Monday, 6 May 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Young Catholic Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Thanks for all your good and witty advice! Reading your blog, I've learned the error of so many ill-advised things that I just know that I would have done if I hadn't heard what you had to say! 

I'm 19, and will be heading off to college in the fall. I've never dated, and haven't had much to do with guys other than family friends from church.

Several weeks ago, my dad and my siblings visited the farmer's market near our house. I walked around talking with the vendors and trying out samples. One of the vendors was a guy maybe a few years older than me. He was fairly friendly, and we chatted about the various products on sale before I wandered off. 

After a few minutes, he caught up with me and told me that he was new to the area, and that he hadn't made any friends yet, and that I seemed like a peaceful sort of person, and would it be okay if he got to know me a little better? He seemed rather flustered. I was surprised, and, not knowing what to do, said the first thing which came into my mind, which was "Um, let me go ask my dad." 

My dad, being the protective, cautious type, said that it would not be a good idea, and told the guy so. (My dad thought he seemed like a decent person, though not a NCB--I heard him use the F-word when talking with a friend. Also, he asked me if I was in high school, while I was looking at the stuff he was selling, but I'm not sure if this was especially significant.)

Thinking back on the whole incident, I'm quite mortified, but am not sure what I should have done better. In the future, if I'm approached like that, what would be the correct response? 

Thank you,
Young Catholic Girl

P.S. Is there any way to let a guy know that my idea of personal space and his are different without being rude? I'm certain my coworkers at shop I work at aren't attracted to me, but they stand way too close! And I've been working there for a couple of months already, so I don't want to say anything all of a sudden. I've kind of gotten used to it--should I just bear with it because I'm leaving in a few months? Thank you again! 

Dear Young Catholic Girl,

If your first impulse was to ask your dad, then you did the absolute right thing. You could not have done anything better than to ask your dad about a strange man's offer of friendship. Although I can see that it was terribly embarrassing for you, for me it is a beautiful example of a dad being asked and allowed to do his job, which is keeping even his teenage-almost-adult daughter safe. 

The man asked you if you were in high school to determine if it would be legal for him to have a sexual relationship with you. Of course, not being there or completely psychic, I should say that I am only 99.9% sure of this. 

Personally, I think that until you get more practice dealing with men hitting on you--and "Will you be my friend?" is most definitely hitting on you--saying, "I'll go ask my dad" is the absolutely best thing you can say. It will scare the heck out of the bad guys, and only the bravest, most honourable (or, more rare, smartest, most confident) guy would say, "I'll introduce himself to him."

If you go away to college, of course, your dad will not be around, so one way to keep yourself safe and scare away the bad guys while not scaring away the good ones, is to mention your dad in general conversations from time to time, making it clear that you love him and have a good relationship with him. 

I also recommend telling your dad about all the people you meet at college, including the boys, and ask him for advice about them, too.  (You might want to tip him off before you go to college that you're going to do this, so he is prepared.) At college, focus on making friends with boys in Catholic chaplaincy and other clubs. The more you become acquainted with boys in non-romantic, non-sexual associations, the more easily you will be able to deal with courtship (or seduction) overtures.

As for the people at work, I recommend a sudden shout of "Hey! I need some space to breathe here!" Repeat as necessary. People hit on 19 year old girls or stand too close to 19 year old girls because 19 year old girls look like pretty adult women but don't have the same confidence as adult women. 

I hope this is helpful. Your dad sounds great. I am all about your dad this morning. 

Grace and peace,

Many readers may feel doubtful about my "Ask Dad" advice, so I will stress that asking dad was this reader's first impulse. I am a great believer in gut instinct and not second-guessing one's gut instinct afterwards. Also, a young woman who has never dated or known many guys other than the one she meets at church is often at risk from men whose intentions are "How do I get this pretty girl into bed as soon as possible?"  A young women who has been fielding passes since she was fourteen is much more likely to get the measure of a man in a first conversation. She probably doesn't need to ask Dad--especially not for permission to say No.

Older men love teenage girls because teenage girls are often pretty, idealistic, polite and eager to please everyone around. Bossed around by parents, teachers and advertisements for their entire lives, they are unused to people trying to please them. If a grown man tells a teenage girl "I'm lonely; will you be my friend?" she is much more likely than an adult woman to believe he is telling the truth and that she should be his friend. Even when terrified, she will smile and "be nice" i.e. a potential victim.

