Thursday, 31 May 2012

Foreign Flirtations

I am going on a limb mentioning flirtations again, dear poppets, since I caught a teeny bit of flak yesterday. I was reminded of those dire years in Boston when almost nobody at school got my jokes. It was horrible. What a blessing it is that I live in a land where a significant part of the population lives for jokes and sparkling conversation. In Edinburgh, my outrageously long cigarette holder excites admiration; in Boston it would have elicited only stony silence and then whispers in corners that I smoke.

N.B. I don't actually smoke. I stuff the occasional cigarillo into the end of my cigarette holder and puff on it without inhaling. Nineteen year olds may be forgiven; it is cravenly stupid for forty-somethings to get addicted to poisonous substances.

But my policy has long been that if I write about something that turns out to be unpleasantly controversial, then I must write about it again the next day. So I am going to write about holiday romances and other flirtations that are going to go absolutely nowhere.

Incidentally, by holiday romance I do not mean throwing all decency and modesty to the winds like certain female German or British tourists who lust after their Egyptian or Cretan or Cuban waiters and justify what happens next with a "Because I'm worth it," channeling whichever actress-model in the L'Oreal ad. Apparently there is a Greek resort town where a prize is given to the local man who has slept with the most foreign visitors that season. Charming.

No, by holiday romance I am thinking of situations in which you make friends while studying or vacationing abroad and feel particularly cherished or flattered by one of the friends who is a boy. Perhaps you feel bedazzled that, for the first time in your life, you hold a certain exotic glamour. It may never have occurred to you that anyone would ever think a girl from Rolling Prairie, Indiana wildly exotic, but once she goes crosses the border into Mexico, or crosses either ocean, she is.

My advice is to enjoy these feelings without taking them too seriously. Yes, easier said than done. If you are absolutely head-over-heels for Reinhardt, Diego, Aziz or whomever, get thee to a call centre and telephone your best or most sensible female friend back home to vent and sigh. Don't do anything stupid. Don't do anything you wouldn't do back home. That way, when you are an old lady you can smile pleasantly over that wonderful summer in Tubigen or San Ignacio or Fez instead of feeling wracked by guilt.

The fact is that although most people, especially young people, enjoy making attractive and exotic new friends, few people really want to leave behind their towns, families, friends, jobs, routines, infrastructures to start a new life in strange circumstances with an exotic stranger. We may dream of doing so, but it is actually a very serious and frightening thing to do. One might flirt with the idea, as one flirts with an attractive stranger, but most of the time, forget it. Most people are, by the very definition of that word, conventional.

If you keep a diary, write down lots of descriptive details (the sun, the cobblestones, the sudden, the shocking first glimpse of his thin, tanned, impossibly chic mother) so as to write a more saleable novel afterwards. Use loose sheets of paper to write out your feelings and then rip them up.

Distance makes a huge difference to the future of most foreign friendships. It is easier to keep up with friends in Europe, for example, if you live in Europe than if you live in Canada and the USA. There are sad cases of Europeans I know returning to old stomping grounds in Canada or the USA, hoping to rekindle the friendships of their fondly remembered student days, only to find that their ol' drinking buddies have moved to other cities or are simply too busy to see visiting European them. (North Americans, descendents of immigrants, tend to be more nomadic than other people. Europeans seem to hanker after their parents' villages whereas North Americans long to escape them forever.)

Culture makes a huge difference too, of course. Friendship, particularly friendship with members of the opposite sex, means different things in different countries. Oh, and to make life even more confusing, in some countries men think foreign women seem really masculine.

But to go back to flirtation, the essence of an enjoyable flirtation is that it is kept light and frothy, a part-time distraction from ordinary life, makes you laugh and never makes you cry. This, of course, means that making out is right out because, dear readers, the realities of brain chemistry mean that you will indeed regret it later. He, having a different kind of brain chemistry, might not, but you certainly will.

Unless you marry the man. This however is rather unlikely for the reasons I mentioned above, and a sport best left to unemployed madwomen in their late 30s.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Too Much Flirtation?

Oho! My electronic spy tells me that I was discussed on Reddit yesterday. There was a girl with a crush on a discerner, and our long-term reader Irenaeus posted links to three of my saltier diatribes about discerners and seminarians-who-date. The girl was grateful, but another reader was gravely disturbed. "Chip on shoulder" and "bitterly" were words he (I bet it was a he) employed to describe your wonderful Auntie.

Poppets, I cannot blame him. If all you've read of my blog are my thoughts on seminarian psychodramas, you are indeed going to think I am some sort of Miss Haversham, sitting in my faded wedding dress, scheming against men as my ancient wedding cake crumbles before me. But of course I am not. I am exceedingly bitter about academia, but not about men. I like men, and some of them I love. I've been married to a very amusing example for three years. And, as I always say, men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Life would be sooooooo boring without them, especially the attractive ones.

"How much flirtation is too much?" I demanded of my husband last night.

"That's a girl question," said B.A, hedging.

"Aw, come on."

"I don't know," said B.A. "Maybe when someone says, 'So when are you going to leave Seraphic for me?', there has been too much."

"Oh!" I said, nonplussed. I hadn't been thinking in terms of B.A.'s flirtatiousness but of mine. I ruffled through my mental filofax of B.A.'s female acquaintance for a moment and felt satisfied that there was no need for alarm. So far no woman has shot death ray glances at me or, worse, gazed at me with brimming, envious eyes because I am Mrs B.A. No. Instead women laugh merrily at his jokes and groan at his puns and ask me if he is always like that and how I can stand it, etc.

Such good-hearted griping is in the tradition of Scottish banter. Scottish banter is related to flirtation in that it usually expresses liking of a person while also provoking their attention and making them laugh. In our Sunday crowd, it is apparently good form for husbands and wives to make jokes at each other's expense. B.A. says that this is perfectly normal for Scotland. I am not so sure of this, but it seems to be normal for our crowd, which is, um, composed mostly of Single people. B.A.'s theory is that when husbands and wives insult each other at parties, they are assuring everyone around that their marriages are rock solid, etc. Meanwhile, it is not just me being picked on at dinner parties, and nobody banters with anyone they aren't clearly fond of. We beloved foreigners at the table just have to work out how to banter like Scots.

Banter is insults that aren't really insults and statements that are more amusing than true; flirtation is come-ons that aren't necessarily come-ons. Both are difficult arts, and both can go horribly wrong. The good banter artist or flirt knows when and when not to banter or flirt, with whom not to banter or flirt, and where to draw the line. The best banterers and flirts can get away with murder, by which I mean that they can say what they like, to whom they like, and everyone laughs, and nobody gets mad.

Generally I save my most over-the-top remarks for my husband and my younger female friends. Same-sex 'marriage' is legal in Ontario, so before my marriage I occasionally implored an engaged pal to leave her fiance and marry me instead. Now I occasionally tell B.A. that I am leaving him for X or Y. I just take sheer delight in saying such outrageous things, knowing that my hearers will not get mad but merely laugh or think of something equally outrageous to say in response. B.A. is particularly good at this game.

Sadly, my tolerant younger female friends are now far, far away, which leaves just B.A. and the more tolerant of my men friends. And, frankly, it is much easier to hint that my men friends are terribly, terribly attractive than to jokingly abuse them. My rule is that the men friends actually have to be attractive. Life's too short to flirt with ugly men. And too dangerous to flirt with strangers. Or married men. Or men who might take me seriously and pity B.A. for having such a ghastly wife.

Oh well, enough about me. What do you think? How much feminine flirtation is too much? Is it charming for elderly or middle-aged women to flirt with younger men, or is that creepy? Is it charming for young women to flirt with middle-aged or elderly men, or is that unfair? What sort of men must one absolutely not flirt with? Are there any expert flirts out there? Give us the benefit of your wisdom.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

"Be My Girlfriend But You Should Know..."

I got an email last week from a first year uni student who got a big crush on a guy in third year. After two months of being friends, the guy delighted the girl by "admitting" to "liking" her and then shortly afterwards asking to be his girlfriend. They adjusted their relationship statuses on Facebook, and spent loads more time together.


However, when the NCB told the NCG that he liked her, he added a qualifier. He said she should know that he was still getting over somebody else. But our NCG didn't pay much attention to this, so happy and excited was she that this NCB "liked" her.

Now, though, whenever the NCB mentions this other girl, our NCG feels extremely jealous, especially when the NCB thinks up excuses to visit the other girl at her home. After trying to hide her jealousy, our NCG blew up at him, and he said it was hard for a person to give up feelings for a woman he has had a crush on for three years.

Three years?! Where to start, where to start...

Actually, there was a lot more, so I started with that. The letter-writer is a teenager, so I was a lot more careful and soothing in my response than I usually am. But this morning I am in a stroppy mood, so I can go back to my preferred tone of outraged shouting.

What kind of guy tells a girl he likes her and wants her to be his girlfriend, but by the way he still isn't over this other girl?????!!!!

Why do we let such guys get away with that??????!!!!

If it were still the age of payphones, the only appropriate response to "I want you to be my girlfriend, but there's this girl" would be to hand the boy/man a couple of coins, stand up, and say "Call me when you're ready for a real relationship."

How many college freshman have that kind of spine, though, eh? And, honestly, it is so hard to hear the bad news after the good news. The words "I like you" out of the mouth of a guy you like are so wonderful, so magically potent, that it is very hard to make yourself hear the qualifiers that follow afterwards. If they are "but you should know I'm still not over another girl", not only are they unpleasant, they're crazy.

