Saturday, 30 June 2012

Man Down

Okay, so now two of you have sent me Devlin Rose's article on how the Catholic men of America should "man up" and chase Catholic girls around the church parking lot. So here it is.

You also want to know what I think. And what I think is that it is time to stop shouting "Man up" at the Catholic men of America. Devlin Rose's article is just one more example of the Great Internet Nag.

Yes, it is great fun to sit at home and shout "Man up, man up", especially if you are married and have a spouse nodding sagely behind you. And I was rather touched and amused when Mark Shea discovered this blog and, thinking I was still single, told the men of Scotland to man up and pursue beautiful me. But I don't think shouts of "man up" are all that effective. They are even rude.

Men are indeed very influenced by other men. And I do believe they love and respond to challenges. And I will even go so far as to say some men can get them to do stuff by making them angry. But I think these men are men the men already know and admire, like their grandfathers, fathers, older brothers, friends, coaches, teachers and spiritual directors.

Yesterday I wrote about spiritual motherhood. Challenged by sciencegirl, I'm still working out what that would look like in practise. There is, of course, that dreaded statement, "You're not my mother" and Sting's lament "Every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end." Motherhood in this case does not mean the quiet, loving, helpful support Stein was talking about but being an awful, clingy nag.

Men hate The Rules, but one great thing about The Rules is it thinks nagging is kryptonite. Summed up, it says "Look good, look busy, keep the tourists at a distance and let men do their own thing in their own time. You should only want the man who pursues you whole-heartedly anyway."

And I agree with this. Women should not chase men. If the men are kindly, chivalrous men, it really bothers them to have to tell women the obvious fact that they're just not into them. And women should not nag men they are not related to by blood or marriage. And, yes, I know how tempting it is. Look at me hectoring you all every day.

Of course, "you all" are girls, and I have tried to drive the male readership away, not only because I don't think they should be intruding on our girly-girl conversations but because I don't want to nag at them.

Men are not the enemy. And when they go hunting, they don't scare away their beloved deer and rabbits with shouts of "Man up, man up" because the deer and rabbits don't simply flop in their paths. Noooooo. They go where the deer and rabbits go, sit very still and wait.

Vague apologies for the hunting metaphor. But I really think we should stop thinking of Single Catholic men as sulky toddlers. Instead we should try to watch them and see them for who they really are, in the way hunters and biologists study animals in the wild. Men are who they are and not who you want them to be. And, like deer, they're beautiful, you know? Sorry to get all sentimental and stuff. But the way Catholic American men and women snipe away at each other in the comboxes is starting to get to me. Saint Edith Stein wanted nothing other than to be a Carmelite nun, but she loved men.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Made for Friendship

Now that Lucy, Jeff and I have got you all riled up, I will calm you down with some soothing thoughts borrowed from Saint Edith Stein.

By the way, thank you very much to those readers who have written in to say that they have responded to my nagging and actually read Saint Edith Stein's essays on women. One of you mentioned feeling a bit mental because of wanting to talk about her with somebody, and I now recommend throwing a "Brainy Evening" party in which everyone invited has to read the Stein essay you send them and then talk about it during the party. Of course not all the guests will actually read it, so write key quotes on cue cards and hand them out with the drinks.

Suffice it to say, Saint Edith would neither write "I blame men" nor agree to a thesis that "American [or German or Wrocławian, in her case] women lack charm." What Stein did do was examine masculinity and femininity in light of Scripture and philosophy, observing the gifts of each and the ways in which both had been warped slightly by original sin.

Stein thought that both masculinity and femininity brought necessary gifts to all of human life, including the factory floor, and emphasized that both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. Humanity is a unity of two. And this is where it gets interesting.

Stein was not that interested in the subject of marriage, per se. When she thought of marriage, she thought in more general terms, of Man being wedded to Woman in the species called Human. Much more important to her than the husband-wife bond was the mother-child bond. In fact, she speculated that it was something erotic in the Adam-Eve relationship that brought about the Fall, which gave her posthumous orthodox editors a few seizures.

Saint Edith holds up Mary, Mother of God (and of us all) as the great model for women. And she sees that women have two choices in regards to our not inconsiderable influence on men: we can be sexy Eve and seriously mess them up, or we can be motherly Mary and lead them to Christ. Obviously she thinks we should be Mary, exercising either our biological or spiritual motherhood to help men--and other women--flourish.

This emphasis on motherhood is, I think, a very good corrective when men and women see each other as nothing more than erotic turn-ons and turn-offs. Very few of us would want to marry Jeff. Okay, but what can we do for Jeff? Jeff is a human being, our brother in Christ, a fellow Catholic, a fellow TRAD Catholic for some of us. What can we do for him?

We cannot do much, really, as long as Jeff is fixated on whether American Catholic women are worth marrying or not. One might want to ask Jeff if American Catholic women are worth befriending. After all, that is what Christian life is all about: "I call you friends," said the Lord. Friendship between men and women who are not related by ties of blood or marriage is part of the first century Christian revolution.

(I am suddenly reminded of a Jesuit classmate who met a Muslim acquaintance, a fellow student, on the streets of Toronto and made the "mistake" of addressing the Muslim student's wife, demurely tucked behind him. The Jesuit classmate felt badly for being so insensitive. He was glad the Muslim student had just pretended it hadn't happened. Auntie's snarled response to her Jesuit classmate: "This is TORONTO." She might have also said, "We are Christians.")

I hope Jeff has female friends, women who like him without feeling an overwhelming erotic attraction, for perhaps they will sit down with him, like the spiritual mothers they are, and explain why he is unlikely to attract any adult American women with his views.** If he understands that they truly desire his good, and he is grown up enough not to sulk that they don't desire him, then he might learn something and thus become more attractive to his fellow Americans.

Before I read the work of Edith Stein, which was not that long ago, I used to say that I didn't have many men friends. I would mention about B.A.'s friends, which caused some hilarity among B.A.'s friends, who are actually, although in a different way, my friends, too. (And reading this blog even though they know perfectly well it is for girls.)

I had a much narrower view of friendship than Saint Edith's, for my idea of friendship of necessity included a certain kind of emotional intimacy. But Saint Edith's thoughts on spiritual motherhood made me think about that again. It is possible to care for many men without becoming too attached to them or expecting them to behave like female friends or scandalizing anyone or annoying your husband, if you have one.

In other words, men are not just the caffeine in the coffee of life. And this reminds me of one of my men friends who occasionally addresses me as "Hen."

"Hen" is the Scottish, or maybe just Edinburgh, working-class term of endearment for neighbouring women. It is like American "honey" or "hon." Local wifies (women) address each other as "hen," and local men address local wifies as "hen" if they think they won't get into trouble. Apparently it is now a bit politically incorrect for men to call women "hen", although I can't imagine why. I certainly like being called "hen" better than "pal", which is how working-class Scottish men address each other.

Anyway, I thought for a long time how to respond to my friend's cries of "Hello, hen" or "How are you doing, hen?" because they are usually outbreaks of banter and the laws of banter demand the ability to banter back. So I listened very hard for how local women address local men and finally found a near equivalent for "hen".

"How are you doing, hen?" asked Friend, age 50.

"I'm doing fine, son," I replied.

**UPDATE: Sciencegirl brings up a good objection, so I will emphasize "the spiritual mothers they are"[already]. Spiritual motherhood is not some external-to-you spiritual-mother-costume you put on. And it is not sounding like Marmee in Little Woman or Jo in Little Men. If you're me, Spiritual Motherhood can sound like what I write here (although I don't talk to men like this). If you're Jeff's female friend, Spiritual Motherhood might indeed sound like, "Hey, Jeff, how are those Polish lessons going?"

Update 2: Erased two updates. Dear me. How exhausting. Sometimes when men leave comments I coldly rub them out. But sometimes when men leave comments I get really angry, but then feel badly later for getting really angry when this is supposed to be a friendly blog.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


Poppets, my hair stood on end. And I have a lot of hair, so you can just imagine what that looked like. Read this well-written article by "Lucy Simmonds" on Then read what Jeff in Sacramento wrote just beneath it. Do not tear your eyes away from the response by Jeff in Sacramento because I was profoundly moved by the testimony of Jeff in Sacramento and am going to write about it.

Go read. Then come back and read my thoughts below.

There are many reasons why men do not marry, and the comment stream is full of men saying what they are. The biggie is the absolute heartbreak of divorce, which is usually initiated by women, and the resultant loss of property, income and even children. That's what they say, so I'm not going to argue with them on that. I don't really enjoy arguing with men. There is no fun in arguing with a man you're not going to sleep with afterwards. Oh dear. Did I type that out loud?

But my principal thought, while reading Lucy's "I blame men" essay, is that the men she describes simply haven't fallen deeply in love with anyone yet. Nobody expects Western women to marry men we don't love. Well, I don't expect Western men to marry women they don't love. One might think out of sheer sexual frustration Catholic men might just pick the nicest girls they know and make the best of it, but it seems that they're not usually that sexually frustrated after all. Men, too, love love. Well, Keats was a man, so we shouldn't be surprised.