I have an ex-friend who always hit on young girls no matter how much older we got. As we neared thirty, he was still sighing over nineteen and twenty year olds, whom he showered with presents whether they liked it or not. He did not like women our age because we were "so jaded." He did not make the connection, or did not care, that the "so jaded" women of 29 were once the naive, idealistic, eager-to-please nineteen year olds he fancied.

The transition from idealistic, happy, eager-to-please adolescent to informed, contented, confident adult woman is a very dangerous one. You can learn about men the easy way--with the guidance and protection of your parents, aunties, uncles, priests, teachers and religious tradition--or you can learn about men the hard way--all by yourself with only other girls your own age and Anne of Green Gables to guide you. Sometimes your parents don't do a good job of teaching and protecting you, but sometimes your parents have just done the best they can, given that both advertisers and the state would rather you listened to them than to your parents. Ever wondered why your parents seem so "uncool"? It's because a million ads and ten thousand songs have told you they are.

Never underestimate the love of older men for "guiding" younger women (especially as an exciting substitute/rival for her father) or of other adults--perhaps especially the childless--to mold the minds of other people's children. This, incidentally is one reason why, if you are under 20 and absolutely love my blog, you should discuss my ideas with your parents or favourite aunt or favourite priest. This applies especially to the ideas you like best. Although I myself have the best intentions, I am not your mum, and I don't know how my ideas might influence you in ways I did not expect. 


c'est la vie said...

Fabulous advice, Seraphic. Family is the natural protection against people who seek to take advantage of the young, and as you say current social pressures make it uncool to take advice from your parents... this is too bad; adolescence is a very vulnerable time of life, and choosing friends can be a very difficult art to acquire without help.

Jessica said...

Ok, I did think the "ask your dad" advice was a little conservative, until I read the disclaimer and kept in mind the age/background of the asker.
Still, at this point I think the YCG should be trying to form her own sense of judgement for those split-second decisions when her parents aren't around (like what will happen this fall when she goes to college). So yes, ask your dad, but also ask him how/why he came to that opinion. For example, it's important to know that YES it is an important detail that he asked if you were in high school, and didn't pursue you until after he knew you were over 18.

In that situation, I would say another pretty safe thing to do would be to think of some group activity that you could invite him to without any contact information being exchanged. "Well, if you're looking to make friends, there's a group of us that get together at St. Ann's down the road, Fridays at 8." I think this would work if you did enjoy talking with him but didn't have any reason to trust his intentions.

And yes, that awkward phrasing of the last sentence was intentional - the guiding principle is not to go ahead unless you have a reason to mistrust his intentions, it's only give personal info if you have a reason to trust them (friend of a trusted friend, etc.)

Seraphic said...

Yes, that strikes me as a good idea. If the guy really was telling the truth, that would be helpful to him.

In general, I would be super-careful about any man I met in what is essentially a fairground. If you ask me, there could be world of difference between a man who works behind the counter of the local butcher's shop and the man who appears behind a stall in the farmer's market once a month. The guy in the butcher's shop is invested in the community, and therefore has to behave according to a certain standard. The carnie--I mean, the casual labourer at the fair, I mean, farmers' market, not so much. (No disrespect meant to carnies, but many men with casual or itinerant lifestyles are on the lookout for what sex they can get before they move on.)

That's a good idea about asking the dad about his snap decision. "How do I know which guys would make good friends?" may be a difficult conversation for a dad, but it might certainly be helpful.

Meanwhile, although I believe in women socializing a lot, and meeting many men in a variety of venues and activities, I certainly don't mean ANY men ANYwhere.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I wonder how the high school question cuts. I see how it can be about sleeping with someone, but

In my experience, farmers' markets aren't like carnivals - yes, they happen seasonally and once a week, but since the whole idea is locally grown

Also, can I just say, yes, swearing is not particularly nice, but there are NCBs who swear. I sometimes wish my brothers' mouths were cleaner, but I don't think their swearing makes them not NCBs. There are things I'd be a lot more concerned about as indicative of character unless it's quite frequent.

Christine B said...

