Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Happy Saint Andrew's Day!

Today is Saint Andrew's Day, and as Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, there was a lot of running around for me today. Plus one of my pals leaves Scotland tomorrow and another is about to have a baby. So the Scotland-leaving pal and I went to see our baby-having pal between bouts of going to Mass. First we went to the Ordinary Form at the Cathedral (celebrated by our Cardinal Archbishop and involving relics of Saint Andrew), and then we went to the Extraordinary Form in a chapel (celebrated by our chaplain).

Thus I don't have much to say about the Single Life today. But thank you for praying for my career-related intention--and you can keep on going, if you like! I don't know what is going to happen, but I'm feeling a lot more calm about possible outcomes.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Auntie Seraphic's Intention

Listen, poppets. Your Auntie Seraphic has a very big prayer intention.

It is not about babies. I had a conversation with the Lord on Sunday about babies.

"How come you never send me a baby?" I asked.

Eventually He got around to answering.

"I want you to take care of other people's babies right now," He said. "Okay, some of them are six feet tall, but they need your help and I want you to give it to them."

"Oh," I said. "But can't I have a baby AND take care of other people's babies?"

But He had said all He wanted to say for the time being, so that was it.

No, this prayer intention has to do with my career. And I think the very best thing I can do, since I feel more-or-less powerless in this situation, is to ask you to pray for my intention. I ask particularly those who have written me letters because, whereas although obviously the Lord doesn't forget stuff, prayers that begin "Lord, could you help Auntie Seraphic because she helped me" sound kind of convincing---to my ear, at least.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Nice Bunch of Flowers

Oh poppets, I have been looking at a lovely bouquet of flowers all weekend. They did not come from B.A. but from a friend whose thesis I had a look at before he handed it in. How very nice that in all the fuss around his degree ceremony he thought of little me.

And this reminds me of how important it is to have all kinds of relationships and how terribly we overlook and undervalue them. In A Whole Woman, Germaine Greer suggests that we have grossly undervalued even motherhood and that the be-all and end-all identity of woman is now Wife.

But there is something else going on in English-speaking societies, and it is the devaluation of the different degrees of friendship. I suppose the biggest example of what I mean is "Facebook" where a list of all the individuals who have full access to your page are called "Friends." However, I very much doubt all those people are your friends. Most of them are probably Acquaintances, and there is nothing wrong with that. It's good to have a wide range of acquaintances. You just shouldn't act like they are your friends.

Aristotle was very strict on the concept of friends. He thought that only men of excellent character could be true friends, and then only to their social equals. He didn't think men and women could be friends because they were not social equals. Ancient Roman aristocrats, however, did not agree with Aristotle on this one, and as a matter of fact very often the only person a Roman aristocrat trusted was his wife. In an intensely competitive and violent society, his best interests were her best interests, and they both knew it.

But let's get away from marriage, although not before I say that what holds marriage together is not romance, which is its agreeable starting point, but friendship with various benefits. Marriage is something very odd, for something so ancient and universal, and I am not going to write about it. Instead I will hint about the different kinds of friendship and acquaintance there are.

First of all, as hipped as we are on the idea of loyalty and fidelity, various people have waxing and waning importance in our lives. Christmas card and wedding invitation lists are very sweet for they honour not only those who are most important NOW but those who were most important THEN. Meanwhile, I think fondly of various women in various offices I have worked in, but I don't think of them as friends, past or present. They were good colleagues and made boring jobs more enjoyable. But we have passed completely from each other's lives.

This suggests that you, too, will have waxing and waning importance in the lives of others. I was a tremendous social asset in my Canadian theological school; I threw myself into the life of the school and achieved a kind of local fame. Various people told me how much I would be missed. My most heartfelt ambition was to return as a professor and continue on where I left off, but this was not to be. Now as far as 99% of the school is concerned I am just a photo on the wall. But this is okay, for I have new roles now, including Safe Grown-Up To Whom To Appeal in Emergency.

Second, it is okay not to be everyone's best friend. Heavens. The idea. But it is pleasant to have people with whom you meet up for the occasional coffee, and people with whom you meet up for the occasional drink, and people whom you invite for dinner, and people with whom you go on holiday. Social life seems to me to be a series of rings, and people move into the inner rings or out into the outer rings, depending on what happens in your life.

Third, we don't have to be so serious all the time. When I am sixty, I will probably be telling good-humoured young men that it is a terrible shame that we were born forty years apart. They will agree, and we will all know that we are lying, but we will also know that it is amusing to say things like that.

What everyone who met her apparently loved about the Queen Mother is that she gave everyone the impression that she really was interested in him/her and what he/she had to say, quite as if she had come there on purpose to see him/her and him/her alone. This was not fakery but charm. I think the only way to master such a wonderful skill is to practice.

I am very sorry to say this, for I married so late, but I did not become such a marvellous flirt until I was safely married. Now I can say outrageous things from the ramparts of my fortress of marriage, and am thus popular with the sort of men of whom I used to be afraid. If B.A. should shuffle off this mortal coil, however, I fear there would be a general stampede out of town, but oh well. I might not want to see them anyway. B.A. is unlikely to shuffle off until I am old, and perhaps by then I will not at all be interested in men but only in television and sweets.

Fourth, it is good to exchange greetings and remarks with simply everyone in your life, including bus drivers and assistants in the butcher shop, so as to fight against the forces of loneliness: not just your loneliness, but the loneliness of the bus driver and of the assistant in the butcher shop. When I worked as a teenager in a cafe, working before and after school, I very much enjoyed greeting all the regulars, for they livened up a lonely time in my life, and some very much enjoyed being greeted by Seraphic, age 17.

When news that I was leaving reached the regulars, one wrote me a letter. Apparently he had been suffering the end of his marriage, and the one thing that got him to work in the morning was the fact that someone was happy to see him, said "Good morning" like she meant it and remembered his usual order. So you never know how much good you can do just by smiling and saying good morning. "Favourite Cafe Waitress" was for one person the most important role I played in life, and by saying thank you, he now stands out in my mind as "Favourite Cafe Patron."

Friday, 25 November 2011

Auntie Seraphic & The Catherinettes

Thanksgiving Dinner Report post below.

Hi there, Seraphic!

I teach French to little kids, and today this involved celebrating St. Catherine's Day by making taffy. Not being francophone myself, I had to look up the French Canadian tradition, and I noted that St. Catherine's Day (November 25) seems to have a lot connected to it with regards to single women.

Apparently her intercession has been invoked for the past 8 centuries by single women wanting husbands, with varying degrees of desperation. It also seems that unmarried women over the age of 25 were dubbed "Catherinettes" on St. Catherine's Day. Catherinettes would take the opportunity to send cards and treats to their fellow Catherinettes.

This made me think of your Operation Valentinus, and thought it would be fun to bring it up on your blog. Mind you, I suppose celebrating St. Catherine's Day in this way might be an unnecessary reminder of one's singlehood, and being dubbed a Catherinette might be somewhat scarring...I think it's a fun name, but then again I am still one year away from being a Catherinette myself...

Here is a link to the ever-so-reliable the sections on Canada and France:'s_Day

Anyway, I thought it might be something fun/questionably relevant to bring up on your blog tomorrow (or rather, today, since for you it must already be Nov. 25th!) I will not be offended if you don't bring it up though!

God bless,

A Reader

I did not know any of this, so I am grateful to my reader for sending this email. I strongly support the notion of Single women sending each other cards and treats to affectionately mark their shared Singleness. Sisterhood is powerful--when it really is sisterhood and not some men-are-scum-rah-rah political pose.

I am struck that a Catherinette is (or was) a Single woman who has had her 25th birthday. Some sort of black magic seems to be attributed to one's 25th birthday, which is absolutely bonkers from the point of view of a 40 year old. When I was 25, I was not very smart, but at least I had tremendously beautiful skin, no grey hairs at all and probably hundreds of healthy little eggies hidden away. You would think that, given the improvements in women's health, looks and life expectancy, we'd now go into a panic before our 35th birthday instead of our 25th, but no. Thirty-five is not-such-a-big-deal and twenty-five is woe-is-me.

Why this is, is less of a mystery the more you discover about the history of turning 25. But I think it may also be that adolescents are rather anxious and adult women rather less. You have the impression that your youth will be over when you turn 25, but then you reach 25 and 26 and 27 and realize it isn't.

If you don't have children, your youth can go on and on and on, which can be either good or bad. In my case it is good because I can hang out with twenty-somethings without them treating me like their mothers, but it is bad because in some ways I remain a feckless human being. I am sure I would be a better person if, like my mother, I did laundry every Monday and ironed it all until it was done.

Below this post is the Thanksgiving Report Post, so if you collected points yesterday, report them in the combox for that post. Meanwhile, happy Feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria!

