Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Love of Friends

Love of place, love of music, love of family, love of friends....

I've noticed that a number of popular television shows center on casts of friends. I wonder if it represents a shift from shows about families. In the Eighties, "Cheers" seemed to be unique in that it portrayed a loyal group of friends rather than a loyal family. But in the wake of "Friends" and "Sex and the City", today we have "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory"  among the other shows that advertise themselves on the television in the Historical House.  And I am wondering if the fantasy of a family whose problems can be solved, forgiven and forgotten in 30 minutes has been replaced by the fantasy of a group of friends who never break up because their problems can also be solved, forgiven and (mostly) forgotten in 30 minutes.

Could it be that it has become romantic to have a big group of friends?

To be a migrant is to have part of your heart in one country and the other in another, and it is rare to feel that your heart is whole. This week my heart has been whole because for once I have been in Canada with B.A, who brings Edinburgh with him wherever he goes. The only time this trip  I have pined for Edinburgh was Monday morning when I heard about the abdication and wanted desperately to organize an emergency dinner party so that my EF friends could gather together in an upper room (so to speak) and drink a lot of gin while we made sense of the business.

But otherwise I have been very happy and, having had a good visit with all my family, have begun to go out and find my Toronto friends.

Yesterday B.A. and I went to my Canadian theological school to see a priest friend, and we were summoned to his office for, said the receptionist, he said there was another friend there who'd like to see me.

What a surprise I got.

"Hello, Old One," said a twenty-something year old man in a chair.

"Hello, Small One," I said. "I mean, Young One."

Some years ago I was did an internship as an assistant college chaplain. Among the students who liked to hang out in the chaplaincy offices was a teenage discerner. Somehow we began to call each other "Old One" and "Young One." He says now that this is because I hated being thought of as old, and that there is nothing a teenage undergrad hates more than being reminded that he is young.

I am not so sure of this interpretation. Personally, I think young men love being cheerily insolent to older women if they can get away with it, and certainly I enjoy putting young men in their place, if only with the information that I am older and therefore naturally wiser than they. And, ironically, although Young One constantly called me Old One, he was the friendliest of the bunch, the one who most seemed to enjoy the company of the Old.

Amusingly, the sympathy between Young One and Old One led to the one-and-only-time I earned a professional rebuke for ministerial boundary-crossing. If I remember this correctly, I encountered Young One on his way to Mass during some college break, when almost all the undergrads but he had gone home. It may have been Easter Sunday.  Afterwards I was going to lunch with a number of fellow theology students, including men of the religious order Young One was discerning, so on impulse I invited him along. Young One accepted the invitation with alacrity, as otherwise he would have had a boring and lonely afternoon, so off we went to lunch.  

I do not remember how this came to the ears of my immediate supervisor. Perhaps, I told the supervisor myself. But I do remember I got a LECTURE.

Personally, I thought it  ridiculous that it could be wrong to invite a bored and lonely undergrad to a restaurant Sunday lunch with a bunch of grad students of theology, some of whom were male religious a serious discerner quite naturally might like to meet.  I speak as one who had already listened to no fewer than three seminars on Healthy Boundaries in Ministry. Of course you cannot get romantically or sexually involved with those to whom you minister, even if you are a Single laywoman, but we cannot allow paranoia to stop us from being friendly.

That is my one exciting story about Young One, who is now Young One, [Initial, Initial], and it reminds me of this article I wrote for the CR, which you might enjoy.  

Single people, more than anyone else, must rejoice in their friends.


Sarah said...

Totally agree. I could live my whole life unmarried, as long as I had good friends.

Which brings me to an issue that's become apparent to me this week, as my mother arrived to visit me on this side of the pond on Monday.

She's fairly-- well, I don't want to say obsessed, but very, very interested in my single state. The first time she mentioned it, I made a big show of making a tallying mark on the calendar hanging on my wall, saying I'd be keeping track of how many times she mentioned it. It's only her third full day here and I've already lost count.

Earlier were talking about marriage and the use of NFP and when it's appropriate for couples to use, and we disagreed on a point, and she said, "Well, maybe you don't understand because you've never been in a long, serious, talking-about-marriage relationship." I almost lost it.

Then, *again* on the subject of marriage, she was talking about people asking about my staying here in Germany and how the only way she would be really at peace with it would be if it were because I'd found a good, Catholic husband here.