In Lucy's essay, Catholic American Manhood stands in the dock. All eyes are upon him. Lucy, the District Attorney (for the trial takes place in the USA), has accused him. We are the jury. Kerry Cronin (whom I know personally, a very sweet woman) has given her evidence. And now Jeff in Sacramento, counsel for the defense, steps before the bench and says "Is it not true that American women lack charm?"

Sensation in court.

One of the things about being happily married is that I can listen to Jeff in Sacramento without having ten thousand fits. Jeff in Sacramento could go on all day long about what he doesn't like about American Catholic women today and I wouldn't turn a hair. Even if he wound up by saying "And that goes for Canadian women, too, since I can't see much of a difference", I would merely nod and say, "Thank you, Jeff, for putting that so plainly." It's not my ego on the line. It's Lucy's. It's yours. So I will proceed cautiously.

I am on Lucy's side. And I am on Jeff's side. I am on the side of all authentic Catholic Singles and other Singles of Good Will. Fundamentally, Lucy and Jeff are on the same side, too. The war between the sexes is evidence of the Fall, not part of the Gospel message. In Christ there is no man or woman: this isn't some cockamanie argument for wimminpriests--it asserts the UNITY of Man and Woman in Christ.

"I blame men," says Lucy, and I cannot imagine a phrase more likely to lose her the sympathy of male readers. I used to blame men for stuff, too, and in fact my publisher at Novalis was a bit taken aback at some of the things I had to say about some men. But I figured out long ago that if you are Single and love men and want to marry one eventually, it is a very bad idea to sound like a Lesbian separatist. In fact, men are so battered and beaten up nowadays, the smartest thing a man-loving woman can do is tell men how marvellous they are. It is like rain falling on a wilted plant.

(Of course not all men are marvellous, but I am lucky in that all the men in my family are marvellous and that my husband is marvellous and we socialize only with marvellous men. If you're male and you're invited to my house for supper twice, you're marvellous. It's official. I should publish my guest list so that women can study it keenly.)

Another thing women should do is stop thinking men are anything like their schoolteachers. Our schoolteachers told us that if we studied hard and seized opportunities, we could be anything we wanted and could be the First Woman Blah-Blah-Blah and they would be proud of us. In fact they were already proud of us. Heavens, I can hear the words echoing from the past: "I'm so proud of you, girls!" But in general men do not give a tinker's damn about what women's grade are or what we do for a living. They usually don't care. Pretty face beats Harvard degree. Radiant smile trumps making partner. This is not to say that men think Harvard degree and making partner useless in a woman. These are just the cherries on the cake. B.A. did not marry me because I write well. But if I sell an article, he just happens to mention it to everybody.

And Lucy's schoolteachers would have loved her essay. It's well-written. It's thoughtful. It's honest, funny, and true. It sparked 47 comments. But it did not get her what she most deeply wants, and I heartily congratulate her on using a pseudonym.
However, all is not lost, because there is Jeff in Sacramento to tell her How to Get Traditional Catholic Men. Apparently the way to Get Traditional Catholic Men is to be charming.

I know a lot of Traditional Catholic Men*, and therefore I take Jeff's testimony quite seriously. But I also suspect that the Filipina and Polish women who marry ordinary white, non-Polish American guys do so in part because they are sick of the hyper-machismo of both the Philippines and Poland.

Women in hyper-macho cultures have it underscored to them every day and in every way that they are women, and they learn that they cannot take on men the way men take on men. And therefore they develop the feminine wiles men say they hate when they realize they are feminine wiles. If they don't know they are feminine wiles, men call them charm. And I bet you the Filipina and Polish women Jeff in Sacramento talks about turn them on instinctively the minute their American husbands get out of line.

Charm looks very nice, and indeed it is great fun to be charming. But underneath lies a not-so-pretty realism, the understanding that men are different and you cannot be 100% honest with them because they are men. Do you remember that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula's mother and aunt snow her father into thinking he had come up with a solution to a problem?

In some ways that was absolutely horrifying. But that's charm. And that's life. If you think it is absolutely terrible ever to be disingenuous with men, then you wipe off that lipstick, missy, because your lips ain't that colour neither.

Thanks to Ashley for bringing the article to my attention!

*Update: In this context I mean The-man-is-the-head-of-the-household-my-wife-shouldn't-have-to-work guys, not guys who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. These include neo-con guys. In fact, they are usually neo-con guys. Sorry for any confusion.

P.S. Here's a photo of Auntie being charming. The smile is real. The cigarette is fake. The lipstick is Russian Red by MAC.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Let Your Yes be Text?

Technology continues at its hysterical pace, and nothing can date me as much as the admission that I never sent B.A. (or, I think, anyone) a text until 2009 when he gave me his old mobile phone. I am still rather lackadaisical about texting, however, and prone to leaving this phone behind on public transport. Fortunately, my phone is endlessly forgiving, and we always get back together again in the lost property offices of Europe.

Texting makes a nonsense out of the quaint advice of The Rules that one ought not to reply to a man's phone calls right away, for fear of looking too available. Thanks to the mobile phone, we are all too available, and everyone knows it. However, texts are cheaper than actual phone calls, so those are what we are most likely to get.

I was struck by the terrible dilemma of a reader who was asked on Tuesday for a date, and she said Sunday. She received a short text on Wednesday, which had no content, just an affectionate "Hi there, hot stuff" (not actual words). She did not return this text, and then received no further communication. Because there was no further communication, she wondered if their Sunday date was still on.

Remembering a time when all telephones were connected by wires to walls, I would have assumed the Sunday date was still on. If you say on Tuesday that you will meet Sunday, then it is obvious to me that there is nothing more to confirm. Let your yes be yes--that's how I feel about it. It would have been a bit odd, in the days of wires, to tell a man on Tuesday that you'd see him on Sunday, and then have him call you up on Wednesday just to say "Hi."

But these are the days of wireless, and men are more spoiled than ever. By the 1990s most young men assumed that most young women who would be seen with them would also sleep with them, and nowadays most young men seem to assume that most young women who would be seen with them will answer all their text messages. Technology, no less than the sexual revolution, has radically changed social communications AGAIN.

Well, we aunties must stay on top of these things, so I'm glad that this has been brought to my attention. I have given the matter some thought, and I think the wisest thing to do is to answer first texts (at least) from suitors the day you get them, but ignore all those that come in after 8 PM until the following morning.

Why 8 PM? The idea is to cloak your evening engagements (or lack thereof) in some mystery. If you rapidly answer messages from 8 PM to midnight, you might give the impression that you are moping at home with nothing better to do than exchange texts with him. This works against the impression that you are a busy, exciting woman with a fulfilling life, from which only an ambitious and attractive man with serious intentions could distract you.

However, I believe you must answer texts from suitors in a timely manner, and not simply ignore them, because men these days have a horror of being perceived as stalkers, and if you don't answer their first texts, they might not send you second attempts.

This does not mean answering every random follow-up thought or answering all messages ASAP. The flip side of modern men worrying about being perceived as stalkerish is modern men's rapid slide into satiation and boredom.

One feels sorry for men sometimes. (Bless their little hearts.) They demand more and more, and then when they get it too soon (even if not before they demand) and too much (even if not more than they demanded), they get all twitchy and irritated, and they don't know why. Young men are bad at expressing how they feel because they so often don't know how they feel, let alone why. And thus we have to do their emotional thinking for them. They can't help it, poor sweets; they just have lower EQs.

It is our duty, therefore, our responsibility to masculine fraility, not to allow them to become bored with us. It is one reason, by the way, why after marriage we must spend money--no matter how much husbands complain--on new hairstyles and new shoes and new clothes and alternate long periods of domestic tranquility with shouts about the state of the garage.

So when it comes to texts, I recommend answering their first texts in a text conversation in a businesslike way but not after 8 PM, if it is merely "Hiya, hot stuff" and not "I'll be there at 9."

Married women, of course, must answer all their husbands' texts ASAP. Women should band together to create a culture in which a man thinks the only way to get a woman to be really super nice to him is to marry her, and married women should do our bit by being demonstratively nicer to our husbands after the wedding than we were before it. This, however, does not preclude the buying of new shoes, etc., for the reason I mention. It is not nice to allow your husband to become bored.

Update: I am swotting away at Polish, and it appears that poet Wyslawa Szymborska agrees with me: "Piękna jest taka pewność, ale niepewność piękniejsza."

"Perhaps to a point," says Father Bernard Lonergan from heaven.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Alisha starring in "Cabaret"

In years past I've mentioned my young pal Alisha, who is a fantastic singer, dancer and gosh-darn-it Nice Catholic Single Girl. I love her to pieces and the clip of her singing "Defying Gravity" I've put up below always makes me cry. Something to do with being a Catholic artist...sob...sniffle. There's more recent performances on Youtube, too.

Anyway, I don't do adverts, but if you are in Montreal or near Montreal (like in Vermont! Or Boston! Or Toronto!) I urge you to see Alisha in Cabaret. She's just gotten a rave review in the Montreal Gazette.

Maybe some of you have read about her already in the Catholic Register. I'll add a clip of her dancing, too. Nobody I know can sing and dance like Alisha. She's simply amazing.



Man, I wish I were in Montreal this week. But that is certainly a new look for you, Alisha!

This Is Not About Finding Husbands

I fear I've been neglecting Serious Singles of late.