Thanksgiving Game Anecdotes

Okay, there are two posts today. The one above is about an amusing St. Catherine's Day custom, and this one is merely to give the Americans among you a space to report on their Thanksgiving.

Strangely enough, I went to a Thanksgiving Dinner myself, here in sunny Scotland, at a nice seventeenth century house across the fields. There was a toast to the American Founding Fathers and, I think, the Declaration of Independence, on which the Scottish Nationalist Party may be rather keen. B.A. had been invited, of course, but he was too sick to go, so I went unescorted, and various fellow guests asked where he was.

This reminded me of my Single readers being asked where your non-existent husband are, and although of course my case is completely different, it just goes to show that any woman who shows up sans man at parties may excite curiosity.

Okay, if you played one of the games, enter your points below.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Puppy Love in the Cold War

Once upon a time, my little chickadees, two great powers divided much of the world. These powers were called NATO and the USSR, which is to say the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Both powers were rather worried that one would attack the other, and they both pointed nuclear warheads in each other's direction.

My mother spent her childhood under the shadow of the Bomb, and so did I. My mother's primary school welcomed refugee Germans, and my primary school welcomed refugee Yugoslavs, Romanians, Poles, Hungarians, Vietnamese and others who had managed to escape the confines of life under Communism. A Polish priest, two steps ahead of the SB, appeared in my parish. A Hungarian priest, recently released from captivity, recovered in the Hungarian parish around the corner, down the street.

We thought in terms of "Evil Empire" and "Iron Curtain". My brother bought a single called "Russians," in which Sting hopes "the Russians love their children, too." There were hit songs about nuclear war: "99 Red Balloons" and "Forever Young" were just two of many. It was widely known that the Iron Curtain was difficult to get through, and photos of poor Eastern Germans who had been shot trying to get over the Berlin Wall appeared in Time magazine.

Occasionally, though, people could get temporary visas to visit either side of the Iron Curtain. When I was about six, a Polish couple and one or two of their children came to Canada to visit their brother, my father's friend. They all came to visit my family at the cottage we had rented or borrowed beside Georgian Bay, a famous beauty spot in Ontario. The eldest son of this Polish family was about five years old, spoke absolutely no English and was struck by a passion for little me. Being without guile, he threw his arms around me at once, and seemed glued to my side for the duration of his visit.

I was rather astonished by this, and there exists a photo of my six year old self caught in something between a hug and a headlock smiling weakly at the camera. Small Canadian boys of my acquaintance did not act like that, especially not towards me. However, even at six I knew that inspiring this kind of regard in a boy was what a great many people thought life was all about. So when my admirer went home, I inquired of my mother where that was, and that is how I realized that real people lived behind the Iron Curtain. I had some shy notion of sending him one of my toys, but my mother said people behind the Iron Curtain did not need toys but basic things like soap and medicine. She impressed upon me that they were all tremendously poor and hard to see, and I was unlikely ever to see my admirer again.

All this seemed very unfair, and in those days I was easily discouraged. It did not even occur to me to suggest we send over a nice box of soap and medicine, then. Instead I treasured the fact, so important in the decadent West, that I had once had an admirer, and it was some comfort in the horrible years ahead when that became the primary measure of one's worth in the schoolyard. It was even, I blush to admit, balm to a recent graze to my ego when a Polish parishioner mentioned (yet again) the superior beauty of Polish girls in general. I informed him that I, at any rate, had been up to Polish standards when I was six.

This set a train of thought in motion, and it slowly chugged its way across the maps laid out after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nobody had expected the Wall to fall--on reruns of Star Trek Pavel Chekhov still nattered on about cossacks and Leningrad--but it did, shattering the Iron Curtain between thriving us and impoverished them. And what is more, and possibly even more staggering, is that it is now possible to find almost anybody alive through the internet. So I found my first admirer on Facebook.

Dear me. I fear that like Tosca I live for art and love, and not necessarily in that order. At any rate, it was the work of moments to find my father's friend, to click on the page of the son of his old age, to swiftly scroll down the list of his friends to his presumed cousin and click on his name. And there he was. I recognized him at once, and my heart flipped over. He now lives in Canada.

My mother skyped later with his name, written decades ago in her old phone book, but I had remembered his Christian name and the shape of his surname, so this was only confirmation of what I had discovered already. And I was already feeling embarrassed by my sudden curiosity, since it is perhaps not fitting for married ladies to look up complete strangers, also married, they met briefly when they were six.

However, I think the moral of all this story is that history is astonishing. When I was a child, people were so physically and politically divided that, not only was it unlikely to stay friends with Polish children after their short Western holiday, we were not sure if any of us would make it to the next century. When I was 17, we were watching horror films about the coming nuclear apocalypse, and when I was 19, we were suddenly watching Germans streaming over the shattered Wall to embrace long-lost members of their families. The Cold War was over.

My American father once said that the fact that despite our best efforts World War III never happened is solid evidence that there really is a God who loves us. And as I search my brain for a reason I should have written this post, it occurs to me that it is, after all, American Thanksgiving. So I would like to give thanks for the fall of the Wall and also for the technological miracle that helps people find people in seconds.

By the way, American readers should sign up in the combox below if they want to play "Points" with other American readers. In short, you count up how many times Thanksgiving guests (or hosts) mention your Single status. In the morning, report in tomorrow's combox. Sisters can all get a point each if the mention is collective, e.g. "Why aren't ANY of you girls married off yet? What is with boys today?"

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Games in Preparation for Thanksgiving

Okay, tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, so it is time to batter down the hatches and talk frankly about emotional survival plans on behalf of the American readership. (Strangely, some British people have adopted American Thanksgiving themselves which, as a Canadian, I find very strange, yet another example of the bizarre British fascination with the USA. You should see BBC4 this week--absolutely mental.)

The essence of being rooted in reality is looking unpleasant facts in the eye and standing up to them instead of cowering behind a wall of dreamy-dreaminess. Therefore, if Great-Aunt Tilly has asked you every Thanksgiving for the past ten years if you are a Lesbian, don't think she won't ask you again this year. Turn it into a game. Make a bet with your friends when she will ask. In fact, run a pool. Your friends all give you a quarter, and whoever guesses right gets the pot. If she DOESN'T ask, the pot goes to the poor box in thanksgiving. I guarantee that, this way, when Great-Aunt Tilly asks the dreaded question, you will not want to die but to cheer and write down the time she asked.

Great-Aunt Tilly: Tell me, dear, are you a Lesbian?

You: Yay! OMG! What time is it?

The game can apply to any prediction based on past family Thanksgivings. Another game would be to agree beforehand with Single friends to write down the hour and minute you are first asked about your Single status. ("Any boyfriend yet, dear? Well, never mind.") Then when you can meet up, you all produce your pieces of paper.

And then there's simply collecting points for every time your Single state gets mentioned. I suggested this last year, and much hilarity ensued.

Obviously you need a quirky sense of humour for these games, although come to think of it, if you read this blog, you probably do have a quirky sense of humour. And the games also assume your families are functional enough that Thanksgiving Dinner does not mean a slide into dysfunction and depression. If Thanksgiving Dinner has for the past ten years meant a slide into dysfunction and depression, I heartily urge you not to go. And if you do go anyway, I urge you to have some lovely treat waiting for you as soon as you can escape. Do not exchange this lovely treat for the questionable joys of feeling like a martyr.

I also urge you not to compare yourself to your little sister, who has brought her boyfriend this year, or to your cousin, who married a millionaire, or to anybody else. I usually found it salutary, when envying a pal her girlfriend status or diamond ring, to ask myself if I would want her man. The answer has always been NO, although I did have to admit that one pal (one pal in 35 years of having pals) did have a very fetching fiance. Now he is her very fetching husband, and I really should stop mentioning how fetching he is. Fortunately, my own husband is pretty fetching in his own right, B.A.

Sorry to mention B.A. at a time like this, but if married women write about the beauties of other men, we sort of have to mention our own beautiful husbands in the next breath. And I suppose that this is a good opportunity to remind the majority of my Single readers who will actually marry (according to American statistics) that I didn't meet B.A. until I was 37. This may not cheer you if you are 27 or 47, but the point is that just because you haven't found Mr Right by this Thanksgiving doesn't mean you won't ever find him. Maybe you won't, but maybe you will. The ways of God--and of Mr Right, if he exists--are very mysterious.

By the way, if any of my readers thinks the way to cope with the holiday is to curl up with a bottle of vodka, I am here to scold you and tell you that it isn't. If it even crosses your mind, I will be very mad, and if I ever find out, I will block you. So don't. Choose friends and fun instead. If you can't be with your own friends or make your own fun, then pop down to the nearest shelter and spend Thanksgiving serving the homeless.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Supporting Soldiers

A while back I got a letter from a young woman who was seeing a naval officer. Never mind which navy. Come to think of it, readers from at least three countries seem to be seeing naval officers. Some of these naval officers seem to spend more time in helicopters than on actual boats, but that's naval life for you.

