Thursday, 31 January 2013

Help for Squashy Auntie

The fitness-inclined among you may be wondering how your poor squashy auntie is getting along at the gym. The answer to that was "Not wonderfully well" until Monday, for it was very hard for me to leave the computer in the morning. You all know what computers are like. And there are only a limited number of hours in which I can use the gym, for I cannily bought the "silver membership." This means I can use the gym only when everyone else is at their proper job, e.g. from 9 to 4:30.

Anyway, so as to make sure I would stop scrambling to get to the gym on time, I came up with a plan: I would leave the Historical House every morning when B.A. left the Historical House for his office in the Historical Stable Block. And to give myself something to do on the days in which I am not lifting weights, I would sign up for some of the classes.

This has worked out very nicely so far, as I have gone to the gym four days in a row, which is unprecedented since at least 2006. However, I have not lost very much weight. This is to be expected, though, as muscle weighs more than fat, and it is harder to shift fat as you grow older. I do not expect to drop twenty pounds in seven months as I did when I was 25/26, although I admit I would be pleased. But the point to the gym membership is not primarily to reduce my size but to pump my sometimes gloomy and sluggish brain with natural feel-good juice.

The quickest way to get the feel-good juice into your brain is to do aerobic exercise, particularly one that involves bouncing up and down. This is what runner's high is all about, and why I put up with MTV and Jeremy Kyle on the tellies before me. (Note to pundits: if you really want to discourage Bulgarians and Romanians from coming to England, beam The Jeremy Kyle Show to them. Neither Himmler nor Stalin could have come up with better anti-English propaganda than that.)

I thought I would give myself a break from the treadmill, MTV and Jeremy today, so I signed up for an aerobics class called "Body Combat." It was led by a male trainer with a boxer's wiry, fat-free body, and we were mostly Scotswomen of the squashy variety. I thought I would be prepared for it, thanks to two months of desultory tread-milling and weight-lifting, but heavens. I think if I hadn't done the running and lifting, I would have had a heart attack and died. (Note to self: when the pamphlet says bring a towel and water bottle, bring a towel and water bottle.)

I had one very sad moment as I squashily tried to maintain a push-up position for forty-five years and failed. How terribly I felt about failing. When I was 27 I would have not have failed, and just as I thought that, a bead of sweat dropped from my forehead and a very wiry twenty-seven year old girl appeared beside me. It was me.

Seraphic, Age 27: It's okay. You're supposed to fail.

Seraphic, Age 39+: No, failing is bad.

Seraphic, Age 27: I know you think of this as an aerobics course, but what you are doing is a weight-bearing exercise. Pushing yourself until you fail is victory in a weight-bearing exercise.

Seraphic, Age 39+: I bet you could hold this position for the full count.

Seraphic, Age 27: I don't know. I was always a bit of a wimp about push-ups, to be honest.

Seraphic, Age 39+ (accusingly): How can you possibly have that little body fat?

Seraphic, Age 27: I have body fat. Here, look at my tummy. (She rolls up her boxing club shirt and pinches the skin.)

Seraphic, Age 39+: That's not fat. That's skin.

Seraphic, Age 27 (muses): I could never get my lower abs to do that washboard thing. Upper abs, yes. Lower abs, no. Maybe this time you could ask somebody about that.

Seraphic, Age 39+: I'd have to lose at least fifteen pounds before I could see evidence of any abs. Remind me again of your daily calorie count?

Seraphic, Age 27: Hmm. You know, I really don't think you should do what I did. Really.

Seraphic, Age 39+: Ha! You sound like Saint Ignatius.

Seraphic, Age 27: Really? Which one?

Seraphic, Age 39+: Which one?! Where have you been?

Seraphic, Age 27: Struggling to get out of you.

Seraphic, Age 39+: Ah ha ha ha. You at least enjoyed life. I was terribly depressed when I started packing on the pounds. But in so doing I have learned yet another useful life lesson to pass on, and it's Don't eat tubs of Ben & Jerry's when you're homesick, in culture shock and sad.

Seraphic, Age 27: Ugh, I can't believe you ate ice-cream. I never ate ice-cream.

Seraphic, Age 39+: And a hamburger and fries only once a year.

Seraphic, Age 27: That's right. Still, you managed to find true love as a squashy person rather than a thin person, which might be another life lesson.

Seraphic, Age 39+: I wasn't this squashy. Married people put on an average of ten pounds. Marriage sealed my squashy doom.

Seraphic, Age 27: Oh well. Stick with the gym and they'll come off again. Time is on your side. That reminds me, how's our fluency in Italian coming along?

Seraphic, Age 39+: Właściwie, nie dobrze.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Against Dating in High School

I enjoyed reading Doctor Spock's Baby and Child Care when I was a child. My life was full of children, both at school and at home, and being a child myself, I was naturally interested in knowing all about how I should be raised.  I dipped into it again and again over the years.

Doctor Spock disapproved of dating at a young age. He thought teenagers should not date until they were in their later teens, lest they grow jaded and bored of the business. However, my mother didn't think it was fair not to let me date until I was in my later teens because she herself had gone to a formal dance with an upperclassman when she was fourteen. That was circa 1960.  

In 1960, the median age for first marriage for men and women was the early twenties. This means that half of Canadians and Americans were married by the age of 24. (The median age for girls in the USA was 20.) Many Americans and Canadians got married fresh out of high school, as soon as they had jobs. My mother married at 23. Therefore, dating in high school made sense.  

In 2011, the median age for first marriage for American men was 28.7 and for American women was 26.5. This means that half of American men do not marry until at least around 29 and half of American women do not marry until at least around 27. Very few Americans or Canadians marry fresh out of high school. And therefore high school dating (aka "re-lay-tionships") no longer makes sense.   

When I was in high school, I discovered that some girls were not allowed to date/hang around with boys at night at all. At the time, I thought this was because their parents were super-strict and stuck in Old World ways. However, I now think that this had something to do with the fact that there was no such thing as dating in rural and small town Italy when my friends parents' were growing up. There was courtship of girls with strong parents, and there was sexual exploitation of girls with weak parents. End of post-war Italian story.

Dating as my mother knew it in the 1960s, with its iron clad rules about how nice girls were to be treated, existed mostly in the middle-class English-speaking world. In other kinds of countries, people watched their daughters like hawks and only tentatively eased their grip over their lives when prospective good husbands began hanging around. They were, of course, terrified that their daughters might be used and thrown aside like tissues which, among other things, would hamper their chances of attracting a good husband.

My friends' Old World parents might have thought my parents were negligent; as a matter of fact, I think my parents thought Canadian boys were still like Canadian boys in 1960: dividing girls into "easy" and "precious" and assuming that Girls Like Me were in the "precious" category.  (So not true, by the way, in a city so multicultural that there were multiple racist terms for goras ghosts mangia-cakes white Canadians from English-speaking homes, often assumed to be sluts or potential sluts/bad wives just for not belonging to the right ethnic group.)

Unfortunately, being found attractive by boys or men--especially the "right kind" of boys or men--has always been a status symbol among girls and women and, for some reason, it still is. Personally, I understand why this would be once you have left high school and are either in work or at university. As   a woman can reasonably expect to marry when she is about 27, it makes sense that she might start to care about how men (as men) perceive her and how to attract them when she is 21 or so. 

However, it makes no sense whatsoever for girls of seven or seventeen to give a damn. If everyone in your village gets married at 21, okay, start worrying at seventeen. But if most people don't marry until they are at least 27, then what is the problem?  Dating is for deciding upon a marriage partner, and if you are probably not going to marry until you are at least 27, it is rather silly to wish for a boyfriend at seventeen, let alone turn yourself into a moral pretzel to get one. 

I have just erased a passage in which I describe contemporary teenage boys as toads and fiends from hell. That seemed too harsh and genuinely unfair to the boys who want and strive to be good men, so instead I will suggest that no girl under the age of 21 has any business seeing boys as anyone more than platonic friends or potential friends. Not only is it perfectly normal to be "twenty-one and never had a boyfriend," it is an enviable state. Grandmothers and mothers who yak on and on about all the boyfriends they had when they were sixteen did not live in the ghastly sexual climate of today. 

Elementary school and high school are not for romance. They are for learning, developing and becoming whole people in a stimulating but safe environment.  Life before nineteen could be a blissful stretch of play, athletics, mastery of such arts as music and painting, language acquisition and opportunities most forty-year olds would love to have. What a shame to waste such a wonderful period of life on worrying about what boys think or, worse, sacrificing one's dignity and sense of self-worth to attract them sexually. 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Why Do Girls Give In?

There is an excellent article in the UK Catholic Herald this week about p*rnogr*phy.  The Herald piece is in part a reaction to the following article in the UK Telegraph, which I want to discuss, but I will warn you that some of the remarks in the combox under the Telegraph article are vile.

