Monday, 30 April 2012

Too Much Psychodrama!

Had to take down the last post for psychodramatic reasons, to which I am sympathetic, but ooh people. I have a FLIGHT to KRAKOW today....!!!!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Retreat Registration Closed

The Majowka dla Kobiet (May retreat for women) in Krakow must be entirely booked up, for lo the registration is closed.

It is amazing to me that women would come from all over Poland to a retreat featuring four talks by English-speaking me, but there will be a translator and, as continental Europeans often tell me, continental Europeans are used to coping with English and each others' languages anyway. Meanwhile, I am terribly pleased, as you can imagine, as I have slaving away at my talks and also at basic Polish. Yesterday I sort of collapsed in a dinner party.

It was sad, really. Imagine a beautiful Georgian room with a 12 pane window with a view of a Scottish garden, and by this window a round dark wood table, mostly surrounded by men in tweed jackets, plus one girl of 22 in a very smart V-neck Laura Ashley frock and a women got up in Edwardian black. That was me. Incidentally, my lace shawl fell off at the table, revealing a vast expanse of strap-free shoulder. Sensation, not to say sweeping Marx Brothers-style hilarity, among the men.

British men.

Anyway, I was fine for the champagne, and the simply delicious, French restaurant quality soup, and the rich cassoulet, and even the fruitcake, but I was starting to flag when the '55 port made its second round and then my head began to hurt and sitting up seemed too much of a chore and I began sending silent distress signals to B.A., who (being a man) wasn't getting them, so I gave them voice and then almost fainted in the host's hallway.

I am not sure why my body suddenly decided to pack it in after the port came around. I don't think it was a protest against the modern habit of women sticking around for the port. It was very good port, a beautiful colour, and anyway there was no hostess. No hostess, no leaving the table. And actually as far as I know I am the last hostess in Edinburgh to segregate the sexes anyway.

Could it have been the strain of learning Polish on top of everything else? I use the word "learning" in the most general sense. I try to stuff Polish into my brain at odd moments during the day--especially during bus rides--and then it leaks out. I travel about with a fat stack of cue cards with Polish words on them, and stare at the English side like a psychic trying to get a mental glimpse of the underside of a playing card. It has taken me six months to manage to glue the names of the twelve months of the year into my inelastic brain, and I'm still shaky on June.

"Listopad" (November) is my favourite month-name, and it is the discovery of such amusing words that makes the effort worth it, although B.A. would point out it isn't worth collapsing during dinner parties. Not quite the thing. Darling.*

Another subtle reward is watching Polish men speak Polish at parties, and incidentally DON'T DO THAT if you're Single. It is very odd behaviour, and I am sure I only get away with it (if I do) because I am married. Anyway, it is like watching furry water creatures (i.e. the Poles) waddle along the shore (i.e. speak English) and then slip into the water where they glide with astonishing grace (i.e. speak Polish).

After six months of me listening very hard, normal spoken Polish no longer sounds like "blah-BLAH-blah-blah-BLAH-blah-PRAV-da?" but like "I am [something]-ty and kricky kricka smoosh living in Warsaw is kricka it smoosh my flat kricky kricka smoosh thirty-three smoosh kricka shishbit in my opinion krick smoosh kricka Glasgow szbit smoosh krikety twice as expensive."

One of the parish Poles, the one who didn't like school and came to Britain to work at 17, says he learned English by listening and watching people and eventually something happened in his brain and he could understand. It sounds like magic, although I remember a similar sensation when I decided to lose 20 pounds and after a year of thrice-weekly workouts plus strict calorie counting, I suddenly fit into a Club Monaco Size 2.

Anyway, poppets, I don't think this has much to do with being Single, except that I am so happy I am going to Poland to talk to Polish Singles that I work hard every day to learn a little Polish. And I suppose it is also evidence that I believe you can achieve some things, perhaps MOST things, by hard work. You can't stop being Single, if that's what you're after, by hard work.

That said, if your fundamental difficulty is that you are not rooted in reality or you have almost despaired of understanding men (never mind Polish), those are things you can work on. You can do this by paying strict attention to reality and forcing yourself not to confuse your own hopes and fears with the actual data before you. It might help you to read the work of Bernard Lonergan to this end, but let me tell you, THAT is certainly work.

*To be fair, B.A. hailed a cab and was all hand-holding and solicitude.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mulieris Dignitatem

Well, poppets, I cannot stick around and chat for I have to finish my lecture on Mulieris Dignitatem this morning. Next up is "How I Became a Completely Seraphic Single Something Like Six Months Before I Met B.A." How will that sound in Polish, I wonder.

Mulieris Dignitatem is an apostolic letter promulgated by John Paul II on the Feast of the Assumption, 1988. In English, it is 42 single-spaced pages long. It is all about the dignity of women, as you might have guessed from the title, which stems from being made (like men) in the image and likeness of God and (like men) being called to service although (being uniquely women) we tend to be a bit more naturally enthusiastic about this service stuff.

As does Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce (Edith Stein), John Paul holds up Mary as the great model for all humanity but also women in particular. He has a lot of cool things to say about this, especially the part about Mary's active dialogue during the Annunciation.

The striking thing about Mulieris Dignitatem is how repetitive it is. If you read it out loud to an audience, they would all fall asleep. Zzzz. And believe me I am thinking about this because I am terrified of boring the beautiful women of Poland (and Polonia) who are coming to my Majówka. Since I am to have a translator, there is of necessity going to be a lot of repetition.

Seraphic: John Paul asserts yet again that women are equal to men.

Women: Ah!

Translator: Jan Pawel powtarza, że kobiety są równe mężczyznom.

Kobiety: Zzzz.

But actually it is quite interesting that John Paul bangs on about how men and women are equal (and different) because he seems even more convinced of this than Saint Edith Stein and how come people told me my whole life that John Paul didn't like women? In the context of Mulieris Dignitatem, it is so BIZARRE that even Catholic women in the 1980s moped and complained and groused that the pope didn't like women and what did he know, he grew up without a mother, and blah blah blah. This attitude is so obviously unfair, I don't know where to begin except, obviously, with Mulieris Dignitatem.

I have three eeny weeny little niggling thoughts about Mulieris Dignitatem, which should not take away from the excellence of that document. The first is the dividing up of all women into Mothers and Virgins, by which John Paul means, specifically, wives and female religious. This leaves long-term Single women out in the cold, not to mention all females too young to make marriage or religious life commitments, which can mean females up to 25 in these immature days, up to 32 or so if they're me.

He mentions that remaining Single is not the same as consecrated virginity, for being unmarried, he believes, is a "No" whereas consecrated virginity is a "Yes." Now I agree that embracing consecrated virginity is a "Yes" but being Single might not be a "No." If no man is knocking on your door, you're not saying "No." You're just not saying anything. And meanwhile, there exist all kinds of women who cannot marry or take religious vows for all kinds of reasons, some which are our fault, okay, but others which simply are not. And then there is the "Yes" implicit in living as a Single person in a community like "L'Arche." One thinks of long-term Single Jean Vanier.

One also thinks, incidentally, of John Paul's great bachelor layman mentor, Jan Tyranowski.

My second niggle is about the definition of virginity. John Paul writes that Mary wanted to preserve her virginity. So do the women who choose consecrated life. Great! He doesn't explain, however, why Mary was betrothed to Joseph in that case. I am sure there is a good explanation, but he doesn't give it. Meanwhile, is virginity a physical thing (and, if so, in what way), or a spiritual thing, or both, or an orientation towards God-as-one-and-only-Husband? Mulieris Dignitatem does not sort this out although it does talk about motherhood in detail.

My third niggle is about Mary as a model for wives. Most wives do not spend our marriages as consecrated virgins. And since ordinary traditional married women feel a bit protective of virginity and innocence, there is a part of our lives that we might not want to share with Our Lady or believe she would understand. Since lack-of-virginity entails certain knowledge, I would tentatively posit that there is something the Blessed Virgin Mary doesn't and by definition can't know.

I can feel the perspiration breaking out on my forehead with that one. Oh well, maybe it's all in "Love and Responsibility." And I suppose one could always have a conversation with Saint Anne on topics that one feels are not suitable for Our Lady.

But I realize that I am in dangerous theological waters so I will now rush off and wash the dishes. And then it's back to Mulieris Dignitatem.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Of Course It Might Be Different When You're Older...

