Friday, 30 March 2012

Beyoncé Single

My niece Popcorn, who is not even two, is famous within the family for being able to sing and dance. She even has a basic grasp of pop culture.

"Popcorn," said her daytime nanny, who is a singer-dancer-actor by night, "who sings 'Billy Jean'?"

Popcorn gazed at us with huge blue eyes and smiled her gap-toothed baby grin.

"Jackson," she said.

Further questioning revealed that she associated a song of which I had not heard with Beyoncé. In related news, I just read an article about how much children are influenced by their nannies. The mystery of Popcorn's precocious musical gifts is solved.

Alisha is the only Catholic I know personally who will give a sincere and detailed defense of Michael Jackson. Apparently--I write as someone who knows almost nothing about dance and pop music--he was an incomparable innovator and an incredible dancer. Beyoncé, too, is an incredible dancer. And it occurs to me, as I copy out Alisha's aesthetic judgments, that it is an impoverishment to see pop culture always from either a consumerist's or a moralist's point of view. It is always a revelation for me to talk to Alisha about pop music and dance because she sees them as a dancer sees them.

And so it was with "All the Single Ladies." Until yesterday I had never SEEN the "All the Single Ladies" video, despite readers' repeated attempts to send me links to it. (The internet access for the Historical House is curtailed due to the fact that the Historical House is also a workplace.) So I have been unable to give my opinion of "All the Single Ladies." But I can now, and I'm glad I talked to Alisha first. Alisha tells me that the web is full of sites in which people argue whether or not it gives a positive moral message, so I realize I am coming late to the table.

Alisha tells me that the video is brilliant in its black-white-and-grey simplicity. I agree that it is astonishing how Beyoncé and the two back-up dancers, with the help of clever editing, grab hold of the viewer's attention and hang onto it for the full length of the song. I notice also that they are are all long hair, faces, hands and legs. All three are wearing dark body suits that cover their shoulders and breasts. Beyoncé's bodysuit bares one shoulder but covers the opposite arm, which ends with a metal glove. (A homage to Michael Jackson?)

The result is that the dance moves, which are certainly very body conscious, are not salacious. The long, long legs of the singer and dancer reminded me strongly of the legs of ballerinas. What is important here is line. The dancers are not sexpots; they are dancers. They are like living sculptures; to channel Camille Paglia, who channels, Nietzsche, Apollo is co-opting Dionysus.

(I can't believe I mentioned Nietzsche at 8:26 in the morning.)

So the images, for all the legginess, hark at something strict, and something that points towards perfection, as does ballet. And this suits the theme of the song, which is simply that the singer is accepting the attentions of another suitor because her boyfriend of three years won't marry her.

As a writer, I love the sound of "another brother", and as a North American I realize that this implies that Beyoncé's boyfriend and new suitor are African-Americans. So there is a social message to this song, because it touches on the uncomfortable situation in the United States about the reluctance of a large number of African-American men to marry. Of course, the song has a universal appeal, because men as a group can be foot-draggers when it comes to marriage. However, I suspect Beyoncé's song has a particular resonance for African-American women. It also suggests to women, that we too, like the strong-willed heroine of the video, should insist that "if he likes what he sees" he should "put a ring on it."

The "it" is the word that makes me uneasy. "Put a ring on it" can mean "Put a ring on my finger", and certainly Beyoncé's left hand is well-highlighted by her metal glove. "It" could also mean their relationship, the ring serving as a seal. But I also feel uneasily that "it" also means the singer herself ("If you like what you see..." or her body. This would turn the singer into an object, or reduce her to her body. However, I have to admit that the video highlights just how much in control of her body Beyoncé is. It doesn't just flop about or be acted upon some other will; Beyoncé can keep her body in line and make it do what she wants in the service of her art. She is in charge.

So I think that it is a positive song, with a good moral message, and an impressive video, especially for those who, like Alisha, know something about modern dance. But it should also be seen as a specifically American, and even more specifically African-American, cultural artifact, responding to a situation specific to the African-American community, while mirroring a more recent situation in others. One of the weirder aspects of Europe is the European appropriation of African-American art; it can go badly wrong and then be truly giggle-worthy or even completely inappropriate, disrespectful to the foreign traditions and harmful for one's own.

Here is the famous video. It occurs to me that the back-up dancers' bodysuits are similar to the leotard I wore in ballet class. Of course, I wore mine with pale pink tights and not with spike heels. I never made it to pointe shoes, but it occurs to me that the stilettos of the video provide the same function: they lengthen and refine the line of the legs.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Being an Aunt is Cool

No time to blog this morning, for I am in Montreal with my niece, her brother and their nanny, the incomparable Alisha.

The advantages of aunthood are many. First, you have children in your life whom you love and who are supposed to love you, and are happy to do so, at least when they are small. Second, childcare is definitely a part-time thing. You might have (or look like you have) tons of laudable patience, but it stems from the fact that talking a toddler down from a temper tantrum is a rare treat for a usually absentee aunt, not business as usual.

When Pirate was born, I told a colleague that that was pressure off me to have kids. He looked consoling, assuming my parents were pressuring me to get married and have kids. But they certainly weren't. It was my own internal clock that was the nag. It said, "Have kids. Have kids. Have kids. Your family isn't getting any younger, you know."

But then Pirate was born, assuring the future of The Family, and now there are Peanut and Popcorn, too. And I see in all this the advantage of not thinking of yourself primarily (or exclusively) as an INDIVIDUAL but as part of something bigger than yourself, which in my case has always been The Family and also, of course, The Church.

Although I am a huge fan of romantic love, I think one of the things about marriage is that it is about bringing very cool people into your original family and then co-operating with them to bring more people into it. It's not all about you and what you want, but what (and who) will help The Family thrive.

(I recognize, of course, that some of you simply don't have sustainable biological families, and for sanity's sake have created the next best thing.)

Just enough time to pick a new swashbuckling protector for the day, and then I must wash and dress. My nephew has eyed my nightdress with disapproval and informed me that I need clothes.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

And some American fame...

Whoa! Discovered by Mark Shea. How nice!

Hello, Mark Shea's minions.

Mark might be too busy to offer updates, etc., but actually I am married to a Scot. I shopped Seraphic Singles* around for a year or so, and by the time someone said "We'll take it", I had had a whirlwind romance with a Scottish recent convert who simply was (and is) The Perfect Man for Me and been married for three days.

So I am afraid I have to turn down all the marriage proposals Mark so kindly elicited. Instead I will continue to write merrily on Single issues and hand out advice to such girls as write in. Today, however, I am going to Montreal to visit my nephew Peanut and my niece Popcorn and their parents.

But I will leave you with a snippet of conversation with my nephew Pirate (age 7).

Auntie S: What would you do if an enemy invaded your island home?

Pirate: I would throw an atomic bomb at them.

Auntie: Hmm....

Pirate: And when they were dead I would build the buildings again.

Auntie: But what if the bomb poisoned all the land and the air?

Pirate: Then I would move somewhere else!

Auntie: Hmm....

*Update: The BOOK, I mean.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

More Polish Fame

Very occasionally the hardworking assistant of a radio interviewer calls me up and I'm suddenly on the air, talking about Seraphic Singles or (if the assistant has called me from the USA) The Closet's All Mine. The last time I was actually myself in a radio studio was last October in Warsaw, and I loved it. The pretty young married lady interviewer was over THERE, and I was over HERE, and the motherly translator sat in BETWEEN, and my marketing director sat in the corner, gnawing his nails.

Okay, I made that last bit up, but he was definitely sitting in the corner, and he never left my side until Berenike turned up.

There was a radio interview about Anielskie Single broadcast last week in Kraków and here it is.

You will strain your ears for my Canadian voice in vain, for this interview is not with me but with Father Drobot, the spiritual director of this May's "Brave Women" retreat. Unlike me, Father Drobot speaks fluent Polish. He's also a priest, and although I imagine various feminist theologians turning in their graves as I type this, it's pretty cool to have a priest saying nice stuff about your book on the radio.

At least, I think he's saying nice stuff. I think I heard dobra in there. If non-Poles want to listen, listen for the word "kobieta"--it means "woman", and Fr. Drobot says it several times, with various different case endings: kobieta, kobiety, kobiecie..