Anyway, this particular naval officer was about to disappear into a submarine for several months. And it is submarining tradition in that navy that submariners open up a care package from their wife or girlfriend back home halfway through their sojourn in the submarine. Guys who did not have a care package were mocked and pitied by the other men.

Now, my reader wanted to know if she could send along a care package with her submariner even though they had been dating for only a short time. She noticed that I am very down on women giving men stuff too soon. Germaine Greer and I agree that women-in-general have a teeny giving problem, particularly when we give to get love. So she (my reader, not Germaine Greer) wondered if she should send along the care package, and I said yes.

There are men, and then there are servicemen. There is peacetime, and there is war. I don't know if you've noticed this, but all the major English-speaking nations have been at war for a decade. Canadian, British, American and other soldiers are still in Afghanistan, for example. I personally do not know how Canadian or British soldiers in Afghanistan improve the national security of Canada or Britain, but for now that is beside the point. The point I am making is that there are a lot of young men and women who have given themselves to their countries to risk their lives for the lives and freedoms of others.

That strikes me as rather more important than worrying about looking too eager or about where this relationship is going to go.

Now, I don't want to get all romantic about the morals of soldiers and sailors, especially since older women have warned younger women against soldiers and sailors since time immemorial. But from what I hear, there are many decent young church-going guys in the military, such as make good boyfriends and husbands. So it is no surprise to me that numbers of you fall for them and hope they will fall for you too. I sympathize.

However, I think the worst time to worry about future romantic commitments is when a man has a previous commitment to H.M. the Queen or Uncle Sam. If you are friends with a soldier who is not an established boyfriend, then treat him like a good friend and worry about the romance when and if he gets back. Don't cut off a correspondence because you can't see a romance going anywhere; I understand guys live for letters from home. Don't refrain from sending a care package because it might look "too forward." Civilians aren't called to make much of a war effort these days; giving a boost in morale to a soldier of your country strikes me as the least a patriotic girl can do. And I'm just talking just correspondence and care packages here, got it?

My thinking here comes straight from 1918. In 1918 my American grandmother (my German-American grandmother, incidentally) kept up a correspondence with a young American soldier who was a complete stranger to her. All the girls she knew did. My grandmother didn't mention that she was only 14, and I believe tried to give the impression she was older. Anyway, the soldier was delighted by these letters, and looked forward to meeting my grandmother when he got back home, and said they would have themselves a time, etc. This may have led to interesting complications, but as a matter of fact it never came to that. I believe the soldier was killed.

Now, if in 1918 my 14 year old Catholic school-educated grandmother and her chums were all encouraged to write to servicemen who were complete strangers, it seems to me that young women who are actually seeing servicemen they know should be encouraged to stop worrying about who-gives-what-present-when and just support them.

However, what I know about the modern-day military of my own countries you could stuff in the left nostril of a bug and have room left over, so if there are any servicewomen--or even servicemen--out there who have insights to share on this topic, please write them in the combox.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Nice Review & Femininity

The Crescat has written a generous review of The Closet's All Mine, as the American release of Seraphic Singles is known. I bet it sells more copies than the expensive ad in America I was told about.

It seems an eensy bit churlish to make a correction, but it involves my name, so you know. The correction is merely that the author of TCAM is Miss C or Ms. C, but not Mrs. C as I am now Mrs. M socially and Ms. C-M in print. Mrs. C is my mother. (My sister-in-law was married in the province of Quebec, and thus remains Dr. S.)

Kat also linked to this page as an example of a feminine blog, and I was heartily flattered by that. I was reminded my surprise when my (now ex-)shrink told me I was a very feminine woman. After all, my favourite hobbies at the time were boxing and reading tough-minded short fiction at Spoken Word events. Shrink pointed out that I was wearing a floor-length black velvet skirt and a tight blue velvet shirt with 18th-century sleeves and I was, like, oh yeah.

Same with this blog. I guess it is kind of feminine to talk constantly about single life and courtship and men. I thought I'd get tired of these topics when I got married, but no. I don't feel at all bad about this, as some Top Novelist or other recently said (I paraphrase) that the essence of writing fiction was actually caring that John loves Jane.

Femininity is an increasingly contentious topic. For example, there are men who wish to be women, and go about this in an intensely masculine way: fighting and striving and having this surgically cut off and that surgically put on and being pumped full of drugs. I think real women are more like apples: we develop to a delicious well-roundedness and grow even sweeter as we shrivel, fall off the tree and die. Of course, I'm physically lazy these days. I acknowledge that the natural female body trained to the muscularity of an Athena is feminine, too. (Oh, how I miss my boxing body... Size 2... Could wear jeans without fear... Whimper, whimper...)

The man-as-active, woman-as-passive paradigm drives many people absolutely nuts. It drives me nuts, too, when it interferes with something I want especially to do. So I'm not even going there, except to trash cosmetic surgery. Women who get "boob jobs" have turned themselves into female impersonators, which is a very dumb thing for a real woman to do. There is a huge difference between making the most of, and protecting, your feminine appearance and turning yourself into a walking cartoon.

When I was an undergraduate, I read books by Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth), Susan Brownmiller (Femininity), Andrea Dworkin (Intercourse) and Camille Paglia (Vamps and Tramps) to get my mind around contemporary ideas about femininity. (By the way, Dworkin can mess you up; I am in no way endorsing any of these books although Paglia was great fun.) Later I read Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, The Boston Women's Health Collective, Natalie Angier (Woman: An Intimate Geography, which I DO recommend) and Germaine Greer. Much, much later I read Edith Stein and John Paul II. (I know I should read Alice von Hildebrand, too.)

What I got out of all this mostly-feminist reading, in the end, was a healthy distaste for elective surgical modification of any kind, an enduring respect for female athleticism, an enjoyment of dressing-as-art, dread of both anorexia and obesity, recognition that all healthy bodies are beautiful, a taste for higher-end cosmetics (maquillage, not skin-cream rip offs) and permission not to be more like a man. I loved how Goth subculture has an aesthetic that suits both slim and apple-shaped girls; so do historical re-enactment societies, by the way. Although 20th century fashion freed us from corsets and dangerous paints, it has otherwise been at war with the female figure. Boo, Coco Chanel.

I wasn't even thinking about femininity as a complement to masculinity. "Who cares what men-in-general think?" was my usual scornful mindset from the age of 19 to 32 or so. Now I think about femininity and masculinity a lot because the hugest battles of our time, including the one with radical Islamism, surround them.

I keep thinking about the symbolic significance of masculine and feminine, as opposed to unisex, clothing.

My parish church is packed with fogies, old and young, and they tend to wear beautifully tailored wool or tweed jackets. As they never take their jackets off in public, I haven't a clue what their shoulders actually look like. They never wear shorts, either; they could be wearing sock braces for all I know, and I doubt I will ever know for sure. Wide or slim, the fogies share Male Shape, the inverted triangle of wide shoulders narrowing to shiny well-shod feet. They all look sharp and masculine, not macho.

The church has fewer female fogies, but we tend to wear skirts, to keep our hair long and to wear at least a modicum of make-up. Your pale Auntie S favours dark red lipstick, but she is 40 so she can get away with it. She also set a minor parish trend for killer heels, if one other woman can count as even a minor trend.

Killer heels look good, but they are bad for you in the long run and best worn sitting down. The whole point to them is that they make your calves look nicer and that men don't wear them. Few pieces of clothing say Women are mysterious than totally impractical killer heels. Various women writers have ascribed darker symbolic meanings to killer heels, but I am more optimistic than they.

I blame unisex clothing for the current craze in cosmetic fakery and over-emphasis on bodily shape. Fat or thin, women in my town wear jeans and skin-tight leggings. They hoick up their breasts with padded bras or, horror of horrors, they have them filled with silicon balloons. They wear obviously fake eyelashes and sometimes hair extensions. They paint their skin brown or, worse, tan themselves in tanning salons. They are the reason I love Marry, Snog, Avoid, a show in which a sarcastic machine named Pod mysteriously scrubs the fakery off such girls and puts them in pretty dresses. Sadly, there is not much Pod can do about the breast implants, the tats and the scary piercings, except cleverly "de-emphasize" the bust and assign sleeves.

One well-dressed young fogey tells me that in Germany men and women wear much the same clothes and length of hair, although men draw attention to their chests by wearing super-tight T-shirts. I have not noticed young men doing that here, but the principle strikes me as the same. If we dispense with gentle symbolic ways of indicating masculinity or femininity, we are left with hyper-focus on real, literal, secondary sexual characteristics: big chests, big breasts, round bottoms.

