Tuesday, 31 July 2012

My Readers

Well, poppets, what a fuss yesterday. The last time my traffic bounced like that it was on account of Mark Shea, who was so charmed by little me that he thought someone ought to marry me pronto. From this it is clear that Mark was not a daily reader, but I was delighted all the same.

Yesterday was not like that. Yesterday a blogger used my blog and--I might add--my thoughts as an excuse to sound off on What Catholic Girls Should Expect From Us Catholic He-Men and, to add insult to injury, revealed--clumsily, without malice--that he thought my readers were risible.

A bull in the china shop of the heart, perhaps?

The silver lining is that some Single women must have found my blog through his link and that they will find interesting things to read here and also the fellowship of my readers.

I blog here at least five times a week, and am not paid a dime to do it. Once in a blue moon, I put up a tip jar. And I've stopped counting how many emails I've received asking for advice. I'm sure it's over 100, but not how much over 100. In the past, I did not have an honorarium for speaking engagements, but just let whoever invited me give me what they thought fair. (Thanks to the contemporary realities of writing life, and my looming old age, I've changed my thinking on this.)

Meanwhile, I'm never, ever going to get signed on as a staff writer by a big Catholic Singles site because they deal in Catholic dating websites and, poppets, you know what I think about that. If it weren't for B.A., I would be the proverbial starving writer. (Of course, if it weren't for moving to super-secular Scotland, I'd probably have a great job in Catholic publishing, but let's not go there.)

In my six years of writing about the Single life, I've been married for three. So why do I blog on the Single Life?

Answer: You.

It's hard to say for sure, but I think I have a core readership of 200-250. These are the girls and the two or three guys who read every day or almost every day.

My elementary school had 250 students, so it's a staggering thought.

Meanwhile, I can't keep you girls straight because I get so many letters and so many comments and since you write to me of such personal stuff, I've trained myself to forget who says what.

But I do remember that somebody American said that she and her roommate start their day by reading my blog out loud. And since the majority of my readers are in the USA, I try to have my article done by the time the East Coast wakes up.

Writers love to write, but we also love being read. And what I love about blogging is that I get almost immediate feedback from readers. And what readers!

You're doctors. You're surgeons. You're scientists. You're professors. You're grad students. You're poets. You're professional singers. You're lawyers. You're soldiers. You're homeschoolers. You're high schoolers. You're engineers. You're mothers. You're teachers. You're lay ministers. You're PR pros. One of you may be an astronaut. One of you is a top mathematician.

You work in publishing. You work in laboratories. You work in studios. You work in schools. You work in sales. You work at home.

You're in the USA, most of you, but you're also in Canada, in the UK, in Poland, in Germany, in Australia, in New Zealand, in France, in South Africa, in Russia, in Asia, in the Caribbean.

Apparently most of you are in your twenties. Most of you are Roman Catholics, but some of you are Anglicans and Protestants and East Orthodox, and if Jenny from my town is still reading, at least one of you is a Jew. (And at least one is a Catholic Jew when Dawn Eden comes by.)

You're mostly women, Single women. And from your emails and your comments,I know you're pretty darn bright. And it is because of your emails and your comments that I am still writing this blog.

Incidentally, my blog readers have done more to promote my books than anyone else with the possible exception of the team at Homo Dei. The invitations to speak in the UK and the USA? The opportunity to lecture at the Edith Stein conference? Readers. You girls.

I met my husband because readers alerted him to my existence. The reader who set off the astonishing chain reaction of our romance is now a cloistered nun

I'm not Single anymore, but I am still childless, which is sometimes a burden, to be honest, since I seem to have grown into a motherly type, very interested in younger people, especially if you are bright. And somewhere along the I-93, the wheels of my shiny academic career fell off, so I don't have students either. What I have are readers, and you are such a gift to me. You, Science Girl, and you, Med School Girl, and you Charming Disarray, and theobromophile, and Nzie, and Aussie Girl in New Zealand, and Urszula, and Tess, and the girl whose email I answered when I got up this morning.

It's very humbling, actually.

Aw, shoot. Crying. It's Tess's fault for being so sweet.

And it's also the fault of that young woman from Warsaw. During the Krakow conference, there was a session where I was booked to hear women's concerns and to give Auntish advice. This young woman from Warsaw came in, wreathed in smiles. She didn't have a concern. She just wanted to say thank you and that she and other Single women in Warsaw had created a support group called the Anielskie Singles.

Trying to remain rooted in reality here. For after all, this is blogging. Blogging is somewhat removed from the real, physical world, and you can't know a whole person just over the net, as I've said a hundred times. But you can know something, and one thing that I've noticed is that my readers sound a lot like themselves in person. Berenike, for example. Benedict Ambrose.

So I feel like I know my regular readers, just from your comments and your emails over the years, and I think you're fantastic. Sure, you make mistakes. Sure, you commit sins. Sure, you lose it on men-in-general and wallow a bit in vinegar. But you're sorry, and you pick yourselves up, and you trust in God, and you keep going.

I'm crying again. The eavesdroppers are rolling their eyes at such girliness. Well, I am a girl, so they can go boil their heads (bless their little hearts).

Anyway, that's why I lost it a bit on Ryan yesterday.

Thanks, girls, for everything.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Hello Ignitum Readers

Welcome to Scotland. This is a blog written by a Catholic married woman dedicated to Catholic Single women and other Single women of good will.

If you are a Catholic Single woman or other Single woman of good will, stick around. Get a coffee. Click on various posts and labels.

Here's part of an essay called "The Brass Tacks." It explains my theological, philosophical, sexual and epistemological standpoints.

Theological Assumptions of this Blog

1.1. God is, and God is a loving God Who has a plan not just for history but for each and every one of us. God knows better than we do what is good for us and loves us better than we love ourselves. Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to pray that we are given the strength and wisdom to help His plan and not hinder it through sin and stupidity.

1.2. God wishes us to live in certain ways, and not in others. God's teachings can be found in Scripture, tradition and the human heart.

1.3. The blogger being a practising Catholic, this blog assumes that the guardian of Scripture, tradition and (in so far as She is able) the human heart is the Catholic Church. And Catholics, believes the blogger, are not supposed to stay in their comfy ghettos 24/7 but to go out into the world and hang out with people of other religions or none, finding common ground and offering the wisdom of Catholicism for acceptance or rejection in a not-annoying way.

1.4. Marriage is the natural end of the human person, BUT the tradition of the Christian Church has held that the state of virginity/celibacy, since the Incarnation, is superior to marriage because it is a sign of the Kingdom, in which there will be no marriage.
Before the Incarnation, getting married was almost always what you were supposed to do. After the Incarnation, thousands and thousands of Christians have answered a call to remain Single.

The Single Life has traditionally been a life of great honour. Amongst the Jews of first century Palestine, sexual abstinence was associated with prophecy. Single Life has taken many forms during the history of the Church.

1.5. Through original sin, creation was broken. Although the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ began the healing work and gave us reconciliation with God, the effects of the Fall persist. There is perhaps no sadder proof for the Fall than the continuing war between the sexes, which I think is unnatural and simply appalling.

Anthropological Assumptions of Blog

2.1 Almost all men and women are good and wish to do good, not evil. Nevertheless, men and women sin. Good people can worsen through sinful habits; the evil among us can be transformed by accepting the promptings of grace to repent and live according to God's will.

2.2. Men and women are different in important ways, and their biological and psychological differences are complementary, not contradictory. This means that the differences are good, not bad, and they should be respected and even cherished.

2.3 Both men and women participate equally in reason and love, however. Men and women are both in the image and likeness of God, which means that they can (A) love, even to the point of complete self-sacrifice and (B) reason.

2.4 Men and women need each other for flourishing. Even a hermit or monk, a man who has made a tremendous sacrifice in eschewing the company of women, needs to have a relationship with Our Lady, to ask the prayers of female saints and to read their works.

Meanwhile, men and women living in the world, be they Single, married, consecrated, lay or clergy, have a duty to get over any resentment regarding the opposite sex and learn to love them as brothers or sisters.

2.5 Men and women were made for themselves and for each other. The position of St. Edith Stein was that Man was made for himself and Woman for Man. The position of John Paul II was that both Man and Woman were made for themselves. My own position is that of John Paul II with his caveat that both are called to serve others. Even a hermit is bound to at least pray for others.

Sexual Assumptions of this Blog

3.1 Sexuality (eros) is a powerful force deeply rooted in the human person. It is experienced differently by men and women. Itself inherently good, it can be used for great evil.

The purposes of sexual intercourse are (1) to create a bond of mutual love and commitment between husband and wife that will help them get to heaven and (2) to continue the human race. It should be quite fun once you get used to it. It is not worth losing your soul over. It is the Vitamin C of marriage.

3.2 Premarital/extramarital sex is a serious sin that destroys friendship, not only with God, but with other human beings. Sex is a powerful force that our age has set up as a rival to God. (Quite literally, in fact. Freud seemed to think that sex, not God, was at the bottom of everything.) Recognizing the life-giving but also incredibly destructive force of sexuality, all human societies--sometimes with a ear to God's will--have always surrounded it with boundaries, both helpful and unhelpful. Reducing women to chattel or sub-humans and demonizing our sexuality is not helpful. Hatred for men and women who experience same-sex sexual attractions is likewise not helpful.

The assumption of this blog is that sexual relations are spiritually, psychologically and even socially dangerous unless between a man and a woman pledged in matrimony.