This is a photo of the Homo Dei publishing staff and I in Kraków. Kraków, according to Mr Pimsleur's Lesson 24, nie jest daleko.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Don't Be a "Kind Friend"

There you are, eating your sandwich with Mary and Jane, when Jane says something about an old acquaintance of hers. This friend is called Anne. Jane does not know that you know Anne, and she has not named Anne, and Jane is telling the story only to make a point. Still, you don't think Jane should be telling this story. You think about how hurt Anne might be if she knew Jane was using her story--however anonymously Anne appears in it--to make a point.

So what do you do?

"I think Anne ought to know," you say and go out of your way to contact Anne ASAP.

Or maybe you resist the temptation and keep your mouth shut. Perhaps later you send Jane a quick email saying that you know Anne, and you know Jane would hate it if she inadvertently hurt Anne, so with all the good will in the world--for you do see the importance of the point Jane was making--you hope Jane does not mind if you suggest she be even vaguer in the example she gives! You hope Jane isn't too embarrassed by your email. Let's get together soon. Yours sincerely, You.

Alternatively, especially if you honestly don't like Jane for whatever reason, you can do and say nothing except reflect that Jane's chatter is going to get her into trouble one day.

One of the lessons age brings, my little poppets, which is why I know to tell you, is that it is never good to be the bearer of bad news.

Sometimes you have to be the teller of bad news, but almost never do you have to be the BEARER of bad news. Advice columnists all seem to be at one on the subject of "I saw my friend's husband/wife in a cocktail bar/restaurant with another woman/man. Should I tell my friend?" They all say NO. But they also say that if your heartbroken friend asks you directly, "Did you ever seen my husband/wife with another woman/man?" then you are free to say, "Yeah, I did."

It is fun to share news. I pester my husband and friends back in Edinburgh for updates. And I think a certain amount of warm-hearted gossip (e.g. Sally won the President's Medal; Hector convulsed the table with his jokes; Cyril refused to undo his tie even though the room was baking) is both inevitable and harmless. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it is a good thing.

However, it is wrong to sow discord and strife. First of all, it hurts people and second of all, it subtly changes how people feel about you. Traces of the pitch of the bad news you bear sticks to your hands.

The traditional name for a person who needs to tell Anne what Jane said about her to Mary is "tale-bearer." But another one, said with irony, is "kind friend." We don't want to be "kind friends"--we want to be kind friends. And a kind friend does not think "Gosh, that would hurt Anne if she knew" and then makes darned sure Anne finds out.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Veiled Language

"We veil that which we value," I thought. "The tabernacle, brides, little girls going to First Communion..."

I was downtown, between errands, reading the earlier comments on yesterday's post, thinking about when it is appropriate to ask a man if he looks at p*rn, i.e. almost never.

Having likened the use of internet p*rn to the use of heroin, I am thinking about when it would be appropriate to ask a man if he shoots heroin. I don't think I have ever asked my Scottish husband if he shot up heroin as a mad young thing, although that would have been a good question to ask before we got married, as heroin + Edinburgh tend to = HIV+.

HIV is the connection between heroin and sexuality, and how heroin affects spouses in their very bloodstreams, setting aside for the moment the day-to-day frustrations of being married to a strung-out junkie. Of course, it is easier to tell that a man uses heroin than that he uses internet p*rn. And fewer men use heroin than use internet p*rn.

Because a conversation about hard drugs only touches sexuality in terms of AIDS, it does not otherwise touch that which is most personal to us. And until recently, women--at very least--have veiled conversation about sexuality in code, euphemisms and judicious silence. And it wasn't just women-in-public. I don't think it was until the scandal around an American president and his young female assistant that I heard certain words said, and certain themes discussed, on the television news.

Catholics of a certain age are sometimes startled at how frank young Catholics can be about sexuality. I am myself startled by "virgin pride", and I think publicly declaring oneself either to be or not be a virgin a bad idea. (As I've said again and again, this is very personal information that no-one except a fiance and perhaps your doctor and maybe your spiritual director needs to know for your sake.) Some of us think that there is something wrong, not with the virgins or with sexuality, but with the frankness. It is the same thing we find wrong with skimpy clothes and sexual pride parades. It's the in-your-faceness about something that ought to be veiled, not because it is ugly, but because it is precious.

I was told--although to be honest, I can't find the reference--that Saint Paul asked that the women of Corinth go veiled because veiling was, in his day, a sign that a woman was the wife or daughter of a Roman Citizen and therefore worthy of complete respect. He thought--said my source--that Christian woman were precious, no matter where they were in the social pecking order, and therefore should appropriate the privileges of the matrona Romana.

I repeat, I do not know if this is true, but I have always believed it to be true, and when I put on my mantilla in the church vestibule, I do it with a sense of, "Ego sum matrona Christiana." The society in which I live believes that, although all women deserve to be treated with respect, women who wear sweatpants on the bus are somehow less worthy, and therefore I never wear sweatpants on the bus.

But that is determined by culture and is therefore relative. Is modesty of speech, I wonder, also relative to culture, or is there an absolute? I believe, for example, that there are things no husband should ever reveal about his wife and that no wife should ever reveal about her husband, but I am told that sometimes husbands and wives do reveal these things to their friends, e.g. at hen parties. I think this an absolutely horrifying betrayal.

But on Valentine's Day, there I was on the bus, and the Englishwoman in her twenties behind me told her pal everything she and her boyfriend/husband/partner had done to celebrate the day including, in her words and in the most affectionate of tones, "a little shag". And as I blinked, I thought, "HOW did we get to this point?"

I'm not advocating a return to shame, per se. I think it is terrible when men and women suffer in silence because they can't find the words or the courage to discuss a sexual problem or because they were not told what they needed to know. But quite obviously we have gone too far in the wrong direction. When we think carefully before talking about a sexual matter, and choose very carefully with whom we discuss it, and veil the subject with polite euphemisms, we are paying homage to sexuality, which touches all of us at the centre of our beings and is the source of life and--very often--creativity.


From "Hania" by Henrik Sienkiewicz (trans. H.E. Kennedy & Z. Umińska).

"To the health of women!" cried Selim.

"All right," rejoined the [atheist tutor]. "They're pleasant creatures, if only one doesn't take them seriously. To the health of woman"!"

"To Josey's health," I cried, clinking glasses with Selim.

"Wait, it's my turn now," he retorted. "To the health...the health of your Hania! One's as good as the other."

My blood boiled and sparks flew from my eyes.

"Hold your tongue, Mirza," I cried. "Don't utter that name in a low wine-shop like this!"

So saying I threw my glass to the ground, so that it broke into a thousand pieces.

"Have you gone mad?" cried [the tutor].

But I hadn't gone mad at all, only anger boiled within me and burnt like a flame. I could listen to everything that the [tutor] had said about women, I could even enjoy it, I could scorn them as others did; but I could do all that because I didn't apply the words and the quips to any of my own, because it never even entered my head that the general theory was to be applied to those dear to me. But when I heard the name of my purest of orphans uttered lightly in that wine-shop, amid smoke, dirt, empty bottles, corks, and cynical conversation, it seemed to me that I had heard such disgusting sacrilege, such a smirching of little Hania and such a wrong done to her, that I almost lost my senses with anger.

Friday, 23 March 2012

An Epidemic

"When I saw all the hair, I knew it was you," said Sister. "Come in. Are you pregnant?"

"No," I said. "Are you praying?"

"Are you praying? You should be praying to Saint Gerard. How old are you?"

I told her how old I was. There was a pregnant pause.

"Huh," she said.

For once she had minced words.

Sister stuck me in the sitting room to watch the Cardinal on TV while she changed for an appointment. The interviewer asked the Cardinal the questions viewers called in.

"They're asking him about hockey," I said when Sister came back in. "They want to know what can be done about the Leafs."

"They should be asking him about p*rn," said Sister. "They should be asking him what can be done about p*rn destroying marriages."

Sister works in the Marriage Tribunal, so I turned around and looked at her, interested.

"Is it a big problem? I've read it is a big problem---."

"Oh, Seraphic," said Sister. "It's HUGE. I get all these people in my office. It's an epidemic. And somebody should tell these people. The women. Somebody should tell the women what a big problem it is. BEFORE they get married. They should be talking about this in marriage prep."

She looked a bit abashed.

"I know you don't want to spend marriage prep talking about negative stuff, but this is a serious problem, and we have to talk about it."

"Well, I'll talk about it," I said. "I have a blog. I have a column. I can talk about it."

