Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Gentlemen's Day (April)

First of all, happy birthday to my brother Nulli Secundus. Second, welcome to the eavesdroppers who are still clicking to my blog because they cannot resist my allure. In the words (or to paraphrase the words) of a repentant German scientist at Harvard, "I wouldn't have gone out with you, but you were such a good writer."

"What about my beautiful blue eyes?" is what I should have said in reply. But that's all water under the River Street Bridge, and now that I'm married, the bachelors of the world can take me out for a coffee without being haunted by the doleful chime of phantom wedding bells.

"I don't mind you having coffee," says my husband, "but you're not allowed to pay."

Occasionally a young bachelor of the world puts aside his natural reluctance to allow women tell him what to do and asks for my advice. Obviously I find this charming.  I am reminded of the time a very sharp man took me and a pal shopping for our friend, his fiancee. We led him straight to Tiffany's. He shelled out, our friend was happy, they now have two children, it's a wonderful world.

Okay, so here is a bachelor asking me how to negotiate a first date at a dance. I've edited the letter a bit.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I have a date on Saturday.  I met a cute girl at swing-dancing, and after dismissing all the reasons I was coming up with not to ask her out, I went ahead and asked. We're meeting up for dinner and then going out to the dance (not being from the area, it was the only thing I could come up with without access to a computer to do research). The fact that the dance starts at a particular time will prevent dinner from dragging on uncomfortably.

Of course, the fact that we're going to the dance presents an interesting question that I hadn't considered when I offered the date. Swing dancing is a social dance, and there is an expectation that you will not dance with the same partner every dance (although some couples do that). I'm not quite sure how to strike the balance.  

On Gentlemen's Day, a post on first date expectations or what not to do on a first day would be most welcome. I'd be interested in your readerships's perspective.

Best Wishes,

Dear Eavesdropper,

That sounds like an intense first date but because just having coffee is completely impractical, it sounds reasonable. Dinner and dancing is pretty traditional. 

I recommend saying something between dinner and the dance like "Save me the first and last dances!" That way she'll feel free to dance with other guys, and you'll feel free to dance with other girls, and yet the most psychologically date-like dances will be all yours. (By the way, if you see her ever all by herself during a dance, and you don't have a partner yet, you may want to rescue her. Technically, she's your guest all evening, so you're in charge of making sure she is always having a good time.)

As for first date stuff, all I can say at the moment is look good, open doors for the lady, help her with her coat, ask her what she wants to eat, don't complain about anything, find out what she's interested in, listen as much as you talk, pay the bill and help her with her coat again. Finally, it's your responsibility to make sure she gets home safely. 

Keep an ear out for any red flags, but also remember that almost nobody is truly their best selves on the first date!  

Grace and peace,

Incidentally, the opening-the-door, helping-with-the-coat stuff is a good way of determining if a girl likes you that much or  is at all worth your time. Any girl who protests on a date, on an actual date, that she can open her own doors (duh) is not worth asking on a second date. As for coats,  I almost always need help with my coat. And I am always charmed when I am helped with my winter coat in particular because frankly I cannot negotiate the sleeves without flapping around like a seagull with its head stuck in a tin can. And of course it is flattering that a man would be that attentive to my needs and act as though he were willing to assist me in any difficulty, no matter how small. Of course usually he is not, but a teeny-weeny bit of illusion brightens a girl's day.

Now let me see. Questions for the gentlemen.  Female readers should not respond to anything the gentlemen say until tomorrow. Stand back and allow them some oxygen.

Nzie the Rosy Gardener has asked:

1. Are there certain things that make you think a girl you might otherwise be interested in wouldn't be interested in you? 

I'm asking because my mom suggested, and I think she's right, that I often put myself in a sister-like role and short-circuit dating possibilities. I think it's a combination of the fact that I'm very used to being big sisterly, and I'm a bit nervous/shy. So if there are behaviors that give off that impression, I'd like to know so I can pay attention to my own behavior (and hopefully stop turning into everyone's sister). :-)

2. What do you consider evidence of approachability of a woman for date-asking purposes? Do these matter less the stronger you're attracted to someone?

3. Do you feel like adding in the shared faith element makes people less interesting than they normally are when they meet outside religious dating contexts?
(Context/Explanation: It seems to me people think because they share faith and values, they *have* to discuss it, show how well read or devout they are, etc... is that something you've experienced? is there a "good way" to do it?)

4. What are you most worried about girls judging you based on? Looks? Money? Job/car/etc.? 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Gentlemen's Day Tomorrow

I just received an email from one of the subjects of this morning's post (not Mike), and he seems mildly aggrieved and misrepresented. And this reminds me that I mean tomorrow to be a Gentlemen's Day. For one thing, it is the birthday of a man whom I consider to be a great a success with women, as he has a wife, daughter, mother and sisters who love him and a few female friends who are greatly fond of him. So in honour of this fine gentleman, tomorrow (April 30) is Gentlemen's Day.

Ladies, today you may send in your questions for the gents, and tomorrow the gents may answer them and leave fresh questions and comments of their own. I expect these gentlemen to be regular readers who simply cannot tear themselves away from my deathless prose despite the pink, girliness of my blog, not imports from the super-trad message boards you girls seem to like.

Gents, if you have a particular subject topic you would like me to address, send it on in via email, and I may address it tomorrow morning.

Successful with Women

For over twenty years, I have been attracting the attention of intelligent men of my own intellectual and religious parties who enjoy arguing with me. Their eyes light up, and they roll up their rhetorical sleeves, and I can almost hear them thinking, "Oho! A foe worthy of my steel!" as if they were Batman witnessing Catwoman ravage a jewellery shop. TH2 at Heresy Hunter, once actually referred to me  (with affectionate glee) as his arch-enemy. All I did was ask him to stop being so mean to my friends. Oh, and to stop insinuating that Lonergan was a Kantian. He wasn't.

At some point, I may get tired of this friendly fire, and start saying to all the incarnations of Batman things like, "Honestly. No. There are much more intelligent women with whom to do battle. I can barely barely add fractions. I failed Grade 10 math. Really, I'm Just a Housewife. Shoo."

However, occasionally Batman says something purrrfectly catastrophic, and I sense there is some fun to be had at his expense. For example, yesterday an IMOMOIARP dropped the expression "successful with women." I think it was prefaced with "Everyone knows that men with money are the most."

"What do you mean, as a Catholic, by successful with women?" I demanded. "Do you mean, a man  who who has persuaded a woman to marry him and have his children and live with him year in and year out, a man who also has many daughters who love and respect him?

And, astonishing as this will sound to you, that's not what he meant. The definition of "successful with women" held by this loyal son of the Church was "attractive to women."  And yet I suspect that if I had thought of following this line of questioning, he would not have defined Saint Jerome as successful with women although Christian women flocked to Saint Jerome and listened to his teachings, fasted too much 'cause he said so, did his housework, etc. Meanwhile I doubt Saint Jerome had any money beyond that his rich patronesses gave him. And as he had a serious fasting habit himself and was rather contemptuous of the body, I doubt he was a looker. In fact, I vaguely recall reading a report that made clear he wasn't.

Whence the terrific popularity of Saint Jerome?

Could it be that Saint Jerome had something that these ladies wanted? Obviously it wasn't money, or a handsome face to look at, or the ability to give a great massage. It probably wasn't flattery either, since Saint Jerome was terribly inflammatory and is on record as having called St. Augustine nasty names.

I think it must have been his brains. Saint Jerome was a powerful and convincing thinker, and thus gave all those well-born Roman ladies something to think about. But if one had laid a tentative hand upon him, he would have slapped her silly, so I cannot imagine any of them trying that.

It could also have been his gigantic confidence in being Saint Jerome: "Hey, Saint Augustine! You're an idiot! I blow my nose at you!  I'm Saint Jerome!" That's kind of awesome especially as St Jerome did, after all, compile the Vulgate.

I'm starting to wonder if I would have been crazy about Saint Jerome.

It's too bad that even Catholic men think, when they think of men who are successful with women, of men other than good Christian husbands with wives, daughters and grand-daughters who love them, or of Christian thinkers around whom Christian women flock to hear the Good News, or even of popular professors or revered artists like frog-faced T. S. Eliot.

Noooooo, I suspect even they are thinking of footballers, film stars, rock stars and, heaven help us, basketball players and boxers. Wilt Chamberlain, reports wikipedia, had 20,000 sexual relationships, but never had a wife or child. Call me sentimental, but I don't call that successful with women.

Mike Tyson beat his first wife, cheated on his second, raped Miss Rhode Island, but may now be having a happy third marriage. All the same, I wouldn't consider him successful with women either.

