Saturday, 24 September 2011

Kind Readers!

Poppets, here am I, insanely busy as I clear all the decks before leaving for Rome. No, Hilary hasn't taken a turn for the worse! This time B.A. and I are going on holiday. As I write and travel and advise and generally amuse myself, he works hard all year long. So I am delighted that at last his holiday is here and that he can see Rome for himself.

Meanwhile, so many of you sounded so worried about the Innocent Traveller (below), that I thought I'd better double-check that the Guilty Traveller did not cling to her life after she cancelled dinner. I am happy to report that when she told him she was too busy to see him (quite true, incidentally), he backed off with a minimum of fuss.

The Innocent Traveller told me that she found your comments very supportive. She was still inclined to feel a little guilty and also to think that he wasn't as bad as everyone who heard about him thought. However, the very fact that so many of her acquaintance, and that we, were so horrified, made her think that maybe she was too close to the situation to see its implications for herself.

Once again I am impressed by the sagacity of the I.T., who is a lot brighter than I was at her age, let me tell you. There is a tendency in some women--encouraged no doubt by such films as Jerry McGuire--to shove their fingers in their ears when their family and friends warn her that a certain man is no good. These women waft on a cloud of "Only I understand him, and see the good in him, and that makes me special." Actually, it makes them--us--me at 21--rather dumb.

I cannot stress the importance of confiding in family and friends when you are in a confusing social situation, especially one involving handsome male near-strangers from abroad. Confiding in professionals, like a therapist or a random priest, is not necessarily the same thing, as I know firsthand.* Family and friends love you and they are not interested in giving handsome near-strangers the benefit of the doubt.

And now I must go. Although I can't promise anything for next week, keep an eye on this space in case I have an overwhelming inspiration. I will probably have some email access, thanks to our gracious hostess Hilary

*One day I will tell you this sad story. Pastoral FAIL. However, I suppose that disaster helped me become the Auntie Seraphic I am, so I shouldn't complain too much.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Auntie Seraphic & The Guilty Traveller

When I get a letter late at night, I usually just write something like "Read your email! Will sleep on it and email you back in the morning." However, this email was "time-sensitive" and scared the stuffing out of me, as you will see. Thus, there are TWO letters.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I enjoyed reading your book and fantastic blog for the past several months. You’ve given so many girls wonderful and witty advice, and I’m hoping you can provide some insight on my predicament.

I went on vacation in Europe this summer. On the night before I left, I met an extremely charming, handsome British man – let’s call him “John.” We had a great conversation, during which he mentioned that he was planning a month-long cross-country trip to different parts of Canada and the United States. He said he was planning to stop in my city for a week or so. We met again the following morning for coffee, I went off to the airport, and then we emailed and talked often on the phone for the next month.

He arrived this week, and took me to a nice restaurant one evening. We had a great time – but two nights ago, we went to a bar and met up with his friend, who was drinking heavily. The friend – whom I had met very briefly the day before – made extremely vulgar and mortifying remarks at the top of his lungs, embarrassed our entire table, and finished off the evening by making a completely inappropriate pass at me.

Worse yet, during the course of the friend’s drunken ramblings, some unpleasant revelations about John came to light. I was shocked to discover that (1) John planned this trip specifically to see me, not months in advance as he alluded to in our earlier conversations. (2) After four days, he has spent almost his entire budget for a month long trip. He is unemployed, but [made a very expensive and trivial purchase] using his student loan money. (3) He’s spending the entire month here in a hostel and has no plans (or money) to go elsewhere.

Seraphic, I have no idea what to do. He is very nice and I do enjoy talking to him, but knowing that he made this trip specifically to see me, when he can’t afford it, makes me really uncomfortable. We haven’t even kissed yet! I’ve seen him one time since the debacle with his friend, and even though he apologized for his friend’s behavior, our conversation was still a little awkward. I’m no longer sure if I want to date him – and now that I’ve spent more time with him, I don’t think things would work out in the long run (though I do wonder if my sudden change of heart is just because I’ve never had a boyfriend before – I’m 23 – and I’m just feeling nervous).

In any case, he’s here for three more weeks! I feel incredibly guilty, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I think it would be best if we just remained friends for the time being. I’m also trying to balance a demanding full time job with a full load of graduate courses, so I don’t want to see him more than a couple of times a week – and in friendship mode at that. He wants to cook me dinner at my apartment tomorrow, and I worry that I’m leading him on.

The entire situation is stressing me out. I would be extremely appreciative of any advice you have to offer, because I have no idea how to get myself out of this situation.

The Guilty Traveller

Letter 1

Dear INNOCENT Traveller,

Usually when I read new letters this close to midnight, I say "It's late, my brain is fried, but I got your letter, and I'll email you in the morning."

