Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap Year Indult

As long-term readers all know, I think nothing strangles a romance in the cradle like a woman asking a man out on a date.

However, it is February 29, and by tradition, British women are allowed on that day to ask men to marry them and thus I think they ought be allowed to ask them out for coffee, too.

If you are up for it, make the most of it, for you will not get another chance for four years.

Just keep in mind that the poor chap, unlike you, may feel that because of chivalry he has to go out with you whether he wants to or not. So I would recommend you ask someone you flirt with already. As long as he doesn't already have a girlfriend, of course.

Preach It, Stevie

My husband is a big Stevie Smith fan, and he introduced me to her work beyond the line everyone knows, which is "not waving, but drowning."

Her work is very quirky, with child-like rhythms and rhymes, but it also says things about love and faith with such clarity that I recognize the truth of them at once.

Take, for example, this amazing poem. Note the sudden shock halfway through with the counter to "gaze":

La Gretchen de Nos Jours (2)

O Queen of Heaven
Have pity on me,
My heart is bared
For you to see.

Forgive, forgive
The heart that lies
In anguish bared
Before your eyes.

Mother of God
Behold my heart,
Its sin and stain,
Its bitter smart;

In pity turn
Your pitying gaze
Upon my heart,
And its hopes raze

Quite to the ground
For there are yet
Some hopes that are
Too highly set.

O lop each hope
And lay it low,
And quench the fire
Of my heart's glow.

For still I hope
He may return,
And while I hope,
Still must I burn.

All with desire
That waits on hope
As doth the hangman
On the rope.

Hope and desire,
All unfulfilled,
Have more than rope
And hangman killed.

--Stevie Smith, Selected Poems, 1962

I think of these hopeless little hopes more as tiny weed flowers that spread throughout the garden of your heart unless you manage to weed them out at once. The longer you leave them to spread, the more it hurts to dig them up. But I don't say this of hope in general--just hopes about that particular man whom you hoped would call but hasn't.

And yes it hurts and when you pull the flowers out of your heart, a hole remains, but from out of the wound comes an energy that you can use for something, like writing a poem or painting a picture. One thing I have learned about heartbreak is that you can always use it for something.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Among the Sights of Krakow

I know I shouldn't laugh. But when I underscored to translator and organizer that it must be made clear in advance that I am giving my May Retreat lectures in English, I didn't expect to end up as a Polish English-language attraction.

Scroll down to Current Events.

Listen, if you live in Europe, and you're a GIRL, and Single, and you like my stuff, you should probably sign up, go to Krakow for three days and hang out with me. It's a beautiful city, and quite a lot of people there speak English. The liturgies--and two of the lectures--will be in Polish, but so what? It's an Indo-European language--like Latin!

If you're Catholic and you haven't been in a solidly Catholic culture for awhile, you will be staggered by the Catholicity of Poland. I spent my last supper there murmuring "Never change" to my puzzled but gratified marketing director.

Ignore Polish friends who mutter that Poland isn't as pious as it used to be. Just hang around and watch how many people go to Daily Mass. In Krakow there are frequent John Paul II tours, too. The local food is extremely delicious, and Lent will be over, so hey.

One of the very funny things about preparing for this retreat is that my principal Polish language program is not interested in theology or single life or business but in asking people out on dates. I am on Pimsleur Chapter 12, and we have got to "Hello Ewa, this is Bartek speaking. Would you like to have supper with me tomorrow at six?" This is an advance on earlier chapters, where there is no planning but a frank, forward "Would you like to drink something? Coffee? Beer?"

Did I mention the fire-breathing dragon? There's a fire-breathing dragon. Apart from me, I mean.

I believe it costs 200 złoty for room, board and listening to little me for three days, which is laughably small when you consider that there is something like 4 zł to the £.*

*Sorry I got that reversed earlier. I am shockingly stupid about mathematical calculations of any kind.

Auntie Seraphic & the Desperate Friend

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I read your post about not liking your friend's man the day after I had been told that friends don't want friend's advice, they just want us to listen and support them, and if I want to keep my friends, I'm not allowed to tell them when they are doing something wrong, or try to "fix" them.

I have dated a horrible man, and my friends were just so happy I was finally dating SOMEONE that they didn't want to tell me that his constant insults towards me were not acceptable, even if I excused them because he was not American, and "it's just his culture". After I finally broke up with him, they told me how much they loathed him, and oh how I wished someone had told me earlier!

I have many girlfriends with wonderful men in their lives, and I make sure to tell them this. I also have many with horrible men in their lives... but I don't know how to help them.
I have one very dear friend that I have had since high school, whose life is spiraled out of control, who doesn't even realize it. Our friendship was almost ruined when she confessed her destructive behavior to me, and instead of saying, "That's alright, you can do what you want", I told her she should stop. So I have learned to listen and let her talk because if I say something negative about anything she tells me (like the way boys treat her) she has a ready defense.

Yesterday she told me she had a pregnancy scare and was considering abortion though... and then casually told me about the latest boy to spend the night in her bed. No matter how I tried to change the subject, she would continue to leak the graphic details to me. I have heard this story from her dozens of times over the past year: Meet guy online, text him, tell him they can't have s*x, but can do anything else, have a make out session with him = guy never calls again. She says wants a nice husband who will go to church with her and raise children, and that is why she has to keep on trying.

Every month her stories get more graphic though, as everything the boys ask from her become less shocking and more tempting as she gets more experience. Now she is letting them pressure her into having s*x, because they say they won't commit to her unless she does. My heart breaks for her. I pray for her constantly. I want to be supportive, but it has gotten to the point where listening to her hurts my own sexual purity struggle.

Other friends in our circle have told me there is nothing more to do: I have to let her hit rock bottom and ask for help; trying to fix her won't work, and will just make her resent me. I miss my sweet, generous and funny friend, who used to have a life that didn't revolve around dating endless streams of abusive men. Is there nothing left that I can do, or say to help her?

Desperate Friend

Dear Desperate Friend,

I am very sorry that you are in this situation. And I am afraid I must agree with the other friends who tell you that there is nothing you can do but walk away and let her hit bottom. She seems hooked on Drama.

If she really cannot change the subject and constantly needs to fill your ears with the graphic details of her s*x life, whether or not you have the courage to tell her flat out to stop, you need some distance. The very fact that your own purity struggle is becoming more difficult because of these stories is a clear warning to you. Your friend is becoming an occasion of sin for you.

From your description, her behaviour has been foolish from first to last. She seems to believe that physical signs of affection are bargaining chips in a game to win a lasting love relationship. This is a truly messed up vision of what relationships between men and women are and should be. (For a thinking adult's take on the whole "How Far Can We Go?" question, I recommend How Far Can We Go? by Leah Perrault and Brett Salkeld.)

Unless she wants help, you can't help your friend. And if you get too caught up in her craziness, you are in danger of becoming what is known as a co-dependent. (For a great book on co-dependency, please read Melodie Beattie's Co-dependent No More.) I very much recommend you get some distance. If you are hooked on her drama, get unhooked. Now.

