Monday, 10 September 2012

Truth Will Set You Free

Being sick for a week has left me really tired, so I'll try to keep this short.

This is a blog to provide conversation, advice and hopefully comfort to Single readers. Married readers are welcome, too. I try to keep it a welcoming place, where even very sensitive girls will feel comfortable. And so I prune the comments box all the time, and not just to keep the anger and the insults at bay. Even warmhearted descriptions by married ladies of healthy married sexuality fall to the pruning sheers. Even the comments of close friends are sometimes thwarted.

But this is also a blog about living in reality. Reality is sometimes worse than we want it to be, and sometimes it is better. Catastrophizing is as dangerous as wishful thinking. Hyperbole, if indulged often, can lead to catastrophizing.

I came across a Single woman's blog the other day, in which she declared that she was hit on by married men every day. Every day. I tried to get my mind around a situation in which a woman could be hit on by married men every day. Maybe if she were a hotel bartender who worked seven days a week. She also said she was pretty sure there were no good men, and yet she was dismayed to be approaching 30 without a man. If you can read very vulgar language and ideas without flinching, here is her post.

One thing about being unwillingly Single for a long time is that you experience a lot of disappointment. Serious disappointment leads to bitterness, and this is not surprising. The problem with bitterness, however, is that it doesn't heal the disappointment or correct whomever or whatever it was that disappointed you. It hurts you. It also hurts the innocent people upon whom you turn the shafts of your bitterness--like your mother, for example.

I find it interesting that "She's just bitter" has become an insult rather than an private revelation that should lead to compassion. Occasionally my online critics decide or tell me that I am bitter, which makes me feel indignant. (Seraphic to friends, with outrage: "I'm not bitter! I'm the opposite of bitter. I am SWEET!") "Bitter" should not be an epithet to dismiss people but a clue that they need help.

Helping the bitter--which means disappointed, often heartbroken people who can feel as much attacked as helped by advice--is a difficult and sometimes thankless task. I am sure we have all experienced the shock of being asked for advice and then having our words thrown in our faces. It's a bruising experience.

But if you can put up with the occasional bruise, it is a gift to help your friends remain rooted in reality. Yes, there are times when you should let your friends get away with such hyperbole as "All men are jerks" or "I can't tell you how many married men hit on me every day" (like, for example, when they are hysterical and in tears), but there are times when you really have to call them on it. At a certain point you have to say, "Sandra, to my knowledge you've been propositioned by three married men, and that was over a period of ten years. You've met dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of married men in the past ten years, and only three of them actually propositioned you. Sure, a few more have said flirty things, but don't you think they were just being lighthearted?"

It's the same thing with "stalking." Girls throw around the word "stalking" a lot. But stalking is a serious offence. It is not the same thing as a clumsy male attempt to contact you over Facebook or multiple attempts reach you on your mobile, especially if you said "Yes" to him being your Facebook friend or you gave him your mobile number.

I once came home to a post-split hideout and found a present from my ex on the radiator. It was a book of poetry. I had no idea he knew where I lived, and I was furious and scared that he did. "Stalking" I shrieked, and called a battered women's hotline.

"That's not stalking," said the annoyed-sounding counsellor. "Stalking is when they call you dozens and dozens of times or follow you everywhere."

I was expecting complete and unconditional acceptance of my feelings of being stalked, so I was seriously surprised. But I was also grateful because after I heard what other women went through, I stopped being alarmed by this one stupid book of poems.

When you exaggerate the wickedness of men, or the number of wicked men you have met, to yourself, you can psyche yourself out and make yourself unhappier, unhappier than you would be if you just looked banal reality in the face.

This is not to say that many men do not do many bad things. There are places in the world I simply will never go (like Tahrir Square, Cairo) because the men who are there have such a reputation for disgraceful behaviour towards women. But to my knowledge I have never met men like the men who rip off women's clothing in Tahrir Square, so I don't define men by the men of Tahrir Square.

Nor do I think that much about men who have disgusted me or hurt my feelings to such an extent that I would never speak to them again. Since I began this blog, I have always concentrated my thoughts on the great men I know, especially the men of my own family. And I suspect this is one reason why I found a great man, one that I knew at once would get along so well with the men of my family.

It may be a relief to one's feelings to announce that all men are jerks, and it may seem like a quick way to bond with female friends or get emotional support--and heaven knows, we all need emotional support in our lives--but I posit that this can be a dangerous mental rut, and can even become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Update: By the way, I have absolutely no interest in attacking any reader. I will attack thought processes and myths that I think hurt readers, and I will sometimes express myself robustly, but I am not interested in attacking readers. If you are a reader, and you think I am attacking you, please examine the evidence, e.g. the context, what I have actually written, six years of not attacking readers.