I think I should say that again because this is a very tricky situation, and I need fresh brains. However, I will say tonight that YOU ARE NOT LEADING HIM ON.

NONE of this is your fault. First of all, it looks like Mr British lied to you. He said he had planned this trip, but actually he made it up on the spot. Second, he has a really lousy friend that he inflicted on you, too. Why is this awful guy the British guy's friend, I wonder, and what kind of guy makes a drunken pass at the girl his friend came from Britain to see? Third, this guy sound incredibly impractical and imprudent, considering his sending habits and financial predicament. He's a walking accident. He was before he met you, and he is now. For heaven's sake, DO NOT think you have any responsibility to rescue him. You don't. In fact, given your age and lack of experience, you must not.

I don't think it is a good idea for him to be in your apartment. Hurriedly arrange something with family or a female friend, and tell him you have to cancel dinner. (Then go out to your family or friend, or have them over to do whatever.) Meanwhile, if you have a good relationship with your dad or with an older brother, I want you to call him ASAP and tell him EVERYTHING you told me. You may need serious, old-fashioned back-up to get out of this situation.

But you never have to see "John" again if you don't want to. Honestly. And you certainly don't have to see him more than once or twice a week if you DO decide you want to keep the friendship going. (Why you would, since he is a totally irresponsible-sounding, unemployed British guy, is a question that springs to my mind.)

I'll write more in the morning. Bottom line: call father (if applicable), brother or best male friend and tell him about this guy. See what he says. If you lack any male relations or friends, call up your mother and tell her. Tell her how uncomfortable you feel. Honey, I really do think you need back-up. This is a weird situation, totally not of your own making, and you need to establish some serious boundaries, if not brick walls.

This is not a cute, boy-girl, 1950s-style dating situation. This is an unemployed liar from a foreign country (one which is a lot different from the tourist brochures, believe me) on a holiday he can't afford, and he is clearly not rooted in reality. Be careful and canny.

Grace and peace,

Letter 2

Dear Innocent Traveller,

It's morning and my brain is both rested and buzzing with caffeine. I stick with what I said yesterday, and in fact I am even more adamant that you not let this young man into your apartment. Even if you just text or email him to say "Can't do dinner tonight. Won't be home", that is enough. This is a man with proven poor judgement, who is proven to be irresponsible. If I were your mother, I'd be on my way. I don't think you should be alone with him in your apartment.

There are so many alarm bells ringing from your email! "Charming" and "handsome" (and "British") mean absolutely nothing when the man in question lies to you, subjects you to the bad behaviour of a friend, HAS friends like that in the first place, behaves so irresponsibly with money, and makes you feel uncomfortable.

The problem with a guy--a near-stranger--coming to your place to make you dinner is that (A) now you are alone with him behind closed doors, (B) you could easily be made to feel "indebted" to him because he has done this "nice thing", (C) it is a typical seduction ploy.

You mentioned being 23, and the problem with being 23 is that a 23 year old has less confidence than a 33 year old in telling Mr Wrong to beat it. (Your feelings of nervousness are not immaturity but darned good sense.) This is why I have suggested you tell family and friends (especially male) about this situation. If you were 33, you would not feel guilty. You would feel outraged.

Please let me know what happens and how you are because I am actually worried. I bounced the story off my British husband for a "British guy's eye view," and he said, "He sounds crazy!"

And, once again, I repeat: This is not your fault. He told you a lie. He made the decision to come to your town. He chose to spend his money foolishly. He chooses to stay in a hostel. Hopefully when his money runs out, he will go straight back to Britain. This is the best case scenario, so for heaven's sake do not give him any money or other material support. Do not even see him if you do not want to see him.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Result: The Innocent Traveller cancelled dinner and then called up her aunt and a male friend, who reacted as I did. She felt a great weight of guilt fall from her shoulders. Thank heaven!

By the way, this girl really did not do anything wrong. She had some hopes for the relationship which were dashed: that's it. As soon as there was evidence this man was not who she was led to believe he was, she didn't ignore it. She worried about it and then asked for help. Thus, I am full of admiration. The truly guilty traveller is not rooted in reality, but my reader is. Good!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Break from Blogging

I'll be recharging my writing batteries for a bit. If there's an emergency, send me an email!

Why Buy the Cow?

A link to this amusing article appeared in my Facebook page today.

In short, after living with a man for three years, a woman wonders why her boyfriend is reluctant to marry her. He says he is not ready, which, come to think of it, is one of the few male euphemisms. It's male-speak for "I'm scared of marriage. Since I am having regular sex, meals and company watching TV, why do I need to get married?" "I'm not ready" is girly enough to make girls sympathetic, but not as girly as "I'm scared."