Pray for her, by all means, but minimize how much time you spend with her, and set a clear boundary that if she persists in talking about subjects that make you uncomfortable, you will not spend any time with her. And perhaps losing you will help her "hit bottom" and smarten up. The most important thing, however, is that you protect your heart from her insanity.

Grace and peace,

Readers: It appalls me that young women, young women who are not prostitutes, are willing to negotiate sexual activity with strangers or near-strangers over the internet. It is so shockingly stupid to tell men that you "can't have sex but can do anything else" that I am almost speechless. Anything else? ANYTHING else?

How did we get to the point where ordinary young women talk like prostitutes? (And I am not dissing poor prostitutes, who are trying to make a living. They turn tricks for cash, not for the much less certain promise of a "relationship".) For heaven's sake, there is such a thing as modesty of speech. If a young woman thinks that a near-stranger would have an iota of respect for her after she said "I can't have sex but I can do anything else", then she simply knows nothing about men.

Update: Reader age poll as of today (see top right). Please take a moment and tell me how old you are.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Temples of the Holy Ghost

It occurred to me this weekend that we get all those chastity lectures in the wrong circumstances. As training for the battle, they fall rather short. Can you imagine if soldiers did all their training in classrooms and auditoriums instead of ever playing war games, climbing over walls and running through the gas hut? How useless they would be!

And yet when we are up against one of the most powerful forces in the universe--sexual attraction--we get a few goodhearted lectures in broad daylight and then sent out to cope without any supervision. Really, we should recreate battlefield conditions for chastity training: dark, drink, hours of conversation with the best looking man/girl around, a sofa.

"McAmbrose! What do you say?"

"I have to go home now, SIR!"

"I can't hear you, McAmbrose!"


My guess is that many of my readers are really solid on chastity theory but just not as brilliant in the field. But I am not blaming you but chastity lecturers, who lack imagination and talk too much.

One of the mistakes of chastity lecturers is to assume that girls and women don't want to engage in sexual activity, but are interested only in getting attention, and all they need is enough self-esteem to tell the monsters pawing at them to leave them alone. Now, my guess is that this may true for the under-16 set, particularly the under-14 set, but it is not so true for the over-16 set, whose crafty little bodies have but one thought and one thought alone, which is to reproduce.

The brains in the crafty little bodies may think they are up to something completely different from reproduction, but they are not in charge. The hormones are in charge. The sneaky bodies control the hormones, and this is one reason why Old Time Religion doesn't seem to like bodies and wants to fast them into submission. Look at poor old Saint Augustine wondering why his body will not do what his brain wants, but quite the other way around.

So it really is quite foolish to pretend that girls and women over 15 or 16 have only lustful boys to battle when, in fact, their principal enemies are themselves. Usually Single women do not want to reproduce, but that is what their bodies are after, and so the bodies scheme against the brains, and ordinarily chaste, continent women discover that the unthinkable has suddenly become thinkable. "Good heavens," they think, startled by the onslaught of sweet, sweet dopamine, "Were Moses, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Maria Goretti, St. Edith Stein and Blessed John Paul II wrong all along?"

"McAmbrose! What did Saint Maria Goretti say about mortal sin?"

"SIR! She said it was better to die than to commit a mortal sin, SIR!"

"McAmbrose! I am not convinced by your tone. Which pontiff ruled that prolongued premarital kissing was itself a serious sin?"

"Alexander VII, SIR!"

"WHOOOO did you say?"

"Alexander SEVENTH, SIR!"

"Get out of that car and give me 100 push-ups."

The best safeguard of chastity is humility, I heard somewhere or other, which is why it is better to face up to the fact that, although one has managed to look like an angel of purity and innocence, one is actually a normal fallen human being. Obviously you can't go around telling men that, since it spooks the little darlings*, but you have to tell yourself that and take all due precautions.

Take, for example, my new sisterhood, married ladies. You would think that married ladies, having our own nice (we hope) men at home, would simply become non-combatants in the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, and never again reflect upon the fact that men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. But this is not so. Years ago, whenever I made visits to a married friend, she always asked me searching questions about her ex-boyfriend and eventually told me about her crush on a sportscaster. These confidences were in hushed, excited tones, as if my pal had been storing them up until she could tell a woman who would not say, "But you're married!". Quite obviously she could not simply call up her ex-boyfriend and suggest coffee, or figure out a way to meet the sportscaster. Ah ha ha ha. No.

The spirit of "But you're married!" helps keep married women in line, but perhaps this is a subject for another post. It is my Single reader I am thinking of today, particularly the kind who has always grieved for Single friends who have inexplicably fallen off the chastity bandwagon but is now herself assailed with temptations that, having shown up in person, don't FEEL like temptations but The Right Thing To Do. And so I channel to Saint Paul, the ultimate chastity speaker, who got right to the heart of things:

19. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

20. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

(1 Corinthians 19-20, KJV)

In other words, Saint Paul doesn't give a tinker's damn if temptations feel like the right thing to do. First of all, feelings are not facts. And second, you have no right to do them. Your body, including your sweet, sweet dopamine, does not belong to you but to God. Now get off that sofa, soldier, and give me 100.

*Especially the ones who have virgin-whore complexes. Oooh la la!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Nowa Recenzja

A new online review, this time in Polish! Tutaj.

(The Google translation is ridiculous; don't bother!)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Retire the Jumper

One day I will give up this blog secure in the knowledge that there are a lot of other dames writing about the Single life. Currently the Crescat is Single, and she had this to say about the Church as matchmaker. It is partly a response to the incomparable Simcha Fischer, mother of nine, who recently asked Single readers what it is that you want the Church to do for you.

But what really got my interest was the first comment on Kat's post, which was from a Single woman noting that more men seem to go to Traditional Latin Masses but that she did not want to wear a jumper. I'm assuming this woman is Canadian or American because in the UK a jumper is not a utilitarian frock but a sweater/pullover. And at the risk of being one of those Catholic bloggers who fixates on women's clothing, I'm going to fixate on women's clothing. (As a stunning innovation, I'll mention men's, too.)

Now, I have nothing against jumpers, per se. I had a very nice charcoal grey jumper (utilitarian frock) when I was four years old. There is a time and place for jumpers, like your elementary school photographs. For girls under twelve, I recommend the trusty old jumper, perhaps with a fetching ladybug pin.

I do not recommend the jumper for girls and women over twelve, and I am staggered that anyone would mention the TLM and jumper in the same breath. I suppose girls and women don these things as a sort of modesty uniform, a sartorial placard reading "I am a chaste and modest woman who would not have shoddy, unthinkable affairs with local tradesmen while you are at work." But I assure you that such modesty uniforms are completely unnecessary. Modesty is a good and noble thing, but it is all the sweeter when it is subtle. The virgin who reminds people constantly that she is a virgin is not as modest as the virgin who keep her mouth shut on such a personal subject.

