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.


Joan of Quark said...

Thank you, Auntie - that was an eye-opener for me to help me understand how my last NCM felt about me.

I looked good on paper too, but he just didn't FEEL a thing for me, and because you can't force people to love you, I just had to accept it.

Fact: we've actually ended up reasonably good friends, which is a first for me. This is one of the many benefits of NOT having sex with someone!

Sarah C said...

The one thing about accepting dates... Or going to coffee, operas, or whatever. It's nice to be able to say yes or no. But isn't there a point when if you know you're not interested, you should say no even if the thing offered is something you'd like? Otherwise you're just using poor Scooter.

I think about those frustrating girls I know: You know you aren't interested in him romantically and you know you never will be. Yet his interest is ego-stroking and comes with free things, so you let him buy you drinks, meals, and event tickets, go with him to parties, meet his friends, talk to him and text him and flirt with him while airily telling him "oh no, i couldn't date you, teehee, we're just friends but i'll go out to X with you." And by doing these things, you take up his attention and prevent him from moving on to other girls he could like and who might actually return his affections.

I think that's just mean-- it's a girl keeping a boy on a string, same as the boys you warn us about.

And maybe it's up to Scooter to realize what's going on, but as women shouldn't we have a care for others?

Ugh, I'm watching just such a situation right now, and it makes me so mad!

fifi said...

Auntie, I had to laugh because what you describe about the wooing of reserved, bookish girl and irrepresible young man is precisely how my parents got together. He knew she would freak out if he ever called it a date, so he would call up and say "Hey! I'm going to that dinner and concert your sister is playing at and I'll pick you up at six. Hey! I'm going on a picnic and I'll pick you up at noon!" Her reaction was precisely what you describe. It also helped that her mom liked him and thought he was an upstanding young man and always invited him over.

Wooers of the reserved and bookish, take note!

Seraphic said...

Look, I am not suggesting anyone have coffee with Scooter just because she'll score a free coffee. And I'm certainly not suggesting anyone go to the theatre with Scooter so she'll score free theatre tickets. I am saying that if you honestly would enjoy having coffee WITH SCOOTER-AS-SCOOTER or going to the theatre WITH SCOOTER-AS-SCOOTER, then go. You have not been leading Scooter on unless you deliberately make him think kissing/long conversations about dreams/marriage is on the cards. It is not about a sop to your ego. It is about ordinary friendliness that is at least open to the idea that Scooter could become a pal or business partner or dance partner if not the Future Mister You

Poor old Scooter. As this rate Scooter is never ever ever going to figure out why girls won't even have a coffee with him. He is going to get all bitter and manospherish because he will have no idea that girls are all worried that just by having coffee with him they will be giving him the WRONG IDEA.

But how can any girl have ANY idea about Scooter if they are too worried about his feelings to sit down and have an eeny weeny cup of coffee with the poor man?

Seraphic said...

And I suppose if Scooter is at risk of dropping serious amounts of cash, you can always say either "No" or "Yes, I'd love to go with you, but I wouldn't be comfortable with you paying."

Scooter: Why not?

You: Well, I know it is expensive, and I wouldn't want to be under some kind of financial obligation to you?

Scooter: What do you MEAN?

You: Well, I like you a lot, certainly enough to look forward to going to X with you, but I don't feel comfortable accepting an expensive treat from you.

Scooter: Why not?

You: It wouldn't be appropriate./It would interfere with my thinking-about-who-Scooter-is-in-my-life thought process.

Anna said...

"He is going to get all bitter and manospherish"


Jam said...

It is crazy-making to think too much about what Those Other Girls are doing. Then you start basing your own behavior on "how can I demonstrate that I am not like them" when honestly it's a fifty-fifty chance that the dude in question even NOTICES what Those Other Girls are doing. TRUST ME. I mean, does Scooter think girls nowadays are too forward, does he think they're all out to take advantage of him? Or does he think modern girls aren't interested in men, they're all primarily interested in independence? His last girlfriend might have been bossy and so now he's super sensitive to bossiness, or she might have been clingy and now he's sensitive to clinginess AHHHHH WHO KNOWS WHO KNOWS. I agree with Auntie. Just, do you or don't you want to go to X with Scooter.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I LOVE this post. I just wish someone would ask me to coffee.

I seriously laughed out loud at:

"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."

I don't know what it is, but it is so easy to imagine all these possibilities right at the outset. I give myself a little talk to stop being so nonsensical, but it is a bit hard.


american in deutschland said...

I have known at least one man for whom coffee (or friendly chatting with friends) was a gateway drug to marriagekidsperfectwhitefencesgrandkids. It was very unattractive and creepy, for the same reason it is when women do it -- because he wasn't seeing these women as they really were, but only for what symbol they could be for him, how they would help build him into his ideal of himself. (Although it isn't QUITE as creepy when women do it, because women generally pose much less of a real threat to men.)

Alisha said...

Amen! Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no :) I have felt a vague sense of guilt that I don't want to know more about TOB. And I ready C. West's the Good News about Sex and Marriage and felt utterly discouraged. Alice von Hildebrand wrote an essay criticizing his approach, which I skimmed over and seemed to reflect some of what I was feeling...

fifi said...