As you know, I mentally think of Singles as Searching Singles, Singles who don't want to be Single but Married, and Serious Singles, Singles who enjoy being Single, prefer celibacy and look forward to a long life of single blessedness.

The second group is usually more tranquil than the first, which is one reason why I don't think of them as often. However, it is wrong to neglect them completely. For one thing, they are often good role models for happy living of the Single life. And for another, they are irritated by the idea that there is something wrong with them for just enjoying being Single. They deserve support, encouragement and references to Saint Paul.

During one homily I've heard, a diocesan vocations director, a priest, complained about the various married people who had looked at him with big pitying eyes and said, "It's such a shame you can't get married." He didn't like feeling pitied, and he thought their attitude cheapened his celibacy and devalued his priesthood. He actually liked celibacy and never wanted to get married, but he found it very hard to convince these happy married people of this.

(Happy people are often unimaginative about happiness. Happy married people think everyone who isn't married must be miserable, and happy priests thinks every young man should think about the priesthood, and happy Catholics pity Protestants, and happy writers encourage young men at parties to write their first novel before they are 25 so as to get maximum publicity.)

I received an email from a reader working in some remote spot who just wanted permission to stay home and not have to go out and find a husband. There was
no-one eligible in town, and when people in town, eyes glistening with sympathy, asked her if she had found anyone, she would point out that there was no-one in town for her to find. And the townspeople would think about this and conclude that she was right. I cheerfully gave her permission just to stay home.

Even Searching Single girls can stay home and veg if that's what you want to do. My now husband found me because I spent quite a lot of time blogging and writing funny stories. I literally did not have to leave my room. And when I did leave my room, it was to visit readers in the UK, not to buy clothes and meet cute new boys, which led one of my best friends to conclude I didn't really want to get married, "and that's okay."

Listen, girls, if God wants you to get married, you'll get married. Don't go to that stupid party if you really don't want to go.

By the way, I'm talking to girls here. Searching Single Guys should be out there meeting girls. It's okay for Searching Single girls to slump in front of the TV and feel bad because they aren't wildly popular, but it's not okay for Searching Single guys. Most women make daily efforts to look more attractive; most of us, for example, put on lipstick. So it is not really all that much to ask when we ask Searching Single men to improve whatever it is that needs improving and get back out there. Girls like manly guys. Getting back out there is manly. And if you really, really hate "out there," think about marrying your slavishly devoted secretary.

But back to Serious Singles. Being married to a relatively young and healthy guy, it will probably be a long time before I am Single again. I hope so because I am rather fond of B.A., and it would suck if he just went and died on me. But trying to see life from a Serious Single perspective, I can see how good life can be when you make all the decisions and there is nobody there to tell you you can't have a pony or a pot-bellied pig or a pug. (By the way, I finally have a pet. It is a sour dough starter named Herman. Every day I get to mix Herman, and he eats only once every four days.)

For me, trying to imagine myself as a Serious Single, the most important factors in my life would be family and friends. Not all Serious Singles would agree, of course, as some are rather hermit-like, and for some much more important are work and prayer. But I would be conscious that the two great temptations for Serious Singles (and Singles in general really) are (A) becoming isolated and (B) doing everything for everybody out of fear that if I don't somebody won't like me.

Family and friends would thus be very important, both for company and for more-or-less unconditional love. I would be lucky in that I already have lots of Serious Single friends, and really the hard part would be convincing nervous confirmed bachelor friends that I wasn't merely hunting down Husband Number 3.

This blog, like my book, has never been about finding husbands. It has always been about appreciating and living the Single life as happily as possible, and the Single life includes friendships and dodgy old dating, which is why I write about them so much. But I honestly don't think it is a woman's job to go out and find a husband. I think it is a man's job to go out and find a wife. And therefore I am never going to write a book called "How to Find a Catholic Husband" even though my own Catholic husband would love the money it would bring in. Ka-ching!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Buy/Write Catholic Literature Instead

I spent a few hours yesterday reading writing magazine for women called Mlexia, and it mentioned that having your books mentioned on a popular blog was a very good thing for sales. I think this is quite true; most of my American and all of my British and Irish opportunities to discuss Single life in person were provided by readers of this blog. I am thus both very grateful to readers of my blog and aware of the advertising power of a blog.

That is, by the way, why this blog does not have ads. And it is also why I am a bit reluctant to mention a work of pornographic fiction that is flying off the bookshelves. However, I suspect it is going to keep flying off the bookshelves whether or not I write about it, so I will say what I think and just not mention the title.

This book has been haunting me a bit since the Postcard from Hell alluded to it. The writer of the Postcard from Hell has made the classic, if rather immature, male error of assuming that pornography is true and "that's what women want."

The plot of the bestselling pornographic book is, as I understand it, about a college-educated woman who agrees to become a sex-slave for money, and is generally treated badly and loves it, or something. Other women have already suggested that the real draw to such a novel is the promise that one will be able to live in luxury and not have to work at a really boring job or with a really rhymes-with-itchy boss just to pay the rent. As my mother did not say, it's as easy to fantasize about a rich man as a poor one.

I don't think that sexual fantasy is a good idea for women trying to remain chaste in a sex-obsessed world. But apparently 10 million people in the sex-obsessed world have already bought the book under discussion. I know this because there is an advert across various Edinburgh city busses proclaiming this. "Get on board," it invited.

"No, thanks," I said.

I had just been in a bookshop and seen that although parts two and three of the three novel series were still around, part one was no longer to be seen on the shelf. Sold out. So perhaps the women also waiting for the bus had this dirty book squirreled away in their handbags for a sexy read later. Heavens, I wonder if women are talking about it in book groups. Heavens.

Actually, though, the more I think about it, the more tempted I am to read it, just to see what all the fuss is about. And this is an impulse to be squashed because in the battle for civilization, a woman has to start with herself. It's harder to demand that men treat women well, and that women avoid men who treat them badly, and that people not use pornography, if one lolls on the coach thrilling to pornographic stories in which men treat women badly. One rather gives up the moral high ground.

This sort of novel may be more "literary" than the tripe that fills shelf after shelf in big box bookstores, but it is not new. Both Anais Nin and Anne Rice wrote erotic fiction, as I know because a non-Christian feminist friend, horrified that I had never read any, gave me their works as an exercise in feminist consciousness raising. Nin's relatively human creations were one thing, but all I can say about Rice is "Golly." I had to force myself to finish reading Volume 2, and it made me so ill I just never got around to Volume 3. I never believed in Rice's brief return to Catholicism because if she really had become a good Catholic, she would have yanked her poison from circulation.

Bestselling fiction spawns whole industries. I think it is safe to say that the brilliance and popularity of Georgette Heyer's novels created the enormous Regency Romance market. And I hear cadences from the much superior Bridget Jones novels in the wildly successful Shopoholic books. Harry Potter made the children's fiction industry more than safe for wizards and witchcraft. So I hate to think what will happen in the wake of F*fty Sh*des of Sh*meless P*rn*gr*phy.

Catholic writers like me wail about trying to write Catholic fiction in a sex-obsessed world, and both Catholic writers and Catholic publishers know that our only hope lies in Catholics actually buying Catholic fiction. But as not all pious Catholics are actually good at writing fiction, we rely not only on Catholics buying Catholic books but on writers of good books being faithful Catholics.* Finding faithful Catholics who are also good writers can be freaking difficult.

In Toronto, girls on the literary scene I recognized as having gone to my convent school visibly shrank with embarrassment when I mentioned it. If you really, really, really want to be accepted by the artistic community, and you already have a few Doubts, thanks to lousy catechesis and bad church art, and you have a crush on Jewish-Wiccan Poetry Boy, it can be easy to shelve all that Catholic stuff or just be as quiet as a little mouse about it. Islam can be cool, but Catholicism? Ha, ha, ha.

Well, I am not sure how we can go about getting great-lapsed-Catholic-writers back into the fold, other than stubbornly identifying as Catholics ourselves and hoping something good happens after they slink away from us in embarrassed loathing.** But I know how we can help those writers who are Catholics, and it is by darn well buying their/our books. Catholic bloggers should mention Catholic literature on their blogs. Catholics should start organizing book groups. I am sure most ladies in the Catholic Women's League read books. Well, why not read a few Catholic books and have a Book Night?

Here are a few living Catholic literary writers to get you started:

John McNicholl (children's/teens' fiction) The Young Chesterton Chronicles.

Fiorella di Maria Nash (fiction) Poor Banished Children

Michael O'Brien (fiction) The Father's Tale (and many others)

Piers Paul Read (fiction) The Death of a Pope (and many others)

David Adam Richards (fiction) The Lost Highway (and many others)

Of these, the ones most likely to have been heard of by non-Catholics are Piers Paul Read and David Adam Richards, so if you already belong to a book group, you might like to suggest one of their books. In so doing, you might create a safe opportunity to talk about the role of faith in life and literature.

Yesterday I came across a children's book called We are British. The Sikh, Muslim and Jewish children in this book mentioned their religious practises. The other children--the daughters of a Central European couple, the Scottish boys, the Welsh boy--did not. The girls focussed on their family's vegan practises. The Scottish boys mentioned Rangers football. There was not a single mention of Christianity and Christian practises in this book, even though the state religion of Britain, its history and 70% of England (more for Northern Ireland) is Christian. It is time Christian Britons stopped pretending Christianity is something embarrassing and secret, like an ingrown toenail.