Then tonight, we had dinner with my four closest friends, all men, (one of whom is in a serious relationship, and one of whom is a priest) and she was talking about how I think I don't "need" a man. And that she thinks men and women--unless called to a consecrated life as a priest or nun-- NEED the other sex to complete them. (The priest helpfully interjected that he considers unconsecrated single life a vocation, so good on him) And I said, "Well, practically speaking, why DO I need a man? I have a job, I have friends, if I want children, I can adopt..." here, she interrupted me saying that she thinks it's wrong for single people to adopt, because a child should have a mother AND a father. And I told her that, yes, ideally, everyone deserves a mother and father... but having only one would be better than none at all, and with so many children in the foster care system, etc., etc...

In the past, she's asked friends of mine who she's just met whether they know if I'm seeing anyone.

I'm just frustrated. I would like to get married, I really would. I get lonely and whiny and depressed about my single state once in a while. But I really think I would be okay if it never happened for me. It would give me room in my life for careers, and travelling, and volunteering that married people and parents don't have. I sometimes look at couples and then look at the relative freedom I have compared to them and am sincerely grateful.

And on the days where I feel like I'm NOT okay with being single, I don't need it compounded by the fact that my mother would consider it a failure, or as if I'm following a lesser calling. I don't want to spend the rest of my life being patted on the knee as she says, "Maybe you would understand if you'd ever been in a relationship..."

I don't know how to make this less important to her. Her vocation as a wife and mother is her whole world. And because she was never short on boyfriends as a teenager (and was married by the time she was the age I am now) I think it's hard for her to imagine a different kind of life. I don't know how to get through to her that it might not be mine (whether I wish it would be or not). At the very least, I wish it didn't seem like my life's value came from something I have relatively little control over.

Jessica said...

Aw, Sarah! That sounds rough. I'm sure Seraphic will have some great insights on how to deal with your mother, but in the meantime, a few of my own thoughts:
- If you're discussing NFP, I think it's ok for your mom to say that you might not understand, just like she'll never fully understand what it's like for you to live abroad. Those of us who have studied ToB, know the Church's teachings on sexuality, and try to live it faithfully in our own lives have to sometimes recognize our limitations when talking about married sex, I think. (I've come to this conclusion after seeing people like Marc Barnes/1flesh be corrected by some married Catholic bloggers. If you haven't had sex, your opinion on it can only go so far, I think.)
- I think it's really telling that your mom said she would only be comfortable with you staying in Germany if you had a husband. Has all of her relationship nagging ramped up since you started living in Germany? Maybe it's just a way for her to express her anxieties about you being abroad - she can't take care of you there, and she thinks a boyfriend/husband would. That doesn't justify her nagging, but it might help you understand it and deal with it.
- Personally, I wouldn't argue about the value of the single life with my mom - maybe your mother-daughter relationship is different, but in mine, intellectual arguments wouldn't do much. I would pray for the ability to demonstrate the peace you have about your single status, letting it radiate without words. Perhaps you might also try telling her that comments about getting married are really hurtful to you, because it shows she's blind to the goodness of your life right now.
- Finally, if she just won't. let. it. drop., you might have to just accept that this is her opinion, and realize it doesn't actually impact God's will for your life or mean that you're doing something wrong. Sometimes parents can try to block us from carrying out our true vocation. My dad's parents tried to convince him not to marry my mom, flying halfway across the country just to tell him so. They eventually acquiesced and came to the wedding, etc. I'm not saying that's ideal (Seraphic has a post about how in general, your spouse should fit in with your family, contrary to the Romeo & Juliet type drama) but parents are human too, and sometimes they're wrong.

Seraphic said...

Sarah, that's awful. I will think about this. I felt pressure at home to get married starting when I was 23 because my mother married at 23. And two years later I was married and miserable. Pressuring girls to get married or worry about getting married is just UNFAIR. Just as you might not know firsthand what NFP means in a sexual relationship (and I bet your mother would have had a fit if you already did), your mother does not know what it is like to be a Single Catholic girl today. She just has no idea. If she thinks its just a matter of smiling at naturally marriage-obsessed crowds of bachelors and strategically dropping your handkerchief, then she is not living in reality. And she is being very insensitive. IF you were a guy, okay, she might have a reason to nag. But to nag a girl for not having landed a serious boyfriend is very unfair and unkind.

Remind me again: you're not even over 25, are you?

Sarah said...