It assumes the the teachings of the Catholic Church on the subject of sexuality are true.

It warns that passionate kissing, which has been celebrated lovingly in stage, song, and Archie comics as a harmless past-time, should be avoided between those who are not engaged to be married. Any kind of physical sexual activity can lead to premature and illusory feelings of committed love. In short, it makes us harder to be reasonable, and this being also a Thomist blog, that gives this blog kittens.

3.3 Permanent virginity is superior to marriage, for it is a sign of the Kingdom. Temporary virginity is a very good thing for it is a sign of obedience to God's will concerning sexuality. It is also a defense against sexual sin. Virginity can only be lost through an act of the will, ruled St. Augustine. Destruction of the hymen, through violence, sports, dancing or whatever, does not make a woman a non-virgin. Homosexual rape does not make a man a non-virgin. (This last bit is not St. Augustine, but I'm sure he would agree although he did think that homosexual rape was the absolute worst thing that could happen to a man, short of damnation.)

3.4 It is the opinion of this blog that any man who commits self-abuse has no business judging women they believe, for any reason, to be sexual sinners. Everyone is a sinner, and just about everybody is a sexual sinner in some way. Most of us have times when we really have to work at being chaste, and when we fall, we have to get up again, say sorry, and strive to do better.

3.5. It is the opinion of this blog that staying chaste is a greater challenge for men than it is for women, although western society has been doing its damnedest to make it extremely hard for women, too.

Epistemological Assumptions of this Blog

4.1 Human beings come to knowledge through experiencing, understanding (the answer to "What is it?") and judging (the answer to "Is that really so?").

4.2 Human beings are often in a flight from understanding, usually because we are frightened of reality. We ought to get ALL the necessary data before we make judgements about anything.

4.3. It is better to be rooted in reality than to live in a dream world or to cower in an isolated corner.

4.4. In the blogger's experience, women have a much more difficult time remaining rooted in reality when it comes to romance, the opposite sex, etc., than men do. Women marry men they don't really love (and sometimes don't like) all the time, denying their feelings and hoping desperately that it will all turn out okay. Men, however, tend to put their ears right back and don't get married unless they really, really want to or are hiding a homosexual orientation or are gold-diggers. On the other hand, many Single men seem to get irrationally angry about their state. Hmm.

As for me, I have an M.Div. and an M.A. in Eng Lit and, like other laypeople, absolutely no teaching authority whatsoever.

"The Apartment"

Yesterday B.A. and I dropped by Edinburgh's The Filmhouse to buy a DVD and bought tickets to the 6:20 PM showing of The Apartment instead. I had heard good of it, knew it was a comedy, and saw that it was filmed before 1963, so I thought I would like it.

Well, I loved it. I think I should compile a list of great films for or about Singles, because The Apartment would go to the top of the list.

The themes are adult and rather frank for 1960, I thought. In short, the film is about a Single man (Jack Lemmon) who is working at a huge insurance company in New York city. He has a nice bachelor apartment in the city, and married executives from his company borrow his apartment for dates with their secretaries, switchboard operators, et alia.

Although increasingly annoyed at having to vacate his apartment on five minutes' notice, C.C. Baxter wants to keep in with these executives, who have promised him glowing reviews and advancement. He has serious second thoughts only when he discovers that one of the executives has designs on Miss Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine), the sweet elevator girl he has a crush on.

It's definitely a period piece, and it might be a shocking revelation of what the workplace could be like before contemporary feminism. It presents an astonishing hierarchy of male executives over other male workers and of male workers over female workers. The exploitation could be cruel.

At the same time, though, it shows how working in a big American office during the post-war boom could be hilarious and flirtatious, and this is recognizably the environment that spawned Sex and the Single Girl and Cosmospolitan magazine--neither of which I'm recommending, mind you.

What makes the film fantastic is the efforts of sweet and decent people to remain sweet and decent despite such a decadent and exploitative environment. Both the Single guy trying to get ahead and the Single girl trying to hang onto both love and her self-respect may remind you of yourselves. Let's just say, mistakes are made. Meanwhile, although the viewer is likely to feel angry with the adulterous execs, she is also likely to laugh at them and at their silly girlfriends.

One of the sweetest things about the film is that Mr Baxter and Miss Kubelik keep calling each other Mr Baxter and Miss Kubelik even in the most bizarre or personal circumstances. The polite conventions of 1960 are in such a contrast to its shenanigans.

If you are pondering what to watch tonight, I most definitely recommend The Apartment to readers over 21. In Britain you can see it if you are over 14, but my thought while watching it was that it was definitely a film for Adults. There is no nudity, and very little violence, but there is a lot of suggestion and suggestive talk. It's certainly not crude, but it is still for adults in my Auntie opinion.

(I have a sliding scale of what is an adult, but as this post is about just a classic film, for the purposes of a film review, I am deciding all my readers 21 or over count as adults.)

Update: Anyone who thinks it is acceptable to make fun of my readers is not welcome here. Thanks for the shout-out, Ryan, but my commentators are worthy of respect, and not merely because they are made in the image and likeness of God. Meanwhile, such remarks are why I now actively discourage men from reading my blog. We are women chatting together. If you eavesdrop at least do us the favour of remembering that.

I'm very angry about this. I'm sorry, girls. And for the record, I don't like it being said I have a heart of gold. There is one kind of woman who is associated with a heart of gold, and I do not belong to her profession.

Update 2: I won't link to him, but alas, I have found the first serious Auntie Seraphic detractor. (Not Ryan. Ryan doesn't get the blog, but he doesn't willfully misunderstand it. ) This guy obviously hasn't read much of my blog, or any of my book, or any of my articles in the Toronto Catholic Register or my interview with Radio Maria, because he thinks I hate men. He also seems to think I am a pseudo-trad, but heck. I don't know how you could tell from my blog how trad a Catholic I am or ain't. Oh, and he speculates on my previous sexual sins, which is a definite first for the Catholic blogosphere or Catholic media in general or Catholic men in general, as far as I know.

I'm sorry to mention this last detail, for not only do I love men, a number of men love me very much and at least one of them turned a frightening shade of puce upon reading that. So calm down, Nulli. Although creepy, it wasn't that big a deal. It was, of course, detraction and a sin, and so Mr Super Trad might want to think about mentioning it in the confessional this Saturday.

Incidentally, he assumes my readers never get married. Again, he can't have been reading for very long. Every time a long-term reader writes in that she's gotten married, I post it up as community news or acknowledge it in the combox. And at least one reader became a contemplative nun. Once again, this blog is not about catching a man but about living a happy, holy Single life.

By the way, Tess of Notre Dame has gotten engaged despite my horrible influence. Best wishes, Tess!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Young Man's Darling

I wrote a novel about a woman in her mid-thirties who is romantically involved with a young man in his early twenties. Ignatius Press tells me it will be out in 2013, but I am not sure exactly when. If you wish to know exactly when, ask Ignatius Press.

This week I have had requests to talk about Younger Women Dating Older Men and Older Women Dating Younger Men, and I had to squish up my inner eye and stare into the dark shadows of my memories to try to see this all from a younger woman's perspective. For lo, I am 39+ and married, and incredibly tolerant about both situations.

If you are being pursued by an older man, and his grizzled charms make you go weak at the knees, by all means go out with this older man. If you are being pursued by a downy faced infant and you think his blushes are adorable, by all means go out with the infant.

By infant, I mean an infant over the age of 18, of course. And by you, I mean adult readers.

The older you get, the less age gaps seem to matter. When you are eighteen, it seems wrong to date a fourteen year old and worrisome to date a twenty-two year old. But when you are thirty, nobody worries if you date a thirty-four year old, and dating a twenty-six year old may seem a bit of a coup.

Incidentally, the age gap is not as pronounced in Europe as it is in North America. Europeans are just not so obsessed with age. It is not unusual for European university students to seek friendships or romance with people much older than themselves. Attractiveness is not equated with youth. Catherine Deneuve is in her 60s, and young men still fall down and worship her. Behold:

The title means "You or No-one", btw.

But even in North America young men can find older women attractive, and one of the most charming couples I know became a couple after the surprised woman decided that the younger man wasn't, as he complained, "just some kid."

Frankly, I think such younger man-pursues-older woman relationships very likely to succeed, if the woman actually does like him, because women are usually too inhibited prudent to chase men much younger than themselves. Therefore it is definitely a case of a man going after what he wants, and being determined to win in the face of a stupid obstacle, which is the woman wondering if he isn't too young for her. It is not a case of a self-deluding woman chucking herself at Mr Rapidly Being Spoiled.

That said, some women are just not attracted to younger men. I think this mad, as younger men are much better looking than older men. And as an older woman it is so much easier to deal with all their young man storminess. The sulks, the rants, the poses, the politics, the confusion that so oppress you when you're their age are much easier to deal with when you're over 30.

But I can see that a very gentle woman might want to give youthful Sturm und Drang a miss altogether and just date a kindly older man. It is not a hideous insult to be wooed by an older man, by the way. If you want to see him, see him. If you don't, say "No, thank you." All you have lost is your right to complain that nobody ever asks you out.

If he tries to make you feel bad for not wanting to go out with him, however, tell him to go to hell, gramps.