And so on.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Why I Do Not Heart Chastity Talks

Everybody who writes me letters should know that I do not like chastity talks. When I was a teenager, the chastity talks at life issues conference were always packed. Dozens of bright-eyed Catholic and Evangelical teenagers filled the room to listen to a heavily made-up Evangelical lady talk about sex---I mean, chastity. And, of course, since the American Evangelical tradition involves public "When I was a sinner...." confessions, we heard some deliciously gory details. We also heard some absolute codswallop.

I once read a chastity book, written by a priest, that said God might punish boys and girls who snogged (although he probably wrote "necked") in the back of cars by giving birth defects to their future children.  I think it was this book, which I read at twenty or so, that gave me my great distaste for chastity lectures. The fact that listening to chastity lectures is in itself a mild turn-on I merely thought was funny. I thought the chastity book was sick.

Oh, I should mention that I also got a chastity newsletter.  Like the paradoxical sexual thrill of chastity talks, it was rather funny. It gave helpful hints on chaste things you could do on dates, and included back massages. Hmm. Yes. Great idea. Not.

Another problem with chastity talks, one to which readers have alerted me, is that they tend to be over-optimistic about the extent to which women suffer from celibacy. Chastity speakers concentrate on making women understand how very, very, very difficult celibacy is for men, which is why we must make things easier for them by wearing denim sacks, etc. Chastity speakers focus less on how very, very, very difficult celibacy is for women, who "just want love", which makes the poor hormonally-crazed women think that there is something seriously wrong or unwomanly about them. There isn't. They're just human beings.

I was thinking yesterday about the expression "I'm not that kind of girl." I have never come across the expression "I'm not that kind of boy." While reading an Art of Manliness chastity talk, it occured to me that when men shout at each other about chastity and fidelity, they seem to assume that they're all that kind of boy. In reality, there are probably many men who are just not that tempted and toddle along quite happily, unless they hear that they are supposed to be raging hippopotami of lust and begin to worry that there is something seriously wrong or unmanly about them.

The myth that absolutely all men are raging hippopotami of lust can cause quite a lot of misery, especially to women who throw themselves in a hippopotamus's path, expecting wild thrills, and then open their eyes to discover the hippopotamus peacefully plodding about in the river, humming to itself. The women feel like unattractive morons, and well they might. But instead of apologizing for their folly, they throw rocks at the poor hippopotamus, who feels sad and wonder if there are any nice women left in the world, etc.

But most of the time sexual attraction is one of the most powerful non-lethal forces there is. It's amazing that something inside you can be as dangerous and potent as vodka or other drugs, but it really is. It can make you do all kinds of terribly stupid and unkind things, even if you are not "that kind of girl." Actually, newsflash, most of us would be "that kind of girl" under certain circumstances, at a certain age, with certain people. The greatest protector of chastity is humility, and the sooner we stop telling lies to ourselves about how wonderfully chaste we are, the better.

The other great protector of chastity is distance. The best and most effective way not to end up on the couch under someone with whom you have "great sexual chemistry" is to stay far, far away from him.   Saint Paul's advise was a terse "Flee fornication." The second word, which sounds so nasty said out loud, will no doubt make you all flinch, so just concentrate on the word "Flee." Saint Paul didn't say, "Have a heart to heart chat" or "Sit on another couch."  He said flee. So flee.

We all hate the word fornication, particularly when it is associated with our beautiful selves, and I am using it deliberately so that nobody gets any illicit thrills from this post which, I see, has turned into a chastity talk. Usually fornication is not what we want from the incredibly cute guys we (you, anyway, since I'm hors de combat) meet at parties. No, the most we want, at this stage, is a bit of a snog.

Well, I am not an anti-snog hardliner although there was a Church ruling in the fifteenth century or something like that that deliberate snogging outside of marriage was a mortal sin. The way the chastity books used to put it was "deliberate excitation of the sexual appetites" which is actually a very sexy phrase in itself, shame on them.  But if a friend of mine got drunk and snogged some pretty girl or cute guy at a party and then called me up the next morning in floods of tears of remorse, I would say, "Ah, well. What are you gonna do?"

I also shrug at marriage-track Catholics and engaged couples snogging because sexual attraction goes to the head like vodka, and what are you gonna do? If they must snog, let them snog, but let them do it in private and not tell me about it.

However, constantly meeting up for a snog with some guy who is just not good marriage material for you, either because you don't know him that well, or he's the wrong religion, or he's used to fornication as an "ordinary, normal part of every relationship", is rather more serious in my book. It's almost as stupid as drinking-and-driving. It's one heck of a risk to take. And anyone who writes to me about how to manage such a relationship without the snogging is not going to get a satisfactory answer from little Auntie, because all I will say, with Saint Paul, is "Flee fornication." Snogging really is a gateway drug. Avoid it if you can.
Oh, and the last thing I will say is that the best way to stop feeling terrible about living an admirable life of chastity in continence is to stop thinking about sex stuff at all. And that includes chastity stuff. Don't read about all the things you're not doing and how delicious wicked they are. Don't read trashy romance novels. Don't watch trashy movies. Don't read trashy blogs.

By the way, nobody has told me yet: is any of the Theology of the Body stuff about sports, breathing, running, dancing, eating, singing, or any kind of movement not directly involved in the unitive-and-procreative-aspects-of-marriage? Because if it is, I may actually get around to reading it. Otherwise, zzzz.

Update: No time like the present to mention that one of my readers was pressured into much sexy talk and making out by a professional chastity speaker. Just because a boy talks about sex, I mean, chastity all the time and enjoys the applause doesn't mean he is automatically and immediately to be trusted.

Friday, 26 April 2013

A Boy's House

I saw Ibsen's A Doll's House on the stage yesterday evening and feel wrung out. I had read the play and heard all about it in one or more of my university courses, but I had never seen it staged. I hadn't realized how incredibly offensive Torvald is. Of course, I had never been married when I studied the play.

The version I saw was set in Edwardian London, and it was only incidentally amusing that Edwardian London seems to have been populated by Scots. Torvald had been renamed Thomas and given the post of a Cabinet Minister. I'm not sure about renaming one of the most famously pompous husbands in world literature, but it made sense to put him in the Cabinet. I'm a little vague on the restrictions placed upon women who wanted to borrow money (essential to the plot) in Edwardian Britain, but I am willing to imagine they were not so different from those of Ibsen's Norway of 1879.

Ibsen was a genius, of course, and part of his genius was seeing things from women's point of view at a time when most men seemed psychologically incapable of doing that. Ibsen shook off any accusations (or praise) of feminism by saying that in Nora he was describing humanity. (Or so says wikipedia.) Well, good on Ibsen for noticing that a woman is a human being before she is anything else.  One can imagine Ibsen listening to a man roguishly teasing his wife about how much of his money she must have spent on Christmas tree decorations and wondering how the wife must feel. ("If it were me," I imagine Ibsen imagining, "I would want to punch him.")

Torvald (or, in this version, Thomas) is exactly the kind of man who gives his wife a hard time about how much money she has spent on Christmas tree decorations. He has no clue that his wife is actually an extraordinary good saver because (for reasons of the plot) she cannot tell him this. And because she knows what she knows, she puts up with his tsk-tsking with very good grace.

In fact, Nora spends her marriage pretending to be something she is not and is assisted in this by Torvald, who is happy to strut about, talk down to her and say such things as "You have no idea how important I really am" and "I own you." It is very important to Torvald that his wife be a sexy simpleton, and loyal Nora does her best to look like one. And, indeed, she is indeed simple in some ways: you become what you do, after all. She believes her husband loves her--after all, he keeps telling her he does--and he certainly finds her sexually attractive, and she has a gift for pretending and hiding, so she copes. And if she couldn't cope, every women in her society would assure her that of course she's not as stupid as her husband makes her out to be.

I'm trying not to put plot spoilers in here, so I will just say that Nora's big mistake is taking Torvald at his own estimation. Their family friend Doctor Rank tells her that Torvald is just a little boy at heart, and I think this is true. There is something stunted about Torvald--instead of acting like an intelligent, adult man, he acts like a boy pretending to be a man: lording it over his wife in a pompous way while completely wrapped up in his own interests, his own problems, his own friends, his own desires, and his own importance. He is also, as we discover, childishly spiteful.

Men so often exasperate women that I have counselled before that when we feel deeply resentful of them, we should try to imagine what they were like as babies or little boys. This is a variation on the "Bless their little hearts" strategy, and it's meant to get us in touch with that compassionate part of us that is also our greatest strength: motherhood. No-one on earth has as much power, emotional or physical, than a mother over her child. And no doubt that is why men really hate it when the wrong women attempt to "mother" them.