Anyway, the therapist consulted in the case was not impressed by the woman's "Decide in a year, or I'll split" ultimatum. She seems to advocate more of a "This is what I'd like. What would you like?" approach. It seems very touchy-feely, as if men thought and expressed themselves just like women.

Girlfriend: Wow! That is a nice cardigan.

Boyfriend: Do you like it? I got it on sale.

Girlfriend: It's great! Now, listen, I've been thinking, and you are the kind of guy I'd like to marry.

Boyfriend: Wow. That's a nice thing to say. I'm truly flattered.

Girlfriend: What do you think of marriage?

Boyfriend: Well, of course I have always dreamed of my wedding day. I love my parents' wedding photos although, don't tell my dad, but I am so not wearing his wedding tux. The thing is, oh my gosh, I hope you're not offended, I'm so scared of being stuck in a Bobby Breadwinner role, you know? And I'm also scared my wife would get too fat or too skinny and old. I mean, I know that happens to everyone, but when I hear the word "marriage", that's what I think of. A too fat or too skinny old woman. Who shouts. ARGH! I hate it when women shout. And what if she took off and sued me for everything I ever earned for the rest of my life? EEE! OMG, I know this guy it happened to. What a NIGHTMARE!

Girlfriend: I don't shout. And I'm not like that.

Boyfriend: OMG, I never meant YOU! I meant in general. Marriage! Eek! Shudder!

Girlfriend: Um...So when do you think you will stop feeling that way?

Boyfriend: I have no idea! You know? AAAH! I forgot! I so totally have to text Stephen now about our BFF pedicure date.

Amusingly, the woman's live-in boyfriend has adjusted his ideas now that the deadline approaches and is speaking more positively about marriage. Of course, I have no idea what their ultimatum conversation was like, but I like to imagine it was something like this:

Girlfriend: So have you thought any more about us getting married?

Boyfriend: (thinks) Eek! (says) Oh gosh, can we have this conversation later?

The Girlfriend looks sad.

Boyfriend (thinks) Darn. Better throw her a bone. (says) No, wait. I can see it's important to you. Well, I have, and it's the same thing. I just don't feel ready yet.

Girlfriend: After three years with me, you don't feel ready?

Boyfriend: (thinks) Ready, hell. I'm terrified. (says) You know with work and stuff....

Girlfriend: Right. Time for a deadline. I'm tired of just being your girlfriend. It's tired. It's old news. Frankly, it's boring, not knowing if we're ever going to move ahead, have a family and create a permanent life together. I don't want to be just a roommate with benefits, I want to be your wife. So you have a year to make up your mind, bucko, or I'm out of here.

Boyfriend (thinks): Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh. She's serious. Oh noooooooo! Give up the goodies or just get married? Give up the goodies or just get married? Give up--Oh my God. I actually love this woman. Maybe I should man up. Maybe we should get married.

You all know, of course, that I am very DOWN on premarital cohabitation, especially for Catholics who are supposed to know better and set a good example. But I am also down on three-year non-marital, exclusive dating relationships for working adults. I mean, three years??? One year of steady dating should be plenty to figure out if marriage is the plan.

Sorry So Busy!

I just sent in 800 words to the most high-profile, super-duper, internationally-known weekly journal that has ever in my whole entire life asked me for copy.

So you can see why I haven't posted anything new yet.

I read so much my eyes have shriveled into dried blueberries. I also went to the town centre and listened to government-speak for two and a half hours. Then I met a lobbyist-type person (they're not called that here) and pumped him for reaction. Then I read some more. Then I went to the public library and got out a book I forgot to quote from in the end. Then I interviewed another lobbyist-style person, over the phone for ages. It was not hard because he went on and on, and it was all incredibly fascinating.

Then I wrote my article. I had two false starts, and given the subject matter I couldn't be my flibbertigibbet self, but I think I did okay. I certainly hope the editor agrees.

I do like journalism. I especially like journalist when I can say, "I'm writing a piece for the [BIG NAME JOURNAL]." That is totally awesome.

If the article really does make it in, I will let you know and everyone whose local fancy bookstore/newsagent orders this journal can rush out and find it.

UPDATE: The article did NOT make it in. Sorry about that.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Solidarity with Americans

I'm not over it, and if I hear a single word about "backlash" today, I will scream. Today is about those who died on 9/11, their families and their neighbours. It is not a day for journalists et alia to pat themselves on their backs for their super-wonderful open-hearted compassion for Muslims-in-general. If they want to do that for the other 364 days of the year, fine. But not today. Today is for Americans-in-general.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Meetup Email

Meetup is a business, but I think it is less profit-driven business than internet dating. And the nice thing about Meetup is that it does exactly "what it says on the tin" (a ubiquitous Edinburgh expression): you join complete strangers for an activity you all profess to enjoy for a small pay-as-you-go fee. It's not about dating, romance or wish-fulfillment. It's about meeting up.