I was once in a marriage-track relationship with a man ten years older than myself. It didn't work out because he wasn't Catholic. Also, he had non-age related health problems and my mother was worried I was going to end up his nurse. Well, if you love someone, you don't mind being his nurse, but if you don't, you do. So it wasn't just that he wasn't Catholic but that I wasn't just that into him.

But a pal of mine married a man about 20 years older than herself--a big, funny guy with a motorcycle and a receipt showing an enormous bar bill taped to the wall--because she was that into him. We had a conversation about how they might not have a really long time together, given his age. She was a bit sad about that, but that's just how it was. And is. Sure enough, he got cancer five years later, but it looks like he's pulling through, thank God.

I realize that people are always jabbering on about "Is he too young for you?" or "Is he too old for you?" but once you are both ADULTS, and nobody become a really, truly adult magically at the age of 21 (let alone 18), these questions make little sense. In the case of teenage girls, everyone is terrified that Mr Older Guy is going to seduce her with the shameless lies teenage boys haven't yet figured out how to tell convincingly.

Yes, most of us westerners are adolescents until we are about 25. Girls mature faster, apparently. I didn't. But if you are a 30+ year old woman, the only thing you need to worry about is if your under-25 boyfriend is an adult yet or not. And maybe you are the patient kind who can put up with adolescent sulks and storms, and the smart one who isn't going to be his Older Woman Who Initiated Him Into the Sweets of Love, like an 18th century courtesan, only unpaid.

"I'm not going to be one of those b*itches who ruins children," said Brett, Lady Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. Words to live by.

As for older men, I could barely see them until I was over 30. I thought it was an age thing, but now I think it was a North American thing, too. But anyway, it was only after I was 30 that I would ever ever ever have considered going out with someone as old as 40.

It is traditional to complain that men always want women much younger than themselves, but I don't think this is true. Single men generally pursue women their own age, and most Single men are in their 20s. Most Single women are in their 20s, too, which may be why older Single men are so willing to try their luck with them. And I don't think older men who think twenty-something women are luscious are any less moral than older women who think twenty-something men are toothsome.

It has also been complained that playboys suddenly panic at the age of 40 and then start looking for women to have their babies. Well, more fool them. The way not to be hurt by playboys is not to go to bed with them. Indeed, quite a lot of modern misery could be solved by just not going to bed with men. Complaining because a man has had 20 years of strings-free fun and now is looking to settle down strikes me as a waste of breath and ink.

I shall end with my usual kind of advice.

* Do what you want as long as it isn't a sin. Smoking a cigarette or eating meat is not a sin. Going for coffee is not a sin. Heavy petting is a sin. When in doubt, check with your confessor.

* Don't chase men. Wait and see who shows up. Say Yes to what or who you want and No to what or who you don't want. It's your right.

*Stay rooted in reality. Don't delude yourself. If a man walks you home after dark, it is not a sign that he is that into you. Particularly not if you asked him to walk you home in the first place.

Update: I acknowledge the screams of horror from Women Younger Than I at the idea of (female) young things giving (male) old cougars the time of day. The idea is that older men are wily and experienced and wicked.

And to be honest, I was thinking of 30 year olds dating 40-plusses, since I can't imagine why a 20-something would want to date some guy with orange peel skin when she--unlike me--has access to all those toothsome 20-something hotties.

No offense, 20-something hotties. You're not supposed to be reading this blog.

Anyway, I have put up two new surveys. The top one asks "How old is too old?" and the one underneath wants to know how old you are, so that I will remember that some of you are bouncing babies.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Adolescent Male Brains

When I was still in academia, there was an elderly woman among the Lonerganians (devotees of the theologian-philosopher Bernard Lonergan, S.J.) who loved to show slides of the adolescent male brain. While he is driving a car, for example, the teenage boy has a lot of stuff going on in his brain that is not going on, necessarily, in the brain of a teenage girl driving a car.

So today when I was thinking about the erratic, moody, quixotic and downright confusing behaviour of some young men, it occurred to me to google "adolescent male brains."

And behold. And behold.

The point to take away, dear poppets, is that full adult brain development in men can be delayed into their mid-twenties.

This is not a value judgment. This is not man-bashing. (I dislike man-bashing on principle.) This is a statement of fact. And it is very interesting, both to students of epistemology and to women who love young men. It might be a comfort to young men, too, to know why they act and feel the way they do.

It also speaks to my sincere belief that we should not be marrying men under the age of 25 unless it is quite obvious that the frontal lobes of their brains have already fully connected.

Enjoy the Silence

I have written a whole post on our society's overemphasis on talk. It was inspired by the press conference involving the American actress Kristen Stewart. I have just erased it.

Perhaps the only literary medium through which one can praise silence without being foolish is poetry.

In poetry the words are a container for the silence.

We live under a tyranny of talk. In a world where a 22 year old actress apologizes to reporters for her consensual sexual sins, thereby humiliating or scandalizing heaven knows how many people, we have forgotten what talk is for.

Let's be silent together for a moment.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Auntie Seraphic & the Catholic Website Dater

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am fuming. I don't know if you remember or not, but I wrote to you a while back about a guy I was going to visit I had met on [Catholic dating site] and everyone was giving me a hard time about staying at his house. Thank you, by the way, for your advice. I think at the time I was going too crazy to remember to write back to say that. Well, things were fine with him at first, and then he started pressuring me to sleep with him, and it took me a while but inevitably things ended. (Obviously.)

But the thing is...on my second visit, he tried to get me drunk. I didn't really take it that seriously at first because I had no intention of getting drunk and thought he was mostly an idiot for trying, and then an even bigger idiot for ADMITTING to trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me. Because that's what he was doing, and he was stupid enough to admit it. He actually said, the next day, that "he didn't think it would work, but he was hoping it would." This was after I had told him no more than once, and after he had promised to stop pressuring me.

And then I noticed that he was back on [Catholic dating site], so I told them what happened, because I'm worried that he's going to try this on some other girl who may be too young and naive to understand or resist. He is a potential date rapist, basically. I assumed they would at least pretend like there was a chance that they would pull his account, at the very least because he was pressuring girls to sleep with him on a Catholic website, but the addition of alcohol adds a whole other element to the situation! But they responded by saying that since there was no police report (!!) and nothing in the messages about it, there was nothing they could do unless some other girl complained. So in other words, they're going to wait until he ACTUALLY SUCCEEDS in date raping some girl, and then they're going to shut down his profile.

By the way, he tried ALL the tricks. He told me he thought I was the one, that he cared about me, was ever so nice and thoughtful, went way out of his way to do nice things for me...and it's only because I'm pretty jaded about guys in general that I knew what was up as soon as sex entered the picture. (In the first week...after a few days, actually.) There are a lot of sheltered and very vulnerable girls on that website who really want to find someone who is going to say ALL of those things to them, and who knows...maybe he's gotten to a few of them already. He was never the tiniest bit threatening or aggressive. Oh, and, although I haven't admitted this to anyone because I'm embarrassed I didn't break things off immediately, I found a copy of "The Rules of the Game" in his room. I don't know why this stuff happens to me...I'm a nice person and I'm really careful about the guys I date. Oh well.

Please tell me there's something I can do about this.

Regular Reader


Poppets, since I got this email I've been in regular correspondence with Regular Reader, so I'm going to address my comments to you.

First of all, I honour Regular Reader's wish to do something to protect other women who subscribe to Catholic dating websites, and I hope that she has succeeded by permitting me to post her email on my blog.

Second, I want to remind you that Catholic dating websites are businesses. And just because they have "Catholic" in their name does not mean they have oversight from any of the ecclesiastical structures designed to protect us. Some might. But some probably do not. They are not "ministries." They are in the business of staying in business. And some of them will play upon your deepest sorrows, and use holy days, to get you to send them money: "Why be alone this Christmas?"

Third, the men you met on dating websites usually are strangers. In judging whether or not to chat with them or meet them, you have only their word to go on. The Catholic dating website does not sit down with them and do a personal interview before they are allowed access to the profiles of thousands of young Catholic ladies.

Fourth, the very nature of the internet is impersonal. If Regular Reader had stormed into an office and demanded an interview with a real, live, matchmaker who had carelessly set her up with this jerk, then it is very possible the matchmaker would have given her a cup of tea, listened to her, given her a tissue, and possible cried herself.

But Regular Reader's interactions with the Catholic dating website were entirely over the internet, and instead of giving her tea and a tissue, they threw the responsibility for the men they shelter back onto her. No police report, no cancelling Mr Horny Toad, no loss of Mr Horny Toad's $15 a month, or whatever it is.

Fifth, the very nature of dating websites is consumerist. You pick men by photo, and they pick you by photo. Dating websites are department stores of people. They can provide comfort and amusement for people who are too afraid, or can't be bothered, to meet people in "real life." For this reason, I recommend that people who are serious about meeting people actually MEET the people they "meet" on websites, but certainly in public places and with all due caution.

An alternative to Catholic dating websites is to ask your friends about their more interesting Facebook friends. That's how I first heard about B.A.

Sixth, Regular Reader brought up the word "rape", and I had a long, somewhat fraught conversation with my husband about this, because he used to teach ethics and philosophy of law. I am not a lawyer, and neither is he. But he convinced me it is important to distinguish between two kinds of rat-bastard behaviour, seduction and rape.