I am not the target demo here - married, ex-Catholic lady - so take my comment with as many grains of salt as you see fit, but frankly, I am concerned for this girl and I'm worried about what's going to happen to her when she's out in the Real World if her first reaction is to ask her dad for permission when she's asked out. I agree with commenters above that she needs to learn judgment and the ability to suss out people for herself, rather than relying on her father (who, let's be honest, is probably not going to be a fan of letting his hugely sheltered child go out on a date with anyone, let alone some dude at a farmer's market). I also would push back on the idea that just because he asked if she was in high school, he's automatically sketchy. A lot of this depends on tone and context, so we don't really know why he was asking - could have been an innocuous question. And, finally, if this girl (or, in this case, her father) is going to disqualify people from the dating pool because they occasionally swear, the available candidates for dating are going to shrink markedly. MOST PEOPLE use bad language. I think it's healthy for girls of 19 or so to go out on some innocuous coffee dates, if, for nothing else, to learn the social skills and judgment needed to make decisions in the future... Just my 2 centavos.

Seraphic said...

For most of human history, carefully brought up girls have consulted their fathers about the interest of prospective suitors and been praised for it, too.

I can't imagine what bad things could happen to this girl if she "asks Dad," but I can imagine a lot of very bad things that could happen to a girl who ignores her first instincts.

What scares the heck out of me is the thought of ordinary nice girls who don't know much about men deciding to act brazen and like they know all there is to know and showing how brave, bold and sophisticated they are by going off alone behind closed doors or into cars with complete strangers because they think that's what other "less-sheltered" girls would do.

Meanwhile, this girl's going to college. She'll meet lots of guys there, presumably some of whom have been brought up never to curse in from of ladies (i.e. who share her values). She doesn't have to get picked up by complete strangers at the farmer's market to increase her chances of getting married, if she's interested in getting married one day, or of making friends.

The sense I got from her second-guessing is that she think she has wronged Mr Farmer's Market in some way. But she hasn't. She didn't know how to respond to him without help, so she got help. That's a good instinct to have. Heck, if I didn't know how to deal with some guy's behaviour, I'd get help, too.

Some 19 year olds have the skills to deal with strange men, and some don't. The letter writer had the smarts to know which one she is, and she acted on her instincts. Good for her.

Meanwhile, I think it's a much better idea for girls to get to know many boys as friends before jumping straight into the dating scene.

Seraphic said...

(I'm amused by the contrast in our responses though. I assume that the father is a good father and the guy was clearly making a play for my reader, and you assume that the father is a poor father (i.e. overprotective to the point of not wanting his daughter to date ANYONE) and that coffee with the guy would have been an opportunity for growth.)

Kathryn Rose said...

I think I can see where you and Christine are both coming from. In my own experience, I got the idea from reading courtship books in high school that a guy wants to date a girl that he should ask the permission of the girl's father. I have always trusted my dad's judgment so I thought that would be a good way to play it safely.

Unfortunately, my father didn't believe in this principle, but I didn't find that out until several years later when I was getting to know a guy, and when he started acting serious then I said I wanted him to talk to my dad. The guy was perfectly willing, but when I called my dad to explain the situation, Dad said I had to make my own decisions because I was thousands of miles away from home and he didn't know the fellow and thus couldn't judge his character.

It ended up being rather embarrassing for me; I didn't think my father was taking my request seriously, my dad thought I should cultivate good judgment on my own, and the poor befuddled suitor thought I was using some line to get rid of him since my dad didn't actually want to talk to him.

In short, there was a lot of misunderstanding involved. Having the framework of one's family for cultivating relationships may be ideal, but it is frequently not possible with the conditions many families are in today, whether because of distance or dysfunction. I wish I could run different guys past my dad to get his input, but he refuses to tell me what to do or give any advice because I need to figure it out for myself.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. How I sympathize. My youth was constantly blighted when books I read made me expect my parents to act in certain ways they certainly never acted in.

Well, it seems that your dad doesn't want to take any responsibility for any social decision you make, and that's him. In his defense, "several years after high school" means you weren't 19, so you probably did have a handle on which guys were good to know.

I still think he should have listened to you though. He didn't get to retire from being a dad just because you moved away.

In the case of my still-smarting 19 year old reader, I am starting to wonder if her dad made a real scene. I can imagine my father putting his foot down and telling 19 year old me that I wasn't going to give our phone number to some random 20-something stranger I met at the farmer's market, but I can't imagine him needing to tell the guy.