Re: the use of NFP... it wouldn't have bothered me if she had said I wouldn't understand because I'd never been *married* before. But no, she said I had never been in a *relationship* before. Of the many things going through my head that I find wrong with this, one of them is that a serious, marriage-talking, but Catholic and chaste relationship should certainly not have any special insight to NFP that a chaste single person can't have. Am I right?

Jessica, her nagging has increased since I've been here (I was honestly really surprised that it came up so often these past few days) but at the same time, she's always been of the mind that marriage was just what I was going to do. Growing up, if I did something she thought was unladylike she'd (half jokingly) say, "Well, you're never going to get a husband that way." Or, she has certain family heirlooms that she'll only give to those of her daughters who are married. In the case of a certain ring that belonged to my great grandmother, (not a wedding ring) it has to be the FIRST daughter who is married.

And, Seraphic, I'm 21.

Seraphic said...

JEEPERS! (Faceplant.) Well, 21 is a bit young to figure this out, but your mother's issues and worries are about her, not about you. It sounds like she has a morbid fear of her daughters remaining unmarried. In 1813 that would be understandable, but in 2013 it really is not--unless she has serious philosophical problems with paid work. But, again, that's her problem.

I think the only insight dating virgin Catholics who are thinking about marriage will have into NFP is a personal (if shared) terror of having too many kids too soon. Otherwise, I don't get it. I could recognize the signs of fertility from the age of 18, when the NFP nurse came by my high school and told us girls all about them.

Perhaps the sad truth was this was just another way to harp on the fact that you aren't married. I suppose the most charitable assumption is that your mother had really terrible jet lag and it brought out her worst.

Mothers who don't have much to do, or who are sad about aging, sometimes try to live their lives and fantasies through their children. This can be very difficult for the children, who naturally do not want to be rude to old Mom, or hurt her feelings in any way.

Furthermore I don't think 21 year olds are old enough to marry in our post-agrarian, post-modern societies. 21 is really young. 21 year olds should be learning, either a trade or a profession or an art or a skill or a language. Few 21 year olds have yet amassed the treasures they need to see them through a happy, fulfilled adult life.

Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shiraz said...

Sarah: Jeepers! You're twenty-one and your mum is hassling you about being married? This has to be about her issues, not yours. Being single at twenty-one is entirely normal. I turned twenty-one while living (as an exchange student) in a foreign country, and I have to say that between all the exploring new countries and languages, my classes, and all my new friends, worrying about being married was far from my mind. There is nothing wrong with this. Especially as, at twenty-one, any men the same age are likely to be focussing completing on their education rather than actively looking for a wife.

Also (others may correct me here) in my experience, Continental European Catholic men seem to settle down later. (It might be something to do with national service, or spending about a million years at university.) So it's a bit unreasonable for her to be hassling you for being unmarried at such a young age. Even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the marriage age for (non-super elite) Englishwomen was older than that, as people didn't marry until they could set up a household. Harumph.

So sorry about the rant -- I was just quite incensed on your behalf! And, if it helps you at all, I got married at thirty. I wouldn't have minded if it was earlier, but I certainly don't regret all the friends I made and the countries I got to visit and live in between the ages of twenty-one and thirty.

So: to summarise, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, and you mother is being very insensitive for reasons that are not your fault. I am sending you electronic hugs.

Seraphic said...

One other thing. By marrying at 21 and having kids so young, your mother missed out on a lot of things other people her age (our age, come to think of it) enjoyed.

I'm not even thinking about grad school and parties--I'm thinking about March for Life. It is possible that your mother sometimes is wistful about the opportunities she never have that you now have. And because kind and loyal wives-and-mothers often won't admit this to themselves, they certainly aren't going to tell their children.

Your mother and I are about the same age and we took very different paths, and your mother most definitely took the path less travelled by our generation. There is probably a sadness involved in that, just as there is a sadness in discovering one may have married too late to have kids. And her nagging YOU about marriage may be her way of expressing it.

I don't know if it would be helpful for you to ask her if she sometimes regrets having married so young (and, yes, 21 was so young for American Catholics of our generation), but it would certainly switch the conversation from YOU to HER. Just about the rest of the western world has rejected your mother's way of life, so she might be worried you are rejecting it, too. Maybe what she is doing by harping on marriage is trying to convince herself that it really was infinitely better to be married at 21 and have kids soon after than have the freedom to live overseas, etc. And maybe it would be helpful if you tell her how much you honour her for her choice, but that so far you have not been given the choice. No matter how much she talks, talking will not present you with marriage candidates to accept or reject.

