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.


Sarah said...

I really liked this post!

I have a hard time not appearing hard to boys, sometimes. The statement, "You're one of the most independent and self-assured people I know," coming from a boy may sound like a compliment, but between the lines may also be, "You don't need me."

Thankfully, I have my fear of spiders that sends me scurrying away, shrieking "kill it, kill it, kill it!" I hope that takes the edge off a little bit while I decide whether toning down my personality for the sake of appearing a bit more vulnerable and sweet is okay, or even possible.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Uh oh... I am also independent and do things for myself, including killing spiders, and, for only God knows what reason, despite having quite small hands, I'm very good at getting tight lids off jars. I have a lot of younger siblings so I'm used to looking out for people and taking care of myself - I'd be happy to let other people help but if it's anything planned, I usually don't have anything for them to do, and if it's a spontaneous thing, I don't even think and just do it myself. I also am a bit weird about asking for help at all unless it's something very simple.

*hanging head*

Well, chin up - being quite short, I do routinely need help getting to Things High Up, and I can't avoid that... maybe I can use that to teach myself to rely on others a bit more, which would probably be a healthy thing in general. It's good for people to feel useful, and I think sometimes I take that away from them.

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...

"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."

Hilarious! I nearly choked on my breakfast this morning!

Anonymous said...

Ditto Maggie. :)

Like Nzie, I have small hands and am very adept at removing jar lids. It's also something I need to be able to do myself, unless I want to not eat dinner unless one of my housemates is home...

...which gets me to the harsh reality of the modern world: unless you want to be a train wreck or totally incapable of getting through your day, you need to be able to do a lot of "manly" things for yourself.

But need and want are different things. I can change my own oil, and I do, but that's because it's psychologically easier than dealing with sleazy mechanics. But if a gentleman wants to take my car in for me and slay the swindling-mechanic dragons, that would make my day. My week, actually.

Last year's mouse infestation? I killed and removed two mice. My male housemate cleaned up mice #3 - 5 because, well, I could have done it, but heavens, it was nice to not have to.


Urszula said...

I was actually struggling with this lately and was going to write for advice to you, Auntie! Your posts are always spot-on.

I think I struggle too with being Ms. Independent - like Nzie I have a lot of younger siblings, so I kind of got used to being the go-to person for problems. That somehow spilled over into my life and job and now it's hard for me to ask men's help when I probably should.

Do you have any advice on the spiritual aspects of letting yourself become more dependent on others? It's hard for me to convince myself that being more helpless would be to my benefit, especially since I've lived alone in various foreign countries for a large part of my life.

I was wondering whether there is a way to enjoy being independent, traveling, and being open to life's adventures while at the same time not scaring off NCBs who probably think all of the above is incompatible with wanting to get married and have babies. It isn't.

Sarah said...

Hm, I am also the oldest of a large family-- eight kids. I never considered that that might be at the heart of the issue, but it's true that when you have lots of little people relying on you, and fewer people for you to rely on, you just get things done yourself.

Seraphic, I'm glad you're on board with the cookie making. I love baking and giving away cookies, especially to the nice men who are willing to shoulder some of the burden I try to take on myself.

leonine said...

Well, I'm definitely Ms Independent, and that's partly out of personality, and partly out of practicality and habit. I'm not obsessed with looking strong and independent, but the reality of quite a few years living alone is that I am, for the large part, strong and independent. When one lives alone, one has very few options. I either manage to open the jar myself or I don't eat the pickles. I size up the relative threat of the spiders and either kill them or co-exist with them. It's not because I like doing these things, but where does one find these men to call? I don't dare call any of my male colleagues, who respond to any inkling of any sort of weakness like dogs to blood, and all my male relatives are very far away; the male friends are far enough away that I can't in good conscience call them about something I really could take care of on my own. Since living on my own, I have called a male friend for help exactly once, and that was when I couldn't get the lugnuts off my car to change a flat.

All that to say, the mechanics of how to do this when one lives alone, far from family, are puzzling to me.

Maria said...

I totally had a related adventure today! I was trying to open a bottle of wine at a party and one of the guys offered to do it for me. As he handed back, he said, "It makes me feel manly".

american in deutschland said...

Hmm... being a middle child out of four didn't seem to make me all that dependent a person... I do gladly rely on my dad for things (financial help/advice, filing taxes, fixing cars, buying computers), but for me it's more about what I, um, don't want to do. Killing spiders is no problem. Killing a mouse - I MIGHT call in help, but not if it meant asking a virtual stranger. Anything car related I gladly sign over, and sometimes enjoy it, too. Once my sister and I came out of Mass and found our car with a flat. We were driving my dad's van and I'd never changed the tire on it before -- but I'd hardly blinked before two men in their 50s or 60s jumped in, took the jack out of my hands, and did the whole thing for us. I even accidentally drove to the wrong gas station to get air for the spare, and they patiently found me and never breathed a word of irritation. I think an essential part of male usefulness is that gentlemanly air -- not condescension, which would mean smirking behind their hand that you were a helpless girl, or mocking the way they might if you were a boy/manly competition. I've occasionally had a boy react to my independence (like, going places or on adventures alone) with surprise, and that is kind of annoying, even if their instinctual fear might not be misplaced in some cases (like when I lived in a crime-riddled city). But that attitude of sheer service and maybe a little fun/pride in their ability to do X activity -- that is attractive, even in men I have no interest in, and it's nice to sort of allow that to happen sometimes.

And I want to suggest, perhaps, that women who are largely capable of living like independent adults but who allow themselves to make space for a particular man to be useful, might be more attractive to that particular man? I've known girls who were helpless as a form of flirtation, with any and every guy, and one of them had a sort of knight protector who jaunted around bringing her lunch when she had a headache, even after she had the friends-zone conversation... and I want to venture to say that, at some point, one of the guys she had on the line might have objected to such indiscriminate helplessness. But lo, I am not a man, so I'm not sure.

american in deutschland said...

I also submit for your consideration:

Seraphic said...

Ha! The singer obviously wants a girl under 30, because after 30 you really need to get some sleep sometime.