I have enjoyed the thoughts about men and money in yesterday's combox, particularly the ones that suggest that a man without ambition is kind of not very hot. I was reminded of a little old lady with little English who gave me the lowdown on her grandson. Now this was AGES ago, and I was vaguely sure I was going to marry her grandson. However, Granny didn't think so. Granny was said to be psychic, so we asked Granny if she thought we would get married and she looked very hesitant. Possibly Granny was psychic. Possibly Granny didn't like me very much, which would have been a minority report, though I say so myself.

But I'll tell you what Granny said to really louse things up. There I was with Granny, in her room at the top of the house, and chatting about this or that, and Granny said, "[My grandson] has no ambition. Just like his grandfather."

And I thought, "Holy cow. I think she is right!"

If I had been older, I might have just laughed. I might have pointed out all of her grandson's excellent characteristics, and then later told him what his grandmother said, complete with accent. Every time he showed laziness or timidity, I would have croaked "[Diminutive] has no ambition. Just like his grandfather."

But I wasn't older. I was young. Very young indeed. And when you are young, you are busily pondering choices for your life. Your life stretches out before you, a clean road, shiny, new, mysterious. You are aware that, being a faithful Catholic, if you get married you could end up with a lot of kids. You would love each and every one of those wonderful kids, and you would not want to have to work at some horrible drudge job to keep them alive and in state daycare. No. You would either want to stay at home with them or, better yet, put them in the university creche down the street as you gave your lectures on "Roman Poetry of the Augustan Age". In short, when you are young, you want it all: children, intellectual equal/husband, career, house, car, glory, fame, enough money to go on holiday, enough money to pay for Christmas. This means a man to fall in completely with your plans, neither to be an economic liability nor to be all sulky if your job is better than his. And so the choice of life partner, when you are very young, seems like less of a covenant, self-gift, all that stuff in "Love and Responsibility" and more of a Lifestyle Choice.

Dear me, it is tough to be young. So much PRESSURE.

Anyway, one of the joys of being older, when you are unmarried, is that you stand in the wreckage of your youth, and you survey the battle-scarred remains of life and wonder if there are any single men among the survivors. You are not so worried about potentiality because mostly what you and the men of your generation have now is actuality. You don't care who is ambitious. You care about who is nice and trustworthy, and if there is any chance that so-and-so's marriage, which ended umpteen years ago in acrimonious divorce, might be annulled by the Church.

I'm not saying you have to settle. No, no, no! Never, never, never! I'm saying your priorities change. Of course they do. You are older and, very significantly, there is no chance you're going to have twelve children. And if you ever entertained visions of being swooped away by a zillionaire who has fallen in love with your youthful beauty, they are gone now.

Conversations with men are quite different then they were when you were twenty. Instead of hearing a bit about goals to be achieved, you hear a bit about dreams that have died. Happily, you also hear about new dreams, which might not be as glittery, but certainly have more substance. And there is a lot less guesswork. A 20 year old will not be the same man at 30, but a 30 year old will probably be the same man at 40. And 50.

When I ponder my life at, ahem, 40+ and compare it to my vague plans when I was 20, I have a good laugh. It is a happy laugh, though, because I'm very happy.

Okay, the no-kids-yet-and-I'm-40 thing is kind of annoying, but I have nephews and a niece and friends with babies, so it's not terrible. And, yes, I'm furious that I couldn't, as an orthodox (and high-strung) Catholic, attempt a PhD in Theology at a certain soi-disant "Catholic" university without having a nervous breakdown. However, I do work that I love, and my husband is a hoot, and for the time being we have a 17th century roof over our heads.

I simply cannot remember how much he makes. When we started talking marriage, I said, "Could you support a wife and child on your salary?" and he said yes. So there you go. If he decides he want to become Minister for Culture, I will be very surprised, but if that's what he wants to do, okay. If he decides he wants to retire from the pressures of the Historical House and become a crofter, again I will be very surprised, but if that's what he wants to do, okay---as long as there is internet.

His granny, alas, died years ago, but if she ever came back to tell me she doesn't think B.A. has much ambition, I'd kick her ghost out of my kitchen with a cheerful "Awa' back to Purgatory and bile yer heid!"

Ahhhh. It's good to be older.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Money Thing

I never know what is going to touch off a blog post, let alone two. But this weekend it was definitely a five minute conversation in a grassy courtyard, between blossoming cherry trees, with two handsome men, one Polish, one Scottish, who didn't actually say that much. Our topic was this funny "How to Win Women" clip on Spotify, which I actually never saw, and I went smack into Auntie Seraphic mode. Dedicate an hour every day to something, and you become it. Believe ME. Let's just say they didn't have the chance to say much.

But one of them did say something, or maybe one or the other just thought it and I read his mind. I can't remember, and at any rate he didn't get very far, because although he said or thought it in the most general and polite way, the concept was "Money."

In a split second I thought about the hundreds of my readers, most working madly at school or at jobs or at careers, most paying their own bills, most longing for male company, for a man who would make them laugh and meet them at the airport at the end of a business trip.

"Women don't care about a man's money," I trumpeted. "We don't really care how much a man makes! We have our own money! We have our own jobs! We don't need men for money. We choose men for their looks. MEN ARE A LUXURY GOOD!"

That last sounded really great until I thought about how that might sound to someone like, you know, John Paul II.

"Don't tell anyone in Poland I said that," said I hastily to the Polish one.

Okay, so men are not a luxury good. They are our brothers, our spiritual spouses in "unity in two" (see Mulieris Dignitatem), our friends, our companions and co-creators of the future. And thus they are so much more to us than a source of income I do not even know where to begin.

"Of course women want men to work," I said. "Men need work for self-respect. But it is not about money."

Neither of them pointed out that my unusual and comfortable if simple lifestyle is not being supported by my meager Catholic writer's earnings but by my heritage sector husband, which was prudent of them. It's never a good idea to suggest to your hostess that she married for money although, actually, people constantly suggest that I married B.A. for the Historical House. I did not marry B.A. for the Historical House although I am awfully fond of the Historical House, which is a good thing, as the Historical House is the focus of my husband's career. It's like loving Christendom College when your husband is a professor there.

Career. Work. And, really, what adult Catholic Single woman really cares what work an attractive man does as long as he is doing it, he enjoys it, it isn't evil and it makes him independent? Yes, a young women who anticipates having a houseful of kids is going to ponder how she and a potential husband are going to best support those kids, but the majority of women are not thinking, "Oh wow. I just want a guy to pay for my Gucci handbags." I mean, hello?

Now, I admit there are probably some women out there who really do think of men as sources of Gucci handbags. My former housemate Jonathan swore up and down that women in the bars and clubs of Boston would crane their necks to have a look at his watch or go to some lengths to have a look at the label of his coat. He also claimed women sometimes ask complete strangers what kind of car they drive. It had never occurred to me in my life to do that, so eventually I asked a man what kind of car he drove, and he said "Whichever one is available", which I thought supremely clever.

I am trying to see life from the perspective of women who go to bars and try to figure out which men are earning a lot of money. For some reason, all I can think of is Margaret Thatcher supposedly saying that anyone who takes the bus after age 40 is a loser, or whatever she said that makes Scottish bus-takers and bicyclists so mad. I suppose these label-reading women might be trying to separate the men who have embraced what they think is adult life from the men who are content to coast through life as perpetual teenagers. And young men starting off in their careers tend to buy shiny toys like cars, watches and handsome overcoats. So I can well imagine a woman scanning a man trying to impress her in a bar and thinking "So where are your shiny toys, then?"

But, yes, I admit there are women who are looking for walking cash machines, although I don't think I know any personally. And I know a lot of single women. These are women who go to church. They have jobs. They don't usually go to bars, and if they do, they are surrounded by female friends. Most have put in a lot of time and work to get degrees or certification, and those who think they won't work after marriage think this will be because they have babies to tend. They have been told since they were old enough to grasp the concept that women SHOULD work outside the home, and that women SHOULD earn money, and it is actually very difficult for many contemporary educated women to grasp the concept that--as Saint Edith Stein wrote--women shouldn't HAVE to work outside the home. ("Family wage? Whaaaa-?") These are good women who are interested in men for themselves, not for their money.

In short, as long as a man has work, work he likes, or a job he doesn't like but he's willing to work at it until he can get work he likes better, then as far as money goes, he is marriage material. He is marriage material because getting and keeping a job, or working for himself, shows character,maturity and interest in life.

Conversely, a guy who sits around all day, not working, not studying, not doing something constructive (think the Hugh Grant character in About a Boy), is NOT marriage material, no matter how big his trust fund or personal wealth. But I suppose he will not go wanting for female companionship because he can always go and flash his watch at girls in bars, hopefully attracting only the ones he deserves.