It's like being crowned Miss America and then kicked in the stomach by the same guy. You've got the crown and the flowers, the crowds are cheering, and you've been kicked in the stomach, which makes absolutely no sense in that context, so you ignore it and wave.

However, you darned well have been kicked in the stomach, and the sooner you face up to that, the better. Any guy who says "I like you but I think you should know that I'm still not over this other girl" is DANGEROUS to your happiness. He is dangerous to your happiness because he thinks his telling a girl he's asking to like him about another girl he likes makes everything honest and okay. But the fact is that he is not a good guy onto whom to pin your romantic hopes because he is stuck on another girl.

I am particularly passionate about this because nothing, NOTHING, has sucked me in like the bait-and-switch. For some reason my brain just does not go into red alert with shouts of CRAZY! CRAZY! WHOOP! WHOOP! but scrambles about madly tidying the crazy under a carpet so I can't see it anymore.

Sure, the NCB is lonely. And, sure, it must be nice for him to have a girl who is crazy about him after three years of hankering fruitlessly after Miss Perfect. But he's also not rooted in, or particularly interested in the reality that it is better to be involved with someone who actually cares for you than with someone who couldn't care less.

Then there's the fact that because Miss Perfect never does anything, she never does anything wrong. That leaves the poor girlfriend dancing about, second-guessing all she says and does, and wondering if he really cares for her, instead of cultivating the friendly remoteness that all smart women ought to have before feeling ready to place their hearts on the line.

It is never good to use a human being as a means for some end. Things are to be used, but people are to be enjoyed for themselves. It is not okay to "date" or, really, monopolize a girl's leisure time, as a means to get over some other girl. It isn't fair. And, in fact, any man who is trying to get over some other girl should tell a girl that if she is the one pursuing him. It is really NOT ON for him to go after a girl he is pretty sure likes him when he knows he really is stuck on someone else. In the old days this was called "trifling with a lady's affections." It wasn't okay in 1912, and it isn't okay now.

And this reminds me of how much I hate the "boyfriend-girlfriend" relationship and all the fake rules and fake traditions and fake expectations that grow up around it. It's a store dummy dressed up to look like marriage. It used to be people announced only their engagements and marriages in print; now they publish news of their "relationships" on Facebook, as if those "relationships" were built on a lasting commitment. We have all kinds of relationships with people who love us passionately, if without sexual desire, and we never click a button on Facebook to announce the start of those.

But I digress. The main point to take away is to be rooted in reality. Listen to everything a man says, not just the stuff that sounds great, and make decisions based on all the data, especially your gut reactions.

Update: By the way, there is something seriously wrong with chastity education when all we tell girls is to look out for guys who just want sex. We should also be telling girls to look out for guys who just want a security blanket (e.g. seminarians who date), or who just want a friendly smokescreen (e.g. gay guys who date girls), or who are too cheap to pay for a therapist (e.g. cute guys who meet up so they can tell you about other girls) or who are looking for the non-sexual perks of marriage without having to get married first (e.g. guys who "need" help with their laundry/cooking/cleaning).

And no doubt guys should be warned against NCG who aren't really interested in marriage right now as much as they are in emotional adventures and the rush of falling in love and the thrill of lover's triangles and all that powerful operatic crap girls read about in books.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Will Work for Woman

"And then I realized she wasn't on Facebook. It turns out she's one of those girls who isn't on Facebook. So I had to call her sister. How embarrassing. I called her sister, whom I hadn't seen in months, out of the blue and said, "Ahem, can I have your sister's email address?"

"Thank you," I said, "for so confirming my philosophy of men."

"What? Anyway, she asked if I would like her cell, too, and I said, no. Which was stupid because, guess what, she gave me the wrong email address. So there I was with the wrong email address, and I couldn't get in touch with her, so I called up her sister AGAIN and the upshot is we're going for coffee."

"That's great. Good for you!"

"What does this have to do with your philosophy of men?"

"My philosophy of men," I said, "is that men will work for what they want, and if they want to contact a woman bad enough they will actually contact her, even if it means an embarrassing phone call."

"This doesn't work with being hard to get though," cautioned my interlocutor. "Nobody wants to look like a stalker. Obviously girls shouldn't be easy, but they shouldn't make it TOO difficult either."

"Your generation of men," I observed, "has been seriously messed with."

My interlocutor affirmed that this was so.

"It would be nice if girls would say hello, though," he said wistfully. "Can't girls just say 'Hello?' It would make it so much less difficult for us."

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Why I Don't Like Giving Chastity Talks

This is my second post for the day, so I'll keep it short.

Here is Simcha Fisher on an incredibly short-sighted form of abstinence education.

Young people are like sponges that soak everything up, and they don't always know what is true and what is false, what is now and what is past. My childhood and teenage attitudes towards sexuality were marked by stuff I read, stuff the average adult would probably not think would have such an effect on a child. And my expectations about married life were way off base, thanks to two or three chastity lecturers.

I live in fear that I will say or write something that will mess up a young person, and that is why I never knowingly reply to an email from teenager without suggesting she discuss my letter with her mother or favourite aunt. I would never, ever, ever want the responsibility of being a chastity lecturer, except to my own children.

Having linked to Simcha's article, however, I will say that I am as horrified as she is that non-virgins are being compared to glasses of dirty water, licked Hersey's kisses and bitten apples. That's way worse than the stuff I heard from chastity lecturers when I was a teenager.

H/T Mark Shea.

Don't Make It So Easy

I love to write posts with great sweeping generalizations, if you haven't noticed. Today's sweeping generalizations are about young men and challenges. Young men are easily bored, and because they are easily bored they look around for challenging things to do. Two real life examples include young men switching very heavy gravestones at a cemetery near a parish where I worked and young engineering students reassembling a car on top of the Student Academic Council building at the University of Toronto. I very much admire the young male thirst for challenges and wish it didn't so often include vandalism.

There was a combox question yesterday from a reader who is trying to decide if she should apply for a job in her long-distance boyfriend's city. They have been dating for four months. She is ahead of him on the career ladder; he's still in school. They do seem to have a lovely relationship, but although they miss each other terribly, there has not been the ghost of a shadow of a whisper that he might transfer to a university in her city. And I'm not saying there should be. I'm just pointing out that the "Move or Not to Move?" challenge is sadly not the boyfriend's, but the girlfriend's.

If she moved to his town, he wouldn't have to lift a finger. He wouldn't have even the challenge of clearing time and saving money to go and see her. What he would have, however, at a very early stage in their relationship, is the nagging sense that she had uprooted her whole life for him. Like a wife. Or his mother. And most men really don't want to marry their mother. Oh dear. I mentioned the M-word. But if you move to your new boyfriend's town just because he's in it, guess what word is hovering in the air? And this is not a word you want to bring up yourself, at least not until you've been dating for a year.

Would you leave your city and almost everyone you know for a guy you've been dating for only four months? Because I didn't leave my town without two rings on my stubby ring finger. Visiting the man? Absolutely. But moving 3,317 miles to his town without being married first? No way.

Charming Disarray was frustrated by yesterday's conversation because, as she rightly pointed out, sometimes there is no-one available where you live. If you shouldn't have a long-distance romantic relationship with someone with whom you are not engaged, and if you shouldn't be engaged to someone long distance, what should you do?

Well, hold on there, CD. I was never that limiting. I just wanted to point out the difference between real relationships and fantasy-land email/telephone exchanges. And real relationships, including and especially long-distance relationships, take work, work I'd prefer to leave to the man, except for the fun stuff, like talking and writing funny emails. Anything challenging, like finding the cheapest flights ever, is something I'd leave to a man. But other than crying a lot because I missed him, I felt no real drawback to being engaged to a guy overseas. We left the bulk of the wedding preparations to my talented mother. It was never me alone with a hall manager and a tasting menu because our wedding reception was straight out of Little Women. Homemade--and fantastic--dress. Homemade--and glorious--wedding cake. Sandwiches. Endless bottles of Heinkel Trocken. Okay, so there was no Heinkel Trocken at Meg March's wedding. But you get the picture.

What I think women should do is sit still and leave the heavy-lifting to men. Women do so much emotional heavy-lifting and relationship building as it is that, really, we are in much more danger of doing too much than of doing too little. It's not about being hard to get. It's about not being so easy to get that the guy gets bored--or frightened--and doesn't bother.

On a micro level, it is great fun to sit in a chair all night and see who comes up to you to chat. If chat with the same person goes on too long, you can always get up and pour yourself another drink or find another girl to chat with for a bit before returning to your chair or, if someone has taken it, finding another chair to be restful in.

The most important rule in the Restful Chair Game is never to leave your chair to pursue the best-looking man at the party around the room. If you do that, you will only be providing entertainment for the other girls who are playing the Restful Chair Game. If the best-looking man at the party wants to speak to you, he will look at you at some point, and then you can sweetly smile at him. Then he will either amble over to say "Hi", which is great, or he will wander away, which sucks, and I guess he didn't want to talk to you after all, but at least all you did was smile.

Not being Queen of the World, I cannot turn the clock back to 1804 and declare that, from now on, no unmarried woman can ever approach a man at a party ever again but must merely stand about looking glamorous or sit looking restful. I am aware that modern unmarried women have male buddies that they simply must talk to right now and that some modern unmarried women need to dart about from group to group at parties like hummingbirds on speed because that is who they are. And that's fine. But I recommend the Restful Chair Game once in a while as an exercise in remembering that some of the work involved in relationships should be left to men. Otherwise they will get spoiled and bored or irritated or frightened.

Don't make it so easy. Trust to the male love of challenges, even if the challenge is only to walk across the room to say "Hello."