"These women...," said Sister. "You know in marriage you have to give your whole self to your spouse, but these women... They can't. They just can't because they're so... And you can see why. They talk to him about it, and he promises to give it up, and then they wake up in the middle of the night and there he is back on the computer with his... We have to talk about it."

"This must be a new problem," I said. "It wasn't always so easy for men to get p*rn."

"New?! It's been, what is it, twenty, twenty-five years now. And we're seeing hundreds of couples... It's an epidemic. I'm telling you, we have to talk about it."

"So how old are these guys?" I asked. "I guess they're not fifty."

"No not fifty. It's the younger ones. The younger ones are using it. They're all using it."

"And they're addicted?"

"Sure, they're addicted!"

And once again I felt that my generation got shafted, and so did yours. Although, to be fair, we can't blame Boomers for this as much as we can blame the inevitable march of technological progress. Almost as soon as photography was invented, there were dirty photographs. Almost as soon as the web was invented, there was internet p*rn. But what we didn't know then, as we know now, is that porn can be as addictive as crack cocaine, and all those taboos against children and teens seeing porn were not prudery but common sense.

Fortunately, it is still possible to choose to avoid p*rn--and will be as long as we make sure the laws protecting us from it are still in force. I am on the web every day, and I never see any. Television is more difficult, for British standards are more degraded than those in Canada and the USA. However, a gentle request to B.A. ("Change the channel!!!") clears up that problem. A more pressing problem in the McAmbrose household is the amount of food and drink we consume.

The National Health Service in Britain is obsessed with food and drink. When B.A. and I signed up at our local office, the nurse wanted immediately to know how much we drank and how much we weighed, in that order. B.A. got a lecture about how much he drank, but not much about his weight. I got a pass on how much I drank, but got stick about my weight. This is because alcohol and overeating account for most of the health problems in Scotland.

We could take a cue from the Scottish NHS. If it is true that internet p*rn accounts for serious problems in Catholic marriages, then we really do need to talk about it and warn Catholic teenagers that this is a problem that can destroy their marriages and families. We tell them how dangerous chemical stimulants are, so we should tell them how dangerous visual stimulants can be. We manage to get across the message that crack and heroin are dirty, so maybe we could once again get across that p*rn is dirty too.

As for you girls, if you're addicted to the stuff, you know you should quit because it is not harmless. It will affect your sexual mental health and therefore any future marriage. And if you are wondering if the Nice Catholic Boy you've seeing exclusively uses the stuff, you should ask him. I wouldn't make a big deal out of it, but if marriage-type stuff is being discussed, that would be one topic to raise. I think I said at some point that (among other things) our home would be a p*rn-free zone, and B.A. agreed.

Begin, they say, as you mean to go on. Don't think it isn't a problem for Catholics and others of Good Will because it is.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Rachel Weeps for Her Children

There's being twenty-something and Single, and then there's being twenty-something and widowed by a Jew-hating Islamist terrorist who also kills your two sons.

I'm sorry that this is a controversial view in some circles, but it is obvious to me that Christians have a special duty of care to the Jews in the countries where we co-reside, particularly when we know perfectly well many newcomers to our countries bring virulently anti-Jewish beliefs with them.

Please pray for Eva Sandler.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Confidence and Zero Tolerance

Well, poppets, I had an interesting evening out.

To recap, I am in my native Toronto, visiting my family and my friends, old haunts and new dives. It's great to see my loved ones and to see the town from the perspective of someone who hasn't seen it in a year. I enjoy hearing people's news, and I enjoy having news for people. My literary friends are thriving: this one won a major award, that one's latest book has gone into its second edition. It's great.

Yesterday I went with a literary pal to a poetry night and met another one there. The joint, as they say, was jumping. To my surprise, the first poet to read was a former prof of mine; I hadn't seen him in almost twenty years, but I've always remembered the fascinating stories he told us in class about the Canadian poets he'd met. After he read his work, I went over to him, introduced myself and told him that I still remembered what he had said about Elizabeth Smart twenty years ago. We chatted amiably for a bit and then I went back to my friends.

What is remarkable about this is that five years ago (let alone twenty) I would have been too shy. I would have sat behind my table agonizing "Should I or shouldn't I? What if...? But on the other hand...?"

But last night I didn't feel a qualm. I didn't feel self-conscious. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world, to go up to a now-famous prof and say, "What you said then sticks with me even now." Maybe it's one of the gifts that comes with having real books with your name on them. Or maybe it's the gift that comes with age if you didn't have it young.

Other poets read. The open mic (as in microphone) performances began, and the featured speakers and their friends began to drift downstairs, out of the bar. My old prof waved to me, and I thought of my business cards in my little zippered card case. I keep all my cards in it--bank, credit, library--so I took them all out to look for the bright bit of cardboard. And the guy across the table from me, known to my friend but a stranger to me, made a sudden swooping movement with his head and plucked away my bank card.

This stranger looked in his fifties, bearded, balding, small, nondescript. He had an English accent; B.A. would have been able to peg "what" and "where" at once. He had been introduced to me, and told where I lived, and that was necessarily the extent of our conversation.

But I wasn't registering all this when he snatched away my bank card. My heart froze, and I made a lunge. He opened his eyes in playful mockery and held my bank card out of reach.

I hit him with a beer glass. No, I didn't. I gave him a look that melted his face--or certainly scared him enough to give my card back. I shoved it in my card case, shoved card case in handbag, picked up my coat and announced "I'm leaving." Then I left.

Downstairs I thought regretfully of my startled girlfriends upstairs, my beloved girlfriends whom I hadn't seen in over a year. Was I really going to walk out on them because they were sitting with the kind of man who thinks it flirty and funny to steal a stranger's bank card and hold it out of reach?

Yes, I was.

On my train, I pondered my hair-trigger reaction. Five years ago, I am reasonably certain, I would have smiled weakly and been "nice" about it. Perhaps I would have, as expected, made sad doggy eyes and mimed supplication, politely silent as the open mic poet banged on about what a rotten world it is, while my heart fluttered with panic.

But not now. Now I have zero tolerance for the inappropriate behaviour of male strangers. Just as I can approach a literary lion, I can walk away from a literary loser or any other man who evidently thinks he is being "playful" when he is simply being a drip.

Go and do likewise, my little Singles.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The New Look

Well, puffins, I hope you like the new look. Pink is pretty girly, but there is something about pink stripes that is just so...girly-girly.

When my thriller comes out, I will publish a contrasting blog in black, silver, geometric shapes and brooding photographs of Central Europe.

I have also decided to add a rotating staff of virtual bouncers, based solely on their looks. Errol may have not behaved particularly well when he was alive, but now that he is dead, he will serve as the kind of man that other men hate on first sight.

The difficult thing about writing blogs of this kind, blogs that deal with women's most personal feelings of faith, hope, love, eros, sorrow, confusion, fear, violation, disappointment and rejection, is that it leaves both women readers and the writer a trifle exposed.

Recent conversations with men have left me wondering if I should simply stop writing this blog or just do an extreme makeover. There are other blogs for (and also BY) Single women, so I sometimes I wonder why I'm still doing this.

But then I get emails from Single women telling me that I have really helped them, or an email from a Single woman who is frightened, tempted or heartbroken and wants my advice, or an email from a priest who says, in effect, "Spot on, Seraphic."

So here we are.

The Trouble with Dating Websites

Attention: Mention of sexual violence

Darlings, I will not harrow you with a link to the absolutely horrible dating-website-rape story in today's Daily Mail because the Daily Mail, and other papers of its ilk, emphasize rape. Rape is the bread-and-butter of the gutter press because the gutter press knows many women can't resist such horrible stories. We hate them but we have to have a read, perhaps in the hope that by reading we will learn how to avoid such horrors ourselves.

But I will tell you the basics of what happened, which is that a 20-something woman in England met a 20-something man on a dating website in England, and they chatted online for four days or so, and then they met for drinks at 7 PM. The date went well--the woman thought they had a lot in common. So they stayed out quite late, going out for something to eat, and the young man walked the young woman back to her apartment block. He leaned in for a kiss, but she pulled back.

And then he beat her to a pulp, raped her and stole her handbag.

What do you bet "I am a violent sociopath who goes ballistic at the slightest hint of perceived rejection" was not on the rapist's website profile? I bet his shoplifting offenses and assaults on policemen weren't there either.