And as a husband-attracting device, modesty is highly over-rated and always has been. Back in Jane Austen's day, elegantly dressed young ladies made their Empire-waist frocks stick to their bodies by spraying them with water. Desperate matchmaking mothers prompted their scandalized daughters to smile more, to flirt more, to give more encouragement, for heaven's sake, Laetitia. Modesty should of course be on the list of your womanly attributes, but it is down around #5. It is not #1, except in places like rural Afghanistan.

Now I go to a TLM myself, and being a reasonably observant woman, I note who else is there and what they are wearing, and who looks good, and who needs to have a little talk with me. And one thing I can tell you about my TLM community is that there are a lot of men in it. A goodish percentage of these men are bachelors under 40, and with the exception of the rebel in the rugby shirt, these young bachelors are sartorial romantics. They are dressed according to their personal, and yet shared, vision of what men dressed like in 1948.

They wear jackets, naturally. These jackets are usually tweed and very often bought secondhand, either from the internet or from a vintage shop. Occasionally a sharp piece of non-tweed tailoring--either made-to-measure or pret-a-porter--makes an appearance. Then there are the woolly pullovers (aka UK jumpers), for Britain is cold and there wasn't much by way of central heating in 1948. Less attention is paid to trousers, but they tend to be corduroy and sometimes bright red. (N.B. Bright red corduroy trousers are best left to broad-shouldered men, mes vieux.)

There are, of course, ties--including school ties, even if that school was a comprehensive, and university ties. Sometimes there are a bow-ties and a keen flutter of interest amongst the bow-tie fans when an new initiate takes the plunge. Then there are the socks and the shoes, the pocket squares and the handkerchiefs, and, I am told (for of course I never see these things), the braces, the sleeve bands and the sock garters.

And this all makes complete sense. If a man wants back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of the Mass before 1963, he might very well want back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of men's fashion before 1963. And if he is that interested in men's fashion before 1963, imagine how he thinks women should dress. The Well Dressed Woman of 1948 was not wearing what Americans call a jumper, people. You should not be thinking Laura Ingalls Wilder; you should be thinking Veronica Lake.

Now I know somebody is itching to write in and tell me that women don't dress for men, we dress for ourselves, and blah blah blah blah. This has to be complete garbage because I cannot think why any woman would wear a stupid "jumper" unless she were worried about her audience. I certainly dress for an audience, and it is for the sake of politeness as much as for anything else, like not wearing jeans to a Goth bar because it would ruin the ambiance for the Goths. And as too often I am the only woman at TLM soirees, I owe it to everybody to look as well as possible.

Besides, there is the singular thrill of giving men whiplash. You gorgeous young things are probably too, too used to this sort of thing, but it was a revelation for your belle-laide Auntie when she wore a dashing new hat and (she was told) every Young Fogey in the congregation craned his head to get a better look. Elderly widowers danced attendance; it was a very pleasant morning.

And that thought brings me back to the question of what the Church can do for Singles. As feminists say, when they are not calling the Church a "male monolith", WE are the Church--which is to say, helpful older married ladies like me. And I am telling you not to wear dumb, shapeless, what-Americans-call-jumpers to Mass, particularly not the TLM Mass. I am telling you to have a look at the best sartorial zeitgeist of your parish and then look wonderful.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done.
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore:
And, having done that, Thou hast done:
I fear no more.

---John Donne

Monday, 20 February 2012

Advent of Lent

Ash Wednesday approaches. We will soon be presented with thoughts and symbols of loss. Some parishes and church communities will evoke desert imagery and talk about journeys. Other parishes and church communities will emphasize soul-searching and penance.

I will think about being rooted in reality.

Reality is what it is and not necessarily what we want it to be. And one frightening reality is that we do not always know who we are or what our sins really are. In a way, the lucky person is the one who has "hit bottom" in some way, and finally is forced to face the truth of who she is and what her sins are. She is lucky because for a long moment she understands in sharp clarity not just "Who I am" but "What I must do."

Normally we cover up our real selves with layers of custom and language. But I am not complaining about wearing clothes from wrist to ankle, or watching one's diction, or telling little white lies to set others at their ease. We can cover up our real selves just as easily by wearing an impudent expression with trampy clothes, or mistaking bad language for "honesty", or saying everything that is on our mind in the vain hope that this is a praiseworthy "keeping it real." Underneath all that surges a tide of confused dreams, loves, hates, virtues and vices that carries us away, often unseeing, in its undertow.

A priest I know once said that people don't usually know what their real sins are. They confess what they think their sins are, but never get down to the real problems. "If you think your bosom sin is X," he said--I am thinking back six years, so he probably worded it differently--"it probably isn't. It's probably Y or Z."

Normally you are supposed to go to a spiritual director to find out what your spiritual problems really are. But sometimes you meet people who bring the worst in you out into the open. This is not always, or perhaps even usually, their fault. And, unfortunately, they are sometimes members of the opposite sex, which makes everything that much more fraught and horrible. I can just bear to watch Long Day's Journey Into Night because most of the emotional violence is between parents and their sons and between brother and brother. Watching a man and a woman emotionally flay each other alive would be too horrible for me--although, come to think of it, children of unhappy marriages witness that sort of carnage all the time. Lucky me that my parents weren't like that.

Occasionally children witness physical violence, too, and I have a special horror of physical violence, particularly the kind we think is "fun." Girls think it is fun and romantic for men to fight over them until the moment it actually happens. One punch and that little fantasy is shattered. My friend McK once sighed over the hypothetical kind of girl who would slap him if he said or did the wrong thing; I say he'd no longer sigh if it ever happened. He'd probably go scarlet with the restraint not to slap her back. Any kind of violence is frightening--but potentially illustrative of the state a soul is in, which is particularly helpful if the soul happens to be your own.

I think the best thing we can do, when faced with people who bring out the worst in us, is try to find out why--usually with help--this happens and then resolve the situation, if it can be resolved on this side of heaven. Meanwhile, we can hang onto the lessons about ourselves, whatever they are, as warnings for the future.

And that's it for me for the week. I have number of projects I have to catch up on, and in addition I need some Lenten silence. Feel free to chat in the combox.

Friday, 17 February 2012

A 40-Something Bride

Interesting news for long-term readers of this blog! Kim P, who wrote this wonderful guest post, is getting married tonight. An evening wedding sounds so romantic... Best wishes, Kim P!

I always think a bit before mentioning weddings because although some Singles are happy to read about weddings, others fall helplessly into a bog of "What About MEEE?" I don't want to push people into this bog first thing in the morning.

However, I think there is less chance of this with Kim P because she is, if I have the math right, 47, and the majority of my readers are well under 47. If you are a Searching Single, you probably don't want to wait until you are 47 to get married, but guess what? Truth is what it is, and not what you want it to be. And, anyway, if you do get married to the Love of Your Life at 47, you'll be so excited and happy, you won't be thinking about how long you waited. You'll just be delighted you waited for the right man.