Still, I suppose it is hard to see men your own age as boys, and it is frustrating to find yourself stuck with a boy when you would rather be with a man. One of the good things about getting older is that the men my own age have had more time to grow up. Another good thing is that I see twenty-somethings from a completely different perspective. It is easier to see and remember that under the protective shell of adult masculinity, many of them are still boys with a lot to learn. And it is easier to love them for it. Twenty-something girls want twenty-something boys to be great husband-and-boyfriend material. Forty-something women just want twenty-somethings to have good manners and be reasonably amusing. Thank heavens young men are usually attracted to young women; if they weren't cougars would corner the market.

Plot spoilers ahead:

Nora's tragedy was that she was not mature enough to forgive Torvald  and accept him for the boy he still was. Her ultimate attitude was that of the teacher who flees the nastiest child in her classroom when the bell rings. Torvald's tragedy is that he did his utmost to treat Nora as a child, which prevented her from growing up enough to help him grow up. And as I once was Nora, I know what I'm talking about. The great mercy is that when I slammed the door, there weren't any real children on the other side of it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Asks for Number, Doesn't Call

It is one of those mysteries of Single Life. Why do men ask women for their phone numbers and then not call them?

My guess is "The goldfish."

Recently I skimmed a news article on a goldfish who had lost its roommate (bowl-mate?) of 30 years. The article assured us readers not to worry about the survivor's grief: the goldfish memory is only 5 seconds long.

Some men, especially cute, happy-go-lucky, friendly men, are like goldfish.  "Hey, you're pretty! What's your number? Cool! I'll call ya. Hey, YOU'RE pretty! What's your number? I'll call ya!" At the time they are absolutely 100 % sincere. They honestly believe they are going to call you because right at that moment they want to call you. But then they forget as soon as another pretty face swims into view or as soon as they have slept off their hangover.

I believe it was Greg of He's Just Not That Into You who was refused a phone number by a woman who said she was tired of giving her phone number to men who didn't call. She said something like "My surname is Cupertino. If you really want to call me, find me in the phone book." Stung, poor old Greg called up every last Cupertino (or whatever) in the phone book until he found the girl. This is because Greg really, really, wanted to call that girl.

Another reason I think men ask for phone numbers is that they think they should as a polite gesture. It could be the man equivalent of you saying to another woman, "Oh my gosh! We should have coffee some time!" when what you mean is that it might kinda sorta be nice to have coffee some time, or it would be nice if you really did wish to have coffee some time. (If non-British, non-American, non-Canadian readers have no idea what I am talking about, you should understand that a lot of Anglo-Saxon social life is made smooth by what we call little white lies. It's almost a genetic disease. Having read St. Augustine on lying, I can't stand it, but I probably do it.)

Asking for phone numbers could also be a form of social insurance. For example, the guy may be thinking, "If tomorrow I remember this girl, it would be helpful if I had her number already." The operative word here is "If."

For the record, this is not about you. This is most definitely about them. A man will forget about meeting a woman who looks like Cindy Crawford if his subconscious has long been in thrall to women who look like Ava Gardner, or his kindergarten teacher, or his first babysitter, or his first girlfriend. Sure, he will acknowledge that the Cindy Lookalike is cute when she's right there in front of him, but after she's gone, it's Ava as usual. He'll just about kill himself to see an Ava-type again, even if he has no idea why.

That reminds me. I should write a whole post on this, but what do you think of going to events celebrating a famous singer, actress, writer, et alia, whom you resemble? Of course not many of us look like film stars, but say you are a dead ringer for the young Ayn Rand. Would it not make sense for you, despite not being a Randian yourself, to check out the local Objectivists' club?  The drawback , of course, would be meeting men whose beliefs might be entirely and uncomfortably different from yours. Still, I think it an amusing idea. And what could be more charming to some bloodthirsty Objectivist than a woman who looks exactly like Anne Rand asking him to explain Objectivism to her? Or to a Rita Hayworth fan than discovering himself beside a red-headed girl in the intermission between Hayworth films?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

When Mom Nags

One of the absolute worst things about the Single life is having one's own mother nagging one about being Single. It is a betrayal on a massive scale because Mom/Mum is usually the person you instinctively go to when you are feeling down and out or sick. This sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with the woman herself, but some infant instinct in our brain that still occasionally wails "Maaaamaaaaa!"

So it is awful when you are having a good day, or a lousy day, and you are enjoying your proximity to your mother, your first home, and suddenly she starts in on you about being Single. It's bad enough if you intend to be Single and are purposefully Single; when you don't want to be Single, it's a knife to the heart.

For the record, my mother did not nag me about being Single after I got divorced, even when I got my annulment and was theologically Single again with papers to prove it. She did second-guess my decisions to end dating relationships, however. Not being a mother, I am not sure why mothers do this. Maybe it's caused by an overflow of worry or resentment for having been in the orbit of yet another younger-generation drama.

I am trying to put myself in a mother's shoes, and see Singleness from a nagging mother's perspective. I never had any children, but I have twenty-something friends whose mothers are near my age, so I can imagine having a twenty-two year old daughter, at oldest. And frankly I would not give a darn if my twenty-two year old daughter were Single. In fact, I would rather that she were Single--especially Single and not dating---and concentrating on her university courses, her apprenticeship program or her fledgling business.

I would be much more annoyed if she were wasting her time chasing boys, or dating some happy-go-lucky simpleton, or (worse) a snarling control-freak, and that is where the temptation to meddle would probably get the better of me. I would write long blog posts for her, pretending that they were not for her, should she actually bother to read them. ("No, darling, what are you talking about? I was writing generally.")

But I like to think that once my darling daughter was established in her career, trade or business, that I would leave her alone, and hold my counsel, unless she came timidly to me for advice, and then I would let her have it, both barrels.

Sitting here in my imaginary mother-chair, I am open to the idea that mothers sometimes know what they are talking about. I know this is a radical idea, so I will quickly state that mothers very often haven't the foggiest clue.

If your mother married at twenty and had six children and her world is mostly church, the family business, the supermarket, the library and the mall, she very likely does not have a grasp of what it is like to be a Single woman your age. She thinks she does because she watches TV, but she doesn't because TV is not real life. Cute physicists with great jobs but lots of time just to hang out do not live across the hall from you. Nor is there a man at work who looks just like Angel, that is, David Boreanaz.

I think about what Single Life means for you every day, and yet I do not quite know what it is to be a Single woman your age. You are the experts on that.

However, mothers do know a lot, so it is absolutely worthwhile to listen to what your mother says as impartially as possibly and sort out the sense from the nonsense. For instance, it is nonsense to think that men would fall at your feet if only you cut your bangs (fringe). However, if your mother says you have pretty eyes, than it is indeed possibly that you do have pretty eyes and should show them off.

Meanwhile, since it is one of her principal jobs, your mother is aware of how your moods, behaviours, relationships and choices affect the rest of the people in the household. That can always be a big ol' shock to a young woman: the fact that her personal life, which she thought so private, actually has an impact on those with whom she lives. I can see how a daughter's ignorance of, or indifference to, this would drive a mother crazy.

It can be hard to grasp this, but mothers are just other women. They happen to be the women who affect you more than any other women in the world, but it is helpful to remember that they are really just women with lives of their own. They form their own impressions of the world, and they repeat them if they think this won't get them into trouble. Sometimes these impressions have great merit, and sometimes they don't.  Some mothers have great advice, and some mothers do not. Some mothers feel confident about their place in the world, and some tyrannize over their kids because this is the only way they feel any power.

Anyway, sound off in the combox. What advice has your mother given you that was really great? And what advice has she given you that was utterly lousy? Feel free to be anonymous today.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Doomed Tomboy

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am studying engineering. This means that the majority of people in my class are guys, which is fine by me. They are nearly all very nice, and I have never been treated with disrespect. It was the same in high school: most of my friends were guys. This is normal for me, I suppose, as I  grew up with brothers. I act like them, I am told, as I am fond of shenanigans and rowdy jokes (working on that :-p ).

What does make me unhappy, though, is that no young man has ever even looked at me, not even once. I don't understand why, as there is nothing wrong with me to look at, and I have many friends. However, all of my male friends have only ever seen me as a friend and this makes me feel as if I am somehow not a woman.

I know what you are likely to say: that guys want someone who is more feminine, and if I act like them, I will only ever be a friend. However, there is no point in saying that. Goodness knows my mother gave up saying the same thing long ago. You might as well tell me to immediately grow three inches taller; you could also say "Fribble bobble boo," which would be equally helpful. I simply do not understand what that would entail; that is not something about me that is going to change, any more than my eye color.

What I want to know is: is there any hope for someone like me? As all of my friends have had past boyfriends, girlfriends, etc., this has been gradually doing a real number on my self-esteem. Do you really think that unless I make drastic changes to my personality, I am doomed to remain forever Single?