Now, I know a lot of you are on Catholic dating websites, so I will say up front that she did not meet him on a Catholic dating website. But you know very well that not all the guys you meet on Catholic dating websites are either practising Catholics or good guys at all. All you can know about them is what they tell you, and they could be lying. Or they could have SERIOUS personality problems that they themselves are barely aware of. Anger issues, for a start.

So today I would like to remind you--once again--that any guy you meet over a dating website, Catholic or not, is a virtual STRANGER until you have met him in person and gotten to know him better. And I mean in person, not over text message or over the phone or over Skype.* And I mean over time, not over one coffee or one drinks date that goes well.

I met my husband over my blog. But that is because some of his blogging friends read my blog and I eventually, slowly, became their friends, after reading their blog and ascertaining that they were kindly, mentally healthy people. They got him to read my blog, and I began to read his blog. So I met my husband in a hybrid sort of way--half contemporary (blogs), and half traditional, through mutual acquaintances. At least five of my regular readers could vouch for him, for they had all met him and liked him.

That's quite different from internet dating, n'est-ce pas? Of course, since none of B.A.'s friends had met me in person, he was taking a bit of a risk in inviting me to stay with him when I visited Scotland, wasn't he?

And now I will tell you about how I lied my little red head off on a Catholic dating website. I have probably told you before, but tough. If a nice wee woman like me is capable of such shenanigans, imagine a real jerk.

It was the first time I ever sat down and tried to think about what it is that Catholic men wanted in a girlfriend. It was the first time I thought strategically and also the first time I paid any attention to all the bits of advice I had heard from married ladies and girls with boyfriends that I had rejected as unworthy of intellectual me. I also cynically faced up to the prejudice of many young "European"** guys in my town against the "mangiacakes" their parents or pals had told them were tramps, et alia.

My honest profile, in which I detailed with great pride my academic accomplishments, theological interests, sterling orthodoxy and mangiacake ethnic background, was not getting much of a response. It was definitely not getting a response from a lawyer in a neighbouring parish, who sounded very interesting indeed.

So I created another profile. Men, I had heard, loved kindergarten teachers. (And in Canada, that's a well-paid job with a pension.) So I became a kindergarten teacher. A half-Italian, half-Polish kindergarten teacher, a vegetarian--not militant, just loved fluffy bunnies--who bicycled to work, it was so close to her house, and loved The Godfather I and II but not III. (I had heard that all men everywhere hated The Godfather III.) I still accepted all the teachings of the Church, but I certainly wasn't reading massive intellectual tomes anymore. No way. I was a girly-girly girl.

And guess who, along with the rest of the crowd, appeared in the inbox? Ma, da certo, Mr. Lawyer, who longed to know which of my parents was Italian, for his parents were Italian, and blah blah blah.

I sure hope he isn't dreaming of a half-Italian, half-Polish kindergarten teacher to this day, for she never replied. Indeed, she disappeared because lies of that magnitude and complexity do not really suit your humble correspondent.

But there are people who love to lie, and there are men who will lie and lie and lie and LIE to get what they want, so look out, my little angels.

*These things can, of course, make you acquaintances, but it's still not enough to really know somebody. I'm starting to think that the only way you can know someone is in a crowd. You can't be sure you know them unless you have seen them interacting with others: service staff, their friends, your friends, their mother...

**SCENE: Toronto. Hallway of my all-girls high school, after a dance. Your humble correspondent, age 17, is in a black miniskirt, white lace tights, a sleeveless black turtleneck in a black and white print and has a 1980s haircut. She is talking by some lockers to a cute, cheerful boy with dark hair and dark eyes, to whom she was introduced by an former elementary school classmate.

(Yes, my memory can be that good.)

Cute boy: So, how you getting home?

Seraphic, age 17: Taking the train and then a bus.

Cute boy: You don't have to do that! My buddy has a car.

Seraphic: But I don't even know you.

Cute boy: Aw hey. You can trust me--I'm a European!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Dynamic Women of Faith Project

Okay, poppets, I am sure none of you are going to read this until Sunday when you, ashamed of your drunken St. Patrick's Day shenanigans of the day and night before, crawl to your computer swearing to be better girls. But what a better time than that for the Ontario ones to discover that there will be a marvellous Women's Lenten Retreat for them next Saturday where they can be inspired and grow in faith and goodness.

No, I am not referring to my own retreat, which is in Krakow in May, but to the Dynamic Women of Faith Project organized by fellow Catholic journo-blogger Dorothy Pilarski at the John Paul II Centre in Mississaugow. It is not for Single girls but all Catholic women, especially Catholic mothers who feel generally overlooked and spat on by sneering secular society and enjoy the gutsiness of such local Catholic heroes as Michael Coren. He will be there to explain Why Catholics are Right and, no doubt, add some caffeine to the cappuccino of life.

So have a look at the linky-wink, and please consider going if the trip is within reason.

Incidentally, I will most probably be there, possibly even with copies of Seraphic Singles, which I will cravenly flog to whichever ladies aren't actually married or nuns.

St. Cougar's Day

Okay, sorry, Saint Patrick, but as I was contemplating that today is Saint Patrick's Day, all that came to mind was that incident in Boston on Saint Patrick's Day when my pal Boston Girl met this guy in a pub and this cougar in a green shirt ran off with him. The incident is immortalized in My Book, and it looks particularly weird in Polish.

At any rate, I was only 36 or so at the time, and my feelings about La Cougar are rather more mixed today than they were at the time, when she was quite obviously the ENEMY and the COMPETITION. Of course, at 36, I was also considered a cougar, at least by this Canadian guy in my summer language course in Germany, who said that women over 25 were cougars by definition.*

For the sake of the homeschooled and other carefully brought up readers, I should explain that "cougar" is slang for an older woman who courts younger men. It is derogatory as it assumes that there is something menacing about older women in general, especially when we paint our nails blood-red and go about in the skins of murdered or fake animals. It also assumes that younger men never, ever, ever court older women as we sit innocently on our bar stools in the Voodoo Bar, wearing stilettos and slurping down Atomic Zombies.

This reminds me of a very funny story. I was 30-something and out with some of my girlfriends at a dance club in Toronto, and your humble correspondent caught the eye of some nice but probably drunk young man who eventually offered to buy her a drink. And your humble correspondent kick started the conversation at the bar by saying, "So, are you Catholic?"

This also works for men, by the way. Nobody standing by the bar expects anyone to ask "Are you Catholic?" so it has the charm of the unexpected. Don't try this in Belfast or Glasgow, however. In Boston or Toronto, you're good.

Anyway, as your humble and the hottie had a nice chat about our confirmation names and such other culturally Catholic topics one can shout about over the roar of the dance floor, I had a good look and realized that he must have been about 22. And when, before the admiring gaze of my pals, he asked for my phone number, I neglected to tell him that I was much too old for him. For some reason, the fact that I had to explain that the phone number was of the convent at which I was boarding seemed embarrassing enough.

"Random," said my admirer of the convent phone, which was the first time I had ever heard the word used that way, so much older than him was I.

But as a result of my craven silence, I got asked out on a DATE, not a daily occurrence in the lives of women in my M.Div. program. The downside was that I spent the date dodging indirect questions about my age. O heavens. The horror. A better woman than I would have just said, "Sugar-pie, I am 34 years old. Deal."

Possibly he thought elusive I was totally neurotic, for I never heard from him again. And it was just as well for our conversation revealed that he rarely went to Mass, and as we all know I eventually married B.A. and thus should have put every cent I ever wasted on getting ready for a date in savings bonds. However, he was pretty cute, and this is where I make my apologia for Cougars.

Men in their twenties are often much better-looking than men in their thirties and beyond, just as women in our twenties are often much better-looking than women in our thirties and beyond. I thought this in my twenties, when I was terrified of men in their twenties, and I think this now, when I'm not. So it does not surprise me at all when such older women who have managed to achieve the confidence which comes with age withoust losing their looks either go out of their way to charm a 20-something or accept the attentions of a 20-something with alacrity. I suppose it is incredibly shallow and masculine to value young men for their looks, but I am an ARTIST, darling, so I can see why cougars do.

There is also the "To hell with you, Systematic Marginalization of Older Women: I can still get guys in their 20s" factor.