And how deeply boring is that? It's the socio-sexual equivalent of never being able to read novels or look at paintings; only words of one syllable and cartoons allowed.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Live Every Day

Today I greeted B.A., who went to work. Then I walked to the nearest grocery store, which is through a lightly wooded area and network of paths, and bought coffee and little doughnuts. I tidied the sitting-room and set out the coffee and doughnuts. My Polish teacher arrived at 11. We had a nice long Polish lesson. The fact that in Polish, as in Latin, the neuter nominative is the same as the neuter accusative delighted us. Yay, Indo-European!

I started this post, and then my brother called me on Skype. I saw him and his two children, and we had a brief chat. Then I called my father on Skype, and we too had a video chat.

This morning I also read my friend Hilary's update about her health. The news is not good. Hilary's cancer is not gone, and she may be ill for the rest of her life. Her life may very well be shorter than it would have been, had she not got cancer. She has agreed to have a hysterectomy, anticipates early, violent menopause, and predicts that she will never get married.

She is now thinking about what she should do for the rest of her, possibly shortened, life.

Myself, I do not know when I am going to die. And I don't know when B.A. is going to die either, so I don't know how much longer I am going to be married. I know a woman who married in her late twenties to a man in his mid-twenties, who suddenly died of a heart-attack less than a year later. Nobody knew until the autopsy that he had had a series of minor heart attacks; he seemed a perfectly healthy young man.

Essentially, we are all going to die, and the question that confronts us all is "How do we live, knowing that we are going to die?" We do not know what we are going to be doing, so what do you hope you will be doing? Will you go when you are creeping here and there bitterly, having resented not getting what others have got, or will you be striding joyfully through the life you have when you are called suddenly into the next room?

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Unbearable Alarmingness of Youth

Somewhere in a box across an ocean lies a list of qualities I wanted to have at forty. I cannot remember what was on it in detail, although I think "Fluent in French, Italian, German and Latin" is on it. (I always want to be fluent in something other than English, but I never am, despite endless assaults on the walls of foreign.) I seem to recall the overarching theme was that I was supposed to be a slim, well-dressed lady of unshakable confidence and sophistication. My youth at an end and my children all born (ha!), I was supposed to be serenely ruling my world.

I bet I was supposed to have a housekeeper, too. My sister-in-law has a housekeeper, although that is probably because instead of writing detailed lists about her future self, she studied anatomy and became a medical doctor.

To make a long intro shorter, I do not measure up to the heights of my optimistic list although I occasionally have my moments of supreme confidence. And one of the gifts of middle-life is that I am not afraid of twenty-something boys anymore.

I went on at great length to a pal about this yesterday. In short, when I was in my early twenties, men in their early twenties were alarming because I viewed most of them as either (A) sexual threats or (B) the holy grail. It was very, very difficult to see them just as people, and if I could go back and talk to my early-twenties self, I would beg myself to try to see them as people.

This reminds me of Gordon. Gordon was in a play I directed, and all the girls knew Gordon. I think he must have lived in one of the men's residences, for he was famous among the girls in women's residences. He was tall and broad-shouldered, pleasant-looking instead of handsome, and had buckets of laid-back charm. But winged-footed rumour had whispered in my ear that Gordon slept around--or if not around, where he ought not. So I was utterly terrified of Gordon. My psyche unsheathed invisible spikes all around me.

But, amazingly, Gordon was not just an object of sexual threat. He was also a person with a soul and a brain and rather awesome powers of observation. It was not lost on Gordon that I was reserved around him.

"It's like you've surrounded yourself with an electric cow fence," he complained.

And this was quite true. And it was a useful electric cow fence because it intimidated people who needed intimidating, even if it also intimidated people whom it would be nice to know. It took me a very long time to learn how to turn it on and off as I liked.

I think I lost my fear of twenty-something boys (in general, more on that) for good when I went to theology school. I was very much at home at theology school, and got very good grades, and seemed very clever, so I had tons of confidence. The school was very big on hospitality, so I flung myself into hospitality, and went up to new people to introduce myself and after a chat introduced them to other people. As most new people were women or male religious, I had no ulterior motives. And then at parties, when rambunctious twenty-something boys lit up joints, trashed John Paul II, were rumoured to sleep in the wrong place, and said "Lookin' fine, toots," I found them merely amusing.

Eventually I went to Germany, and some of my adventures there are in My Book. Go reread the bit about Max, because I am now thinking about Max. Anyway, in Germany, I discovered that twenty-somethings there are not as allergic to thirty-somethings as they are in other cultures. I had many conversations with twenty-something German boys, and went to their parties, and generally got along with them. And although I was frankly amazed, I understood that this had something to do with me being (A)foreign, and therefore glamorous and (B)a doctoral student, which in hierarchical Germany meant a lot.

The one exception was Max. I was terrified of Max, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because he was so intensely good-looking. As much as I liked looking at him, I was in a welter of fear lest I (A) make a complete ass of myself and (B) make some life-altering mistake. I used to march down to a telephone centre and call a pal in Canada to go on and on about Max.

"Listen," she said. "You must stop this. Just make out with him and come home!"

Hi-LAR-ious. I never did, though, and thank goodness, for the news would have been all over the entire campus in milliseconds.

Anyway, this seems to be All About Me again, so I will sum up with a generalization that twenty-something men may seem terrifying when you are twenty-something, but when you are no longer twenty-something yourself, twenty-something boys just seem like people, unless they are supernaturally good-looking, in which case you might very well shake in your shoes again. Discuss.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

American Thanksgiving is Coming

Hello, my little chickadees. Today I was very busy writing about Scottish history for pay, so I did not have time for a post. However, it did occur to me that American Thanksgiving is either tonight or next week and that means the beginning of the holiday season.

We all know that the holiday season can be really tough on Singles.

So I won't say anything more on the subject, but will just open the combox for you to emote in.

Thanksgiving (or, outside U.S., holiday season). You. Family. Go for it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Is Nagging a No-No?

Now this will be a tough post to write because, let's face it, I love to tell people what to do. It's probably an impulse born in elementary school where I was one of those girls who went red in the face while waving her hand in the air to show that she had the answer. And you have to admit, all our female role models do nothing but nag from the minute we are born until we escape from the house to university or our own place. Clean your room. Do your homework. Eat your vegetables. You shouldn't do this because. You shouldn't do that because.

I know at least one confirmed bachelor who will never marry because he hates being nagged and he assumes all women nag. You cannot tell this man what to do. If you told him to breathe, he would hold his breath until he passed out. He is the Patrick Henry of male emancipation. And I think a lot of men are like that.

Getting over telling men what to do has taken me a very long time. I'm the eldest of five, so from the age of 10 or 12 I was put "in charge of the others" when my parents were out of the house. And therefore, since I told them what they should do, it seemed perfectly normal to tell boys I met what they should do. I now credit this for my relative lack of popularity in high school.

When you like someone, it is very hard to watch him do things that you think are bad for him and neglect those things you think are good for him. You don't think he should smoke, especially not so much. And you don't think he should drink, especially not so much. You don't think he should waste his fine mind watching so much TV or playing so many video games. You think he should use his God-given talents more often. You think he should stop seeing the girl he is currently seeing and ask out another one instead. You think he should eat a vegetable sometime before 2015.

However, unless this directly effects you, or he is doing something clearly criminal and/or gravely sinful, you should probably keep your mouth shut. The time to raise your voice against the ciggies, the booze, the video games or the bone-idleness is when you are asked to "be his girlfriend". This is when you smile and say, "Oh, I could never be seriously involved with a heavy smoker/a man who gets drunk every day/a man who spends so much time with video games/a man so laid-back."

This gives Sigsimund the Ciggie a choice: girl or smokes. He might pick the smokes, of course, but that is his right. Then you can pass serenely (at least in appearance) out of his smelly orbit.

I know we all get fixated on whoever we get fixated on, but sooner or later, we all have to ask ourselves "What can I live with?" and tell the truth. Men are not like old houses; they are not fix-it jobs. What you see is basically what you get, especially if they are over 30. The only time you can bargain for any kind of reno is when they ask you to be their girlfriend or wife. Tell them truthfully what you can live with, and what you can't, and stick to it.

Of course, afterwards things crop up. At some point in her marriage, my mother put her foot down and told my dad he couldn't come home from work later than 7 PM. And if B.A. isn't home by 7 PM, he gets a sad little phone call from a Canadian asking "Missing Persons?"

The trick is to concentrate on what directly affects you. Male friend drinking bottle of wine every night, probably not. Husband smoking half a pack of cigarettes in a room you are in, most definitely. The behaviour of husbands by nature tends to affect you directly.