As a favour to our brothers/spiritual spouses/co-creators of the future of the world, would you kindly write in the combox exactly WHAT it is you hope the right one will add to your life (if you do)? Anonymous comments will be, as usual, deleted.

Aktualizacja : To jest najnowszy wywiad ze mną: "Single nigdy nie są samotni".

Monday, 23 April 2012

What I Would Tell Men If They Asked

Women are busily signing up for the Majowka dla Kobiet (May retreat for women), as I boastfully informed a young Polish man yesterday. He seemed vaguely impressed, as I meant him to be.

“Are there going to be any men there?” he asked.

“Noooooooo,” I said. “Well, the priest.”

Then I went into a small lecture on how men and women are totally different and approach single life in different ways and have different responsibilities in courtship, and therefore not very much of my advice applies to men, exactly.

Then a Scotsman volunteered that he had found a very funny “How to” video on Spotify on how to win women, and he should look it up again.

One piece of amusing advice was to stare into a woman’s eyes while talking to her and never look anywhere else. This struck me as unwise, although in light of day, there is something to be said for showing paying strict attention to what a woman is saying. I, for one, am always flattered when I feel eyes, light or dark, boring into me when I am holding forth on some speech or other. Even if the stare is aggressive, which sadly it so often is, I feel flattered.

“But it’s so easy for men,” I wailed.

Both Pole and Scot looked as though they might disagree with this remark. However, lots of things are much, much easier for men than for women, like gaining muscle mass. The fact that more men aren’t in the gym busily building muscle mass used to drive me crazy in my sporty days when I was building muscle mass myself. It seemed like a waste of the gift of testosterone.

So having declared that courtship is so easy for men, I should elucidate. I will elucidate because there are lots of excellent guys going around thinking it is SO HARD to court women, when legions of women are complaining that there are no excellent guys left. Part of the problem, by the way, is that the excellent guys do not know that they are excellent guys. They had absolutely no luck with girls when they were 15, tiny and pimpled, and so they assume they will have no luck with girls even now when they are 30, tall (or taller) and as beautiful as the day.

What such men should do is talk to a happily married female pal and ask, “Do you think girls would like to go out with me?” She will either say, “A really special woman would appreciate your gifts”—which means you are a niche interest (and so many of us are)—or “Of course they would, you IDIOT!”—which is encouraging.

Okay, so having said that, I will tell you how I think men can court women. Keep in mind that this is advice for men, not for women, and this is a blog for women, so men probably won’t read it. However, I think it is worthwhile putting out on the blog so you girls can correct me where you think I am wrong, and we can take the assembled knowledge to our male friends when/if they humbly ask us what we think.

1. If you are male, Single and REALLY are tired of being Single and would prefer a noisier life of constantly having to get along with a woman, then you are going to have to go out and find your own woman. Don’t assume she will come up to you. That’s not her job.

2. To find your own woman, you have to go where women are. This is generally easy because women are just about everywhere these days, including the guesthouses of monasteries. By the way, if you are an acting-out priest or monk stop reading now. I’m not going to be complicit in your psychodramas.

3. Ask yourself the follow questions: “Who do I know is really pretty?”* “Who do I think is really nice?” If you can think of a girl whose name could appear under both headings, call her up on the phone and say, “Hey, [pretty and nice girl], I wonder if you would have tea with me at the [elegant] hotel on Saturday afternoon.”
Hotel teas are very classy and comfortable and generally free of the sexual associations of “a drink” and “dinner” and the job-interview quality of “coffee.”

4. Do not be completely alarmed if she blurts “Just as friends, right?” Despite what you have heard, many pretty, nice girls have a thick streak of awkward and are so shocked at the fact that they/we are being asked out on a Real Date that their/our brains seize up and they/we say the first thing that comes to mind. Also, our reptile brains hear “Tea with me?” and register “Marry me?” and so of course scream “Eeek! Viking rapist! Oh nooooooo! ”

So if the nice and pretty girl says, “Just as friends, right?” say, “Well, of course. But I will be paying all the same.” Fight for the right to pay. Point out it was your idea.

5. Have the lovely tea and then pay. Enjoy sitting in an elegant room with a nice and pretty girl for its own sake. It is one of the joys of bachelor living. Once you are married you no longer have a choice of girls; you can take only your wife to elegant teas or you will be in serious trouble.

6. Call the pretty, nice girl two days later and say, “I was wondering if you would come with me to X.” I don’t know what X is. X could be dinner at a specific restaurant. Or it could be to the opera. Or to a jazz bar. You’re paying, so you choose. If she really enjoyed the last date, she will say yes, and if she didn’t, she will probably say she is busy. Say you’re sorry about that, wait for two weeks, and if she doesn’t text you or call you or make an excuse to talk to you in her panic that she might have discouraged you, think of another nice, pretty girl to ask out for tea. Enjoy the fact that you can still go out to tea with a VARIETY of girls, because once you’re married…. Forget it.

7. If whichever pretty, nice girl starts telling you all kinds of personal stuff, this is a very good sign. If, however, it is about her ex-boyfriend, this is a bad sign, and it would be a good idea to tell her that you don’t want to hear about other men. This will help to keep you out of the Friendzone.

Girl (to friend on phone): And then he said, “I don’t want to hear about other men.”
Friend: Ooooooh. Respect.
Girl: Do you think so? I was kind of mad, actually.
Friend: No, it means he really likes you.
Girl: Really?
Friend: Yes.

By the way, be nice to any of her friends you meet, to the extent of buying their coffees when you are all out together, because she will be discussing you with her friends, and you will want them on your side.

8. Now, if you are lucky, one of the pretty, nice girls you’ve been taking to tea will start to show how much she likes you by emailing, texting, etc. Do not answer such messages right away. For some reason I have never been able to fathom, this makes women like men more. Maybe it is because we spend a lot of time wondering when you will text/email back and if we made asses of ourselves writing in the first place. I am sorry to say it, but it is true. And men who are too quick to answer emails and texts make women like them less, possibly because there is no suspense. This does not apply to married couples, however. Married men should get back to their wives ASAP or there will be trouble.

9. In general, don’t bring up the subject of commitment for three months. After three months or maybe two, you could delicately inquire as to whether she has been going to tea, opera, jazz, etc., with any other man and, if so, would she kindly stop so you can tell your friends you have a girlfriend. And if she agrees, you have to think hard for the next nine months if you want to marry this girl. Before the year is up, either propose or break up. Don’t waste her life, capisce?

10. If a woman asks you out and you don’t think she is either particularly pretty or nice, don’t go out with her just because you are lonely. She will complicate your life. So just say No, you’re busy/No, your heart belongs to another. Yes, she will be mad. Tough. Pre-empt such women by asking out girls on your Pretty & Nice list. And don’t forget what I said about waiting at least 2 weeks between asking out THIS pretty & nice girl (and her saying “no, I’m busy”) and THAT pretty & nice girl and, if you can, you might want to think about alternating between groups of friends.

Yes, you will probably be shot down in your dating career. Big fat deal. There are men your age and younger taking actual bullets in Afghanistan, so don’t come crying to me. If you think you are called to marriage (and most men are) it is your job to get a wife, so go and get one.

And that would be my advice to any man who asked me. They tend not to, however.

*By the way, ladies, "pretty" is in the eye of the beholder. No man should marry a woman he doesn't think is pretty. Thankfully, men are a lot more open-minded than women about what "pretty" is. They don't read our bloody awful fashion magazines. Unfortunately, a lot do look at porn, which totally messes up them and their own unique sense of "pretty", but that is not a problem I can solve.

Friday, 20 April 2012

An Issue of Emphasis

Nzie sent me this link to a Boundless article on "How Not to Sabotage Your Path to Marriage", wondering what I would have to say about it. Apparently a lot of women wrote complaints in the combox, but so far I can't find the combox.

The article doesn't make me want to complain, but two points stand out. The first is that the author does not seem to be a Catholic, and I will note that the Protestant* tradition never had time for celibacy whereas the Orthodox and Catholic traditions still hold it out as a sign of the Kingdom and a Very Good Thing.

Thus if you are a 40 year old Catholic Single, you have many models of holy celibacy, lived by priests, brothers, nuns and even ordinary lay people. Saint Edith Stein, by the way, didn't become a Carmelite until she was in her 40s. Before that she was a Single woman committed to her prayer, teaching, writing and lecturing.