Doomed Tomboy

Dear Doomed Tomboy,

You're an undergraduate engineering student, which means that neither you nor the guys you're around have that much time for romance because when you don't have numbers pouring out of your eyes and nose, you are thinking up ways of disassembling cars and reassembling them on top of the Student Council building or whatever.  Okay, sure, everyone you know has managed to have past boyfriends and girlfriends, but what this means is that everyone you know has had a perhaps shallow emotional connection which just didn't work out and ended in disappointment. That's not really something to envy.  

I don't see that you have to do a major conscious overhaul to your personality, unless it means paying more attention to how people feel, if hitherto you have been careless of other people's feelings (e.g. laughing at people who you thought could take a joke but secretly can't), and realizing what you do to annoy people, if you are annoying people. 

If you make men laugh all the time, and everyone thinks you're hilarious, that's not particularly feminine, but it's a good personality to have, so why change it? You may eventually meet a guy with the same sense of humour who can dig your jokes and you at the same time. Tough-talking gals in the Canadian militia I've known have married tough-talking guys in the Canadian militia. The one I knew best was feminine-looking though, with long hair. You didn't mention if you are feminine-looking.

There are all kinds of way to signal "I'm a girl" without having to stop being you. The absolute easiest is looking like a stereotypical "girl": long hair, skirts, non-sensible shoes, lipstick. Wearing girls' stuff, if you're not already, would not a betrayal of your personality. All it would do is signal "Hey, I'm a girl, and I'm pretty, and I enjoy being a girl and pretty."

The only other things I can think of off-hand are as follows: 

A) that it is not that difficult to stop swearing like a guy, if you are swearing like a guy. (Swearing like a guy makes women seem more like guys.) When I've fallen into a bad-word habit, I pick a substitute word and make myself use that instead until the problem is solved.    

B) that one of the most attractive things in the world--in men and women--is shutting up long enough to listen to other people's stories without sitting there dying to tell your next joke or story, and to ask people about themselves and show a real interest in them as people in themselves and not just audiences who will respond to your ideas and your jokes. Even if you are an intensely chatty, dynamic girl, you can remind yourself to do this. 

I don't know if this will be helpful or not. I just want to assure you that there is absolutely no point giving up on the hope of husband and children when you aren't even 30 years old, let alone 25. As an engineering student, you have better things to worry about at this particular moment, like passing your exams and getting a fellowship or a great job. You have been gifted with the kind of intellectual skills the world really needs, and that's fantastic. There is no doubt in my mind that if you make the grade, you will always be able to make your own living, and that's fantastic, too.  

Grace and peace,

I suggested last week that women are a lot more visual than we are given credit (or blame) for, but men are very visual. Very, very, very. And this means you can put a quiet, shy, kitten-loving poetess in overalls and tennis shoes and a loud, outgoing, truck-fixing electrician in a cute dress and heels, and men will think the latter is the feminine one.  

I keep thinking about Miss Congeniality although one of my life rules is not to look to films or fiction for guides to real life. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for transformation scenes. And I also love the idea of a smart, strong woman understanding that it's okay to be attractive, it's good to be attractive, and it's fun to be found attractive. It doesn't mean having to dumb down or give up your personality. It just means trying to see yourself as others see you, as Robbie Burns might have said, and figuring out how to make the impression you want to make.

Update: FWIW, since we are on the topic of making a wished-for impression on others, in this specific case, "Hello, in case you have not noticed, boys, not only am I a clever engineering student, I am a girl and pretty", I shamelessly googled about and found this interesting article. Ignore the lame-brained comments. Frankly, I do not think high heeled shoes at all appropriate for wearing to class, but nobody has to wear trainers (runners), either.

Update 2: And, yes, I see the irony of talking about clothes again! However, this is not really about clothes. It is about impressions.

Update 3:  I just noticed that my link is to the Pakistani version of the International Herald Tribune. That certainly explains the references to Eid. I think it still works for us Christian and Jewish girls, though, as obviously the sort of men we are most likely to be interested in are those who at least acknowledge the role of modesty (for both sexes) and religion alongside romance and attraction in society.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Sad Part

I get so many emails from women in their early twenties worried that they will never get married that I find myself saying again and again, "You can become too old to be a mother, but you will never be too old to get married."

This is meant to be bracing and comforting, but it also reluctantly points to a harsh biological fact. You can become too old to be a mother, and so far there is no test to tell you exactly when that will be. And this can be very sad. It is certainly very sad for me, as I am in the not-sure zone between 35 and menopause.

There are young married couples out there who have infertility problems. And often they don't find out about these infertility problems until after they are married and months pass and the bride never gets pregnant. But infertility problems are more likely to happen the older a couple are when they get married. (Naturally I am talking about couples not using abstinence or contraceptive methods.)

I am thinking about this today because although I am absolutely terrified of the British medical system, I have just made another appointment to talk to a doctor. It has taken me almost two years to get up the courage again. Two years. And it's not like I am normally a coward. Last week I submitted a column on Margaret Thatcher that I knew would rile up readers who hated Thatcher. The week before I whacked a man with my handbag. I used to box. I'm learning Polish. I cook Polish food for Polish people. Ergo, not coward. But terrified of the British medical system all the same, not to mention the phrase "reproductive health", which most of the time has nothing to do with "reproductive health" but is merely a euphemism for ab*rtion.

At times like this, I really, really wish I were back in Ontario, whose medical system I am completely familiar with, or in a Catholic country, where I would not have to explain to one stranger after another in a semi-apologetic tone that I have deep ethical and  religious objections to various reproductive tests, technologies and practices. Or a city like Toronto or Dublin where there are lists of NFP practitioners as long as your arm.

My greatest regret is that I did not go to my own decent, familiar, Canadian family physician before I got married. I could have said "I want someone to look at my insides," and--without a mountain of paperwork and borderline offensive letters --someone would have looked at my insides. I could have said, "I want a test for this," and I would have been given a test for that, either on the spot or half an hour later downstairs in the lab. I could have said, "I'd like you to actually look at me while we're talking and spend more than five minutes with me before chucking me out of your office," but, actually, I never, ever had to say that. My family doctor was a "Hey, how are you! How's your mum doing?" kind of lady. I didn't realize that not all doctors are like her. And so I took her for granted and left Ontario serene in the misunderstanding that if I had any problems I could just consult a local Scottish doctor, and it would be completely the same.

Ah ha ha ha.

But, anyway, just like I have made myself lose ten pounds and made myself read the first chapter of Harry Potter in Polish, I have made myself call the clinic. Somethings we cannot control but with grace we can at least control ourselves. And we must all remember that although the expression "reproductive health" has been cheapened and basically ruined by the ab*rtion industry, we still should take seriously the concept of fertility care.

Update: Lest I look like I am poking unfairly at poor old Scotland, I will admit that the pure irrationality of my level of fear points to Migration Angst. Anyone who leaves their country (especially a richer one) to move to another country in mid-life is very fortunate indeed if they do not hit a wall of Migration Angst. Many Catholics are going to feel uncomfortable with doctors when it comes to reproductive/fertility issues, so when you throw migration into that--! And it's not like I can go to the Canadian Mass and meet other Canadians who can tell me where I can find a Canadian-speaking doctor.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Sexually Harassed at Church

In recent weeks I have received, not one, but two letters from young women upset by the bad behaviour of men at church groups. I'm not going to reprint the letters or my responses because they are very detailed and the men might be identified by other readers, and I don't want to add to any drama.

When it comes to sexual harassment, what is needed is neither drama nor a whispering campaign, but quick, decisive action by those in authority. 

The first situation involves a woman in her early twenties and an older guy with ongoing mental health issues. The latter was brought along to the the church group by a friend with do-gooder tendencies. The older guy makes my reader and other young women in the church group uncomfortable by talking about how he wants a wife, by leering at them and by getting in their faces when they don't respond to his social networking plays for their attention.

The second situation involves a teenage girl and a younger teenage boy who says things at church group that creep her out and who also made available through social networking his sexual fantasies about her. 

Neither reader wants to leave her parish or her group, but both girls hate feeling like sexual targets and wish the man or the boy would just go away. 

However--and this is one thing that makes being a Christian so difficult--there is a strong disinclination in our religion towards kicking the old, the young, the weak, the stupid, the rejected, the difficult, and the frankly quite annoying out of our parish groups. If we were 6th century Vikings, we could just get our dads and brothers to kill the old ones and beat up the young ones, and Bob's your uncle. But we're not. We follow Christ, and Christ told us to love our enemies and also to invite the halt, the lame and all kinds of disadvantaged people to our parties.  