My conscience is now troubling me, however, because I seem to recall several recent episodes in which I gave men friends unsolicited advice, wailed over how much they smoked or cajoled them to some act of goodness, e.g. being altar servers. This was mostly useless. However, it did not work against my marital chances either, seeing that I am, you know, married already.

Incidentally, I was relieved but surprised when my signature was good enough to get B.A. registered at our nearest medical centre. I think this is because the National Health Service knows that the average man does not go near a doctor unless his wife makes him. And thus husbands put wives into a position where wives have to nag husbands for their very survival.

So you see that this is a difficult issue. Meanwhile, I am not counting as nagging gentle requests that men not fill your ears with bad language and improper jokes. That's just self-defense. I party and pray with a very decent set, so this is not a very big deal, and usually a neo-Victorian "Oh, Such-and-such! Before me?" is good enough.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Congrats to Rosario...

Rosario Rodriguez won The Crescat's Seraphic Giveaway contest. She gets a copy of The Closet's All Mine. If you don't have one, you can of course get one from Amazon or (even better) if you are in the USA in the nearest bookshop run by nuns. If the nuns don't have it in, they will get it in. I think it is nicer to buy books from nuns than from Amazon if you can.

Otherwise, in Canada the book is called Seraphic Singles and in Poland it is called Anielskie Single and the whole reason this blog is up is to promote it/them. This is vaguely amusing because now the blog is longer than all three editions put together. And I hope this is not the literary equivalent of "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"!

Although this is a blog for feeling good about being Single, I am sometimes tempted to have a Bachelor Giveaway contest. Now that I am married, I meet nice twenty-something bachelors all the time. I wonder if this is because they are far, far away from their mothers and feel the need of an auntie; it is not like I suddenly became more beautiful than I was in my twenties. It could be that I care less; when I see a twenty-something bachelor standing around shyly in the parish hall, my first thought is not "Is he cute?" but "Does he know anybody?"

I don't care what they think when I come up to them and say, "How do you do?" I don't mentally skip to the chase. There is no chase to skip to. Well, actually, I suppose B.A. might succumb to scarlet fever and leave me a youngish widow, but you know, I don't think, when I see some wilting undergrad in tweed, "Oh! I wonder if that could be my third husband!" No. My motives are entirely pure, and then when someone vaguely their age is in earshot, I introduce them to each other, and push off.

In general advice-givers suggest young women not approach men directly, and I agree with this except when one new man is surrounded by people he doesn't know but you do, especially in a parish situation. I think in this case the corporal work of mercy of welcoming the stranger takes precedence over all other considerations.

That reminds me that if there are any Catholic girls living in south-east Scotland who read this blog, our Latin Mass community could really use some more twenty-something girls and thirty-something ladies. Hint hint hint. See the strawberry blonde lady in green tweed in the parish hall after Mass.

Monday, 14 November 2011


The question of boundaries has been much on my mind of late because of conversation with other expat women about the Scottish ritual of banter. If you are used to offices and families where a certain friendly formality is the order of the day, then Scottish banter can knock you for a loop.

I'm trying to think of an example of banter you can all access, and it occurs to me there is a bit of it in So I Married an Axe Murderer, although the dynamic is wrong. If you might recall, Charlie has Scottish parents, and his father ribs his little brother mercilessly about his big head of curly hair.

"Heid," yells the Scottish dad, as he tries to watch the soccer game around him. "That boy's got a heid the size of Sputnik."

Charlie's friend giggles, and the boy merely glowers and says nothing. In real life, the Scottish dad would be waiting for his retort, and the boy would have given it as hard and wittily as he could. Hilarity all around.

I forget if we were married already, or if this happened during my engagement visit, but I sat down and had a Talk with B.A. about all this. I don't like insults, and I don't put up with insults from men. When I was a younger woman, I used to put up with insults, in the hopes that it was all a joke a-ha-ha-ha-ha. As a teenage pro-life activist, the numero uno insult was "feminist", of course, which was infuriating. And when I was dating, and when I was married the first time around... Argh, argh.

One thing that alerted me to the fact that I was miserable in Marriage No. 1 was that the man I was living with said things my father never says to my mother, never never never. He never speaks to her in that tone, and he never insults her friends, tastes, religious beliefs, etc. So you can just imagine my horror when, at an Edinburgh dinner party of B.A.'s friends, he made fun of me and joined in the general hilarity at my expense.

And, boy, did he get it when we got back to the Historical House. Ooh. I had not wanted to say anything because we had been floating on the Cloud of Rosy New Engaged (or Married) Love, and I wanted to stay there and ignore anything that I could just ignore. However, that would not be being rooted in reality, which is my daily goal. So I said the dreaded, "We have to talk" and we did.

Poor old B.A. was flabbergasted because B.A. has lived in Scotland his entire life, and it did not occur to him that making fun of your fiancee/wife at a dinner party full of his friends might be found offensive by women in the rest of the known universe. And I was flabbergasted that he was flabbergasted, and slowly it began to dawn on me that what we had here was a Cultural Difference. (Some priest or other warned us we would have Cultural Differences, and we ignored him because, hello, my mother's family was all Scottish. How much could Scottishness have changed in 100 years, eh?)

Meanwhile, what was most important was that B.A. didn't disrespect me. And in Scotland you don't exchange banter with people you don't respect. You just ignore them or, in extreme and criminal circumstances, beat them up.

Having the choice to sulk or to integrate into Scottish society, I decided to integrate into Scottish society. And now I sit across from B.A. at dinner parties and think on my feet. When he makes fun of me, I make fun of him right back. And then I flirt outrageously with another man at the table. Hilarity all around.

A Canadian might be horrified, and I can just imagine what my American girlfriends would have to say about the outrageous flirtation. But our British friends think we're a wonderful couple and that we're an example to the nations, etc.

So that is the very first thing I'm going to say about boundaries. Not everyone has the same cultural expectations of what they are. And therefore, when someone hurts your feelings, it is best to have it out with him, especially if he comes from another place or culture. Universally, people deserve respect, but what respect IS is not universally agreed upon.

"Feminist," I said mildly, since I got called a feminist again yesterday after Mass by a young Eastern European male, "is actually the most insulting thing you can call a woman in traditional Catholicism."

"Is it?"


"That's good," said young Eastern European male, who was nevertheless enlightened. At least, he'd better be, because it would get very boring having to repeat it over and over again. It's also mildly annoying, since traditionally-minded Catholic women actually share some of the aims of feminism (e.g. being able to vote, equal pay, not being felt up in crowds), and it feels odd to have to repudiate it all the darn time.

But that is often what it takes to defend boundaries: repetition. First, sadly for many of us, there is a confrontation. And then there is often repetition.

Those of us who adhere to traditional understandings of sexual morality often feel outraged when men suggest we transgress them. We feel outraged, embarrassed, threatened, shy, you name it. We often feel like we have been terribly insulted, as insulted as the heroine of a Regency romance or of a Shakespeare play. However, now that this sexual revolution thing has happened, it is naive to think "How dare he? How can he not know that I AM NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL?"

This type of thinking assumes that the average man lives by the code that prevailed in the West until 1963. He doesn't. And therefore he will try it on, and you will have to have The Talk. The talk shouldn't be a big deal. It should be merely something like, "Actually, you might not know this, but I am a Christian [observant Jew, Muslim, Buddhist], and so I am very distressed that you suggested X. I don't believe X is a suitable recreational activity among unmarried people, and I'm sorry you thought I might." Or it could just be, "Yeah, you wish, pal." (Smug smile.) "In your dreams." It all depends on the context.

Meanwhile, let's not pick on the usual kind of guy. I am continually haunted by the memory of a Single reader who works for a conservative think-tank and got sneered at by a young Catholic married man because she isn't married. When an ordinary bloke from a different culture (which means the majority non-Catholic culture we live in, peeps) hurts our feelings, there might be some excuse for him: he might know now better; things are different "where he comes from." But when a Catholic guy who goes to Mass every Sunday and reads Mark Shea and kisses bishops' rings bullies a Catholic girl, I want to rip his head off.

The sad fact is that although we are prepared for attacks from our ideological opposites, we are often left speechless by our supposed allies. But we have to get along with our allies, so we have to create and defend our boundaries.

First, we have to know what our boundaries are. What can you put up with, and what can you not put up with? If at work you are willing to stay late because "you don't have kids to go home to," then fine. But if you are not, you are not. That's okay. Just because you "don't have kids to go home to" doesn't mean anyone deserves more of your time than you've contracted out.

Second, you have to state your boundaries, directly or indirectly. "Don't call me a feminist; as a traditional Catholic woman, I personally find it really insulting" is direct. "A feminist is the worst thing you can call a trad Catholic woman" is indirect. "As a Single woman, I find it insulting that you think I have no life outside this office" is pretty direct. Gauge which is the best communication strategy.