But if you are a 40 year old Protestant Single, you may have fewer models for holy Christian single life to choose from or that you have even heard of. The author of the Boundless article makes celibacy sound like personal failure. She might like to have a little read of Saint Paul.

The second thing that strikes me is that she doesn't mention the reluctance of men to marry young these days. I maintain that it is a man's job to seek, court and win a wife. It is not a woman's job to make herself into a fishing lure and trail herself across the waters of her social life. It is her vocation to be a kind and helpful person and a good companion to others while remaining committed to Christ and His Gospel and developing all her gifts.

Like the women of Saint Edith's generation, we have a bit of a man shortage. In post-Great War Europe, the man shortage was caused by the battlefield deaths of so many beautiful young men. In modern Europe and America, the man shortage is caused by men's new suspicion that marriage is some kind of materialistic trap in which he will be at a disadvantage. It is also caused by a view that it is best to look like and act like a 20 year old for as long as humanly possible. And it is also caused by the difficult economic circumstances in which we live. In these here parts in the 1950s and 1960s, a construction worker could maintain a family of six on just his salary alone. Today this would be fiendishly difficult.

So you can think every day and in every way that you want to get married, but you can keep on wanting, Missy, until the right man comes along, and who knows when that will be? Best to leave that up to God and work on becoming the woman you believe He is calling you to be.

And don't settle for just any guy. Getting married just for the sake of getting married is seriously dumb. Wait for the man who makes your heart sing. I mean it.

But the author's other advice is sensible. Certainly don't date the same adult-out-of-school man for five years if marriage never seems to be on the cards. Your love, fidelity and sacrifice would not be beautiful or noble; they would be stupid. Don't rack up massive school debts if you feel strongly that you will be called to be a stay-at-home mother with children. Take Early Childhood Education, which will qualify you to work with other people's kids if you don't have your own, instead of Corporate Law. (Ultimately, work towards that which really satisfies your heart and don't be suckered by glamour. Pray before you sign anything.)

You know how I feel about Pelagianism. Pelagianism is the attitude that if only you pull yourself up by your own boot straps, you can achieve Grace. Well, no. Grace is a free gift from God and so, I believe, is your vocation. To return to Saint Edith, she felt strongly that she had a vocation as a cloistered nun, but the circumstances of her life put it off for a decade. Her spiritual directors said, "No, Edith. You haven't been a Catholic long enough, it would kill your mother, and the Church needs you to teach and to travel around giving your wonderful lectures." In fact, the only circumstances that made German Edith feel that now she could enter Carmel were the stupid Nazi laws against Jews (which meant anyone with Jewish grandparents) teaching and publishing. Out of serious, serious evil came this good. How mysterious, but how very God, eh?

Anyway, that's what I think about the article. Good-hearted, somewhat helpful, but ultimately dismissive of the good of the Single life and a tad Pelagian. It's really not all up to you, girls.

By the way, you should all be reading Essays on Woman by Edith Stein. And I mean all: the Orthodox, Pixie and Protestant* girls, too, please!

*I wrote Reformed, but Calvinist Cath said this was wrong and I should write Protestant, so I did. Cath is my go-to girl on Protestantism, so if ever I seem to sound like a 19th century Scots Presbyterian Church Elder, you can blame (or credit) Cath. Meanwhile, Cath should never take me as the authentic voice of Catholicism but go straight to!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Attraction versus Relationship

I have worked hard all day on housework and preparing for the women's retreat in Krakow, so I am allowing myself the treat of responding to a controversy that showed up in yesterday's combox.

I know we love to talk about "our type" with our girlfriends, and perhaps we watch with mingled amusement and chagrin when we find ourselves and our friends getting crushes on the same "types" again and again.

However, feelings of attraction and crushes are not the same thing as friendship and romantic relationships.

Now, I am a big fan of "spark." A friendship without "spark" may be a wonderful thing, but it is not the basis for a happy, fruitful marriage. "Spark" without friendship might be incredibly thrilling and the plot of several French films, but it also is not the basis for a happy, fruitful marriage. For a happy, fruitful marriage, you need spark and then friendship, or friendship and then spark. You must have both.

In light of yesterday's post, I state nobody can tell anyone else who they should be attracted to, although someone might--if very close friends indeed--suggest that a friend keep an open mind in terms of friendship. Friendship can indeed precede spark. So often, a woman meets a man, and doesn't know how she feels about him at first, and then comes to the conclusion that he is actually the most attractive man she knows and she will simply DIE if he doesn't call soon.

But I am talking here of the concrete. You can say until you are blue in the face that you aren't attracted to, say, blue-eyed men, and then a blue-eyed man might march into your life and make you eat those words, Missy. Personally, I always thought the Perfect Man for Me, should he ever turn up, would be over six-feet tall, dark-eyed, solemn, blah blah blah, and here I am with Pict-sized, blue-eyed, punster B.A. As Lonergan so frequently said, "Only the concrete is good."

Theories are just that--theories. And attraction is just that--attraction. It describes the present, and it may describe the past, but it does not accurately predict the future. And thank heavens for that because quite often we're attracted to the wrong stuff, thanks to the Fall or our own weird psyches or what have you.

It took me until I was 32 to realize that for some time I had become attracted to men who behaved erratically. The crazier they acted, the more I cared. But through sheer force of will, spiritual direction and a lot of prayer,I made myself stop being attracted to men who behave bizarrely. Or maybe it wasn't I who made me stop, but God.

I will repeat my two ideas. The first idea is that you are attracted to the men to whom you are attracted, but this is not necessarily a blueprint for the future. The second idea is that attraction should never be mistaken for a relationship. You can only be in a relationship with a real, live, concrete man, and there is no use worrying about whether or not you are attracted to him until you have actually met him and he has actually asked you out.

And I stand by my advice of yesterday: if people assume out loud that you wish to date only people who share your ethnic or racial background, and you don't, in fact, wish to date only people who share your ethnic or racial background, then it is up to you to correct them.

Meanwhile, I would never tell a woman that she SHOULD date a man of her own racial or ethnic background if she doesn't want to. The most I would say is, "Don't confuse the theoretical with the concrete." If it turns out that the real, live, concrete Perfect Man for You shares your own racial or ethnic background, then don't allow some once firmly-grasped-but-now-completely-out-of-date notion about "your type" stand between you.

Be friendly to those who are friendly to you, and associate with those who are actually around.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Color-blind Single

These days I try to hide what country people come from by making all spelling Canadian, but this issue is particularly pertinent to its concrete location--the USA. Of course, it might help readers from all countries reconsider our preconceptions about what women of other races and nationalities are looking for in a man.

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

I have been reading your blog for the past few weeks, and it's helpful for me to know the Catholic dating rules since I didn't grow up Catholic or with a family structure that taught me anything constructive about dating. I find what you have to say to be really constructive, but I have a problem or a question: How does race factor into these rules?

I ask for a number of reasons. First of all, I am black and have never been attracted to or dated a black guy. I kissed a couple, but that's a different story.

Second, I'm of the mind that you end up dating, loving and marrying the types of people from your current circle; there are exceptions, but that's mostly what I've seen around me. My current circle doesn't include black men, and I am fine with that. But in my years as a believer, and now as a Catholic, I have noticed that there is a presumption among my mostly white friends that blacks only date or are attracted to blacks.

Meanwhile, they don't think this "rule" applies to them when they date someone of another ethnicity who is not black. So a guy with a Hispanic mother dating a white girl is no big deal, but what's wrong with me that I am not attracted to my own kind? I've even had guys go so far to suggest, when I stated that a particular black guy to whom they thought I was attracted was not Catholic, that these men could convert! Ughh!

So I believe that I get overlooked or ignored because of this presumption regarding race. I'm not sure what to do. Honestly, I am open to whomever God provides, but despite the fact that I recognize that there are some good looking black men out there, I'm not at all attracted. What do you suggest that I do to present myself as an attractive option? Or to find men who aren't quick to label me as off-limits because of the color of my skin? And [are intimidated by the factor that I have a lot of graduate degrees]?

Thanks for your advice.

Color-blind Single

Dear Color-blind Single,

First of all, there is absolutely no barrier to interracial courtship and marriage in Catholicism. And Catholicism belongs to the whole world, not just certain locations or cultures.

Second, race is not as big a deal in some other countries as it is in the USA. In my hometown (Toronto), intercultural dating and marriage is pretty much the norm, even though some old-fashioned parents really hope their children marry fellow Whatevers (e.g. fellow Italians, fellow Chinese, fellow Afghans). This attitude often goes along with being an immigrant and wanting to hang onto the familiar. And, of course, for many young people, their ethnic traditions are part of their core values. It is always wise to marry only someone who share our core values, whatever they may be (e.g. culture, religion, politics, vegetarianism, dog-loving--whatever!). Shared ethnicity/race is not everyone's core value.