Christopher West did not invent TOB. John Paul II did. Also, he wrote it primarily for married couples in the trenches, not the singles who go annoyingly gooey eyed over phrases like "total self-gift." Personally I like West, and did not think Von Hildebrand's criticisms reflected a through understanding of his work. However, I know others don't, and that some of the hype surrounding him can get on people's nerves, so I highly recommend reading JPII or other TOB authors before anyone discounts TOB out of hand.

Charming Disarray said...

"Total self-gift" is pretty bad but what about "the marital debt." That almost makes me not want to get married.

Julie M. said...

As a married reader, I try to refrain from commenting too often, but upon the mention of Christopher West's book, I have to report that my future husband loaned that book to me on our second date! In most cases, that would probably be a signal to run for the hills, but fortunately I stuck it out, and we have now been married for more than 6 years.

However, I still tease him regularly about the situation. The book was later lent to someone who never returned it, so every year I toss around the idea of getting him a copy for our anniversary, but I know he would kill me!

Alephine said...

You're in top form here, Seraphic!

The phrase "total self-gift" scares me a bit. Maybe I misunderstand it, but seriously, "total"? How is that even possible, let alone desirable, in a relationship between two human beings?

n.panchancha said...

This made me laugh. :o) Thanks for that.

Gosh - re: above comments, I don't think it's ever "leading him on" to consent to hang out with a guy, IF IN FACT you want to hang out with him; but if you're just hanging out to get free coffee/food, that's a little weird (but probably not actually the case, if one reflected seriously). If Scooter [Ell oh flipping ell, by the way] says, "I really like you and I think we should date" (or does something much more boy-like and just goes in for a smooch), and if you DON'T like him in that way, THAT's the time to say, "I'm sorry, but no." I think that's what Seraphic is saying.

After that point, if he keeps asking you to hang out... Definitely don't do it if he's not getting the message or if he's making you uncomfortable, I think, but if he gave it a shot and then accepted that you weren't into him, it's his business if he wants to keep buying coffees for a girl who will never want to marry him. Again - as Seraphic says - it's IF you like going for coffee with him. There's NEVER an obligation.

I have had at least one friend feel really guilty because a fellow kept asking her out, and she wasn't interested in him, but couldn't convince herself that there was "anything all that wrong with him." That's SO NOT THE POINT - you never owe a man a date because he's not a monster. But it's also kind of ridiculous to get all awkward when a man wants to sit down with you in public, just because you know you don't want to have his babies.

Seraphic said...

Is Christopher West fluent in Polish? Is George Weigel? Does anybody know/ Have any of these people who constantly tell us what John Paul II was saying actually read JP2 in the ORIGINAL?????

I ask because I realized only after I was at my retreat in Poland and "good woman" was constantly translated as "perfect woman" that "Mulieris Dignitatem", which contains references to "perfect women" was originally written in Polish.

"Total self-gift" (if this is a JP 2 phrase, and not C.W.) might not sound so bad in the Polish.

When I was younger I used to think JP2 had a really boring turgid writing style. But now I blame whoever was translating him into English or whatever the transitional language was. If he was being translated from Polish into Latin or Italian and then into English, something is almost guaranteed to be lost in translation.

Meanwhile, does anyone know? Can West read Polish? Can Weigel?

Urszula said...

Total self-gift does not sound so awful to me, but maybe I just became used to the phrase being used a lot in Polish youth groups. In Polish it sounds quite natural and honestly Poles tend to like these kind of elaborate, romantic and even seemingly excessive concepts. We’re not so good at day-to-day democracy as we were at giving up all in uprisings in the name of God and country against cruel neighboring invaders ;) So a total self-gift does not sound so excessive in Polish.

I think it's interesting to note that between 1960 when Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsbility was published in Polish and 1981 when it was published in English, so many years passed - I wonder whether some things got lost in translation and whether he would have used the same kind of language years later.

Another interesting thing is how much the content of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body was shaped by his life-long friendship with Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist who survived WW2 as a young girl in a concentration camp and later made her life a mission to help people by furthering pro-life and anti-death culture messages. I think a lot of insight into Pope JP2's writing can be gained just by reading about her life and their friendship (there are plenty of articles, even in English). It seems to me that a lot of JP2’s writing style and his personality can be traced, as in the case of many other Polish people, to some kind of innate need to fight oppression, be it communism or consumerist and anti-life culture.

And I honestly doubt Weigel or West speak Polish to the extent of understanding JP2's writings. I bought myself a copy in English because it's much easier to plow through.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic... Bertie Wooster!!!!

Lady Glossip: Mr Wooster, how would you suppoty a wife?
Bertie: Well, I suppose it depends on who's wife it was; a little gentle pressure beneath the elbow while crossing a busy street usually fits the bill.

Thank you for your realism & humour when it comes to relationships. Very refreshing, even for someone in a serious relationship heading towards engagement.

- Yet another Traddy

MaryJane said...