Clare said...

Since I have been to university, three good friends of mine that I know of have been raped. Seven have been sexually assaulted in some form.

I know two women who have been hit by their boyfriends, more than once.

I know four or five women who have been subject to campaigns of online harassment--after attempting to block-- from anywhere from a few weeks to year.

I have been stalked, really stalked, when I was very young.

I have been asked to provide sexual favors in return for tips at the restaurants I worked in.

By patrons and managers.

I have been called slut more times than I can count when I turn these propositions down.

I have had one customer follow me to my new place of work---I hadn't told anyone I was switching jobs, deliberately--and sit there, waiting and watching me until I had to walk home in the dark.

It would be very nice to think one is always blowing things out of proportion.

Unfortunately, reality is what it is, and not what you want it to be.

And goodness knows women are told enough by men and society that it's all in their heads and they should just chill out about harassment.

Seraphic said...

I am not telling women "it" (real abuse) is all in our heads and that we should just chill out about harassment.

I am telling women we should be honest with ourselves and each other when they talk about their bad experiences with men. Each individual bad experience is a bad experience that should not have happened. To exaggerate is to minimize the wrongness of those particular bad experiences

I am inviting women not to allow the bad experiences to rule our lives, to overshadow our memories of good experiences with men and to poison any future happiness with men. Each must be addressed, dealt with, grieved over and put to rest.

And I am responding to a very nasty comment I found this morning from a regular reader in my inbox. I am very hurt by this comment, in a "I should go away and stop blogging; why am I doing this again?" kind of way.

Seraphic said...

I really hope I have made this clear. I do not want readers to think that I do not care that they have had bad experiences with men. I certainly do care. I have answered letters from women who have had bad experiences with men. In ministry school, I spoke with women who had bad experiences with men. I did a short placement with women who were survivors of sexual abuse by men. I have myself had bad experiences with men. I have helped correct the essays for an African priest trying to come to terms with the constant gang rape of village women in his war-torn country.

But this is not the sum total of my experience of men. Only a minority of men do very wicked things, like rape and ask waitresses for sexual favours.

If we get into a mindset in which all men are pigs and that we are in constant danger from men, then we are going to psyche ourselves out.

We are not going to be comfortable around men and we are not going to be free to make healthy decisions about marriage and relationships.

Again, each bad experience is bad enough in itself, and there is no need to exaggerate. Each bad experience should be addressed, condemned and put to rest, lest it continue to work its poison into the rest of our lives.

I speak as someone who was in therapy for almost five years.

Maria said...

Don't go away and stop blogging! I can attest that you have been a big help for me in getting over bitterness. I can't claim to have had traumatizing experiences with men like many of your readers, but I have been very disappointed at times and certainly tended to fall into the "All men are pigs" trap. It is in part thanks to you that I'm out of it (also one or two theology of the boditarians - I know you don't like them but some have been very helpful to me).

Seraphic said...

I don't have a problem with "Theology of the Boditarians." I just haven't much interest in reading "Theology of the Body" if it isn't really about the body but about sex.

Seraphic said...

Also, I don't know if many of my readers have had traumatizing experiences with men. I know at least a few have certainly had traumatizing experiences, others have had very bad experiences indeed, and still others have had very unhappy experiences. I would guess that most of my readers have had unhappy experiences involving men, but I couldn't say how many have been actually traumatized.

Jam said...

I always like your emphasis on including brothers, fathers, friends, etc in the category of "men". It's closely related to the idea of meeting all men as human beings and potential friends rather than men with whom you by default will have a positive or negative romantic/sexual connection. There are many men who care about me and help me in various ways, if not in a romantic-love way.

I mean, once an individual man has made some disgusting/threatening comment/act -- sure, proceed accordingly. But as far as new individuals, or interactions with men who have not done those things, I think Seraphic's right that the happiest thing is to approach them with Christian charity and believing the best.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cordi said...

Seraphic, thanks for this post! Exaggerating the bad behavior of men is not only damaging to us, it's also really unfair to a lot of men. As the sister of four awesome brothers and friend of a lot of genuinely good men, I resent it when women carelessly throw around the labels of "stalker" or "creep", or assume that most men are bad. Yes, there are jerks, and yes, they do really terrible things to women, but that judgement should be individually and accurately applied.

Anonymous said...

