the former dictum than the latter superstition, although I recognize that many women have indeed married men they had premaritally slept with. Premarital sex is not an immediate and universal deal-breaker although I want to grab any woman who sleeps with a religious, church- (or mosque-) going man and shriek, "Are you insaaaaaane?" There's no deal-breaker like religious guilt, cherie. You'll have noticed what our father Adam said as soon as he got caught.

Young men sleeping around before marriage is not new. What is new is that thousands upon thousands of young women are also sleeping around before marriage. Young men used to have rather restricted access to premarital sex. It was a challenge. They had to hunt for it. They often had to pay for it. They often pondered how mad their parents would get if they tried to get it from the servants.

They almost never found it among women of their own background because (A) prostitutes were a class of their own, (B) women of their own background had fathers, uncles and brothers of their own background who would have no problem thumping other men of their own background, (C) women of their own background were holding out for marriage with guys like him or better.

It was often just easier to marry a nice girl, a girl who did not remind him at all of his dumb, disspiriting sexual adventures.

But now a man with a good line of patter or sharp observational skills can go out and pick up upper-crust college juniors for one night stands, seemingly no problem. Society's numero uno way of herding men out of indiscriminate oat-sowing into positive family-building is gone. And guess whose fault that is? It's the fault of every poor woman who bought the lies of the sexual revolution and the morally-skewed women who told her to. Yes, I hold women to a higher standard. It's because I think women are naturally morally stronger than men. Sue me.

So in the end I didn't write a post about fathers. Outside of war zones, we women are our own worst enemies.

You may now be thinking, "But, Auntie Seraphic, if sleeping with a man does not get me a husband, what does?" And, once again looking at the statistics for marriage in the USA, I have this to say: Time.

Stop thinking about how to get a "boyfriend," but instead go out there and make as many business contacts, acquaintances and friends as you can. Don't treat men like women, but remember that sex is for husbands, not for boyfriends. Oh, how I loathe the word "boyfriend." A "boyfriend" is too often the guy or concept keeping a woman from getting married. I've never married a "boyfriend" in my life, and I probably never will.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Love in the New York Times

This is a rare Sunday post, which I am posting because I am so moved by this story.

When I read stuff like this, my first inclination is to blame that large and amorphous mass called "the Baby Boom." However, my second inclination is to remember that the Baby Boom were overly influenced by those about ten years older than themselves--their professors and whatnot. That lying weirdo Kinsey wasn't a Boomer.

Anyway, if this is truly what the lives of America's college students look like, it's time for another revolution, or the counter-revolution. It's time for the Restoration. And with that, I'm going to get ready for Mass now.

Update (Shrove Tuesday): A Guy's Eye View: also sad. Thanks to Urzula for sending it in.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Wanting To Guard

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I thought you have probably answered this question before, but I perused a few of the archives and couldn't find it. Surely I'm not the only one with this problem...

There's a NCB that is pretty popular around my town, and I've begun to see him more frequently -- at Sunday Mass, diocesan events, etc. I always knew he was one of those NCB that seem too good to be true -- a great man of God who goes to daily Mass, makes a daily Holy Hour, pours out his life for the Church, and is always friendly and full of joy. But I've recently had several chances to talk to him, went to a party at his house, etc, and now I'm beginning to get a little crush -- the first in many years.

I know I'm supposed guard my heart -- he's a very busy guy, I'm sure a million other NCG have the same crush, and we barely know each other -- but I'm wondering how concretely I do just that. I've been praying about it, but praying about it makes me think of him, which just makes the situation worse...

I've told myself that I'm not talking to any of my girlfriends about it, except for the one who was with me [somewhere where he was]. (I just couldn't contain myself on the drive home and spent most of the evening afterwards gushing to her about him...)

I know this reticence will help, but beyond that, is there something I can do? I know intellectually what I have to do -- don't chase him, don't daydream, be patient and guard my heart -- but just how do I do I guard that little heart of mine? A friend once told me to imagine putting the crush in a box, wrapping it up, and placing it on the altar. That's great.... but what if he keeps getting out?

Wanting to Guard



Dear Wanting to Guard,

Getting a crush is like catching a cold. No matter how warmly you wrapped up, someone on the bus or (especially) airplane sneezes at the worst possible time, and hey presto, you have a cold.

My mum says colds always last for a week. You have to drink a lot of fluids, stay out of draughts, dress warmly and put up with the cold for a week.

Crushes can last longer than a week. However, you can downplay their impact on your life by minimizing their hold on you. You've had crushes before and they've petered out. This one will peter out, too. Sure, you'll suffer in the meantime, just as you suffer when you have a cold and you have to blow your nose every minute and your nose gets red and flakey. But it will pass.

