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 vatican.va!

13 comments:

Domestic Diva said...

Seraphic, I hopped over here to ask what you thought of this book, or even if you know anything about it:
http://www.thejaneaustenguidetohappilyeverafter.com/offers/offer.php?id=RGNJAG01
and it turns out you're hosting book/article review day. :) Your thoughts, or those of anyone else who knows anything about the book, would be welcome.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

The comments were on the Facebook page of the woman I know who posted it. :-) Major points from these ladies, several of whom are in programs for or have received advanced degrees:

God's plan may not include marriage, and women could end up supporting the family anyway (what if a husband dies and widow has children, etc. - better to have more education in a field she loves). God gave us brains for us to use. The article has a poor attitude about singleness and accepting God's plan - doesn't show enough trust in God and puts the burden mostly on single women. It also acts like there's something horribly wrong if a woman isn't married by a certain age.

Perhaps we're a bit too young (mid-twenties) to appreciate the good parts of it that you brought out, Seraphic, but it just seemed unduly critical of women for not being married (and with that particular crowd, for not seeming to value (advanced) education for women).

~Nzie

Seraphic said...

Never read it!

Nzie: my guess is that she wrote out of her pain and frustration about not being married, and you guys are responding to her in your pain and frustration about not being taken seriously as professionals. Everybody involved should read "Essays on Woman" by Edith Stein!

sciencegirl said...

I wasn't ticked off by the essay, I just thought most of the advice wasn't going to be helpful in "Catching A Man." Shudder. I agree with Seraphic completely regarding courtship. The grad school/career advice is sensible, and I think even people who want to be attorneys should carefully weigh their options before going into debt. BTW, no need to go into debt for grad school: a PhD program will pay your tuition, fees, and give you a stipend for teaching! Master's programs will not, unless you get a teaching assistantship. It all depends on your field. Going to the smaller school with a scholarship will be better than Yale with debt if you want to move to a small town and open your own practice.

Otherwise, clearly the author hasn't Caught Her Man yet, though she has most likely been trying to hang out with godly men and be a virtuous woman. Broadcasting her desire for marriage to all the men around her hasn't worked, not surprisingly, but concealing it wouldn't have necessarily Caught That Man either. She's sad; it's tough to turn 40 and be single when your whole culture considers that a failure.

That could happen to anyone, though, so I don't think it's wise to plan life around a marriage that may never exist. Growing in economic stability, maturity, and virtue will be beneficial to everyone, spinsters, wives, and widows alike.

Seraphic said...

Hear, hear!

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

As a law student -- yeah, a lot of people rush into law school! I had three years between undergrad and starting here last fall, and that was good for me. When it came down to it, I'm here because I believe God put a longing in my heart to fight trafficking and I this is the best way I can follow that. But it was a difficult discernment process. I had originally wanted to come when I was 22 -- and I'm so glad I didn't.

I'd be wary about the Ph.D. thing though - science PhDs probably have more options, but those in liberal arts have to get into exceptional programs to have a future in academia, and those spots are limited. I've heard PhDs, even in science, around here joke they have jobs now but we (JDs) will be able to get jobs when we graduate (not necessarily true in this market but whatever).

Also, in defense of this article, too, I should say that of course married people can get advanced degrees after marriage. :-) Both my parents did, and I'm so proud of them -- masters' around age 40 with a passel of kids. It was especially great for my mom, whose work outside the home at the time was limited.

sciencegirl said...

Having just completed a science PhD program, I think it's best to do what you can when you can. If two people are in love and want to get married, I think there's no sense waiting til after grad school. Same with kids. There were parents in my grad program, and people who gave birth while in grad school. I also know a 60+ year old grandmother who is in a PhD program and doing great!

Jam said...

I remember reading a book about getting your PhD written by a straight-talking author. Two pieces of advice stuck with me: (1) Never go for a PhD unless you really, truly must have it for the job you want; (2) You must be okay with watching your peers' lives move forward while you're still treading academic water - if you can't handle watching your friends buy houses and country club memberships while you're still buying ramen by the case, academia is not for you. This was thoroughly secular advice, by the way, and I'm fairly sure from a man.