Many women have been hurt by men.

Comparing how much more X person has been hurt than Y person does not make the hurt to X person less, does it? It does not change the behavior of bad men. In fact, it does very little at all.

I say this as someone who can answer Yes to some of Theobromophile's questions, and Yes to things that I doubt anyone in this combox has experienced, but I don't think that makes me more qualified to say things like "try not to let bad experiences take over your life" or "don't categorically hate another sex." That seems like pretty reasonable advice to take from anyone.

Incidentally, I didn't see anything about "an acceptable number of times" for bad things to happen.

Sometimes our dear Auntie couches things in a manner that we might disagree with or says things we think are wrong, but that is the risk of reading someone else's advice and writing. Also, this "get on your knees and pray" business is ridiculously rude, apart from anything discussed.

Seraphic, I appreciate your blogging. Even though I am at odds with your statements at times, I do hope you won't go away. You do a lot of good for many women, including me.


Sarah said...

Sometimes it seems to me that some women have this need to show who has been the most hurt/is the most damaged and scarred.

I don't know why this is, because emotional scars are not something I think are worth bragging about, which is sometimes how comments like the one made by theobromophile come off.

I don't know what her exact situations were, or how bad they were... If she's experienced all those things, then I'm very sorry for her, and I am grateful I never have had to deal with that.

But hurt doesn't make you special. Don't let it define you. Don't let it give you a pass to dismiss not the hurt of others as being lesser, but the good people (good men, in this case) as well.

For every bad man I've had the bad luck of meeting, I can name a dozen good men I respect, admire and feel safe around.

So, I'm with Chris on this one... Sometimes I don't agree with Seraphic, or think I would put something a different way. In fact, I was on the fence about this particular issue because I thought how I would react to this post if I knew it was in response to something I said.

But the underlying message is true: don't let the bad stuff taint the big picture.

Sarah said...

I meant to say, "not ONLY the hurt of others as being lesser..."

Jan said...

I agree with Serpahic that it seems unlikely, that if people are truly honest with themselves, that EVERYONE has had THAT MANY bad experiences with men. Some women have. Many people have probably had one or two. I am married, so I don't pipe up that often, but it does surprise me to read about so many bad experiences here all of the time. I feel like I had a very normal life - I went to college and then grad school, I've had many jobs, I hung out in bars when I was single, I chatted online with men. ONE TIME I think a man led me on a bit. He did nothing inappropriate physically. ONE TIME I'm pretty sure a coworker was attracted to me. He was married and Catholic, and he knew I was married and Catholic. I was not attracted to him at all. The only thing that came of it was me feeling a bit guilty because I felt a little secretly glad that I am still attractive to men other than my husband. Of three men I recall talking to online, two of them asked to meet in person. I met one with a group and then not again; one I did not meet at all (til he awkwardly turned up at a friend's wedding years later after I was engaged). Both respected my decision and left me alone.

I think Serpahic's only point was not to exaggerate your experiences and depress yourself. If you have truly had bad experiences with men, you're in my prayers and I hope you are finding some help! If not, don't give up on men. Many are great, and if they are not, most I have known have not been worse than "meh." I am very thankful to God that I have not encountered the truly awful ones.

Seraphic said...

Theobromophile, I'm sorry if you yourself have experienced those things. I believe you have alluded to your experiences in the combox before.

There is no acceptable number of times for someone to abuse someone else.

There is no acceptable number of times to have been abused.

Sexual assault is never okay.

My ex-husband had issues, perhaps serious issues, 15 years or so ago, but he was not a nutjob. Speaking as a middle-aged lady 15 years later, I would say that he was a very driven, very stubborn, very unlucky young man.

I have dealt with any painful experiences with men in therapy and/or spiritual direction. I do not think it would help anyone for me to talk about them here. It certainly wouldn't help me.

The point of my post is that sometimes women who dwell on their painful experiences, or exaggerate their frequency, slow down their healing process and get themselves in a rut where they find it difficult to communicate well with others, or have relationships with others, or change an unhappy orientation towards the world.

The problem with hyperbole is that it can confuse or mislead people, including the user him or herself. He or she can psyche himself out.

And, as was discussed on this blog awhile ago (regarding "the potential date rapist"), hyperbole can cause problems later for other women who suffer assaults, including and especially rape.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Goodness, this is clearly a personal subject for many people. Perhaps we can just give each other the benefit of the doubt?

Perhaps we can all step back and look at the general principles involved here.

Even if someone has suffered or witnessed terrible evil committed by men, it is fundamentally unhealthy to hate or fear an entire other gender.