Friday, 25 May 2012

Rethinking "Carmen"

I have loved the opera Carmen since I was a small child, so when I discovered that it was being produced in Edinburgh, I suggested to B.A. that we go together. B.A., however, said something like, "Oh, darling. Bizet. Ugh. Couldn't you go with someone else?"

You know how the food critic in Ratatouille loved food so much he could very rarely eat it? B.A. is like that with music. It is a great testament to his love for me that he actually once went with me to a dance club and sat in a corner in his tweed jacket with a beer and the London Review of Books while I rocked out to The Killers. But, you know, we have been married for three years, so enough is enough, and at some dinner party or other a Young Fogey mentioned Carmen, and B.A. said, in short, "Take my wife, please."

So as a result I went to Carmen with two nice Young Fogeys, and I hope the elderly ladies I was sitting with in the foyer were vastly impressed when they turned up. Swanning around town with younger men is pleasant for its own sake, but your auntie Seraphic is not entirely immune from showing off.

You all know the basic plot of Carmen, yes? In 19th century Seville, a Spanish woman of gypsy heritage works in a cigarette factory by day and smuggles stuff by night. She is famously beautiful, a talented singer and a serial monogamist. She steals the squaddie boyfriend of a NCG, tricks him into deserting the military, and drags him off on a smuggling adventure. Poor Don Jose is not really cut out for smuggling, and Carmen grows impatient and bored. She is greatly tempted to dump him for a famous bullfighter, and jealous Don Jose goes ballistic. It ends badly.

When I was a child, I thought this was the most romantic story in the world after Romeo and Juliet, which also ends badly. I thought, unsurprisingly, that Don Jose was an idiot, but I was very impressed by Carmen herself. Being able to attract male attention and affection seemed to be THE status talent of my schoolyard, and as I was no good at this, I enjoyed both how Carmen had this talent in spades and how she made boys cry. Thanks to the schoolyard, I had a very "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" attitude as a child.

It did not strike me until I was much, much, MUCH older and had made boys cry, how very callous this was. Possibly my parents should have sat down with me after watching Carmen on TV and had a little discussion about how boys are human beings with real feelings, just like girls, and it was not very nice of Carmen to act like that, and that they would be disappointed if I acted like her. The real heroine of Carmen, they might have pointed out, was the NCG girlfriend, Micaela, who bravely climbs the mountains in search of Don Jose and tells him to go home to his dying mother.

However, my parents, who were otherwise strict, were not strict about opera, and when I was sixteen or so, I dressed up for high school Hallowe'en as Carmen. I have a photo of this, for various teachers thought I looked wonderful, and one took a picture. And, meanwhile, when my first boyfriend threatened to kill me if he "ever saw me with a another man," I thought this was a perfectly reasonable thing for a boyfriend to say.

"Go ahead," I said. "It will make me famous at school."

First Boyfriend, to his credit, thought this reply was hilarious.

Anyway, fast-forward to my happy middle-age in which, instead of threatening me with death, my husband cheerfully sends me off to the opera with younger men so he can watch telly in peace. I sit between the Young Fogeys and gleefully await the appearance of the Great Heroine. Thus I am shocked and disappointed when the mezzo channels not the Carmen of my memories but La Saranghina, the prostitute in Fellini's Otto e Mezzo (see photo).

Not being an actor or singer myself, I am unsure how I would get across Carmen's exotic attractions, but I am absolutely sure the way to do it is not to roll my eyes wildly, grin toothily and stick my chin out. I might also consider slimming down a bit, if I were built on statuesque lines, although heaven knows countless opulent opera singers have made flab look fab. But there is still a danger, unless one is careful, that one will not look seductive when one looks at Don Jose but like a ravenous drunk about to polish off a box of doughnuts.

As our Carmen leered and lunged about the stage, I began to feel depressed. The sexuality on display did not make me think of danger, magic and romance but of the urban United Kingdom every Friday night. I was reminded of drunken, middle-aged Edinburgh women with perfect hair and raddled faces scarfing down greasy chips before getting on the bus. And I was reminded of tough, big girls in high school who slammed smaller, prettier girls into their lockers. And of Lexi Featherstone in the "Splat!" episode of "Sex and the City" staggering drunkenly around a party before falling out the window.

It didn't help the performance that the narrator kept popping out to remind us how desirable and bewitching men found Carmen as if she distrusted us to suspend our disbelief, and it also didn't help that the blonde soprano playing Micaela was strikingly beautiful and looked as sweet and innocent as... Well, I couldn't even tell you. What painters used to be aiming for when they painted the Madonna, perhaps. I spent the evening waiting for her to come back on stage and was rewarded every time.

And thus I had my revelation. For some time I have been saying that Carmen is a bad role model while secretly thinking she is, however, more fun than Micaela. But thanks to last night's performance, I have been entirely converted to the Gospel of Micaela. Most of last night's performances did not transcend 21st century Scotland, so I saw the whole opera from the perspective of 21st century Scotland.

Carmen is just a Ned with a factory job and criminal ties. She dates and dumps men with such speed and ferocity that her ultimate fate would not have been particularly surprising to the Lothian-Borders police.

Micaela, on the other hand, braves a gang of sexist squaddies, a mountain range, and the entire cast of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" as a favour to her boyfriend's mother. As I am sure most of us would do in similar circumstances, she prays her heart out to God to keep her safe. She has hung onto her Christian faith and her maidenly virtue at a time when both are extremely uncool. If Don Jose were not such a moron, he would have stuck to Micaela and had a happy life.

That said, men love whom they love, not whom we think they should love, even in the opera. It is thus believable that a Scots squaddie would pick a chip-scarfing Scots slapper over a much prettier Scots girl his mother adores.

I expressed how I now feel about Carmen to the charming Young Fogeys afterwards, and one remarked that the slatternly, promiscuous woman I described was a lot like the original Carmen in the original book. And we all went off for a drink at a joint with a delightfully strict dress code while I inwardly puzzled over who it was that had given me such an early and besotted love for Carmen. Who first had hinted so strongly that Carmen would worthy of emulation? Who was it whom I first heard sing "La Habenera"? The answer eluded me until I awoke to bright sunlight this morning.

It was the singing orange on "Sesame Street".

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Doubts About Long Distance

I received an email about a long distance relationship the other day. All I'll say about this email is that a nice young woman has a long distance friend who became a long distance boyfriend, although I don't think there was an in-person, on-the-spot interview involved in this change. She described their relationship as "dating" although they certainly aren't going out anywhere: they live quite a distance apart and haven't seen each other for some time. He never comes to see her, and the last time she organized a trip to see him, her plans fell through. He did not seem particularly upset.

I don't have a problem with long distance relationships. I now have long distance relationships with my family and many of my friends because I moved to the UK from Canada so as not to be in a long distance relationship with my husband. What I have a problem with is long distance relationships that pretend to be something that they are not, e.g. romantic, marriage-track relationships.

The essence of a romantic, marriage-track relationship is being there for one another. Separations are avoided, but, if inevitable, made as short as possible. Everyone is different, of course, but as soon as B.A. and I started talking marriage, we started planning his first trip to see me in Canada. And while he visited me in Canada, we started talking about when I could visit him again in the UK. And while I was visiting him in the UK, we came up with various unfruitful schemes about how to get married right away. And when back in Canada, I went slowly crazy counting down the days until I could see him again, and he stopped eating. Here comes the groom, skinny as a broom.

For about eight months, our relationship was mostly long distance. He called me every day, and we wrote almost daily emails. Then we got married, and I never wanted to be separated from him again, but I had to be because of being FOREIGN. I had to go back to Canada for weeks and sit around waiting for my Spousal Visa. B.A. called me every day, and we wrote almost daily emails, and I cried a lot. BUT--listen to this--BUT after I got my Spousal Visa and flew home that night, being apart for relatively short periods of time was, and is, no longer such a big deal.

It is no longer such a big deal because (A) we are past the initial and painfully insane stage of a marriage-track romantic relationship and (B) we have been living together for three years. Long-distance is not the norm; being in the same flat is the norm. Long-distance is almost a holiday. (Three weeks apart is my absolute max, though.)

And therefore I will go out on a limb and say that long-distance can work for people who are in time-tested, proven, committed relationships. Heaven knows, there are (or were) many, many women in the UK whose husbands were (or are) on oil rigs in the North Sea for weeks on end, and they make (or made) it work. They make it work because they have something to make work.

And that's the problem. If you never go on a date with the man you're dating, you're probably not dating him. I'm sorry to say this, but there is a danger that what you are is free phone therapy or free entertainment. Heaven knows I have warm memories of my last ex-boyfriend Volker, but the major reason we were in a romantic relationship at all, he later admitted, was that he enjoyed my emails so much. How sucky is that?

I was not really in a relationship with B.A. before we met in person, and fortunately I never thought we were. When he started reading my blog, he was at the end of a psychodrama and had no energy for a new romantic relationship. He had his own stuff to deal with. So he left funny messages on my blog, and I left funny messages on his blog, and every once in a blue moon, he wrote me an email. I love writing emails, so it was difficult not to bombard him with emails, but I managed. Friendly but unobtrusive, that was me. My friend Lily would call this emotional chastity.

There is long-distance, epistolary flirtation, which is fun but fundamentally unstable. And there is long-distance romance between engaged and married people doing their best to keep the home fires burning. And there is even long-distance romance between established boyfriends and girlfriends who were together for quite a time before their separation. But I simply do not believe that an entirely long-distance romantic relationship, one that was always long-distance, and that looks like it will be long-distance for a long time to come, can be an authentic romantic relationship.