When I was Single, working and living far from my family and most of my friends, I felt very lonely in the evenings and longed for somewhere to go--somewhere safe where I could go by myself. My two choices were the local young artists' hangout (long since closed, alas) and the gym. There were no meet-ups before 2001, and I had no idea how they started until I got this email:

From: Meetup
To: ********
Sent: Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:11:17 AM
Subject: 9/11 & us

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don't write to our whole community often, but this week is
special because it's the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many
people don't know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought
local community doesn't matter much if we've got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I
hoped they wouldn't bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they'd normally
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet -- and
grow local communities?

We didn't know if it would work. Most people thought it was a
crazy idea -- especially because terrorism is designed to make
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it's
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups... a wild variety of
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common -- except one

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me.
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and
motivate each other, they babysit each other's kids and find
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It's
powerful stuff.

It's a wonderful revolution in local community, and it's thanks
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren't about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it
weren't for 9/11.

9/11 didn't make us too scared to go outside or talk to
strangers. 9/11 didn't rip us apart. No, we're building new
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we're just getting started
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

Friday, 9 September 2011

Within an Hour's Drive of Rome

Attention all men or women who know men who want to study or work or just spend a gap year near Rome. The best digs in coastal Lazio.

Housemates are a young Ukrainian priest and a theology student at the Angelicum. They need a third guy as their original third guy has dropped out.

To live in such gorgeousness is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the two housemates don't want to lose it because there is no third guy to share the rent.

Yes, it has to be a guy. There's a priest in there, people!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tentative Thoughts on Woman and Guilt

There's a funny line in Fay Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) which goes something like "She slept with men and pretended she didn't." You get a sense that Weldon doesn't mind the activity described by the first part of the sentence but deplores the pretense described in the second part.

I, of course, have a different perspective. I think that if you have slept with men (i.e. ones you weren't married to), you usually should keep your mouth shut about it, except to your confessor, and then try to live a chaste life hereafter. (As penance for your sins, it would be nice to stick up for girls whose own sex lives are being gossiped about.)

On the other hand, Weldon may have meant that her character pretended to herself that she didn't sleep with men, and I can indeed see how this would be a problem. Lying to yourself about yourself is always a bad idea.

There are women who seem to have a compulsion to tell their sins to all and sundry as a way to reassure themselves that they are still lovable. Their script seems to be, "Would you still like/love me if...?" This is imprudent.

Then there are women who try to dress up their sins as something noble. Their script seems to be "If you don't accept me for 'what I am', then you're basically a Nazi." This is perverse.

And then there are women who try not to know what they are doing when they sin, like freshmen who get drunk to lose their "inhibitions" or pregnant women who convince themselves that unborn babies are only "clumps of cells." This is delusional.

The human capacity and longing to separate oneself from reality never cease to amaze me.

However, at the same time there are women who beat themselves up for non-sins, like being overweight, or underweight, or flat-chested, or big-chested, or grey-haired, or shy, or loud, or dim, or opinionated.

There are also women who recite harsh litanies of self-blame for sins and non-sins, either to themselves (which suggests they are sincere in their corrosive self-disgust) or aloud to friends (which suggests they want their friends to say "No, no. We still love you.")

Given the female tendency to beat ourselves up rather badly, I can see why some women (including me) go absolutely mental when someone blames us for something that really is a personal failing. And this is most often when the action can be attached to a label. For example, if my husband comes home from work and notes that there are still dirty dishes by the sink, I feel resentful because dirty dishes by the sink = I am a Bad Housewife, and how dare he notice something painful about myself I'm trying to forget?!?!?!

Many people have a problem separating critique of their actions, work or ideas from critique of their own selves. When a writer has work rejected, she sometimes feels that it is she, not her work, who has been rejected. Women are supposed to have this problem more than men do. I don't know about that. Men are certainly not free from this tendency.

The trouble of female guilt may lie in a haunting sense that Men=Action, and Women=Being. In this climate of feeling, men do, women are. (I'm not saying this is true; I'm saying that this idea seems to permeate our culture.) It feels as though men can do or even just be accused of bad stuff without it affecting their being, whereas women are somehow ontologically changed.

I'm expressing myself badly, so I'll bring up the most obvious example, which is the fear of being called a slut.