Third, you have to defend your boundaries. This is where repetition comes in. Hopefully you will not have to do this to the same person more than once or twice. Possibly the person is just testing you, to see if you really meant what you said. Make it clear you meant what you said. If the person offends you once after you told him/her what your boundary is, that's one thing. Remind them of your boundary and leave it at that. But if he or she does it twice, it is time to take more action.

In work or school life, it is time to talk to an authority. In social life, it is time to keep away from them. If they apologize, that's great. Forgive them. But if they don't, don't be a noodle-spined wimp. Constant disrespect is bad for your mental and spiritual health.

Fourth, be just as respectful of other peoples' boundaries. If a guy does not like being hugged, don't hug him.

I want to say something about the "feminist" issue. It could be that you are insulted that the word "feminist" is used as an insult, just as I would be if the word "Catholic" or "woman" were used as an insult.

First of all, cultural differences apply. Many men feel, rightly or wrongly, that they themselves or society in general has suffered severe hurt because of trends in society that some or all ascribe to a philosophy called "feminism." When they snap at you about "feminism" they are saying much more about their own views than about yours. It's not you it's them, and if they really have suffered from "feminism" (and if you care, you might ask), you might understand where they are coming from.

Second, it is not okay for men to express contempt for women to women. If men want to blow off steam to other men about their frustration with women-in-general, okay. Women blow off steam to other women about men-in-general all the time. (Although, to be frank, my married friends and I don't bitch about our husbands, even to each other, and if B.A. complained about me to his pals, I would be hurt. There is such a thing as loyalty.)

If a Catholic man (like a married young Catholic man working for one of the zillions of conservative think tanks out there) expresses contempt for you based on your sex or marital status, it is time to get all John Paul II on his butt. Every Catholic woman should read Mulieris Dignitatem at least once, and be willing to invoke it to defend herself against Catholic guys being jerks.

Sample speech. "That's not funny. That offends me as a woman and a Catholic, and I'm surprised that as a Catholic you are going against Blessed John Paul II's assertion that..."

This will not work on all Catholic men, of course. Some Catholics don't actually like Blessed John Paul II. However, if you are working for your standard conservative think-tank, you are unlikely to run into them. But if you do, and they insult you just for being a woman, especially an unmarried woman, I suppose your next shot is to give them a withering stare and then say the ever-devastating, "I'll pray for you."

Friday, 11 November 2011


I have two brothers, and I love them to pieces. One is now a married man with two kids, and one, seven years younger, is single. When I was single, and feeling very cranky about men in general, I would make myself think about my brothers and how fantastic they are. This invariably cheered me up and made me think more positively about the other half of the human race.

My brothers--I think I can safely describe them together--are upstanding and hard-working. I fear they are too hard-working, just like our dad. They are both musically talented and great fun to be around. They each have a zillion friends, but they each make time to get home to Mum and Dad. They are both intensely intelligent. They still go to Mass.

When we were little, we all played together, and my brothers (and sisters, too, but I'm thinking about brothers today) added so much to my childhood. The older brother was a bit of a child prodigy on the piano, and so I often woke to the sound of beautiful music: childhood was full of live music. The younger brother was great fun and his sly sense of humour, which included building complicated traps for the baby of the family, provided material for enduring family jokes.

In adult life, my brother still add so much to the family. Both of them kept up their music, and so when I am in Canada, I might find myself in a romantically seedy nightclub listening to the younger brother's rock band or in a concert hall listening to the older brother's quintet. The older brother got married to a woman whom the family all, without exception, hesitation or reservation, adore and has had two bee-oo-tee-ful children (so far)! The younger brother lives close to my parents and has helped them out a lot with physical tasks, like taking care of our late grandma's house. He also got me out of a financial mess, for which I will be forever grateful, and I'm putting a cheque in the mail today! 8-0 (No, really. The Polish money came in.)

My brothers, I think, helped to make me the married woman I am today. Soon after I met Benedict Ambrose in person, I thought "This man is so much like my brothers." And I also thought, "This man would get along so well with my family. I can so see him around the table at Christmas!" And this proved to be true. Last Christmas, when my parents, one brother and one sister came to the Historical House for their first Scottish Christmas ever, was one of the happiest of my life.

When my brothers come to visit, they move seamlessly into our social set. They are both former choirboys, and they can both sightread, so they are immediately pressed into Trid Mass choir service and/or singing after boozy Trid suppers. The elder brother, incidentally, drove B.A. and I to our honeymoon, and brother and B.A. sang Gilbert and Sullivan tunes together as we whizzed down the highway.

Because it is Remembrance Day, I will also mention that the elder brother put in ten active years in the militia and the younger brother gave army cadets a go. Their willingness to serve others has extended to the civil sphere, you see. I suppose I am also reactionary enough to be proud of my brothers to have been brave and adventurous enough to have gotten involved with the military, which in Canada is not an everyday sort of institution.

So there you go. I am lucky to have been given two wonderful brothers, and I am also lucky enough to fallen for a guy like my brothers, instead of my usual type. (Actually, I think B.A. is half like my brothers and half like my usual type!)

Today's topic being brothers, please feel free to write about your wonderful brothers (real or "adopted") in the combox. I realize this is a topic I have brought up before, but it can't hurt anyone to enthuse yet again about the great men in her life!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The One Who Danced Away

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I just wanted to write and tell you how much I love your blog! I really, really wish I had found it a long time ago, when I could have used your advice the most. My close friend from college...recommended your blog to me quite some time ago, and I wish I had found it then! This may sound silly, but I didn't really understand blogs at the time, or what seraphicsingles was all about.

I read your post today about what it means to be a lady. You said you were surprised that people don't write in complaining about controlling men who try to make them fit their idea of what it means to be a lady. Well, I dated a man like that in college. He wanted me to always wear skirts, to behave in a certain way, and to not dance what he considered were "modern" and unladylike dances (such as swing).

At first, I hardly even noticed that I was losing my freedom. I honestly think I was with him because he reminded me of my father, who is also controlling and does not think highly of women. I think being with a controlling man who was judgmental and restricted my freedom felt familiar, and thus (in a way) comfortable.

After about a year, though, I began to rebel. He told me not to go to swing dancing practice, and I went anyway. I finally realized that he was controlling and that I could not live with a man like that for the rest of my life. As soon as I realized that, I broke up with him, and I felt so FREE. Of course, I was sorry to cause him pain, but I felt so happy about my life and my future when I was alone again.

I have seen unhappy marriages, and I know how terrible it can be to be tied to a man who does not love you for who you are. I thank God that He helped me realize in time that I could not spend my life with a man like that. It is so true that it is better to be alone than to be with the wrong man!

I got engaged about a month ago to a good man who I love and who loves and respects me. He would never try to control me or make me conform to a certain standard of womanhood. I know it is only through the grace of God that I did not marry a controlling man.

Thank you for writing that post today. I am sorry you had to go through that, but it is nice to know that you understand what it's like to be with a controlling man.

God bless you always,
Danced to Freedom

Ah, poppets. I love emails like this!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Divorce, Annulment, Remarriage

Polish sentence structure is so unlike English sentence structure that Google Translate cannot cope with it very well. Therefore, when I find out that someone has written something about Anielskie Single online, I go half-crazy trying to figure out what it is. The one solution is to get a native Polish speaker to read it to me, and they do not grow on trees.

Happily, there was one in the neighbourhood today, so I lured him in with doughnuts and got him to translate something written about beautiful, fascinating me. And we discovered that edited right out of this biography of former singledom was my divorce, annulment and remarriage.

Let's make this quite clear. I was divorced. I got an annulment. I am in my second marriage. If you have a problem in general with people who are granted annulments and remarry, then you have a problem with me. And I am sorry about that.

I am sorry about that because I think I have funny and interesting things to say and I would be sorry if someone lost out on the fun and the conversation simply because they think any divorced Catholic is not worth listening to. But I am also sorry about that because divorced Catholics are often treated like crap. I knew that when I got divorced, and you can bet the ink was barely dry on my divorce certificate when I was banging on the Marriage Tribunal door.

I didn't get my annulment to get married again. I got my annulment to end the fiction that I had been sacramentally married in the first place. I wanted freedom, not just the freedom to marry, but the freedom to be single, no longer tied to a non-husband in any way whatsoever. And of course I would not have married B.A. without an annulment, and he would not have married me. We're Catholics because we actually happen to believe the Roman Catholic faith.

It is obvious that the sanctity of marriage is in serious trouble. This is one of the reasons why I write this blog: to preserve the sanctity of marriage. People abuse marriage all the time, and in different ways. Some people mistake marriage for permanent-never-failing-romance. Other people mistake marriage for a Church-sponsored spouse trap. Still others use it as a vehicle to force others to say that their lifestyle is A-OK.