A man in love wants to be with the woman he is in love with and, unless it means hurting people to whom he has more pressing commitments (e.g. wife and children), makes it happen. End of.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Life Lessons from Readers

Well, poppets. Spring has finally come to Scotland. The sun is shining and it is B.A.'s day off work, and I should rush out and join him outdoors. He has been out there with a cup of coffee for some time, and I am feeling like a Bad Wife. So I am leaving the job of unsolicited Single Life advice to you today.

Actually, it doesn't have to be Single Life advice. It could be something extremely practical to all states of life that you have discovered for yourselves, like how to get black ink out of a silk scarf or how to win arguments with Russians.

I am looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Must We All Dye?

Here's one conversation from the late 90s I've never forgotten.

Boyfriend: Do you have a problem with grey hair?

Seraphic: No, I think grey hair can look very distinguished.

Boyfriend: Because you have one.


When I said "distinguished", I meant "on men" although I suppose it can look distinguished on women too. At any rate, I had not seen my premier grey hair, so this news was a tremendous shock. I knew theoretically that I would grow old and die, but I had never pondered that my hair would too. My hair has ruled my life; how could the tyrant die? Possibly that weeping and wailing in North Korea this year was not entirely artificial.

Anyway, one of the good things about being a ginger, as they call us in the UK, is that the grey isn't that visible. I suppose the day will come when I sit damply in front of a hairdresser's mirror, like Cher in Moonstruck, and say "Get rid of the grey." However, that day has not yet arrived for me. Many of my dark-haired contemporaries have been dying for years and years. Sometimes your first grey hair shows up in high school.

There is no reason to look old until you are old. Uh oh. I can hear some Early Church Fathers (especially St. Jerome) clamouring in our little library, demanding to be let out so they can tell us that it is terrible for women to think about our appearance at all. I will beat them back with a volume of St. Thomas Aquinas, as St. Thomas Aquinas states clearly that people should dress according to our station in life. He doesn't like make-up, except to hide deformity, but I bet given enough time we could convince St. Tom that grey hair counts as a deformity. Quaeritur: Was there grey hair before the Fall? Respondeo: Nooooooo.

Anyway, there is no reason to look old until you are old. I am not a fan of the over-40 set turning in desperation to knives and poisons to freeze our faces into smooth masks. However, I am not a fan of young things dressing in an elderly fashion, either. This can mean sloppy sweatsuits or this can mean black lamé. Lamb dressed as mutton is simply not good.

There is no particular virtue in dressing dowdily. I know a very holy young woman, with a very deep prayer life, who before her marriage studied In Style magazine with great concentration and applied what she learned to her wardrobe. After her marriage, she soon became pregnant, so now, although she still reads the magazine, she doesn't study it with the same application. She still looks marvellous, however.

Uh oh. I'm about to say something I have to preface with a lot of qualifications. Okay, we're all on the same page that attracting guys is not the most important thing in life, right? So we know that the most important thing is having a good relationship with the Most High, and next making sure we are well-educated, virtuous, useful women who will be able to support ourselves financially, etc? And we that should put worry about attracting guys right at the bottom of our priorities, way down after "Be a good friend"? Okay, good.

The thing is that guys tend to be more attracted to young or young-looking women than to old or old-looking women. Yes, there are some very young guys out there who are apparently looking for the Earth Mother, but all the Earth Mothers with much younger boyfriends I've ever met were knock-outs who dressed young for their age. They all--listen up--were slender and had long hair. But never mind them because I am not talking to the over-40 set today but to the dewy young. The Searching Single dewy young. The Serious Single dewy young can ignore me.

Listen up, Searching Single dewy young. If people keep thinking that you are older than you are, you must do something. If you have grey hair, dye your hair. If you have sensible short hair, grow it out. If you wear skirts to your ankles, hack them off at the knees. If you wear spectacles, get contacts or fashionable new frames. If you wear a black mantilla to Mass, good heavens, girl, put on a white one. If you wear no make-up, apply some make-up. If you do wear make-up, consult the lady at the make-up counter about a more youthful look. If you never smile, remind yourself to smile. If you wear black and grey, switch to mauve and pink. If you smoke, quit. If you are insomniac, see a doctor. If you're stiff, consider yoga classes. Okay, fine. If you think yoga is inherently pagan, try Pilates.

Yes, of course it is much more important that you are intelligent and have a good character. I once came up with a brilliant elementary school science project that should have gotten a much better grade than it did ; my teacher marked it down because it looked boring. And I guess it did look boring, consisting as it did of a small white bristelboard and red lettering and little jars. It stood in the gym between behemoth science projects featuring huge colourful bristelboards and displays with engines and wires and flashing lights. Nobody looked at my brilliant science project long enough to see how brilliant it was because most of the other science projects looked much more exciting. The prizes went to clever projects which also looked good.

Don't be like my science project.

I'm in a bossy mood, so I will go farther and vent about my personal pet peeve which is Single women cutting their hair too short too soon. This particularly bothers me in Poland, fabled land of beautiful women. Nuns cut off their hair for a reason, and this is not just so their heads are cooler under their veils. It is a way of announcing that they are simply not interested in attracting men; the men can push off. In Poland, I saw way too many Searching Singles with short hair.

My cries that Searching Single women should not cut their hair short always elicits answering cries from girls saying they honestly look better with pixie cuts. I have to respect this because I have unusually thick hair and have no idea what women with thin hair have to put up with. However, I have seen 30-something women with beautiful hair who have simply had it cut short, and I think this shortsighted. If you haven't given up on love, don't look like you have.

Incidentally, I just found "How to Dress Like an Old Lady" on the internet. I think it illustrates in an almost frightening way what I'm trying to tell you. Clothes, hair, make-up and posture really make a difference.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Tea Lady

It was like something in a Lucy Maud Montgomery book, poppets! Yours truly was asked to help serve tea after church. I felt as if I had definitely arrived.

In Canada (and, I think, Britain) before the Second World War, being asked to pour the tea at a tea party or any other social gathering was seen as an honour. And we are nothing if not anachronistic in my little Extraordinary Form of the Mass parish community. Not that there is anything anachronistic about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which transcends time. No, it's just that we tend to go in for tweed, mantillas, bicycles and old-fashioned courtesy.

I remember being rather confused, for the first 38 years of my life, whether the altar was more of an altar or more of a table. Since I went to ordinary post-Vatican II Catholic school, there seemed to be a lot of emphasis on "table" and "gathering around the table" when, in fact, the altar didn't really look like a table. No matter what, it looked like an altar. No matter how many people stood around it, what was going on did not look like a dinner party but like an intensely serious ritual.

But now this has all been cleared up for me, and I am strongly convinced that an altar is an altar and not a table, save in the the most analogical sense. However, I can see why people would want the altar to be a table. And to such people, who badly want their Sunday worship to be about people being in solidarity with other people, not about each person worshipping God, I strongly suggest they go to or found an after-Mass tea.

Mass is Mass, and tea is tea. At Mass you have a priest, an altar and some altar servers. At tea you have the tea lady, the table, and some table servers. Simples. From my neo-Tridentine point of view, men serve at the altar, and women serve at the tea. And, heaven knows, tea must be very important, since so many people want Mass to be tea: handshaking and fellowship and maximum participation and whatnot.

The Cup of Tea of Peace, as I like to call it, is usually presided over by the most senior women of the parish, although the eldest prefers just to wait until it is almost done and then help with the washing and sweeping up. But if some are away, then they ask younger ladies to help. This week, two were away, so the ladies who presided were one senior lady, me, and the eldest lady at the end. I got the teapot because it is heavy.

"Would you like a cup of tea?" I carolled again and again, and thus had the great pleasure of talking to everyone in the parish who wanted a cuppa. And it struck me that for a Single person this would a very good thing indeed. You can get involved in all kinds of parish activities, but the one job that guarantees you getting to know and becoming known by every sociable person in the parish is pouring out the after-Mass tea.

As a tea lady, you would have a built-in excuse to speak to even the most handsome and bachelory of the handsome bachelors and your lovely smile might inspire the more scheming of the ladies to drag their sons/grandsons/proteges to their Mass for the purpose of meeting you afterwards. Just don't dress like a mouse out of Beatrix Potter.

I suppose it is terrible to look immediately at the earthly benefits of serving at the tea table as opposed to the joy and peace inherent in service. And actually I did think a lot about Saint Edith Stein yesterday as I poured out tea and ran the ancient carpet-sweeper over the floor. Edith Stein would have agreed with me that a female theologian who is too grand to pour tea, wipe cups and push the carpet-sweeper is no theologian at all.

But this is, after all, a blog for Single ladies, so in case you haven't thought of it yet: say yes if you are asked to volunteer to serve tea or coffee after Mass, or after any other respectable gathering.

Update: Ooh la la! Just passed 10,000 hits for the month. I've never noticed that before.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Pre-empted

Following letter cut down to protect the innocent. And everyone in the story seems to be innocent.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Thank you for the work you do for us Single girls.

I hear you about being rooted in reality and accepting that a guy is just not that into you, but what about when you hate his new girlfriend so much you can't seem them together without wanting to kill her? People tell me how placid and calm I always look, but they have no idea what is going on under the surface. I am actually very emotional but I was brought up not to show it.


Meanwhile, like I say, I am working hard to be rooted and reality and I know he obviously was just never that into me, but I keep thinking "Why her? Anybody but her!" And I really mean that. Anybody. My roommate. His housemate. My little sister. And by the way you are wrong about guys not going for the girls who go after them because, believe me, I was there and she went after him.