*By faithful, I do not mean saintly. Many of the best Catholic writers of the 20th century had terribly irregular personal lives, with which they struggled as Catholics. Hypocrisy is a particular burden for writers who, although they so often write fiction, desire nothing more than to capture and express something true. And it is true that many people who loath sexual sin, and know sexual sin is sexual sin, nevertheless commit sexual sins.

**Nobody hates a happy Catholic more than a lapsed Catholic. Nobody. I'd rather chat with a drunk and bigoted Rangers fan than with a lapsed Catholic intellectual/artist. However, you never know what the Holy Spirit might do through you, so don't be afraid of cheerfully proclaiming that there's nothing in Catholicism to recover from, etc.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Warsaw Boy(s)

Yesterday's post was a tad depressing, no? Such revelations can lead to serious disenchantment with the caffeine in the cappuccino of life and inspire the question, "Why do we keep men around again?"

My preferred cure for resentment of Men in General is to silently say "Bless his little heart" (in a non-patronizing way) at the sight or approach of every man that day. All that blessing works like a charm at lightening one's own heart, and I suspect it prevents wrinkles, too. It definitely eliminates the "I Hate Men" vibes, just about the only vibes men get without having to have them explained to them in words of one syllable. (Bless their little hearts!)

But it is also helpful to think about what it is we really like about men and will miss when a tragic sex-linked epidemic kills most of them and we have to keep the few remaining for procreative purposes. One thing is that they are often very, very funny. Intentionally funny, I mean.

I was thinking this yesterday because, HUZZAH!, at last I have access to Youtube and can look up all the Polish pop video links I've been sent. One of these videos is called "Nie masz cwaniaka ade Warszawiaka," which roughly translates as "There is no crook like an inhabitant of Warsaw." It is utterly hilarious. The actual song can be summed up as "Yeah, so what? We'll kick your butt."

Central European pop musicians who use American rap music, tics and visual cues are often very funny whether they like it or not, and as evidence I link here to Fler's "Neue Deutsche Welle", which is absolutely hilarious in its thuggish lack of self-awareness. (The cherry on the cake is that Falco was not German but, quite famously, Austrian.) However, the brilliant thing about Projekt Warszawiak's video is that it makes fun of Warsaw men as much as it celebrates them. My native Toronto is just as hated by the rest of Canada as Warsaw is by the rest of Poland, so I wish someone back home would come up with something similar. That would be AWESOME.

Hmm. It occurs to me that if you know absolutely nothing about Poland, you will not find it as funny as I do. However, see what you think. The actor portrays all kinds of men, and at first I was disappointed that the one Warsaw character he didn't play was a priest. However, after watching the video several times, I suspect the man in the grey wool jacket in the green cafeteria might be a priest. (I suspect I've been in that cafeteria. I am relatively sure I've seen that old lady before, too.) Meanwhile, I find the construction worker rather fetching, which is no doubt a telltale sign of aging. (By the way, there's one gay culture reference and one man in a pink bunny suit surrounded by lingerie models. You've been told in advance, so nobody have a heart attack on me.)

I looooove the fact that the sensitive left-wing intellectual has to take his girlfriend's little sister along to the mall. Don't ask me what the Jewish guy is doing with the skinheads. I think the inference is that they would be beating him up, were they not momentarily united in their defense of Warsaw.

Reader Update: Long-time reader Aussie Girl in Australia, who used to be Aussie Girl in London, is now Aussie Girl in New Zealand because she upped and got married. So best wishes to Aussie Girl because we at "Seraphic Singles" are kind and sympathetic to married women for obvious reasons.

Source Update: Local Pole suggests that's not a priest but a mathematician. Apparently that's what Polish mathematicians look like. Gracious.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Postcard from Hell

Well, poppets, you know I don't usually allow anonymous comments in my combox. I get some lulus, as I'm sure you can imagine or have seen before I erased them. But sometimes I let one through, generally if it agrees with me,

I found this anonymous comment this morning, and it is both a lulu and it agrees with me. It fully acknowledges a fallen order in which women attach themselves to men who treat them badly.

Unfortunately, the letter-writer, whose bragging may just be a load of lies, admittedly, thinks this situation is wonderful. Imagine a virus discovering that it can invade people, take over their bodies and make them sick and die. Whoo-hoo!

The thing about the virus, though, is that once its host subject is dead, it dies too. Oh sure, its sibling and cousin viruses are still running amock through the community, but the virus in the dead person is dead, too. Not that it has a chance to consider this though because, though powerful, it doesn't have much of a brain.

Human beings do, however, have reason, and reason tells the reasonable man that attracting women so as to use and abuse them is really quite a shoddy hobby. Promiscuity does not wear down and tear at the souls of men quite as quickly as it does at women's, but I am told it does eventually catch up with them.

And it can, of course, hurt even those women such men decide are lovable human beings worth keeping around. Karen Blixen couldn't have children because her rat-bastard husband gave her a venereal disease. And God only knows how many women then and now get HPV, the one cause of cervical cancer, from their husbands' premarital sexual careers because although men carry it, they can't be tested for it.

So, do women somehow get hooked on rat-bastard behaviour? Yes. And women also--I know this will blow your minds--are much weaker than men, so when men hit us, we fall down. I know. Crazy, eh? And I don't see much of a difference between men exploiting women's emotional weakness to use us and men knocking us down. Both behaviours hurt. Both behaviours spit on the humanity of both women and men.

“Whenever man is responsible for offending a woman’s personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation.” John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem

Here's the postcard from hell. You might as well see what we are dealing with. The writer's virus feeds on female attention, so I'm shutting the combox. If you want to vent, girls, send me a short email instead.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Too Nice?":

It's interesting long ago when in grad-school, I did a series of experiments where I dated a number of women and would treat some very well, others moderately well, and to some I was a rat-bastard to put it simply. Invariably, the ones I was the worst to, were the ones who would almost literally do anything to say with me.

After nailing that down I would transition from being the "rat-bastard" to being nice to her, to see interest wain - if I reverse trend it would improve a bit, but after the better part of two years, I learned that you can never be to much of a rat-bastard. It really is as simple as that - but if you are "nice" you can kiss your butt good-bye.

So before you rant and rave that it isn't true ladies - be honest since each of you can point to the guy that was "too nice" and how you fell hard for the guy that was the worst to you. You have no one to blame but yourselves. Guys aren't stupid - we learn. Some quicker than others.

So while I see the who PUA stuff as useless, there is a grain of truth in it, and while I would never say I'm anywhere near that - I always have several women in the wings, and some who are up and coming.

Heck, you can see it in the book women are so hot and bothered about these days. Men learn ladies, and some learn quickly. Personally, I love the system - I can do what I want, when I want, and always have women waiting for me to call and jump at the chance.

So gnash your teeth all you want - you reward men like me. And I than you for it...

Don't read Fifty Shades of Grey. Read Mulieris Dignitatem. And the Magnificat. Actually, that's my response to the postcard writer in his little hell. Let's all say it together, shall we? Really freak him out.

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012


In my experience, people in psychotherapy tell other people to go to psychotherapy. This is no doubt good news for those who make their living through psychotherapy, i.e. psychotherapists. When I was in psychotherapy I told whomever I was dating about how fabulous my psychotherapist was, and when they admitted to various long-standing hurts, suggested that they see her. Let's call her Lucy.

I was working in an office at the time, which is a good thing because, poppets, psychotherapy can cost a fair chunk of change. Lucy was a not just a psychotherapist, though, but a Catholic with a diploma in pastoral counselling, and she charged on a sliding scale. This was very handy for little me during a bout of unemployment.

Nothing in my background, incidentally, was pro-therapy. Psychotherapy was seen as something narcissist and foreign: the province of cranks and New Yorkers like Woody Allen, and Woody Allen was not exactly a role model. Mental illness itself was something alarming and almost unmentionable, despite or because one of my great-aunts was certified. When I am old, I shall wear purple and be terrifically eccentric and B.A. will apologize to the neighbours and mention this great-aunt.

Anyway, I rather took a shine to the idea of therapy as one of those 20th century things my neo-Edwardian parents didn't like, and after a series of really awful nightmares following my flight from my first marriage, I called up Lucy. Lucy advertised in the back of my church, which is why I called her up. I knew, from reading Freud and Freudians, that a lot of psychotherapists hate Catholicism and blame it for Catholics' problems. And thus a Catholic or Catholic-positive shrink was my first priority.

Yes, the money thing bothered the heck out of me. However, my first stop had been to group therapy at Catholic Family Services and, poppets, I got what I paid for. I had carefully examined their schedule, and thought I was going to a meeting on Verbal Abuse. However, when I showed up, I found a roomful of chipper elderly ladies, a tear-stained, shell-shocked woman about my own age (27) and two commanding, mannish women who proceeded to lecture us on Lesbians Who Batter.