What really bothered me about "the Devil in Green Shirt" was that the young man beside her looked scared. Sure, he quite obviously wasn't going anywhere she wasn't, and heaven knows how fast the friends he had come with had melted away. But St. Patrick's in Boston is not the kind of night that screams "One night stands" but the kind of night everyone simply gets off their faces drunk, starting at breakfast, and then brags about it the next day. Whatever else was going on was most probably not his idea, but hers. And she certainly wasn't drunk. Au contraire.

Now that I am over 40 and my maternal instincts are in overdrive, I suppose that I might have made an attempt to rescue the young man, even if he was unsure if rescue was something he wanted. That really would have been a good time to lean forward and, this time as a substitute mother, ask my very favourite bar question:

"Are you Catholic?"

*And who cares what some random Canadian guy in Germany says?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Spent the Day in Girl Talk

Gracious! I was completely free of jet lag all day, but now I have hit a wall of sleep. Zzzz. This despite drinking absolute vats of coffee at lunchtime.

I met my best friend Trish for coffee at 11. We first met when we were little baby undergraduates at the University of Toronto; I tried out for a play she was directing, and when she turned me down, she hired me on as stage manager. The rest is history. And today we sat out in the sun and ate all-day breakfasts for lunch and chatted, but also just sat there, not talking very much. Sometimes you don't have to talk when you sit with your best friend of twenty years. You can just sit and be together.

Then Trish dropped me off to another friend's house--the friend I call when it is 1 AM in Edinburgh, but only 8 PM in Toronto, and I have just realized that the reason why I am mad at B.A. is because he doesn't know how to listen like a girl. And my friend was at home, and she gave me a glass of water and her toddler lunch, and we three went for a walk to the "park with the castle." And we talked and talked and talked, and I can't tell you a word, for it was all Girl Talk.

All I have to tell you, now that I am utterly stricken by jet lag, is that female friendship is so very important to most of us, and this is still true after a woman is married. You might think that the Love of Your Life will serve as a sort of one-stop-shopping department store of the heart, but this is actually unusual.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Actively Auntie

Like my ancestors, I have survived the Atlantic crossing. Here I am in Canada, visiting my family and yet typing away. (I now have access to youtube, so I will finally be able to see the cool videos readers keep sending me.)

It is March Break, so who was waiting for me at the airport with my parents but my famous nephew Pirate. To my surprise, he was wearing a suit and tie. Apparently, this was his idea, and it suddenly occurs to me that he may have been influenced by the Young Fogeys of my parish. (Just say "No" to pipe tobacco, Pirate!)

"I wrote a book!" said Pirate.

"Excellent!" I said. "How many pages is it?"

"Two or three," said Pirate.

"Is it fiction or non-fiction?"

"It's autobiographical," said his grandmother.

It occurred to me that the autobiography of a seven year old could potentially be extremely cool. ("It was when I was three that I became conscious of the very great importance of my beloved aunt in my creative, intellectual and spiritual life. Although not then a Christian," etc.) Actually, the autobiography of Pirate would be particularly cool, as he has spent about a third of his life in Latin America.

"I didn't put it in," said Pirate, when I mentioned this. "But I put in Scotland."

"You can save Latin America for the next volume," I said.

"I think if I write very well, I could be elected Class President," said Pirate.

This seemed like a non-sequitur, but suddenly I recall an American junior senator who kind of sort of thought the same thing.

"In politics, it is more important that you get along with everyone," I said, ever happy to bestow advice. "Of course writing is very very important, but to be elected Class President I suggest you hand out sweeties and then promise more after you are in office."

"You can give out buttons, too," enthused Pirate, and explained the button-making machine. He seemed to think the buttons more important than the sweeties, proving that he is still young and idealistic.

When we got back to Grandma and Grandpa's House, I thought I would see Pirate's memoirs, but instead he suggested that we go to the park. In my extreme jet lag, I agreed to go to the park. So we went to the park with a baseball bat, a baseball glove and a nerf ball. (Pirate changed out of his jacket and tie, first.)

After a session of two-person baseball, we sat on the swings. I don't really like those swings, for I so often sat on them on my youth, dreaming too many dreamy little dreamy dreams that died. But--I pointed out to myself--actually some of my little dreamy dreams have become reality, and I cheered up.

We swung. Pirate asked me a complex question about adult social dynamics, and I explained that adult men hate being bored even more than little boys do, which was why they are more careful when they make friends.

Pirate agreed that it was more difficult for grown-ups, and that when you are a little boy, you can go up to anyone and say "Hi, my name is Pirate! Do you want to play?" But, he added, adult men can't do that because they scare people.

"The people are mostly scared they'll be bored," I said.

"I think a lot of adults are boring," said Pirate.

"Which adults are boring?" I asked.

"Priests," said my nephew-godson. "All priests are boring."

"Not Father [Edinburgh Parish]," I said. "He's not boring."

"No, not Father [Edinburgh Parish]," said Pirate, with an enthusiasm that would have touched that tradition-loving heart. "I wish we could go to your church."

"Er," I said, weighing Church Unity against the liturgical horrors of Pirate's parish church. "It's the same as your church actually. It's just in Edinburgh and, uh, has Latin."

"Auntie Q---? Oh!" laughed Pirate. "I almost called you Auntie Quinta. It's because you live in Scotland. When you're away, it's like you never existed!"


"But of course I existed," I said. "I have been your aunt since before you were born."

"Oh yeah. You took care of me?"


"Not before I was born!"

He giggled at the thought.

"Well, no," I said. "But as soon as I knew you were coming, I became your Auntie. So I was your Auntie even before you were born."

"Yeah," said Pirate.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Another Use for NFP

My friend Fishie says that he knows when the women of his set want him to leave the room because they start talking about natural family planning.

I laughed very much when I heard that because that strikes me as very Canadian. Nice Canadian Catholic girls don't usually say, "Hey, you. Man. Scram, we want to talk about girl stuff." No. That would be too rude. So usually we hunch over and just start talking about icky, scary female stuff and that generally does the trick: the Canadian boy flees from the room.

This also seems to work in Scotland on Scottish men. But it does not work on all men. Some men do not seem to know that when ladies talk about anything that has to do with the cervix, for example, ("What cancer does your friend have?" "Well, I'm afraid it is cervical cancer." "Dear, dear.") they must scram.

And that leads me to think about one irony of female life, which is that although most of us want to be thought well of by men, and to marry one of them and get along with his menfolk and men friends, we do not want them around all the time.

We do not want them around all the time because sometimes we need to talk to women about stuff we are not comfortable with men overhearing. And sometimes we discover we need to talk about this stuff at parties, because at parties alcohol flows and frees us up to talk about it at all. So the only thing to do is create a sort of female conversational cave in which to have the personal conversation, and woe betide the man who ambles in like a sleepy bear.

We also do not want men around all the time because sometimes we would like to be by ourselves. And protecting this privacy can be difficult because women are used to giving subtle clues to other women about what they want, and women are usually skillful at reading them. Thus, when approached by strange men, women automatically throw out polite, subtle "leave me alone" cues, which men are not as good at reading.

Thus, we have to plan ahead and think about everything and even train ourselves to say "Scram" in a way that is blunt enough to permeate male understanding but not so "masculine" that the man gets angry, defensive and scary. This can be very stressful indeed, and it is so easy to make mistakes.

For example, I arranged to meet B.A.'s friend in a pub the other night, completely forgetting that to be a woman alone in an urban Scottish pub is like wearing a sign saying "Come over, lonely stranger, and bore me to tears. Ask me if I'm Polish, and then tell me the story about those Swedish girls you met."

I was so nervous, as I stood at the bar (another mistake), that I actually started to perspire. And the friend--male--did not go into the pub to see if I were there, but waited outside, on the corner, as if standing on corners outside pubs after dark is something a solitary woman might like to do. But how can he be blamed for that? Most men have no idea what it is like to be a woman.

Men have to be told. And it is amazing what stupid things they can do, unless they are told, like (fact, this happened to me) run up to you on a dark street at night to give their old pal you a scare.

And that brings me to my question. How DO we tell them? WHAT is the exact middle ground between being TOO subtle and being threatening? HOW do we say "go away" or "never do that" without being misunderstood?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Being More Seraphic

Oh, poppets. Such running around. Later this week I am going back to Canada to see my family and my old friends and my Canadian publisher and my Canadian editors, and complicating all this is that I hate crossing the Atlantic. When I was Single, I loved it, but now that I'm married and Europe-based, the vastness of the ocean freaks me out.

