Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Don't Go Off The Rails

When I wrote yesterday's post, I had no idea I would get comments from ex-religious. I certainly had no idea I would be asked for dating tips by an ex-religious!

I am certainly not an ex-religious myself, but I was once a divorcee (and annullee so let not the new readers have a heart attack), so I may have some helpful advice for ex-nuns raring to get married.

First, do not date for at least a year after leaving the convent. Do not attempt to meet new men for at least a year after leaving the convent.

Leaving the convent was traumatic, even if you desperately wanted to go. You are probably not in any fit mental state to make good decisions about men, dating, sexual expression or what have you.

Give yourself at least a year. Get a plant. Get a pet. Learn to have a close relationship with some other kind of froward living creature before attempting to have one with a man.

Second, do not think that "going on a date" is a normal thing that "everyone does." I went on dates from the ages of 14 to 37 (with a hiatus when I was married), and I am left with the sensation of years and years of job interviews disguised as trips to cafes, restaurants and cinemas.

Courtship--when a man makes friends with you, walks you home from places, ingratiates himself with your family and friends and makes excuses to be with you--is ancient and normal.

Dating came in with mass ownership of the automobile. There are many places where it does not at all exist, or no longer exists, e.g. urban high schools.

Although places like Catholic Match--and I have serious philosophical problems with Catholic internet dating--may give you the impression that meeting a complete stranger online to see if sparks may fly is the most obvious way to find a spouse, it is not. Most married couples met through friends, work or school.

Third, when your year is up and your spiritual director or your therapist is of the opinion that you can safely form relationships with new people now, take up such hobbies that truly interest you and meet people that way. Think in terms of shared interests and then in terms of "making friends."

Do not allow your primary orientation towards men be that of "potential future spouse." That way total irrationality lies. Your primary orientation towards men you meet socially should be that of "potential future female friend."

Fourth, a lasting, marriage-track romance is "friendship caught fire." (I think I stole that phrase from Ann Landers or Dear Abby.) Do not think that male strangers are going to respect you and feel affection towards you just because they have asked you out on a date.

For most men in the West--and I am thinking very carefully about this and I think I am justified in saying "most"--dating is not for marriage but to get sex. Marriage is for later, if the sex works out okay. These men will marry if they fall in love with the women they are having sex with, or always were in love with them.

Unless you are lucky enough to know only the minority of men who think of dating as a way to court a potential wife, you will certainly have to make an embarrassing speech to a date about not wanting to have sex before you are married. He will either respect that, pretend to respect that and eventually start pressuring you for sex, or reject you at once. Do not chase him. Do not try to "fix the friendship." If he dumps you instead of beginning the sex siege, thank God for His mercy.

Fifth, sexually spoiled, sexually jaded men are often on the lookout for new thrills, especially if they are legal. There are monsters who would take a particular delight in debauching an ex-nun and telling all their pals or taking photos and showing all their pals. This world you've decided to embrace is not very nice, and it can be absolutely horrid to the innocent.

Of course there are good men--including men who have no idea why they should not be having sex outside of marriage because no-one has ever explained this to them. The difficulty is that there are many, many bad men pretending that they are good men. It can be hard to tell without experience or a long acquaintance with a man which is which.

Therefore, an ex-nun--like most women--is much, much safer emotionally (at very least) if she confines her social life to friends, male and female, and the friends of friends.

Do not be in a rush. Make friends with men. Do not chase them. Consider carefully the motives of men who chase you. Be ready to cut off your hopes about a particular man if he is cold or nasty to you or makes indecent suggestions.

I hope this is helpful.


Joan of Quark said...

Seraphic, thank you so much for your kindly advice, which is a good reminder. An amazing number of women have tried religious life; I'm just surprised there weren't MORE responses as well as my own!

However, I entered religious life as a worldly-wise non-virgin aged 32, with a track record of a broken engagement at 23 and some rather desultory love affairs until I was 30. Then I got wise!

You're right about dating too soon, though; I met Mr NCM a year after I left and thought he was God's answer to all my problems. He wasn't, needless to say, but we have managed to construct something rather like friendship now (having passed through the fires of hell, brimstone and just about anything else you can think of).

I've been out on a date or two since him, but nothing special. I just CAN'T bring myself to do the internet thing after my awful-but-rather-hilarious experience with Ave Maria Singles (which taught me a lot about myself, so I'm not ungrateful!)