Lesbians are under a lot of pressure because of the censure of society, which is why they batter, we were told, and all of us were cajoled into volunteering hateful epithets that Lesbians suffered. This was a bit of a poser for the elderly Catholic soi-disant survivors of domestic abuse around the table as they were nice Catholic ladies who didn't know any.

The meeting was simply ridiculous, almost a battle between the leaders who wanted to talk about the sufferings of Lesbians Who Batter and the elderly ladies who wanted to complain about their husbands past and present. The shell-shocked girl my age looked utterly stunned, and I felt utterly mad.

So that was my last group therapy session, and when my nightmares got too much for me, I called up Lucy. And so began almost five years of weekly visits to a battered sitting-room in an old house on a tree-lined street in the rundown city in which I lived.

Not to put a fine point on it, Lucy was a lefty, super-liberal Catholic, and although she kept that firmly in the background, it influenced the therapy all the same. However, going to Lucy was one of the wisest thing I did in that period, and one of the things I learned was that one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to pay someone to listen to you gripe and cry instead of griping and crying at them. Or seething with homicidal rage.

Lucy said a lot of very helpful things that became a soundtrack in my brain, replacing the former, very unhelpful soundtrack in my brain. Out of her sitting-room, I could almost hear her speaking in my head and although this has faded over the years, I still write out the best, most helpful of her aphorisms, like "Feelings are not facts."

If you are as easily influenced as I am--yet another reason why I am grateful that B.A. is such a cheerful, laid-back man--you have to be very careful about your mentors. For that reason, I wish Lucy had been a better, more orthodox and orthoprax Catholic. However, I am very grateful for those four years of weeping, shouting, complaining and absorbing aphorisms because they purged the anger eating my soul. I had to give up boxing because anger, more than calories, which at the time I rather underconsumed, was what fed my love for boxing. (I suspect I quite literally could have killed somebody when first I went to see Lucy.)*

I mention all this stuff, so supremely about me, because of comments in the combox against therapy and how impractical it is to suggest single people go to therapy when it is so expensive. I think an American made that comment, which surprises me because there are few cultures like the American one so keen on pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and shouting "Get a job."

I had a job and I made therapy an economic priory, just after rent and right before food. I thought it absolutely necessary to my mental health, and I think I was right. I don't remember those days as deprived although my job was certainly boring and, pension be damned, I felt sorry for those whose mortgages trapped them in it forever.

Yes, there were dribs and drabs of free therapy floating around--and every university has a counselling department--but in Ontario, I found, you got what you paid for. Free therapy meant not being able to choose your counsellor, and to me that is anaethema. To me the biggest bar to getting professional psychiatric help is not money but the attitude that it is shameful to get professional psychiatric help.

I do not think it is shameful to get professional psychiatric help. And I do not think it is shameful to take medication, if one's mental health has deteriorated to that degree. I do not think it is shameful to be mentally ill. I think it is shameful to tell people that it is.

To me it makes as much sense to go to a psychotherapist after a rocky marriage as it does to go to a physical therapist after a painful car accident. And swallowing a mood stabilizer is just as moral, and sometimes as necessary, as a shot of insulin. A depressive has to be just as responsible for her mental health as a diabetic has to be for her physical health, and the two are linked, really. We are ensouled bodies, after all, and the marriage between flesh and spirit is nowhere more obvious than in the human mind.

*I should mention, too, a very good priest, also a lefty, super-liberal, to whom I marched on the one occasion I left the house to beat someone up. I walked half a block one way and then St. Michael or some other angel stood invisibly in my path, turned me around, and marched me in the opposite direction to the rectory.

"I'll bake you a cake with a file in it," shouted the priest when I told him this story. And given how madly traditional I am, lace mantilla on head, missal in hand, it is hilarious to think how much I owe to certain concrete lefty super-liberal Canadian Catholics.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Other Girlfriends

Oh hooray! A new era in my internet life has begun because now I have a wireless connection and access to youtube and all kinds of other freedoms. Yay!

But to get down to the business of the morning, I would like to remind you that, unless you have the people skills of the Marquise de Meurteil, who was incredibly wicked and also fictional, you cannot control anyone but yourself. The best you can hope for is that you can prevent people from treating you badly and that you can influence them to treat you well.

One good way to prevent men from treating you badly and to influence them to treat you well is to keep it a secret that men have ever treated you badly and to very occasionally mention that men have treated you well. The safest men to mention in this context are your father and brothers. When I think my husband should be at home and not at work anymore, I just call him up and shout, "The men in my family are at home by seven o'clock!"

Now I have been married for three years, so you may be wondering when I had a deeply cathartic conversation with B.A. about whichever men I dated who were absolute rat-b*stards. The answer is NEVER. I do not feel any need for such cathartic conversations because the appropriate people for such confidences are (A) a trained therapist (B) a priest under the seal of the confessional and (C) a close female friend with an amazing talent for keeping secrets.

I can imagine situations in which it might be relevant for other women to have to mention past rat-b*stard suffering to fiances or husbands ("I suppose you've been wondering about this scar/my neurotic aversion to the state of Texas/these children following me around"), but none have cropped up for me yet. My divorce papers were yellowing by the time I met B.A., my annulment decrees were safe in their sacred box, and I had dumped my baggage at the therapist's office for a tidy sum, so it was full speed ahead and "My father and brothers adore me and the elder brother is a crack shot."

But this is not the issue of the day. No, the issue of the day is men who have a lot of female friends and assure you that their female friends are indeed just friends even though you're not so sure and you're chewing out your liver over them.

This brings us to the question, "Can men and women be friends?" The answer is, "Duh. Yes, of course," and I expect theobromophile to show up in the combox and cheer. However, the answer to the question, "But are men and women ever sexually attracted to men and women who are just, you know, their friends?" is also "Duh. Yes, of course."

Occasionally I get comments and email from women and a few men who wail that they seem to be just the "friend type." Personally I think it can be bad manners to allow people to think that they might just be the friend type. In fact, I think it can be good manners to hint to single people that if it weren't for stern fate, possessive significant others, or the adamantine will of God, that you would be tempted to run away with them to Paris.

Of course, this isn't good manners if you suspect they might be actually that into you. And admittedly a social technique based on lies (if they are lies, ha ha) is very problematic from an Augustinian point of view. We all know I'm not a trained therapist, right?

Okay, so anyway there are men who are sick of the drama and nonsense of meeting and dating multiple women and just want to settle down, watch TV with someone nice and have guaranteed guilt-free sex at least once a week. But then there are men who are still in love with the idea of dozens of groupies (or maybe two) all competing for their attention. And, to be frank, I can't throw stones because I recently came home from a party bragging to B.A. that four guys hit on me. Oh wait. It was only three. But still. THREE. Ah ha ha ha ha!*

The question is how you cope with men like that, and what I suggest is to not get sucked into their orbit in the first place. Go through the world scattering smiles and hellos and see who pops up at your side. Don't look at groups of men as though they were a menu you could choose from, e.g. "Who's cute? Oh, hmm. That one. The one with all the girls dancing around him. Yes, that's the one for me." And keep Mr Pop-up at a friendly distance until you have ascertained that the field is free from rivals.

My mother told me a million years ago that women couldn't ask out men and all we could do was wait for invitations and say "Yes" or "No." I was furious and didn't listen because I thought what she said was prescriptive and nagging and judgmental and out of date. What I didn't get was that, with some lucky exceptions, it was descriptive. It was also loving and protective because--and it would have been helpful if you had pointed this out, Mum--if you ask a man out or suggest he become your boyfriend, he might rub his hands with glee and think "Oh, goody! Another one for my collection!"

As an aside, the reason why a woman should never ask a man to marry her is because she runs the risk of him saying, should she ever be in a meltdown about something in their married life, "Hey. You asked me to marry you." Do you really want to give a guy that card for fifty years? I shudder just thinking about it.

All this is really bad news because most classic** love stories are written from the guy's point of view and so women think the epitome of romance is to fall in love with someone of their own choosing and hang around until he falls in love with them, too. I bet you any money Sixteen Candles was written by a man. Of course, this does happen for women, every 50th crush or so. One out of fifty doesn't look so bad when Mr. 50 has seized you in his manly arms and professed his undying love.

But this is usually going to be the guy who really is sick of the drama and excitement of dating multiple women and just wants to settle down and watch TV, etc. And, yes, he may very well have female friends, but they are going to express their friendship by telling you what a great guy he is, not by competing with you for his attention. If they are competing with you for your boyfriend's attention, either he or they have boundary issues. Discuss. "Ah, ha, ha, ha. Hey, babe, I'm really embarrassed to mention it, but I think Sandra has a crush on you."

B.A. has lots of female friends, who either live very far away and are therefore greatly neglected or are his colleagues. These colleagues told me before I married B.A. and then just after how great B.A. is, really, and now they ask me how I put up with him. Meanwhile he never ever comes home and brags about how many women hit on him, either because women never do hit on him or because he is prudent. Whereas B.A. is the sort of laid-back man who always says "That's nice, darling," I am the kind of woman who shrieks "WHAT! Who? WHERE? When? WHY?"

*Update: I'll tell you what it was, though. I was the oldest woman in the room, I was wearing a dress cut to there, and I was drinking out of a can. Two of the men who came up to me were significantly older than the other girls around. Tah-dah! Simple anthropology.