Clearly, marriage with another black person is not one of your core values, and that is fine. There is no reason why it should be (although of course it could be.) I know all kinds of people who are either married to or currently dating people from ethnic groups and colours different from their own.

I suggest that when well-meaning friends offer to set you up with black guys or ask if you've met any black guys, that you state outright that you are open to meeting men of different races. Race is such a touchy issue in the USA that your white, Hispanic and Asian friends might assume from what they've seen on television that a black woman would only ever be interested in a black guy.

However, in Britain, Iman has been married to David Bowie for decades. Grace Jones has been married to two white guys, and is currently involved with another one (a Viscount!). In the USA, Dutch-Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali is married to a white guy. Obviously black women around the world have happily dated and married (and occasionally divorced) non-black men.

As a Canadian, I'd love to tell you that your situation never crops up in Canada, but when I was in high school in the '80s, there were only three or four black girls in my class, and for some strange reason, at least two of them (one born in an African country, one born in St. Lucia) found their white friends trying to set them up with the only black guys the friends knew. Being crazy about all kinds of men, I thought that was seriously weird. But it was up to them, as it is up to you, to gently make it clear that they weren't interested in restricting their social lives to black guys.

Meanwhile, it's very hard to tell when men have decided you are off-limits because of the colour of your skin. (Oh, for the power to read minds!) I know white guys who have dated and married black girls and Asian girls, and Asian guys who have dated and married white girls, and black guys who dated and married white girls, and two Hispanic guys who married black girls. A lot probably depends on the community in which you live. If your town is really divided along racial lines, you might want to consider moving somewhere a little more cosmopolitan. Frankfurt? Paris? London? Anchorage?

My guess is that any guy who is interested in you but thinks you won't date non-black him will at least bring up the topic. And you are free to say that you are a firm believer in interracial dating without having to date that particular guy. Incidentally, pay attention to what men say when they talk about female movie or pop stars they admire. It's often a clue as to what kind of women they find attractive.

The graduate degrees are a different issue. Most guys go after the girls they think are pretty and THEN try to find out if the girls are also smart. Smart, of course, does not equal graduate degrees, so don't bring them up unless you are asked; otherwise the guy, if he doesn't have the same number of graduate degrees, might feel that you are clearly out of his league.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 16 April 2012

Latest Interview with Little Me

Oh, poppets. I have such a cold and yet so much work to do. Sniff sniff sneeze. I'll come back when I have time for a good chat. But in the meantime, there's an interview with me in the latest issue of eSPe, which you should rush out and buy if you happen to be in Poland.

I am so intrigued by the cover of the latest eSPe that its model is today's Swashbuckling Protector. Do you think he actually swashbuckles?

Anielskie Single will also be on sale during the Catholic book festival in Warsaw this week, so if you are in Warsaw yourself, you could have a look and say hello to Pan Tomasz at the Homo Dei section.

I had actual nightmares about buying my ticket to Krakow. I had better buy my ticket to Krakow this morning. Oh, woe is me. I am just so sniffly.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Giving Too Much

To continue the conversation begun yesterday with a passage from St. Edith Stein, I am channeling Cynthia Crysdale's Embracing Travail. Unfortunately my copy is in under a box under a lot of other boxes in a closet under a staircase in my parents' house. (When it came to shipping I made the heart-squeezing choice of china over books.) However, I do remember Crysdale's strong hint that "giving too much" is a particularly feminine sin, whereas "taking too much" is a particularly masculine sin.

We are all aware, I think, that being selfish is sinful, but we are less aware how giving too much is also sinful. But it is. It is sinful to be a doormat. It is sinful to "act like a martyr". It is sinful to be a coward. Cowardice is sinful.

Of course women are capable of being selfish, and men are capable of being passive aggressive doormats. But we women are usually quicker to ask "Oh, how can he take advantage of me like that?" than "Why am I allowing myself to be taken advantage of like that?" And the latter should be a serious question. Why do you allow yourself to be taken advantage of? What is it that you are getting out of it? What reward do you expect? And is that really fitting to you as a creature made in the image and likeness of God?

Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman (also in a box under boxes under stairs across the sea) also points to women's vast unquenchable torrents of love and need to give, give, GIVE. I seem to recall some poor granny or auntie she mentions knitting endless jumpers for younger relations who never wear them. Her hypothetical granny was not knitting for the pleasure of it or the pleasure she imagined the jumper might give to her young relation, but in order to give.*

The Rules, to add pop culture to this list of saint, Anglican theologian and feminist pundit, warns women not to give men expensive presents. Men are apparently suspicious of expensive presents and subconsciously smell in them an attempt to buy their affections. The Rules does not suggest this is a form of psychological transference, in which men impute their own sneaky motives to women. But neither does The Rules deny that women do try to buy affection with gifts.

Oh dear. The time (and money) I have wasted trying to find The Perfect Present for some male object of my affections. It makes me sad. With female friends, you don't have to look and scheme and dream. You just see something and know "Oh, that's just so Such-and-Such" and, if you can afford it, you buy it. You don't buy it as a symbol of your love or to remind her of you forever or to make an impact on her life. You just buy it because "it's so her", and she will enjoy it for itself, and that's good enough for you.

My husband hates "stuff" and doesn't read the books I bought him as symbols of our shared commitment to Thought, so I now I give him gin or whiskey and try to save for holidays abroad. So much for give, give, GIVE. Let's face it: when you're married to someone you love and who loves you, you don't have to give to get. You just get and give all the time without thinking about it much, and giving and getting are not in direct relation. Marriage is a remedy for all kinds of concupiscence.

So giving, giving, GIVING is more of a Single girl's temptation, and I'm sorry, I've been there, and it sucks. I know Single women who run themselves ragged trying to do something for everybody or everything for somebody, and I grieve for them.

P.S. There is, of course, a Golden Mean. As I write this, I am looking at a beautiful, cotton, lace tablecloth that took my mother over a year to make. It represents hundreds of hours of crocheting and is a Second Year Wedding Anniversary to B.A. and me. (We got our Third Year Anniversary present last year, as an injury slowed Mum down.) It is in the sitting-room because we wanted to show it off to our dinner guests without risking them upsetting wine on it. We absolutely love it, and as it is clearly in the family heirloom class, I have already mentally bequeathed it to my niece in the event that we have no children of our own.

I am sure I don't have to explain how it is fitting for a keen needleworker to spend a year making a tablecloth for her daughter and son-in-law's Second Wedding Anniversary but not fitting for a single woman to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars (or hours) on a similar tablecloth for her love interest.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Great Give-Away

My first lecture at the "Brave Women" retreat in Kraków next month is on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, otherwise known as Edith Stein. Edith Stein was born in Wrocław (then Breslau) and died in Auschwitz, which is not far from Kraków.

Edith Stein was one of those mindbogglingly brilliant women born before the Second World War who was impeded in her career first by being female and second by being Jewish. ("Jewish" was considered an ethnic group or racial type, so converting to Christianity did not make a Jew not-Jewish in the eyes of wider society.) Stein was keenly interested in the "Woman Question" and her writings were very influential to the thought of a certain Karol Wojtyła and so, in time, to a papal encyclical called Mulieris Dignitatem.

I have often thought about readers who write to me saying that they long to "give themselves to a man" and thus find Single life an incredible burden and premarital sex a terrible temptation. (By the way, I pray for all my readers every Sunday at the Elevation of the Chalice.) So I was electrified when I read this passage in Stein's "The Ethos of Women's Professions":

It is the deepest desire of a woman’s heart to surrender itself lovingly to another, to be wholly his and to possess him wholly. This is at the root of her tendency towards the personal and the whole, which seems to us the specifically feminine characteristic. Where this total surrender is made to human being, it is a perverted self-surrender that enslaves her, and implies at the same time an unjustified demand which no human being can fulfil. Only God can receive the complete surrender of a person and in such a way that she will not lose, but gain her soul. And only God can give Himself to a human being in such a way that He will fulfil its whole being while losing nothing of His own. Hence the total surrender which is the principle of the religious life, is at the same time the only possible adequate fulfilment of women’s desire.