Occasionally I get emails from rape survivors. They break my heart, but that's okay. We should weep with those who weep. These survivors were violently attacked. So far I have not heard from a survivor who was raped after she lost consciousness--I think. (My sincerest apologies if I have; I do recollect reading accounts of such things, but not where.) If I understand properly, if a woman says "No" and the man still has sex with her, it's rape. And if the woman is not free to give consent (e.g. because she is unconscious), but he goes ahead, that's rape.

It is also rape if a man extracts "consent" from a woman after threats and coersion and maybe false promises or claims.

But merely offering a woman drinks, hoping thereby to change her mind, is not yet attempted rape. It is a form of seduction, and although it is a very stupid one, I can see why a rat-bastard would attempt it.

College campuses feature girls who think they should have sex, but their natural modesty gets in the way, so they drink themselves silly. It's very pathetic and sad, but it is their choice to drink the drinks and then throw themselves at whoever. Of course, then the legality of having sex with these girls is murky because their freedom to give consent has been compromised.

But this is not something Catholic men should even worry about because Catholic men should know perfectly well that it is a serious offence against God and neighbour to have sex outside of marriage. Even pagans know that "No means No" and only "Yes" means "Yes." Christians are supposed to be even better than that.

I don't know if Regular Reader's Catholic dating website date would have laid a hand on her if she had accepted all his stupid drinks. So I wouldn't call him a potential date rapist any more than any other man or woman. This does not, mean, however, that he is not a rat-bastard.

He is a rat-bastard and a bad Catholic and I think at very least [Catholic dating website] should contact him and tell him there has been a complaint about his behaviour and then tell Regular Reader they have done so. If a friend had set them up, the friend would have apologized. Regular Reader deserves an apology.

Seventh, I am very angry with Catholic men who pressure women to sleep with them.

I am not angry with Catholic men who merely suggest it in the context of loving relationships. If you make out enough, such suggestions are likely because making out is Nature's way of preparing human beings to have sex. I cannot think of a better way to break down even the most devout Catholic's resistance to the desires of his body than prolonged making out with him. But Catholic men who pressure women to sleep with them or ply them with alcohol in the hopes of changing their minds are Judas.

"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, then it is better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." --Matthew 18.6

Eighth, there are lots of good men. Many, many, many. I think most men are good men, and it is sad that bad men just make more of an impact, like the tiny percentage of priests who abused teenagers and kids.

Generations of good priests--hundreds or thousands of years of good work--have been eclipsed by a handful of monsters. It's so unfair, but there it is. One bad guy can hurt hundreds of people and so the damage he does is disproportionate to who he is.

Don't let the bad guys make you think there are no good guys. There are. Where? There.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

John, Peter, Judas

Warning: Many good men eavesdropping on us by reading this post may feel angry and helpless because they will want to beat some guy up but not even know who he is. If you can't take stories about really lousy men, then our Swashbuckling Protector will be happy to show you the exit.

One of the hardest things to talk about, as a Catholic woman, or a conservative woman, or even just a pro-life woman, is what jerks some Catholic, conservative or just pro-life men can be.

It is hard to talk about it because we share common detractors, people who want to paint Catholic women as oppressed minions and Catholic (conservative, pro-life) men as misogynist yahoos. Thus, when some of "our" boys are misogynist yahoos, it is particularly grating.

It is also hard to talk about it because as Catholic women, or conservative women, or just pro-life women, we have a complicated relationship with feminism. To a certain extent, the feminist project bolsters Christianity and therefore human flourishing, but then it gets nasty and creepy. For example, both my mum and I worked in the same building in Toronto as waitresses, 25 years apart. Mum had to worry about her bottom being pinched or patted by male customers. Thanks to feminism, I did not. But we all can list examples of the dark side. Unwed pregnancies were at an all-time low in 1950s England. Today one in three Englishwomen has had an abortion. One in three.

So here we are, most of us Catholic women or conservative women or just pro-life women, who want to get along with Catholic or conservative or just pro-life men. We are grateful for some feminist ideas and policies and deeply resentful of others, and we are shocked and horrified when some of the men who are supposed to be our allies act like absolute jerk-morons.

Thank heavens they're mostly not like that. There are lots of good men around, some of them brilliant like diamonds and others more like rough diamonds. There are guys like Saint John, "the disciple Jesus loved", and there are guys like Saint Peter, who messes up a lot, but he always showed a lot of promise and, bless me, he's really going to be somebody some day.

I met a lot of Saint Johns in my M.Div. years--the golden boys, guys almost too good for this world, in orders or the seminary or married at age 22, guys everybody loves--but I've met plenty more Saint Peters. Have I? Whoo!

I have a lot more patience with the Saint Peters now that I'm married, let me tell you. These guys come across like grizzly bears and put a lot of backs up, but underneath they have hearts like chocolate pudding cakes, all sweet and gooey. Do they need improvement and domesticating? Yes. And the right women, tough or simply patient women, could do it, too. I, being married, don't take their huffing and puffing personally anymore; I do my best to see what is under Saint Peter's huffing and puffing and appeal to his sense of humour.

And then there are the Judases. And the Judases are freaking scary.

One of the ways in which Catholic men can disappoint us the most is in their attitude towards chastity and birth control. It always amazes me that Catholic men can go to Mass every Sunday, even daily Mass sometimes, and sing in the choir and pal about with priests and complain about heresy, and then try to seduce girls or suggest to their fiancees that they should use artificial birth control for at least the first year of their marriage.

Saint John doesn't do this.

The Saint Peters, for all their weaknesses, can be brought to heel. They know what the deal is, and they also know "No means No" and that they're miserable sinners for even trying, and--perhaps after a lot of yelling and bluster and sulking and, ultimately, apologies, off they go to confession.

But the Judases.....

One of the worst men I ever met I met at Mass. Good-looking guy. Had good parents. Had a priest-pal. I thought he was a great guy. He wasn't so sure. I thought he was being appropriately humble and sorrowful for past sins.

The better I got to know him, the less I was sure that these sins were in the past. And years after pondering his stories, but without, of course, having a degree in psychiatry, I think he might have been a sociopath.

Hold on to your coffee cups for this one, girls.

Well, I hope the girl in this story is married to a great guy and has lots of kids and maybe even a grand-kid by now. I hope she has put what happened to her in high school behind her. I hope she doesn't read her story here. It's pretty damn bad.

This is a story about a Nice Catholic Girl and, she thought, a Nice Catholic Boy in her high school. They were in love. They were also very devout. They were very involved in church activities, and they spent lots and lots of time together. They made out a lot, as teenagers tend to do, because even Archie Comics seems to think this a perfectly harmless hobby and not, in fact, Nature's way of preparing human beings for sex.

Maybe, thought this devout Catholic boyfriend and girlfriend, they should have sex.

The girlfriend wasn't so sure. It was, after all, a pretty big sin. It didn't feel like it would be a sin, especially as they were so in love and were of course going to get married one day, but the Church said it was a sin.

The boyfriend was more inclined to think they should have sex.

The girlfriend didn't think they should have sex.

The boyfriend thought they should have sex.

They had sex.

As first times went, I guess it wasn't so bad, for the girlfriend timidly suggested later than they have it again.

"No," said her boyfriend piously. "It's a really terrible sin."

And she was completely and utterly destroyed--as he meant her to be.

"The truth is, I enjoy hurting people who love me," said her boyfriend over ten years later, and I believed him.

I had met his parents, and the weird thing about his parents, who were very nice people, devoutly Catholic people, is that they were obviously afraid of their son.

Me, I don't even know men like that anymore. There's an old saying that a witch (or warlock) can't get into your house unless you invite him or her. I get just a whiff of that old Judas-evil, and I slam the door. I am not Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I know perfectly well the evils of demonizing people, so I am deliberately talking not of the devil but of Judas. But I have met two men who, without being criminals, without being socially disadvantaged in any way, intentionally chose evil again and again. One of them was Catholic, and he went to Mass on Sundays.

Admire Saint John. Be as patient with Saint Peter as you can. Watch out for Judas.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Frank Talk on Money, Long Engagements & Religious Guys

Today I present you with a three part post because that is the mood I am in.


It strikes me that the wrong men are worried about how much money they make and what women think of it all. Young men, the ones who wish to marry young women, should indeed plot and scheme to get a good job with opportunities for career advancement so that they will be able to support a wife and family.

Yes, most young women are also interested in getting good jobs with opportunities for career advancement, but most young women are also interested in having babies. If they are devout Catholic women, they are usually going to have babies sooner rather than later. This will take them out of the work force for months or years, and someone has to pay the bills.

But middle-aged men, the ones who wish to marry middle-aged women, should stop worrying so much about how much money they have because middle-aged women don't worry so much about that ourselves. If we are still Single, we are used to supporting ourselves anyway. And if we don't have children, we know that we are unlikely to have more than one or two at this point. And at this point, we just want someone to lean on, to leave parties with and to love. Middle-aged women have more confidence than young women, so we are less worried about "being taken advantage of". So what if we work 9-5 and he just potters around his pottery kiln, selling the odd figurine to the odd tourist? So what? Who cares? If he's kind and funny and attractive, that's enough for us. The older I get, the more looks seem to matter.

I'm not touching the subject of young men who wish to marry older women and of middle-aged men who wish to marry young women because that's two whole other blog posts.


I think long engagements are stupid and cruel. If you are so much in love with with somebody that you want to marry him/her, you probably want to sleep with him/her. Sexual passion is one of the strongest forces known to man, so it is really hard to keep it bottled up. It is easier to keep it bottled up if you know the exact date drinks may be served.