But I admit I am extra chuffed that one of them, while scanning the crowd for my (absent) husband, thought he could be "the bearded one." The bearded one was 24 years old, so I rock. I so rock. (Does victory dance. Cancels appointment with dermatologist.) Sunscreen, girls. Wear it.

**Well, not romance novels, obviously. But the BIG STORIES not written by Jane Austen or the Brontes and most of the films.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Too Nice?

Poppets, I am a bit nervous about this particular subject. Such a can o' worms. Such a conflict between the world as it is and the world as it should be. I'd rather tell you about the party I went to on Saturday night. Apparently given very bad lighting, a dress she has to stick on with double-sided tape and the absence of her husband, your old auntie gets chatted up a lot. Of course I am way too advanced in holiness to think that was awesome, but actually it was pretty awesome. (Needless to say, Auntie mentioned Unkie when the conversation turned to "And why do you live in Edinburgh?")

Anyway, the party is still too fresh in local history for you to tell you all the amazing insights I gleaned, so I will hang it up in the cellars of my mind to be seasoned and preserved and just get on with the painful topic of niceness.

Can a nice guy be too nice?

Hitherto I have written about soi-disant "nice guys" who are actually passive-aggressive b*stards. They are easiest to spot in advice columns because they like to write letters like this: "Dear Abby, I'm a nice guy but I think I should't be because apparently all women like men who treat them badly."

Such "nice" guys lack self-knowledge, and men who lack self-knowledge are alarming. But to ignore Mr Seething "Nice Guy" and to move onto truly nice guys, is there such a thing as being "too nice"? And incidentally, by "too nice" I mean "too kind."

Frankly, I do not think men can be too kind. I think they can be boring, of course. But kindliness does not mean dullness, just as abrasiveness does not mean excitement. True kindliness includes kindliness to oneself, which is something that some men lack when they are dealing with women. Women tend not to respect men who do not respect themselves. However, putting women down is not exactly evidence of healthy self-respect.

Sorry to mention them again, but men who are involved in the pick-up artist movement believe in technique called "negging." "Negging" is paying a girl a backhanded compliment so as to stand out from all the men who pay her proper compliments and to knock her from her pedestal of self-confidence. The p.u. artist idea is that every real woman is longing for some guy to re-establish the proper order of creation in which the man is boss and the woman obeys him and thinks he is marvelous.

Yes, go ahead and make those gargling noises of disgust, but we have a eensy problem in that a lot of women are actually like that. Why do so many fourteen year old girls defy their parents to date some guy their parents despise? Why does such a girl want to please her boyfriend more than she wants to please her parents? Why do women do such stupid, shortsighted things "because I love him"? And why do I get so many letters from readers, Nice Catholic Girls who go to church and know the rules and want to live up to them, who admit to having slept with their boyfriends or now-ex-fiances? Okay, sure, they did it because they wanted to, but my hypothesis is that a big reason they wanted to was because they wanted to please those boyfriends and ex-fiances. They wanted to give that which wasn't really theirs to give yet.

Simone de Beauvoir was feminist royalty, but I read somewhere that she used to buy Jean-Paul Sartre fancy notebooks while she bought cheap notebooks for herself. She wouldn't marry her American lover Nelson Algren because she was so attached to Jean-Paul Sartre, who left control of his intellectual legacy to the mistress he adopted as his daughter. Jean-Paul never married Simone, of course. The whole "open relationship" was his idea, and apparently when he suggested it, he didn't think she'd agree. But she did and the upshot was that she spent her life as his high priestess, editing his work, and insisting on being buried in his grave despite the Algerian mistress-(ahem) "daughter," and it's all very depressing.

Saint Edith Stein wrote about both masculinity and femininity, noting that they were adversely affected by the Fall. Since the Fall, masculinity has had a tendency to tyrannize over women and femininity has had a tendency to let it. But nature, twisted after the Fall, is both healed and perfected by Grace, which is to say that the Incarnation ushered in a new order. This new order recognizes the truth revealed in Genesis that women are, as much as men, made in the image and likeness of God. Both Saint Edith and Blessed John Paul II underscore the dignity of Woman, offering Our Lady as the exemplar.

They don't put it like this, but Eve was a wimp, submitting to the snake, whereas Our Lady is a heroine, crushing the snake with her heel. Our Lady didn't listen to snakes but to God, and instead of falling for tricks, she responded to an invitation to become the Mother of God.

In light of this, I would say that to fall for negging and to admire men who push you around and to want to submit to them in whatever way to make them like or love you is to be in cahoots with the Fall and not to be in line with the Gospel.

Meanwhile, I haven't got a psych degree or anything like that--just my wee M.Div/STB--but I will go out on a limb and suggest that the women who are most likely to fall for guys who insult them are women who are emotionally unhealthy and who are so used to being insulted that they think it is normal. They might also be so lonely that they are amazed by and grateful for any masculine attention, no matter how negative. (I certainly know women like this.) But emotionally healthy women are irritated by men who insult them and will flee them for men who are honestly kind to them.

Update: I have just had a horrid memory of a woman who clearly loved the young man abusing her in public and so put up with it. The kicker is that the woman was the young man's mother. They were in front of my counter at one of my government jobs. I think the woman must have forgotten some essential paper, for the young man told his mother she was a waste of space. I snapped, "That's no way to speak to your mother" and the woman, whose head was bowed and who looked very ashamed, looked at me and then at him.

"Yes," she said. "That's no way to speak to your mother."

"Waste of space," muttered the young man rebelliously.

The woman gave an unhappy giggle.

Some women love men despite their bad behaviour. Not because. DESPITE.

Incidentally, my husband is one of the kindest men I know. And he is kind to everybody.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Shy? There Is No Shy.

I'm channeling Yoda here. If you will think back to The Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker glumly tells Yoda that he will try to do something or other. And Yoda says, "Try? There is no try. There is do or do not."

Well, obviously Yoda is not up there with the Church Fathers, but it occurs to me that this might be the attitude that made George Lucas such an amazing success.

Unless there is some underlying psychological problem, shyness is merely a manifestation of something else. It could be something good, like modesty, or it could be something bad, like cowardice.

Oh, la, la. Them's fighting words. I'll start with the good stuff, modesty.

If you find yourself about to join a group of strangers, it is perfectly natural to fear that you might be intruding in some way. However, feelings are not facts, so look at the facts. Were you invited? If so, you're not intruding. Have you been to church and this is the after-church coffee hour? If so, you're not intruding. Does the group have open body language, or are they in a tight, closed circle? If open, you're not intruding.

In a gentler age, everyone invited to a party, and every stranger who drifted into after-church coffee hour, would be greeted by the hostess or priest or lady behind the coffee pot and introduced around. But this is no longer universal, so it falls upon the new person to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Pick someone doing something serviceable--like pouring the tea or handing around the canapes. Say something like, "Hello, I'm Marta. How do you know our hostess?/How long have you been coming to St. X?" Don't ask something that can be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No."

Besides "not wanting to intrude" modesty, which is laudable, there is sexual modesty, which is also laudable. If you find yourself around strangers who are behaving or talking in a way that you find shameful, leave them. Unless local culture directs otherwise, don't make a big song and dance about it. Don't frown or cry or preach a sermon. Just go. Invite any equally embarrassed people to go with you.

If you belong to a smile-no-matter-what culture (like Canada and the UK), smile and say "This has grown too hot for me" and escape, even as the strangers hoot, holler and say "Stay, stay!" Strangers, heck. I do this at my own dinner parties when my own husband remembers a limerick he thinks the chaps should hear.

There is sexual modesty in dress and behaviour, which is weighing on my mind because I've bought this amazing dress for a party tonight. It is kind of low cut and not my usual thing and B.A. says it is fine but you know how it is. I will check with a girlfriend. Anyway, if you feel "shy" appearing in public in a bikini, that's a good thing. If you feel "shy" playing spin-the-bottle, that's also a good thing. If you feel that you need to get really really drunk and thereby lose your inhibitions, that's a bad thing. Inhibitions are usually our friends, and we should keep them.

One of the saddest things I ever read was some blossom of a first year student at Harvard or Yale or wherever "Sex Week" was being committed confessing that she was having a hard time overcoming her inhibitions so that she could perform whatever sex acts she thought she was supposed to be performing. I wanted to fly there, smack the stuffing out of whoever organized "Sex Week" and tell that girl that what she was calling "inhibitions" was her God-given conscience and her dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God.

And that's what I have to say about modesty. Onto cowardice. If your "shyness" is not modesty, and it does not stem from a reasonable decision that the people around you are better best avoided, then maybe it stems from timidity, which is not laudable, but cowardice. Get over it.

I realize as I type that this is easier typed than done for many people including the myself as a child, but with the cold hindsight of adulthood, I think I really was a bit of a coward. I was also unobservant, self-absorbed, unreflective and unhappy. It never occurred to me to watch how "the popular people" I wished would accept me made friends and influenced people.

My saving grace, as a child, was summer girls' camp. For some reason, whenever I went to summer girls' camp, I deliberately took on the persona of fun, outgoing, kinda crazy girl. I'd have two weeks of popularity and then I'd go back to my ten year sentence at elementary school. (It never occurred to me that I could somehow transform the social patterns burned into my class, and maybe I couldn't. The day I started high school was the happiest of my young life.)