This, however, is not an excuse to allow men, even very young, very confused or mentally ill men, to make women feel uncomfortable and unprotected in our own parish churches. And, fortunately,  parish churches have a chain of command. The buck stops with the pastor, and if the pastor just leaves it on his desk and doesn't deal with it, eventually the buck can be brought to the bishop.  Hopefully, though, things don't go that far because people are constantly pestering bishops, e.g. every Monday morning regarding Father's dumb homily and the nun who did that thing.  

However, very often it is not a priest immediately in charge of a parish youth group or other parish group. Quite often there is a "lay adult facilitator."  In such cases, the person to talk to about your feelings of discomfort and having been targeted for sexual harassment is this adult. And if for any reason you don't feel comfortable talking to this adult (for teenagers often hate consulting adults; I certainly did), then I suggest you get your mother, father or favourite aunt to do it. 

Do not attempt vigilante justice, either by thinking up some extravagant punishment for the malefactor or by getting an older boy involved. Bullying back is not the Christian way. You must go to the appropriate authority, and this is going to be either the adult lay leader or the priest-in-charge.

Second, you must write down exactly what it is that the boy or man said or did that made you uncomfortable. You must write down specific incidents in a journal with the dates. That way, when you have your meeting (or your mother/father/favourite aunt has his/her meeting) with the leader or priest, there are real, tangible incidents for the leader/priest to come to grips with. Write exactly what happened, without any exaggerations or softenings, and make sure that these are things that happened to you. You can briefly mention that other girls have complaints, but stick to your own grievances. Encourage other girls affected to write down their own, and remember that the action will be more effective if everyone is allowed to tell her own story. The last thing you want is for the leader/priest to dismiss your concerns as a drama you're secretly enjoying.

Third, having stood up for yourself by telling the story to the correct authority, try to exercise some charity. A man with mental health issues who is too unpleasant to attract women is a figure of pity. So is the teenage boy who cannot deal with his own sexuality, or that of anyone else. It is natural to be afraid of such men and boys, but it is not constructive. Mere gossiping about him is also not constructive. What will be constructive will be the leader or priest--someone trained, hopefully--to sit down with this guy as if he were a human being loved by God (which is who he is) and ask him what is going on with him. The crazy guy may confess his terrible loneliness. The teenage boy may mutely telegraph his sexual distress. And all this will be between the guy and the priest or lay leader: your part is done. By blowing the whistle on him to a kindly, Christian authority, you have actually helped him. Don't resent the authority's loving care for him. Just report any further harassment, as it and if it occurs. 

And this brings me to my fourth point. Some men and boys are so clueless that they have no idea that what they say and do is offensive to women. This may be in part because instead of telling them, women smile meekly and run away and the men never hear what the women say afterwards. 

When men offend you, do not smile and laugh nervously. I know it's difficult not to, because when men behave badly, our instinct is to placate them and make them feel at ease so that they won't hurt us. But some men are not that smart and can't tell the difference between fright and enjoyment. Instead, frown. Give him a stern look, as if to a toddler who is destroying a book. Say at once, "That's really offensive to me."  And then, if he doesn't apologize at once, but merely mimics you or huffs and puffs, turn your back and walk away. 

Yes, he may escalate the situation. Inform the appropriate authority at once. Or go home and tell your mother/father/favourite aunt first and then inform the appropriate authority.

I hope this is helpful. None of us should put up with being sexually harassed at church. I realize it is embarrassing to talk about, and it seems absolutely insane that it could happen, but it does.  And if it does, the adults in charge should know about it so they can put a stop to it. So please tell them.

Update: I forgot to address online harassment. There are people whose job it is to make sure no-one is harmed by online antics. If someone posts something inappropriate about you online, contact the administrator of the website.

Update 2: I am absolutely amazed at what Catholics think they can say to each other regarding sexual matters. Really, I am amazed. Is it from years of listening to sexual jokes on television, or what? I just don't get it, especially when such immodesty is coming from a guy giving a lecture on modesty. I mean, hello?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Again, Poor Boston

As I feel rather shaken by what has been going on in and around Boston, I can imagine how my Boston readers must be feeling!

Keep safe, everyone.

I'm having one of those days where I snarl at the television. I made myself go to the gym, and some genius of a British journalist declared over the gym television that Watertown is best known as the location of Harvard University.

"No, that's Cambridge, you moron," I said aloud.

And again I thought about the nice parts of my two years in Boston, and for the first time in years recalled going to MIT on a double date. Yes, that's what the nicest part of my Boston life was like: double-dates to MIT, films at Harvard, St. Patrick's Day in Jamaica Plain with Boston Girl, Sunday morning hot chocolate on Brattle Street... It's such a beautiful place...

Anyway, I'm gutted for Boston, and the people who were killed or otherwise hurt, and the people who loved them. I'm sorry the suspect died in custody because there has been too much violent death in Boston as it is and of course he was one of the few people who could explain WHY.

I'll write later today. Right now all I can think about is Boston and the craziness of evil.

Update: Uh oh. I saw the very first hint of "poor, lonely foreign student." Well, let me tell you something. When I wasn't hanging with my friends, I was very lonely and depressed as a foreign student in Boston. I had culture shock and very possibly academic burnout and a lot of disappointment.

I knew almost no Catholics who were Catholic like me---and no other Canadians. I got mad when people said stuff like "Canada is only an independent country because we let you stay that way." I got mad when people acted like voting Democrat was the Only True Catholic Way. I got mad when these Democrats went on and on about America being responsible for everything that happened in the whole wide world, not because I thought they were masochistic, but because I thought they were imperialist control-freaks.  The one advantage I had over other foreign students was that I knew English perfectly; on the flip side, I didn't have a cool accent. Canadians, who sound American to a lot of Americans, can come across just as slightly off Americans. Canadians hate that.

Did I have, perhaps, an eenie weenie chip on my shoulder? You bet.

But it never occurred to me to blow up people. Never, not once.  

Instead I went home, went to a doctor, and took anti-depressants. I wrote a few books. I discovered the meaning to my Boston sojourn.

There is no excuse for the killing of innocents. None. None. None.

Update 2: Well, now I've found out those guys have been living in the States for years and years!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Frankly, Rhett, I Couldn't Give a Darn What You Own

 No, honestly, it's your paycheque I'm after.
Oooh la la. Hits through the roof for yesterday's post, and almost entirely due to Facebook. However, I see that someone has sent it to Reddit (thank you), so we may even go viral.

Sadly, a Reddit reader entirely missed the point, and printed a little sermon about some study that showed that women find men more attractive the richer they are said to be, a study which he can't find right now. But anyway he says comparing women's attraction to men and men's attraction to women is like comparing apples and oranges, and obviously this Reddit reader was not in the Bloor Street Aveda that day I went in for a therapeutic massage and the masseur turned out to be, not an athletic chick named Ashley, but a six foot tall hottie named Branko. 

"Surely this should not be legal or even socially acceptable" was my thought at the time. "However, it is. La la!"

And you know what? I don't think I was even over thirty at the time. Since everybody and his uncle has been telling me that women are more attracted to men the more money the men make, I developed a theory that this becomes less true the older women get and the more money we make ourselves. But then, how to explain why twelve year old girls are attracted to certain twelve year old boys, and not to others? 

When scientists or "scientists" do sexuality studies entitled "Are Women Really The Money-Grubbing Bee-at-ches We Think They Are?" I hope they are paying attention to what age their subjects are and their economic status. For example, if anyone is going to be thinking about money, it's going to be the undergraduate woman about to be thrown into the scary world of employment, a world from which many of us flee by jumping straight into grad school. Maybe there's an  age-window or circumstances-window at which a woman's subconscious says, "Forget sexy eyebrows. I need food, shelter and a Prada bag." Or maybe not.

I really do not believe a straight line can be drawn between women's sexuality and men's money. Honestly. Really. Truly.  Women may sigh and shelve our personal preferences for reasons of survival or because nobody cares what we want, e.g. Afghan child brides, impoverished Pakistani teenagers, English Lit majors afraid of entry-level employment, but physicality will still dominate those perhaps secret preferences. Poor teenage boys will always be more attractive to teenage girls than rich old men with orange-peel skin, let's face it.

Actually, the people who need to face it are men. Women's sexuality scares the dickens out of many men, and I can well imagine them developing the old "women care only about money" theory, not just to look down on women, but to think money is the answer. After all, it is easier to earn and spend money than it is to look a certain way, or sound a certain way, or even to smell a certain way. It is easier for a frightened man to sulk at home and look at naked women on the internet than it is to go to the gym, or to learn to stop slouching, or to go to the dentist, or join a neighbourhood soccer team, or to put himself in the hands of a competent tailor and say "Fix me." Or to notice that women do indeed notice him, and he just hasn't noticed yet. 