Did I mention we're all in the same Catholic [X]? So I don't think I can avoid them completely without seriously disrupting my life. Please tell me what you think!


Dear Pre-empted,

First of all, I'm really sorry. That really hurts, and I know how much it can hurt because it has happened to me.

Second, I have always found the most effective way of getting rid of strong, crippling feelings of any kind is to ask God to take them away. Actually, it isn't when I ask God to take them away in a sort of nice inner voice that He does it. It is when I demand it in a I-Don't-Care-If-You-Smite-Me kind of way. Maybe He knows that's a lot more honest, and if I end up crying, that's even better. There's nothing like a good, solitary cry to get emotional poison out.

If you're stuck for words, "Help me not to care," is good.

Third, I am of two minds about your mask of perpetual placid calm. On the one hand, it probably makes you a restful, soothing woman to be around. On the other hand, all those seething emotions have to go somewhere. If you are creatively inclined, I suggest channeling them into some artistic endeavor. If you have been thinking about becoming more fit, I suggesting working them off in some high-intensity sport. And then there is rock therapy.

Actually, it doesn't have to be rock. It could be opera. Or Mozart's Requiem Mass. At any rate, it should be something cathartic. When I first read your email, Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" came to mind. In your shoes, I would alternate prayer with listening to "Girlfriend" on repeat. When I got bored of that, I would up the noise/anger factor with Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff."

Fourth, I congratulate you on looking placid and calm in trying circumstances. Although this means that you actually have to tell people how your are feeling, when that is necessary---e.g. "I find that very offensive. Please go away."---it maintains your dignity. When what happened to you happened to me at your age, I threw myself down on the carpet before the guy's feet and wept. Not good.

(I hasten to add that I was in my early 20s, and I have enormous compassion for anyone in their early 20s, including my overwrought former self.)

Fifth, if you can, you may want to avoid seeing them, at least for a while. Don't think of this as them "running you out of town" or whatever; think of this as you taking care of yourself during a spiritual illness. Feeling murderous rage is indeed a spiritual illness, and if you had a physical illness, you would stay at home, wouldn't you? Try to get the benefits you have been getting from [X] elsewhere, and make sure you don't cut yourself off from your real friends.

I very much hope this is helpful. Here is the Avril Lavigne song. (Actually watching the video is optional.) There is a bit of rude language, but not as much as in Limp Bizkit. I hope it is obvious that I am not suggesting the situation Avril describes is anything like your situation; it's the basic emotions--and catharsis--we're after here.

I'll remember to pray for you in particular when I pray for all my readers on Sunday.

Grace and peace,

Note to everybody: I have just had a listen to "Break Stuff" and it occurs to me that many NCGs, particularly those in orthodox but perhaps, hmm, stifling communities like Charming Disarray describes here, might profit from rocking out outrageously to very bad language. And it's nervous giggles bad, poppets. At least, it was the first time I heard it. Now "Break Stuff" is my own personal emotional Lemsip; before I moved to Edinburgh I went to Goth clubs a lot.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Until You Die

Kat of the Crescat has a crush on a Young Fogey. She observes that she is 35 and asks if she isn't too old for crushes. The answer, of course, is no.

The incomparable Nancy Mitford once wrote a letter (actually she wrote so many letters that it would take me hours to find it and copy it here) about being interviewed by a lovely young lady. Nancy had won international fame as the author of In Pursuit of Love and, as an aristocratic Englishwoman who lived in Paris and dressed beautifully, was a heroine to younger literary ladies. (They did not know, as Nancy did not know, that her lover would up and marry her rival, the beast.)

This lovely young lady asked all the professional questions and then, as you or I certainly would do, got to the important, personal stuff and shyly asked at what age feelings of unrequited love went away. "Never," said the almost-elderly Miss Mitford. The lovely young lady was bowled away by this remark.

This reminds me of when I was about 30 and terribly fit and the nurse examining me told me I had the heart of a fourteen year old.

"Tell me about it," I said.

And this also reminds me of my wonderful Canadian grandmother. My American grandmother never struck me as ever having been a girly-girl; food and family quarrels were much more her interests. But my Canadian grandmother was very chic and outgoing, hung out with a gang of friends, did her nails, had her hair done, and went away on holiday to a Muskoka resort, where she drank cocktails. She had been enormously in love with my grandfather, and although she was pursued by the occasional widower, she had no interest in marrying again.

However, when I was grown-up and divorced (and invalidated, as they say in Poland, not that my Protestant granny could ever get her head around that), and my grandmother was quite elderly, I discovered that this lack of interest in marrying again was not because Grandma had packed in her appreciation of the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. Not at all.

Grandma--my mother will kill me for telling this story again--Grandma on two or maybe three occasions panicked in the middle of the night over some pain or other and summoned an ambulance. The ambulance would arrive promptly and young male paramedics would rush to my grandmother's aid.

"And I said, 'Well, you're all very handsome'," related Grandma after one such episode.

"MOTHER," said my mother in an awful voice, and Grandma giggled.

"Why not?" she said. "And it all gave me quite a thrill."

"It all cost two hundred and fifty dollars," growled my mother.

"What?" cried my Scottish-Canadian grandmother. "Two hundred and fifty dollars?" She meditated on this and sniffed. "Huh. Some thrill."

Eventually Grandma "temporarily" moved from her house to the local nursing home for round-the-clock care. Instead of young paramedics, the place abounded with young orderlies, and even--as my Grandmother related with a twinkle--a handsome young masseur. I think the idea of therapeutic massage would have been absolutely scandalous to my grandmother when she was younger, but as it seemed to be one of the very few perks life offered to the 80+ set, she enjoyed it.

It delights me to no end that as an eighty-year old my grandmother had the freedom and confidence to flirt with the paramedics loading her onto an ambulance. I doubt, however, that she ever actually lost her heart to a paramedic or masseur, so maybe the pains of arthritis, etc., do cancel out the pains of unrequited love.

But it would appear that the feminine appreciation of masculine youth and beauty does not necessarily flee with the approach of old age. Thank heavens for that.

Update: Samantha drops another brick. Obviously she never read the works of Nancy Mitford. This report made me howl. Dear, dear. How odd to make money by soliciting hatred of oneself.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Flowers & Candy

You can see a lot of stuff on British TV that would be considered too risque or offensive for Canadian TV. The first show that jumps to mind is a supposedly medical show called "Embarrassing Bodies." I have never been able to watch more than five minutes of this. It is appalling.

There are a lot of bare breasts on British TV. In fact, I am so used to this that it didn't strike me until later than maybe I shouldn't have watched "Sex, Lies and Rinsing Guys" with my husband. This was a documentary about British women who charm men into buying them expensive stuff, or paying their bills, simply by asking. And two of the women were "glamour models", which is a British euphemism for women who pose topless for sexy pictures, and one was an exotic dancer. In a few scenes, viewers are invited to admire the sexy photos of the prettiest, Danica, as Danica admires them herself. Sorry, B.A.

The show is edited and scripted to make these women look like extremely pathetic and hard-hearted gold-diggers. And maybe they are. It is hard to defend women who go out looking for men to buy them stuff, especially when, after the men buy them stuff, two of them laugh scornfully at the men and shrug contemptuously at the idea that the men might expect favours in exchange. (Danica, who operates from some sort of business ethic, is a lot more respectful of her fans.) The show calls these women "rinsers", but I think the word "grifter" applies. At any rate, the creators of "Sex, Lies and Rinsing Guys" are exploiting these women, just as these women exploit men.

One typical online comment about the rinsers is that they are worse than prostitutes because prostitutes give something back. I can think of some really good retorts to this, but that is not important for this post. What is important to this post is the fact that many men do expect sexual favours in exchange for their gifts.

And this is why women who do not practise prostitution have always been careful about the presents they have been offered by men. When I was living in my parents' house, my mother's rule after I was 14 was that I was allowed to accept only flowers, candy and trinkets from boys. Later she amended this to books. I could also accept books.

Flowers, candy, trinkets, books.

I broke this rule in my early twenties and accepted a pair of opera length gloves. I was really, really sorry about this later because it began a new stage in a relationship with someone who wanted to control what I wore and how I acted. Sometimes gloves--e.g. short ones--are just gloves, but sometimes they are a lot more sexually charged than the average NCG might think.

Come to think of it, you can probably tell a lot about a man by the presents he gives (or tries to give) you. Woolly panda because you just came home from China--aww... Black leather boots with 45 buckles--eek! Ten carat gold chain with your name on it--aww... Diamond bracelet from Tiffany's--hold on there, buster. Where do you see this relationship going? Unless marriage is on the cards, that Tiffany's bracelet may have just too high a price tag.

One nasty aspect of hip-hop culture is perpetual groaning about the women who take all of the singers' money. I do not quite understand this because it is not like women slip singers knock-out drops and steal their wallets. Obviously, for whatever reason, either to feel magnanimous or in the hopes of getting sex or out of sincere affection, men who subscribe to a hip-hop way of life buy women stuff and the women say, "Thanks!" I am not sure why the women should be blamed for this, especially if they come from a deeply impoverished culture, where it's every man or woman for him or herself.

However, there it is. Male generosity, unless absolutely disinterested, is too often followed by "Bitch stole my money!", which is one really, really good contemporary reason not to accept expensive presents from men.

Another good reason, which B.A. and I discussed this morning, is that it is really bad for a woman's character to see men predominantly as present-givers. You can see the results etched into the women of "Sex, Lies and Rinsing Guys", particularly when they are denigrating the men who give them stuff.