So you can make an effort, talk to people, and joke around if you really want to. Yes, it is hard to break out of patterns. But every new group, every new party, is a new opportunity not to be Mr or Ms Shy-and-Awkward but Mr or Ms In-Love-With-Life.

If there are men still reading this blog, I would like to repeat my mother's dictum that "Faint heart never won fair lady." Men still think it a terrible insult to be called a coward, but many no longer seem to make the effort not to be thought a coward.

The good news is that sometimes men can be goaded into action by a loving female friend coughing "Coward" into her hand.* This, however, is a bit dangerous because there is a kind of cowardly man who, even if he would never dare hit a fellow man under any provocation, will hit a woman. Choose your male friends wisely.

Amusingly enough, I did once manage to propel a nice young man into extra flights of social effort by turning on him, giving him a piece of my auntie mind, and pointing out how the other guy in the room--unlike him--was utterly charming to a certain young lady.

After gasping and spluttering with horror at the insult, the nice young man rushed out to be just as charming to the young lady as the other guy and I, although already under its influence, had another glass of potato juice. I am, after all, over forty and married and therefore can get away with such shenanigans--to a certain extent.

But maybe I should get some double-sided tape. Where can I get some double-sided tape?

Update: OH, POPPETS! Such wardrobe malfunctions, thanks to reliance on double-sided tape! :-( Minor, and nothing gruesome, but annoying all the same.

However, I don't want to say "If you have to use double-sided tape, maybe you shouldn't wear it" after just one attempt. It's a fabulous dress. (Anecdote removed on second thought.)

That dress is going nowhere. I think I'll just sew it onto me next time.

*It occurs to me that this might also be a way to clear up Free Therapy syndrome. You know how when you like some guy and all he does is talk to you about the girl he really likes? If he says he'd love to ask her out, ask him why he doesn't. If he comes up with some excuse, tell him that you guess he doesn't really want to ask her out then. If he says he does but he just can't, ask him if he thinks he might be being a bit of a coward. If he gets mad, say this therapy session is over, and that will be $100, please.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Teenage...Seraphic?

Oh Auntie Seraphic!

I think by this point you are quite entitled to shorten your name to 'Auntie Seraph." You are not just angel-like, but a real angel, indeed, a spiritual auntie for us little poppets. Just as I consider St. Therese to be a spiritual mother, I think women on earth who are not in heaven yet are most appropriately termed Spiritual Aunties.

I am one of these spiritual nieces who is overwhelmingly relieved to have such good, blunt, and resoundingly true opinions on women and men. I use 'resoundingly' because your advice is I think what all good girls know in their heart of hearts, and what is only covered up by double-guessing and daydreaming!! So I have read your blog, erm, religiously, and I'm very grateful that you are writing and making your opinions known!

So right now I feel so happy that I have these good principles of waiting and not searching out a guy in my head and Why That is Proper and Just and all that in my head. And I have come to terms with my own issue where I always always day-dream my way into huge crazy crushes that aren't rooted in reality... le sigh! However, I am a little girl! A weeee babe! That's my consolation in the face of dumby-head things I [say to] boys, both in my head and to their faces!! But Auntie... O Sensei... I have learned better! I shall never again justify dreamy!

BUT!!! But I will not be able to use this excuse forever! And I fear that I don't have this problem just because I am young! You see, though I know I shall never again ACT too forward with a guy, because I have these principles in my head, how can I keep from THINKING day-dreamy thoughts?

It's like a disease! If I meet, or even SEE a cute single catholic boy, (or even a single cute boy, or even a boy... ai ai ai!) my little brain automatically jumps to 'what-ifs.' You know? And then even if I constantly remind myself, "No daydreaming, think about the real person, think about how he hasn't shown romantic interest in you," still, I always seem to have SOME boy or other in the back of my mind. And when that boy becomes less romantically attractive... I automatically come up with another one to take his place.

I liked and then day-dreamed about a certain boy at school for about a year. Then I realized what I was doing and stopped it all, because he never showed serious interest... I don't think... It's still sort of hard to know. And I'm anxious that when I go back to school the whole cycle will start all over and I'll make an even bigger doofus out of myself!

I wonder if I run into problems of this nature because of more deep-seated issues in my life... I truly WANT to be rid of this problem, I see how silly and irrational such a mind-set is. But I fall into it almost against my will. How, I say to myself, could I be rid of this nagging hope of 'looking forward to a special guy someday', so that I can really be ready to meet him? And... ugh. I feel sick just thinking about it.

Do you think it's just a matter of being young? Of over-thinking things? Worrying too much? Have you ever experienced this? What say you, Auntie?


Dear Nineteen,

Now I wonder if you really are who you say you are or if you are me as a teenager writing from the past, taking advantage of some weird high school science project I've forgotten about.

Listen, there is nothing wrong with you except adolescent foggy-brain, which seems to be one of those things which goes along with adolescence and can definitely suck, but eventually it will go away and the bright sun of adult reason will burn through the clouds.

I daydreamed my way through high school and undergrad university, and I am very sorry now because daydreaming is a great foggy waste of time unless you change the names and write all the daydreams down in the form of short stories. Now when I find the few examples of this in archaeological digs through my own papers, I am amused and impressed with my teenage self instead of impatient with her for all the other time she wasted.

As for boy-craziness, I have been boy-crazy my whole entire life, and I still think men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, which seems a bit sad, really, given that I am married and all. You would think that being married to the Love of Your Life would keep you from ever noticing cute guys ever again, but guess what. And you would think that going to university for a million years would stop you from wanting to talk about love stuff, and yet here I am in my 40s writing about love stuff. No Nobel Prize for me.

So, dear Nineteen, I advise you not to beat up on yourself for being boy-crazy but to congratulate yourself. The fact that a new guy takes up residence in your head proves that you are capable of thinking about someone other than yourself. I'm serious. The wonderful thing about romantic love, even dumb unrequited crush-type romantic love, is that it shows that we are longing for some connection outside of ourselves.

The problem with being ashamed about being boy-crazy is we try so hard to hide it, we might come off as a bit remote and unfriendly. So even as you are telling yourself to be rooted in reality, make sure you are smiling and friendly to the nice men around you. Usually they aren't ever going to show any romantic interest unless you smile and say "Hi."

That's as far as I think girls should go, however. If you see a guy you recognize from class pass you on the street, you are allowed to catch his eye, smile and say "Hi." Repeat with next guy you recognize from class. You don't have to start a conversation; in fact, you shouldn't. Let them start the conversations past "Hi." And don't call yourself a doofus.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful. Having adolescent perpetual crush foggy brain is uncomfortable, but it seems perfectly normal to me. Just keep rooted in reality and don't beat yourself up for being the kind of woman who thinks men are marvellous and always seems to have one in her head.

Oh, and it is 100% normal to want to find a special guy one day. Thomas Aquinas thought (or thinks) getting married and having babies is the natural end of the human being, a path some are called out of by a vocation to religious life (or, I would add, some other more mysterious plan of God). Just don't think about it every 15 seconds.

There is so much more to life, especially when you are very young and have so many opportunities and student discounts. A girl can't live on caffeine: you need the nutritious food of studies, art, music, lectures, film, professional training, worship, travel, exercise and building friendships. But, as I said, your feelings are absolutely normal and arguably laudable. Just make sure they don't run away with you or make you feel dumb. Remember that feelings are not facts, and fleeting thoughts are not actions.

Grace and peace,

Update: Hmm. I see that I myself feel a bit bad for thinking so much about love stuff. Love is rather important, so why shouldn't someone get a Nobel Prize for writing about it? Plato certainly wasn't ashamed of the Symposium. And it seems to me, looking out of my 17th century attic into post-1963 Britain, that the questions of love, marriage and family are more important than ever.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Last Sunday/Ostatnia Niedziela

Yes, I know it is Thursday. "The Last Sunday" or "Ostatnia Niedziela" is a Polish song very popular in Eastern Europe, if I may call all the Slavic countries Eastern Europe. Whenever I refer to Slovakia or Poland as Eastern Europe, someone generally goes blue in the face and says that the country under discussion is in Central Europe. For some people, Eastern Europe starts at Russia. Remember this if you are trying to charm a Croat, Slovak, Czech, Serb, Slovene or Pole. Or Hungarian. Just don't refer to Hungary as a Slavic country, for technically it isn't. Whew. Diplomacy is so tricky.

As you know, I am learning Polish because some very nice Poles paid me the great compliment of translating Seraphic Singles into Polish ("Anielskie Single") and selling it, and some other very nice Poles have paid me the supreme compliment of buying and reading it. I thought then that I ought to learn Polish, so that I can continue chatting about single life and other fun things with Polish girls more easily. And it helped that at least three Polish people told me that I will never ever ever master Polish because learning Polish is too hard for English-speaking people. That made me decide to learn Polish even if it killed me, which actually is the right Polish attitude.

The problem, though, is that the language materials are rarely about fun subjects like love, infatuation, acceptance, and vocation, and usually about business meetings in Warsaw. I was therefore delighted when a Polish man sent me a link to a video called "Komu dzwonia", which is a total young man's fantasy about dying young, drunk and handsome and mourned by beautiful women at his elegant funeral. I busily went about translating this self-indulgent song, so rich in vocabulary, and requested more songs.