For the record, the "Priest must be informed one year before the wedding" instruction in parish bulletins is cruel, uncanonical and unenforceable. Ever since I was an undergrad I noticed that the most pious Catholics got married in a matter of months. They would call up a priest-uncle or priest-cousin or priest-pal and have a nice little wedding in record time. It was the more lackadaisical Catholics, or half-Catholic, half-nothing couples who dated for a very long time and then were engaged for a very long time. These couples would be mainly concerned about "the hall." Never mind the diocese and its stupid "One Year" rule (which you can challenge, btw, as it is uncanonical). Some couples were willing to wait two years for the perfect hall of their dreams.

When I was younger and as innocent as a newborn lamb, I was surprised at the pious for their unseemly haste and impressed by the couples who could patiently wait for so long. Now I am a woman of the world, and know that although the pious were dying to have sex, the not-as-pious were often already having it.

Nancy Mitford joked about the size of an engagement ring being the measure of how much a man thought your virtue was worth. This suggests that even in the 1920s, engaged couples were sleeping together. And I believe there are parts of Italy where it is so assumed an engaged couple are sleeping together, that bickering couples marry and divorce rather than just break off the engagement, for otherwise the woman's reputation would be ruined.

So I am not throwing stones at engaged couples who sleep together, the love-struck little poppets. I just think they should get married ASAP if the temptation is that bad. And obviously they'll have to go to confession first.

Meanwhile, B.A. and I tried to strong-arm my parish priest into marrying us in four months after I first talked to the priest. He looked at my annulment papers and quailed. The marriage tribunal wrote somewhere or other that I'd better know the next guy I married real well. The priest looked at me hopefully when he mentioned this. We got married six months after I talked to him. There was no stupid hall. The reception was in my parents' house. I got a priest-pal to say the Mass.

I love to say that I don't believe in single men's words--I believe only in their diamonds. I figured unless there was a ring and unless he had told his mother, an engagement wasn't real. But now I am upping the ante and saying an engagement isn't really real unless there is a wedding date.


In general it is stupid to sleep with someone unless you're married to him or at least there is a clear,fixed and widely-known wedding date. Men in general are so terrified of marriage, they either have to be promised something really good in order to go through with it or be terrified of what their mothers will do if they don't.

A girl might think religious men exempt from this because religious men are very pro-marriage and want nothing more than to please God by getting married, so seducing a religious guy is the way forward. But no.

It is my humble opinion that if a man really is that into you, there's not much you can do to dissuade him from marrying you, short of cheating on him or killing something or someone. So merely sleeping with your devoutly Catholic fiance will probably not ruin the whole relationship, although obviously it is a mortal sin, so you ought not to do it.

However, there are certainly a lot of religious men who would be so personally devastated at having committed a mortal sin with their girlfriends that they will never see their girlfriends the same way ever again. In fact, they might even consider it virtuous to break up with those satanic temptresses so as to marry pure girls, girls who have not gotten in the way of their primary relationship with God.

It is always a good idea to seem even more chaste than your chaste Catholic boyfriend, even if inwardly you are a volcano of lust. You know you are, and your best friend knows you are, and I know you are, but he doesn't know you are, and that's fine. By appearing as pure as a bowl of vanilla ice cream, at least next to him, you are inspiring him to be good, a better man than he is, etc., etc.

I am sure there are all kinds of depressing examples that you will now write in about your boyfriends to whom you were angels of purity and light who ditched you for flashing-eyed bad girls with roses in their teeth. But in general I would say to be particularly sensitive to the hopes and beliefs of deeply religious men and don't try to tempt them into things for which they will later be very angry with you.

I have found "Don't touch the hottie" to be a particularly effective mantra.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Omlette and the Rose Soap

Today I made a splendid omlette. Let me tell you about this omlette. It was a onion, mushroom and tomato omlette served with a side of black pudding, which is not really a pudding but Scottish blood sausage.

This omlette was made from 3 medium free range eggs, one tablespoon of water, a big pinch of salt, a small pinch of pepper and the quarter onion, 2 mushrooms and quarter tomato I had chopped up and fried in butter beforehand.

Omlettes depend very much on the frying pan being the perfect temperature, and this time I got that right. I could tell because after a while my omlette slid easily around the pan, a sure sign of being evenly cooked. The omlette being almost done, I threw in the cooked veg, flipped the omlette in half, gave it a minute on one side, gave it another minute on the other side, and slid it onto a hot plate.

"Come and eat this perfect omlette while it is still hot," said I to our house guest.

"If it is perfect, maybe I should take a photo of it first," was the reply.

"No," I cried, terrified of any delay that might make my perfect omlette not so perfect anymore. "The omlette is to be eaten! It has a transitory perfection!"

And so the perfect omlette passed out of existence, exactly as it was meant to do.

The house guest had brought, among other hostess presents, a rose-scented soap shaped like a rose. It reminds me of a rose-shaped candle I know. The difference between the soap and the candle, beyond their ingredients, is that the owner of the candle does not want to burn it because it is pretty and I intend to use up my soap over the course of time. That is, after all, what the soap is for.

I'm very anthropocentric when you get down to it. I firmly believe with Saint Thomas Aquinas that there are things to be used (uti) and things to be enjoyed for themselves (fruti). Human beings are among those things to be enjoyed for themselves, which means never using them as a means to an end. But omlettes, soaps and, may I say it, candles should be used and not made out to be more than they are.

Being married to a museum curator, I understand the importance of preserving certain objects in art galleries and museums. For one thing, it is good that the lives, art and achievements of past generations be understood by present and future generations. A beautiful inlaid jewellery box made from scraps of metal and bone by an 18th century French prisoner-of-war in a dungeon beneath Edinburgh Castle serves as a salutary reminder that we're not all that and a bag of chips just because we belong to the computer age.

However I don't understand a need to preserve the transitory things when they are best consumed. Most of the time, a book should be read. A dress should be worn. Candles should be burned. Omlettes should be eaten. Beasts should be eaten--although I am very sympathetic to vegetarians and think it very good of them to abstain, as if for the rest of us in reparation for our many sins against animals. (I don't think swiftly killing and eating animals sinful, but I certainly think trapping them into simply wretched existences, or making them fight each other to the death, reprehensible.)

People, on the other hand, must not be used up like soap or candles. This may seem obvious, but not when we are talking about romance and sexuality. There are people, people either unsympathetic to or ignorant of orthodox Christianity, who think that virginity is a waste. Luther and Hitler were both distressed by the "waste" of German women as nuns; in their view German women should be wedded and bedded and bred from. And Catholic women are not so far from this point of view when we sigh over "Father What-a-Waste." People are not valuable for their sexuality but for their status as sons and daughters of God.

I think this is what Saint Augustine means when he says that married men must not treat their wives like prostitutes. I suppose some men do. I once knew a male university student who worked alongside a newly married man in a warehouse for a summer. The newly married man had not know his wife before they married; it was an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages it is expected that love will grow in time, and I certainly believe that that happens very often, but this might not have happened yet here, because this man told my male friend all about his sex life with his new wife. All about it. Can you imagine? The average Canadian guy expects locker room talk from a few guys about the kind of women men think it is okay to talk like that about, but not locker room talk about a guy's wife. This one was was a virgin when they married.

Anyway, I don't know what the deal was there, beyond utter immaturity and perhaps an attitude towards women rather foreign to the West, for all that we're considered so decadent. I mention it because it is such an example of using someone as a means to an end, first for the physical pleasure and second for the pleasure of bragging to someone at work.

Don't get me started on serial monogamy. You know: the "dating" arrangment where two people sleep together until one or the other or both are bored and want to move onto newer pastures for the high for being "in love".

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Life is Pain, Highness

Today I come to the end of the requests by addressing once again the age-old problem of unrequited love.

(Someone asked me how Single girls can live together and support each other without going nuts, but the only thing I have to say to that is draw up a cleaning schedule and be fair. Clean when it's your turn!!! But also don't be a Soap Nazi. If Alice makes the effort but just doesn't get the bathroom/kitchen as clean as you do, cut her some slack.)

I am sure you would all love to know how you can stop yourself from suffering the pangs of unrequited love. The solution is easy. You stand in front of the bathroom mirror, take a vegetable knife and cut your heart right out. This may be difficult, for you will die in the process, but what the heck. At least you tried.

No, don't do that. Instead get over the idea that you are going to be a calm, cool, collected, totally together, completely rational woman every day of your life. Let go of the idea that you are always going to be happy, or that you should always be happy. Hopefully you will be happy most of the time, but you are not going to be happy ALL of the time. And how could you be, anyway, in this fallen world?

The amazing thing about unrequited love, and pain in general, is that God will take it and turn it into something good if you ask Him and let Him. The poet William Wordsworth said that poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility." So many of the treasures of artistic achievement were born after long bouts of weeping. On my bedside table I have, for example, Elizabeth Smart's "By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept"; possibly the most passionate piece of poetic prose ever written by a Canadian, it tells the story of a doomed romance with a married bisexual man.

Ah. And this brings me to my next point. The deepest wounds are self-inflicted. If you are alive, if you have even the slightest interest in other people, you are going to be struck by the beauty of another human person. Your imagination is going to reach out and grasp a face or a timbre of voice that will trouble your waking and sleeping thoughts. This phenomenon will occur before your rational mind has any say in the matter. However, the amount you suffer because of it will depend on your choices.