The standard wisdom in re marriage and children in my department at least seems to be that no one gets married before prelims; people either get married immediately before or after their research-travel year (so within 18 months after exams); for women, babies should be timed during the writing up or else they have to wait until after you have tenure.

My advisor likes to congratulate me for not having any encumbrances in the form of husband or children, which obviously means that I am free to move around every six months, live extremely cheaply, and otherwise devote all my resources to finishing as soon as humanly possible. Not that I want this to drag on, but it's awkward to be complimented on being Alone. She has no idea, I'm sure, how upsetting it was when she told me, "So many women ruin their chances by getting married, and then even if they do manage to finish their PhDs they end up taking disappointing jobs. YOU won't do that! I have great hopes for YOU!"

I feel like I have put all this in your comments box before, but when it comes to PhDs nothing changes, eh? I have REALLY got to read some Edith Stein. Professionally as well as personally!

Seraphic said...

Now that's interesting. What's your adviser's story? Is she single? I've noticed that women professors are not often the most socially-tuned in women out there.

But, you know, what she said is often true. So many women do get married and then watch our professional options shrivel, mostly because we don't want to move or because, like me, we have to move.

My advice (always handy!) is to accept your advisor's expression of encouragement at face value, and expel the hurt with a nice treat.

Urszula said...

There's a link at the bottom of the article to another interview she gave on the subject, where she explains more how she is trying to help young people (girls especially) avoid dead-end relationships and "friendlationships". I'm sure that part of her ministry can be very helpful - paraphrasing Seraphic, you can't make Mr Right show up, but you can make sure you're not dating Mr Wrong, and it looks like part of her ministry is helping girls discern between the two.

For the rest though, I agree with Nzie and sciencegirl that we have gifts and talents given to us by God that we should develop and use always, not just put them aside to wait for the wedding day when they will magically blossom. I don't see why some people think this is selfish or proves excessive ambition. I mean, does the author think her ministry/career were a waste of time? I don’t really see why she is berating herself, as what could she have done otherwise to make the right man show up? Isn’t that the part that doesn’t depend on her?

It also seems to embody an attitude dismissive of singleness which is unfortunately also present in some parts of the Catholic Church. In Poland especially (maybe because it is such a family-oriented country), I’ve heard numerous talks by priests/speakers who were dismissive of single women. One especially sad instance was when a married lady speaking about the single life kept admonishing a Catholic young adult group to lower our standards and “just do it!”, otherwise we are selfish and ungodly. My friend got upset and exclaimed “I’d love to get married and have babies! Just find me a guy!” I looked around the room; it did not contain a single guy, but was full of young, devout Catholic women.

I don’t think that’s a helpful attitude… Auntie Seraphic, my hope is in you to turn the tide in Krakow! :)

PS. it should be "kup", not "cup" ;)

Seraphic said...

Hmm. I seem to see why Anielskie Single is selling so well...

Well, I will try to spread the message that Single women with standards are not selfish and ungodly, but I won't be able to tell off the lazy, marriage-shy men of Poland, as the retreat will be all women!

Why would anyone yell at women for not being married when for thousands of years it was up to the MEN to do the asking? Did that married lady seriously think you were all turning down marriage proposals left and right? Aah! It makes me furious.

Mustard Seed said...

It makes me furious too. Sometimes I wonder if people use their brains before they open their mouths.

Urszula said...

She accused us of turning down numerous eligible bachelors, all the while conspicuously brandishing her wedding-ringed-hand. To her defense, I rather got the impression she had 'settled' and felt that by her talk she could justify herself, in a way.

She did urge us to marry plumbers. Now, if all Polish plumbers looked like this, I wouldn't mind.. ;) http://www.flickr.com/photos/23866005@N07/2595175298/

I do think your talk in Krakow will be much needed and well received, judging from what I and various other unsuspecting Polish NCGs have gone through at the cruel hands of other 'for single' speakers!