I don't know what it says about me that as I write I keep thinking, "But I love presents!" I also love shopping scenes in films. I think they are very exciting, and I love window-shopping. When in last night's show one of the women tries on a pair of neon orange Jimmy Choos, I felt a keen desire to possess them, even though I never wear neon orange. What on earth is this impulse?

I think it might have come from all the fashion magazines I've read, and all the brilliantly shot advertisements on television, and all the artfully arranged shop windows. Somehow all those things together have invested objects and names with a magic power. Harry Potter has a cloak of invisibility, and I have Chanel No. 5. Hop O' My Thumb has seven-league boots, and I have brown suede boots from a fancy Edinburgh shop. (N.B. They were on sale.)

("Excuse me," said a young woman at my gate in Toronto's Pearson Airport. "May I ask where you got those boots?")

Anyway, the glamour of status objects is a false religion, and Nice Catholic Girls should do our darnedest not to get sucked in. Oh, and I suppose we should also slap down all men who suggest that we do subscribe to the mercenary point of view. Most of us do not.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Guidelines

Pity the poor woman who tries unsuccessfully to seduce a nice Catholic boy she knows. Actually, pity the both of them. The woman has been told since she first flicked on a television that men are easy, and the NCB had a vague understanding that nice girls don't make such suggestions. He says "No," and no matter how politely he says it, the poor woman feels terribly, terribly humiliated. She covers her humiliation with anger, sarcasm and rejection and the NCB feels absolutely horrible.

Or so NCBs tell me.

It's almost a cliche that men can just trundle about making advances and being shot down and then brushing themselves off to try someone else. As a neighbour of mine cheerfully told me, "It's a numbers game." But I know there are men who act utterly outraged when they hear "No" and respond with anger and sarcasm. Such men are scary.

But I suspect their pyrotechnics are rather different and much more blameworthy than the feelings of humiliation suffered by a woman who has hit on a man and been turned down. The angry man has a sense of entitlement, the unhappy woman has a sense of personal failure.

How nice if everyone would base their thoughts, actions and beliefs on charity and reality instead of believing what pop culture tells us. Despite Friends and Cosmopolitan magazine, not all men are easy. Despite porn, nobody deserves sex on demand.

But determining reality can be difficult. So difficult. Large numbers of people wander about with no real clue as to who they are and how people respond to them, so it is no wonder that we don't really know who they are and how they tick either. The best we can do is observe them, consult older, more knowledgeable people, and test what they say against our own carefully examined experience.

And this is why, with some reservations, I think The Rules so helpful. (Scroll down the Wiki article for the actual Rules.) The rules of The Rules are not based in any politically correct ideology, so they make many people seethe. Many men--in fact every man I have discussed them with--loathe them, apparently because they fear their power to mess with their minds.

Boiled down to one rule, The Rules are "Don't chase men or you will regret it." And although the book claims to be time-tested secrets for winning the heart of Mr Right, I would say that these are more usually time-tested secrets for avoiding Mr Wrong. And far from being disrespectful of men, I would say that the Rules are very respectful of men, for they try to approach men as they really are--at very least in the USA and Canada--and not how pop culture tells us they should be.

"They're about not creating hurt for yourselves," says a Rules-loving friend of mine. She believes it was suppressing her desire to call up her boyfriend all the time that led to their swift engagement. His ex-girlfriend had been crazily needy, and he found my friend's ability to be friendly, beautiful and slightly reserved all at the same time very attractive.

And being turned down certainly hurts, especially if you do not get the message and keep on trying with the same wrong guy. Do this enough and you will get the idea that there is something seriously wrong and unattractive about you. However, this might not be it at all. It is very likely have something to do with the guys in question: their wants, their needs, where they are right now.

And I think this is particularly true in religious circles, where sex and marriage are still mentioned in the same breath. Quite a lot of men are in no position to get married--either because they are in school, or because they make barely enough to live on, or because they are at (or stuck at) the "fancy-free bachelor" stage--and if they change their mind on that, it is because they have fallen for some girl of their own choosing.

And, really, thank heaven, because then at least a woman knows where she stands, and does not land herself in some concubinage-type relationship which will never go anywhere else because, although the man is grateful for the sex, company and cooking, he is just not that into her. (Incidentally, I also recommend, again with reservations, He's Just Not That Into You.)

Once upon a time women were protected from making fools of ourselves by very strict codes of conduct. These codes of conduct are often looked upon today as nasty ways of policing women's sexuality. But I think they also had a lot to do with male psychology in a world where women needed marriage even more than we do now. Take upper class Georgian society, as readers know it from the novels of Georgette Heyer. British men frequented prostitutes of all sorts, but they still enjoyed the company of polite, educated women, and they still got married. (Georgette never mentions, however, the hideous diseases Georgian men passed to their innocent wives. I'm not presenting the Georgian period as any kind of Golden Age.)

One of the rules of conduct for women, besides never being allowed to ask a man to dance, was never to dance with a man more than twice at the same gathering. A man might ask, but a woman must say no. If she said yes, all the spectators would assume she was after the man in a most unseemly way. So she would say "No" and the man would have to wait until the next dance to dance with her. Of course, he might choose not to ask her the next time, for whatever reason of his own, and she might be disappointed, but at least she would not feel humiliated.

In our day, the people around us, if we belong to close-knit circles, are just as interested in how we comport ourselves, although they might be nicer about it than your average Georgian society matron. We have our own internal rules and our own unspoken social contracts. So--when tempted to pursue a young man who has shown only a mild, friendly interest in you--it is wise to ponder both The Rules and those local rules. If in doubt, consult a trustworthy woman.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Female Rivalry

I was thinking about the good old days when I was a young thing in competition with other young things for the attention of the boys around.

To tell you the truth, though, I never felt like I was in competition, first because I was rather unobservant, second because my best friend was always better-looking than me, and third because I inherently dislike competition. Girls scheming against girls to get guys strikes me as alarming and, paradoxically, kind of male.

In elementary school, it was a cardinal sin to "like" some boy that another girl "liked," as if "liking him first" made him her personal property. Later it was always such a shock when I discovered some girl or other was mad at me for "stealing" some guy she fancied.

As a matter of fact, I guess I was rather popular with the caffeine in the cappuccino of life in my early twenties, and not all the girls in my set liked this. To my astonishment and chagrin, some kind friend told me that So-and-So of Ontario Students for Life had put me down as "a party girl."


Twenty years later I feel vastly amused and even gratified that I was dismissed by some angry young woman of rural Ontario as a party girl. But it makes me wonder what all that was about. Was she in love with someone in love with me? It couldn't have been because I was awful to her because, poppets, I always remember when I am awful to another woman.

One of the horrible punishments inherent in not being a Rules girl, is that when you go after some guy, bystanders sometimes notice. There was an absolutely frightful chap in my early-twenties set who was particularly good at reading tension in the room and so knew that A liked B who couldn't care less but was obsessed with C, who was flattered but unresponsive, and that D was crazy about A, who hadn't noticed.

One day this absolutely frightful chap showed off what he knew, which blighted three friendships and made me think of him as an absolutely frightful chap from that day to this. But it also was an early lesson in what you can learn if you just keep your mouth shut and watch innocent people trying to cope with their emotions and desires in a fallen universe.

How odd it must be to be a social anthropologist, watching human beings do the same kinds of things over and over, and knowing that you yourself, being human, must do the same kinds of things. And it is certainly odd and sometimes seriously disturbing to be an ex-Single girl, reading again and again, and even seeing in real life, the mistakes that Single girls make now, some of which I once made myself.

One of them is getting passive-aggressive over a guy with some woman who has more social capital than yourself. Bad idea. Very bad. Yes, it always works in the movies. Life is not a movie.

Watching women's social mistakes is like watching that 1897 silent film about the Dundee Tay Bridge disaster. There's the Tay Bridge. And there's the train. Oh, look, it's full of people. Nice, innocent people on their way to Dundee. And there is the train on the Tay Bridge. And there is the Tay Bridge collapsing under it. Aaaaaaah! But there is nothing you can do about it. No matter how many times you watch that stupid film, all those people are going to drown.

The only thing I can think of to cope with the social version of this sad reality is to opt out of female power games. This is not really difficult to do, now that I'm married and a freelancer, although you would be surprised. All kinds of women will battle for male attention, even at work, and others will know what they're up to, even if they don't. I once worked for a woman who treated me like crap but my then-boyfriend like gold and whom he overheard on the phone saying, "Blue-eyed, 6'4", and I wish we had ten of him." It was pretty hellish, and I think she was married. Managers like her are one reason why many women say they prefer to work for men.

Oh dear. What a doleful start to the week. I will try to think of something cheerful tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Send a Virtual Bouquet to Your Spiritual Mothers

I'm back. It occurred to me that it is a bit late to start Operation Spiritual Mothers, but it is not too late for us all to remember women who have been motherly to us with actually being our mothers.

Of course our mothers and grandmothers are the most special--most of the time. But there are other women whose help we remember long after they, perhaps, have forgotten us. My first and sixth grade teacher was a Single woman name Marilyn. I don't know if she ever got married. Heck, I don't know if she is still alive. But she was very kind to me, and I have never forgotten her.

So I am sending a virtual bouquet of gerbera daisies to Marilyn in my imagination. And tomorrow at Mass, when I pray for all my readers--especially my Single readers--I will pray for all the spiritual mothers I can remember. And I recommend that all my childless-not-by-choice readers do that, too.

If there is clapping, tell God you're clapping for all those special women who were so good to you, whether or not they had children of their own.