Oh, and another thing. If women's sexuality is soooo bound up in money, explain cougars.

Nota Bene: This post is about sexuality, not relationship. Quite obviously (to women anyway), women are going to be sexually attracted to various men we would never be in a relationship with because we know that, for one reason or another, e.g. differing core values, a language gap, a previous commitment, it just would not work out.

Update: Hey, the Saudis read my blog!

Seraphic married a man because he was kind, funny, intelligent and, above all, pretty darned cute. So please pre-order her controversial novel Ceremony of Innocence from Ignatius Press, so she can add more to the family finances.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Modest Proposal

Readers may have become weary of that Catholic blogosphere cliche: the concern over male modesty and the oversexualization of male fashion in the world today. However, I don't think it can be stressed enough how much of a temptation it is for women--how much of a pitfall--to see men  in attractive clothes or, indeed, skimpy outfits. Now that spring is upon us, it will not be long before the young men of the  world actually take their shirts off and run around soccer fields topless, as if there were no married women over thirty around to look at them.

I don't want to be too hard on the boys. After all, it is very difficult for a young man to understand the sexual temptations of women. When he wears sleeveless shirts, he just sees nice toned arms that any guy would be proud to have. He doesn't understand that nice toned male arms act like dynamite on the female psyche, especially female psyches that have been around for over 30 years. Also, when men deliberately buy jackets with shoulder padding, they merely think they look nice. They don't think about what the illusion of huge shoulders might do to generations of women who grew up reading romance novels about men with huge shoulders. 

At this point the male reader may feel uncomfortable, and in that charming way men have followed since Adam, our first father, pointed the finger at Eve and said "She done it," protest that maybe women should not read romance novels at all.  But, alas! The laddies must understand that in some ways they are the stronger sex, and women the weaker, and women have a weakness for romance novels, for which we must be forgiven and understood. It hasn't helped us that as children such magazines as Tiger Beat were on display at our eye level and even sold to us, so that we might pass them around the school yards, pull out the photos and put them on our bedroom walls. And now with the internet---! Men can't seriously expect us not to use the internet to look at pictures of attractive men, especially when they are thoughtlessly tempting us all over the shop, from Daytona Beach to Savile Row.

This scourge of male immodesty continues even into our churches. As shocking as this may sound, they wear their padded jackets even to go to church, so that the women behind them are forced to see that artificial inverted-triangle shape that acts like catnip on our feline sexuality. And those who wear pullovers instead sometimes take them off when they feel too warm, sometimes exposing inches of bare male back and tummy flesh for whole seconds. Can you believe that? Men taking their clothes off in church? And I can't even write about the souls that are imperiled by men coming to church wearing cargo shorts, their hairy, muscled calves for all Catholic women, young, old, married, single, and consecrated, to see, for my tears would drip into my laptop and cause a short-circuit.

Again I realize my male readers will feel indignant and want to say something about custody of the eyes. After all they have eyes, too, and they manage to keep them off our bodies, so why can't we keep our eyes off theirs? Ah, boys. Boys, boys, boys. My little flowers. My little flowers of the forest. My little flowers of the forest in your kilts and woolly socks stretched over swelling calves that meet muscular knees and visible over those manly knees is perhaps an inch of bare, muscled...Where was I?

Oh yes. Custody of the eyes. It is all very well talking about custody of the eyes, but we are your sisters. We need your help. We need you to stop wearing what you like, or what is fashionable, or what looks nice, or what is available in stores. After all, what is taste, fashion, beauty and availability to our own, personal, ever-shifting comfort zones

So I have a proposal, a modest proposal.

The orange jumpsuit. 

Men may protest that the orange jumpsuit, being prison garb, is a garment of shame. However, when we get right down to it, shouldn't men feel shame at the lustful thoughts their thoughtless attire and even lack thereof has caused women, even before we turned on the TV or the computer or bought the romance novel or the dirty Tiger Beat magazine? If  you men were to see the inside of my mind in an unguarded moment, you would most definitely feel shame. 

Meanwhile, neon orange is a terrible colour that suits nobody, and whose primary purpose is to make the wearer visible. Since men by their clothes (or lack thereof) seem to have an at least unconscious desire to have women notice them, their orange jumpsuits will indeed continue to make women notice them, only with the salutary reminder of how dangerous men can be to our souls and how, because of them, we might end up in that cosmic state penitentiary that has no end.

And therefore, men of the world, our brothers, whom we wish to love chastely and sweetly, in a spirit of self-gift, self-loan and self-donation, I beg you all to leave aside your sinful fashions (and running about fields half mostly naked), and don the noble (if shameful) orange jumpsuit.


Pre-order Seraphic's equally controversial Ceremony of Innocence from Ignatius Press today!

Welcome to readers of AltCatholicah!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Poor Boston

I feel awful. All those hurt people, and at least three people killed. I feel particularly sad for the man whose 8 year old son rushed to hug him as he approached the finish line and... 

This morning I got a message from Boston Girl, and she and her family are all okay.

That made my day. And compared to the suffering in Boston, all my woes seem pretty small--laughable, even.  I keep thinking about Boston Girl's Facebook photo, which is of her hugging her husband and little baby, and of the two of us--before the husband was met or the baby a glimmer--hanging out, laughing at Talledega Nights until we cried, and of all the little adventures and conversations I wrote about in Seraphic Singles.

What a horrible, cowardly, nasty thing for someone to do: to place bombs--bombs full of ball-bearings--where large crowds of strangers will be gathering to congratulate their loved ones for managing to run 26.5 miles. Such an innocent, happy occasion, and such a tribute to the spirit of self-mastery, a marathon.

But I suppose someone thought his thrill or his cause or his feelings of righteousness or his message was just so much more important than the innocent happiness of ordinary Boston folk. That's what evil looks like: my thrill, my cause, my message is more important than your innocent happiness, than your life, than your loved ones.

Update: Glad I saw this.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Dear Auntie Seraphic and Dear Auntie Seraphic

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm at a dinner party in the UK with five or so men, all of whom I've known for at least three years. They're at the after-dinner, the-port-has-gone-around-sixteen-times joking stage, and the guy beside me, generally a friendly, good-humoured bloke, has just made a Joke Too Far. The table is convulsed. I am currently the only woman in the room. What do I do?

Auntie Seraphic, age 39++

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Would your oldest brother have said, "Hey you, that's my sister you're talking about?"

Grace and peace,

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

At very least.

Auntie Seraphic

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Does your handbag have sharp corners?

Grace and peace,

Dear Auntie Seraphic.

No. Although stuffed with dictionaries, etc., it is made of lined velvet.


Dear A.S.,

Then I suggest you whack him with it.

Grace and peace,

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Oh dear. That seems extreme. Obviously I don't want the other men at the table to make jokes like that for the next fifteen years, but hitting people seems wrong and anyway you said hitting men is dangerous. 


Dear A.S.,

We are in the murky territory of honour-shame. If it was the sort of comment that makes your brother huff and puff and do that thing with his eyebrows and say "Hey you, that's my sister you're talking about," then the honour-shame balance has been disturbed.

Most women fear men telling a Joke Too Far concerning them in front of other men, and most men fear being hit in front of other men by an angry woman with a handbag (especially if they grew up reading Andy Capp cartoons). So in this particular, unique, possibly-never-to-be-repeated, concrete circumstance, the fastest and least dramatic and, strangely enough, least offensive way to correct the imbalance is to hit the generally friendly and good-humoured malefactor with your handbag. This way his shame will equal your shame, and all will be forgiven, and a message will have been sent.

Grace and peace,

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Is twice good enough?


Dear A.S.

I'd go with three.

Grace and peace,

In real life, this conversation was instantaneous until the last bit.

For more controversial and violent tales, pre-order Ceremony of Innocence today! (And then mention you have done so in a comments' box, so I can heap smiles upon you.)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Over Six Hundred Daily Readers...

Cherubs! There are so many of you, which is in itself delightful. But it would be even more delightful if you would all go en mass to Ignatius Press and pre-order my beautiful (and controversial) Ceremony of Innocence at once. Over six hundred pre-orders all at once would certainly create a feeling of joy and hope in some San Franciscan bosoms. I imagine them gathering around the water cooler to say that taking a chance on that Seraphic Singles woman was perhaps not so crazy after all.

The websale price is $16.96, which seems ridiculously low for a hardcover book. My feelings were an eeny bit hurt when I saw it because in Canada hardcover books cost at least $30, so what is with this $16.96? But at any rate it means that even female grad students eeking out a living on your woeful stipends can afford it.

(If there's an issue with shipping because you are in Ireland or Australia or wherever, then I suggest you email Ignatius and tell them you thirst for this book, and ask how can you get it without having to pay so much for shipping.)