This will be harder if one has suffered or witnessed such evil.

Sometimes people who have experienced lesser harms magnify them in their minds - such as Seraphic's stalking example. This is not true of anyone who has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, violence, actual stalking, etc.

Whatever the situation, it is not healthy to fear or hate an entire gender, even if such feelings are reasonable in light of the person's experiences or those of people the person knows.

That's what I think Seraphic was getting at, and it's true. I think taking this post as a personal attack or comments as a personal attack merely demonstrates that people here have suffered hurts or feel accused. I don't see any need for it. Seraphic posts her thoughts daily; sometimes readers agree, sometimes not. I don't see any reason to take these words as an attack on anyone. I've enjoyed Seraphic's posts and other readers' comments quite a bit, and, assessing this in light of the bright, spirited, thoughtful and independent women here, I don't see any "bad guys." Let's all take a few moments and reevaluate in light of who we know each other to be - decent Christian women.

I appreciate Seraphic's posts and other readers' comments, and hope both continue in a spirit of fun, charity, and presumed good faith.


Charming Disarray said...

What makes this blog fundamentally different from any other blog or website I've encountered (and I looked for years) is that it encourages healing and peace without denying that there are real problems in society with how many women are treated. I don't see how any of Seraphic's readers can deny that she writes on a regular basis about the need for women to protect themselves from predatory men and the very real risks out there. But at some point you have to live your life, too, and it can be hard to do that if you're always feeding your brain with horror stories about rapists and unscrupulous men. I've had some bad experiences myself, including dealing with domestic violence issues in my own family, and I've spent a long time working through those experiences in a way that started to feel like a bit of a dead end. There is a huge...huge...difference between being told that you made all your problems up or exaggerated them, and simply being challenged to see that you may have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of thought that's hurting you as much as other people have hurt you. And sometimes it's nice to be reminded that some men are good, because some men ARE good.

That said, this kind of comment is ignorant and unhelpful: "Sometimes it seems to me that some women have this need to show who has been the most hurt/is the most damaged and scarred."

I can only hope that a comment like that was written by a very young teenage girl who watches too much reality tv.

Jam said...

FWIW, as someone who has been on a total of three dates, it's a common experience for me to get locked out of a conversation in a group of women because the topic is "terrible dates" or "the worst man I ever dated". When I was at sorority dinners in college, and was more socially anxious/pliable, I sometimes felt pressured to embellish or simply make up stories about bad dates; which is stupid, I know, but that's what I did. Now that I'm older I just focus on eating my dinner (or whatever) if the subject comes up but I still feel that desire to join in. Comparing bad date stories is not the same as girls trying to one-up each other in "brokenness" but still: in my life, in my experience, it has been the case that stories about bad men and how badly they have treated you are an extremely common theme in women's conversation, and generally the goal is to tell the most hair-raising story. I'm 26, and the only reality TV I watch is Iron Chef. Again: FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Dear Seraphic,
You will undoubtedly delete this post since I am a man, but I wanted to write a quick response of support. A friend directed me to your blog some months ago, and I have thoroughly enjoyed your articles. Much like the epic Kristen Lavansdattar, your posts and the comments help me understand better the differences between men and women and to appreciate them in a positive way. You are doing much good, and, for whatever it may be worth, I encourage you to continue.


Sarah said...

Charming Disarray, I have no idea what you mean, but considering that I thought the (maybe unspoken) theme of this conversation was to try to have a dialog without judging out-of-hand other people's experiences and circumstances, I thought your comment was unhelpful and ignorant, especially since I'm in my 20s and haven't owned a tv in 2 years.

I have observed over and over again how women embellish the horror stories about their exes to other women. It always looks to me like some kind of weird strength competition.

Maybe you don't see that, but I do. And I was actually thinking through out this conversation how one of the nice things about this blog is how supportive the women are of each other, even when we disagree. So let's play nice and not make snide comments about each other.

Charming Disarray said...

Women who talk about painful experiences like how they or their friends have been assaulted, physically or sexually, are engaging in a completely different kind of conversation from laughing over bad date stories over a few drinks. Part of what makes many women afraid to speak up about these topics in first place is precisely because they think no one will take them seriously.

"So let's play nice and not make snide comments about each other."

I just read your comment over in the hopes that I had misunderstood the part where you dismiss women talking about painful experiences as "bragging," and again in your recent comment where you claim that you were trying to have a conversation in which people don't judge other peoples' experiences out-of-hand and how you appreciate how supportive everyone usually is here, and I'm sort of at a loss for words.