In my mind's eye I am imagining a perfectly nice, inoffensive, mildly humorous, and mildly attractive young man who is active in Catholic Chaplaincy. It comes to his ears that for some crazy and mysterious reason, a rumour has sprung up that he is a male slut. As the farthest he has ever gone in his life was to make out with a Czech girl he met at World Youth Day, he is astonished at this rumour. He is even slightly amused. When asked about it, he says he cannot imagine how this rumour came about.*

Now I am imagining a perfectly nice, inoffensive, mildly humorous and mildly attractive young woman who is active in Catholic Chaplaincy. It has come to her ears that for some crazy and mysterious reason, a rumour has sprung up that she is a slut. As the farthest she has ever gone in her life was to make out with a Czech guy she met at World Youth Day, she is outraged. She is crushed. She feels violated, betrayed, and almost suicidal. It is simply the worst day of her entire life. When asked about it, she rages and cries.

In short, as far as he is concerned, the label slides off the guy like water off a duck's back, but as far as the she is concerned, the label is stuck to the girl's forehead.

(You'll have long ago noticed that the expression is "male slut" as if sluts, like nurses, are usually female.)

Because the penalties for being (heterosexual) sexual sinners have usually been relatively light for men and extremely heavy for women, it is easy to see why my hypothetical guy is calm and my hypothetical girl frantic.

I keep thinking about a couple at a wedding. The man wears dark colours and, heck, he may have rented his clothes. No biggie if he spills something on himself. The woman wears a costly white dress, and if she spills something on herself it will show and AAAAAAAH!

Anyway, my tentative suggestion is that men don't feel as threatened as women do that admitting to personal non-violent sins will somehow make them less in the eyes of the world. There are reasons for this. The sooner Hugh Grant said sorry for paying a prostitute, Divine Brown, for her "services", the sooner he could go back to being floppy-haired and loveable on the silver screen. But I do not recall Divine Brown, the prostitute, apologizing for anything. Instead she brazened it out and became a minor celebrity. Nobody, however, ever forgot that she was a prostitute.

But this double-standard has no basis in reality. Men and women are both sinners and sin has the same effect on us. If a human being, male or female, commits a mortal sin, he or she falls from grace. If the fallen human being, male or female, feels contrition, confesses and does penance, he or she is forgiven. Men are changed ontologically if they become priests, and both men and women are changed ontologically when we first have sexual intercourse of our own free will.** But that's it for ontological change. (Oh, maybe baptism is in there.)

It does not seem right, then, for women to carry a bigger or smaller burden for our sins than men do. A Catholic guy with a past does not really worry that this will stop him from getting married one day. A Catholic girl who slept around before she saw the light sure does. Not fair. But then there are thousands of women who have gone to doctors to have their unborn children killed and then go ballistic if they hear a word of blame.

The only solution to this uncomfortable state of affairs is to acknowledge that we are all, men and women, sinners, and that sin ranges from unpleasant to truly horrible, but that we are not our sins. We are people who sin. Women are not sin. We do sin. And we can and should be forgiven if and when we ask.

Meanwhile anyone who begins or passes along rumours about a guy or girl being a slut has committed very serious sins indeed--both detraction and scandal. The pain of the victim, whatever he or she might or might not have done, will cry out to heaven for justice.

*My hypothetical college student does not experience same-sex attractions. Young men of traditional religious backgrounds who experience same-sex attractions often suffer very much from the salacious gossip of others. I've noticed that their female friends are often very protective of them, possibly because the women know intuitively how damaging it can be on many levels to be labelled a sexual sinner.

**I am currently fact checking this. I could be wrong. The Ancients and Mediaevals made SUCH a song-and-dance about virginity, they really did, that I may have been misled by their enthusiasm. Or by the fifty-cent word "ontological." Baptism wipes your soul clean of original sin (and any extra sin accrued, in case of those over 7), and priesthood gives the priest's soul a priestly character. Marriage does NOT stamp a permanent character to the soul. I guess the question is whether loss of virginity changes a person in any significant way. The Ancients and Mediaevals and whoever recruits Consecrated Vrigins might very well say "YES." Whether it has any affect on the SOUL, however, is something I am completely unsure of. I don't see why it would if marriage does not. ANYWAY, side issue, peeps. The point I am trying to make is that repentance and forgiveness of sins DOES wipe your slate clean, and so admitting to your sins does not make you a worse or "a bad" person, it makes you better.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Car Poll

As Shiraz pointed out, my car poll was flawed. Instead of providing the choice "my ideal man would not necessarily have a car", I threw in "my ideal man would not even know how to drive." There's a difference between the lack of a skill and the lack of an object, of course. I'm going to make a sweeping statement based in 40 years of being a Western woman who hangs out with Western women and say that, in general, Western woman care more about what men can do than what they have.

As a matter of fact, one woman of 163 found virtue in ignorance of driving. That such women exist should come as a relief to men who really hate cars that much. And I'm not knocking men who hate cars that much; there are real environmental and economic reasons to dislike cars. If they wish to eschew one of the great pleasures of life--getting out of the rain or snow into a warm box-on-wheels that smells nice and plays music and takes you wherever you want to go--that is okay by me.