Seraphic said...

(That last sentence was for you to ponder, not for you to tell your mother.)

Seraphic said...

To "Amanda". Please do not shill for your dating site on my blog. This is a blog to help Single women find the joy in their Single state. I will not have my readers insulted by advertising that makes them feel bad or worse. I find your dating site exploitative, and I wonder if your employer is exploiting you, too.

lauren said...

Sarah, I have a few suggestions (mostly from watching my mother deal with her very, very difficult family member). You might try having a conversation with her about it in very clear and direct terms. "Mother, when you say X, I feel Y. This really hurts my feelings and is unhelpful. Please don't say it." Ideally, in this conversation, you both come to an understanding which includes not only you understanding her point of view but also her understanding the pain she's causing. Sometimes, that's enough. But if it's not, and this continues, you go to the next step, which is refusing to engage. She is your mother, yes, but if she is intentionally hurting you after you have asked her to stop, you do not need to listen to it. This is easier done on the phone or skype or when you're not in the same physical space. "Mom, I've asked you not to say X. Please don't." You say this exactly ONCE, and if she continues, you say, "Mom, I love you, and I'll talk to you later," and then you hang up the phone. You do this calmly and quietly, without being angry or upset. Then you call her at a later point to talk about the weather (or whatever non-painful and non-inflammatory topic you like) again; you're not in a snit, you're not being disrespectful or hysterical, you are simply communicating in words and actions that rude and hurtful behavior is inappropriate.

As others have suggested, there's probably a lot going on with your mom, and it does sound like this is much more about her than it is about you. But it's not your job to figure all that out; you're not her therapist or her confessor or her doctor. You're not the oldest, by any chance, are you?

Sarah said...

Thank you all for your supportive comments. :) i really appreciate them, because I've been burning up with negativity about the whole situation.

I do wonder what makes it so important to her, and in addition to the things you suggested, Seraphic, about her perhaps regretting not having done the things I'm doing now, I wonder if she just doesn't KNOW that it's possible to be happy and single. She never WAS a single woman. My mom was the prototype for the popular cool girl in high school. As I mentioned earlier, she was never short on boyfriends. She was actually engaged once before PREVIOUSLY to meeting my dad when she was 19. So, marriage was always in the cards for her, and she probably never even thought about what she would do or how she would make her life worth while without a husband.

Perhaps, though it was uncommon in general, the part of the country she lived in and her social class actually did encourage marriage at as young an age as 21. In her family, it was still traditional to receive a hope chest (a wooden chest to fill with "dowry," i.e., dishes, bed linens, baby clothes) at their 16th birthday. I got one, too. I think perhaps she was never interested in anything else, and never gave much thought to other possibilities, because she never needed to.

And here I have to give major credit to Seraphic-- and I really only stopped to think about it just now-- I probably would be at a loss too about the possibility of a happy single life without having read this blog.

Fortunately, I think I am better off in the sense that I actually panic a little when I consider how many possibilities I have as a single person that I'd be cutting off by getting married any time soon. The fact that I am happy with my life makes it much easier to not let her concerns bother me too much.

Alisha said...

Hey Sarah!
You sound like a really accomplished and settled person at 21, which is awesome. You are also pretty tolerant of all that undue pressure and I don't think you need to be. Your mother is being flat out inconsiderate, especially if she knows you would like to get married, and not to mention, I have no idea why she thinks talking about it constantly is going to "magic" some guy into your life. If I was in your situation and I had made it clear that the person's comments were not only annoying but hurtful and unhelpful and they hadn't stopped, I would tell them I was not going to have such discussions anymore. Tell her you simply don't want to hear about it and if she continues to bring it up as a subject of discussion you are going to ignore it and change the subject. You are an adult now and if she can't respect your wishes, she should understand there will be distance between you. Seeing as she obviously cares about you a lot, I think that might impress upon her how seriously you take it. Moreover, if she doesn't seem to take your feelings seriously, I would tell her that I had consulted several intelligent, faith filled women and they all thought her pressure was ridiculous and inconsiderate. I would never advocate "talking back" or disrespect towards parents but some parents don't have a sense of appropriate boundaries and their kids have to teach them. I thank the good Lord my parents never pressured me about marriage or I wouldn't speak to them.