Brr-rr-rr-rr. I'm not going to think about it.

There were a number of suggestions for a post, especially a new episode of the Vocations Discernment Partner saga, but I can't do that at the moment, for the wickedness of the villainess (like the vastness of the Atlantic) freaks me out a bit. I will have to get down to it when I am in a more tranquil state of mind.

So instead I will give out some suggestions about how to be more seraphic as a Single person. I think I have a list of them in my book, which--new readers, take note--I wrote when I was still Single. So if these following suggestions, don't sound very authoritative, coming as they do from a Married Lady, see the book.

1. Let go of the idea of being seraphic all the time. The Psalms run the gamut of human emotions, including "Why me? Huh, Lord? Why me?" They even say to the Lord, "Get up! Why are you sleeping, Lord?" which seems a bit rude, but it's right there in Psalm 43. To be a human being means to be sad and to weep as well as to laugh and be happy. There is nothing wrong with you if every once in a while Life all seems Too Much and you need a little weep or to pummel a punching bag.

If you feel terrible all or most of the time, of course, it is time to talk to a professional.

2. Don't moan endlessly to non-professionals. I read somewhere or other recently, that it is actually BAD for teenage girls to talk about their problems. Apparently teenage girls feel worse, not better, the more they talk about their woes. They need to be distracted by happy thoughts and, my Inner Child adds, trips to the mall.

But adult women certainly feel a sense of relief from a good gripe. The problem with this, though, is that nobody likes hearing tons and tons of gripe. Friends sort of owe each other: I gripe to my pal on THIS occasion, and she gets to gripe to me on THAT occasion. It's only fair, but there is a delicate balance. If you need to gripe and gripe and gripe, especially about old hurts, you should consider paying someone, i.e. a trustworthy and Christian-positive therapist, to listen to you. Depending on your background, you might get a vague thrill from dropping the words "My shrink says" into conversations with pals.

But there are three People to Whom you can gripe to for free and with impunity: the Blessed Trinity. The Old Testament, especially the aforementioned Psalms, include a lot of stories about griping to the Most High. Look at Job--one long, friend-scandalizing complaint, and instead of blasting him with more boils, the Lord says "My Servant Job has spoken well of me." Jacob wrestled with an angel--and some say that this angel was not just an angel but the Most High Himself. And then there are women, like Jacob's mother, who demand of the Lord, "If this is true, why do I live?"

Then in the New Testament, there is a lot of shouting at, and demanding of, the Lord going on. People want stuff from Him, and they're not afraid to ask. And He says we shouldn't be afraid to ask either.

3. Don't beat up on yourself. I'm often amazed at how people can beat up on themselves for stuff that really doesn't matter while seemingly oblivious to stuff that does. For example, saying something you later though was dumb to some new guy at a party doesn't matter. Yelling "I'm so stupid! I'm so stupid!" while banging your head into a wall really upsets the bystanders. Don't do that. Incidentally, women muttering, "Nice going, IDIOT" to themselves is one of my pet peeves. When you're feeling down, talk to yourself as if you were your best friend.

You (inwardly): "Am I just stupid?"
You (in reply): "Of course not. You're one of the most intelligent women I know."

Every time you catch yourself insulting yourself, you must say, "No, I might make mistakes, but essentially I'm fantastic." Recall incidents that give evidence for this. Save all the mea culpas for Mass and confession and apologies to other people.

4. Read inspirational stories, particularly inspirational stories about Single women. Happily for us Catholics, there are a LOT of famous, inspirational unmarried women in our communion. So, okay, a lot of them were nuns. But did you know that Edith Stein did not become a nun until she was in her 40s? And Simone Weil, who is in many ways a difficult heroine, didn't become a nun. Both Edith Stein and Simone Weil were intellectual powerhouses who would probably have been confused by and then dismissive of my dictum that "Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life."

Me: Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life!

Simone Weil: Could you run and fetch me an eraser?

Edith Stein: Say, I could use a coffee. Could you get me a coffee while you're out?

Edith Sitwell might have agreed with me, though. This fascinating, perpetually Single woman became incredibly popular with younger men who revered her as a Grande Dame. And of course there have also been great Single women of other Christian denominations, other religions and none, for whom the whole business of sex and marriage meant not a lot. I don't know anything about the love life of perpetually Single Lise Meitner, but I do know that she discovered nuclear fission.

5. Exercise. Really, I do not know how I would have got along if I had not burned off so much energy and frustration in my 20s at the gym and early 30s. As hobbies go, nutrition, running and weight-training are fantastic. They are harder to keep up when you are married, though, unless you marry a fellow gym rat. :-( Meanwhile, exercise--especially aerobic exercise--- creates a natural high. I used to skip rope for whole half hours at a time. Total aerobic bliss.

6. But also eat yummy things. Good yummy things, though, that you make yourself from a recipe out of a cookbook. Not store-bought packaged crap that might have been made a year ago.

7. If a man stops talking to you, and you have no idea why, and no way or no inclination to find out, assume that it is because he is overwhelmed with a wrongful passion for you. This is just as likely to be true as anything else, and more true than his possible abduction by aliens, so why not make that your official story to yourself? It has always worked for me. Poor him. How he must suffer. Tra la!

Saturday, 10 March 2012


Back from our 8 mile hike and have washed all the dishes. I'm wiped. No post today. Sorry! Have a nice Sunday; I'll be back on Monday.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What Should I Write About?

Poppets, I could not think of what to write about today. All I could think about was research for paid writing, and Anielskie Single's chance to win the Najlepsza Książka Katolicka contest.

Anielskie Single is also up for a big Catholic publishing award in Warsaw (Best Book by Foreign Author), but as only the judges can vote in that, there's no point getting all flustered about it. I suspect the bee-oo-ti-ful trophy would go not to me, anyway, but to my marketing director. However I will now imagine myself in gold lame making an acceptance speech in comical but heart-stirring broken Polish.

"Chciałabym dziękować akademii..."

Oh dear. Now I am imagining my Polish tutor at a table covering his head in abject embarrassment. Why is he there?

Well, anyway, I must not rest on my laurels, especially as I haven't won them yet, so let me know what you think I should write about tomorrow.

Debate the issue in the combox.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Zagłosuj i wygraj

Update (Friday): Ooo. Don't like the current margin. Must...beat...other...foreigner. Zagłosuj! Zagłosuj!


I see that Anielskie Single is up for "Best Catholic Book" or, rather "Najlepsza książka katolicka" in the Literature section, and all of a sudden I am seized by a large, fat, desire to win.

So if you can read enough Polish to fill in forms, could you toddle over to this interesting webpage and vote for little me? I see I am currently #2.

Have I mentioned how much I love Poland? I love Poland. Poland is very nice to me and my book. I wish I could express this in great, effusive paragraphs of Polish, but so far I am still on "Czy pani może czegoś się napić ze mną dziś wieczorem?"

Update: Świetny! Anielskie Single is ahead for now. Suddenly I think I know how Father Z feels! :-D

Marrieds and Singles Are Not Enemies

B.A. and I had another dinner party yesterday. Our guests were four Single men; one has a fiancee studying far away. He and she may be staying with us over Easter; we don't have much lucre, but we certainly have a lot of room.

Our guests are usually Single, although occasionally we invite a married couple or two. In January I had a dinner party just for women. Of those guests, two were married and three were Single. We all got along like a house on fire. What did we talk about? Hmm... Oh, actually, we talked a lot about masculine beauty. I wonder who started that? Probably me. La la la.

When I got engaged, I wasn't sure if I should continue writing for Singles or not. I put it to my readers, and the readers said "Keep writing to us." So I wrote about being engaged, and then when I got married, I wrote about my new life in Scotland, and then my publisher sent an email and said, "Resurrect Seraphic Singles."

So I did. And before I knew it, women (and very occasionally men) were writing to me about their own Single lives, asking for advice.

In my Jesuit M.Div. program, we were told never to give advice.

People in ministry (including lay ministers) are not suppose to give advice, but to listen and listen and listen and then ask leading questions which brings the ministered to their own answers. It is quite interesting and helpful, but you sort of have to be there. You can't do it over a blog. So I do the next best thing and give advice. For free.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola was big on people doing stuff for free.