Not only will it be a good read, it may very well create a buzz, and I am sure you will want to add to the buzz as expert witnesses, since you read my stuff every day. You can say things like, "But she never has stuff like that on her blog!" and "Personally I think it's okay to have swear words in a book if they're in German."

Meanwhile I have always noticed with awe the influence Seraphic Singles readers have in terms of getting the word out. For example, some enterprising and Polish-speaking soul contacted Homo Dei in Poland to demand to know when Anielskie Single would be released, and this rather impressed Homo Dei. One little email made them sit up and take notice and feel that maybe they had backed a winner. When I show up in Kraków, they feed me cookies.

So thank you very much, and tell me if you ordered it already so I can heap my smiles upon you.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Sorry to Pander to Our Weight Obsession, But

Shaving my head would be one way to lose weight.
  ...I have lost ten pounds since March 11. Ten pounds in a month doesn't sound unhealthy, does it?  That's about two pounds a week, which various calorie-counting sites assure me is safe and healthy, especially as these sites, like a certain National Health Service nurse, don't like my BMI.

Since this site is for women, I feel a bit guilty writing about weight at all. It's something many of us worry about too much. However, it's something others worry about too little.

My American friend Lily once said that the only time in her life she ever gained a lot of weight was when she moved to the UK for the year. She thinks the very air contains fat. All you need to do to gain weight, she says, is breathe.

Well, that's not quite true. What is true is that Britain's ancient daily eating schedule has been blown to smithereens with the introduction of snacking between meals without a corresponding rejection of beer and high calorie foods. The most easily found, bought and eaten food in Edinburgh is the meat pie. Edinburgh runs on meat pie, fish and chips and beer. When you are running around Edinburgh and feel a wee bit peckish, it is the easiest thing in the world to pop into Gregg's and get a chicken lattice pastry. Cost: about £1. Calories: 426. That's a lot of calories for a snack.

Meanwhile, the Toon is awash with drink. A social gathering without a drink is almost unthinkable. The only social events in Scotland where drink would be inappropriate are AA meetings. Even at children's birthday parties, the mothers are in the kitchen drinking Chardonnay.  And, personally, I like this native custom. I'm just sorry there are 175 calories in a big gin and tonic.

Then there's the marriage factor. One of the health risks of getting married is that you gain weight. First, you no longer need to leave the house to get company, so you stay in, often watching TV. Second, some people get complacent because they don't think they need to worry about staying in shape now that they have landed a life-long companion. Third, women tend to eat portions the same size as those their husbands eat. (This is a very bad idea, as women do not need as many calories as men do.) Fourth, you are not necessarily in charge of what you eat anymore. If your husband loves to cook, as mine does, he might give you twice as much to eat for supper as you or your mother did.

British food plus British drinking habits plus the married lifestyle = weight gain for your poor Auntie. So after a few false starts, I slashed my calorie consumption to the lowest healthy level for women my height and started going to the gym five times a week. And I kept leaving food on my plate until B.A. got the message and stopped giving me so much.

I'd love to tell you I am making this heroic effort because I have been seriously moved by the warnings of the National Health Service, which blames death not on the Fall of our first parents from Grace but on body fat, booze and cigs.  It would be nice to claim that I merely followed the dictates of Reason and the NHS.

But the truth is that my friend A takes photos at almost every Sunday Lunch, and I didn't like how I looked in them.

Hitherto I have carried fat well, which is to say it tends to hide in secret places--like around major organs, probably--so my friend L was shocked when I popped on her scale two or three months ago and she and A and I all gazed at the hideous number. But, really, those photos. Blah.

Photos are great motivators, I must say. When I was 27 and 117 lbs (I'm a medium-boned 5'2"), I had two photos of Demi Moore in her post-G.I. Jane incarnation, gently torn from a magazine, on my wall. (Yes, she had grown her hair again.) One was a back view, actually, because I wanted my back to look like her back. It wasn't quite there yet. (Seraphic smothers a sigh.) She really looked like a living Greek statue.

Fifteen pounds to go. I'm not dropping more than that because I am not just losing fat, I am getting muscle back and (all together now!) muscle weighs more than fat.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

When She Chooses Him Over You

Here's one of the most painful facts of female existence. There are women who will put their latest romantic/sexual relationship before any other consideration in life: before their friends, before their children, before their jobs, before their marriages, before their health, before their sanity.

Sexual infatuation is a drug, and some women become addicts. Other women are just--well--ordinary human women. Most women naturally want a special man in their lives and make him their Number One priority. Marriage is supposed to make this tendency a safe, good one.

But it does hurt at least a little when your best friend falls in love or gets married. Quite obviously she loves some guy better than you, even if she has known you for twenty years and him for six months. Whoa. Ouch. Life.

If you are under twenty-five, the tendency of women to privilege some man over their female friends may come as a shock to you. If you are over twenty-five, you may have noticed this already. If you are over thirty, you're probably used to it. Life--you know? (Shrug.) Whadayagonnado?

Pop music is full of wonderful songs about "men come and go, but sisterhood is forever." It's a lovely idea, but come on. Although women don't usually compete with each other with the same bloodthirsty gusto as men, women do indeed compete with each other, and if it has something to do with a man... Whew! Look out. Even the nicest, kindest, women-loving women can go crazy with jealous rage.

But I should stress that not all women battle or compete much or often over men. One of the most annoying things about being a Single woman is going to a party of married couples where the Married women act like a you are a vixen in the hen-house just because you are having a conversation with one of the Married men. I should also stress that not all Married women are like that, either, although few things annoy Married me more socially than watching a Single woman chase any man around a party. "Sit still, woman," I think. "If he wants to talk to you, he'll talk to you."

But I'm not really thinking about the occasional social unpleasantness between the Married and the Single. I'm thinking about young women discovering that they have been displaced in their girlfriends' affections by their girlfriends' boyfriends. I am especially thinking about the young lady whose friend is now dating her ex-boyfriend.

Treason, we howl. Treason! How dare she? How can she be on his side, let alone at his side? AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!

Really, it hurts. It really, really hurts. But it happens. And only if you are really lucky will she discuss it with you first. She is much more likely to sneak around or lie about it because she doesn't want to hurt you or feel like a bad friend, etc., etc.

So what do you do? Well, there are a number of things you might do.

First, admit to yourself and God that you feel betrayed and disrespected and even disbelieved, if you told your friend that your ex-boyfriend is a rat-fiend from hell.

Second, admit to yourself and God that as you fell for the guy, you know better than anyone how easy might have been for your friend for fall for the guy.

Third, ponder the faults of your ex, and feel compassion for your friend because now she has to deal with them. Pray for her. Go talk to a good priest about it all.

Fourth, draw some boundaries for yourself and for her. Her love life is her love life. You don't have any right to know what she does with her love life, and she has no right to impose her love life on you. If you don't want her to talk to you about Scooter, say "Because Scooter is my ex-boyfriend, I don't feel comfortable talking about Scooter." If you don't want Scooter in your place, tell your friend that as much as you care about her and want her to be happy, you don't want your ex-boyfriend in your place. She, of course, is always welcome.

This is not forcing your friend to "choose between her friend and her man"--that staple of so many boring and painful high school and college dorm dramas. This is you choosing to remain friends with your friend, but not being forced to have a relationship with her boyfriend.

It's a tricky situation, one that calls for compassion, patience and strength. Friends respect their friends' boundaries, so if the girl who is dating your ex still wants to be your friend, she must respect your boundaries: if you don't want him in your living space, or to have to talk about him, then you must say so as kindly yet firmly as possible, and she must respect that. And you must respect that her love life is her business, not yours. It is not for you to complain about to mutual friends, and you can't tell her what to do or not to do.

Fifth, allow yourself to grieve a little--in private or with someone paid or trained to keep their mouths shut. The juiciness of "Mary's dating Anne's ex-boyfriend, and Anne is totally gutted" is too much of a temptation for the average college student not to share. "Mary's dating Anne's ex-boyfriend, and Anne seems totally cool with it" is not only a million times classier, it's too boring for others to want to talk about much.

It may be that you will never see your friend in the same light again. I know. And that's sad, and maybe she dreads that, but truth is what is, as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught. Forgive her and also remember that you have other friends. She wasn't put on this earth to be your Lifelong Special Confidante; you probably have other women in your life to confide in, women who won't tell your ex what you said about this or that. (Another newsflash: women often talk to our boyfriends and husbands about what our friends did or said unless doing so feels like real betrayal.) Meanwhile, continue to do whatever girl-time stuff you could still enjoy together: studying, watching films, going dancing, baking a cake, organizing mass pedicure parties, messing around with chemistry sets, electric guitars or fabric scraps.