…What practical consquence follows from this? It certainly does not follow that all women who would fulfil their vocation should not become nuns. But it does follow that the fallen and perverted feminine nature [NB Stein has earlier explained the effects of the fall on both the feminine and masculine natures] can be restored to its purity and led to the heights of the vocational ethos such as the pure feminine nature represents, only if it is totally surrendered to God. Whether she lives as a mother in her home, in the limelight of public life or behind the silent walls of a convent, she must everywhere be a ‘handmaid of the Lord’, as the Mother of God had been in all the circumstances of her life, whether she was living as a virgin in the sacred precincts of the Temple, silently kept house at Bethlehem and Nazareth or guided the apostles and the first Christian community after the death of her Son. If every woman were an image of the Mother of God, a spouse of Christ and an apostle of the divine Heart, she woul fulfil her feminine vocation no matter in what circumstances she lived and what her external activities might be.


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

More Romantic Heroes

I have to toddle into town for the library, but I thought I would open up another combox to your "Romantic Heroes" stories. In short, what we are looking for here are the fictional heroes who have most captured your feminine hearts, what qualities they have did the trick, and what is just totally unbelievable about them when you compare them to men in real life.

Our theme is that the rules of fiction are not the laws that govern real life.

Sometimes novelists themselves point to this theme. In George Heyer's Cotillion the heroine reflects with the hero's sister that the hero is nothing like their romantic hero Lochinvar. The very thought of what the hero would say about Lochinvar romantically riding into a building on his horse makes them fall about with giggles. And as much as I admire Han Solo, I cannot imagine my husband bounding around the universe with a Wookie and a price on his head. ROFL.

Eventually I might collect up the heroes of the combox and bring them to the attention of male readers of my other blog. If English-speaking men really want to understand who it is that English-speaking women like, then perhaps they should read Little Women and the Anne books. Of course, it might very well puzzle them how they might affect the same manners and virtues of fictional characters created between the American Civil War and the First World War.

I've just asked B.A. which fictional character he is most like, and he says one can never tell. Meanwhile, I don't think he is like any fictional character because he is just too real. I am trying to think of a romantic hero who tells jokes simply all the time, and the only character who comes to mind is Roger Rabbit. Oh dear. Still, that would make me Jessica Rabbit, which is AWESOME!

Update: Another plug for Young Fogeys. I am very fond of British Young Fogeys, particularly the ones keenly interested in clothing, and it occurs to me that there is something vaguely Heyeresque about them. Of course none of the ones that I know stepped fresh from 1812 or have much money or titles or frequent London clubs (perhaps a visit once in a blue moon if they are particularly lucky). But it does suggest a romantic spirit if a man hunts down sock braces or, like B.A., affects to wear bow-ties--real bow-ties that he has to tie himself, and does admirably, never the made-up ones, which are anathema.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Romantic Heroes

The greatest problem with the romantic heroes of fiction is that they are so little like the ordinary men we meet every day. Part of this might be because the great romantic heroes of fiction were penned before the Second--nay, the First--World War.

But even as products of their age, the romantic heroes of fiction must have been different from real-life men, for the romantic heroes of fiction seem always to be encouraging women in their ambitions and aspirations, but if history is anything to go by, it would seem that real-life men of previous centuries were constantly spooked by women's ambitions and aspirations and wished we would just settle down and bake pies more often.

It leads me to think that the creators of the romantic heroes of fiction were not, then, reporting on men as they are but as men as imaginative women wish they would be, and that this was spiritually akin to those male cartoonists who draw female super-heroes with 16 inch waists and 44 inch breasts.

The defining feature of Mr Big of "Sex and the City" was, from the very beginning, his fortune: "a young Trump" as Samantha described him to his future third wife.

But earlier romantic heroes were not described in such crass terms. I think the most beloved romantic heroes of my youth--beyond Frodo, who was certainly a "safe" crush object for an eight-year old--were Gilbert Blythe, a Canadian farm boy who became a village doctor, and before him Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence, "the boy next door" to the March sisters. Why none--let alone not all--of those March girls fell in love with him until the youngest had grown up is a mystery to me--or would be if I hadn't figured out that real life doesn't make for great fiction. Lord Peter Wimsey came into my life later and almost ruined it.

Gilbert Blythe and Lord Peter Wimsey are dangerous heroes because they are men who do not take "No" for an answer. The successful love stories of Anne of Green Gables and of Harriet Vane suggest that women are wrong to reject those men who adore them and that eventually we should "grow up" and accept them. However, the reason Anne and Harriet are made to reject their suitors for years is because this is necessary to sustain the dramatic tension of their stories. The appropriate response to a man who hangs around for years hoping to marry you is not to give in and marry him but to tell him to scram.

Incidentally, it is important for those who hope their lives turn out like Anne's or Harriet's to understand that the female creators of both women had miserable marriages. The husband of Lucy Maud Montgomery suffered from terrible depression, and one of LMM's descendents claims that LMM committed suicide. The husband of Dorothy L. Sayers suffered from the shell-shock he had contracted in the Great War and was envious of her success. His saving grace was apparently that he liked to cook and DLS liked to eat.

Ironically, the first woman novelist to completely send up the notion of the romantic hero was one of the greatest of them all. With Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen makes fun of all the conventions of the romantic novel. Her romantic hero is not very romantic at all; he does little but banter with and tease the heroine. His regard for her is based, we discover, on discerning her very great regard for him and being flattered. As for Pride and Prejudice, I am not convinced that Lizzie and Darcy had an entirely happy marriage, thanks to a rather chilling line at the end about Darcy not having learned yet to laugh at himself. Would he ever?

But there is no point in asking that because a book is a book, and once you get to the end-papers, it is a waste of time to speculate.

I realize I may be ruffling feathers again in my dismissive attitude towards literature, so I will again trot out all my credentials again. I have a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature, and I have written thousands upon thousands of words of fiction, 65,000 of which will be published by Ignatius Press next year. My attitude towards literature is that of a wine fancier who has seen too many drunks. I am like the food critic in Ratatouille who rarely eats because he loves food too much.

I think romantic fiction can blight lives, and so it is very important for us to keep in mind that the rules that govern the writing of fiction--like suspense--are not the rules that govern real life. To this I will add a note about love. A very bitter woman once told me that there was no such thing as romantic love and it was just a lie of romantic novelists. This is not true. There is such a thing as romantic love. It can be killed, of course, but it can also be nurtured into something that will warm and support you for decades.

Could you take a moment to write in the combox the romantic hero that you have fallen most in love with, what is right with him and what, in your opinion, is most misleading about him in terms of real life?

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Truism

Hanging out with mostly girlfriends in Canada is much different from
hanging out with mostly male friends in Britain.

This is so true that I am not sure where to begin.

Many women, upon marriage, move or travel back-and-forth from one group of females, their friends and family members, to another group of females, their husbands' relatives. This can be a very difficult, but ultimately rewarding, transition.

I did not move into another group of females upon marriage, however. My one female in-law, a lovely, quiet woman, rarely leaves her town. My husband has no sisters, but he has many nice men friends. About two of the nice men friends are married. I think it is two. Perhaps it is three.

Moving into an extended crowd of mostly-male friends instead of an extended family of men and women is not a bad thing. It is merely a different thing. And it is full of zip and vim and gin and tonic!

It does make me wonder, though, how much Wendy enjoyed being the adoptive mother of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, especially with Tinkerbell zipping resentfully about. And as much as she loved all the above, did she not, occasionally, long to say "Drat it all" to the mending and go out for cocktails with Tiger Lily?

Fortunately there are no Tinkerbells* in my life, and there are a number of Tiger Lilys with whom to have cocktails. (Wait. Did Tiger Lily ALSO plot against Wendy? If so, James Barrie didn't have much faith in female friendship. Many men seem to think that female friendship is inherently shallow and easily upset by sexual rivalry.)

(Update) In fairness, I should reference a story in which a woman is constantly surrounded by women. The first one that comes to mind is Hotel du Lac, which is about a lot of women who would rather be with a man. And I definitely appreciate, having lived my early life among Girl Guides and schoolgirls, how refreshing it is to have men friends as well. In fact, I can imagine how grateful many women in female-dominated professions must be for their husbands, if they have any, or male relations and friends.

Anyway, I couldn't think of anything else to write about today, so I am tossing out this delicate topic. By the way, the combox is open only to girls. I realize that painting the blog pink and posting pin-ups is not really enough to discourage all male readers, and I grieve for those long-term male readers who have contributed so much to my comboxes over the years. But don't make me feel sympathy for Mary Daly here.

Eventually I will stop this blog altogether, and when I am asked why, I will say that I got tired of men watching us wash our handwashables.