Now, Canadian columnist Margaret Wente also married in her forties--also at 47 if I have the math right--and she wrote a hilarious article in Canada's Globe and Mail this week. I don't know if she meant to be funny, but she was delightfully funny:

Am I the only person who thinks Valentine’s Day is a crock? Not that I mind the hearts and flowers. (In fact, I insist on them.) But society’s obsession with romantic love – the notion that one day you will find The Perfect One and live happily ever after – is responsible for more mischief and misery than any other myth of modern life.

I think I find her so funny because she is so dry about what you look like in your thirties. Actually, I don't think women look that bad in our thirties. Okay, we have lost the dewy softness of youth. But sometimes that means losing some puppy fat and a dopey expression. Meanwhile, men did not exactly flock around me when I was 21, so I never had that to miss. I don't sit here sighing for my twenties when men fell all over themselves to talk to me because it never happened.

(I never in my life depended on my looks, except the time I had a teaching job and capitalized on my resemblance to Anne of Green Gables to make my students like me. It worked. Oh, and then there was the day I realized that I looked an awful lot like that funny British blogger Benedict Ambrose's principal crush object, Dame Emma Kirkby, only younger.)

Anyway, another funny thing about Wente's article is that she seems to say SETTLE, but she didn't settle. She married the perfect man for her, and she was willing to wait until she was 47 or so to do so.

Thanks to Andrea, who sent me the article wondering what I would think of it. I think the heart of it is this line:

He liked me just the way I was.

Yep. When I was running around town with two twenty-somethings the other night--very good-looking twenty-somethings, incidentally--I couldn't help thinking about B.A.

B.A. is 39, so he never makes me feel old. He never makes me feel stupid, either. He is very intelligent, so he never misunderstands me. He is very kindly, so he always interprets what I--and others--say in the most charitable way. He does not, on the other hand, like running around town at night. If I want to do it, that's fine, but he's going to have a glass of wine at home and do the crossword puzzle in the back of the London Review of Books. And I loved thinking about B.A. at home, tranquil with his wine and his puzzle, and that fact that when I was tired, I could just come home to him and be comfortable.

That's what it's all about. So Wente is right in a way. Marriage should not look like a scene in Wuthering Heights or, for that matter, Heathers or Bonnie and Clyde or Romeo and Juliet. It should look like a hug and a pile of clean laundry and a well-cooked meal and a sigh of contentment.

Anyway, everyone please offer up a prayer for the wedded happiness of Kim P and Jamie!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Catholic Speed-Dating Report

Today we have a guy's eye view of a Catholic speed-dating event from frequent reader "Young Canadian R.C. Male", edited by me for clarity. I am sure you will enjoy this backstage pass to a young Catholic bachelors's thoughts.

"Upon seeing Seraphic's post on Operation Valentinus 2012 and commenting on my Valentine's Day plans within the post, the lovely Auntie Seraphic asked me if I could write an account of the event and she'd post it on her blog. Wow, me, a little blip on the Catholic blogosphere map? Doing a post for a pretty big Catholic media darling? [Very kind but sadly an exaggeration.--Ed.] How could I say no to sweet Auntie Seraphic?

I'm a Catholic male in his late 20s who recently came back to his faith. I'm working towards getting back into a career in health care. I didn't have much luck in the dating department over my school years and, though I did a little bit of dating for a month and a half through a Catholic dating site last year, [that didn't work out]. However, I wasn't employed at that time and I really should haven't gone in full barrel. And that hasn't quelled my honest and heartfelt desire to fall in love, have a long-term relationship and start a family.

So here I am, in the middle age group of 25-32 yr olds, partly employed, and trying to establish myself personally, faith-wise and career-wise. This Catholic speed-dating event was random, mysterious, and I did not know what the outcome would be, nor was there any ``rulebook`` or smart advice that I could take with me. Furthermore, one on the organizers told me about the Catholic frame of mind of this event:

'We are going to encourage a Catholic model which is based first and foremost in human dignity. Each of us has dignity and is worthy of being treated with dignity because we are created in the loving image of God. Also, friendship is an important part of this model ....'

'.... People will be given a little valentine’s greeting card after each speed date meeting. You are going to be asked to write down one thing you enjoyed learning about the person / you admire about the person. And if you want you can enclose your contact info in that note. (The notes will not be handed to participants right away. They will be handed out at the end of the speed dating portion of the evening). It will then be up to recipient to decide if he or she wants to use any contact info provided to get in touch after the event.'

So this seemed like a departure from normal speed dating. Worse, it wasn't definite if people wanted to contact each other, so I felt like I was stepping into the Casino, where the house has the advantage. Randomness abounded, and I didn`t know what would happen. This made me nervous because I am more of an organizer who likes things planned out. I don't mind some randomness but not when it encompasses a task or event.

Furthermore, would the ladies be paying attention to my clothes? Would I seem interesting enough to them? Would they be revolted if I let it slip that I love the Latin Mass, or that I am that deep into my Catholic Faith, or if I said I'm looking long term relationship/for a family? What if I said something wrong and that one thing cost me a further event or friendship/relationship with that woman? What if they asked me if I own a car? What if God's Will is against me and will make the event flop because He's signed my vocation with his Divine pen on my life contract my as single or "GASP" (to me because I do not want to go to) the priesthood????? I really hoped not because God is supposed to respect a person's free will and I already have my faith and relationship struggles and I don't need more.

So the week came and went. I managed to scrounge an outfit that wasn't too business/dressy and yet work acceptable, and went to the event. Beforehand, I prayed to Jesus that I didn't know what would happen, whether I'd burn out big-time or maybe be fortunate, but if something good should happen, let it happen.

Once I arrived there, with my usual initial nervousness when it comes to women, I tried to see who looked around my age, who caught my eye, or if I knew anyone. You had to sign in, and provided you paid prior to the event, you were granted one free beverage.

While there I met another young guy who was part of another local Catholic student association. Still I was relatively alone and nervous. All my worries were running in my mind until the facilitators arrived and started to speak. They said to congregate to various areas depending on our age group and status. They also read out the portion about the frame of mind for Catholic speed dating (above).

When I did what they said, I had my first surprise of the night: My age group was so large (more than 10 people of both sexes) that we had two groups, while the others had only one group each.

Each date included 3 minutes of conversation, followed by 2 minutes writing on a little Valentine's day card, where you would give one considerate detail or comment to the other person, and if you chose, contact information.

And so it began. Each date varied in the level of connection/conversation but was interesting in its own right. With some of the women, we ended up asking the usual questions--about work, education, and the like, while others tended to be a bit more open and got into some elements of their Catholic faith such as how we both got involved in (the Catholic student association), and even some parts of our faith life, like our ministries, our home parish, and some things we've done.