It’s not often that I unleash my inner Mary Whitehouse, but the way young girls today are expected to conform to a hideous porn culture makes me want to don a pair of glasses with upswept frames and get myself one of those battleaxe perms. A friend’s daughter recently started at a highly regarded boarding school. When her mother asked how she was enjoying the mixed-sex environment, the girl said quietly: “You have to give the boys oral sex or they get cross.” Reeling with shock, the mum protested that her darling daughter did not have to do anything of the sort. “Oh yes you do,” replied the girl. “And you have to shave down there or the boys don’t like it.”

Mary Whitehouse was an English Catholic Anglican lady who campaigned against the onslaught of racy conversations and shows over the airwaves in the wake of 1963. She was widely mocked. At the same time she was campaigning, however, an unknown number of pop culture celebrities in Britain were using and abusing teenage girls and children.

I don't know if Mary Whitehouse said anything about the generations of sexual abuse in boys' boarding schools by bigger boys of smaller boys. It's something all men who went to boarding school knew about, and yet they went on to send their own sons to boarding school. And now that women know about this, too, I am amazed that anyone would send their daughters into a co-ed boarding school. What on earth did they think would happen?

It strikes me that there is a bigger problem here than p*rn, no matter how big a problem p*rn may be. The problem is that teenage boys are demanding oral sex from teenage girls, and teenage girls are actually supplying it. Teenage boys are demanding that teenage girls wax their pudenda, and teenage girls are doing it. So much for the feminist revolution--and incidentally, it is illegal for children in Britain to have sex until they are sixteen. Why, I ask, do the girls have no spine?

"So what if the boys get cross?" I would ask this girl if she were my daughter, which she would never be as I would never send my teenage daughter to a co-ed secondary school except as a last resort.  "I mean, SO WHAT?"

In prison, if there were such things as co-ed prisons in the UK, which thank heavens there are not, a girl might worry. If she didn't come across with sexual favours once actually illegal, so disgusting and against women's dignity they were believed to be, well, maybe something even worse might happen to her. But we don't put women into the same prisons as men because we are not stupid. As a society, we don't hate women quite that much.

So it comes as a nasty shock to discover that the threat of  violence hangs over girls in the co-ed schools of the UK, even if that threat is merely "The boys get cross."

As it is illegal for children under 16 to have sex, one solution is to remind children of this every once in awhile and remind them all that soliciting a child under 16 for sex is also illegal. Very rarely does anyone throw the book at a fornicating Romeo-and-Juliet puppy-love pair, but maybe it is time to begin.  At very least something more must be done to protect girls whose parents are naive enough to send them to live under inadequate supervision with a hundred or more teenage boys. Teaching them to value sexual abstinence without apology or embarrassment would be a good start.

Anti-Catholic Bigotry at Huff Po UK

Here's a non-story in the Huffington Post UK.  It makes a snide remark about the "Christian" (Roman Catholic Christian, most likely) youths in St. Peter's Square getting a lesson about "the survival of the fittest" when a seagull attacks a dove. Har, har, har, except that the dove got away.

Actually, the lesson might have been that life is tough and noisy types are likely to attack, if only in the combox of the Huffington Post UK. Even a representative from some British Muslim spokesgroup chimed in to joke that it was not a Muslim seagull. That is one of the milder comments, however. The others make remarks about garbage, "chubby girls," and "I wouldn't let a child near any of them." Nice, eh?

I cannot imagine why Huff Po UK ran this story other than to have a giggle at Roman Catholics who, although a small minority in the UK, make up the largest number of Britons who attend worship services.

Not incidentally, anti-Catholic bigotry has been a fixture in the UK since the 1530s.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Changing Men

This letter has been entirely rewritten and compressed to protect the innocent!

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Do men change? My mother says that they never do, but she's always been pessimistic about men. My boyfriend has made changes when he found out something he said or did really bothered me. And anyway, what about men who are striving for holiness? Don't they change?

Changing Men

Dear Changing Men,

It was my mother's opinion that men do not change after the age of 30, so if you expect a man to change, you must snaffle him before then. 

However, I think she must have meant major tendencies of character, like zeal versus laziness, intellectual vigour versus dullness, and kindness versus malice. It is certainly possible and likely for a kind man to change how he behaves around a woman if he knows certain things he does or says make her upset. It is less likely that a malicious man will do so. 

The good thing about marrying older is that one and one's husband know exactly what they're getting by way of a spouse. A twenty year old man is not going to be the same man at thirty. However, a thirty year old man will probably be the same man at forty. Technically a twenty year old bride and groom are expected to "grow up together" although the notion makes me shudder. What a risk. 

The important thing is that you marry only a man that you really love and who really loves you. If you are thinking the man you are with needs a major overhaul, don't marry him. Yes, a man who loves Christ will strive for holiness, but my guess is that one should see some of the fruits of this already in a man of 30-odd. A man who goes to confession for staring too long at a bare-chested woman who popped up in an ordinary film is rather a different man from the one who has a deep-seated porn addiction. 

I hope this is helpful. To summarize: major changes after 30, probably not (although one must leave mental room for the workings of the Holy Spirit); little changes in keeping with his overall character, yes.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, 26 January 2013


The Goth Birthday Party
It's my birthday, so I am QUEEN!

And it's a Saturday, too, which means B.A. can take me out to Birthday Lunch without having to take time off work.  Birthday Lunch will be followed by Birthday Drinks and Birthday Trip to the Cinema and then more Birthday Drinks.

Drinkie, drinkie, drinkie!

But I think nostalgically of Toronto, and the most amazing birthday party ever, which was organized by two or three of my best girlfriends when we were all Single. I may have told you about this party before.  In short, it was my Goth Birthday Party, held in my friends' two floor flat in a battered rental house. The hostesses invited a  bunch of my female friends and relations, and we all dressed up like Goths. The hostesses made a Goth Birthday Party buffet, including an astonishing spider cake. Afterwards we all went to a Goth club and danced until I dropped.

The funny thing about this party (now) is that I got the flu in the middle of it and had to take Extreme Measures in order to go on to the club. But despite this I still think that this was the ultimate birthday party of adult life---although I must say going out drinking with my Boston housemates Ted and Jonathan, with Volker and Boston Girl (see My Book) a year previously in Cambridge, MA was also great fun.

Ted is Chinese-American and Boston Girl majored in Chinese, and by 1 AM Ted had his head in his hands as Boston Girl stood outside Grafton Street in Harvard Square and drunkenly warbled hymns to Chairman Mao.

For some reason, this is one of my clearest and best birthday memories ever.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Another Kraków Retreat

There will be an Anielskie Single retreat in Kraków between October 25 and 27, 2013.  I will tell you the details when I know them. The retreat will be in Polish--although my talks will be predominantly in English, with a simultaneous Polish translation provided--and open to both women and men.

Last May there was one non-Polish speaker besides me at my first Polish retreat, an American girl living in France who speaks fluent French. I thought she was one of the bravest American girls I ever met. To spend a weekend at a religious retreat in Poland surrounded by Poles when you don't speak any Polish is very brave. Fortunately, there was also a Canadian girl there, fluent in both English and Polish, so the American girl had someone to hang out with. Most Polish girls in Krakow speak at least some English, but they are sometimes shy about it. There was also a Polish woman who spoke French very well, so that worked out nicely, too.

Kraków (Cracow in English) is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, so it is well worth a visit although I imagine, from October 25 and 27, we will all kept very busy in the retreat centre. If you do not live in Poland, it would make sense to make the retreat part of a week-long trip to Poland.  Early to mid-October is very beautiful, and November 1st, All Saints Day, is one of the most important holidays in the Polish calendar. Expats fly home to be with their families and decorate family graves. The cemeteries are beautiful, and you just might give up any lingering pagan attachment to Hallowe'en.  

It goes without saying that Poland is one of the nicest places in the world for a Roman Catholic to visit.   Poles tend not to understand this, but they are always happy when foreigners praise Poland. It is full of beautiful churches, and the churches in Kraków and Warsaw are packed on Sundays and Holy Days and First Fridays, although if you exclaim over this, the Poles will tell you that this is nothing and you should have seen them ten years ago, the congregations spilled into the streets, Catholicism in Poland is in decline, woe. They usually haven't a clue what it is like to be Catholic outside Poland.

Poland is also exciting to visit because it is in the EAST. Poles will tell you that it is not in the east but CENTRAL or even in the WEST because it is so westernized now, but once you get on a neglected highway east of Kraków, you will know you are in the EAST. (That said, Warsaw is a lot more EAST than Kraków is.)  

"Wait," I hear a voice cry. "Back up. You said something about the retreat being open to men."

Ah, yes. Ahem. Yes. Yes, it is. And this means poor Auntie has to adjust her thoughts to make them more specifically relevant for men, too, including any with SSA. It will not be like chatting to you girls with the men listening at the door. Presumably they will actually be sitting there and eating with the women and praying among us at Mass. The dynamic will be completely different from last May's retreat, but Father Paweł (whose idea this is) seems perfectly sanguine about it, so I guess it will be okay. I don't know why I am so nervous about it. Oh--just remembered.