Sarah said...

I *did* say that her comment was only how she came off, and that I didn't know her actual situation.

Don't be so aggressive. I don't really feel like bickering, but I really was not trying to insult anyone (including theobromophile) and in fact, though I agree with Seraphic's point, didn't really agree with how she addressed it once I put myself in theobromophile's shoes... all of which I said in my first comment.

Domestic Diva said...

I don't understand what's going on. Seraphic writes this blog to give singles advice. Today's advice is to not dwell on negative experiences excessively, a piece of advice that I, for one, need to take to heart. Suddenly the comm box erupts with angry comments. Not only is Seraphic taken to task, but inflammatory comments are made about other comments.

I am interested in other people's perspective and experiences. That's one reason I read this blog. But I feel like I've stepped into a catfight here. And ironically, some of these comments seem to be Exhibit A of the kind of thing Seraphic is talking about. I could be wrong, but my experience with people has taught me that over-reaction is symptomatic of deep wounds. If those who have made the inflammatory comments have been so wounded, I am sorry. But I hope that they will find help to leave that hurt in the past, and not take it out on those who had nothing to do with it.

A spirited discussion I enjoy and appreciate. Today's topic could have been that.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Seraphic, I think perhaps these comments should be closed, and maybe even this thread is better set aside entirely. Nice people are feeling hurt and criticized - nothing good can come from that.

Charming Disarray said...

"I am interested in other people's perspective and experiences. That's one reason I read this blog. But I feel like I've stepped into a catfight here."

It never ceases to amaze me when people chastise victims of assault or harassment for not being nice or calm enough when they talk about their experiences.

Personally, I'm shocked to find out some of things theobromophile and Clare have experienced. "But you could have said it in a nicer way and not gotten so upset" was not the first thing that crossed my mind. What's missing here is the acknowledgement that simply telling someone to get over their experiences is offensive in itself, even if you say in a nice, society-approved way.

And again, I agree with the main point of this post. I'm just seeing something really different in the comments.

american (not) in deutschland said...

I agree to a point. A person can dwell on a negative experience in an unhealthy way. (Although, sometimes, "dwelling" is part of a necessary grief that might not be healthy but is still relatively unavoidable.)

I think there's a difference when it comes to ongoing behaviors. When certain behaviors occur in patterns, like say, from men, with certain targets, in certain circumstances for certain reasons (the patriarchal system), I don't think it's necessarily "dwelling" to be aware of them AND to openly rail against them.

I know Auntie S already does this, so I'm not trying to single her (or anybody) out.

But I do sometimes get the sense that being told "just think about GOOD men" assumes that every woman reading this blog HAS male relatives who have been great men, the kind of men who set us up for good relationships with other men. That's not a given. And there are numerous other circumstances that allow men to have THEIR behaviors glossed over ("ignore the bad, praise the good"??), or at least their bad behavior seen as an inevitable downside of life, and no one can do a thing against it.

I can understand why Auntie S's advice TO WOMEN would be "yes, you are often in a compromised, powerless, and reactive position. Here is how you can take care of yourself and keep living." But the overall advice for men would be to take responsibility and not give tacit approval.

Not sure how relevant this is to anyone else's point...

Seraphic said...

I couldn't shut down the comments, for I had gone to bed. This blog is on British Summer Time. However, I will say three things.

First, women do suffer terrible things, and the place to discuss them is with a professional, e.g. a lawyer, doctor, therapist, clergyman, or close friends. It is unwise to post them up on a blog for complete strangers to see, especially as the internet is not really anonymous.

Because the internet is not really anonymous, I am going to remove Theobromophile's comment, so that the entire world doesn't have access to the history of things that she insinuates have happened to her.

One of my firmly held beliefs is that men often treat you according to how other men have treated you, which is why you should think twice about telling them in detail about men treating you shabbily.

Second, women do indeed use their stories of abuse (or other suffering) to try to win arguments or to shame other women, as Theobromphile did in this combox. I've noticed women doing this my whole life. But this is merely evidence of wounds that have not healed; it is about the speaker, not the object of her wrath.

Third, some of you are new, so you might not realize that the only way this blog can function is through people writing as clearly and politely (and as generously) as they can in the combox. We do not have catfights here. That said, I am grateful to everyone who jumped to my defense. Thanks also for all the supportive emails.

Thank you, JJR. I have never been less likely to erase men's comments as in these past 24 hours.

And now this combox is closed. It's 9/11, so we all have a tragedy in common to honour.