So I just put one foot in front of the other and trust in God. I think if He wants me to marry, He'll sort things out. (I see the darndest-looking people getting married in our local fancy Catholic church every weekend, so it's clearly not about looks, age difference, or dress sense).

I'm just really glad I have a PhD and a solid work ethic and a sense of humour. Religious life taught me a lot, and I'd probably do it again if I had my time over, but I don't have any desire to go back. In fact, the very thought of going back fills me with dread and horror. I am aware that this doesn't exactly indicate a vocation to marriage-by-default either!

Joan of Quark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seraphic said...

Personally offensive remarks will be deleted.

Lisa said...

I have another request for you, Seraphic. What about the priests who leave the seminary in search of love. Sometimes they already have a lady love, other times they are hoping wistfully for that love, but just about always they end up with a NCG-type. So much so actually, that I feel genuinely confused sometimes as to whether this can ever be kosher. Are priests ever released from their vows? I have a childhood friend that went into the RC priesthood and remained there for ten year before deciding to leave. He pursued multiple graduate degrees afterwards, and settled into his career, all the while vaguely considering a return to the priesthood. And then of course he met NCG. Honestly, she does seem lovely! And I want to be happy for them. But I am having such a hard time. They are currently living together, which makes me so sad. This is but one example which I am unfortunately observing up close thanks to the wonders of facebook. But this story repeats itself everywhere. Seraphic, do you have any words of wisdom on this? This is maybe a little different than your average topic, but it seems to me something important, and I am guessing you will have something interesting to say. In another example, I have a friend (very much a NCG) that became friends with a priest from a very orthodox RC order. They went out a bit, not exactly on dates (or so she thought), but to the local art musuem for an afternoon, out to coffee, etc. This seemed very innocent, and she had no romantic notions at all, but then she realized that this man wanted to leave the priesthood. Then their outings took on a new light. Happily (I think) for my friend, she did not feel comfortable with this; the friendship continued, but there were no more "dates". The man did eventually leave the priesthood. The last I heard he was still single, working, and maintaining a productive life. I have met him. He is endearing and sweet, and my heart goes out to him. He feels he was pressured by family into the priesthood, and that he was too young to really understand what he was doing when he took his vows. Seraphic, I would love to hear your thoughts
if you think this a good topic. I am guessing that this an issue that will resonate with your readers.

Joan of Quark said...

I'm so sorry, Seraphic - I genuinely didn't mean any offence or harm by what I said. I really did mean it - that your experience was something that meant that you could understand what it felt like.

Leaving religious life can really feel like a broken marriage, complete with all the sense of hurt, rejection and failure.

It does take time to recover from it, but people can and do.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Auntie. I learned the hard way that a lot of men are virgin slayers, and that discussing my lack of experience and desire to remain that way made me a tempting morsel, not a woman worth courting.

I met my current boyfriend on eHarmony. My eHarm experiences had been so dismal that I joined up again last summer - for the hilarity that would come from it. (I posted about it on Facebook, and my friends said that they were so entertained that they would bring popcorn to the latest update.) Half the reason I agreed to meet him for dinner was to see what social pathology he would exhibit. (Seraphic is appalled right now.)

It turned out that he is a very nice person, and also friends with one of my best friend's older sister. The latter, I think, is why I still advise against online dating: your chances of meeting people who like and are friends with the type of people you like are very, very slim. Better to accept invites to parties and to agree to blind dates with a friend-of-a-friend if you trust that friend's judgement.


Seraphic said...

I am looking at the calendar to make sure the past 35 years have not been all a dream and I am back in the Seventies.

But, lo, it really is 2012, and men are still acting out and breaking their vows and running away, etc. I hope it is not as widespread as your comment makes it sound.

I certainly hope that this is not an issue that resonates with my readers. I hope they are thinking, "How weird! I've never met any priests like that!"

Anyway, yes, priests can be laicized (i.e. deprived of the privileges and duties of priests) and given permission to marry.

I know of one who got divorced afterwards, too!

Let us presume that the priest you know has been laicized and has been given permission to marry. Let us also presume that he and his fiancee are living together as "brother and sister" for crushing financial reasons they simply cannot help or because one or the other is terribly ill and needs constant tending by the other.