I got more songs, equally rich in vocabulary, and all involving love and death. A typical example is a song from the Second World War, a Polish Underground song. In it the partisan apologizes to his girlfriend that he won't be able to keep their date because he is hiding in the woods and the Germans will probably kill him before they can meet again. Cheerful, light stuff like that.

I think I will write a song about how I was going to become a first class novelist but instead I got distracted by Polish lessons and am now starving to death in a garret reading Sienkiewicz, having been abandoned by my disgusted husband. That might be more of a man's song, though.

Anyway, my latest favourite Polish song is "Ostantia Niedziela" sung by Miesczyław Fogg. It is accompanied by tango music, which makes it extra exciting as we all know the tango is an inherently wicked dance. Here is my imperfect translation:

"The Last Sunday" by Zenon Friedwald

Now is not the time to make excuses.
Reality: it's over.
Today came another man, richer and better than me
and with you stole my happiness.

I have one favour to ask, perhaps the last,
the first for many years:
give me one Sunday
the last Sunday
and after that let the world cave in.

It's the last Sunday.
Today we break up,
today we part

It's the last Sunday
so don't begrudge it to me,
look at me affectionately
for the last time.

You will have in future plenty of
Sundays for yourself
and as for what I will have--who knows?

It's the last Sunday.
My dreams of happiness
that I wanted for so long
are dead.

You ask me what I will do and where I will go.
Where I will go, I know.
Today there is for me only one solution;
I know of no other.
What that solution is, well, the less said the better.

One thing is important--that you be happy.
I don't care about myself anymore.
But before everything is over,
before fate divides us,
give me one Sunday.

Well, if that's not an eye-opener about the Polish male psyche, I don't know what is. Something to think about the next time you're being served in a Polish deli by the glum guy behind the counter. Under that wooden exterior, suicidal passions may be seething.

I am going to start a Polish version of this blog--heaven help me--and the first thing I want to do is write a reply to this song. The first thing that springs to mind is what a really lousy Sunday the couple is going to have. I mean, you'd have to be really stupid not to figure out that darling Włodzimierz (or whoever) is going to throw himself in the Vistula afterwards. As elephants in the restaurant go, that's a big one.

As a rule, I take a dim view of suicide threats, and the last time a man made one to me, we were in the same room as a social worker, who had kittens and said by law she had to call the police if she thought he was serious. So he had to climb down and admit he was not. That, however, was all very Canadian and dull, and not romantic and Polish.

What I would actually say to Włodzimierz is something like this:

"I see that you are in terrible pain."

Włodzimierz, mustering up as much sarcasm as a Pole is capable (N.B. a lot), would acknowledge this to be true.

"Well, it is nothing to how you will feel after you are dead, Włodziemierz, as you should very well know, Poland being 90% Roman Catholic, because by committing suicide you will die in a state of mortal sin and will therefore go to hell, and although this might not literally mean demons poking you with forks, it will literally mean you feeling like this and worse for the rest of eternity. So be a man, call up Marcin and Tomek and get smashed on vodka instead."

And then I would wander away because, although my brother in Christ, Włodzimierz would not be my problem, and women should never sit around drinking vodka shots with men.*

A lovely song though. It's on youtube. Go find.

*Update: This sounds a bit heartless, so I will add that if it were me chucking Włodzimierz, I would tip off Marcin and Tomek myself that their old buddy had had some bad news.

Update 2: Andrew Cusack sent me the amusing photo and this link. The sign reads "Are you looking for a husband? Talk to us." I believe, however, the unspoken adjective here is "Irish".

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Not Husband Material

Once upon a time I went for a walk with a classmate who told me of her conundrum. She had received a proposal of marriage from a male friend who was both a lawyer at a top firm and a practicing homosexual. His idea was that their marriage should provide him with extra leverage at work, a classy hostess for his dinner parties and the children he very much wanted. Meanwhile, the marriage would provide my classmate with enough money to pay for her PhD studies. Being flat broke, my classmate was seriously considering his proposition. Neither of them was religious. I forget why my classmate picked me to tell about this; she was a bit worried I'd be shocked.

I wasn't shocked. For millennia, men and women have married without love, without overwhelming sexual desire and, indeed, without much hope of sexual fidelity. They did so for the benefits that the male-female bond brings: a public, social, economic partnership, complementarity, joined families, children. And throughout history men with same-sex desires have married women for those reasons, and to mask their same-sex desires, usually without being as honest about it as this lawyer.

But, as I pointed out to my classmate, as part of the deal was that she was to have this man's children, she was putting her health and the health of these children at risk by having sex with a man who had been sexually active with men and was planning on being sexually active with other men in future. I forget if I mentioned that she would also be cheating herself of the real love of a deeply heterosexual man for a woman to whom he is determined to be faithful.

Fifteen years later I got an email from a Catholic twenty-something very much involved in the arts community. Unsurprisingly, she had met there many men with same-sex attractions--the men themselves would have described themselves as "gay"--and was glad that she had managed to both witness to her Catholic faith in this community and still be accepted by it. She had made good friends in this community, particularly with one man who was handsome, kindly, talented, charismatic, intelligent, sensitive and all those other things, plus gay. (Imagine the self-styled gay man you know best and admire most, and you'll get the picture.)

To make a long story short, to her surprise, this great openly gay guy turned out not to be quite as gay as he had seemed. Indeed, he was THAT into her. Although my reader's spiritual director and parents were not happy about the situation, she and her gay friend became a couple. Then he told her that he was still not over his ex-boyfriend, and he wanted to be with him. And that was the end of that.

My reader's letter was more confused than sad. Indeed, it was the least sad break-up letter I have received in six years. I wondered if she was giving him a pass because he was gay, but she said it was more because he was such a great guy. Without knowing him, of course, I wondered if he was so great as all that, as he had allowed my reader to believe he could never be romantically attracted to her, revealed at last that he was romantically attracted to her, and then ditched her for his ex-boyfriend. I'd love to ask him what the heck he thought he was doing.

My reader wondered if sexuality were not just entirely fluid and changeable and that there was hope for men like her now ex-boyfriend to make great husbands-to-women and fathers-to-their-mutual-children one day. And because she asked what I thought, I told her. I think it possible, but rare. Very rare. Rarissimus. I have spoken to no less a personage than Father John Harvey on the topic, and he said it is very, very unusual for an adult homosexual man to become completely free of same-sex sexual desires and to go on to have a happy, sexual, faithful, married relationship with a woman. Can it happen? Yes. Is it likely? No.

The subject of homosexuality is so fraught and political and difficult to talk about without hurting someone's feelings that single Catholic women are often terribly surprised to discover that whatever pious or politically correct platitudes they have been told are wrong.

First of all, men lie about their sexual desires all the time. Men who advertise themselves as openly "gay" sometimes turn around and hit on women. I have been propositioned by at least two self-styled gay men in my time. You could have knocked me over with a feather on both occasions. Oscar Wilde, by the way, sired two children and was terribly upset that his wife divorced him. An old pal of mine frequently slept with a guy who came out of the closet a few years later, and when I said, "Ahem. Explain", she said, "Sex is sex."

Second, Catholics use the expression "men with SSA" instead of "gay men" to avoid identifying people primarily with their sexual orientation or preferences. However, many men do identify themselves with their sexual preferences. You know how I talk about couples ideally sharing their primary values? Well, with some men, even if they are sometimes attracted to women, their primary value is being gay. A man who identifies so strongly with being gay is simply not husband material.

Third, self-styled gay men are often very attractive. It's not just that they are sometimes very good-looking, graceful and well-dressed. (Sometimes, of course, they are none of those things.) And it's not just that they are often very intelligent, witty, cultured, compassionate and kindly. It's not just that they are often as quick with the right compliment at the right time as a good female friend. It's also that they seem so safe. You can hug and be hugged by your gay male friend and be open with your emotions and hopes and dreams and fears with him in a way you might not be with a heterosexual man. So it comes as a shock when something unexpected happens and you realize that your gay friend is actually still a man.

Gay men are men. Men, men, men. And I love men. Some gay men are also the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. But not all men have women's best interests at heart, and that includes some gay men. The second soi-disant gay guy who hit on me told me that he understood women better than other men because he was gay. GARBAGE. You know what man is most likely to understand women? A old married man with grown-up daughters. A man who thinks about women, loves women, lives with women, sires women, works for women, suffers for women.

Gay men are not an exciting new kind of woman. They are men. Men who court men. Tattoo this to your brain.

And, as Camille Paglia points out, men are really into having sex. She blames the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s on the completely unfettered sexual behaviour of men unchecked by the relative sexual prudence of women. As Paglia thinks there is something noble in this and gay male sexuality in general, we can't chalk up her ideas to homophobia.

An adult man who identifies as gay, unless he has handed his life over fully to God and is absolutely committed to chastity in continence, is very likely to have been sexually active with other men and is very likely to be so again.

As red flags go, that's rather vivid. Gay men can make great friends, but they almost never make great boyfriends and husbands.

Combox moderation for this one, of course.