Seraphic: And how is your mother?

Polish Man: Why do you want to know?

Seraphic: Um, because it's polite to ask?

Polish Man: British small talk is stupid.

As a matter of fact, a mixed retreat is more usual in Poland than a woman-only retreat, which was then an innovation for the retreat house. And I imagine there will be a good mix in age and circumstances--elderly widowed men, middle-aged divorced men, and youngsters who just don't want to or can't get married right now--so it will not be at all like an American Catholic Singles annual cruise ship party.

(Long pause as I try to imagine myself as a speaker at an American Catholic Singles annual cruise ship party. I bet they get paid hugely. Has anyone been on one? I am dying to know.)

Meanwhile, I plan to be in Poland for at least two weeks in October, so if any Polish readers would like me to come and speak to their group, just contact me. I can read Polish from a prepared text, but otherwise you would need someone to translate.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Limits "...on ME!"

This ab*rti*n rights video is making the rounds of Catholic and other Christian blogs either because of its unintentional giggle-factor or because it is shows the ab*rti*n rights movement at its most crass. (That said, women mourning dead children should probably not watch it.)

I have watched it twice, and I fell about laughing both times. I don't know if it is also unintentionally sexist, or unintentionally racist, or simply the most tone-deaf bit of propaganda I have seen since "Ordain a Lady." in my life.

To whom on earth is this ad supposed to appeal?  Watching it, anyone would get the impression that the director thought R v W was all about this guy and his need for unlimited sex without strings, sex being something he consumes like that glass of whiskey. "Mmm mmm mmm, baby."  (He smacks his lips.) "Ahhh...." Is he the Man of Our Dreams, or what? And has he actually cracked open that book or is it just there for show?

As most of you will have seen it elsewhere, I linked to it for the sake of the stubborn eavesdroppers, some of whom enjoy nothing more than a good laugh at a man who is making a complete ass of himself.

H/T Andrea, Bad Catholic.

Update: LifeSite doesn't think it's funny. But they actually name Mr Smooth. It turns out he's a professional actor. Crikey.

The Appalling Strangeness of Top 40

Working from home is a particularly isolating activity when you live in the middle of eighty acres of woods and parkland. The grounds of the Historical House are surrounded by a stone wall of enough Historical importance that it was not knocked down in front of the parcels of land no longer belonging to the Historical House. Across a busy street from the far end of that wall is my fitness club, and that is where I get my dose of pop culture.

The treadmill faces three televisions, each showing its own station, and I always take the treadmill in front of the television showing MTV because I associate elevated heartbeat with music. Also, I  miss dance clubs. I really miss dance clubs. To be precise, I really miss dance clubs that played trance and at least the occasional Goth anthem and The Killers, which I suppose means I miss Toronto's Velvet Underground. Why do not any of my Edinburgh friends like dance clubs? (She gently bangs her head on her desk.) Some of them are really young. What is this mania for proper partner dancing?

But I digress. For 35 minutes at a time, I watch MTV and hope it won't be too violent or too boring or so distasteful I will be less eager to go to the gym. (I haven't bought my MP3 player yet.)  Above all, I hope the music will really be dance music and not boring ballads apparently about riding horses through a grimy American housing project or about rescuing one's girlfriend from a burning building before falling to one's death. I confess to being fond of the video in which ducks massacre a gang, although it does not pass my mental danceability test.

Thirty-five minutes of MTV 2-3 times a week has cleared up some mysteries while introducing others. First of all, Britney Spears still has a career, and indeed her "Scream and Shout" video is number one. She looks pretty good, and there's nothing like recovering from a highly public breakdown to turn a pretty singer-dancer into a gay icon. There seems to be no plot in the video, so I like it very much. I don't even mind that Britney drops half her verbs.

Second, I now know who Justin Bieber is--beyond a former resident of Ontario--and I have a clue to his appeal. The "Beauty and a Beat" video is hilariously manipulative, for Justin is shot from the point of view of the female viewer, whom he is apparently leading to an amazing party while declaring his undying love, etc. But his outstretched arm is usually in the shot, and I ask myself what irresponsible jerk gave a twelve year old that tattoo? However, I would dance to that song in a club, so all is forgiven, except that disturbing line in "Baby" about buying the straying girlfriend anything she wants. The idea of boys trying to buy girls' affections with stuff makes me cross.

Third, an overweight Single woman with dark red hair and a sharp, mean face can sometimes star in music videos. Unfortunately, her choices seem limited to a terrible daily grind at a cubicle in a soulless grey carpeted office and a holiday in the Bahamas where, in her dreams, she behaves with bestial lust and greed.

Sadly, I do not remember the name of the song, which was printed in very tiny letters on the screen, although it seems to be highly ironic, for a gentle female voice promises to make our Single heroine feel better or give her the feeling she wants. And I am confused by the intentions of the director. Are we supposed to feel sorry for this woman, or are we supposed to laugh at her? Are we supposed to identify with her frustration at work, and with her psychiatrist, whose answer to her misery is more pills, but not with her outrageous sexual behaviour?  Does the director love her or hate her? The implied ending of the video made me very uncomfortable indeed.

There are many overweight, unhappy, plain women in the world. This is the first time I have seen one (a white one, anyway) star in an MTV video. At first I was delighted, for it seemed to show the reality of Single adult female life in the modern world: the alarm clock, the stupid office suits and spike heels so unsuited to heavy women, the endless piles of paperwork, the mortgage, sometimes the shrink and, alas, the pills. But I was very disappointed at the proposed solutions. And, indeed, the video makes the woman look ridiculous at the one fantasy activity I thought might really help her feel better: aerobics class.

Update: Some of last night's comments have disappeared. So sorry to Alisha and anyone else who left a comment. I approved them, but I don't know where they went!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Bedsit

Once upon a time I lived in a big room on the second floor (first floor we would say in Europe) of a very big early 20th century house that had been turned into flats. My landlady sold mutual funds; keenly interested in never having to be economically independent on anyone else ever again, I routinely bought mutual funds. I was rather susceptible to sales pitches as I had just done the unthinkable and run away from my then-husband. My landlady was a shark.

The big room came with a chest of drawers/cabinet. I soon added a futon that served as a sofa by day and as a couch by night. There must have been a table, for I remember sitting up at night before the big bay window conjugating verbs. My work ethic was admirable: I reviewed three years of high school Italian, first year university Latin, even first year Greek. I had neither a television nor a computer.

I also got up early every morning and went to the gym. Then I went to work. Then I went home to have supper before going down, three nights a week, to the boxing club. It was open only three nights a week. If it had been open five or six nights a week, I probably would have gone five or six nights a week.

On Sundays I went to Mass. I could go to Mass at only one church--the church of the priest who had said "Honey, get out when you're young"--without feeling like I wanted to kill somebody afterwards. The closest evening Mass was in a low-ceilinged church of astonishing, possibly architectural prize-winning, modernist ugliness and the entire congregation seemed grey, exhausted, and only going through the motions. This was the one period of my life when I sometimes skipped going to Sunday Mass. My justification was there was no point going to Mass if it made me that angry.

In hindsight, evening Mass--so quiet, so dull, so lacking in the great choir and the shining personality of the pastor uptown--was the one place where anger could catch up with me. It was like my very first Christian yoga class in Boston. It was not until I took that class that I realized that there was something  wrong with my foot, and that it was absolutely killing me. I hobbled away and waited for hours and hours in the college clinic (so much for snappy American private health care) to discover I had very slightly fractured it weeks before.

It amazes me that I could not have gotten rid of all that anger just through all the work I was doing. I mean, I was always working. Exercise, detailed-oriented job, exercise, verb conjugation. I ate only 1300 to 1500  low-fat calories a day: I diligently added them all up. (An apple has 90-110 calories!)  No wonder my family began to mutter words like "gaunt" when I came to visit. It amazes me that I didn't simply burn up the anger when I ran out of calories.

Boxing is a traditional Catholic cure for frustration (especially sexual) and anger. It seem like Irish-named priests in the early 20th century were always founding boxing clubs, were always sending boys to square off in the ring. Since I was in a boxing gym for up to nine hours a week, you would have thought my bruises and occasional swollen nose hid the tranquility of a nun, but no. Maybe boxing works like that for guys. (If I had a son, I would encourage him to try it.) It certainly staves off boredom. For adrenaline, there's nothing like getting into the ring and facing another violent member of homo sapiens sapiens for purposes of violence.  But it did not get rid of my anger, the anger of which I was barely conscious. Mostly I thought I was lonely.

The bedsit was heaven compared to what I had left, but some nights the walls just closed in. And this brings me back to the night I was thinking about this morning: the night I went to a dance club by myself.