So. Compassion. Boundaries. Forgiveness. Adjusting. And hope.

Help B.A. support his colonial wife's unpaid-blogging lifestyle by pre-ordering Seraphic's Ceremony of Innocence today! 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Auntie Seraphic and Does He Like Me

I received a great Auntie Seraphic letter, but it was so full of personal detail, I said I wouldn't use it. However, when I thought about it later, I realized that it contained a very important problem. It is actually one of a Single woman's principal emotional difficulties in high school and post-secondary school, at very least. So I shall entirely rewrite the letter, removing all details, and getting right to the heart of the problem.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I really like this guy. My girlfriend told him he should ask me out. He said if he wanted to ask a girl out, he asked a girl out. He didn't need someone to tell him. She then asked him WHY he didn't ask me out. He said he only liked me as a friend.

I know him as a friend, so I asked him out for dinner. He explained that he was busy, and didn't try to reschedule. He does tell me where he usually has lunch on campus, though. So sometimes I see him on campus, and we have conversations. We had a big conversation about X, and after X happened, the next day he came up to me when I appeared and said, "Hey, isn't cool that we were just talking about that?"

My question is, Do you think he might be interested in me? I really, REALLY, hope he is!

Does He Like Me?

I've written to the writer of the original letter already, and instead of repeating what I said to her, I'm going to write generally to you all.

First, it's so hard to be young. When you are 20, you think being 39++ practically unimaginable, and the only point to it is having lots of money, and hopefully you will be thin, but if not, hopefully you will be married with six kids so it won't matter, etc., etc.

But now I am 39++, and when I see or hear from girls of 20, with their beautiful, BEAUTIFUL skin and their whole lives ahead of them, I feel tremendous compassion for them---unless they are shrieking on the bus, of course. There's just so much a 20 year old doesn't know. Oh ye heavens--if only one could be 20 with the brains of a 39++! How amazing that would be!

Second, if there is something worse than you telling a twenty-something guy to go out with you, it is your friend telling him to go out with you. It is so bad, I would say it is either an act of treachery or an act of utter stupidity.

Newsflash: twenty-something guys don't like being told what to do. They spent the first twenty years of their lives being told what to do almost every waking moment, and they're sick of it. Leave them alone. 

The definition of a crazy friend is a girl standing beside you when you are fishing, screaming into the water, "Nibble my homegirl's fishing line, damn you!"

Meanwhile, your friend will have destroyed the mystery of you, particularly if she tells your crush object that you are crazy about him. Men like to know that women are crazy about them, as it means their universe is working as it should and that if they were desperate for female company, they wouldn't have to do much to get it. But when men really want something, they are willing to work for it, and they mostly value those things for which most men have to work, e.g. the Masarati Gran Sport.

Third, to understand what men want or don't want, it is a good idea to listen to what they say they want or don't want. Admittedly, sometimes they come out with all kinds of crazy, hilarious rubbish like, "I prefer girls who don't wear makeup."* (Ah, ha, ha!)  But when they say "I just like you as a friend," you must actually PAY ATTENTION.

It is NOT true that twenty-something men are so crazed by hormones that they are attracted to anybody and everybody. Honestly. Fifteen year olds--maybe, which is why so many get seduced by whackadoodle teachers. But twenty-two year olds? No, nie, non, non, nein. If a man says to you or to your gal pal that he just likes you as a friend, he just likes you as a friend. Why would he lie?

Men are big fat liars, but they aren't going to lie if lying gets in the way of what they want. And if they want certain girls to be their sweethearts, they aren't going to tell them or the girls' girlfriends they only like them as friends.

Fourth, if your pal tells a man to ask you out, and he says no, it is game over. Ms Pacman is dead, and you are out of quarters. Your friend now owes you a trip to the MAC counter for a new lipstick, and you must wash your crush object right out of your hair. You. Must. Not. Ask. Him. Out. On. A. Date.

I am desperately trying to think of a situation in which you could go out with a guy after your pal's Treason/Abject Stupidity, and as I am very imaginative, I have just imagined myself in the ugly, computer strewn ground level floor of the main library of Boston College, c. 2006, and some guy with movie star looks has just come up to me.

Cute Guy: Boston Girl says you're crazy about me.

Seraphic: I could be. Where are we having lunch?

Yeah, like I could ever come up with that at once. Anyway, I give it to you girls for free. That's your emergency, flirtatious, jokey, ah-ha-ha, maybe-I-just-like-your-money-big-boy response. Memorize it, repeat it in the mirror, practice it on your friends.

Fifth, friends talk to each other, so if a guy talks to you--especially after your friend has made it clear to him that you admire him, and after you have made it clear yourself by asking him out for dinner--it means he's friendly. It does not mean he wants you to be his girlfriend. It means he thinks you're his buddy, like a guy, only nicer to look at, less competitive and maybe even a source of homemade cookies.

Sixth, a guy who tells you where he hangs out on campus is a friendly guy who is not interested in you as a girlfriend. A guy who is interested in you wants to know where YOU hang out. If he doesn't ask, he goes looking.

Seventh, most college-age guys are not marriage material. They might be boyfriend material, but unless they know exactly what they want to do with their lives after graduation, they are not marriage material. And if they are not marriage material, they certainly will not be among the few college men thinking about getting married.

In my cynical opinion, you college girls should not be knocking yourself out to meet college boys but your friends' college-grad older brothers working in the city. Too many young men are slouching around college campuses boasting that they really don't know what they are going to do when they graduate.They should be ashamed. All that money spent on their fancy education, and for what? So they can backpack around Europe rewriting the first paragraph of their novel? Puh-leeze.

And that's me for today.

Update: Sorry for the rough edges. When I saw the time I literally had to run to the bus stop to get to my dentist appointment. The d.a. was truly awful, so B.A. suggested I buy myself a treat. And so to the MAC counter I went--whoo hoo!

*Of course they don't prefer girls who don't wear make-up. They prefer girls who know how to wear make-up well. Blend, girls. Blend, blend, blend.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Mrs Thatcher

Oh dear. This is a non-partisan, apolitical blog, but I feel a need to post something about the late Baroness Thatcher. Obviously this is a view of a Canadian, and not of a Scot and certainly not of an Irishwoman, an Argentinian or even an Irish-American who gets high off  grievances borrowed from unknown third cousins twice removed.

It is this. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and Margaret Thatcher was the only woman in public life I knew whose leadership was taken as seriously as that of a man. And, unlike so many women in public life, she did not derive her career from a man.

Indira Gandhi was the daughter of an Indian Prime Minister. Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of a Pakistani Prime Minister. Hilary Clinton, who didn't quite make PM class, is the wife of an American President. Sonja Gandhi is the widow of Indira Gandhi's son, another Indian Prime Minister.   Margaret Thatcher's father owned a grocery shop, and her husband was a businessman. Both her father and her husband supported and encouraged her, but she was not at all in their shadow or got to be Prime Minister through any legacy of theirs.

(Kim Campbell, by the way, was a short-lived novelty act who made the achievement "first female PM of Canada" meaningless. Her dumb faux-nudie photo lost her--and perhaps other Canadian women--credibility.)

As a child, it really meant a lot to me seeing Margaret Thatcher on television, and hearing her praised or excoriated as a person of real, political importance. Princess Diana was also talked about quite a lot, but not as if she were really all that important. She was gossamer; Thatcher was steel.

Margaret Thatcher had the dubious honour of being admired or hated the same way men are admired or  hated. She was not admired or despised for what she looked like, but for her political decisions. She was loved or hated for her brains and her will. She didn't try to look younger than she was, or prettier than she was, or stupider than she was, or any of those rather obvious ways in which women show our principal weakness: our longing to be loved, admired and cherished, sometimes at any cost.  Margaret Thatcher did not seem to care for that stuff. She had male friends, but the only man she seemed ever to had eyes for was her husband Dennis. There's a great strength in that, too.

And meanwhile, she wore skirts. She carried a handbag. She wore pearls. She did not attempt to deny or signal that she was anyone other than a woman, a middle-aged conservative woman with a businessman husband and two children. But she did not, as is the deplorable modern custom, borrowed from the Americans (although Canadians do this too, alas), show off her family on TV.

Here is an obit that very much resonated with me. My only observations concern the idea that she somehow neglected her children. First, English children whose parents could afford it have been raised by servants and schools for generations. Second, lots of stay-at-home mothers neglect or even sacrifice their children in all kinds of horrible ways. Some mothers drug themselves into a stupor with heroin, booze or even just TV. Others care about nothing except their latest sexy romance with their latest thuggish boyfriend.  Still others beat or belittle their children constantly. Running a G8 nation is not really in the same class.