Otherwise this would be a nasty little scandal we would not want before the confused and sorrowing eyes of my Other Readers of Good Will.

(Dear Other Readers of Good Will, I honestly don't think it's as common as all that.)

A few unstable priests looking for a soft landing when they go over the wall will indeed date girls while pretending they are "just friends." They are not rooted in reality.

Don't date men who are not rooted in reality.

Meanwhile, a man cannot be ordained until he is 25, so this other man ought to have been old enough to know what he was doing when he took his vows. He had at least three years of education leading up to it, which is about two years, six months more preparation than 25 year olds get before they marry.

However, maybe his parents did pressure him into it. So I will mentally cut him some slack. That said, St. Augustine was pressured into becoming a bishop, and a bishop he was until the end of his days.

Endearing and sweet, my Auntie Em. Stay away from this priest--which he is forever, in the line of Melchizadek. I suspect he has serious issues. I hope he is in therapy. I was in therapy for five years; I have a high opinion of therapy.

As I don't think anyone should date a ex-seminarian until he has been out of the seminary for a year and gone to confession in contrition for the way he treated his rebound girlfriend, I cannot even imagine when it would be a good idea to date an unfaithful, runaway priest.

When would it be a good idea to date someone else's unfaithful, runaway husband? Hmm....

Rae said...

Since you brought up internet dating, I have a question. I have done the CM thing, and the AMS thing. I have met some nice boys (unfortunately, they proved to be boys, not men,) had some nice conversations, and a few scary conversations. Right now I am active on AMS, but I just consider it one more way path for God to use, not THE way I will meet my husband.
So, we will likely find our spouses through friendship, or mutual friendship. Would it be an absolutely ridiculous idea for me to send my "profile" out to a few people and ask them if they can do some matchmaking?

Mustard Seed said...

Almost all of my friends are (amazing) women, and I enjoy close friendships with them. After I relocated to a new city last year, my male friends from home haven't done a great job of keeping in touch, and I'm finding it awkward to try to make new guy friends. I've gone on a handful of dates, and I make friendly chit-chat with a couple of the guys after church, but I get confused about how to go from either of those situations to honest, normal, non-awkward friendships. My grad program is 98% women, and I had just kind of resigned myself to just not having many male friends anymore. Seraphic if you have any advice on this, it would be helpful. I would like to have some guy friends again but I'm not sure how to make it happen without seeming like I'm hitting on them.

Seraphic said...

Now I feel a bit guilty about my hostility to laicized priests. However, the entire Catholic community feels the loss of laicized priests. Not only do some of them run to the press to talk about their sex lives, their absence means even more work for faithful priests.

Runaway priests just make me feel mad. Runaway priests should probably not consult me for advice. I will just send them to their confessors.

If a non-ordained male religious or nun leaves his or her community, it disrupts and saddens (or relieves, in some cases) their community, but it doesn't have as enormous affect on the rest of the wider community as the defection of a priest. (Sister P running away with the church organist was definitely a ten day wonder, however.)

Rae, what happened to PARTIES? Can't you just encourage friends to have parties and invite all the cute boys they know? Does it all have to be "here's my photo, whadiya think"?

I whiled away an amusing half-hour quizzing a British pal about his facebook friends, and that was one of the first times I heard about the man who is now my husband. However, my British pal didn't send my profile to B.A. He may have sent him to my blog; I'm not sure.

Seraphic said...

By the way, I should state for the record that the running away of Sister P was in another country and was not with my current church organist.

Charming Disarray said...

Wow, I couldn't imagine spending time with a priest alone. I'm sure that would never be considered appropriate in any of the Catholic communities I've been familiar with. Especially a young priest. And I only have heard of one runaway priest, who gets talked about in whispers or not at all.

I have to say, this post is a pretty serious and spot-on rundown of chaste dating in the modern world for anyone, former discerner or not.

"Consider carefully the motives of men who chase you. Be ready to cut off your hopes about a particular man if he is cold or nasty to you or makes indecent suggestions."