There are a lot of things you might not want to do by yourself, but are perfectly doable. You can eat in a restaurant by yourself; nobody but the servers will notice. You can go to the cinema by yourself. You can even go on holiday by yourself. But I do not recommend that you leave your bedsit (bachelor apartment) late at night, walk past blocks of empty parking lots in a depressed area of town, go to a noisy dance club where you know no-one, knock back alcopop until you are drunk and then walk back past the empty parking lots at 1 AM. Although nothing bad happened to me, that was a stupid and irresponsible thing for a woman to do. At the time I thought I had been pushed out of the flat by loneliness, but it was probably not wanting to be stuck there with my anger.

I don't remember if this was before or after I finally picked up the phone and called a psychotherapist--a Catholic psychotherapist, one who advertised at the back of my comforting church. But it was in therapy that I was forced to sit still with my anger and at last begin the long task of loosening its hitherto anonymous hold on my life.

"But Marmee," says Jo in Little Women, "you are never angry."

"I am angry almost every day of my life," says Jo's saintly mother, and as a child I thought how wonderful she was to experience daily rage and yet be such a joy to be around. But what Alcott didn't mention, and what I don't want to forget, is what a blessing anger can be.

Sure, anger drove me out into the dangerous night because I couldn't stand to be alone with it. But it also propelled me into good physical health-- when I was 29 the examining nurse told me I had the heart of a 14 year old. It drove me into boxing, an experience I would not have given up for anything. It helped me to reclaim Italian and Latin and to come to grips with that bugaboo of first year uni, Greek. It thus prepared me for three years of solid academic work. Above all, it got me out of a bad marriage sooner rather than later.

So I conclude this morning that there is nothing wrong with anger in itself. (It is certainly superior to depression.) The moral questions are What should you do with it? and How do you make anger your servant, not your master?

Update: Prudence, not anger, drove me back to my computer to mention that your former boxing career is not usually something you want to mention on a first date with an NCB. Believe me on this. Few good and licit things undercut your careful projection of Devout 21st Century Catholic Femininity than your past or present ability to beat the stuffing out of somebody. Meanwhile, the Not Nice Not Catholic Not Really Anything Rats love it because they think this might mean you are kinky.  Again, believe me on this one; don't find out the hard way. Revelations of martial arts prowess should really be left for later.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Women are Who We Are

Women are who we are and not who men want us to be.

I write this as someone who always finds herself on the Droit of most questions. Over and over again, I find myself going with the more traditional, the more human, and the more rational approach, which puts me on the wrong side, not of history, but of the leading taste-makers of our societies. Some of the most divisive issues of our times, like ab*rtion and women's *rdination, involve women in a particular way, and so we conservative or traditional women find ourselves arguing the issues in a different way from men--or, if not in a different way, from a different and more privileged perspective.

There is a particular heartache in arguing against women when you are a woman because women love consensus and thrive on consensus. And women know how awful it is to be shut out of the women's collective, to have to go the well by ourselves because the other women don't want to be seen with us, unless to be seen mocking us. This is what we risk whenever we take a position unpopular with the majority of women in the room, no matter which side we're on.

This is why it comes as such a hideous disappointment to find ourselves in conflict with those men who agree, in the main, with our ideas, but deep down wish women would shut up and go away or at least conform to their idea of what women should be like. Such men are found all over the political spectrum, of course. No doubt there are men of the Gauche who think all women should be injected with contraceptives from age 13 and be allowed to skip our shots only if we have taken a state-approved parenting course and have not yet had two children. There are most definitely men of the  Gauche who bully the women in their lives, even if that is in a sneaky, passive-aggressive way they may have learned from women.

I expect opposition from the opposite side of the river, so I don't really care what its men throw at me. In fact, I don't mind their arguments because they do not affect me on an emotional level. I don't care if they like me or not. I can argue back with verve and gusto. I once amused myself greatly by overwhelming a smug atheist I met outside a cafe with Lonergan's cognitional theory. (He was one of those unusually naive cafe habitues who think Catholic students of theology must necessarily be stupid.) He was as meek as a mouse when I was done.

However, to this day I do not know how to cope with the knife in the back--the insults and insinuations of male ideological allies, from the weirdos who complain about women's trousers to the hotheads who think femininity is incompatible with intellectual discourse.

Simcha Fischer's solution to the "pants" (always trousers in the UK, girls) problem, was to whip out a card ("pants pass") with one's husband's (or presumably father's) signature, saying the wearer had his permission to wear them. Today I think a better solution is to look angrily at the speaker and demand "Who are you? How DARE you make such personal remarks to me?"

I hope I would remember to do that. Like most women, I don't like confrontation. It just does not come that easily. This is one reason why men should not simply march up to women and start a fight. We're at a terrible psychological disadvantage; it's simply unfair.

As a matter of fact, I understand the "pants (TROUSERS) problem" because I used to sit in the back choir stalls at Mass, and when all the other women at Mass are wearing coats or skirts, the one female rump lovingly outlined by tightly-clinging denim, lycra or cotton shines out like a red lamp on a dark street. It at least momentarily distracts everybody, me, the choir, the tea ladies--everyone, not just angry old men. So, in such situations, wear something over it. Elsewhere, however, where trousers are rather more the rule than the exception, anyone who is angered by your rump in particular has a personality problem, and if he says something, get in his face. "Who are YOU? How DARE you?" Channel your best mother/teacher voice.

But as for the hotheads who think femininity is incompatible with intellectual discourse, I simply do not know what to do.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

There are these guys at Cath Soc who are pretty great. I get along with them most of the time, and we all go to the TLM, and I admire the way they take their (our) ideological/theological opponents' arguments to pieces. But I don't like it when they take my ideas to pieces in a way that seems to be more ad hominem than anything else, particularly when their response is "Oh, how just like a woman." 

When I point that out, they say if I'm going to argue like a man, I should take my lumps like a man.    However, I am not conscious of arguing like a man, per se, but like a rational being. 

Then there are other guys who hold the same ideological/theological positions I hold who talk about educated/pretentious women, as if education and pretension were the same thing. However, if I were to stop talking altogether, or consciously dumb down everything I say or write, wouldn't that make me really pretentious? Sometimes I am tempted to do that, though, because these guys are so nice to the girls who are constantly running down their own intellectual gifts, e.g. "I'm not an intellectual; really, I just want to get married and have babies. Isn't that AW-ful?  Hee hee hee!" However, it's too late. They know I'm smart--or that I think I'm smart, anyway. Sorry.

What am I supposed to do? And please don't tell me just to ignore these guys or have nothing to do with them. These are my theological/ideological allies, and I like them 75% of the time, and if they would just adjust their thinking about women and intellect they would be perfectly perfect. 

Tearing My Hair Out

Dear Tearing My Hair Out,

Hmm...... Hmm.....

I don't know.  In the end, I've always just given up--long after many other women would--and walked away.

The only thing I can suggest is that, since they expect women to be emotional anyway, is to cut either one off the next time he says "Just like a woman" and tell him you don't think he knows as much about women as he thinks he does.

If he suggests that you are not a "real woman" because you reason "like a man," tell him that powers of reasoning are neither masculine or feminine. What is feminine is a susceptibility to being more badly wounded than men are (if men are) in ad hominem attacks by men one likes.

I'm sorry not to be more helpful.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 21 January 2013

Triddery in Boston

I received an email today from a member of the newly formed Boston branch of Juventutem. They organize the Extraordinary Form of the Mass twice a month, and have socials and lectures. Although apparently a lot of fine young men (see photos--gracious!) turn out for these wonderful events, what Juventutem Boston doesn't have yet is a lot of women.

Well, this must change. If you find yourself orthodox, lonely and apparently the only Catholic in Chestnut Hill who loves the Holy Father, off you go to Juventutem. Latin-loving Brighton, Jamaica Plain, Southie, Braintree, Somerville, Cambridge and other Boston-and-environs types should go, too. Tell them I sent you.

Anna, daughter of Phanuel

I have been reading up on Candlemas (Feb 2) today, a feast I particularly love because one of the blessing prayers mentions the bees.  I am a bit afraid of bees, actually, but I think it is great fun when they are mentioned in church, especially in a solemn way, in Latin.

The Gospel reading is about the purification of Our Lady (after childbirth) and the presentation of Our Lord. It mentions an elderly man and an elderly widow, and although the elderly man composed the Nunc Dimittis on the spot, it is Anna who interests me today.

According to Luke, Anna lived with her husband for seven years before she was widowed.  I don't know why Anna was living in the temple; maybe her husband or her father  had some kind of important temple connection. (Off the top of my head, I would guess it was her father, as Anna is known as the Daughter of Phanuel, not the Widow of Somebody Else.) But at any rate, Anna lived there, praying and fasting, until at least the age of 84.

Now, if Anna married at 14, which would have been perfectly normal for those days, this means she was widowed at 21 and stayed a widow for at least the next fifty-nine years. Presumably she could have married again, but presumably she didn't want to. She was happy in the temple, praying and fasting and doing whatever it may have been that women who lived in the temple were expected to do, and after fifty-nine years of temple living, met Baby Jesus.