*Tinkerbell, in this context, is the kind of woman who goes bananas when another woman shows up, displacing her as The Only Woman Around. Some women really hate having to "share" male relations or colleagues with another woman, and they make other women miserable. When I meet a woman like that, I can feel her fighting for me for possession of male attention, and it stresses me right out. I hope I am never like that myself. Or rarely.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Who is Lonergan?

It is Good Friday, and if you're looking for some Good Friday reading for Singles, please see "The Cross that Singles Bear" in Seraphic Singles (U.S.A: The Closet's All Mine). (Update: you can read it here, too.) It is in Polish here.

But now for something completely different. I received an email about Lonergan, which I have boiled down to this:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Who is this Lonergan person?

Who Is Lonergan?

P.S. I bought your book!

Dear Who Is Lonergan,

I'm delighted to answer your question on Lonergan. (And thank you for buying my book!)

Father Bernard Lonergan, SJ, was born in Buckingham, Quebec, Canada in 1904. He joined the English-speaking Canadian Jesuits as a young man and eventually went to the Gregorian, where he studied theology and produced a groundbreaking thesis on Aquinas's thought on Grace. At some point he also got tremendously interested in epistemology--how people come to know things. He wanted to take on modern philosophies, although in a respectful way. One of the underlying themes in his huge work Insight is his post-war fear that if people didn't find common ground there would be a massive nuclear catastrophe.

So he sat down and figured out what everyone could agree on. What everyone had to agree on was "experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding" since all those things--and questioning--are self-evident. The minute you ask, "Is there questioning?" , you have to say "Yes." And Lonergan determined that experiencing, understanding (which follows the question "What is it?) and judging ("Is it really so?") are the three steps necessary for knowing. Deciding takes us into the realm of the ethical: "Now that I know that, what do I do?"

Now Lonergan was a product of his times and of his religious order. As you may know, the Society of Jesus was one way before Pedro Arrupe became General and a completely different way afterwards. Lonergan's best work has the unmistakable stamp of St. Ignatius of Loyola on it, and to his dying day he was a Thomist and thus also an Augustinian. However, after the Second Vatican Council (and Arrupe), Lonergan turned his thoughts towards economics, the recent rejection of children as THE primary reason for marriage, and ecumenism. In this he was obedient to the Second Vatican Council, particularly as that Council was interpreted by the SJ.

He became a cult figure to increasing numbers of young Boomer theology students including, to his surprise, lay men and young women. (Before the 1960s, Lonergan taught only seminarians.) These students were products of their own generation and seized Lonergan's ideas to bolster up their own. Today people of all kinds of academic backgrounds and varying politics meet at Lonergan conferences, often with very little in common but a love of Lonergan's ideas. There are even atheist Lonerganians, which seems rather mad to me. I wonder if Father Lonergan, who died in 1984, is amused to discover that sometimes the "common ground" is he himself.

The elephant in the room is Lonergan's language. Lonergan was a good writer, but his thought was so precise and so detailed that his work is very hard to read and understand. The best interpreters of Lonergan work diligently to make his work accessible to new students. The worst add to the difficulty by making up their own Lonergan-inspired terminology. Between Lonergan's language and the esoteric attitude of his Boomer disciples, many students are completely turned off. "Insight" was reputedly the "hardest" course at my theologate, so I took it. And it was pretty hard, although thank heaven I "got" it and produced a good term paper.

One of the strengths of the classic Jesuit system of teaching is something called "Ignatian repetition." Usually this is a spiritual technique, but it serves in teaching as well. As the Jesuit theologate in Toronto is a major repository of Lonergan's thought, important Lonerganian themes are repeated over and over again from class to class. Gradually students learn Lonergan's thought the way people learn languages.

I find Lonergan's epistemology convincing and helpful when I consider the situation of young Single Catholic women today. To paraphrase Father Lonergan, "The dating world is before us in pieces, and it is up to the men and women of good will to put it together again." And part of that is strict attention to what really is.

You may have noticed how I mention "being rooted in reality" over and over again. This is because very often people do not make their decisions on what is true, but what they have uncritically accepted as true, or want to be true, or fear to be true. In the experiencing, understanding, judging scheme of knowing, a thinker can only move from understanding (in which hypotheses are raised) to judging (in which hypothesis are tested) when all the facts (or data) are in. My sanity has been saved on many an occasion by the admission that "I don't have enough data to make a judgement."

I gave a paper on Lonerganians themselves (see photo, above), which unsurprisingly, the Lonerganians who heard it rather enjoyed. My research suggested that a major factor in students' interest in, or rejection of, Lonergan's ideas was the Lonerganians themselves. My advice to young traditionalists who are disturbed by what they have heard about Lonergan is to see beyond the presenter to Father Lonergan himself and then always remember the historical circumstances in which Father Lonergan lived: the Society of Jesus both before and after the Second Vatican Council. He was influenced by St. Ignatius, Aquinas, Augustine, John Henry Newman--and then the Second Vatican Council.

I am told that the theological craziness of the 1970s disturbed him very much, but that is anecdotal.

Beginning to read Lonergan, especially without a good professor, can be a hair-raising experience. I recommend beginning with Chapter 2, "The Human Good", of his Method in Theology. (This is available also in other language, including in Polish as Metoda w Teologii. The Polish MwT is out-of-print, but it can be found in specialist libraries.) It will give you a brief glimpse into what he is all about.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace
P.S. Lonergan was not a Kantian. I mention this only because any Catholic man with a philosophical background who has only dabbled in Lonergan tends to dismiss him as a Kantian. But he was not a Kantian, as has been demonstrated again and again. Which I hope you will say airily if the subject ever comes up.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dropping a Brick

I am totally hooked by the Daily Mail Samantha Brick scandal even though I know perfectly well that the Daily Mail thrives by appealing to the worst in people, particularly xenophobia.* Note that I linked to the Telegraph instead.

To sum up, a married lady aged 41 wrote an article about how women hate her because she is so beautiful and how she can hardly wait for old age to catch up with her and remove her burden of beauty. She sent it on it to the Daily Mail with photographs of herself and her plump French husband.

If you don't know already, you can imagine what happened in the combox. And on Twitter. And on Facebook. The English-speaking blogosphere took a look at Samantha Brick, read her encomium to herself and fell about laughing with scorn. It wasn't that S.B. ranks with Angelina Jolie, for she doesn't. It's that she comes across as delusional.

She also presses two female buttons: 1. she claims women are inherently bitchy, envious and jealous, which is quisling-like slander 2. she claims she's looking forward to old age when she won't be beautiful anymore and men won't notice her, whereas that is one of women's greatest dreads.

It's a moot point whether Brick is as pretty as she thinks. I generally think I am dashing, and possibly my mirrors all lie because I usually like what I see in them, but then I see a cruel photo and I am sad. I go weeping to someone who loves me, and that someone tells me I am beautiful, and who am I to argue with that, eh?

However, even at my most confident, I would never believe women don't like me because I am too beautiful for their comfort level. If women don't like me, I guess it's because I said or wrote something that hurt their feelings. I never bought the idea that girls at school were mean to me because they seethed with envy of my "beautiful" hair, as my mother claimed.

Newsflash: women tend to admire beautiful women for their beauty. It's when a woman acts like she thinks she's so much better than all the other women around that we feel surges of dislike.

Anyway, Samantha Brick may or may not believe that she is as beautiful as she says she is, and I can see how it is certainly better for her to believe that she is. She has got scads of fame and might now get a regular column and better pay then freelancers tend to get. Meanwhile, she has taught us all a useful lesson in how to lose friends and disgust people.

*One of the weirder prejudices in British life is British resentment of the Poles. Why people who toddle happily in places marked "Kama Sutra" and "Fat Choy Fun" for their curry or noodle fix suddenly go bonkers at the sight of a sign marked "Sklep" is a mystery to me. Perhaps they have forgotten that Poles rescued Britain in the Battle of Britain. Total ingratitude.

Anielskie Single, Division Champ

I am sort of confused about how votes were tallied, and how much weight was given to the "judges" and how much to the "interneters"---called the "internauts" by my Marketing Director--but it seems that Anielskie Single won in some way in the Najlepsza książka katolicka (Best Catholic Books) contest.

I think it is the champ of the "Literature" division, as voted in by the internauts. So thank you and dzękuję bardzo to all internauts who voted.

All the attention the book is getting in Poland is truly heartwarming. You can buy it in English as Seraphic Singles, of course.