Therefore, I can understand why Catholics--especially European Catholics--are so frightened by divorced-and-remarried people. And I respect the fact that I would not be allowed anywhere near the microphone of an orthodox Catholic media outlet had I not been granted an annulment before I started to call myself single again, let alone married B.A. And I even see why the fact that I had a divorce and an annulment before I wrote my singles book was dropped from this particular bio: it was too complicated for that particular article, that particular magazine.

Life, however, is complicated. And I don't think it is helpful for the Catholic community to sweep complications under the rug and nail the rug down. We might all look wonderful and upstanding at Mass, whether beaming and clapping or bowed and silent, but we all are sinners, and we all struggle. One difference between people is that the more you have to lose, the smarter you are about keeping your mouth shut. When my pal X was Single, she would tell anyone about her latest crush object. When she was married, she told only me. (Yes, some married women--even respectable married women who love God, their husbands and their children--sometimes have crush objects. They also catch colds and the flu.)

I am no expert on ministry to divorced-and-remarried Catholics. The issues are horribly painful, pitting "being faithful" against "being welcoming." I understand that love sometimes means saying "No". I understand that receiving communion without being in a state of grace can actually harm a person. But I also understand that the divorced person so easily becomes a scapegoat. That makes me worry for divorced people, whether they are canonically single--as I was--or canonically married.

I understand why the divorce and annulment might have been dropped from my bio, but it makes me a little sad for the divorced-and-annulled all the same.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Lady

I approach today's topic with dread because it slices very close to the bone. Also, I tried to have a light philosophical conversation on the topic the other day and it did not go well. A very old incision in my psyche began slowly to bleed.

Today's topic is "the lady."

We are all men and women, but from very early in human history we have separated men and women into categories. I suppose it is natural to do that; we put all creatures into categories. We have distinguished categories of angels. And it may even be helpful sometimes to continue to distinguish between different kinds of men and women: by nationality, for example, or by age. Other categories (class, sexual orientation) are not so helpful, for they not only distinguish but divide.

The terms "lady" and "gentleman" spring from class division. Bluntly stated, a lady was a woman whose father did not work with his hands, and a gentleman was a man who did not work with his hands. For the fine shades of who was or was not considered a lady in Britain in the early 19th century, read Jane Austen. Elizabeth Bennett was most definitely a lady because her father owned land and the family (more or less) kept up the standards expected of a landowner's daughters.

In republican America, Louisa May Alcott proudly rejected the class assumptions inherent in the word "lady": Jo March declares in Little Women that she believes in "men and women" not in "ladies and gentlemen." Her heroes and heroines are well-educated, highly moral folk who are willing to work for a living and hold their heads high among their richer relations and friends. Henry James, however, continued to use the expression "lady", although his "lady" of Portrait of a Lady was not the daughter of a landowner, but merely a woman of sterling character.

But who determines what a woman of sterling character is? No doubt this is a hotly debated smoking room topic to this very day. In the ancient world, a woman of sterling character was one whom nobody talked about by name: the mother of the Gracchi is known solely as "the mother of the Gracchi" for that very reason. In the modern world, a woman of sterling character was once one whose name appeared in the newspaper only when she was born, was married and died. In Christian circles, she was (or is) a woman who obeyed her husband or at very least never made him look like an ass in public.

I have my own ideas about what a woman of sterling character is, but they are not necessarily the same as the ideas I held when I was 21 and met a man with very pronounced ideas on the topic indeed. The man in question was absolutely sure I was "a lady" and took great pains to make sure I always was so.

Readers of this blog often write of their frustration and dread of controlling men utterly determined to get them into bed. So far I don't recall anyone writing in of her frustration and dread of a controlling man utterly determined to (A) make her conform to his ideal of The Lady and (B) make her marry him. It surprises me because most of the women who read this blog are young, traditional and/or religious, and it strikes me that a young, traditional and/or religious man is most likely to behave like that. He has it in his head what a Good Woman is (the opposite of "all those sluts out there"), and by God he's going to get her.

I have in a box somewhere a dozen letters in fine masculine script, written with an excellent pen, exhorting me to be a lady. They are very flattering, and they quite turned my twenty-something head. The mix of fulsome praise and roguish nagging would probably make me vomit today, but at the time it merely made me blush, shake my head and roll my eyes.

In the end it proved effective, and I found myself obeying a man who laid down an awful lot of rules. I was not allowed to wear blue jeans. Ladies did not wear blue jeans. I was not allowed to get fat. Ladies did not get fat. (NB Married people usually put on 10 pounds after they marry; I lost 20.) I was not allowed to walk the quiet, crime-free two blocks from the bus stop to my parents' house after dark. Ladies did not take risks. I had to wear elbow length gloves everywhere I went in broad daylight. Ladies did not get sunburnt. I had to carry a parasol for the same reason. (Yes, a parasol.) I was not allowed to use bad words, ever, even when I dropped something on my toe. Ladies did not use bad words.

He was twenty-three years old. I very much doubt he is like that now. At least, I hope not: when the worm turned, he suffered very much. And when the worm ran away, one of worm's pals gave her a pair of blue jeans. I look terrible in blue jeans now, but at the time they symbolized... What? Freedom? Self-determination.

B.A. says that a gentlemen is a man who never unintentionally gives offense. This means a man who is so aware of how his actions and demeanor affect others that he never makes a social mistake. He puts everyone at his or her ease unless, for some good reason, he needs to give someone a set-down.

I do not know what a lady is. I just know that the concept can be used as a whip to make a woman strive to turn into something she is not: a precious porcelain statue, an angel in human form, corporeal vanilla ice-cream. I am very uncomfortable with the term; I wish we could merely distinguish between good manners and bad.

And why bring all this up today? Because I know not only young women but young men read this blog and I know that some traditional young men--without first considering what John Paul II said in Dignitatem Mulieris--are working out their own anthropologies of The Lady.

At least, I think they are. Because the word cuts so close to the bone, I am not the best judge of what young men are doing when they talk about ladies or make pronouncements on female dress and behaviour. I told myself that the other day when, while walking down an ancient street with my husband and a young friend, the young friend suddenly turned to me and said, "I never imagined you would own a pair of blue jeans."

The knife of male expectation can cut both ways. Both women and men are hurt when men set up impossible standards of womanhood they glean not from Christianity or real life but from the prejudices and restrictions of a vanished age.

As I love to warn you all, some scars never heal.


Update: Welcome readers of The Crescat! Regular readers should know that Kat is giving away a copy of The Closet's All Mine, the American version of Anielskie Single/ Seraphic Singles. So if you are Single and can think of something you love about your Single state, toddle on over there and tell her what it is for a chance to win the prize.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Who is Your Most Far-Out Friend?

I've been thinking a lot about friendship. Friendship is very, very important for Single people, but also important to many married people. Having a husband is not a kind of one-stop-shopping of the heart. A husband is not a girl-friend in male form. Definitely not. Many (most?) people need all kinds of relationships. Being married means you have only one marital/erotic relationship; it does not mean you give up all other relationships.

One of the small deprivations of married life in Britain--don't laugh--is that I don't really get to hug anybody. It's not a huggy country. There is mwah-mwah social kissing--or there is when I am around as it's not a Scottish thing--but no hugs. It's a small island, and the islanders are careful with their space.

Anyway, having come to Britain as a middle-aged foreign spouse, I cannot depend on my old school friends and old college chums for day-to-day friendship. Facebook, email and Skype are godsends, but the truth is that I am most likely to socialize with somebody local. And, given that most married British women my age are at work and already have lots of friends, it is not surprising that I am most likely to hang out with church friends, especially other expats.

The most recent addition to my daily life is a twenty-something Central European male graduate student of Islamic Studies, which strikes me as rather funny. So I thought I'd open up the combox to readers and ask you describe a friend whose company you very much enjoy but who is not very much like you.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

"Anielskie Single" Interview

How exciting! At last my Nasz Dziennik interview has come out. Nasz Dziennik is a conservative national Polish daily paper.

It is also posted on the Radio Maryja website.

Update: Szczęść Boże Polska. Powitanie!

Update 2: This is a great take on the thorny issue "Is the unconsecrated Single life a vocation?" Hat-tip The Crescat.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Misfits with Marrieds

Sometimes I get a comment or email from Single women about fitting in with Married women, particularly Married women with children. The Single women feel like misfits, as though the Married Women with Children are the social norm. And maybe Married Women with Children are the social norm, in that office or that parish.

To visualize this I have to squint into hazy memories of the past because my life is full of Single people without children. My parish--well, actually it's not a real parish but the maximum 70 local people who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass--is full of Single people. Some are university students, some are middle-aged artists or professionals, and some are elderly.