Some women even revealed how they've done work abroad with children, either through teaching or missionary work. One woman revealed an interesting connection to St. Michael the Archangel as one of her patron saints (after daring to open the ``random question`` envelope and asking me about my patron saint, of which one is St. Michael).

Of the more interesting insights/surprises of the night here's what I found:

- I was able to have speed dates with a number of women, all of various figures, cultures, looks, and experiences. It tied quite in nicely to the whole central idea of us all being made in the image of God.

- One of my dates had found that a different form of liturgical music (praise and worship) contributes to her faith, and this has made her consider thinking of joining that choir. I know the kind of music they use, and while I`m more a traditionalist with my Catholic Church music, I was perceptive to see that perhaps in certain cases, it`s the strong faith of the members and people who perform this music that can aid in giving its strength to the liturgy.

- I tended to give my contacts out more, while I didn't get any reciprocated.

- While I didn't receive a contact, nonetheless I was quite pleased that the dread I had experienced going in was gone by the evening, and the event was much better than it could have been. This relief was shared by my fellow daters ! Perhaps this Catholic concept of speed-dating really made it worthwhile.

- Also, I did find that by the end of the night, there were one or two dates I knew that I was able to easily open up to; that I was capable of letting down my guard and anxiety, and feeling confident in their presence. And their looks didn`t prevent me [from speaking easily] or make me guarded. I just eased up and enjoyed their company.

That to me personally is encouraging and makes me somewhat happy inside, that perhaps for me there is the possibility that we can love as Christ did, without reservations, be it a heterosexual loving relationship (Eros), or in other forms of love (e.g. filias - friendship love, Caritas - highest form of love that Chirst expressed).

- Of all the valentines that I received, the one that really caught my attention was that it said the person would pray for me and hope to meet again in future. Often with my personal struggles, I tend to lose hope quickly when the going gets tough. The fact that someone else is praying for me to the Lord really gives me hope and told me someone else cares, even if contact info wasn't there. I now am not praying alone anymore to the Lord.

So this is my account of my speed date from a Catholic man`s perspective. I would do it again if I had the opportunity! I say, perhaps if we all, both men and women, took the principles of the event, and applied them to our dating, maybe just for the initial steps of this whole rondo, or even more when it comes to relationships, maybe things would be a lot easier between the sexes, and both men and women would be more succesful with each other. More importantly, maybe we would all love like Christ just a bit more in this world.

--Young Canadian R.C. Male."

Thank you, YCRCM, for your report!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Operation Valentinus--How Did It Go?

Having tried to jump start a movement, I naturally want to know how it went this year. So if you participated in Operation Valentinus, whether you sent cards and chocolates to Single friends or had a party for them, please tell us all about it in the combox.

My dinner party--which was NOT a V-Day party, and we had the GREEN napkins, not the RED--was great fun. I made a creamy, golden winter vegetable soup, roast duck with roast potatoes and snap peas, and a chocolate tart covered with meringue. I did the soup and the tart all by myself, but I admit that B.A. took over the duck, the roast potatoes and the peas, plus made the gravy, so that I could get ready. (Oh, and he whipped the egg whites for the meringue. Credit where credit is due!)

I had an excellent mental health moment when my first pie crust, which was much too dry, fell completely apart and was totally irredeemable. Instead of collapsing on the kitchen floor in tears, which I was sorely tempted to do, I just whipped up another pie crust, which turned out to be the best version of that particular crust I have ever made. It rolled out like a dream.

Really, I am in love with the memory of how the pastry just rolled out under my rolling pin, just like pastry on TV.

And on top of that, it was a very merry party, with bottles and bottles of wine in different guises, plus some very bad vodka, and many jokes and puns and rolling about with laughter. To tell you the truth, Dinner for Two at £45 Per Person at Hadrian's Brasserie (which I pass several times a week, which is why I have fixated on £45 Per Person) would not have been as much fun as our dinner with the Singles.

Meanwhile, being a married lady, of course I got a valentine from my husband, and of course I gave him a valentine, too. I also gave him the last roast potato at supper, deciding he had the principal claim to it "because he is my husband." For some reason, the assembled Singles did not think this was incredibly wifely and romantic, but it was.

Update (Feb 16). AWWW! I just read on Facebook that my nephew Peanut stood by the door on Valentine's Day, awaiting his Single gal nanny, so he could give her a box of chocolates. Peanut is 3 years old.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day to my Little Singles

Good morning, my little Singles! As cannot possibly escape your notice, today is Valentine's Day and therefore may be fraught with Life's Little Disappointments. However, it doesn't have to be.

The essence of tricky holidays, I always say, is to prepare for them. And it is not too late to buy--on the way to work, for example--a big bag of chocolate hearts for your desk. That way people will stop by your desk and smile when you offer them one. All that Valentine's Day goodwill! As a lowly temp, I always appreciated the ladies and gents who brought Valentine's Day chocolate to the office.

Of course, I also felt wistful about the big bunches of roses that messengers brought to the office, although I have to squint mentally to remember that, as I would prefer to think I beamed sentimentally, perfectly confident in myself and in my hopes for the future. Ah ha ha ha! No.

It seems to me that it would have been nice if God had gave me a teeny, tiny hint that my husband was waiting at the end of the Valentine's Day tunnel, and even though Valentine's Day 2001 was no great shakes, Valentine's Day 2012 might be cool. But now that I think about it, He did give me teeny, tiny hints, which were friends. Friends are God's way of telling you that you are a likable, even lovable person.

If there's a day when you're going to worry about whether or not you are a likable, even lovable person, it's the dreaded V-Day. And this is why, of course, I think Singles should arrange to spend part of Valentine's Day with their Single pals--unless you would prefer to spend it with children. Children have the right attitude towards Valentine's Day: for them it's all about making stuff out of construction paper, or giving those cheap punch-out valentines to absolutely everybody, and eating sweets.

Such childish innocence and enthusiasm is a direct contrast to the egregious mark-up on dinner in the chi-chi restaurants tonight. Really, my little Singles, if you are feeling wistful about your datelessness, have a look at the restaurant signs and calculate what you could do with the money you are not spending on prawn cocktails, etc. I mean to say, £45 a person. I could feed a fancy dinner with booze to six people for 45 squid.

Which is what I am going to do, of course. Perhaps you thought Auntie Seraphic was going to tell you all this stuff and then rush out to buy a red cashmere cardigan to wear over a slinky red number in preparation for a candlelit supper at The Witchery, where she was sure to be given a diamond bracelet with dessert? Mais non, mes petits. I am a woman on a mission, and so B.A. and I am giving supper to four utterly unattached (as far as we know) Singles. They are all immensely personable, so this is as much a treat for me as for them.

So with that to look forward to, I wish all of you a seraphic Valentine's Day, featuring chocolate, smiles and the affection of friends.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Some Scars Never Heal Part 25

On Sunday morning I had just discovered our internet connection was down when B.A. opened the linen-closet-turned-library door. The radio chattered behind him.