That's pretty neat, if you ask me. It's amazing how little space Anna's story has in the Gospel, given its hold on our imaginations. Anna, daughter of Phanuel, tribe of Asher. Widow, aged 87. Married 7 years. Never left temple, worshiped, prayed, fasted. Came to Presentation/Purification ceremony. Recognized Jesus for who He was. Praised and preached. The end--or the beginning, really. Now Anna is one of the most famous women who ever was, for the Bible is the most widely read book there ever has been. More importantly, of course, she got to see Jesus before she died, as an actual baby. Maybe she was allowed to hold him and bounce him up and down. Wouldn't you love to do that?

Anna seems like a serious and single-hearted woman, not given to mourning over what-could-have-been and feeling sorry for herself or envying women with children or any of the temptations adult women give into every day. Those fifty-nine years of  life, though pious, couldn't have been dull. They must have been lived in joyful expectation of something great to come, and lo and behold, He did!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Delightful Polish Bachelor Humour

(Illustration by Allie Brosh.)

I do not know to whom to credit this most amusing cartoon, sent to me by a NCB in western Poland.

My (not entirely literal) translation is as follows.

"Who are we?" "We are guys!"

"What do we want?" "Girls!"

"Why don't we have any?" "We're afraid to talk to them!"

So maybe it's not just the lousy economy and the measly one-time-only 1000 zl baby bonus.


One of the weirder things about men, at least men in the English-speaking countries, is that they don't seem to care that much about their birthdays. Maybe it's because they don't fancy being King of the World for one day of the year; it implies that they are not King of the World all the year around. Or maybe the charming schoolyard tradition of "paddywhacks" (spanks or kicks to the behind)--which for the first time I realize is an anti-Irish slight possibly confined to the Province of Ontario--teaches them that birthdays = violence, so it is better to shut up about it.

However one thing men must learn if they wish to get along with women is that the majority of women--particularly women of the girly-girl variety, with whom I proudly align myself--really care about birthdays.

I went to an all-girls school, and there it was the custom for a girl's friends to decorate her locker for her birthday. This provided an early lesson in the need to actually inform your friends that it is your birthday. It also inculcated a strong sense of responsibility for the birthday happiness of others, for what kind of a friend leaves her friend's locker undecorated on her birthday? Finally, it was a bracing test of the fine feminine skill of mind-reading and gauging the social hierarchy, for it was necessary also to know whose job it was to organize the birthday locker-dressing.

(This is the point at which male readers, totally confused, are likely to click away to something else. Here you go, boys. And here.)

In adult life, particularly adult Single life, responsibility for a happy birthday usually falls upon the birthday girl, who has to organize things for herself, even if it is merely saying to her female flatmates, "It's my birthday next week." If the flatmates scurry into girly-girl organizational action, all is well. But if they aren't that sort of flatmate, then the birthday girl has to think more carefully and rather more obviously organize a happy birthday for herself.

When I was twenty-nine about to turn thirty, I was very very Single indeed, not having been on a date for a year or so, and spending as much time as possible writing bad poetry at the local bohomenian cafe. (This place was packed with Goths, artists, writers, rep theatre types, philosophy students, and the local Lothario, a housepainter named Graham.) I did not like the idea of turning thirty, but I liked the idea of dying even less, so I decided to turn thirty with a bang.

I invited a great number of friends, both from the town I was living in and my hometown (an hour away), to dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in town (for which they would have to pay) and then back to my tiny bachelor flat for cake. And a tremendous number of friends did turn up, and they insisted on paying for my own dinner, and we went back to my place for cake, and it was all marvellous.

The mistake many Single women make is to assume that boyfriends and husbands just naturally take birthdays into their own hands and organize them as merrily as if they were girls. This is sometimes true, but very often NOT. No, many married women (at very least) have either to explain the importance of birthdays or stew in disappointed resentment. Marriage not being courtship, and marriage being permanent, I think even a good sparky quarrel on the topic is preferable to "Oh poor me. My husband isn't doing anything for my birthday. He thinks it is a movable feast, and we can do something next week instead. Sniff, sniff. I need a cookie."

Amusingly, just after I wrote the title for this post, B.A. dropped by to ask what I want to do on my birthday. Good call.

What is your idea of a fun birthday?

Friday, 18 January 2013

More First Date Thoughts

Yesterday's appeal has had interesting and fruitful results although I was a tad taken aback at Mark's combox, which was not likely to win hearts and minds among the orthodoxy testers and other men who approach a date as though it were a high school debating competition.

To be honest, I don't remember going on a date with an orthodoxy tester since high school. And it was in high school that I announced I would never go on a date with a guy who couldn't name three Roman emperors. Adolescence is arrogance, and it hasn't occurred to me to trot out my classical litmus test in years.

Yes, it seems that the college-age are more likely to "hang out" than to go on real, cut-and-dried dates, but a date is most likely when you meet another Over-25 in a formal circumstance or over a dating website. People with 9-5 jobs or serious deadlines don't have many opportunities for deconstructed hanging-out slacker playtime.

The last good first date I remember being on--"good" meaning that it led to a second date--was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As you may have read in my book, it came about because after a month or so of waiting for the cute German physicist to ask me out for coffee, I asked him why he didn't ask me out for coffee. So he asked me out for coffee.

Coffee was in the cafe he suggested, and all I remember about the cafe was that that it was chic in that comfortable Cambridge way I loved so much. I also remember going intentionally into light, funny and yet not so talkative mode. I asked about Van Der Graaf generators. (Don't ask. It's one of the two physics things I knew about.) Volker complained about the German tax office. I called an end to coffee after an hour and a half or so, and Volker walked me to my bus stop.

(The second date was dinner at an Italian restaurant, and the third date involved a tour of the physics lab which was a million times cooler than the physics labs on "The Big Bang Theory" because it was (A) real and (B) Harvard.)

The last bad first date I remember in any detail was some months after Volker broke up with me (the beast!), and I was back in Toronto, teaching ESL to private clients. One of them, a lively Korean girl, insisted on sending me on a blind date at a cafe with a university lecturer she called George, Professor. This was a complete disaster for I was inclined to talk about theology (why?) and George, Professor was Greek Orthodox. Although he didn't seem to know much theology, he found it necessary to inform me that Catholicism was definitely second banana to Greek Orthodoxy. The conversation ground to a halt when I asked "Why?"

Aha! So I have been on a date with an orthodoxy tester, although really that was more of a case of Religious Dialogue Going Horribly Wrong. And I suspect the situation was my fault, for allowing any mention of theology even though at the time I was on leave from my doctoral studies in theology. Theology is just not a good topic for a first date.

I recommend swotting up on whatever else Mr First Date is interested in and asking him intelligent questions about it. Really, the important thing is to keep it light and not to spill your guts about really personal stuff, and asking men questions so that they can talk about stuff they like that is a good way of doing that.

This, though, reminds me of the legendary Strong, Silent Type, and I am wondering what a first date with a Strong, Silent Type would be like. Obviously the classic conversation-over-coffee would not be ideal unless you have the ability to sit across from a silent man over a cup of coffee without feeling rattled or bored. But surely even the Strong and Silent Man has some thoughts that he would put into words, if only you could find the the magic word to open the subterranean cave of his mysterious mind.

You: What a charming cafe!

Him: Hmmm.

Long silence.

You: And what a nice waitress. I can't place her accent, though. Minnesota?

Him: Dunno.

Long silence.

You (desperately): I think this cream jug shaped like a cow is very witty.

Him: They got the spots wrong.

You: Pardon?

Him: They got the spots wrong. It's shaped like a Jersey cow, but it's spotted like a Holstein.

You: You know about cows?

Him: Hmmm.

You (hastily): I mean, why do you know about cows?

Him: Well, my grandparents had cows, and I uster help them out. They had Jerseys and Holsteins and some Black Angus and... [Etc., etc., ad infinitum until he is done and sits back happily, flushed with pleasure at all this bovine reminiscence.]

You: That sounds great, but I'm a little afraid of cows.

Him: There's nothing to be afraid of. I'll show you some.

You: Really?

Him: Hmm.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Dear Father Z and Mark Shea

Dear Father Z and Mark Shea,

I am writing to you because I believe you are read by the largest number of Seriously Catholic Single Men in the USA and Canada, or certainly ought to be. Personally, I write my blog for Seriously Catholic Single Women, and after reading their thoughts about Seriously Catholic Single Men in America, I have a request.

Would you please ask the Seriously Catholic Single Men of the USA and Canada not to mention Theology of the Body on the first date? The Seriously Catholic Single Women of the USA and Canada do not like discussing sex, no matter how marital, on the first date. Even secular humanists just out for what they can get tend not to put their sexual cards on the table until the third date.

Frankly, it makes my readers blush. My readers don't even know if they are even remotely attracted your readers yet, and there your readers are, saying, "So... Christopher West. Ever heard of him?" It rather ruins the mystery, Father and Mark. A nice Catholic girl doesn't know what to say. Obviously she wants to make a good impression on Seriously Catholic Single Men, but that doesn't mean she wants to discuss mutual gifting on the first date.