As you say, you don't know this guy. You know only his reputation, which for all you know is undeserved. But you are certainly right to admire the characteristics he is said to have. So don't think about HIM, think about the characteristics. Thinking about him (whom you don't really know, anyway) is like standing in front of an open window in February when you have a bad cold. So don't. Distract your mind away by saying (out loud, if possible) "I don't know HIM, but I know I admire devotion to our Lord."

If in dire straits (or even before), it is helpful to ask God to take away your crush. Here is a sample prayer you might try: "Dear Lord, I know You love me and know me better than I know and love myself. I can't get rid of this crush, but I know You can do anything. So please take away this crush. Also, help me to admire best those people who know and love me. Thank you, Lord, for Your great mercy and love. Amen."

I hope this is helpful. Life hurts, but no hurt is forever.

Grace and peace,
Seraphic

P.S. Hit the little search word "CRUSHES" at the bottom of this post, and you'll find posts galore.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Hello to Serious Singles

It seems to me that most of the time I am writing to Searching Singles, those Singles who are trying to be okay with being Single but really want to be married or in religious life (but mostly married, really), and not as much to Serious Singles. This is because Serious Singles are somewhat rarer, and since they are generally happy and fulfilled being Single, they don't need to read about it so much. I think.

However, since the internet is not exactly crowded with blogs about the Single Life, it does not do to ignore the Serious Singles entirely.

Who are these Serious Singles?

Well, to shock the stuffing out of you all, I will begin by pointing out that most secular Catholic priests are Serious Singles. There are married priests (especially the ex-Anglican ones) and there are priests in religious life, and that suggests to me that the majority of priests are then Serious Singles, men who can't rely on a wife or a religious order as a sort of emotional/social/financial safety net. Ordinary priests don't take a vow of poverty, which means that they are often very poor indeed. It's a bit scary, sometimes, thinking of how hard secular priests work for how little money. And with fuel costs rising and with priestly dependence on their cars---eeek!

What Serious Single priests do have is a pulpit, so I wish they would use it more often (e.g. once a year) to talk about the Serious Single life, and not just the priesthood. There are a lot of devout men who, for various reasons, can't get into the seminary or are chucked out of it and (often for the same reasons) can't get married either. They don't need another homily about the priesthood, as important as such homilies are. They need homilies about how it is tough to be male and Single, but how such a life has its joys and opportunities, too. The married people can lump it one or two Sundays out of 52; they get oodles and oodles of attention.

Speaking of lay Singles, there are men and women who feel so devoted to their professional calling, like medicine or spreading L'Arche communities throughout the world, that they don't see how marriage fits into this. They deliberately make choices to travel to poor countries or live in L'Arche communities or do other things that makes it very difficult to find (or be found by) somebody to marry. They are seeking them first the Kingdom of God, and God bless them for it.

Then there are men and women who are not sexually attracted to the opposite sex, and therefore would find it very weird, uncomfortable and fake to get married. This has not stopped all such men and women, of course, from contracting disasterous marriages, but people of integrity tend not to marry innocent people as some sort of disguise.

Devout Catholics who are not attracted to members of the opposite sex, therefore, live their lives (or try to live their lives) as chaste Serious Singles. Sadly, just by being who they are, they risk criticism both from gay activists on the one side and from overly wound up fellow devout Catholics on the other. To quote my Inner Child, this sucks. If a Serious Single is Single because s/he isn't attracted to members of the opposite sex, that is his/her own business and if s/he don't feel like talking about it, leave him/her alone. Coming out of the so-called closet is not the human equivalent of a butterfly bursting out of a crysalis. It is not actually the eighth sacrament.

Then there are Serious Singles who have physical and psychological issues that make it very difficult for them to get married and have babies. There are some incredibly unselfish people who deliberately say no to marriage and babies so as not to pass on a genetic disease to another generation. I am not sure I agree with such decisions, since all things--like healthy babies regardless--are possible for God, but that is the decision of the Single person.

And then there are the extremely mentally ill and those with developmental disabilities so severe that although they can, of course, have friendly relationships with their families, carers and others in the community, they cannot take on the responsibilities inherent in marriage and parenthood or in religious life. These, too, are called to the Single life.

(By the way, there is a religious order for women with Down Syndrome, so developmental disabilities alone do not preclude religious life.)

Finally (although it might not be finally), there are Widows and Widowers, who have lived perhaps long lives as married people, and are done. The order of Widows is a very old one in the Church, and heaven knows what the Church would have done (and would do) without the activities and prayers of Widows all these past twenty centuries. Either B.A. or I will be Widowed one day, and I wonder what a job he or I will make of it.

Anyway, I am sure there are many more categories of Serious Singles, so if you belong to one, feel free to name it in the combox.

The Catechism, incidentally, says that Single people are especially close to Jesus's heart (CCC 1658).