And, of course, I am married--for the second time. I know how it feels to be a 20-something Single, to be young and engaged to a guy you're not sure about, to break off an engagement, to pick up the engagement again, to be in an unhappy marriage, to be divorced, to go through an annulment procedure (brutal), to be a thirty-something Single, watching the sands of time escape through the hourglass, and then--mirabile dictu--to meet the love of your life when you have, just maybe, a chance at motherhood after all (but maybe not).

That's a lot of experience. Gold and silver have I not, but what I do have, I give you. And why? Because when B.A. and I got engaged, we discerned that part of our vocation as married people was to care for such Single people as came along.

The Catechism backs us up:

1658. We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live--often not of their own choosing--are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family, often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbour in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the 'domestic churches', and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. 'No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who "labour and are heavy laden".'[Familiaris Consortio, 85; cf Mt 11:28.]

But such sympathetic care for Singles cannot include encouraging Singles in feelings of resentment for engaged or married people. Single people are right to be indignant when people in any state of life are rude to or blatantly contemptuous of them. But they must not take personally anything having to do with the marriages of others.

That is where the line is drawn. And it's a painful line because so many Singles want to be married themselves. But nevertheless, there is a police tape around the marriages of others marked "Do Not Cross." And that includes weddings.

I was Single for a good long time, and I often felt lonely and frustrated and angry. But I never had a total meltdown about it. When I was engaged, however, I was often on the edge of hysteria.

Planning a wedding--even a tiny, simple wedding, for both poverty and conventions around second weddings demanded it be both tiny and simple--was incredibly stressful. A good friend called to argue with my perhaps draconian "No boyfriends, only husbands or fiances" guest list, and I cried and cried. I cancelled my hen party because I just could not cope. And--the defining moment, the moment that will remind me for the rest of my life of the vulnerability of brides--the moment I was on the phone, trying to decide if, having cancelled my hen party, I had enough time just for a coffee--just a coffee!--with my friends, and my nose began to bleed.

At ministry school, my ethics prof would have us read various pastoral problems and then inquire, "Who is the most vulnerable person in this situation?" Christian ethics, we learned, always means protecting the most vulnerable person in a situation.

Very often that is a Single person. Very often. But not always. Sometimes, believe it or not, the most vulnerable person in a situation is an engaged or married person. And when it comes to that person's own wedding or marriage, believe me, it is she.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Wedding Bell Hell

(Letter entirely rewritten for the sake of prudence.)

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A girl I have always considered my best friend has gotten engaged. Sadly, I found out only because she sent a mass text to all her friends, including me, and then put the news on Facebook.

It is true we haven't been as close for a year or so, but we have always been like sisters. I am so hurt that she told me her news in such an impersonal way. I'm devastated.

This is not at all about jealousy over her being engaged. I'm reconciled, if not happy, about the fact that there is no man in my life. And I haven't even met her fiance.

How can I tell her, in a Christ-like fashion, how much she has hurt me? Of course I don't want to jeopardize the friendship, but I really am so disappointed and feel so rejected.

Wedding Bell Hell

Dear Wedding Bell Hell,

I write this hoping that you have not done anything yet. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote that we should never make an important decision when we are in a state of desolation, and you sound rather desolate to me!

It sounds like your friend was so excited about being engaged that she wants to tell the whole wide world at once. I hope she remembered that she and her fiance were supposed to tell their own parents first, before they texted, tweeted and facebooked the universe. I am sure her electronic methods were not a slight on you but merely a symptom of her being engaged going straight to her head.

She has now entered one of the most stressful and emotional periods of a woman's life: planning a wedding is absolutely fraught with hurt feelings, parental tantrums, pushy salesladies, sulky friends, helpless grooms and hysterical brides.

People will second-guess what she wants over and over again. The last thing she needs is a showdown with good friends over how she chose to share her happy news. If you send her any kind of reproach right now, yes, you will definitely jeopardize the friendship.

Her text does not trouble me as much as the fact that you have not met her fiance. It seems odd that such a close friend would not have met him before things got really serious. (Perhaps you two live far apart now?) I suggest that you send her a text or email back saying "I am so happy for you! I'm dying to meet the lucky man! When can we all meet up?"

As for jealousy, there is nothing like a friend getting engaged to make the other Single girls go into a short tizzy.

First of all, when a friend gets engaged, things are now different and always shall be. Her fiance is now her best friend, and that's the way it has to be. Second, as happy as we are for our friends, if we are Single, the thought lurks in the back of our minds, "What about ME?!" This thought makes us feel guilty and selfish, but as long as we don't say it to the bride, it shouldn't. It is perfectly normal, but unless we* acknowledge it to ourselves, we don't understand why we feel so crazy.

My advice is to sort out for yourself (in private) everything you feel hurt about, let go your unhappy feelings about how she chose to tell her news, and to signal that you want to continue the friendship by sending her best wishes and your hopes to meet her husband-to-be.

I don't think Christ ever did tell people how much they hurt Him, so I can't imagine how anyone would do that in a Christ-like way. I am very sure that He would like His fellow Singles to be protective of and kind to brides, though, as the first miracle He ever performed was at a wedding, and He did it so that that the wedding party would not be embarrassed before their guests.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

*I say "we" because I experience something similar when I hear the news that a friend is expecting a baby.

It is such a fun conversation, the revelation that a friend is getting married, that I cherish very much the memory of one girl telling me in person. I have only one such memory, and I simply don't remember how I went about telling my own friends I was getting married. It couldn't have been by text because I didn't own a mobile phone at the time. I bet it was mostly over the phone--and Facebook.

Update: I stopped playing these meme games long ago, but here's a link to a Single's blog.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Something for the Boys

I have not read very much of this magazine, THE (secret) journal of Young Fogeys, so I do not know if it 100% Catholic compliant. I doubt it, actually, but what I have seen so far I have enjoyed.

I find "The Chap Manifesto" particularly amusing, although I deplore the idea that men should smoke quite that much. My grandfather, himself a snappy dresser inspired by film noir, smoked like a chimney and died of a massive heart attack at 65. Thus my grandmother was a widow at 60 and very unhappy about it. Not that she stopped smoking herself for another 10 years or so, but I digress.

Any man who lives by "The Chap Manifesto" would dismiss my objections as feminine twittering and go selectively deaf, hearing snapping back on only when someone asked me what was for pudding or what it was X said about Y when Z was in the room.

The wonderful thing about the Single men I know in Britain is that they wear Singledom so well. They are very interested in philosophy, theology, politics, literature, art, clothing, conversation, dining out, cocktail parties and all of that, and if the topic of marriage comes up they nod thoughtfully as if marriage is something to which they ought to get around one of these days.

At no point do they sound off against feminism, which they usually pretend does not exist, unless they are teasing someone like me, and this happens but rarely, and usually under the influence of alcohol.I cannot stress enough that the Single men I know in the UK do not react to the whole subject of women and marriage with sudden diatribes against feminism.

No, the Single Young Fogey is calm, cool, and collected. He gives the impression that if he marries, it will be because he was at a country house/Highland cottage party where absolutely splendid girls abounded, and while rowing a pretty girl in linen and a picture hat in a nearby pond, he suddenly proposed and she accepted. Meanwhile, as he has no idea which country house/Highland cottage party this will be, he just gets on with the business of life, hunting down the prefect brogues and stocking the humidor.

I get the impression sometimes that some men think they are not really men unless they have a woman. But this has never been an issue for traditional university men in Britain. I don't know about the 1960s, Guardian-reading, red-brick men: perhaps they feel like the world would judge them harshly if they turned up at parties without trophy women on their arms. But this is not a thought that seems to torture the Young Fogey, I am happy to say.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Impatient

Hey there, Auntie S!

When you like an NCB, and you have evidence to suggest there is some interest on his side, and you have been regularly pairing up to chat at social gatherings about your common interests, etc., how long is reasonable to wait for him to make some sort of move (i.e. invite for coffee)? How much preamble is acceptable and at what point do you decide he's "just not that into you" and maybe you're just friends after all?

In the past I have had deluded crushes stretch on for months or even years, and I am tired of it. I was recently inspired by a wise woman who exclaimed to me: "We're adults! You can't let things drag on forever! This isn't high school!" I'm interested to read what you and your readers have to say.


Dear Impatient,

This depends on the "evidence" that there is "some interest on his side" and what the "regular pairing up" looks like. If this looks like you rushing up to him and him just not running away, then I'd say this does not look particularly hopeful to me.