Additionally, it would be kind if you reminded readers that Catholic dating websites often conduct orthodoxy tests on their members when they sign up, so there is no reason for your readers to behave, on the first date, as if they are volunteers for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the women across from them at the coffee tables of the world are Mary Daly, alive again and in disguise. They aren't.

The whole point to a first date, as apart from a first winkie on a dating site and an introductory email in an In-box, is to discover if a man and a woman have any spark or sense of rapport when they meet in person. It should involve polite, lighthearted and humorous chit-chat or, if there must be a deep, soulful discussion of something, a deep, soulful discussion that does not involve the most private thoughts and most personally held beliefs of either party. There is a reason dates used to be preceded by a trip to the cinema: it gave the man and the woman something neutral but shared to talk about. A man who needs to discuss women's ordination on the first date gives the unpleasing and heterodox suggestion that he thinks his date might personally bring it about.

On behalf of my readers, dear Father Z and Mark Shea, uncrowned earthly vicars of the anglophone segment of the Catholic blogosphere, I ask for your intercession in this matter.

Auntie Seraphic


Update: Thanks, Mark! :-D Ooh la la, the spike in hits. It's not every day Seraphic Singles hits 1,000 before bedtime. my book? But, seriously, something had to be said, and since men famously listen to other men even when they don't listen to women, I'm glad Mark (so far) has said it.

The "How We Met" Post

There has been a request for a post in which Married readers tell Searching Singles how we met our husbands. I apologize if there is already a post like this because although it is a fun idea, this is a Singles blog after all.

At parties I don't like being asked where I met my husband because both "through friends" and "over the internet" sound too vague, although both are true. I prefer to say, "I'm a writer, and Benedict Ambrose wrote to me after reading my stuff" although that sounds a bit precious.

The truth of the matter is that I was in Canada talking to Aelianus of Laodicea in England over Skype while scrolling through his Facebook friends, saying, "Come on, Aelianus, who do you got for me?" when Aelianus said, "How would you like to live in a Historical House?"

And this was the first time ever I heard about B.A. Come to think of it, that would make a nice story for strangers at parties. I don't care if they think I sold myself for Georgian architecture. Georgian architecture is very soothing to the soul.

So today the few married lady and widowed readers are encouraged to chime in and explain how and where you met your husbands. (Maybe the engaged readers could also chime in to explain how and where you met your fiances.) If it was at college, and it so often is for those who marry young, say where at college, e.g. in the chorus of "The Mikado" in the Dramatic Society or at after-Mass tea with Cath Soc.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Mauled By A Bear?

This email has been edited for length and details:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm a long-time reader, and I'm really in need of some professional guidance on how to deal with flaky Type B guys when you are a reliable Type A girl trying to cultivate a Girl Next Door kind of persona (as you so helpfully suggested in a recent post).

I just got stood up for the first time ever by someone I thought was really interested in me, and I need your help on how to deal and not internalize all of it.

Back story: I joined a stupid online dating website when I moved to a new town after college. A guy in my area who seemed really cool and interesting messaged me, and we eventually--after one date cancelled at the very last minute due to illness--met in person for coffee and hit it off.

For about a month we were going on dates once or twice a week, and I felt confident that he was interested--despite the fact that he was prone to planning things last-minute and not being prompt about communication--and that I was being clear about my interest in him too, while not coming off as desperate or overeager even though I haven't been involved with anyone in years. I liked him a lot; he is quite intelligent and fun to talk to and attractive and seemed to have good relationships with his friends and family.

The last time I saw him, we met up for a drink and then to hang out at my apartment. It was late and snowy, and he asked if he could stay the night. Being a Good Girl I said he was welcome to crash on the couch but me and my bed were off-limits. I gave him the Talk and he passed the test with flying colors, saying he was perfectly fine with my beliefs and ethics and it was really ok (he is not Christian or religious at all). I really thought he was fine with it as we moved to a different conversation topic and talked about tentative plans for later in the week. He then walked home and sent me a sweet goodnight text.

That was […] ago. Since then, every time we try to make plans, whether it’s lunch or a movie or a drink at a local bar, there’s always some excuse that seems legitimate, but they’ve mounted to a point that seems ridiculous.

At first I thought, "It’s the holidays, things get crazy, I understand". Then I left town to visit family. We texted back and forth every other day or so, him usually initiating. He asked me what I was doing for New Year’s because there was [an event] he wanted to invite me to, but I wasn't in town. I told him when I arrived back in town, but then he didn't seem in too much of a rush to make plans. A couple of times now I've asked him to maybe hang out sometime, and he either doesn't respond or later replies with an excuse, e.g. "My bike got stolen so I can't come over there/I had to work/I lost my phone".

The other night he made definite plans, changed them the day of, and then canceled last minute because he had to work late. I tried to reschedule for the next afternoon/evening, and then he finally agreed to get lunch this afternoon. Well, lo and behold, I arrive at the restaurant on time: no guy. I sit, drink my coffee for an hour and read my book, send a non-pushy “where are you” text after 20 minutes, then go for a long fuming walk around town imagining all the horrible things I was going to say to his inevitable explain-y text or email that as yet, five hours later, has not arrived. I am not actually going to send a nasty text/email, as that would not be gracious.

Seraphic, I know you say to go with your gut intuition, but my gut goes back and forth on this one. Up til the past few days, it said “He likes you, he texts you pretty regularly and asks you to do things, you simply have two different personality types (planner vs. non-planner), you are being overly suspicious of his legitimate reasons for not being able to hang out.” But for the past week or so it's been saying “He’s just not that into you, he’s found a hotter girl who will put out, you’re annoying him with your texting, you’re the fallback girl/a crazy person.” I hate my gut. My gut is being self-loathing right now and I don’t like that. Of course, after being stood up today I feel like he doesn't like me that much after all.

I also feel like this is all my fault for getting even casually involved with a non-Christian guy who expects sex on the third or fifth or whatever date, and I shouldn’t be surprised that he is no longer invested in making plans or seeing me. I thought he passed the Talk Test at first with an A, but based on the evidence I am no longer sure. I know it looks like, in writing, that I was doing all the initiating and texting and pushing, but really it has only been this past week or so because I have been so fed up with not seeing him for so long. “If only I can see him in person,” I have thought, “Then perhaps we can have a conversation about communication styles and whether or not we really are compatible/capable of compromise on this.”

Seraphic, I am not being gracious or full of Christian charity right now. I am angry at him, at myself for being so stupid. Did I mention that I hate experiencing strong feelings? And becoming vulnerable and trusting guys who have the ability to hurt me? I should also add that I do have a busy and active life full of social time with friends, a fulfilling job, regularly going to church, hobbies, etc., so it's not like I'm sitting at home every night staring at my phone, willing this guy to call me. I am trying to cultivate detachment, not get too invested/infatuated in any one guy, and not be surprised if this sort of thing happens but it is hard.

As far as real-life consequences of all this go, I’ve deleted that stupid online dating profile and am resolved to just Get On With My Life Already and wait for someone who is actually interested. However, I’m still tempted to send an email asking what happened/gently reprimanding him once I've cooled down. Would that be a horrible idea?

The last time I thought he ignored a lunch invitation I sent a polite check-in email because the conversation had just stopped all of a sudden and he responded saying that he had tried to set something up but my phone hadn't received any messages from him...which I think I believe. If he gets in touch with some awesome excuse...e.g. he was mauled by a bear...and apologizes profusely and wants to make it up to me, should I let him?

Mauled By a Bear?

I got this late at night, so I responded with my usual "I'll sleep on it" plus a variation on "Don't misdirect your anger at yourself. He's the undependable one, not you."

Dear Mauled By a Bear,

It is day, so I am less tired and more brainy, and I hope you are feeling better. My initial thoughts are still the same: he's an ass, and you are not. You didn't do anything wrong, and he's an undependable flake. You just wash that man right out of your hair. Do not direct your clearly justifiable anger towards yourself. It's bad for you.

It is sad when charming men behave like undependable flakes. Being with them and talking with them is so much fun that when at last you meet up, you forgive them for their flakiness. You forgive the fact that he left you hanging for a week, or changed the date or venue three times. You are just happy he's there with you. It is perfectly understandable.

BUT! There comes a moment when, as Camille Paglia once said, "the chills outnumber the thrills." If a man is always late or (much worse) taking a rain-check, that is annoying, but may be a personality quirk worth putting up with. (I'd say lateness, yes, constant rain-checks, no.) HOWEVER, if a man stands you up without explanation, without a text, without a sincere apology and flowers to back it up, then he must be scraped off like a barnacle. Ultimately he is just too thoughtless and selfish for you.

It's not even a case of "He's just not that into you" because, although he isn't, the important thing is that he isn't even worth keeping as a friend. It's not that he might have faked his answer to The Talk. It's not that he's a non-Christian. It's that this time he hasn't even paid you the courtesy of cancelling the date in advance. This has nothing to do with you or your desirability. It is entirely about him and his flakiness.