Now, women who really could not care less about cars (but whose ideal man has a license to drive them) and women whose ideal would possess one got jumbled up, thanks to my even-less-scientific-than-ever-poll. But I think it worthwhile to point out that there were 147 of them, which was roughly 90%.

Yes, 90% of those who answered the poll said their ideal man had a car that was merely clean enough for them to sit in. I hope this knocks off the highway and into a ditch the libel that all women prefer men with flashy cars. We couldn't care less about flashy cars.

Well, 90% couldn't care less. Ten women out of 163 (6%) claimed their ideal man would have a really expensive-looking car. What is with this 6%, of whom I am numbered (which got me into a spot of trouble on the home front)?

Are we super-shallow? Or is there something symbolic about expensive-looking cars that speaks to something in our psyches? Many women despise expensive-looking cars because to them they represent overblown male egos and a waste of money better spent on something or someone else, like Iraqi orphans. But some women (a very small number) see the lines and shininess of an expensive automobile and the blood thrills in our veins. Maybe it represents adventure or speed or escape or comfort or all of the above. Or maybe it is about beauty. If Chesterton could get all dreamy and romantic about a lamppost, surely we can get dreamy and romantic about a luxury sedan.

Amusingly five women out of 163 (3%) claimed their ideal man had a car that would cause their brother(s) to weep with envy and their ex-boyfriends to contemplate suicide. Possibly they would not have thought up this choice on their own, and had never contemplated the possibility before I dangled it before their eyes. I assume our five chose it in a gleeful spirit of mockery at male vs male competition. That said, I would suggest they not make relationship choices primarily to annoy other people.

Of course, perhaps these women love the finest automobiles that money can buy but believe that they themselves will never possess them. In that case, I suggest they wiggle their way into the automotive industry, by hook or crook. If they were to become valets at one of the hottest spots in town, for example, they might finally find themselves inside the automotive exemplars they crave. They would also meet the men who drive them and then could decide for themselves, with experiential data, if a man with a glorious, outrageously pricey, car is a man worth having.

*If you know what model and make this is, you are probably not a woman. If you are, you probably have fetched a particularly car-crazed guy to tell you.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Leo the Late Bloomer

Bonus second post today because I feel inspired.

Imagine, if you can, some shrimp or beanpole of a young man who is so used to thinking that he is unattractive to women that around the age of 18 or 19 (or even earlier), he gives up. He assumes that because he is not attractive to women now, he never shall be. He gets on his life and admires women from afar or glowers at them from under his eyebrows.

Meanwhile he gets older and taller (and/or broader) and becomes an adult human being and therefore much more interesting than the small (or stretched) lump of dough he once was. He joins a religious order, or he marries the first girl who is nice to him, even though he doesn't really like her that much or they have nothing in common, or he just mooches around thinking he is unattractive whereas all around him women walk smack into telephone poles.

I know the opposite--very unattractive men who think they're God's gift--is more common to the average Single girl's experience, so I thought I would point out the existence of Leo the Late Bloomer. Sometimes Leo blooms at 30. Sometimes 40. Sometimes maybe even 50. I can just imagine it happening at 60.

I don't have any idea of what to do for Leo, or how to tell young men that just because women don't notice them now, it doesn't mean they won't notice them in 10 or 20 years. But I thought I'd acknowledge the existence of the Leos out there.

Transgression Park

There's a new leisure centre in one of Edinburgh's most impoverished and crime-plagued neighbourhoods. It's called "Transgression Park", and so I am a little cheesed off.

In a neighbourhood where people suffer because of transgressions--against their health, against building codes, against property, against their bodies--it's rather insensitive to present transgression as this really cool thing. "Transgression" pretends to be about the bold and brave individual standing up to the "hypocrisies" of society (i.e. its virtues), but it usually plays out as the stronger lording it over the weaker, or the baser instincts of a person lording it over the better.

Is it too early in the morning to use words like "satanic?"

Anyway, I am thinking about both transgression and addiction today because I got another anonymous comment from a recovering (or recovered) female porn addict/reader about my attitude towards female porn addicts.

I can see that it must be pretty annoying for female porn addicts. First I ignore their existence (although, to be fair, I am a child of the 80s and I had no IDEA women got turned on by internet porn), and then I react with unfeigned horror and say how awful it all is. But I am glad to read that my reader has managed to quit her habit.

Of course, I still think it is a disgusting habit to get into, especially since you can draw a direct line from porn to the sexual abuse of adults, children and even babies. Thus, watching porn is not only a sin against purity but an outrageous crime against other people, including the poor benighted, drug-addled actors. But I'm not saying this to heap coals of fire on female former porn-watchers but to send a message to the vast majority of my readers who do not watch porn.