"Whitney Houston is dead," he said.

Something sank to the pit of my stomach as once again I contrasted in my mind the beautiful girl smiling in seventeen magazine to the strung-out wreck Whitney Houston became.

She blamed her ex-husband for getting her hooked on drugs, and I believed her. I believed her because I once saw her as a young woman on television, totally out of it, as she thanked and praised her husband, and I thought something was seriously creepy and wrong about the way they interacted. So did other people: there were many rumours in the press before the, uh, reality show.

My thought back then and now was "What does she see in him?" We are talking about one of the most musically gifted women in the world, after all. Her mother was a famous singer. Her cousins were famous singers. Her godmother was Aretha Franklin. There is no reason why she should have been particularly impressed with a well-known R&B singer, graduate of a boy band, but she was.

The most important decision of your adult life is whether or not to marry this or that particular person. Did I say marry? I also mean "go to bed with" because although obviously not having the same psychological weight, that can be a very big deal just in itself. My intuition tells me that a lot of girls marry men they are not so sure about because, whoops, they have slept with them already.

(The Catechism mentions very sternly that it is not okay to sleep with your fiancee, I've noticed. It singles out fiancees, for some reason. I think that reason is that too many Catholics are sleeping with "fiancees" that somehow they never marry or later divorce. But maybe this is a subject for a different post.)

I have seen men and women trapped in horribly toxic relationships that neither can escape. They niggle at each other and drink together and drug together and cheat on each other and plot against each other and blame each other and break up and end up back in bed. Repeat. It is horrible to watch, and now my mother is wondering how I even came to meet people like that. But it isn't the people, really. It's the dynamic. Sometimes A meets B and horrible things happen. The rocks in A's head fit the holes in B's head. If A had met C long before B and B had gotten together with D, A and B would both have been healthier, happier people.

The power of "This is Bigger Than Both of Us" may be impressive, but it is not romantic, however a film director lights it. Someone had to clean Nancy Spungen's blood off the bathroom floor. Someone had to break the news to her mom and dad.

Nobody knows yet exactly how and why Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub at the age of 48. Possibly my fellow bloggers and columnists will point to the tragedy as a cautionary tale against narcotics because even if the star wasn't using them, it may be that her poor abused body just gave up. But I think it is also a symbol of how tragic it can be to get mixed up with the wrong man or woman.

The wrong man or wrong woman may not necessarily be a "bad boy" or a "bad girl", but it strikes me that they so often are. On the surface "bad boys" (and perhaps "bad girls", if they aren't simply terrifying) can look like exciting departures from ordinary lives that somehow seem boring. I suppose, though, that if you scratch an exciting "bad boy", you find someone who is terrified of boredom, and hence his "bad boy" behaviour. Mayhem is his way of keeping boredom at bay.

One of the luckier developments of my life is that I got so sick of the crazy behaviour of "bad boys" that I developed an attraction to goodness in boys. And at the same time I began to study critical realism, which helped overcome my tendency to see, not reality, but only what I wanted to see. I met many kindly young male religious who unconsciously provided models of what Nice Catholic Boys could be like: fun, grounded, confident, motivated, bright.

Also good for my psyche, I eventually dated a really Nice Catholic Boy, although I absolutely hated dancing with him (an expert waltzer) because I loathe being pushed and pulled around a dance floor, which is what dancing with very talented leads feels like to me. (Give me the awkward but cheerful enthusiast any day.) Being pushed and pulled around, physically or mentally, does not make me think "Oh wow! Attractive male dominance. Whoo-hoo!" It makes me miserable.

Perhaps the saddest proof of the Fall is seriously messed up relationships between men and women. Yeah, women like men to be confident and strong. And, yeah, men like women to look pretty. But this does not preclude the importance of being decent to each other. It is so easy not to be. But the number one relationship rule that I can think of, ripped straight from Bill & Ted, is merely "Be decent to each other." Be decent.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Auntie's Night on the Tiles

Well. Last night I went out with two giddy young things for supper, concert, and drinks--first in the sort of pub that turns out not to be so nice for American-sounding ladies in evening dress and then in the sort of chic hotel bar to which Auntie has grown accustomed.

It was hilarious although I must say I did not like the lighting in the Ladies' Room of any of those venues. When you are running around with giddy young things, you do not want to think "Oh dear. Oh dearie me" when you have a moment alone to repair the ravages of time.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

School of Rock

Tonight I am chilling with a pal, and we watched "School of Rock."

Listen, if you've been going through a tough time, or a pal has been going through a tough time, but the tough time in itself is over, there's nothing like a movie that makes you laugh until you cry.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I Don't Have Six Kids

Reality check. Some girl who may want to consider counselling has claimed on a Catholic forum that Auntie Seraphic "went to a catholic college thus was surrounded by young devout catholic guys throughout her youth, got married straight out of college and now has 6 kids".

I did go to a Catholic college. There were young devout Catholic guys around, although most of them didn't pay much attention to little me, so I wouldn't call this "surrounded".

I married an anti-Catholic guy a year after college, divorced him shortly thereafter, got an annulment and then dated other non-Catholics (and two fallen-aways).* Young devout Catholic men were thin on the ground in those days, believe me.

When I was 37 I met a great convert Catholic, and when I was 38 we got married.

I don't have six kids. Barring a particularly startling miracle, I will never have six kids. I cannot imagine where anyone would get the idea that I have six kids. Especially as I have no children at all and am a little sad about that.

However, when you get married at 38, you know babies might not come. So although it's a bit sad to be my age, almost-three-years-married and childless, it's not a shock--unlike discovering some woman out there is claiming I have six kids.

It's a good thing I am having a good day, because on a bad day I might cry. But although I may never have kids of my own, today I have a strong sense of being able to help other people's kids. Usually these are kids in their 20s. Sometimes they have a problem and want my advice. Sometimes they are young parishioners who have fallen through a housing gap and want my spare room. And I love that I can help them. It's a little answer from God.

Me: Where's my baby?

God: I need you to take care of this one for two weeks.

Me: He's six feet tall!

God: So?

Me: Let's go ask B.A.

This is not today's post. (For today's post go here.) But I thought I should nip a blossom of lunacy in the bud.

*Update: And Volker! How could I forget the very Catholic Volker, my last and very favourite ex-boyfriend!? He may have broken up with me (the rat!) but he did buy front row tickets to a Bundesliga game when later I visited him in Germany. Jens Lehmann, my top football idol, was in net. That was extremely classy of Volker, I must say, and I'm sorry I bored him to death by talking so much about B.A.

Love in the Age of Facebook

I have been asked to explain why I don't like internet dating sites. As I cast my memory over my own days chatting up and being chatted up by invisible strangers over the internet, I can find a lot of material.