I cannot see the point to texting him, which would merely give him another opportunity to be rudely silent. So instead give him the cold shoulder, and if he should contact you again, tell him you aren't interested in any man who would stand you up.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

As for the rest of you, I will not now say never suggest you two do something together, if he has already suggested the first two or three get-togethers. But if you want to know if a guy really likes you, you have to leave the heavy social lifting to him. Let him be the first to text in a text stream. Let him be the first to email in an email stream. If he wants to see you, he will ask to see you. Men do what they want, and usually try to get out of whatever they don't want. End of story.

If he doesn't want to see you, well, that's too bad, and obviously he has bad taste, but that's not your fault and you don't want to see everyone yourself, either. Meanwhile, one of the hallmarks of Mr Right is that he will almost always want to see you.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Define "Normal"

Things are heating up in a recent combox in part because of the distinction between hanging out, which is fun but not serious, and dating, which is serious but not necessarily fun.

But the larger controversy, one that one reader has admitted may apply only to the USA, or only to conservatives in the USA, is that it has been proposed that available church-going, doctrine-abiding Catholic men are not normal.

Which leads to the questions: "What do you girls mean by normal?" "What is a normal Catholic man?" and "Can we expect Catholic men to be normal when many of the norms of the world are opposed to Catholic doctrine?"

Personally, I have come across very few Catholic men who have made me actually uncomfortable with their eccentricities. But I have met many men who have made me uncomfortable with their slavish conformity to popular culture.

Take your thoughts to the combox, and as usual, ladies only, although keep in mind various men are still reading.

Beautiful Buttery Carrot Soup

And now for something completely different: a recipe for a great vat of carrot soup. It is very inexpensive if a bit labour-intensive.

This is a recipe that feeds at least twelve. You can give 11 - 12 people big bowls of soup, or you can give 11 - 12 people little bowls of soup and then offer them more later. It is suitable for vegetarians, the gluten-intolerant and Fridays.

You need two big soup pots or one big soup pot and a big frying pan. I use a hand-held blender, but I am sure you could use a normal blender or food processor.

Beautiful Buttery Carrot Soup

4 Tbsp butter
3.5 pounds of carrots (£1 at Tesco last week)
3.5 medium onions
3.5 teaspoons of sugar
3.5 teaspoons of garam masala
10 cups of good-quality vegetable stock (I use Kallo organic, gluten-free cubes)
fine sea salt
white pepper

1. Peel carrots and dice them. This will take a long time.

2. Chop onions.

3. Divide butter between two pots or pot and pan and melt over low heat.

4. Divide carrots and onions between the two pots or pot and pan and fry in butter on low heat until they are soft but not browned. This will also take time. Check on them every once in a while, giving them a stir.

5. When carrots are soft, put the mixture in the pot or bigger pot. It needs to be a very big pot.

6. Add the sugar, the garam masala and the ten cups of stock.

7. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

8. Take your handy-dandy hand blender and blitz the soup until all the carrots and onions are pulverized. Alternatively, cool the soup and blend in batches in a proper blender. Blend and blend and blend until every bit of carrot is squashed. Then go through the soup with a slotted spoon to eliminate the stubborn bits of carrot that have escaped.

9. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

10. If the soup has cooled, either heat it up again to serve or put it in the fridge to be heated up tomorrow. Serve piping hot.

The garam masala adds "heat" but not "bite", at least if it is the garam masala one gets in jars at Tesco.

Using veggie stock instead of chicken allows the carrots to shine out like the sunny elixir of life they really are.

To make soup for 2-3, just use one pot, two Tbsp butter, one pound of carrots, one onion, one tsp of sugar, one tsp garam masala and 3 cups of veggie stock.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Dating is Not Dead

Two readers have brought my attention to this New York Times article about Single people in New York, always a fiendishly difficult city to find a spouse in, or so I have been told for years.

My first thought is "sub-culture."

When your sub-culture is all about sex-without-strings, men-and-women-are-the-same, sexy-gives-me-the-edge-at-work, letting-it-all-hang-out, internet pornography and doing whatever you can to claw your way into fashionable jobs, then--no--courtship is not going to happen. Not until the men hit thirty or start going bald or start panicking about having healthy children. Because only then will they be willing to give up the smorgasbord of sex and serial monogamy for the comfort and stability of marriage (or ""equivalent) to one woman.

Incidentally, in what universe is David Mamet's 22 year old actor daughter the poster girl for American "Millennial" life? Of course her dumb-ass boyfriend tried to get her daddy to pay for dinner. Cads have been trying to get the rich fathers of the women they bamboozle to pay for their treats ever since they couldn't be legally whacked for it.

By the way, it's a bit of a hoot that the girl at the beginning of this article put on her "favourite skinny black jeans" in anticipation of her Friday night date. Boy, that's Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers right there.

It is a bit mad to expect cutting-edge-of-latest-fashion people or simply conventional-to-Manhattan people to follow in the sensible footsteps of bygone generations. No, if you are really interested in romantic courtship, men acting out traditional courtship roles with an eye to wife and family, then you have to look beyond the chattering class to other sub-cultures, sub-cultures that care about family, not just family names.

I'm thinking guys who go to church, although of course they will be enough affected by the expectations and fads of the people who created the TV shows of their generation. I'm thinking guys from cultures that have super-strong family bonds. I'm thinking guys in male-dominated careers of the kind women aren't yet much interested in (unfortunately), like plumbing and construction: guys who don't take women for granted because they aren't around us all day long.

Not so long ago, I was asked why English girls are converting to Islam. Hmm. Let me see... Because Muslim men like to get married and have kids? Because Muslims have strong expectations for what men act like and for what women act like? Because Islam provides strong family ties, a compelling philosophy and some great food? Because Muslim men like to get married and have kids?

Anyway, I don't want to suggest you limit yourselves only to church groups and wider Catholic networks, although really I think they are the best hope for Catholic girls serious about getting married and having kids before the age of thirty. As I've said before, I think you should also get to know the "cousins of the devout"--the Italian, Hispanic and Polish guys who slack off from church except at Christmas and Easter.

In a pinch, you might consider joining film clubs that concentrate on the pre-1963 period. There are an awful lot of male romantics in such clubs, sighing silently over the courtship dynamics, the clever, wise-cracking women, the marvelous complexions that you too can buy from Max Factor.

Because dating is not really dead, save among the sort of people who get the uncritical attention of the New York Times. But, yes, there does seem to be an awful lot of "hanging out" and technically I never went on a date with B.A. I just sort of showed up, and everyone at church looked at us with googly eyes and manufactured dinner parties until we got unofficially engaged.

Listen, we're a tad weird, and we're no more poster children for ordinary life than David Mamet's daughter.

Okay, your turn. Read the article and tell me what you think of it. I personally know boys of your generation who got tired of just "hanging out" and actually asked girls on dates. The thing is, though, is that these were serious, Catholic guys thinking about potential marriage to serious, Catholic women, having reached the age at which they thought they should get a move on.

Squishy Totalitarianism

I like to joke that I am learning Polish in anticipation that the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829) will be repealed. If we can't get to Canada, we can flee eastward.

Note Telegraph article. And this.

Morning After The Party of the Night Before

Today's proper post will be late if even existent, for yesterday B.A. and I hosted a lunch for 8 (unmarried) people from 3 PM to 11:30 PM, and this morning I am meeting a married friend and her little baby.

I imagine our guests would be startled to hear themselves described only as unmarried, but as this is a blog about Single Life, I mention it. (One was a priest; he left earliest.)

It is a great joy to me that B.A. and I managed to get ten people around the table in our attic dining-room. It was perhaps a bit of a squash, but it was tolerable and eventually I took the ladies away anyway to the soft chairs of the sitting-room.

For some reason the theme song of Sunday Lunches these days is "The Lost Chord." I know we are mostly Young (and Still Surprisingly Youthful) Fogeys, but I am rather astonished at this Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936) obsession.

And of course there was a lot of gloomy Polish tango music until one of the Englishmen complained so I put Eugenieuz Bodo on. His songs are more cheerful and... Oh dear. He died in the Gulag. What a thought for a Monday morning. Sigh...

Nobody but the priest had to go home alone (as you will recall, my least favourite part of Single life) because two are housemates and the remaining five all clambered into the same black cab. I suspect the party, over in the Historical House, continued in the black cab.

Every single everyday-therefore-suitable-for-large-parties cup and dish in the house has been used and rinsed. They are waiting for me hopefully by the sink.

Somebody left his diary in the bathtub.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

How Singles Can Annoy Married People

Note to New Readers: I have written for Single people, in a Single-positive way, for six years, at least six days a week. This is the only post I have ever written in all that time that describes why married people occasionally get fed up with their Single friends. Many Single people have complained to me that they feel abandoned by married friends. Whereas the number one reason why they don't see their married friends so much any more is that with marriage comes responsibilities, work, and a husband who often wants his wife to stay home and keep him company, there are indeed a few things that bug some married people about some of their single friends and acquaintances and even just single strangers.