"Hmm...," says a hypothetic reader. "I'm curious. Should I click on this sexy link and find out what all the fuss is about? What would Auntie Seraphic say?"

Auntie Seraphic does not say "There, there. I understand what it is like to be young and curious." Auntie Seraphic says, in her most sarcastic tone, "Oh goodie! With a click of a mouse you too can participate in an industry that leads to child-rape! How very transgressive of you."

How responsible we are for our sins is an interesting philosophical and theological conversation. It is particularly interesting in cultures obsessed with children's "self-esteem." It is also interesting in a culture in which all bad habits are called "addictions", and apparently women are much quicker to call themselves "addicts" then men are. I wonder if this is because men-in-general are more reluctant to admit that they are powerless over something and women-in-general much more eager. If we are powerless over a habit, we can do what we like but can't be blamed!

But, at any rate, I do believe that free will can be damaged, either by abusive people, or by the possessor of the free will themselves. This is why I am rather more sympathetic to porn addicts who first came across porn when they were kids, thanks to neglectful or abusive adults, than I am to porn addicts who started logging on of their own free adult will.

I myself am not addicted to anything, although I suspect from my inordinate enjoyment of seeing that I have new email that I might have a problem with slot machines, where I ever to go near them. (Click, click.) I wonder from time to time if I might be addicted to blogging, but as a matter of fact I can go without blogging for extended periods of time. What I have are habits--both a reading habit and a writing habit--which I've had since I was six.

According to a local public health nurse, I probably overeat. This I count not as an addiction, of course, but as a bad habit. Bad habits are usually hard to break. I had to go to Italy to stop eating potato chips. That's how weak I am, alas.

My late grandmother was addicted to cigarettes, which she smoked from the ages of about 20 to about 70. She quit cold-turkey when she got double-pneumonia. Fear of death sometimes has that effect on the will.

Quitting smoking won't kill you, of course. Quitting very few bad habits kills you. The only one I can think of is quitting drinking if you are a really hard-case alcoholic. The sickest, most addicted alcoholics have to be given little measures of booze or they might go into severe withdrawal and die.

At least two guys I dated were alcoholics. The first alcoholic didn't know he was an alcoholic, and neither did I until I dated the second alcoholic and thought back. What I learned from the second alcoholic is that it is a really bad idea to date alcoholics. Not only are they powerless over their drinking, you can become powerless over your hated of their drinking. One of the saddest hours of my life was trying to find an Al-Anon meeting in the pouring rain, having been sent to the wrong church on the wrong night by someone on the Al-Anon hotline.

"Maybe she was drunk," said a not-so-helpful, but certainly witty friend.

It took me a long time to get over inordinate horror of alcoholism. I stopped seeing an alcoholic female friend for a few years because of it. And yet I kept discovering various crush objects were themselves alcoholics, albeit non-drinking ones. However, it may have been through friendships with non-drinking alcoholics that I got over knee-jerk co-dependency. When I realize friends are alcoholics, I think it is sad for them, but I don't go into a frenzy of grief. (As far as I know, I don't know any drinking alcoholics who drive, however. I don't think my tolerance extends that far. A bad habit or addiction that hurts only the doer is one thing; a bad habit or addiction--like watching porn or driving drunk--that by its very nature springs from or leads to the hurt of others is another.) I still say it is a very bad idea to date or marry a drinking alcoholic, however.

Co-Dependent No More and other works by Melodie Beattie also helped me. Melodie Beattie is a huge fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, and so am I. I think what I find most amazing about Alcoholics Anonymous are the 12 Steps, and what I think most amazing about the 12 Steps are the emphases on both powerlessness AND responsibility. The alcoholic has to both admit that she is powerless over alcohol AND she has to make amends to anyone who has been hurt by her drinking.

The humility of the self-confessed alcoholic touches my heart. Against the instincts of men-in-general, he admits to being powerless. Against the instincts of women-in-general, she accepts blame for what she has done.*

The humility of the addict (even years into recovery non-drinking alcoholics do not hide their stigmatic identity from themselves) is a beautiful thing. Humility is the opposite of pride. Love of transgression, I suspect, springs from pride. And pride is the very worst of the seven deadly sins.

*Women and guilt is a long conversation. So many women seem capable of blaming themselves for things that aren't their fault and then the next minute refusing blame for things that are their fault. Or we blame ourselves inordinately and get depressed instead of saying, "I did it. It was wrong. But it's in the past now, and I've made amends. I'm so much more than my sins, and I'll never do it again."

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Fr Z mentions Consecrated Virgins

Here you go! (Update: There's some interesting, informative stuff in his combox, so that's worth a read, too.)