However, I even more clearly remember an amusing afternoon chatting with my pal Aelianus, whom I met through blogging. His friends Berenike and--darn it--now that she has a nom-de-nun, I can't remember what her nom-de-blog was--anyway, these two nice young ladies were big fans, and so Aelianus had a look at my blog and, beginning what is now a four year habit, castigated me for my heresies.

Touched for his concern for Catholic truths and immortal souls, I eventually became his pal and, in a moment of unseraphicness, groused to him about being Single. His Facebook page was open to me, and I asked which of his Facebook friends were eligible.

"There's Such-and-such," said Aelianus--over Skype, I think. "He was at God's Own University with me."

"Oooh," I said, squinting at Such-and-such's photo. "That sounds good."

"He was sent down for [egregious behaviour]."


"And there's So-and-so," said Aelianus, as I went down the list. "But he got arrested for [egregious behaviour]."


And so on, until Aelianus asked me if I would like to live in a Historical House. One of his pals lived in a Historical House and was definitely in need of a wife to save his soul because women just flopped before him, etc., etc.

This was the first time I ever heard of B.A. I can't remember, but I must have had a look to see if he was among Aelianus's Facebook friends, and if he was I must have been turned off by the photo, because I hated all the photos of B.A. people started sending me, although his eyebrows were kind of cute, he had eyelids like subjects in Holbein paintings, and he appeared to have a merry personality.

It cost me exactly nothing to have a Skype conversation with Aelianus about his bachelor pals while we looked at their photos on Facebook. And it would cost all of you nothing to have a Skype conversation with a trusted, intelligent and morally astute male pal about his bachelor pals--or a female pal about her bachelorette pals--while looking at their photos on Facebook.

One thing a dating website can never do for you is give you the inside track on the men and women whose photos linger there. You simply have no way of knowing who the great guys and girls are, and who the great guys and girls aren't, and you probably skip over all kinds of amazing dudes and chicks because they don't LOOK amazing and they can't spell as well as you.

But friends can tell you all about their friends, memories prompted by the sight of them on Facebook, and trusting that their friends aren't going to care that much what they said to a stranger about them--or at least that they are unlikely to find out, unless they get married one day. So now B.A. knows what Aelianus said about him, but it doesn't matter because I am charmed by the idea of having snaffled someone Aelianus thought was a lady-killer. (B.A. says Aelianus was exaggerating.)

So there you go. This is a blog about feeling happy while being Single, not about ceasing to be Single. But I know that most Singles who read this blog hope to marry one day, so I have to respect that. And respecting that I can tell you that you don't have to pay $75 to stare at a lot of photos of strangers. You can just call up your best opposite sex pal and ask him or her about his or her pals. And while you are thinking about what you have been told, he or she can nudge his or her spouse-hunting pals in your direction.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What is Being in Love Like?

The other day, somebody asked me what love feels like. Nobody could give her an answer.

Well, I gave her an answer, let me tell you. In hindsight, I might have added the caveat that this is what love is like for me. But, on the other hand, I have read about other women--even elderly, married-for-40-years, women--feeling this way, so my answer might hold some value.

By the way, before you read this, I must emphasize that this is a situation in which love is returned and proven. You know how I always say I don't believe in men's pretty words because I believe only in men's pretty diamonds? Keep that in mind. Men can say anything; it's when they cough up more than they can afford on something highly symbolic that I would pay serious attention. (Having no money, B.A. originally gave me his most prized possession, his grandfather's gold pocket watch.)

"Love," I said, "is when you hate being on the wrong side of the ocean from someone because you are haunted by the fear that you might not be able to get back on the right side, or that he might not be able to get back to you. Love is when you have conniption-fits because you are haunted by dread that you might not actually be able to marry each other after all because his plane might crash on the way, or you might be hit by a car, and the thought makes you cry and cry. Which is totally irrational, but that is what love is like."

"Love is also when you are sitting in your parents' house across the ocean for a month waiting for your temporary Spousal Visa, and you cry every day because you are on this side of the ocean and he is on that side of the ocean, and what if a volcano blows up and you can't get back? And it hurts and hurts and it sucks but that is the price you pay for love and it is worth it."

Love is also when you cannot believe your luck, and you hope you don't blow it by doing something egregiously stupid that you would normally never do, but fear you might do, like when you see the fire alarm in the subway station with the sign that says "$1000 Fine or Imprisonment for Misuse".

Love is also being happy most of the time you are around the beloved. When you are truly in love, you love almost everything about the beloved, including his country and his family and his friends and his ties and everything that reminds you of him, and because you are surrounded by all these reminders, you are generally very happy, and people feel happy around you because your happiness leaks out by osmosis.

I recognize that this is a lot for the Single readers to take on board, but I am writing it out for you to read because our societies are so in love with love that we are willing to take a chance on counterfeits and squint intellectually, or take off our emotional glasses, so that the counterfeit SEEMS like what I have just described. We WANT to be in love, so we IMAGINE ourselves into it, and when we feel terrible because the man we are "in love" with is a jerk, we rationalize that by saying "Well, love is pain."

But love is only pain when you are separated from the beloved, not when you are around him, unless he is very ill or dying, and then what makes you feel so bad is that he is in pain and also the fear of ultimate separation. Love is also an elderly lady sitting by her dying, comatose husband rubbing gel on his toothless gums so that they don't dry out as he drags in his last breaths. (I witnessed that myself, and it was the greatest exemplar of married love I ever saw.)

I'm writing all this so that you don't rip yourselves off by settling for, or actually pursuing, the fake instead of waiting for the real. I don't know how helpful it is, but I hope it is at least a clue. As I said to the girl who asked, I give out all this advice and write this blog not to get people together but to prevent divorce. And heartbreak, I'll add now. Cynicism. Jadedness. The slow hardening of heart and soul that too many shocking disappointments can bring.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Operation Valentinus 2012

I'm a bit late this year in announcing Operation Valentinus, but I was reminded by a manipulative email from a Catholic dating website in my inbox. It was called "Pre-Valentine's Day Dread?"

The Valentine's merchandise arrived with force: boxed chocolates, shooting cupids, red roses. It can be dispiriting for those of us who are still searching for that special someone to wine and dine on Feb. 14.
Maybe it's time to become a full, paid member of X.

Ah dear. I see that that particular dating website has become a full-fledged Catholic industry, with smart bloggers and interesting articles and the occasional nihil obstat. It's amazing what can be done when subscribers are coughing up a one-time six month payment of $75. Maybe if I stopped writing about how exploitative I think Catholic dating websites are, I'd get a cut of the action.

But never mind that. It's time to launch Operation Valentinus. And Operation Valentinus is not based on signing up on dating websites to ogle photographs of men and deciding to contact them based on their ability to spell, but on showing your Single friends how much they mean in your life right now.

There are two parts to Operation Valentinus. The first part involves choosing five or so Single friends and sending them cards and chocolate--particularly chocolate--in the post for Valentine's Day. The second part involves arranging a fun party for Singles on the night of Valentine's Day, preferably far away from any restaurant teeming with couples willing to pay £45 per person for that which cost only £20 the night before.