We all have lines we draw in the sand, lines we simply do not cross. If you are a cradle Catholic like me, you probably draw the line at daydreaming about priests. And most Catholic women and other women of good will stop their line of amorous thought at the first glimpse of a man's wedding ring. Married people can snap out of wayward thoughts by thinking of their spouses. Adult women are usually very good at snapping off erotic thoughts about teenage boys, should we have them. And women professors and doctors are likewise very good at thinking professionally about any good looking student or patient who appears in their office, if only out of sheer self-protection

This may all seem obvious to you, but my point is that we DO have a choice. We CAN say "No." We DO say "No", quite a lot of the time. Friend's cute husband--NO. STOP. Friend's cute boyfriend--NO. STOP. Friend's nineteen year old son--NO. STOP. Father Mike, that cute new priest--NO. STOP.

Of course, it gets more difficult when our attraction to somebody does not seem so disordered. What is wrong, after all, with an unattached Single woman feeling longing for an unattached Single man? And certainly, there is nothing wrong with it in itself. But what can be wrong is its intensity, its excess. Passion should always be at the service of the intellect and the will, NOT vice versa.

You may think passion is what made Chopin or Beethoven a genius, but the mind that conceived and laid out the notes was driven principally by rational training and the effort of will. Chopin is not treasured because he struggled with his feelings for either Georges Sand or Polish independence but because he was a great artist, and great art demands great craftsmanship, which is to say, masterful use of reason and will.

So the question is, how rational are your feelings of attraction? If you do not know that man at all, and you merely admire his face or tone of voice, then not very rational at all. If you do know the man, and he has a proven excellent character, or at least very lovable traits, then your feelings of admiration are more rational. If you do know that man, and he is honestly affectionate towards you--is, at least, kind to you, includes you in conversations, and does you good deeds--then feelings of affection are also rational. The extent to which you allow your feelings of affection to grow, however, must be chosen by your intellect and enforced by your will.

I think, though, that the most dangerous crush has not as much to do with the specific concrete man who is its object as it has to do with the woman's own desire to be desired. "I just want someone to love me; I just want someone to love" is a terribly perilous position from which to face the world. This is why I emphasize again and again the importance for Single people of your chaste friendships and family ties. Although it is perfectly natural for human beings to long for love, it is terrible to allow such longing to dominate you. It is more likely to do so if you never receive affection from anyway, if you never get a hug.

This is all very deep, so I will end soon. The best thing, I think, is to remain rooted in reality and strive to understand situations AS THEY ARE and not as how you wish or panic they might be. The next thing is to remember that, whatever happens, the person you have to live with afterwards is you. My greatest comfort, when in the grip of a ridiculous crush on a much-too-young man during a summer in German, was that he could not tell. So there is such a thing as keeping a grip on your dignity, even if you cannot always keep a grip on your heart. You can choose to keep your mouth shut. You can choose to keep your hands to yourself. You can choose to leave a room, to shut a door, to lock a door, to call a cab. You can choose to confide in a friend whom you know to be the best keeper of secrets of all your friends, and to listen to her comfort and counsel.

And always remember that life includes pain, Highness. "Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Friday, 20 July 2012

Only If You Want To

Today I shall tackle two Single Life conundrums: going to coffee with male friends and preferring to eat worms to kissing that NCB who is just so into you.

My mother, my dear mother, whose advice I might have listened to if she hadn't tacked "brazen hussy" to the end of her perorations, always told me that I could never ask out boys or call them up or ask them to dance, etc., etc., etc. My role, she said, was to say "Yes" or "No."

At the time I thought this was very limited, and I can see still how this is limited (although usually sensible), but in my resentment I didn't notice the great privilege of being able to say "Yes" or "No."

Unless we are the sort of girls who have been accepting male worship as our due since we were in kindergarten, it can be startling to have to deal with male attention. An ever-pretty, popular, outgoing girl can field courtship like Willie Mays. A late-blooming, reserved, bookish girl often panics. At the question, "Would you like to go to....with me?" she freezes. Her mind goes blank. She forgets that all she has to say, really, is "Yes" or "No."

You know what though? If I were a man after a late-blooming, reserved, bookish girl, I wouldn't bother asking. I would just call her up and say, "Listen, Angela. I got those tickets to Tosca, so I'll meet you at La Taverna for dinner at 6, okay?" I'd trust that Angela, in a complete bookish girl panic, would assume that this had been long arranged and somehow she had just forgotten about it, and that the first words that would emerge from her frozen lips would be "Ummm....okay?"

I think I would have a lot of fun if I were a man.

Anyway, my overarching point is that when a man, any man, asks you if you want to do something, or leaves the wanting bit out and asks "How about X?", you now must ask yourself "Do I want to?" If Scooter asks you out for coffee, you must ask yourself "Do I want to have coffee with Scooter?" You do not ask yourself "Do I want to marry Scooter and have his babies" because THAT IS NOT WHAT SCOOTER IS ASKING.

Scooter is not a woman. If Scooter asks "Would you like to have coffee with me?" Scooter is not trying to set off a chain reaction of events ending at his beautiful death surrounded by your mutual children as you pray together. For now, Scooter just wants to have coffee with you.

You are not leading Scooter on if you say yes to coffee. You are merely doing what you want to do. And that is fine. It is not a crime against God or man to have coffee with Scooter. Going to coffee with Scooter is not a signal to Scooter that you are completely won over and want to have his babies, etc. All it tells him is that you like him enough to chat with him over hot drinks in public.

When invited to do so, say "Yes" to what you want, and "No" to what you don't want. If Scooter next invites you to dinner, and you want to go, go. If Scooter next invites you to the opera, and you want to go, go. If Scooter then invites you for a romantic walk in the woods and you don't want to go, don't go.

(Incidentally, this is how to deal with wordless requests, too. If Scooter takes your tiny hand in his, and you don't like it, drop his hand after a face-saving count to ten. If Scooter tries to kiss you, turn your head. Either gesture is, of course, a sign that Scooter is THAT into you, so if you are uncomfortable with that, you may now feel that you no longer want to have coffee, dinner, etc, with Scooter. And that's fine. Say "No" now.)

And this brings me to the apparently thorny issue of the Great on Paper NCB who is that into you, but you are not into him and you hate yourself because you are 29 (39, 39) and time is running out and you SHOULD be into him and "WHAT is WRONG with MEEEEEE?"

The answer is that nothing is wrong with you. You're just not into him. And that is okay. This is not the 19th century. You are not going to live your adult life as a sort of elevated and resented servant in your married brother's house because poor you couldn't catch a man. If you can read this, you do not have to marry just for sheer survival. You can wait until you are pursued by someone nice you'd like to sleep with and whose socks you wouldn't mind washing.

Occasionally I get emails about this guy and that and how great he is and what a good job and how devout and what a great husband he would make if only the writer could make herself love him. And I generally just write back, "Do you want to have sex him on a regular basis? And would you mind washing his socks?" Because that, my cherubs, is what marriage is when you get down to it. It's not all it is, but those things definitely feature: sex--oh, I'm sorry, "total self-gift" (snork, snork)*--and household tasks that would be menial if you did not love Mr Whomever.

*Mr and Mrs B.A. think "total self-gift" one of the unsexiest phrases in the history of the English language. We also think anything we have ever heard about the Theology of the Body is utterly unsexy. I mention this in case you feel utterly oppressed and depressed by things you have hard or read in your "Love and Responsibility" groups and wondering if you're crazy or bad. You're not. Or, if you are, you are no more crazy and bad than Mr and Mrs B.A.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

It is Complicated

Lots of problems out there, but today will be a very busy day for me, so I will just respond to Charming Disarray's combox wail and then put up an amusing video from Youtube.

C.D. complains that it just shouldn't be this complicated. No, it shouldn't. But it is. It is because although on a certain level human beings are the same way, and on another level men are different from women in recognizable ways, there are cultural factors complicating matters and, oh, every human person is unique.

Men are not women.
Germans are not Americans.
Poles are not Germans or Americans.
Chad is not Steve. Matthias is not Volker, and Wojtek is not Bogdan.

Grasp this, and you have grasped the fact that there is not one all-encompassing solution to the Problem of Men.

And then there are the complicating factors. From the beginning of the 20th century there have been papal encyclicals warning that the direct result of A and B would be X and Y. Casti Connubii was very concerned about what would happen it there was widespread divorce and remarriage: the devaluation of marriage and the family. Humanae Vitae warned what would follow widespread use of artificial birth control: the devaluation of marriage, women, the family and early human life.

And guess what!

Catholics, even trad Catholics, don't live in a bubble. The only place I can think of where native English-speaking Catholics are not a minority is Ireland. So of course we are going to be affected by all the widely promoted anti-family, anti-marriage, pro-lust, pro-selfishness trends out there. We are either going to absentmindedly adopt some of them ourselves, or we are going to react against them in ways that might seem anti-social to the majority of people around us.

And the counter-revolution does not always work well together: if Catholic women have to argue with Catholic men that just wanting jobs we enjoy that will support us financially do not make us poor marriage prospects, then we have a serious problem. Fortunately, such men are rare. They are mostly to be found on the internet, not at parties or in class. Life is simpler if you don't feed the trolls.