Parties are awesome, but they cost money and many peoples' groups of friends are scattered. I and my friends used to have parties all the time, and they were great for bringing newcomers into the group, but now many are married and living in different parts of the world. I consider myself lucky that it lasted as long as it did. And even when we're in the same place, and my married or single friends do throw a bash, there's still the problem of there not being any NCBs around. Online dating is hugely problematic in many ways but if you learn to step around the mines it's still one way of actually meeting somebody. I have a lower opinion of the specifically Catholic sites than I used to, mainly because people stay on them forever and hardly anyone seems to meet up, but OKCupid is free, you can search by religion, it tells you when the last time the person was online, and they ask questions that sometimes actually tell you something about the person. Of course you'll also get a million creepy messages, so I wouldn't recommend for anyone who isn't a dating veteren, so to speak.

Gosh, now I feel jaded.

Canadian Doc said...

I went on a few dates with a guy from my floor hockey. He has 2 children from a previous relationship, and was never married to the mother of these kids. I admit that I had hang-ups about him having kids and baggage, and I tried to give him a fair chance. Finally, I brought up my faith. I also clarified that sex wouldn't be on the table unless we were married. I never heard from him again!

Alisha said...

Eeeeek! Is spending time alone with a priest really inappropriate?? Priests have friends! I have spent time alone with priests. I think it might be better to do in groups but still, does worry about scandal have to dog everything? :(

Mustard Seed said...

Wow that rings true! I once dated a guy who made some really suggestive/indecent comments one night within our first couple months of dating. I was naive, didn't want to hear it for what it was, and unwisely had a couple martinis that particular evening. So at the time, I chalked it up to flirtation and the fact that he had more dating experience than I did. Had I listened to that little warning bell in my heart when he made that comment, I would have saved myself a mountain of heartache later on. Ah, hindsight is 20/20.

n.panchancha said...

I feel like this is great advice for anyone inexperienced in dating, particularly anyone moving from a more sheltered, Catholic/Christian-friendly environment into the big scary secular world. (Not that very bad men don't exist in Catholic circles... but that's a different, and very sad, matter.)

Are parties expensive? Perhaps I hang out with too many impoverished grad students and artists, but most parties I go to cost me NOTHING, unless I choose to bring a drink or two, which isn't always the case.

Recommendation: Have musical friends, and stage musical get-togethers (aka jams). Bring a big bag of miscellaneous percussion instruments so that the melodically challenged will be able to egg-shake along with the maestros. These are SUPER EASY to invite people to [last time my friend and I invited the waiter who served us just prior to the evening jam], and equally friendly to both sexes. It also takes the pressure off people in terms of making conversation with strangers for hours, and keeps everybody engaged. Furthermore, you might discover that someone has unexpectedly awesome musical talents.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, it's not always inappropriate. It's just sometimes inappropriate. I have friends who are priests, too. The important thing is that both priest and non-priest are on the same page, have good boundaries and think enough about others not to give scandal.

Miss Doyle said...

My rule of thumb is not to spend time alone with a priest - for my peace of mind and for his.
It doesn't take a lot for a third party to see and to make stuff up out of sheer boredom or from something else (grudge etc...).
If I needed to meet a priest for some advice - it happens in the confessional.

NCG (I hope!) ;) said...

The last I heard seminary was 7 years and that you're encouraged to have a degree before you even join up (another 3 or 4 years)!

Magdalena said...

n.panchancha, I want to come to one of your parties! :-)
I've had musical get-togethers with my friends at the place I lived before, but now I moved and don't know anyone yet...

JRM said...

Thanks Seraphic posting on the subject that I requested! Sorry I'm just getting around to reading it now, but I did find it VERY insightful. (And OK, I will concede that 28 is not ANCIENT...)

Ever since I've begun to feel the Lord asking me to consider marriage, I've asked myself "So what do I do!?!?!?!?". But maybe that's just it, I don't actually have to DO anything but be open... to stop panicking, and just make some new friends. After all, God knows how to do the matchmaking part.

So yes, you have helped me to further realize that following Him means trusting that what I have in front of me today will lead me to what he will want from me tomorrow. There is no reason to go back to "dating" as when I was in high school... that costs a lot of heartache.

I suppose I should be careful about who I tell about my being an ex-nun. Not everyone can understand (some can't understand the "nun" part, other's can't understand the "ex" part). The right person will understand that wrapped in such a term so surrounded in stereotypes is, was, and - by the grace of God - will be, passionate love for Christ and desire to serve him.

Thanks again!