I know for a fact that Michael Waldstein, who is the editor of the major English edition of TOB is currently going through (quite painstakingly) the original Polish texts and Italian audiences- word by word- with a native Polish speaker. The first English edition (published in the late 1990s) was very haphazard and full of disastrous inconsistencies due to translations by whomever was at L'Osservatore Romano the day the audiences were published. (Example: sometimes "desire" was translated as "lust", so John Paul II's ideas about a husband desiring his wife was translated to be "lustful"! Hugely problematic, obviously.)

MaryJane said...

Sorry, just to clarify: TOB was mostly written in Polish before JPII's pontificate... but he decided to reform them into audiences. The current major English edition is edited by Waldstein, who consulted the "original" Italian (officially, the audiences were delivered in Italian, and at times somewhat re-written in Italian by the Pope) as well as the older polish draft. He also compared various translations. Waldstein's current edition includes non-delivered portions of audiences... stuff from the original polish that didn't make it in, officially.

However, Waldstein is going to issue a revised text of the current English edition after going through everything word by word with a native Polish speaker.

Seraphic said...

Aha! Thank you for all this scholarly info, ladies! I will remember the name "Waldstein" and abstain from reading "Love and Responsibility" until the revised edition comes out.

I am struck by the revelation that JP2 wrote all those things for married people, not for little reading groups of young Catholic Singles. Although I'm sure some must, I've never heard of married couples going to a "Love and Responsibility" group. When I was in university, they were all Single girls.

TGWWS said...

Snap! I was going to bring up Waldstein, since he was a classmate of my mum's. Yes, he's doing due diligence with the translation stuff. FWIW, he's European (and the same Waldstein who was connected with ITI: and multiligual to begin with, so he's sensitive to language issues. Also, some kind of minor European nobility, which to this American is completely cool ...

Re Weigel: I don't know whether or not he speaks Polish, but he's certainly aware of the translation issues; he complained about them in (I think it was) "Witness to Hope."

sciencegirl said...

Ah, the joys of sitting around in group of fellow 19 year-olds, talking all about the theory of married sex!

There wasn't all that much joy for me though, mostly awkwardness and irritation. All that pious poetry didn't really seem to connect with my bodily and emotional urges or help me make sense of them, so I quit going. The actual book "Love and Responsibility" did help, but not the conversations!

I also think fretting over "leading someone on" is pointless, but for heaven's sake, if you keep going out for coffee and dinner and movies with a guy, don't be shocked if he thinks that you're interested in dating him!

Anonymous said...

I've dated men who were (seemingly) That Into Me, and I wasn't, and I said yes because one can't be that frigid cow who is too hard on men or too picky, right?

Total disaster. They weren't nearly as In To Me as it appeared (so much as In To Getting Into My Pants), and, well, oddly, I felt that I gave a lot more than I got. Far too much, in fact.

Which leads me to ask: has anyone ever really gone against her deep-rooted instincts, dated the guy, fallen in love with him, and been on-fire passionately married? (I know some women who have not been That Into Him, have gotten married, and sort of make it seem like they were settling by wedding him.)


Cordi said...

Seraphic, thanks for this post; this is something I struggle with a lot. What if I know I don't want to marry Scooter, but I would honestly enjoy coffee with him because he is smart/funny/interested in the same things I am? I don't want to get married at all, but I really like and enjoy the men that I know, and being flirtatious comes almost too naturally to me, so I have a tough time appropriately moderating my behavior, and hearing your concrete guidelines is helpful.

urszula said...

Theobromophile, I also know plenty of couples where the girl is less interested but just wants to get started with the whole baby thing already, so sure, any NCB on hand will do. The worst is when it's dressed up in religious language and presented to others as the right thing to do (I recoil in horror when I remember a married 'singles speaker' who came to a youth group event and lectured girls on the importance of not being picky - she had obviously settled and wanted us to do the same. But her obvious lack of happiness and justifications upon justifications sure made that easy advice not to follow).

An interesting secular take on these 'uninterested' brides or ones who ignored their gut feeling is the book "How not to marry the wrong guy", penned by Anne Milford who herself canceled her first planned wedding because she instinctively felt something was wrong. She and her co-author explore the concept of instinct telling you someone is a wrong match for you. She has a blog I believe at

Anonymous said...

This is great! I like all of this advice. However, what if Scooter is married in the eyes of the Church slash going through a civil divorce? And you're interested in him?

Seraphic said...

Speaking as someone who was divorced and knows a lot about divorcing people, divorcing people are temporarily INSANE.

Single men and women, particularly vulnerable ones, should NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT be alone with divorcing people of the opposite sex. Not as friends. Not as dates. Not.

It is better to go out for coffee with a happily married friend of the opposite sex, particularly if he is much older or much younger than you, than to go out for a coffee with a divorcing person.

And this is not about "married in the eyes of the Church" or "of God" stuff. You can have a friendly coffee with a long-time divorced guy if you want to. Heck, I am married, and nice young men known to my husband occasionally have coffee with ME.

But I absolutely discourage anyone from socializing alone with a member of the opposite sex who is going through a divorce.

Rae said...

Came back to this one with a question. What if Scooter has a form of autism that makes him absolutely clueless to ordinary social cues?