I am posting this explanation because I am tired of complete strangers telling me I hate Singles.

I will have to breathe in and out for a bit to get my composure. I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook conversation about Singledom.

There was a complaint that the Church does "nothing" for Single people, which is what I was going to write about, but then I caught a remark directed at me that contradicted my feelings of being alone on New Year's Eve.

I had volunteered that my husband and I were alone on New Year's Eve because most of our friends were at a party for Singles, and how great it was that Singles could take matters in their own hands and plan events for themselves. The divorced person pointed out that I was not really alone, as I was with I was my husband. ":-)"

I saw red.

One should never write anything when seeing red, so I clicked away from Facebook.

I will not go into the reasons (yet) I saw red, or a defense of my feelings of loneliness on New Year's Eve, which actually had nothing to do with the Singles' party and something to do with being 5,338 kilometers from home and family. Instead I will try to write something constructive.

I have been writing for Singles for at least six years, and I was Single from birth until 25 and then (arguably) from the age of 26 to 38, although the annulment didn't come through until I was 28. So that's at least ten years of dithering What-Is-My-Vocation? and Where-Is-He? Single Life, plus much correspondence with Single people. And, admittedly unusually, most of my social circle in Edinburgh is composed of Single people. I want you to keep that in mind when you read my following remarks.

One of the biggest complaints of Singles that I come across is that they are left out of social events hosted by Married Friends. I imagine this is true of some Married Friends, including B.A. and me, although we have no policy of shunning Single friends. Our resources are limited, so we invite some friends some times, and others other times. We invite Singles alone or with other Singles or with Married people, or entertain just one or two Married couples, and we don't think marital status is much of a guest list issue. (I might briefly ponder the kindness of a guest being the ONLY Single there, and the danger of being suspected of setting up the ONLY female Single guest with the ONLY male Single guest.)

B.A. and I entertain unusually often for Married People, and here is something Singles often don't get: Married People don't usually have much time or inclination for non-family parties.(Married men are notoriously wedded to sofa and TV.)

This is particularly true if they have children. Children are often so embarrassing and their behaviour so non-adult, that it seems to their parents a kindness to inflict them only on their relations, who love them, and on other adults with children, who are guaranteed to understand/be immune.

Also, the Married State is so different from the Single State that Married People often find a relief in the company of Married People we do not find among Singles. There is just so much that can be explained without words.

And then some Single people (not all, obviously, since my own Single friends tend not to do this) annoy Married People by constantly talking about being Single, and how sad it is to be Single, and how much better it is to be Married, and how lucky the Married friend is.

Some Married People (like me) do not mind talking to Single People about their Single state. Others can't stand it.

Some Married People, perceiving the Singleness as a problem to be solved, offer thoughtful spouse-hunting advice, which the Single tearfully rejects. Some Married People, thinking one should look on the Bright Side of Single Life, suggest ways in which other Singles have found happiness, which the Single tearfully rejects.

Some Married People invite a Single woman and a Single man to the same parties, thinking these Singles will be pleased, only to be berated later. Some Married People avoid matchmaking entirely, only to be berated eventually.

With some Singles, some Married People think they just can't win.

In short, it's not necessarily because a Single is Single that she or he isn't invited to parties.

One of the things about being Married is that you see Single life from the other side, and can report back to Single friends about what useful information you can now see. So here is what I've learned:

Here are ways to annoy a Married Person:

1. Deny or belittle her experiences or feelings, particularly with the remark "Well, at least you have a husband."

Married Woman: I miss my family so much.
Unusually Clueless Single: Well, at least you have a husband.

Married Woman: Actually I was in hospital. Miscarriage.
Unusually Clueless Single: I'm sorry. Well, at least you have a husband.

Married Woman: Paid work, housework. Paid work, housework. Paid work, housework. Visit parents. Visit in-laws. It never ends, and I never have time to myself, and sometimes I wish I could just run away to Paris for a weekend.
Unusually Clueless Single: Well, at least you have a husband.

2. Tell a Married Person what marriage is supposed to be like (beyond non-abusive).

Unusually Clueless Single: Sex isn't really that important to a marriage, is it?

Unusually Clueless Single: The work of marriage should be 50-50!

Unusually Clueless Single: The most important thing is that sex be romantic!

Unusually Clueless Single: NFP is just so easy! Why would anyone ever be tempted to use anything else?

3. Upbraid a Married Person for noticing that some of the 3.5 billion men she is not married to are attractive. Trowel on the shame. Go on. She deserves it.

Married Woman: Ah, that new usher is certainly a charmer!

Unusually Clueless Single: I'm really shocked to hear you say that. You, a married woman!

4. Upbraid or gossip about a Married Person for inviting you to a party in which you were the only Single, or the only Single your age, or one of two Singles, the other being male.

5. Upbraid or gossip about a Married Person for not inviting you to a party in which you would have been the only Single, or the only Single your age, or one of two Singles, the other being a male who could have been the One.

In general, people like people who are happy, upbeat, don't complain much and don't take swipes at them for their way of life. And most of my Single friends are like that, which is one reason why I have so many Single friends.

Don't worry. I will soon write another post on ways in which Married People Can Annoy Singles, although readers will be much more up-to-date on that than I!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Latest CR Column

Here's my latest column in the Catholic Register, inspired by a setting of "Christe Redemptor Omnium."

I could have gone on forever about how neither "fun" nor sentimental indulgence in "feelings" is a decent substitute for beauty, but I had an 800 word maximum.

By the way, whoever likes to sentimentalize the "house churches" of the first and second century has not been to Mass in a big old Scottish house chapel on a cold and damp day!

Decently Concealed

Yesterday I wrote about verbal abuse, and I am sad that some of my readers have undergone it in the past and that at least one of you has been suffering for four years from the nastiness of a supervisor at work.

It makes me furious thinking about goodhearted girls and women doing their best to be quiet enough, or diligent enough, or polite enough, just to wring a scrap of praise from the person with power over them, or at least not to be sneered at or belittled. But their best just doesn't work. It doesn't work because the girls and women are not causing the abuse. The abuser is causing the abuse and will abuse no matter what the girls or women do. It's how she or he gets his or her miserable kick. He or she is a bully and with bullies the only thing to do is stand up to them or to remove oneself from their reach. And then the work of healing begins.

Healing is something best done behind closed doors, usually with a healer and those people who understand what you have gone through because they have gone through it themselves. It is such a relief to know that one is not alone, and one of the most important conversations of my life was with a Catholic woman my age who had also gone through a short miserable marriage and an annulment process. Our wounds were still raw; God bless her for telling me her story.

Healing is not something you do on a date. I know I've written about this before, but I think it is one of the most important things I can write about, so here I am again telling you not to tell men that other men have treated you badly.

I should probably qualify this. There will be a time when it is appropriate to tell a man you are in a marriage-track relationship with about why you don't like this or that, or why you are afraid of this or that. That time is not on the first date, or on the second date, or on the third, or during the first month of a relationship, or probably during the second.

Men pick up their cues about how to treat women from other men. This is why it is important for decent men to speak up when other men speak dismissively or in a crude or violent way about women. This is also why it is important not to give strangers or near-strangers the impression that you are the kind of woman men use and toss away. Never present yourself on a date as a Victim.

There are at least two different kinds of men who love to get involved with Victims. The scarier kind is the man who is at least unconsciously looking for a woman to abuse. The more subtle kind is the man who feels most comfortable as a rescuer and becomes unhappy when the brittle victim becomes stronger and happier because then she's not a victim any more. I once knew a guy who specialized in women who had gone through break-ups so bad, the women were kind of crazy. When they stopped being crazy, and got their lives together, he ditched them.

You can avoid these men by refusing to portray yourself as a Victim. Until a man gets to know you, it is much better to give off the allure of a Girl Next Door or a Princess.

Dear me, how the word Princess is abused. You may have noticed that real-life princesses are not snobby, self-obsessed fashionistas, but bright, charming, confident (but not overpowering) women who shake hands a lot, put people at their ease and do their best to have interesting conversations with whomever they are introduced to. They smile a lot. They wear nice but generally conservative clothing. Their make-up is subtle; they don't go in much for fake tan or hair extensions.

But even if men do snarl about "Princesses" (e.g. the supposedly spoiled modern American Princesses), they still value them more than Victims. Possibly their snarls are more about feeling out of depth with confident, driven women. Men have this concept called "out of my league": it means they think the most beautiful or successful woman in the room would not be interested in them, and sometimes this makes them really mad. (Contrast this with the 12 year old girl/40 year old woman who is sure Justin Bieber would love her if only he knew how much she loved him.)

But I fear that I am veering off topic. What I want to stress is that before a man knows you well, and it takes time to get to know anybody, and you must not try to speed it up by telling a man your saddest stories, his brain will slot you into a category. This category will affect how he thinks of you, perhaps for a long time.