So this is where we live now. However, each of us is a unique person loved by God, and God has a plan for each one of us. Hopefully we do not get in the way of this plan, but even if we do, He can work around us, if He chooses. Meanwhile, we look for advice and comfort from other Catholic women and from other sympathetic women of good will.

We should live in reality, not in dreams. That's the part I want to add to the conversation. I have a lot of ideas and what-not-do-tos based on life experience, and I learned a lot from my M.Div. years. But what I think is most important is to get women to stop operating from a place of wishful thinking and to remain rooted in reality. It is very important to try to see your social interactions from a detached and reasonable part of your brain.

For example, it is not reasonable to panic because a random guy talked to you after Mass because you're not sure you'd ever want to marry him.

And it is not reasonable to plan a future with a man whom you think is cute and funny if he has never shown you any interest.

And it is not reasonable to start fights with men in the manosphere (Charming Disarray), any more than it is reasonable to walk into a strip joint and start arguing with the men in there. You'll see only their worst side, and they'll wrongly think they see evidence of what they've been complaining about.

Incidentally, I can only write what I write without massive problems with male trolls because (A) I avoid them and their blogs (B) I erase their comments, (C) I stress, over and over again, that men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. They are. Of course they are. If they weren't, I wouldn't have so many Searching Single readers. And yet men are quick to think we hate most of them. Bizarre. If they thought a lot of us are terrified of them, fair enough. But hate? Come on.

Someone mentioned the other day that [presumably English-speaking] men don't seem to like women anymore. I think for many of them (the decent ones, who deep down like women very much) it's a defense mechanism. Such men are so terrified of rejection, they have their finger on the trigger so that they can reject first. It makes them feel big and powerful and free for, oh, about 30 seconds.

I'll tell you what is not complicated, however. A situation in which you just live your life and one day the right man or the right religious order or a revelation that you are content with your single state suddenly appears in that life as easily and astonishingly as a ray of sunshine on a rainy day. And I pray every Sunday that that moment appears for you all sooner rather than later.

Okay, and now for the amusing video from the original, British Bedazzled (1967). The first singer is a short-order cook who has sold his soul to the devil for Eleanor Bron (the pixie cut girl with the big watch). The second is the devil. Keep that in mind.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Auntie Seraphic & the Vague Signals

Thanks, everyone for the requests. That gives me a lot to work with! I sense I'll be reading and rereading them all week.

This morning I'll look at the comment about the NCB, as I think this is one for the emergency room. Oh, wait, the one about not wanting a relationship with the Excellent Husband Material is an emergency room situ too, so I'll stick on a bandage: You don't HAVE to meet him in person or go out with him. Honour your gut. Your gut knows. More on this later.

Okay, today's issue:

Crush is on a NCB I’ve known for a decade. We’ve crossed paths over the years through various Young Adult groups, had some friendly fun conversations, and he dated one of my close friends for a couple years (she broke up with him and broke his heart—she later married someone else).

I never thought of this guy as anything more than a nice acquaintance, until I ran into him several times this spring and WHAM. Sudden hopeless, helpless, crush. I’m surprised it never happened before—we do share a lot of the same interests (including some very obscure authors and musicians).

Anyway, during one of our recent conversations he remarked how strange it was that he’d known me almost ten years and never realized how much we had in common. Twice he’s suggested things like “we should go together to see X Musician next time she’s in town” (Me: “That would be fun!” But nothing came of it.) and “if you’d ever like to get together to talk about Y writer, let me know” (Me: “I would love to do that!” But being a good Trying to Be Good Rules Girl, I did not follow up by setting a date).

A mutual acquaintance told me he brought me up last time she saw him, and was remarking to her how much he and I had in common. He has forwarded me a couple of links and articles around our interests—I reply commenting upon and thanking him for each, but never get a follow up response.

My intuition tells me he may be casually intrigued by me, but I don’t sense strong interest. I think he may also casually be seeing someone else (although unless he’s committed relationship, he tends to date multiple people). He’s a naturally outgoing and friendly person, with a wide circle of male and female acquaintance. I’m an introvert, so it’s possible that what I’m reading as “slight intrigue” is really just (inscrutable to me) natural extraversion.

The process of writing all this down now has my heart sinking and my head perhaps sadly clearing. But I’ll brave forward and ask anyway: Do I have any hope here and, if so, what can/should I do??

Thank you!!!

-- Another in her late 30s, Catholic, decently pretty & bright, but still single (and who chased a crush for years in her early 20s and is STILL mortified by it)

Dear Another,

First, thank you for buying my book, and thank you for stating your problem so clearly, honestly and fearlessly.

When in doubt about a relationship, it is a very good idea to write it out as truthfully and fearlessly as possible so that you can see it out there before you on the page or screen. Truth is what is, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. Theologian Bernard Lonergan noted that we often run from the truth. (It's called "the flight from understanding.") Intellectual integrity means looking truth in the eye.

From what you've written here, I'm with your gut. A girl should always honour her gut anyway. Your imagination is complex and will lie to you all the time, but your gut is simple and has no time for lies. It can be wrong, but it will be honestly wrong, if you see what I mean.

But in this case it doesn't look like your gut is wrong. Men say all kinds of things; it's the follow-up that counts. I don't believe in men's vague words of "we should get together to do something sometime"; I believe in "Let's go to [specific thing] on [specific date]." Confident, outgoing men tend to do exactly what they want to do, so if they want to take a girl out, they take a girl out.

This confident, outgoing guy makes vague "we should" noises instead of firm plans, so that's not good. And although he writes to you, sending you links to things you're interested in, he doesn't follow up your thanks with invitations, so that's not good either.

And you've heard that he dates multiple people and you think he's naturally outgoing, so now a picture is developing. It doesn't sound like he's that into you, but just a friendly guy who likes to have a big circle of friends and acquaintances.

I'm sorry about that. That sucks. And there's nothing you can do to make it better but get over your crush. Of course this is easier said than done, but if you hit the post label "Crushes" you will find umpteen posts with suggestions on how to do it.

For now all I'll say is that crushes are as common and annoying and generally harmless as the common cold. Everybody gets them, including married people and priests, and it is important to take care of yourself during them, being careful not to do anything to develop them, so that they don't turn into pneumonia of the heart.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

You're Allowed to Quit the Singles' Scene

Girls, I know a lot of you are not ready to quit the Catholic Singles' Social Scene. You're signed onto Don't-Be-Alone-With-Baby-Jesus-This-Christmas-Dot-Com. You go to Theology on Tap hoping for new cute boys this time. Heck, you might even belong to a Theology of the Body reading group, and that's fine. You want to be out there, and you're out there.

But some of you are tired of it all. And that is okay.

You do not have a duty to get yourself married. If you fall in love with someone and get married, that is great, but the fate of society is not resting on whether or not you go to that party on Saturday night.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was born. The Incarnation has happened. Technically, sex can stop now. We'd be fine if it just all ground to a halt. Modern marriage is for the weak brethren in danger of burning. In the Kingdom, we'll all sort of be nuns.

Of course, if you're shacked up with someone who ought to be honestly married to someone else, or living a Sex & the City lifestyle, then you are getting in the way of God's plan, and that's bad. But if you are living a chaste and honourable life, well, you're a sign of the Kingdom yourself.

Honestly, it's okay to be Single. If B.A. buys the farm, I'm going to be Single again, too. The world has lots of Single women. Some are never-married. Some were wrongly-married. Some are widows. God loves them all and each one has a life that should be worth living.

Throwing in the towel on the Singles' Social Scene does not mean becoming a hermit. Sometimes it just means seeing men in a fresh new way: as friends, maybe as brothers, maybe (if they're way younger) as spiritual sons, and not as potential husbands.

It means letting go and letting God.

Now, this is easier said than done, unless you want to do it. As I was saying to my pal yesterday, when it comes to social relationships, men generally do what they want to do, unlike women who often do a lot of stuff we don't want to do because we think we should, or we don't do stuff we want to do because we think we shouldn't. And I'm not talking about rational stuff, like not calling a man when you want to because you know in your heart of hearts there's no point. No, I'm talking about listening to irrational voices that tell you that you have to go to this party and you have to sign up with this website and you have to go on that blind date because um uh um what if?

If you want to quit searching, quit searching. It's okay. For all you know, that might be the only way you'll find your path. If you've been chasing this guy and that, or obsessing about the weak signals of interest this guy and that have been putting out, you might discover that it is incredibly freeing just not to care anymore.

And you might change your mind next week. And that's okay, too.

If God wants you to get married, you'll get married. It's not all up to you. Possibly not much of it is up to you. I met my husband because a Scottish doctoral candidate read a science fiction/fantasy serial I posted on my blog after I fled BC. I was a tad loopy at the time, and definitely not relationship material, especially as I was still in that stage where I was telling my pals that BC might be the antichrist. But God can work with anything, believe me.

Taking Requests

Well, poor me. I expose my sixeen year old self to your view, and no comments do you leave. I hope she at least convinced you not to lurk around boys or men who haven't the slightest interest in you, probably because their Ideal is someone quite different, like Pola Negri or Rita Hayworth or Dame Emma Kirkby. B.A.'s Ideal was Dame Emma Kirkby, which is one reason why he is now married to me.