But that was never the real issue. The real issue was my reader second-guessing herself after getting help handling a social situation she could't handle. Sure, 19 may seem young for not being able to handle that situation, but we all age at different speeds, and frankly I'd rather my niece do her adult social development with guys her own age at college.

JDM said...

As a parent of a teen girl AND a girl who believes herself to be a teen, I have to say I would love, love, LOVE my daughters to solicit my opinions.

As it is, one of my daughters is currently in that stage of development where she would feel utterly content to avoid speaking to and/or making eye contact with me for months on end. As such, I'm not at this moment likely to be consulted on such a weighty matter.

I (and my wife, who DOES get spoken to still, I'm happy to say), both still try to let her know as gently as possible:

1) Your dad is not intrusive. He loves you, and wants what's best for you.

2) Your dad has seen many young men come and go in his life. His instincts are often more honed in this area than yours.

Truly, they may be affected a tad by fears for his little girl.

But more often it is his experience with young men, ie. hearing them brag mch later over beers about the young ladies they've 'fooled' & seduced over their lifetimes. If your man reminds your dad even slightly of one of these miscreants, you have an uphill battle ahead.

3) Your dad's idea of the perfect man is someone who can provide for & love you first above all things. This includes respecting your virtue, purity and feelings about the relationship.

4) Dad's instincts may not always be correct, true. But said instincts have different motivations than those had by the average teenage boy.

Unfortunately, I remember all too well the lines some fellows I went to high school with told me I should use to win girls' confidence:

-"Just have a good smile. If she thinks you have a nice smile, she'll think you're a nice guy, and she'll get into your car before the night's out."

-"Tell her how mature she is, how she seems so much *older* than 16/17/18/19/ whatever your age is. That gets 'em."

-"Tell them you're abused at home. Get their mothering instinct working for you."

-"Hey, why be faithful? You're in high school. You won't marry her anyway, Right?"

…and a whole host of other equally reprehensible lines.

I'm sad to say the fellow who tad me this stuff dropped me as a friend later, but now I realize it was likely providential.

If your dad seems twitty about men who pay you attention, it's because we remember (or perhaps in some cases *were*) guys like the ones above.

So, in short: Yes, do go to your Dad. We love you, and we are NOT motivated by a desire to wreck your fun and get all Lord Capulet on you & force-marry you to one of our poker buddies.

We love you and want you to date & marry a good man, the man you deserve. The man who sees you, not a notch on his belt, but the center of his universe and the love of his life, after God Himself and the Church.

My 2 cents, anyway.


Seraphic said...

Thanks, JDM, for the dad's eye view!

Alisha said...

I agree with the disclaimer and with Kathryn Rose. If someone feels threatened or uncomfortable there is nothing wrong with getting help. The question is whether or not that is because the person is paranoid, or whether or not it becomes a way of avoiding developing judgment, or trying to employ some ideal due to distance that may just not be possible. There's nothing wrong with consulting your father if he's a good one. But, practically speaking, he won't always be at hand, so it's best to figure out alternatives.
I'm a fan of gut instinct too - if it's been well developed. It's good to have a healthy trust in your gut and a healthy distrust of your ability to handle things in some cases and the opposite in others. The key is figuring out what applies when...for example, your gut may tell you to punch someone or kiss them, both of which could be a bad idea. Your logical thinking could tell you that you will be able to handle something while your gut is saying something else. In that case it is more reasonable to discard the logic, which is probably slightly detached from the fullness of reality.

Chiara said...

As a teenage girl, I can say that a dad's instincts are very important. Not to say that dads cannot be wrong. They can. However, I know from experience that they (especially if they love the Lord) have special instincts given to them by God that help them protect their daughters.

I was in a situation recently where I met a seemingly perfect for me Nice Catholic Boy who was interested in me as well. My heart jumped in with both feet.

My dad did not have a good feeling about him, but I would not listen to him because I thought that he was getting over-protective and too judgmental (you know, the "no one is good enough for my girl" kind of thing).

Well, it turned out that I was wrong, and he was right. This NCB had some mental health issues that I was not aware of. I have been taught a huge lesson, and I realize now that my Dad's instincts are priceless, and I will never disregard them again.