Now feel free to mention the names of women you'd send real bouquets to if you could, and whom you are happy to send imaginary bouquets in my combox. Ladies only, please.

Mother's Day Rebellion

As John Paul II said that all women are called to be mothers, it would be cool if every single Catholic adult woman stood up at Mass during the made-up ritual in which whoever has the microphone at the moment orders all the mothers to stand.

One might object that this would be an abuse of the liturgy, but one would be wrong. The liturgy has already been abused by the person at the microphone. The liturgy has been turned into a vehicle for the priest's self-expression. Instead of trusting to the work on the page before him, he jazzes it up to make it more "interesting" for the people or to create a series of emotional, feel-good highs. And I would guess that most of the time the priest does this sincerely, thinking he is doing a good thing.

But the priest is wrong, and it would be nice if he trusted to the words and actions proscribed in the book before him. Not to make this an advert for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but after going to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for a while, you get drawn into the beauty of it all as is. No additives needed. It makes one ask, "If the Ordinary Form is so great, why do so few priests say it as it is written down?"

Mother's Day is a tricky time to be a man, let alone a priest. I remember one Sunday the poor priest got into the pulpit and preached a paeon to how wonderful mothers are. He was probably thinking about his own mother. Filled with the glow of happy memories and certain that he had flattered all the women in the church, he stood at the back afterwards. And to his shock and horror, he had to cope with an angry, crying woman who told him that not all mothers are like that. Her OWN mother, for example, etc., etc., etc.

The seminarian beside the cornered priest listened to the woman in shock, fear and discomfort and later told me about it, shaking his head and saying "Who would object to a homily about MOTHERS?" He praised the priest for his quick thinking in getting rid of the hysteric by saying "Come see me in my office later."

Now I agree that it is clever to say to someone "Come see me in my office later." However, it would be priestly to acknowledge that THIS crying woman, so badly hurt by her mother, needs help NOW, and that the post-liturgy glad-handing can be left to someone else.

As Kat's reader says, Mother's Day is about the relationship of a mother and her children. It is not a feast of the Church. It is the one day secular society has put aside to celebrate mothers, so it is in fact the one day the Church does not have to defend motherhood. On Mother's Day, the forgotten, the weak, the despised is not the mother but the woman who feel wretched on Mother's Day.

I remember one priest who approached the whole Mother's Day thing by stressing that all women were mothers in some way, and by instructing the ushers to give a carnation to every woman who walked into the church. His alternative name for "Mother's Day" was "Women's Day." (Some countries really do have a "Women's Day.") Now, this was all very made-up, too, but at least it was a honest, sincere attempt to minister to all of the women in the congregation.

Mother's Day in the UK is months before Mother's Day in the USA and Canada, so no woman here is in danger tomorrow of sitting in her pew with a burning face and aching heart while the women God has blessed with children stand for applause. And, anyway, I go to the EF almost every Sunday, so I am rarely called upon to witness the creative lengths to which priests go to enhance the worship experience. But I have come across stuff on Catholic blogs and in Catholic papers about disgruntled nulliparous women who are going to skip tomorrow's Mass altogether.

This is wrong. It is the duty of the Catholic to go to Sunday Mass, and it is a serious sin not to be there unless you have a very good reason not to, like illness, or childminding, or difficult travel. Feeling hurt because a well-meaning priest wants to honour women with kids in some way is not a good reason to miss Mass.

At Notre Dame and in Krakow, I recommended that the best way to avoid the annual heartache is to go to an early Mass or the Mass of a grumpy old priest who isn't given to making stuff up. But it occurs to me that this is not practical for everybody.

I suppose we could start a letter-writing campaign begging our bishops to tell our priests to stop separating the fertile sheep from the kidless goats on Mother's Day, and either to stop larking around during Mass or to invite all the women to stand for a special blessing.

Of course, we would have to stress that this is not sour grapes. Whenever Single women or women without children try to explain things like this, we often meet with accusations of sour grapes.

And I agree that it would be best and a true sign of spiritual development if we didn't care a whit that we were childless on Mother's Day and could honestly clap with free hearts for the ladies with kids while thinking, in particular, of our own mother or women who have been motherly to us. It is usually better to think of people other than ourselves and not to sweat the small stuff. Of course, childlessness is not exactly "the small stuff", but you know what I mean.

But the thing is that some women being ordered to stand and the congregation being ordered to clap for them is not an authentic part of our religious worship. I am uneasy about any larking about with the Mass, but when it is a lark that leads some women to declare that they will not be going to Mass on Sunday and others, like me, to encourage women to hijack the lark, then really, it should go.

Meanwhile I think it would be nice if people, of their own free will, told the mothers in the congregation every once in awhile what beautiful children they have. We could do this before Mass and after Mass. We could do this in the carpark, the church porch or even in the pews after Mass, if the mother isn't praying. My mum has five kids, and not only did it give her a lift when other ladies told her what beautiful kids she had and how well we behaved at Mass (true), it made us kids feel good too. God bless those ladies!

I think maybe two priests read this blog, but you never know, so my advice to priests who want to acknowledge mothers at Mass tomorrow is to make sure they do it in a way that acknowledges the spiritual maternity of all the other women there.

Comments moderation on again, I'm afraid, so don't worry if your comment doesn't appear immediately, girls.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Perfect Gentlemen

Well, the stories in yesterday's combox about men's stupid lines were by turns hilarious and disgusting, and now that we have got all that out of our systems, it is time to think about good men.

Good men stories might not be as easy to recall as bad men stories because they don't involve adrenaline and umpteen conversations with girlfriends later. And it is one of the hallmarks of a gentleman that he is never intrusive and therefore does not make deep impressions on our memories. This seems a shame, really.

But the recent-enough memory of Father Pawel lugging my monster suitcase through Krakow reminds me of another time a man--a complete stranger--took possession of my suitcase and entertained me until his train stop in the south of France.

I was in Milan, about to get into a First Class car, and all of a sudden there was a short, slight, bespectacled, business-suited, married Frenchman saying, "Vous me permettez, Mademoiselle?" (or whatever). He took charge of my suitcase and, without any offense whatsoever, me. He sat across from my forward-facing seat and chatted gaily away about France and Quebec and Israel (which he loved), and I was rapt. And he never stopped being delightful even when he trashed American cultural imperialism (as Europeans often do to Canadians), and I pointed out that he was drinking Coca-Cola.

I realize he sounds a bit too much like Fabrice de Sauveterre in Nancy Mitford's novels to be real, but I assure you he was as real as the railway. His parents or grandparents had returned to France from Algeria and he was Jewish. No stereotype. And yet I knew that I had encountered the famous French chivalry of yore, and that the magic land where women are cherished and made much of and then suddenly forgotten was not entirely a myth.


But that was thirteen years ago, and my thoughts return to Father Pawel lugging my suitcase onto a tram and then off the tram and then onto another tram and then off that tram. Then the poor man carried my suitcase down a long flight of stairs into the Krakow Glowny train station and hauled it onto the train and, in one final act of chivalry, heaved it into the overhead rack.

We looked at it dubiously and wondered if a sudden stop of the train might not suddenly hurl it down upon my head. Father Pawel pulled it away from the space immediately over my assigned seat. But another thought troubled him.

"What will you do when you get to Warsaw?" he worried.

I had been talking about the complementarity of the sexes for two days and thought about it for three weeks.

"I will find a man," I said cheerfully.

This satisfied Father Pawel, and off he went.

No man had bought a ticket to a seat in my train compartment. So when I got to Warsaw, I stood on a seat and pulled the horrible suitcase down myself. But that's not the point.

The point is that "being a gentleman" is not about knowing what side of a woman you walk down the street beside or taking your hat off when you meet her in the street (although I think this charming) or opening every door she has to go through. It is about making the lives of the people around you a little easier. It is about making people feel safe and appreciated. It is about recognizing that nature has made life and objects just a little bit heavier for women and trying to make up for it.

The opening-the-door thing and the giving-up-the-seat-on-the-bus thing are nice although really just a token gesture when the woman involved is very young and not carrying anything. It's the real help and the very thoughtful gestures--like writing a bread-and-butter note and posting it--that are the hallmarks of gentility.

That said, the Polish ladies-hand-kissing thing I can definitely get used to. Are they, like, the last men on earth who do that? And when they do it, it is not weird. Like the Frenchman with my suitcase, they carry it off.

Okay, now your stories about gentlemen, ladies, plz. Comments moderation is off.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Say What?

Reading the responses to yesterday's post left me awfully gloomy. Another generation of nice girls being scared out of their wits by thoughtless, presumptuous and sometimes even drunken and/or violent men. And this not including the girls who were beaten and raped. Argh!

This is the part where I remind myself and you that most men are not like that and most men are horrified by such behaviour. There have always been men who have said things like, "Pardon me, Miss, but is this man bothering you?" and sent said man packing. When I was younger, and my brother N.S. was still in the Armed Forces, he used to say things like, "Hey, you. That's my sister." It always made me laugh, but I appreciated it anyway. For one thing, it came completely free of controlling-brother behaviour.

Beyond the bad behaviour of the strange men in yesterday's testimonies, what really struck me was that the commentators shook for a week afterwards. This is not surprising. I would shake, too. But my great wish is that we would not be so taken unawares of bad male behaviour, but somehow take it in our stride. How do we maintain an optimistic attitude about men and yet at the same time be prepared to deal decisively with bad male behaviour and go on our way rejoicing?

As usual, I think we do that by remaining rooted in reality.

We acknowledge that most men are good, but most men are also conventional and won't make a fuss on behalf of a complete stranger unless she looks directly at one of them and says "Please help me."