It's really that simple. If you have discovered, year after year, that certain holidays make you feel depressed, then you owe it to your mental health to prepare for them. And just like your priest/spiritual director/mother said, there is something about thoughtful gestures for other people that makes you feel good yourself.

So I recommend that girl Singles send valentines and chocolates to their Single girl friends, and that boy Singles send valentines and chocolates to their elderly female relations. Elderly female relations love to hear from their young male relations whenever, and will never get the Wrong Idea. If boy Singles send valentines and chocolates to girl Singles in whom they are not at all interested in a romantic way, they risk giving the Wrong Idea.

If Married readers want to take part in Operation Valentinus, then they should plan their list of Single beneficiaries very carefully. Market research (e.g. me googling) indicates that Single girls like to get Single stuff (like my book) from Single friends but not as much from Married (or getting-married-next-week) friends. The last thing you want to get, as a Married woman whose own Valentine's Day might be lackluster, is a snippy response from the Single friend to whom you sent a card and gift.

As for the fun night you are going to have on Valentine's Day, I rather leave that up to you. My caveat is that you stay out of bars because predatory men might be taking special advantage of vulnerable women. I envision busy kitchens of Singles cooking for each other or revealing the dishes they have brought from home, or putting Chinese take-out on plates. And I envision cult classics on the DVD player. But mostly I envision friends having fun together and seeing for themselves that being Single doesn't mean being alone and unloved.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Snogging versus Your Immortal Souls

Well, I certainly enjoyed writing that title. Wait a sec while I get even more caffeine.

By the way, this is going to be one of Auntie's franker mornings. You can warn your own teenage or generally more sensitive readers. Boys should probably avert their eyes, especially if they go to Mass with me, not that they EVER read this girly blog.

Snogging, first of all, is what the British call what the teenaged I called "making out" and what my American grandmother (born 1904) called "necking." It features in Archie Comics and films about the 1950s, and therefore the teenaged I thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with unmarried people snogging like mad in corners at parties or dances or in front of the television.

Of course, me and my fellow snoggers used to worry a lot about where we should draw the line and what was okay and what was not. Dear me. How we studied the chastity manuals for an answer. There was no point telling us that chastity was a point of view because we weren't interested in the point of view, we were interested in where the invisible line had been drawn, so we could stay on the right side of it and not have to make egregiously embarrassing confessions.

But nowhere did the chastity manuals of the 1980s point out that snogging is what human beings do to begin the gradually accelerating process of [hem-hem]*. I got an email the other day from a perfectly nice girl who snogs her perfectly nice boyfriend a bit every weekend, and they have discovered that their sexual temptations are getting worse. And of course they are. It's the snogging. Snogging goes straight to that part of the brain that doesn't read Theology of the Body or even think that much, to be honest. It just registers snog and says, "Yay! Human reproduction time! Let's get cracking!"

However, it is so easy to justify snogging when you're Single, that it is often not until you are engaged or married that you face up to just how potent snogging is. Because even though snogging a non-fiance or non-spouse did not seem to be such a big deal, morally speaking, it certainly seems to be a big deal morally speaking now. And why is this, eh? It is because there is nothing like having a lot to lose to sharpen up your moral vision. Oh, and love sharpens it up a lot, too.

One interesting thing about snogging is that you don't have to be in love with the person to do it. You don't even have to like him. You just have to be attracted to him. And I suppose one of the higher impulses that prevents women from just snogging just every man we find attractive is the notion that it is not kind to exploit men in this way. So, ironically, what prevents a lot of snogging is fraternal--or should I say sororal?--love.

This is (or should be) particularly true of believing Christians, especially those of us who have what has become a counter-cultural code of sexual ethics. Love, real love, is desiring the good of the other. And the ultimate good of the other is, of course, God. So when we make moral choices, we don't just think "Will this bring me closer to or further away from God?", we also think "Will this choice of mine bring my neighbour closer to or further away from God?"

I find this interesting in light of the locker room philosophies of my all-girls high school. I remember a variety, from the declaration that So-and-so had acted like a putana by giving Such-and-such "the kind of kiss you only give your husband" to the arch-liberal "it's okay to do 'It' as long as you really love the person."

But even then I mentally countered that if you loved the person, you wouldn't do 'It' if you loved them--unless you were married to them--because if you really loved them, you cared for their immortal soul more than anything else, including the promptings of your reptile brain.

And now, although I am more in favour of the other-centered, wholistic, philosophical, what-does-it-mean-to-be-chaste approach to sexual ethics, I will draw the "how-far-can-you-go" line. I think Single girls should take as their cue of how affectionate to be with non-husbands from the attractive and sociable married women of their culture. In artsy circles in Edinburgh it's light arm clasp and cheek kiss (or cheek kiss, cheek kiss if you've been influenced by Europeans/French Canadians). And that, mes amies, is it. Why? It's because we are married, and we know we can't afford to play with fire. Can you?

*Sorry, but otherwise people doing creepy word searches will turn up. You'd be amazed at what word combinations call up my blog.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Perpetual Praise

This has nothing to do with Single Life. Au contraire. This is all about married life, for you to save for later. I do not recommend what I am about to say for boyfriends or friends who are boys or boys you wish were your friends or any other boys. This is just about husbands.

When you think your husband has done something good, you should tell him. Right there and then. Pick up the phone, unless you know he is in a meeting, and say, "I just wanted to tell you what a marvellous thing you did/person you are."

Not only does this make your husband feel good, it cements in your mind your absolute good fortune in having married such a splendid chap, instead of the sort of chap who might have made you absolutely miserable. This creates a beautiful mental walled city that can withstand the force of any puny annoyances you might have with your husband when you or he is in a temporary bad mood.

Apparently we learn how to be married from our parents, which is bad news if our parents had a miserable marriage. However, we can always learn from other marriages, so there is always hope. (My husband's parents divorced when he was a baby, and his mother never married again, but he does fine.) As for me, my parents are happily married, and when I was growing up, my mother praised my father all the time. She would praise him when he was at home, and she would praise him when he was away at work. "Oh children," she would carol, "what a very clever man your father is!" Etc., etc.

Now I am sure my dad must have liked that, and likes it still, but it was also very nice for me, for it hammered home the idea that my mother loved my father, which gave me a cozy sense of stability, and it brainwashed me into thinking that my dad must be the best man on earth, which gave me both a healthy sense of family pride and a solid idea of what men should be like.

It also made it very easy for me just to do the same thing where my own husband was concerned. I have no captive audience of children, so I just call him up and tell him when I think he is marvellous, like this morning, when I was reading about someone else's rather less marvellous husband.

But I will underscore that I think it a bad policy to perpetually praise adult men who are not yours by blood or marriage. You can tell your dad, brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons how absolutely marvellous they are, but after that, husbands only. Otherwise it might not look like honest praise but passionate pandering and---ick!