However, if the evidence is that he keeps coming up to you, and brings you coffee (or anything at all), and gives you compliments, then it does look hopeful. If this NCB really is showing evidence of interest, and you have known each other for at least a month, and your friends cannot be-LIEVE he hasn't asked you out yet, I recommend trotting out my old standby, "Why don't you ever ask me out for coffee?"

Now, I have a warning about "Why don't you ever ask me out for coffee?" This excellent question got me two boyfriends and thus sparked two relationships. I broke off the first one because I was not enough into him, and the man broke off the second one because he was not enough into me. |However, this does not cancel out the efficacy of "Why don't you ever ask me out for coffee" in the case of men who are truly interested and just need a dab of encouragement.

If he says, "Because I don't want to ruin the friendship", you are not allowed to get mad at him. You must say, "Ah! Smart man!", punch him chummily in the arm, and then forget all about him as a possibility. Stuff him into the friend zone where he belongs and accept that he is just not that into you, just as you are just not into 99% of the men in the world.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Single Supplement in the Washington Post

Ick! Singles' supplements. Usually this means you pay more on trips. But today it means some interesting articles about long-term Singles in the Washington Post.

For those inclined to feel gloomy, I will note that the high percentage of unmarried adults includes a heck of lot of teenagers, divorced people, widowed people and presumably also male and female religious, and priests. It also includes people who have had long-term extramarital relationships that ended without legal ado.

I think it a bad idea to lump together virgins and/or never-married, the divorced and the widowed as "Singles", since all these groups have different experiences and issues. And different writers about the Single Life are going to have different attitudes on the topic stemming from their own histories. For example, one fact I can bring to the discussion is that being Single is better than being married to the wrong guy, or being the wrong girl yourself.

(I will now reflect on the insanity of having married a 23 year old/married when I was a very immature 25 year old. Insanity! Craziness! Never mind him: I was soooo the wrong girl, as the Tribunal--which got only my and my witnesses' testimony--pointed out in rather bald and crushing terms.)

But the article does cover some of the different groups of Singles, and very importantly it talks both to Searching Singles and to Serious Singles. The Serious Singles are very happy being Single; it is the Searching Singles, of course, who have the harder lot.

Great thanks to Lauren, who sent the main article in. Read the supplementary articles, too, as they are very interesting.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Welcome, the New Girl!

I see that there is a new girl in the Help for Catholic Singles biz. Here is a link to her interview in Our Sunday Visitor.

I haven't read her book, but I bring it to your attention. From the interview, she sounds like a sensible girl. Maybe you should buy her book. (If you haven't already, you should buy mine too, needless to say--also available in Polish.)

As for the interviewer's final question, I could tell Miss Stimpson that writing about the Catholic Single life will probably not endanger her marriage prospects in any way whatsoever. Back in my days as Seraphic Single, I occasionally had to hint to male letter writers that my blog was not the world's longest personal ad.

You would not BELIEVE one email I got. I cannot tell you WHAT that young man had to say in his own praise because this is a Catholic blog. I thought, "I don't think he's actually read much of my blog." I also thought, "Holy cow. I know his boss!" I wrote, "I'm not interested."

Dear me. Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, but some are just too much. Not to get all Mary Daly on you, boys, but sometimes I dream of some way to keep my Auntish thoughts for girls and girls alone. But then I recall that the first place I spoke to B.A. was in my combox.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Dumb Smart Girls & Smart Smart Girls

Oooh la la. Never mind jumpers. Here is part of a letter touching on the most controversial topic known to this blog. Read and prepare to weep.

"It has occurred to me to write you about this for some time, and that is, the topic of intelligence and women's relationships with men...

I have observed amongst my friends that it seems as though women who are sharp, strong, and intelligent tend to be less sought after by men, taken on less dates, or tend to get into deep brainy conversations that may end in debate, but are less pursued romantically. On the other hand, my girl friends that play the 'ignorant" card, or the "damsel in distress" card, either because they actually are, or because they "dumb themselves down" around men, are strongly pursued and "a catch" with the men. I am wondering whether this has also been the case in your observation? If so, what can we learn from this?

I read an article somewhere months ago, which has been lingering in my mind about strong intelligent women feeling like they need to turn off their brains in a relationship with a man, so that he "doesn't get intimidated", "is attracted to her", "understands what he contributes to the relationship" (i.e. his mind?)

I am reminded of this humorous clip from British comedy, "Women Know Your Limits". If you haven't seen it, it is a scream. Do you think it's funny because it contains a kernel of truth to it?

I am writing not so you can publish the letter on your blog necessarily, but just to get your thoughts about women who are smart and how to navigate that. Of course, I would expect that smart men desire smart women (in theory), but when it's practically and concretely lived out, I see less of that happening. Perhaps it's also in the approach about how women are sharing their opinions and their brain; it can be done aggressively, brashly, and competitively, which could be a turn-off, or humbly, and from the heart. Just curious!!

Can't wait to hear what you think!"

What I think is that, among the general sisterhood of smart girls, there are Dumb Smart Girls and there are Smart Smart Girls.

Dumb Smart Girls use the same tactics they have always used to impress teachers and professors to impress potential suitors, even when these tactics have never worked on potential suitors before.

Smart Smart Girls understand that there is the world of the classroom and there is the world outside, that there is the law of the classroom and the law of the jungle. They adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Dumb Smart Girls talk too much. They talk and talk and talk and joke and banter and one-up men's jokes and get high on their own cleverness.

Smart Smart Girls watch, listen and ponder. They ask intelligent questions. They extend subtle flattery. They leave their interlocutors wanting more.

Dumb Smart Girls don't like other women because "women are boring and talk about dumb stuff like clothes and hair and recipes." At parties they talk only to men, even if all the other women are in the kitchen. It's like they're honorary men. How attractive!

Smart Smart Girls cultivate friendships with the kind of women men seem to be crazy about and learn from them. They ask them for advice on clothes and hair. They try out their recipes. Smart Smart Girls realize that whatever it is that makes men like these women might rub off on them.

Dumb Smart Girls show off how much they know.

Smart Smart Girls don't put all their intellectual goods in the shop window. Until there is a reason for a man to know that she is fluent in five European and one Asian language, a Smart Smart Girl keeps such information to herself.

Dumb Smart Girls prefer to believe that all attractive men prefer brains to looks and prefer to think of women as their intellectual equals, if not their intellectual superiors.

Smart Smart Girls see men for who they really are and not as who they might wish they were. Smart Smart Girls try to see men as naturalists see squirrels: as interesting beings quite unlike themselves, with predictable patterns of behaviour and curious mating rituals.

Dumb Smart Girls get drunk at parties and reveal what they know about men. For example, the last time I was drunk at a party, I revealed that my social life would have been a million times better if, from the age of six, I had said "Gosh, you're smart" at regular intervals to all the boys and men I knew.

Smart Smart Girls have more discipline and keep their mouths shut.

I do not believe women should "dumb down". But I do not believe women should "smart up". As awful as this sounds, and as much as men enjoy a good intellectual argument, many men connect intellectual argument with competition and masculinity. So if you argue like a man, gosh darn it, but the hottie you're arguing with might start thinking of you as a man. This is great at work, but not so great at the cocktail party.

I myself am a Dumb Smart Girl, and have been all my life. It took me a long time to learn not to talk so much. And I know that when I met my future husband, I didn't talk that much.

He knew me mostly from my "Still Seraphic" blog, and its perpetual cheery tone led him to dread, not that I was a formidable intellectual, but that I might have a squeaky voice.

As a matter of fact, I didn't have much of a voice at all because I had jet lag and mild culture shock and soon a very bad cold. B.A., who loves to talk, talked. I listened. And giggled. And the more I fell in love with B.A., the more I listened and giggled.

He fell in love with me when I was wearing a blue dress and white pearls, sitting on an IKEA couch in a Georgian townhouse, sipping a gin-and-tonic, tissue balled up in my other hand, listening intelligently to anecdotes about Oxford in the 1960s.

I was intelligent, presentable and looked like a younger version of Dame Emma Kirkby; compared to that--I firmly believe-- my M.A., my M.Div. and my Lonergan Studies diploma meant squat, interesting only in hindsight, because they belonged to me.

Men are who they are and not who you want them to be.

P.S. "Women Know Your Limits" is less funny after living in the UK for three years. That said, though, it is possibly the same spirit that keeps American traditionalist women in jumpers.