We also acknowledge, however, that we have male friends who might know even better than we do what protection we might need from other men and are willing to provide it.

We acknowledge also that some men are racist sexists (or snobs) and will treat women of another race (or social class) badly if they can get away with it.

We also acknowledge the role of alcohol in bad male behaviour. (Alcohol, by the way, is a factor in most violent crimes in Scotland, and if I can at all help it, I never go into a pub alone. I avoid being around drunk strangers ANYWHERE alone.)

We differentiate between what is merely annoying, what is merely scary, and what is really worth being seriously angered and disturbed about. I wouldn't stay bothered about some moronic comments, but being touched against my will is indeed a big deal and I hope I would scream the place down. My knee-jerk reaction to men behaving badly, however, is to give them a dirty look and leave. It's been some time since some moron laid a hand on me, possibly because the second I get mad or nervous, I'm gone. I don't care what anyone thinks. I'm outta there. TAX-I!

But the fact that I wish to stress again is that there are men who would say absolutely anything, including "I bet you're much too snobby/racist/stuck-up/prissy to talk with me," to bamboozle you into having sex, wanted or not, with them. There are men who would tell any lie.

I think this is very important because the next time any of you are sitting in a railway station or pub or sitting-room and some guy starts confusing you, I don't want you to smile weakly and feel stupid and that there's something you're not getting and it's all your fault. It's not your fault. You feel confused either because the guy is either deliberately trying to confuse you or because he has no idea how to behave. And if you can't think of anything else to do, hand him your drink, say "Hold this for me" and leave. That should confuse HIM. Find a stationmaster or a taxi or your hostess.

But now I think I should lighten things up by thinking of things men say to get women to whom they aren't married into bed. I can only think of a few because, lucky me, I haven't been that hit-on-able. I have always looked a tad intimidating, what with the crazy hair and all.

You can add to the hilarity by adding things you have heard in the combox. Then we can all have a good laugh, and if some guy says one of these things to you, you can shoot him down or simply go away and then have another good laugh.

1. "You can't get pregnant the first time."
2. "So how Catholic are you?"
3. "If you want to get your stuff back, you'll have to come home with me."
4. "But the whole concept of virginity is nothing more than a mediaeval construct aimed at preserving property and keeping women as chattel."
5. "You should come and see my room now because I'm moving to a new one tomorrow." (This was at 1 AM.)
6. "God can just blame me. I'll willing to take all the blame."
7. "There is no God. Therefore if the only reason why you won't sleep with me is God, that's pretty stupid."
8. Any variation on "If you won't, there are other girls who will" which generally gets trotted out only by jerks one has a crush on.
9. "What? I no understand... My Eenglish, is not so good..."

Tomorrow I will write something nice about nice men, but today we dance another tarantella on the heads of bad men.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Most Vulnerable

Warning: Post contains discussion of sexual assault and trauma. Sexual assault survivors might wish to avoid it. Comments moderation is on.

The trial of a gang of men who groomed and raped underage girls in Manchester has concluded. The facts that all the men involved were South Asian, usually Pakistani, and that all the girls were white British have not gone unreported.

Possibly not hearing the horrifying implication of his remark, a South Asian man who spoke up against the rapists said, "Asian girls are not available to them so they look to Western girls."

Yeah, 13 year old Asian girls are not available to them. Neither should 13 year old European girls be.

But that's not what he meant. What he meant was what he said next: "They [these South Asian men] think they're [white British women are] easy. They think they're tarts just there to be used."

As the rapists were plying their young victims with vodka, obviously they didn't think they were THAT easy. But, again, that's not exactly what Mr Shafiq meant.

What he meant was that the kind of South Asian man who will rape 13 year old white girls with this pals thinks that white women are promiscuous sluts who don't deserve respect.

Sexual Revolution, meet Racist Misogyny.

"He won't respect you," said countless generations of Western parents, and then--quite rapidly, basically c. 1980--many Western parents stopped saying that. The simultaneous eruption of the Sexual and Feminist revolutions meant that men were supposed to respect women no matter what. And, indeed, countless Western men were delighted that countless Western women were no longer so prudent with their bodies and were willing to share without all the bother and responsibility of marriage. Or payment. And, to their credit, most Western men do seem to understand that they should at least look respectful of women, no matter what the women dress or act like.

The rest of the men in the world did not get the memo. And, hey, not all Westerners did either. I grew up in Toronto, and it was not exactly a secret that some Italian and Portuguese immigrants were yelling at their daughters not to dress and act like those "putanas, Canadian girls." They had left Italy or Portugal in the 1950s or 1960s, and so it never dawned on them that "Canadian girls" (i.e. Canadian girls of every ethnic group but theirs) in the 1980s were dressing and acting no differently than Italian and Portuguese girls back home.

Being a "white woman" and "one of those putanas, Canadian girls", I am not exactly a stranger to racist misogyny, the belief that women outside one's one racial or ethnic group are sluttier and less deserving of basic human kindness and respect than the women of one's own.

Women of every race have had to put up with this crap. I can only speak to my own experience as "a white girl", and I will tentatively add that "white girls" have the added burden of being easy targets for those who resent being fish-out-of-water in countries in which they were not born or in which their ancestors did not originate. We also--and believe me, this makes me ill--carry some kind of "status symbol" value, as women of colour quite justly, I think, resent.

Then there's the whole, disgusting "revenge against the men on the bodies of 'their' women" horror that is such a part of pogroms and war. Nobody tells me the worst, but I have heard some "Fleeing from the Russians" stories that made my hair stand on end.

But you aren't in war zones, dear readers, so let's just shudder and leave that aside. Let's look at our current circumstances: most of us reside in countries where men and women of different races and cultures live and work side-by-side. This includes Poland, although whoever said Edinburgh was the least multicultural capital city he ever saw, had never seen Warsaw.

Now, most women are by nature kind, motherly creatures who want to make strangers feel welcome. And in the West we have been told a million zillion times that we are equal in dignity to men and we have been treated more-or-less equal in dignity to men, so it doesn't often occur to us that strangers might not see us that way. For this reason, it is sometimes better to err on the side of reserve.

I have just erased an illustrative anecdote. Maybe I will publish it later.

It is very sad that what to you and me and most of the men we know is just a happy smile and basic friendliness is evidence of utter slutdom to other men, but that is the way it is. So look out.

Conversely, there are men who will interpret our natural modesty and womanly reserve as racial hatred for them and will say so. Now, this is one of the most important things I can tell you, so listen to your Auntie Seraphic when she says, Some men will say ANYTHING if they think it will get them sex. Really. Anything.

If you are trying to discourage a man's attentions and he says, "What, are you racist or something?", either scream at him, if that is your personality type, or leave. Leave at once. A Cameroonian refugee named Simon Mol managed to infect over a dozen Polish girls with HIV. Apparently this charmer used to tell Polish girls it proved they were racists if they didn't sleep with him. (Male Polish student, uneasily: "How is it that you know about Simon Mol?")

The irony of this is that it isn't prudent women who are racists; it is the men who wish to sexually exploit women who are often racists. Men who wish to sexually exploit women go after targets they think are easiest (i.e. most vulnerable) or somehow "deserve" or welcome it, which very often means "the Other." Think of the men who flock to Thailand in droves. Disgusting.

It is terribly difficult to talk about race, particularly when you are white and therefore belong to a supposedly "dominant" group, which is actually, in terms of the whole wide world, a small minority. In Edinburgh, remarks about female safety in light of South Asian racist misogyny take place on the walls of the ladies' toilets in pubs, the safest bulletin board of womankind.

It is also terribly difficult because one of the racist libels used by men to punish vulnerable men of different races is "They want to rape our women." This has been used as an excuse to beat, jail and kill innocent black men in the USA.

However, it is an unfortunate fact that sometimes men do target women for reasons that are as racial as they are sexual and violent, and it certainly doesn't help women to be ignorant of this. And it also doesn't help a woman to think that it is better to risk rape than to be called a racist by some jerk she barely knows or doesn't know at all.

I don't know if there really is any such thing as "race" or if it just a social construct. But I do know that men of any race are bigger and stronger than women, and if they wanted to, most of them could simply kill most of us with their bare hands.

They have been trained not to, of course, and they almost never want to. But the fact remains that they could. So at the end of the day, when all the gentility of civilization has been stripped away, what we have are two human beings, one of who could rape and kill the other just from sheer strength, even though God has always told him not to, just because he is a man and she is a woman.*

As far as I am concerned, this reality trumps every other consideration--race, handicap, age, whatever. If you feel threatened, cross the street. Get off the elevator. Get out of the cab. Leave the room. Lock the door. Yell. Trust your instincts and don't second guess because you are afraid of being called a racist.

*Update: There is some debate about whether or not a woman should physically fight a would-be rapist. The police officer who came to my high school to talk to us about it said to fight, bite, scratch, scream, pee on the man, do whatever necessary to discourage him. For the police officer the most important thing was that we were never dragged into a car. Once you were in the car, he said, you were dead.

My own thought is that rapists tend to go for those they think look most vulnerable, e.g. elderly women, women with Down Syndrome, teenage girls, the intoxicated, the quiet and shy, the fish-out-of-water. And therefore, in scary situations, it is good to be loud and rude and ready to bite, kick, scratch and slap. In a word, to look strong. But never hit a stranger except as a last and desperate resort. Your first priority should be to get away.

Update 2: The lid is certainly off Pandora's box now. Racist misogyny is simply not acceptable, and it is a crime or cowardice to put up with it.