This is why I recommend finding out a man's favourite female movie star before you begin your emotional investment. This even works in cultures where people are not so obsessed with movie stars. I have asked German men who their favourite female movie star was, and they all said Sandra Bullock. As Sandra Bullock is not one of the great beauties of all time, I was a bit confused. But it turns out that Sandra Bullock has a German mother and is fluent in German and so these secretly patriotic German men probably just want a nice German woman like her. Aw. Deutsche Frauen, deutscher Treue/ Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang!

Other than Sandra Bullock, all I can think of at the moment is that I want to get my eyebrows threaded, but I can't because my husband needs the money for tomorrow's pints with his uni pal. So I am taking requests. What should I write about this week? What are the Single Life problems that are gnawing at you lately?

Monday, 16 July 2012

When He Was Just Not That Into You, Me, Uh, Her

Once upon a time your Auntie Seraphic was in high school and she had a big old crush on an Eastern European. Actually, Auntie spent most of her years in high school with big old crushes on Eastern Europeans. Poor young Future Auntie Seraphic with her Caucasian Fixation. At least when Yugoslavia imploded, she was not taken by surprise.

Catholic students in my city usually went to Catholic schools, and in my part of Toronto at the time the smartest boys went to all-boys schools and the smartest girls went to all-girls schools. Thus the romantic entanglements of book-smart students of Catholic schools were situated outside of school, very often in the subway stations below ground and the bus stations above. Blue and green kilts fluttered like flags in the battlements of the bus stations as we hopefully waited for our grey trousered crush objects to ascend the escalators.

In one particular bus station your auntie used to lurk and hopefully wait for one particular Eastern European. Poor sixteen year old Seraphic. So hopeful, so good at English class, so dumb about boys. I have a lot of compassion for her now, poor young bespectacled shrimp. Being the future Auntie Seraphic, she had no Auntie Seraphic to guide her.

I'm sorry to say that she was very obvious. All her friends and enemies knew about her terrible hopeful crush on that particular Eastern European. They were a trifle bemused, for they didn't think he was that good looking, and they told her to snap out of it. They also deliberately mispronounced his Christian name, which drove Seraphic Aged 16 up the wall. Had I a time machine, I would merely take myself aside, lean down to look into her/my/our beautiful if bespectacled blue eyes, and say "He will marry a fellow X, you western doorknob." As it happens he did, and the likelihood of this happy fate should have been obvious even then.

But Seraphic Aged 16 was clueless, in part because she didn't know how to listen to what boys said and she most definitely did not know how to interpret what boys didn't say. She relied much too much on her imagination for information, and much too little on observation and verifiable facts. Oh, and she honestly thought boys enjoyed gentle raillery better than naive compliments, which was incredibly unfortunate from a teenage point of view.

(From an adult point of view, the only point of being a teenager is to get grades good enough for university or trade school and not get yourself/anyone pregnant. This second point is preferably achieved by Being Good, which in my high school locker room was expressed as "Don't be a putana.")

Just hanging around the bus station waiting for boys did not make you a putana, but it could make you obvious, and it never occurred to me that my crush object might have found me annoying. I would have found such a revelation deeply distressing, and in fact writing about it now, over 20 years later, is so deeply distressing I keep moving into the third person singular for safety.

Seraphic Aged Sixteen deserves some slack, for he did ask her out twice, although he stood her up the first time, and the second time it was just so he wouldn't have to help her with this school assignment he said he'd help her with. But subsequently, he was not home when she phoned (only two or three times, I hope and believe) and there was, of course, the story of the Gypsy Girl.

The Gypsy Girl (cue exotic Balkan music) was supposedly a girl with whom my crush object had a forbidden romance back home that summer. They were crazy about each other, but his parents had discouraged the whole affair, and that was it.

Sadly, Seraphic Aged 16 believed this story and did not for a second make the assumption that Seraphic Aged 39+ would immediately make today, which is that Balkan Crush Object had made the whole thing up as a way to tell Seraphic Aged 16 that he was just not that into her.

My heart is bleeding from telling you all this story, so I hope you're learning from it.

Over twenty years later, I had a conversation with a friend about why it is so embarrassing and distressing, as an adult woman, watching other adult women chase men. I have concluded that it is because it reminds us of the painful and embarrassing times we chased men ourselves. We don't want to remember those times, or admit that we ever did that, and it makes us feel vaguely ill when we do. Also, we don't like watching fellow creatures suffer.

Dear me, how very sad. Here's Nina Simone expressing the ultimate in crush-crazed female insanity. (I'm sorry the attached vid looks inappropriates like a perfume ad. Eye of newt, toe of frog would be more like it.) Take it away, Nina:

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Lady Bountiful & Ms Independent

Now that I am 39+, I think it rather funny that when I was 15 I longed to be 39+ and tremendously rich so that I could become a patron of the arts and advance the career of the 17 year old music student on whom I had a crush. Being 39+ would have rather cancelled out my romantic hopes in that direction, of course, but that wasn't the point. The point was to have a dramatic and life-affirming impact on the life of this particular 17 year old.

Never throw away your high school diaries, girls. They get funnier as you get older.

I think it is natural to want to shower people we admire with luxury goods and introduce them to lions who might further their development or careers. Look at parents, working away and scheming on behalf of their beloved tots. If you are a child, you might wonder what they do it for, but if you are an adult you know that they do it for love, the wonder drug. As an auntie, I am delighted when I give a nephew or a niece The Right Thing, the thing that makes his or her face light up.

However, there is a dark side to the love of giving presents and it is that presents sometimes seem to have a hidden emotional price tag.

Now I have to squint and try to remember what it is like being Single because now that I am married I don't have to worry about this as much. If anybody gave me an expensive box of chocolates, I would not think it was a courtship gift but merely a tribute to my fabulousness as a married member of society. I would tell my husband all about it, and we would stuff ourselves with the contents. And I am relatively sure that I could give an expensive box of chocolates to the sweet-toothed church organist, for example, without him worrying about my motives.

This was not so when I was Single, however. When I was 19 or so, one of the older men of my crowd of friends--he had graduated from university and Had a Good Job--gave me an expensive box of chocolates, and it wasn't even my birthday. My mother placed a lot of importance on this. And if I had bought a crush object an expensive box of chocolates, she would have given me a hard time. Ooo.

Poppets! You know what is coming up. I am gleefully going to point to double standards and say that sometime it is truly better to receive than to give and that it is better to stand still on the shore and see what the tide washes in than to sail after this man or that, tempting him with expensive chocolates.

I have to say this at least once a week, or I feel weird, like when you really can't get to Mass on Sunday for reasons that aren't your fault, but you still feel weird.

You can blame my therapist of auld lang syne because one evening when I was moaning that I phoned my then-boyfriend more often than he phoned me, she pointed out that I never gave him the opportunity to phone me, since I always phoned him first. I thought this was GENIUS. Meanwhile, he was never that into me in the first place, of course, an obvious fact which I eventually made myself face.

So much for Lady Bountiful. Now I'll talk about Ms Independent. As tempting as it is, as a Single women, to try to win looks of happiness and love with little presents, it is also tempting to win admiration by being Ms Independent 24/7.

I had a conversation the other day with a very interesting, accomplished woman, who told me that she sometimes clashed with her boyfriend because of how independent she is. She didn't need a man to rely on, she told me proudly, as if this somehow put her in the top 10% of womanhood. You know, there are a lot of elderly widows around, with no man in sight, and they manage to survive in this state for decades. In the sub-Saharan desert, surviving without a man may be a big feat. In the UK, not so much. We can all survive without men. Unfortunately, more than us do than want to.

This conversation reminded me of another ex-boyfriend, this one who was indeed That Into Me, mournfully telling me that he didn't know what he added to my life. That was a tactical error because I thought about that and realized I didn't know either. However, if he had been adding something essential to my life, that would have been the time to tell him. Better late than never.

Having studied St. Thomas Aquinas, I am a big fan of the model of the Golden Mean of virtue and its opposing vices. In my own definition of Feminine Generosity, there are the opposing vices of Giving The Wrong Thing and Not Giving the Right Thing.

In general I think it is better for Single women not to give Single men material objects at all, although I am not a hardliner on this, and of course when you are in a hostess role, you can and must give male guests food and drink and a paper hat or whatever for the duration of the party.

You could even give a man a flower for his buttonhole, so to see what he does with it later. If he tenderly puts it in his breast pocket, excellent. If he leaves it behind, not so excellent. If he eats it, he's extremely weird. Avoid.

When you are not a hostess, however, think very carefully about what you are doing and what signals you are giving off by giving stuff, not only to the man you give the stuff to, but to anyone who knows about it.

However, it is perfectly just to pay tribute to the caffeine in the cappuccino of life by asking them to help you out and then thanking them profusely for their usefulness. In my Auntie opinion, the average man does not want to be showered with stuff but with the sense that he is actually useful. Just as the world is constantly telling women that we are ugly, it is constantly telling men that they are useless. If you are obsessed with looking like a strong, independent woman, you might be allowing opportunities for generously showing men they matter to pass you by.

I know this may sound crazy, but you are doing something nice when you phone up your brother or your male friend or a male neighbour and squeak, "There's a horrible spider in my bathtub!"

Obviously you should not do this every day. Nor should you put the spider in the bathtub yourself so as to engineer a chivalrous rescue. But it would be kind if, when coming across the various minor difficulties of life, like jars with lids that won't come off, or spiders in the tub, or mice in the basmati bag, or a champagne bottle that needs uncorking, or a sink that doesn't drain, you asked a man to fix them for you.

And then you can bake him cookies as thanks.