I have met Consecrated Virgins, especially in theology school. They have very strong identities as Single, Catholic women. They have careers of their own, and they are very much rooted in reality. They know, for example, that they are footing their own bills for the rest of their lives. They know, too, that they will get only a very limited amount of personal support from other Consecrated Virgins, as they tend to live far apart. (They do look forward to getting together, though.) They do not live in communities of Consecrated Virgins. In this they are better off than those nuns who expected to live in community but, in fact, now live on their own or with a single roommate.

The Consecrated Virgins I have met (that actually told me they were C.V.s, mind you) seem very autonomous. There is something about one or two of them that is very reserved, almost cold. I could be wrong; I'm naturally gregarious myself, so it's hard for me to understand people who work with people and yet seem utterly remote. (I will note that one big temptation for Single people--including young male religious---is self-absorption.)

That is just an observation about one or two of the C.V.s I have met. I'm not dissing the order. It was a wonderful innovation of the early Church that was revived when 1960s people got extremely excited about what they thought they knew about the early Church.

I am not quite sure what it was about the 1960s that made people think that the experiments of antiquity, which had developed into more confident and public forms of organization, worship and spirituality over fifteen hundred years, should be brought back. Traditionalist Catholic young women I know are not as interested in becoming C.V.s as they are in traditionalist religious orders (looking, perhaps, to the High Middle Ages, not to late Antiquity, for inspiration) although, of course, most of them want to get married and have babies.

Most definitely, I can see how women who live in countries were Christians are a despised minority would do well to see how early Christian women flourished and lived their lives for Christ under similar circumstances.

Tradition is clear that a vowed way of life is better than an unvowed way of life. I was very annoyed when the folks at Laodicea (especially Aelianus) would point this out. And I still hold that the most important thing to do is to "wait for your marching orders" even if you are turning 55 and have been praying to get your marching orders since you were 15. "Vocation" means "call," and the "Caller" is Almighty God, and Almighty God is free to call if and when He likes. Your job is to keep your eyes and ears open, to use your brain and to watch your heart. Vocation does not mean taking up a woeful burden but falling in love.

Very independent women who are drawn to religious life and wish to make a commitment to lifelong virginity--but do not want to live in a formal religious community--might very well fall in love with the idea of Consecrated Virginity.

(Oh dear, this post is a bit confused. On the one hand, I want to say "Yay! Consecrated virgins! Single people living a life of holiness, having formal ties to their bishops!" On the other hand, I wonder if "bringing it back" wasn't part and parcel of the semi-mythologizing archaeologism that plagues the Church today and if what we need in a world in which people are increasingly alienated from each other is more autonomy. But if women become C.V.s, then that's great, especially if it leads to--or stems from--much reading of the Fathers of the Early Church.)

Well, read Father Z and discuss. Just remember that insulting me gets your comment wiped.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Now For the Good Stuff

Having contemplated all the things that make us go "Hmm!" perhaps we should contemplate what attributes of men we (or our friends) meet make us smile.

The absence of these attributes is not necessarily a "deal-breaker" but they are attributes that make women in my own community nod with approval.

1. He looks and dresses appropriately--even sharply--for whatever the occasion is.

2. He appears friendly and confident, with a good handshake.

3. He is a good conversationalist, neither dominating nor lagging behind in the conversation.

4. He has an interesting--or at least skilled--career or he is working towards an interesting or skilled career.

5. He comes from a good, friendly and clean-living family. (Some families really are deal-breakers, by the way. You might like the man very much, but then you think about what it would be like to be with his snarling, food-throwing, Jackass-watching family every second Thanksgiving for the rest of your life, and the bloom goes off the romance.)

6. He goes to Mass on Sunday. Extra points if he goes to daily Mass, although any girlfriend of his potential girlfriend would also say "Hmm! And has he already discerned that he isn't called to the priesthood or...?"

7. He has photos of his nephews and nieces or of still-little brothers and sisters in his wallet.

8. He owns a reasonable amount of real estate (e.g. one condo or one house, maybe a second house--like a cottage--if he is older). Owning real estate means that a man is serious about his economic well-being and has already put some work and saving into it. But owning too much real estate for his age and career position might make friends say "Hmm! He's not like that father in Long Day's Journey Into Night, is he?)

9. People--of different ages, men and women--keep spontaneously telling you what a great guy he is. (Be wary of written testimonials by his male friends that appear in the post, however. And I'm not sure I want to tell you that story...)

10. He has a habitually sunny disposition.

11. A car is nice. A car means you don't have to take the subway or the bus home from a date. It means you don't have to find a cab and pay a complete stranger who may or may not know your neighbourhood or language or how to speak politely to a woman* to take you home. Scrap this if you have a car!

*Hands up everyone who has found herself listening to a skeezy cab driver who thinks it is okay if he talks about sex with you.