Some are special-needs adults who will never marry. Some are old-fashioned British bachelors who honestly think marriage means being shackled to a madwoman with a rolling pin. Some are widowers or widows. Some are retired schoolteachers or other professionals who never in their long lives married. Most of the Singles of my parish simply aren't eligible.

I sometimes wish B.A. and I had been married in the parish, just for the novelty it would have afforded the congregation. However, there is now a younger married couple, and they provided us with a baptism last year.

Notice I say "A". We have married couples with adult children in the parish, but only one young couple with babies, so far, although there is a father who brings his three children but not his (rumoured Protestant) wife. And thus--hold on to your hats--it is the young married pregnant woman with a baby who is in the minority. And although she is beautiful, intelligent and fun, she is not a regular at the parties held by the middle-aged segment of the parish, sometimes attended by the students, which are fueled by alcohol and often last until 2 AM.

Married women with children are largely cast out of the Single Eden of drink, late-night parties, spontaneous travel and quiet time. Usually they love their children, but sometimes they feel wistful for the old days, especially if the old days involved flirting and clubbing and other things responsible married-women-with-babies do not do. Unless they have a job, their social lives are sharply curtailed and revolve around their husbands and kids. They feel starved for adult conversation, and they wait all day for their husbands to come home and have adult conversations, only to discover that the men have had enough of adult conversation for the day and just want to watch the news in peace.

Married women with babies and jobs do have access to adult conversation. However, they are also stressed out of their minds, possibly because their bodies (and babies) are telling them that this sucks and they ought to be home with the babies. And thus, they need to complain to other women (which is the one of women's natural ways of coping with stress: men have "fight or flight"; we have "fight, flight or b*tch") who might understand what they are going through. This means other married women with babies.

I spent a year or so in a female-dominated government office. It was a dull job, although I was grateful for the pay, and I soon applied to go to graduate school. Graduate school, incidentally, is full of Single women or married, childless women. In many a graduate department, you are not made to feel bad for not having children. You are made to feel bad for wanting children. Still, here I was in this mostly-boring office,greeting disabled welfare recipients (some of whom were disabled because they were addicted to crack, poor things) and working in the file room with women without deep intellectual interests but with children. But I did not feel like a misfit.

I did not feel like a misfit in part because, admittedly, I had a boyfriend. And I did not feel like a misfit because I had friends outside of work, most of whom were Single themselves. And I did not feel like a misfit because I was more-or-less comfortable with who I was and with my own life, a life unlike that of the women in the office. And I did not feel like a misfit because, even though they talked about recipes and their children, I could enter easily into those conversations. The children (teenagers) were interesting, and the recipes good.

When I first started working in offices, I was a big fat--well, thin, actually, a small thin intellectual snob. This showed up on my face, so as you can imagine I was not very popular with the not-so-intellectual women, just like in elementary school. However, by the time I was in this government office, I had learned that not-so-intellectual women had a lot to offer me.

One woman in this office, who had dropped out of school under the legal age, taught me a lot about kindness, and she was an absolute genius at calming down crazy people off their meds. Another woman, a C&E Catholic, challenged my then-dodgy theology; to my shock, I realized that she had looked up to me in matters Catholic and that I had disappointed her. Another woman entertained me with stories about Poland; all the brides in her village rented the same wedding dress from the same shop. Another woman, who had had servants in India, showed her cultural vulnerability by refusing to help the rest of us carry boxes. It would have broken her heart to move boxes, but the other women assumed she thought she was better than the rest of us, and that is fatal in female-dominated work environments, as you no doubt know.

The point to all this verbiage about my old office is that it is never a matter of a Single woman in the abstract trying to get along with Married-women-with-children in the abstract. We live our life in concrete circumstances, with concrete individuals, all of whom are different. Meanwhile, some Married-women-with-children envy Single-women-without-children as much or more than they occasionally pity you, and if they pity you out loud it says more about the Married-women-with-children than about you Single childless girls.

There are also environments where Single women, or partnered-women-without-children, are the norm. It is quite normal for a woman of any age in my parish to be Single. It was quite normal for women in both my Canadian and American theology classes to be Single, and of course most of the men were unmarried too (but usually priests, religious, or with SSA).

My advice on how to handle situations where Single you are surrounded by Married-Women-With-Children all day is, firstly, to see the women as people other than Married-With-Children and, when it is possible, engage them in conversation about shared interests and to actually listen to what they say.

Secondly, it is crucially important to have interests outside this environment of Married women. Some Married women will be interested to hear about your Single adventures and opportunities, whereas others will voice their panicked feelings that they are missing out on Life by telling you how lucky (or selfish) you are. Do see the value in the opportunities you have as a Single woman.

Thirdly, if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Some office and school environments are simply toxic, and the majority vent their frustrations on the minority, particularly the minority that seems unfriendly, like the poor formerly-rich Indian lady who wouldn't carry boxes. If you are that unhappy, leave when you can, and learn from past experiences how better to get along with office mates. (NB If the problem is that everyone is discussing their sex life, then have a word with your manager. You don't have to work in in a hyper-sexualized environment, and if people mock you for not being sexually active, this is a form of sexual harrassment. Sex does not belong in the office.)

Fourthly, there is a growing awareness in the Church that Single people are being neglected. I'm not the only Catholic writing and talking to and about Single Catholics. Keep looking for resources for Single Catholics and don't lose heart. The Catechism states that unmarried people are "particularly close to Jesus' heart".

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Hypothetical Retreat Question

So if I were planning a three day retreat for Single women with a priest in your town, on what topics do you think the seminar talks should be?

This is a serious question. I've been given a date, a location and even a title. By the way, it will be in central Europe, so don't bounce up and down shrieking with joy unless pani rozumie po Polsku.

Anyway. There it is. Three days. Primary text: my book. Priest on tap. Mass. Adoration. Lectures. No boys (except priest) allowed. What should we all talk about?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

"The Innocents"

I always have Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner and Hallowe'en on the same night. This year it was not on actual Hallowe'en but on All Hallows Night, so I was very tired this morning, let me tell you. I made all the food my family has for Thanksgiving, except for pumpkin pie, because I couldn't find anything pumpkin in Tesco, and the roast turkey was actually twin chickens. Plus I was dressed as "Dorothy" in The Wizard of Oz. I trotted around the kitchen in ruby slippers. Was I glad to finally sit down and have a glass of wine! Whoo!

After supper, the party settled down in the sitting-room to watch The Innocents, a film adaptation of Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw. It stars Deborah Kerr, is very scary and is very interesting from a psychological point of view. Are there really ghosts, or is the heroine imagining it all?

This question was of particular interest for me because I am a very imaginative person and I have found it very, very important in my life to sort out what really is true from what I imagine to be true. But at the same time, I have discovered that sometimes I am absolutely right when others think I am just imagining things.

In matters of the heart, this can be particularly difficult to sort out. There's the problem of thinking Johnnie has a massive crush on me, and then discovering that maybe Johnnie doesn't have a massive crush on me, and then feeling disappointed because, actually, it wasn't that Johnnie had a crush on me but that I had a crush on Johnnie. How humiliating.

Unrequited love is one of the most humiliating aspects of everyday life that I can think of. And I am thinking about it today because recently I got a letter from a woman who chased a guy, without realizing/admitting that's what she was doing, and when he broke up with her, she was devastated. The break-up seemed to come out of nowhere. She was so sure they were meant for each other.

When "Volker" of my book (plot spoiler!) broke up with me, my friends and I were so shocked that we called all such surprise break-ups "Volkers" ever after. Volker would no doubt be horrified to know that, so let's hope he's not still reading. But after some years' distance from that humiliating and surprising event, I can admit that it was not so surprising after all. Although I tried reeeeeealllieeee hard not to pursue Volker, there was some serious Volker-pursuing behaviour in there. Boo. Left to his own devices, Volker would not have asked me out in the first place.

(For those who are new here, a cornerstone of my overarching theory of male psychology is that men don't stay interested very long in women who pursue them and therefore are easy to win. [Exception: much older men will fall for the happy-go-lucky girls crazy enough to flirt with them.] Despite massive social engineering, all but the laziest men want to woo and win the princess in the tower, taking a manhood-proving risks to do so. Being given everything on a plate makes boys bored, cranky and infantile. Polish guy over here agrees with me.)

Anyway, my correspondent described the courtship/dating period in great detail, so even if she could not see where she had been "the (courting) man" and her ex had been "the (courted) woman" (complete with early explanations that he had been hurt and needed time to reflect, etc.), I could. So I gritted my teeth and pointed them out. I felt rather awful about this because, really, facing up to one's mistakes when it comes to courtship is sooooo painful. If someone points them out to you, you don't feel like thanking them. You feel like killing them.

However, it is better to live in reality than in a fantasy world, which is what I think every time I sit down before Confession and force myself to do an examination of conscience. Bleah!