So far I have had no luck reading the Polish version, in part, I believe, because the translators decided to write it in very colloquial and presumably youthful Polish, i.e. slang. Or so I am told by one ex-pat Pole who read it himself. I hope no-one at the May Anielskie Single retreat is shocked when instead of a black-leather clad hipster a solemn lady in a long wool skirt appears.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Timid Boys

Here I am back in Scotland with my manly husband, who--wrapped in a bath towel--has been staring out the window chanting "Still falls the rain" in the plummy accent of the late Dame Edith Sitwell.

"How very manly, darling," I said affectionately.

Actually, men pretending to be women is classic comedy in Britain. It is part of the pantomime tradition, in which men dress as the Wicked Stepsisters and their ilk and a woman dresses as the youthful hero. (Peter Pan, incidentally, is traditionally played by a woman.) During the Second World War, British officers would dress up as women in recreational revues, and before our more cagey times, so did the seminarians at the English College in Rome.

It is about being funny, not about being pretty or sexy. There is a world of difference between the homely housewives on Monty Python and the leopard-print clad post-op transsexual who sashayed past me in Toronto's gay village one memorable day. For one thing, it was not necessarily British men with SSA who donned drag; any British man would do it for entertainment value, to be funny.

I don't think this is a staple of Canadian or American humour (Dame Edna/Barry Humphries is Australian), which goes to show you how expectations of "maleness" change from culture to culture. And a great pal of mine and I argue over whether or not "The Rules" are cross-cultural, or whether there is some basic male psychology that simply doesn't change from culture to culture.

To boil this down to a simple and even fatuous question--although it never sounds fatuous when it's you staring at the phone or your computer--"Is it ever wise for a woman to make the first move?"

I don't want to make the past seem nicer than it was, for a quick check with your granny will reveal that the past could be tiresome and oppressive for women, but it must have been great when everyone agreed that women did not make the first move and so men had to do it. Be she ever so lively or shy or pretty or plain, nobody was telling the hopeful young girl that what she really ought to do was just call up the boy who caught her eye and ask him out on a date. No. Instead, boys cajoled other boys into doing the calling.

One of the comfortable things in belonging to a trad Catholic subculture is that there is a tacit agreement in that subculture about how men and women are supposed to behave. It can also be a bit of a drag, as innocent women barked at for wearing "pants" in church, can attest. (All things are pure to the pure, and it very rarely occurs to today's NCGs that the problem with tight trousers and jeans is that they lovingly outline the shape of our bums, a distraction to men and even--if we've stopped being used to the sight--women at prayer. I'd go for a bum-covering jacket to go with the trousers, myself.)

But it makes social life a lot easier to navigate when it is generally agreed that it is the single woman's job to look and be pleasant, and the single man's job to look and be pleasant PLUS ask out the single women, unless he feels called to a life of bachelor tranquility or the priesthood. And, of course, if the single woman feels called to a life of single tranquility or a religious order, she can turn down the date request.

What is frightfully annoying is when men expect girls to court them and men expect girls to ask them out. And I suppose they do these days, not just because they see girls throwing themselves at rock stars, but because they see girls throwing themselves at their friends. I can't stand men like this; it makes them seem lazy and spoiled.

And now I'm going to make a few remarks about the following video, even though I very much like this video, because it is a little capsule of what is wrong with confused gender role courtship today.

Bloc Party - Kreuzberg from Ricco Buitink on Vimeo.

I find this video cute, so I feel a bit bad deconstructing it, but come on. Here we have this tall, hard-as-nails looking German girl, and this cute little German guy with big puppy-dog eyes. He spends his subway trip staring at her, and her expression never changes from icy. Frankly, it's no wonder he never says anything. Goodness. He gives up without actually trying anything except bashful glances and gets off the car with his tail between his legs. But then--lo and behold--the icy German girl changes her mind and runs after him, something very difficult to do on a moving train, but she manages. And so, heartened, he runs after her. I hope she has the brains to get off at the next stop, and that he has the brains to take the next train to that stop. But you never know.

Meanwhile, I am relatively sure that this boy would not be what my pal and I call a "Rules" boy. A "Rules" boy is the kind of manly man who really doesn't like it on a very important level when girls chase after him and would prefer to do the chasing himself. One of my pals swears that she wouldn't be married to her "Rules" boy if she hadn't had me in the background yelling "Don't call him!"

So what do you think? Is the underlying tendency of men in your community to do the chasing, or do they sit around waiting for girls to make the first move?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Ask or Not Ask

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

If I may, I wanted to ask your opinion on a dating-related matter. I've found your blog to be super relevant to my life as a single woman, so thank you.

Here is my situation. I've been seeing a really nice guy from church for [X]. We met at a church event and then, lo and behold, he arranged some group outings, and then called me and asked me out to dinner (which made me very glad that I had waited for him to make the first moves). We've been on [Y] dates, and we've connected at church and social events with other friends regularly.

Anyway, I'm wondering at what point you would consider it ok (for lack of a better word) to initiate a date (so far he's done all the asking), and how a woman should decide what would/wouldn't be considered too forward in terms of reciprocating interest and taking initiative? It seems like we're both pretty interested, though I would like to hear from and see him more often. He's in rigorous [professional] training, and it's hard for me to tell if he's just that busy or not as interested in me, or if this pace is good for this early stage. I am cautious about doing things I might have done in the past, such as being too available and doing favours like baking cookies for him (I haven't). But at the same time, I have found it increasingly hard to be detached and avoid getting too hopeful/ahead of myself with this guy. He is wonderful, and I really like him, yet I don't want to be disappointed.

I feel confused. I've started praying for detachment and perspective. I'm also trying to accept that I might get hurt, and there is only so much I can control. I have kissed him, which maybe was unwise. I guess the reason I'm writing is that I just don't like feeling like I'm sitting by the phone - I don't know if I should keep patiently letting things unfold slowly, or reach out to him more often. After all, we've been out a few times, and I feel like a good friendship/relationship is developing. I don't want to overdo it, or at the other extreme, come across as ambivalent.

Any insight you could offer would be helpful. I want to invite him to get dinner with me this week, but I don't know if that's too forward. I feel like I'm second-guessing everything lately, and I don't like feeling so unsure of myself.

Thank you so much for reading this email! I know you must be very busy, and I appreciate all the work you do to help us singles to be seraphic.


Ask or Not Ask

Dear Ask or Not Ask,

Sit by the phone. I know we've been told since we were born that sitting by the phone is BAD and these are MODERN TIMES and that the MODERN WOMAN is the strong, masterful type who sends flowers and pays for dinner and calls the man on the phone and wrestles lions, etc., etc., but that is just nonsense.

Either he's that into you or he's not. If he's not that into you, calling won't help. If he is into you, calling him will lessen your mystery and quality of precious rarity.

I don't know why people act like dating relationships are all that and a bag of chips because we women spend a lot of our time away from the men in utter anxiety. Between being kissed by B.A. and being asked by B.A. to marry him, I was in a state of insanity. If he hadn't asked me to marry him, I don't know what I would have done! Possibly imploded.

So it is completely normal for you to feel like you want to hear and see him more often, and possibly he would like to hear and see you more often, but he is [in rigorous professional training]. He is under intense pressure--and as a [Z] I am sure you must be under some, too--and the last thing you want to do is ADD pressure. Because that is what "Gee, I sure would like to see you more often" does. Nine out of ten women start to nag for more access after a few dates. Be the one in ten who clenches her teeth and waits.

Let things unfold slowly. I really mean that. There is no reason for you to call him up and ask him out for dinner. If he's the One, he will call you up and ask you out for dinner. He will not sit around wondering why you don't call up and ask him out for dinner. And he must know you like him; if you didn't like him, you wouldn't go out with him. The important thing is that he not know how MUCH you like him until he takes his big, necessary, boy-becomes-man, emotional risk of telling you how much he likes you.

I understand very well your temptation to push things forward faster, to push for more, to do something to relieve the feeling of "waiting by the phone." However, there is just no point. You are just going to have to live in the discomfort, and, yes, that kind of sucks. Alternatively, you could fill up the gap with more of your work, with more of your friends, with more of anything except vices, Ben & Jerry's and temptations to call him and ask him out on a date as if he were a girl and you were a big, strong man.

I assume you see him once a week already, what with church and everything. The famous "Rules" decrees that at the early stages of a relationship, you shouldn't see a man more than once a week, increasing to twice a week as the relationship gets going.

Meanwhile, you are still free to go out for coffee, etc. with any other guy who asks. Keep that in mind, and perhaps he might remember that as well and do something to forestall that. (Of course you should never SAY so.)

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,